Lessons learned from a raft trip through the Grand Canyon

  • Everything will get sandy; you just have to deal with it. There’s no keeping sand out or getting things clean, just managing sand.
  • Stuff will get wet, but it dries out very fast. Bring quick-drying fabrics, and the desert air will suck the moisture right out.
  • As a corollary, make it easy to get wet. You’ll want to hop in the water to cool off, need to wade through water on hikes, and get in and out of boats. I followed my usual backpacking practice of carrying a bunch of stuff in my pockets, most of which I did not want to get wet. I also did most of my hiking in my boots since I didn’t have any sandals that would work well for that. I’d keep my pockets empty of anything that wasn’t waterproof and spend as much time as possible wearing footwear that I could get wet.
  • I managed to get through the entire trip with my soft contact lenses. The best approach seemed to be rinsing my fingers right before handling the contacts, whether taking them out or putting them in. When putting them in, hose the contacts down with contact lens solution to get them as clean as possible. Be prepared to immediately pop one out, hose it out, and try again if you’ve got sand on the lens. Also, bring a couple of backup pairs. I managed to mangle both lenses one night and had to go to the backups.

What worked

  • I hadn’t used a sun shirt before, but the REI Sahara Shade Hoodie was great on this trip. Light and cool, but still protected my arms and head from the sun. This was especially important because there hadn’t been many short-sleeve weather days before the trip, so I hadn’t had a chance to build up my summer tan.
  • The combination of dry air and the constant cycle of your hands getting wet and drying out is hell on skin. O’Keeffe’s Working Hands hand cream did a great job keeping it from getting too bad. I just wish we had brought more of it.
  • I brought three different pairs of footwear on this trip. In addition to my boots for the hikes, I had a pair of Keen water shoes for wear on the boats and for stream crossings and a pair of old Tevas for camp. Having different kinds of footwear helped by giving the raw spots on my feet from one pair a rest while wearing something else.
  • A pee bottle for relieving myself during the night has been on my backpacking gear list for a while now. It was particularly useful on a raft trip where taking a leak requires going down to the water and potentially getting your feet wet.
  • The 26800 mAh and 6000 mAh external batteries were enough to keep my iPhone going for the whole eighteen days. I kept it on low power mode and airplane mode the entire time and tried to turn it off at night (though I wasn’t entirely consistent with the latter).
  • The iPhone did a great job taking pictures of the scenery. All of the pictures in my trip journal were taken with it. The only place where it really fell down was taking pictures of animals, like Bighorn Sheep. For those, I really could have used more zoom.
  • Having a couple of locking carabiners to do things like clip water bottles and my PFD to my dry bag was great.
  • While everything will get sandy, you can still try to manage the sand a bit. The best way to get sand out of a tent was to take it down and turn it inside out, making sure to dump any sand out of all four corners.
  • One of the issues with dry bags is they don’t have any organization. It’s just one big sack. I brought some stuff sacks and packing cubes to help keep all of my gear sorted. I wish that I’d brought more.

What didn’t

  • The day pack I brought was a Tom Bihn Smart Alec. While frameless, it’s on the large side, and it’s made of some fairly thick ballistic nylon, so it doesn’t compress well. To get it in the purple dry bag I had access to during the day I had to put a bunch of my day gear into the backpack while being careful to underpack it. Then I could squeeze it into the dry bag and pile the rest of my day stuff on top. This was kind of a pain. Next time I’d want a smaller, more compressible day pack.
  • Despite the CanEx gear list heavily recommending a paddle jacket and pants, I tried to get by with a rain jacket and rain pants and regretted it. Big rapids definitely resulted in me getting wet. The weak spots in big rapids were the neck and the junction between the jacket and pants.
  • I brought a pair of Rite in the Rain pens to take notes and write my trip journal. Their click mechanisms didn’t survive very long in the sandy environment. I ended up borrowing an extra pencil from my Dad.
  • I never took a single picture with the Canon M200 mirrorless camera I brought. It spent the entire trip in the bottom of my backpack. I didn’t want to risk it taking pictures from the boat, and on hikes, it was just too much of a pain to get out.

May 6, 2022