How to Have a Great River Adventure

Six Parts:Planning the logisticsGoing with the right peoplePacking everything you’ll needBeing safe and efficient on the RiverSetting up a good camp on the side of the RiverEnjoying the Wilderness

There are few things in life more exciting and relaxing than spending a few days paddling down a river when you’re well prepared. There are very many things to think about and prepare, especially if you’re not going to be going with a professional river guiding company. This article will help you prepare for it.

Ask for advice about anything you’re not sure of – rivers can be dangerous!

Part 1
Planning the logistics

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    Begin by deciding your river route. It is wise to use a part of a not-dangerous river that is regularly used by other river adventurers. The distance. On a ‘medium-sized’ river (that a proficient swimmer could swim across safely and easily), a group of average-fitness people can paddle up to about 20 kilometers (12 mi) in a day comfortably.
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    Plan how you’ll travel to the river. You’ll need enough vehicles to get everyone to the river, with their baggage and all the gear, with the trailer/s carrying all the river craft (the canoes or rafts).
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    Organise for someone to pick you up at the end of the adventure. This person will need a large enough vehicle to transport all the people (or you can do several trips back and forth), all the gear, and all the river craft. Find out from locals where the good places are to reach the river by car.

Part 2
Going with the right people

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    Choose the right friends to go with. Physical ability (able to paddle and do adventurous activities) is only half of the requirement: everyone needs to be mentally happy and ready to have the adventure. Some people will be out of their comfort zone, and need to be ready for it.
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    If possible, contact a local river guiding company and arrange to go down the river with a team of guides. The best river companies take care of almost everything in this article, from when you arrive at the river to when you leave to go home. The professional standard for the size of the guide team is no more than 7 clients per guide (so 3 guides for 20 friends).
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    Ensure you have at least one person in your group for each of necessary activities. These include a doctor or medic; someone who knows the area well; someone who swims very well; someone who can cook well. Each of these people needs to be able to call on other members of the group to help with their activities (especially cooking and water safety).

Part 3
Packing everything you’ll need

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    Hire or borrow appropriate river craft. Canoes or rafts. Typical canoes will take 2 people and their gear, while rafts will take two or more. Make sure they are in good condition. Make sure you have the right repair equipment too: rubber repair kits and pumps for rafts, and fibreglass repair kits for canoes.
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    Pack the right clothing. You’ll need warm comfy clothing for land, and water-ready and sun-ready clothing for the paddling. Clothing depends largely on the season and climate of the area, so you will benefit from contacting and asking a local.
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    Get the right camping gear. This isn’t just about having a tent! In fact, having a tent is optional, depending on the river you’re going to be on. Ensure that you’ve considered packing:
    • Sleeping bedding (inflatable or roll-up mattresses, sleeping bags, etc.)
    • A tent; these are only necessary in harsh environments
    • A torch and / or a lamp, with spare batteries for each
    • A fold-up table and fold-up chairs will be really appreciated
    • Umbrellas or tarpaulins for shade and shelter
    • A spade and mini-saw or axe may be useful
    • Other useful tools (lighter, utility knife, ropes, duct tape, etc.)
    • A well-stocked first-aid kit is essential!
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    Get the right river gear.
    • Canoes or river rafts
    • Helmets
    • Personal flotation device (PFD or life jacket)
    • Water-tight buckets or dry-bags
    • Elastic or soft ropes to tie everything down
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    Pack enough tasty, healthy, practical food. This really depends on your group. Keep in mind that the adventure will make you hungrier than at home, so pack 1.5 times more than you think you’d usually eat. Also take into account how you’ll be preparing and cooking the food. Cooking over a fire is a really great experience, but may take longer, and is less predictable than other methods like gas cooking. Try to plan healthy, balanced meals that include protein, carbohydrates and fruit & vegetables.
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    Pack enough water and other drinks. No matter the river conditions, the activity will make you sweat and lose bodily fluid. Pack enough water (3 litres of water per person per day is a safe guess) plus some other drinks for the camp at night.
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    Pack all needed food-related equipment, such as:
    • Large tables for making food
    • Braai / barbecue grids, a fire drum (if available), fire gloves, and tongs
    • Wood, charcoal, or gas-cooking equipment
    • A bucket for hot soapy wash-up water, cloths and sponges
    • Pots, pans, and kettles
    • Cutting boards and food bowls
    • Cooking knives and serving spoons
    • Other cooking utensils (scissors, grater, peeler, etc.)
    • A set of cutlery and crockery for each person in the group
    • Garbage bags (which you must dispose of properly after the adventure)
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    Don’t pack valuable or frivolous things. There will be no need for mirrors or makeup. You probably won’t need watches, wallets, purses, or mobile phones (keep one mobile phone just in case, but keep it off until you need it). Don’t pack glass where possible – if it breaks, it is dangerous and becomes pollution.
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    Pack everything water-tight. The most commonly-used and practical packing containers are 25l / 30l water-tight buckets (which can be bought from plastics shops), or thick dry-bags, which have one opening that rolls up and is clipped to seal it. Anything that may get wet can go directly onto / into the watercraft – but make ensure they’re tied down tightly so they don’t get lost during a capsize in a rapid.
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    Remember, you can simply leave things you don’t need in the cars when you reach the river – so at home, pack everything you think you might need.

Part 4
Being safe and efficient on the River

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    Learn how to paddle your watercraft. Ask the most experienced paddler in the group to demonstrate good paddling technique. Make sure you can paddle forward and backward (or stop), turn left and right gently, and turn sharply when needed. The more vigilant person should be in the front (to spot rocks and other obstacles), and the person at the back should be the stronger person (this person will do most of the steering). Also plan carefully how your group will stay together down the river; have someone experienced at the front and at the back of the group.
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    Learn how to deal with capsizes (only for flat water – not to be done in a rapid). For canoes: grab the nose of the canoe and swim with it to the shore. Empty the water by removing all baggage and gear, placing one end high up (on a rock), and turning it over. For rafts, you can flip the raft back over while in the water by climbing on top of it, grabbing the rope/line on the far side of the raft and leaning back.
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    If using canoes: Make sure the weight is evenly distributed around the canoe. Don’t pack your baggage on either the left or right side of the canoe, as this will make paddling and steering more difficult. Also, if you’re paddling in wind, make sure you have enough weight in the nose of the canoe so that it can’t be spun around by the wind.
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    Don’t do any silly or unsafe activities. Don’t dive into not-clear water if you can’t see the bottom – rocks just below the surface can be invisible. Don’t go down a rapid if you’re not with the entire group. Don’t drink any alcohol if you’re in the sun – you’ll get dehydrated extra fast. #Don’t take drugs before or while paddling, as these will make swimming (or just falling in the water) very unsafe.
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    Do make sure you’re safe at all times. Protect yourself from the sun with sun cream, a hat (wide-brimmed if possible), and by drinking lots of water. Wear your PFD (and helmet if you have one) whenever you’re near a rapid.
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    Deal with rapids safely and efficiently. Always scout a rapid before going down it; park the boats on the bank just above the rapid and take a careful look at the entire rapid. For most rapids, you should go down single-file (one boat at a time, with a few boat-lengths of space in between). Deal with oncoming obstacles like rocks as quickly and decisively as possible – this requires good communication between partners and among the group. For canoes: lean towards the rocks to bounce off them and not capsize. If you capsize in a rapid, stay far from the river craft as possible (it is dangerous because it can pin you against rocks). No person should act heroically; rather act carefully and wisely – you can always pick up floating baggage further down the river.

Part 5
Setting up a good camp on the side of the River

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    Set up the kitchen properly. The first thing you need to decide on is where to place the fire. It needs to be relatively sheltered (from wind and other elements), and convenient to reach from where you put the tables to make food. Build a circular fireplace from rocks and stones – this is important to keep the fire contained, and to place cooking grids on. Keep all the cooking equipment near (behind) the food-making tables. A refreshment station with tea / coffee, other drinks and snacks is always appreciated. Make sure you have clean water to wash food and cooking equipment with, and keep a bin nearby as well. Only make a bonfire at night if you’ve brought wood to do so with – don’t use wood from the area.
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    Set up ablutions properly. Keep this a short walk from the rest of the camp, behind some trees or bushes if possible. The toiletry setup depends on the equipment you have. Some people want a toilet seat (with a hole), which others are content to dig their own hole each time. Make sure that you put used toilet paper in a bin or burn it; burying it does not get rid of it. For those who want to get clean in the evening, only use nature-friendly products, whether you have a camping shower or use the river.
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    Play games and make music. With the free time and open areas you find, there are as many games to play as you can imagine. There are many games you can play with no required tools (like charades). Bring along a deck or two of cards to play with. Bring ball games if possible. There are also many games you can plan with river craft and paddles. Bring along as many musical instruments as possible and get everyone involved in making music – especially around the fire after dinner.

Part 6
Enjoying the Wilderness

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    Enjoy the calm, wild atmosphere. Play around in the water – if it’s warm enough. Appreciate how quiet it is so far from the rest of civilization. Let your mind wander and drift; relax and take it all in.
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    Respect and cherish the environment. Consider the unusual geographic formations that caused the river to be right there, and how it twists and turns. Also try to find out about the natural- and human-history of that part of the river. Find out how different it was 10, 100, or 1000 years ago, and consider how it should be kept that way.
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    Become familiar with the local animals and plants. There may be many species of wild animals and unusual plants along the river; to know as many as you can. If possible, find a list of the common animal and plant species in the area and check them off as you spot them. Make sure you keep a safe distance from wild animals though.
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    Gaze at the starry night sky. Depending on the hemisphere you’re in (Northern or Southern), and the time of the year, there will be many distinct star formations to see. Take along a map of the sky if possible. Remember that if the river is far from a town or city, the sky will be far more clear and impressive than what you’re used to back home.


  • A river adventure can be costly, time-consuming and sometimes dangerous. Make absolutely sure you’re ready (and have taken all the appropriate precautions) before you leave to begin it.


  • If you have the option to take experienced river guides with you – invest in that! These guides will be able to help you plan everything you need, they will keep you safe on your adventure, and will be able to help you enjoy it fully. Also, because of their efficiency, going with a river guiding company may not cost you much more than doing it all on your own. If there are multiple guiding companies for that part of the river, contact them all and find out which provides the best value.
  • Take only photographs, leave only footprints.

Things You'll Need

  • Enough time to carefully plan everything in this article, go on the adventure, and travel there and back
  • Enough money to purchase or hire everything you’ll need, as explained in this article

Article Info

Categories: Travel