Congratulations. If you’re reading this, then you are one of the smartest 10,000 people of the 7 billion that are on the planet.
You and the rest of the 10,000 have planned a float trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River THIS SUMMER! You have, right? I haven’t overestimated you, have I? My name is Steve Zettel and I have been guiding river trips for over thirty years. This article is an attempt to aid the average Middle Fork of the Salmon river guest to make the necessary packing preparations for their trip.
You may be planning on being a guest on an outfitted Middle Fork excursion: a private float tripper, planning to paddle a solo craft, plan to fish, going during extreme water conditions and so forth.
These nuances may all require specific additional gear. When packing for Middle Fork of the Salmon River raft trip there are some variables which may alter your gear a bit, mostly additions really. There is however, a list of basic gear which would probably pertain to most users. We will begin there.
Visit our Gears & Supplies page where you will find a complete Middle Fork of the Salmon River guest gear list.
Before we move on, I would like to enlighten you with a packing faux pas of my own and the subsequent changes I’ve made to my guest’s gear lists since.
Years ago I was invited last minute on a trip to Northwest Territory. A trip that would involve a mix of Northern Pike and Lake Trout fishing with some Caribou hunting. The recommended gear list had all the normal items you would expect and they were easy for me to procure from my household except for one. That one, was (2) turtleneck long john tops. Well personally, I dislike turtlenecks so in lieu of them I packed two normal long john tops and went on my way.
About 48 hours later I began having fantasies about turtleneck tops, when it became known that the reason for them was to help me through the onslaught of a trillion little flies, mosquitoes, gnats and such which chose to feed on my neck and the rest of my body daily.
I learned two lessons on that trip.
(1) “do what the guide says”, if he says bring it, then bring it. And lesson (2), because guest rarely “do what the guide says”, I have chosen to add some explanations, mandates and such to my gear lists in order to compel my future guests to trust and listen.
Had I read that the turtlenecks were to thwart the bugs I would not have hesitated to find some. I actually include a multi page letter with my hunt gear list that explains each and every item and the rationale for each. I don’t have to do this to the same extent with my Middle Fork guests for two really good reasons.
Reason (1) being that half of our Middle Fork of the Salmon River guests are women, and women follow the list, although they are also the gender most likely to add to the list as well. And reason (2) being a simple one, if you show up for a guided Middle Fork float trip and have at least a bathing suit rain gear and sandals, you will have the minimum you need to enjoy the best week of your life.
With all that said, here’s a list of gear we recommend to our guests on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
You will notice that we don’t change the list depending on the time of the year you come with the exception of wetsuits in June or during continued high water. You are headed into the Rocky Mountains for an extensive wilderness excursion and any weather is possible at any time.
Idaho Wilderness Company
It is important to understand that you are responsible for certain things to insure a successful trip.
The two most important are: a good positive attitude, and the gear list below.
If you have particular items you wish to bring on the trip which are not on the list, feel free to ask us about them. (For example, we’d love to have someone bring a guitar.)
- Good quality rain gear
- Fleece jacket
- Polar Fleece Pants
- River shoes
- Hiking and/or tennis shoes for camp
- Sunglasses with strap
- Sunscreen, chapstick, bug repellent
- Two bathing suits and shorts made out of quick – drying material. (for women, 2-piece bathing suits work well.)
- One pair of long pants (blue jeans).
- Long Johns or sweats
- Underwear, socks, and light gloves.
- Personal hygiene supplies including one roll of toilet paper, small bar of biodegradable soap
- Personal medications, allergy medications, reaction medication to insect stings and bites
- Towel and washcloth
- Small pillow
- One large plastic garbage bag, three – (1) gallon ziplock bags
- 4’x8′ plastic ground cloth (for sleeping out under the stars)
- Alcoholic beverages: you buy it, we’ll haul it, please, no glass. We do serve wine with most dinners and margaritas on Mexican night.
- Fishing gear: (see fishing gear list)
- Small flashlight
- Camera, batteries, & film (disposable, waterproof cameras are great.)
- 20 ft. of cord for clothesline
- Belt with knife and/or pocket knife(optional)
- Blank check for tipping the guides
- 1 QT water bottle, Optional –self filtering water bottle (we provide fresh water, juice, and pop throughout the day), book, pencil, paper, playing cards, compact binoculars, etc.
* If you have particular items you wish to bring on the trip, which are not on the list, feel free to ask us about them. For example, we’d love to have someone bring their guitar.
Wetsuits; there also substitutes for wetsuits in the form of dry suits. Both have pros and cons.
The reason I like my guests in wetsuits during extremes in water levels and cold temperatures is that in the event of an involuntary guest swim in such conditions, a wetsuit (when I say wetsuit I refer to a one-piece long legged and long sleeve) will immediately provide additional buoyancy, insulation and a full body’s worth of foam padding to protect them from the hard services they may encounter during their swim.
Lastly and maybe equally as important is that the wetsuit is the final bastion of hope for the adult human physique. Simply put; “If you don’t look good in a wetsuit, you don’t look good“. So wearing a well fitting wetsuit for many of our guests will result in at least part of the week having their anatomy relocated to the places, if not exactly, near where they used to be.
A few additional wetsuit tips;
(1) is if you are wearing the wetsuit for a precautionary measure and don’t plan on getting submerged on a regular basis, then wearing a layer between you and the wetsuit can make it much more comfortable and tolerable and,
(2) wetsuits are not intended to be rain gear. It is recommended that you still wear a water repellent shell over the wetsuit if in splash or rain conditions,
…and most important (3) go to the bathroom just before you put the wetsuit on not just after.
Personally, as an outfitter who consistently escorts guest down the Middle Fork during the high water flows typical of early and mid June, I feel much more confident in my guests’ safety as we enter Rapids like Hell’s Half Mile, Powerhouse, Velvet falls, Weber, Rubber Rapids, Devil’s Tooth and the rest, knowing that in a swim, my guests are better prepared just by simply wearing a wetsuit.
As the water drops and the temperature rises, the need for a wet suit becomes less and less to a point that most days, most summers in July and August don’t typically warrant the need for one.
As you go through your outfitters gear list you should feel free to contact your host with any questions or concerns you have relative to your gear.
Keep this in mind; “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear”. Having the necessary gear is paramount and is the simplest way to ensure an enjoyable Middle Fork of the Salmon River float trip.
You expect a lot of your Middle Fork Outfitter, it begins with you showing up prepared.
Most Middle Fork trips begin in Stanley Idaho. Beyond being one of the most beautiful places on earth, located at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains, Stanley has become a great jumping off point for Middle Fork boaters. With lodging, fuel, grocery stores, restaurants, campsites, live entertainment and boasting a year-round population of less than 100, it is the perfect place to begin your Middle Fork adventure. Even more important for you, “the Middle Fork River Runner”, is that Stanley is also home to two very nice, well-stocked outdoor gear retail stores. The River-1 Store and the Riverwear Store. Prices are not gouging and generally anything you need for a Middle Fork raft trip is available in one or both of the stores. The Riverwear Store also provides wetsuit rentals.
As you complete your list and pack for your Middle Fork expedition, keep in mind that space is limited. Most companies will provide a selection of waterproof (we will use the term loosely) bags for your gear. These bags are commonly called dry bags. Typical MO of the Middle Fork Outfitter is to give each guest a large dry bag for the bulk of your gear and a small “day” bag for you to keep a few things close and handy that you may need to get to during the day. Most Middle Fork Outfitters provide a pre trip orientation the evening before your trip in order to, among other things, explain how to pack these bags.
I personally enjoy when our guests enhance their gear list with small non-obnoxious items to possibly share with the group, i.e. small table games, cards, book on wildflowers, etc. Again, consult your outfitter here as many nonessential items can also detract from the experience of the other guest around you on your trip.
I would say that a good baseline for acceptable gear volume for your Middle Fork vacation would be to have all your gear fit in a normal carry-on suitcase, (fishing tackle, wetsuit and maybe a slightly heavier coat for early spring and fall trips excluded).
All middle Fork Outfitters will do things slightly different. Items they do or don’t provide will be reflected in what you need to bring.
I personally also provide our guests with a list of what we provide, so that they don’t get nervous about obvious essentials that are not listed on our gear list,
- i.e. we provide a sleeping bag,
- very nice sleeping pad
- and a PFD (life jacket).
If you didn’t know this and you were planning on spending a week in the Frank Church “River of No Return” Wilderness and they weren’t on your list, you might be a little concerned.
Good news, you are about to embark on the greatest outdoor experience of your life.
In summary; “do what the guide says”, bring what is on the list, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and “if you don’t look good in the wetsuit, you don’t look good.”
A special tip to the parents, mothers in particular.
I have witnessed many mothers of all ages with children of all ages head down the Middle Fork the Salmon River. Just like outfitters, all mothers do it differently. My observation is that when necessary, children are quite durable and capable. Mothers who let their children take on their own packing responsibilities once on the river, tend to be more relaxed.
Most guide crews on the river are extremely helpful in such matters assisting in child maintenance, i.e. assisting in packing the kids dry bags. Small children tend to have small clothes, thus dry bags which are easier to pack and handle. You being of the “extra gear not on the list” gender, should not absorb the space in your child’s bag created by their small stuff. You are “all” on vacation, so try to treat yourself to one. Let the kids take care of their own stuff as much as possible and in the words of Marie Antoinette, ”if they don’t like the lasagna, let them eat cake”.