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Everything You Need For A Packrafting Trip: Packing List and Gear


Looking through a cave opening at Jess river rafting in a canyon in Mexico on a pink raft, the river is green and small waterfalls run down the canyon walls
Paddeling through waterfalls on a packrafting trip in Mexico with Nahua Expeditions.

Have you ever dreamt of venturing into the heart of Mexico’s untamed wilderness, where pristine rivers wind through breathtaking landscapes? If you crave the thrill of adventure and the serenity of being surrounded by nature, then a multi-day rafting trip is the ultimate experience that awaits you.

A unique combination of backpacking and rafting, packrafting allows you to traverse remote waterways and explore hidden gems that are inaccessible by foot alone. As you raft, you’ll be rewarded with awe-inspiring vistas, encounter diverse wildlife, and immerse yourself in a world that feels untouched by time.

But before you set off on this epic journey, it’s crucial to prepare yourself with the right packrafting gear and essentials. In this comprehensive packrafting gear guide, I’ll dive into the essential items you need to pack for your packrafting adventure. From lightweight camping gear to clothing suitable for diverse terrains, I’ve got you covered!

An aerial view of a group camping by a waterfall while river rafting in Mexico
Our first camp site. Every night we set up our tents and deflated our boats before settling in for an evening around the camp fire.

Backpacking Gear For Your Packrafting Trip

Backpacking Tent – The Big Agnes Copper Spur has been my go-to tent for years, I also own the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 for when I want a little extra room.

Drybag Backpack – The Watershed Westwater 65L Drybag Backpacks are the best packs that I’ve found for keeping everything dry and safe on the water.

Personal Drybag – Nahua Expeditions recommended that we each bring a personal drybag to keep the personal gear and items that we want easy access to on the water. They suggested the Watershed Ocoee 10L Dry Bag.

Sleeping Bag – It’s supposed to be in the 60’s F at night, so I’m planning on bringing the Sea to Summit Traveller TrI 50 Sleeping Bag. This is my own sleeping bag for car camping in the summer, and normally it wouldn’t be nearly warm enough for me, but I’m going for it given the sunny weather forecast.

Sleeping Pad – the Nemo Tensor Insulated Light Sleeping Pad has been my go-to for the past few years and so far I haven’t had any issues. I also really like the Vortex pump sack it comes with. Makes for quick and easy inflation.

Pillow – I use the Summit Aeros Premium Pillow; it has a slight curvature to cradle your head, deflates down to the size of my fist.

HeadlampThe Petzel Actik Core or Black Diamond Revolt are both great options. I like that they have the ability to charge via micro USB or run on AAA batteries.

Fast Drying Camp Towel – I have the Sea to Summit Tek Towel and a couple Nomadix Towels, both great options. I like that they have the ability to charge via micro USB or run on AAA batteries.

several packrafts lined up along the shore of a river canyon with a woman laying in one of them
Resting alongside the river on our river rafting trip in Mexico

Camp Kitchen & Food Checklist For Packrafting

The best food to bring on a backpacking trip is lightweight, non-perishable, high in energy and nutrition, and easy to prepare. For our packrafting trip Nahua Expedition will be boiling water twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, to rehydrate meals. When planning your meals, aim for a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats to fuel your body. Finally, don’t forget to pack utensils!

14 Freeze Dried Meals (7 breakfasts / 7 Dinners) – I’m not a huge freeze dried food fan, and normally I would just bring Annies or Top Ramen backpacking, but since we won’t have our own personal stoves / cook sets I don’t think that’s possible. I have had good luck with Peak Refuel, so I’m bringing a handful of those. I also picked a few other brands that I’ll be trying out for fun.

Snacks – For lunch and any other time you feel like it!

When it comes to choosing snacks for backpacking, it’s important to consider a few factors such as nutrition, portability, and shelf life. Here are some great snack options that meet those criteria:

  1. Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are a great source of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. They are also lightweight, easy to carry, and have a long shelf life. Almonds, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are all great options.
  2. Energy Bars: Energy bars are a convenient and easy-to-carry snack option for backpacking. Look for bars that are high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats, and low in added sugars. Some good options include KIND bars, RX bars, and Larabars.
  3. Dried Fruits: Dried fruits such as apricots, raisins, and cranberries are a good source of energy and are lightweight and easy to carry. Just make sure to look for varieties that don’t have added sugars.
  4. Jerky: Jerky is a high-protein snack that can provide sustained energy while hiking. Look for lean varieties such as turkey, beef, or salmon jerky.
  5. Trail Mix: Trail mix is a classic snack for backpacking, and for good reason. It’s a mix of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit that provides a balanced combination of nutrients and energy. You can even make your own mix to suit your preferences.

Electrolyte Mix – Electrolytes are great for maintaining proper hydration and preventing dehydration, especially when engaging in strenuous activities such as hiking.

Lightweight Utensils or Spork – I really like the Long Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spork. The longer length makes it easier to stir and eat out of the freeze dried food bag without getting food on your hand. Also, when I’m cooking with my Jetboil it’s easier to stir the food without getting burnt.

Water Filter / Purification – I’m bringing the Grayl GeoPress Water Purifier. I like that it eliminates everything from bacteria, to heavy metals, and viruses which makes it a great option for travel and outdoor adventures. There’s no shortage of water, so I don’t think it matters what size water bottle/filter you bring. For more of my favorite water filtration options, check out my complete backpacking gear guide.

Mug – For coffee and/or tea!

Water Bottle / Hydration System – Because the Grayl Purifier is a two in one system, you don’t NEED a separate hydration system. But if you are bringing a pump filter or any type of filter that doesn’t have a built in reservoir, or you wan’t to add electrolytes to some of your water make sure to bring a Nalgene or other container to put your purified water in. Whatever works for you!

Packrafting Packing List: Clothing Checklist

Quick Drying Shorts X 2 – Right now I’m planning on brining my Patagonia Multi-Trail Pair of Shorts (fyi these have a built in liner, which I actually really like because it prevents them from riding up), Outdoor Research Ferrosi shorts, and maybe a pair of Beyond Yoga biker shorts. I know that’s 3, but I’m feeling indecisive.

Quick Drying T-Shirt/Tank X 2 – I usually wear a few sports bras / tanks wear those under my life vest. And when I want more coverage I’ll go with my light-weight long sleeve.

Comfy Shorts / Pants For Camp – I think I’m going to bring my Vuori Joggers. They are pretty light weight, and usually my go-to chilling at camp pants. It’s going to be hot though, so I might regret this.

Long Sleeve Shirt – I would suggest bringing a light weight, quick drying, long-sleeved shirt with sun protection. I have the Backcountry Tahoe 2 Sun Hoodie and Crew from my Grand Canyon trip.

Pants For Hiking – I’m going to bring an old pair of leggings that I already own, but I do think this trip would be a good time to use some of those hiking pants that zip off into shorts, which would be a pretty sweet option. I actually ended up wearing my leggings in the raft most days instead of shorts. I found that they protected my legs not only from the sun, but also from getting cut up during the inevitable raft flips.

Lightweight Down or Fleece Jacket – I was planning on bringing my down jacket, but given how warm it’s probably going to be, I think I might go with a fleece jacket now for the cool evenings. I’m still debating between my Cotopaxi Amado Fleece Pullover (light weight) and my Patagonia Retro Pile Marsupial Pullover (pretty heavy).

Rain Jacket – Rain gear is always a good idea for packrafting. The Rab Kinetic 2.0 is my ride-or-die rain jacket. The soft-shell type material breathes wonderfully while keeping me dry.

Rain Pants – For a packrafting trip in Mexico, rain pants likely aren’t necessary. It’s just too hot – even when nit rains. If you’d still like to bring some, I’d recommend a pair of rain pants that have zippers on the side so that you can easily slip then on and off. The Mountain Hardware Stretch Ozonic, REI Co-op Rainier Full-Zip Rain Pants, or the Outdoor Research Foray Pants (Mens), are all good lightweight options.

Quick Drying Hiking Shoes – I’m going to bring either my Altra Lone Peak Trail Running Shoe or my Danner Trailcomber Hiking Shoe. Both are light weight, quick-drying, and pretty grippy. Our guide at Nahua Expeditions also highly recommends the Adidas Terrex AX4 Hiking Shoe.

Camp Shoes / Sandals – I’m going to bring my Teva Original Sandal. I brought these for my Grand Canyon trip and was really happy with how they performed. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up wearing them as river shoes/water sandals instead of my hiking shoes on river days that don’t involve any hiking.

Hat – I’m going to bring a baseball cap. And if I can find my Outdoor Research Bucket Hat, I might pack that as well. If I was going to buy a new one I’d probably go with the Outdoor Research Sift Air Cap because it looks like it would be nice and light on the hot days. A wide-brimmed hat is an alternative option.

Swimsuit – Whatever you’re comfortable in!

Socks – For hiking. I’m bringing some light weight wool socks (sounds like an oxymoron lol).

Moisture Wicking UnderwearExOfficio has some good options. Plus, they dry pretty quickly, so you only need a couple pairs. Any underwear designed for sports or an active lifestyle will work! You just want to avoid cotton.

Off River clothes and spare dry clothes/outfits for travel and exploring town before and after packrafting trip.

Jess sitting in a pink river raft floating on turquoise blue water close to the riverbank
Packrafting in Mexico

Toiletries For Your Packrafting Trip

Prescription Medications



Sunscreen / Chapstick

Wet Wipes – Sea To Summit makes good all purpose “Wilderness Wipes.” I usually bring two types of wet wipes on backpacking trips. Neutrogena face wipes and then personal/feminine wipes for the body.

Toilet Kit (TP, Trowel, Hand Sanitizer)

Toilet In A Tube

Feminine Hygiene Items – Looking for more info about feminine hygiene in the backcountry? Here’s one of the best articles I’ve found on the subject by the all female team at Bearfoot Theory.


Biodegradable Soap/Shampoo – I usually keep a bottle of the Sea to Summit Shampoo/Conditioner in my backpacking bag. I use it as body wash too.

Sunscreen – Almost everyone on my trip wished they had brought more sunscreen than they did. But you can reduce the amount of sunscreen you need by covering up and wearing a hat as much as possible.

A group set up camp on the sandy river bank with several colourful tents and a group of people sitting together on the sand.
Our campsite setup with the group

Other Items To Consider For Your Packrafting Trip


Cash / Credit Card – You don’t necessarily need cash, but US dollars have come in handy more than once for me in Mexico. You will need pesos for taxis, stores in small towns, and tips.

First Aid KitAdventure medical has you covered with several first aid kits. Their Ultralight kit is a great option, and then you can supplement it with any additional items you want. That being said, Nahua Expeditions is supposed to have a more extensive first aid kit in case anyone needs it.

Knife / Multi-Tool – I don’t think this is necessarily essential, but could be useful.

Gear Repair Kit – I ordered a bunch of patch kits from Alpacka Raft, so hopefully we’ll be covered there!

Camp Chair – This is on the Nahua Expedition Website as an item to bring. For an ultralight option, I have a Therm-a-Rest Z Seat that I sometimes take backpacking. I also have Helinox Camp Chair, and it’s awesome. It only weighs a pound, and fit’s easily into most backpacks. My friend Jake who has done this trip over 5 times now says he likes to use super packable Crazy Creek Original Chair.

Optional Extras For Your Packrafting Packing List

Camera Gear – right now my plan is to bring a 360 cam or GoPro, my cell phone, a point and shoot, and my DJI Mini 3 Pro. Get more details about my adventure photography camera gear in my complete photography gear guide.

GPS – I brought the Garmin inReach Mini 2, which is a compact satellite communicator for making contact when off-grid. I have it in case of an SOS situation, but theoretically we can also send a text to the outside world with it.

Power Bank / Charging Cords: I’m bringing the Goal Zero Venture 75 Power Bank.

Book / Entertainment

Bug Spray / insect repellent

Ziplock Bags – Great for organizing, storing garbage, and keeping things dry (although I wouldn’t rely on them for the last bit).

Small Ultralight Dry Bags – A smaller dry bag not only add an extra layer of protection to the personal items you really don’t want to get wet, but small dry bags are also great for organizing your gear. The Watershed Westwater 65L Drybag Backpacks has a lot of pros, but organization is not one of them. Having a way to quickly separate your gear, clothes, electronics etc. will save you time and a bunch of frustration. I’d suggest picking up a couple ultralight dry bags between 10-20L.

CarabinersCarabiners are super handy for attaching items to your backpack, raft, tent, ect. I used mine to keep my water bottle handy for easy drinking on the water. I also, used one to hang my headlamp up in my tent.

Ultralight Day Pack – There were a number of times on the river, and even on the hike to the river where my Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Travel Day Pack came in clutch. This super lightweight day bag, folds down to the size of my fist and has become a fixture in my backpacking bag. It’s great for carrying water and a few essentials while making side trips from your main camp.

Packing for a packrafting trip is a vital step in ensuring a successful and enjoyable adventure. Hopefully this comprehensive packing list for packrafting will help you in choosing the right gear, clothing, and essentials and you’ll be fully prepared to tackle the rivers and immerse yourself in nature’s wonders. 

Remember to prioritize safety, respect the environment, and pack light for optimal comfort. With careful preparation, you’re ready to embark on an extraordinary packrafting journey, creating unforgettable memories in the great outdoors. So pack smart, embrace the thrill, and get ready for an incredible adventure on the water!

Just a quick heads up! Some of the links on this blog may be affiliate links, which means that if you click on them and make a purchase, I may earn a tiny commission. Don’t worry, though – it won’t cost you anything extra, and it’s a way for me to keep this blog up and running. Thanks for your support!

A figure standing on a large boulder inside a huge cave and backlit by sunlight coming through the cave entrance
Arco Del Tiempo on La Venta River
Other Posts You Might Find Useful

Complete Backpacking Checklist

Beginners Guide To Backpacking

Ultimate Backpacking & Hiking Gear Guide

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what to pack for a packrafting trip - everything you need on your river rafting packing list

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  1. Rhonda Smith says:

    Love all your tips! Thank you for sharing always learn something new! Can’t wait for your trip to this beautiful river trip! I wish I was going along too!

    • Jessica Dales says:

      Thanks Rhonda! I leave in 3 days, so definitely getting excited. Now I just need to pack all of this stuff lol.

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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