River Trip Equipment List – Arctic Alaska

Please follow this equipment list and do not bring extra gear.

Space is limited in the airplanes and boats we use. You’ll have to carry this stuff a lot; portages are sometimes necessary to reach the put-in or takeout, and then there’s also the daily loading and unloading of the boats. Unnecessary items only make packing and unpacking cumbersome. If an item is not on this list you really don’t need it.

All your gear must fit in one large, waterproof ‘river bag’ and a small ‘day bag.’ We can provide both the 115 liter river bag and the 20 liter day bag for you if you don’t have your own.

There are some items that we consider optional, but awfully nice to have at times. By carefully following this list you can keep your personal gear under 50 pounds.

This checklist has been developed from decades of experience. These are proven items. That said, personal clothing is indeed personal. Bring what you know to be comfortable and practical. All garments should be synthetic or wool because they are light, fast drying, and warmer when wet. Please leave your cotton clothes at home.

This is the Arctic, and it snows every month of the year! You should have minimum 5 layers for your top and 4 for the bottom. For example, on top: a short sleeve thermal shirt, one heavier long sleeve thermal shirt, one fleece jacket, a light puffy and a BIG down parka, plus a Goretex shell over everything. On the bottom: two pairs long johns, one pair of hiking pants and Goretex rain pants on top. With a warm hat and a neck gaiter you’re cozy even when the north wind howls.

It can also be really hot, especially in late June or early July. Adequate protection from intense sun, heat and bugs is also important. The weather is extremely variable from day to day and year to year.

Rafting Trips: Our rafts are remarkably stable but we do frequently get splashed. Rubberized rain pants, with solid rubber boots or quality Goretex wading bibs keep your lower body warm and dry.

Canoe Trips: We choose moderate rivers for canoe trips and there is usually little splashing from the river. Rubberized rain bibs and waders are not necessary, but good quality rain gear and knee-high rubber boots are critical.

We have a selection of camping equipment that we can lend you during your trip. If you have your own equipment you may prefer to bring it. If you do want to borrow ours please fill out our Equipment Request Form at least 30 days prior to your trip. Items we can provide for you are denoted with “AW” below.

Please use this as a literal checklist. When all the boxes are checked, ✓ you are done. Anything not on the list doesn’t belong.

Having trouble keeping your personal gear within the 50 pound limit? Please contact us.


Waterproof river bag: This is the bag that will hold the bulk of your gear. A good bag is Cascade Design’s Black Canyon Boundary 115. Suppliers like REI, NRS, LL Bean, and others carry these and similar bags. A bag with shoulder straps is essential. 115 liters is popular but you can combine a couple smaller 50 liter bags if you prefer. (3.8 pounds)


Tent: A 3- or 4-season tent able to withstand strong winds and medium snow load. The stakes you bring must be able to hold in sand and gravel. We highly recommend yellow plastic 9” “Power Pegs.” There are lots of great tents on the market including Hilleberg and North Face. We have Alps tents available to borrow. (8-9 pounds)


Sleeping bag with stuff sack: Your sleeping bag should keep you comfortable to 15 to 20 F. The stuff sack should be lined with a plastic bag or placed in a waterproof stuff sack. Women often sleep colder than men, and a sleeping bag liner is a good way to add warmth and versatility. (4 pounds)


Sleeping pad: Inflatable pads like thermarests are the warmest. (2 pounds)


Rubber boots: These boots should come up to just below the knee and have room for insoles and heavy socks. Make sure they are comfortable, as you will spend many hours in them. We can provide XtraTuf boots. A brand called MuckBoots are also popular.

Boot insoles or footbeds: Even if (especially if) you are using our boots, bring your own. Quick drying is important. Superfeet is a good brand.


Rain pants: On our rafting trips, you will want to be waterproof from your toes to your armpits. Heavy duty, bib style rain pants like Grundens brand are a great option. If you have Gore-tex chest waders with a wading belt, they are a good alternative. We can provide Helly Hansen brand bibs for rafting trips.

On a rafting trip you will also want some lighter rain pants for day-hikes in addition to the bibs or waders you will wear when boating.

On our canoe trips, there is less splashing and good quality, 3-layer gore-tex or similar rain pants are suitable. Patagonia makes a nice simple pair. These rain pants will serve in the canoe and on day-hikes.

Rain Jacket: We recommend 3 layer Goretex or similar. Good quality rain gear is absolutely essential. Patagonia makes a nice coat.

Ideally this jacket will fit over your heavy parka and all your other layers.

Day pack: Big enough for raingear, water bottle, camera and an extra layer.

Lightweight hiking boots: Lightweight water-proof hiking boots for day hiking.

Camp shoes: Your lightweight hiking boots can fill this need. Or bring a pair of lightweight shoes like Crocs or sneakers. Sandals are not suitable.

Stuff sacks: For packing gear and clothes. Line them with a plastic bag as an extra precaution or purchase waterproof stuff sacks from Sea to Summit or similar.

Trash compactor bags: For lining stuff sacks. This ensures that your clothes and sleeping bag will be dry. Try and find unscented ones. These are not neccesary if you have waterproof stuff sacks.

Socks: 5 – 6 pair heavy polypropylene or wool

Light weight long johns: 2 pairs of tops.

Light weight long johns: 1 pair of bottoms.

Heavy weight long johns: 1 pair bottoms.

Hiking/ camp pants: Synthetic, fast drying. One pair is adequate.

Heavy pants: Wool or fleece for the cold.

You should be able to layer several pairs of long johns plus your fleece pants under your hiking pants and/ or your rain pants for the cold and damp days when you want 4 layers on your legs.

Big puffy parka/ ski jacket: This is for the really cold, bitter days. Down and synthetic are both fine. Hooded is best. Patagonia and Marmot both make good parkas. Go BIG.

This is the most commonly missed item on our list. Please bring a really warm ski jacket/ parka with a hood not just a puffy coat.

More warm layers: Fleece jacket, wool shirt, and puffy coat. You need a total of 5 layers on your torso including long-johns but not including your big parka.

They should be sized so they can be worn together.  A cozy configuration could be 2 long-john shirts, one down sweater, one fleece jacket, and a down vest. If it gets cold you should be able to layer the puffy parka on top of all that and your rain-coat on top of everything.

If in doubt, bring all your choices to the pre-trip meeting and we will help you choose.

Shorts and T-shirt: Sometimes it is actually hot, even in the Arctic, especially in June and July.

Sun shirt: Tightly woven, lightweight shirt to protect arms from sun and bugs.

Warm hat: Nice warm comfortable winter hats. Do not skimp here. Many guides prefer 2 hats. One thick one for the day and a thinner one for sleeping.

Neck gaiter: a.k.a. dickie, cowl, or neck warmer. A fleece or wool tube to wear around your neck or to augment your hat. A scarf works too. Buff makes some stylish ones.

Brimmed hat: Whether a ball cap or a wrap-around brim, you’ll need something for the intense, ‘round the clock arctic sunlight.

Gloves: 1 – 2 pairs of pile or wool gloves for around camp

Overmitts or paddling gloves: Overmitts go over your warm gloves when paddling for a waterproof layer. Outdoor Research (OR) makes some nice ones. Another option is a rubber fishing glove, the Atlas 282. Neoprene mittens, or just oversized rubber dish gloves also work.

Quart water bottle: or two if you’re the thirsty type.

Personal toiletries: Scale down. For instance, you will not need a 6-oz. tube of toothpaste.

Toilet paper: Place in a quart-size Ziploc bag.

Flashlight/headlamp: After August 1st only. Really, you won’t need it April – July, even to read in your tent.

Mosquito head net: Hopefully you won’t need it but you will be really glad you have it if you do.

Mosquito repellent: Keep in plastic bags. 35% DEET is adequate.

Emergency Kit: Band-Aids, aspirin, moleskin, sewing kit. We carry a full medical kit, but having a few common items of your own is convenient.

Special medications: Inform the guide of your special medications and consider bringing a backup supply for the guide to carry.

Glasses or contacts: Bring an extra pair.

Sunglasses and croakies (strings that hold sunglasses on).

Sunscreen, lip balm, and hand cream: Cracked hands and sunburn can be a real problem for some people. Bring good quality hand salve like bag balm if you are prone. The air in the Arctic is very dry.


“Bug shirt”: A very good idea during late June and July. Original Bug Shirt Company is a good brand.


Pocket knife

Highly Recommended

Goretex socks: Use these over heavy socks for day hiking to keep your feet as dry as possible. Sealskinz are a good choice.


Cell phone: It won’t work.


Watch: Best to leave it behind with the cell phone and your other worries.

Not recommended

Satellite phone, InReach, Spot Tracker or other satellite communication device: We carry a satellite phone for emergencies. Unplugging from communications is a valuable part of our trips. Call us if you want to discuss.

Identification and Credit Card: In theory you won’t need any money or an ID on the trip. But sometimes plans change and planes get re-routed. An unexpected night in a village is possible. You might as well bring ID and a card just in case.

Highly recommended

Trekking poles: While theoretically optional, they can be essential on stream crossings and on tussocks (rough ground).


Camera: Bring lots of spare batteries and memory cards. A long lens and tripod are nice in our wide open landscapes. Pack in a waterproof, compact, and durable case.

Highly Recommended

Binoculars: Though these are technically optional, we strongly recommend that you bring binoculars. You miss a lot without quality optics. Vortex makes a nice entry level pair as does Maven.


Bird book/nature guide: We carry a small library of natural history titles and field guides. Ask your guide at the pre-trip meeting about the contents so we don’t duplicate.


Reading material, journal, and pen


Chair: We usually pack three-legged stools for your use. If you prefer a Helinox or Crazy Creek chair of your own, let your guide know and we won’t lug the extra stool.


Small towel/wash cloth

Lighter: For burning toilet paper. You can bring this on your airline flight as carry-on or purchase when you get to Alaska.


Fishing pole: A small, folding backpack rod is sufficient. Pack in rigid container.


Fishing reel: Doesn’t have to be fancy. 6-12# test line is sufficient for most trips. Fly fishers will, of course, want to bring a fly reel.


Fishing lures: The fish aren’t really picky. Spinners with orange dots like Mepps work great. Bright colors are good when the water is murky. Grayling like flies or  1/8 oz kastmasters. Char seem to like the 1/4 oz pink and green pixees.

Required if fishing

Fishing license: Fishing licenses can be obtained at many stores around Alaska or online. You may not fish anywhere in Alaska without a valid Alaska fishing license.