For decades, anglers have hopped into drift boats or rafts and floated down a trout-rich river for a day of fishing. But because many of the rivers we fish are near roads or farms and communities, few folks think to spend the night camping at the riverside.
That should change. Rivers like Washington’s Yakima and Klickitat; Oregon’s John Day and Deschutes; and Montana’s Clark’s Fork, Yellowstone, and Big Hole offer plenty of opportunities for riverside camps with little effort. In some cases, camp can be made in already established official car-camping sites. In others, there are pockets of public land on which campers are legally allowed to set up a primitive camp for the night.
Because these camps are sometimes in view of public roadways or private farms, camping anglers should try to maintain a low-profile, low-impact riverside camp. Fortunately, the gear needed for such stealth camps is readily available and easy to pack on a raft or drift boat.
Yeti Panga 75 Duffle
A week of hauling gear around remote camps in Idaho’s Clearwater country proved the durability of the Yeti Panga dry duffle. Another week bouncing around a raft on the Salmon River illustrated the bag’s functionality. The Panga heavy-duty, dual-layer nylon shell is waterproof and tough, and the stout waterproof zipper provides good access to the interior of the bag. Removable shoulder straps along the Panga to be toted like a backpack, or a sling bag. The 75-liter size swallowed all of the gear listed below, which covers the bulk of what’s needed for camp for two — tent, sleeping bags, pads, and stove. But if the Panga 75 can’t contain all your gear, Yeti also offers a 100-liter version, as well as a 50-liter option for lighter travel. $350. Buy Now
The North Face Homestead Roomy 2
The North Face has a history of making gear suitable for epic adventures, but the Homestead Roomy 2 shows the brand knows what’s needed for less strenuous weekend outings. Though not the lightest tent on the market, the Homestead 2 offers campers a stormproof shelter with an abundance of room. The classic dome design is upgraded with a pair of ‘spreader’ poles in the roof to push the walls out at a steeper angle, making the entire 39 square feet of floor space usable. The 6-pound pack weight isn’t excessive when toted in a boat, and the packed size is still compact enough to tuck into a dry bag or duffle to keep it dry and out of the way during the float. $230. Buy Now
Uco Stakelights, 4-pack
Camping alongside rivers frequently means dealing with wind, so tents need to be well staked out. Because river camps are also likely to be littered with tripping hazards — rocks, driftwood, shrubs — it’s a good idea to mark your tent’s guylines to minimize falls after dark. The Uco Stakelights provide the perfect means of doing this. The hardy aluminum stakes boast LED cells that cast a soft glow around your tent’s perimeter. The lights can be set to a steady glow or flashing for an attention-grabbing strobe to ensure everyone sees the hazard. A pack of four provides plenty of coverage for single-door tents as you won’t need the lights on the backside of the shelter. For double-doors, grab two sets. $20. Buy Now
Nemo engineers built the Steelhead specifically for the conditions found along rivers: Wet environments where weather can be quick to change, and gear tends to get damp despite the best precautions. The Steelhead boasts a high-loft synthetic insulation and ripstop nylon shell treated with a durable waterproof repellent (DWR) coating. The generous tapered cut provides a cozy fit without being constrictive. The bag’s 20ºF rating proved fairly accurate, as the Steelhead kept testers comfortable during multiple outings on the Olympic Peninsula during — appropriately enough! — steelhead fishing season. The weight — 3 lbs, 6 oz — makes this bag unsuitable for backpacking, but is perfectly acceptable for rafters. $200. Buy Now
Klymit Insulated V Ultralite SL
Klymit’s unique approach to sleeping pad designs incorporates body-mapping technology that results in a remarkably comfortable backcountry bed. The latest offerings from the company —the Insulated V Ultralite SL, and it’s warm-weather companion, the standard V Ultralite SL — advance the level of comfort even further. The Insulated SL sports synthetic insulation in the air pockets, creating a cozy 4.4 R-value to keep the damp cold of river sandbars from penetrating into your bag. A tapered design — the foot section is just 18-inches wide, while the body of the pad is 20-inches — reduces weight without jeopardizing comfort. The Insulated Ultralight SL weighs just 1 pound, while the non-insulated standard Ultralite SL is a mere 12 ounces. $120. Buy Now
Jetboil Halfgen Basecamp stove system
Jetboil, a brand well-known for fast, efficient cook systems for backpackers, offers a unique cooker system for car- and boat-camps. The Halfgen stove system sports a single 10,000 BTU burner, a 9” non-stick frying pan, windscreen, and a carry bag. The burner will easily support large pots and pans — we cooked with a 12-inch Dutch oven on the Halfgen with no stability concerns. And when your cooking requires more than one burner, the Halfgen can be expanded via its JetLink port. Just add one of Jetboil’s various burner options. Our favorite is the Luna Satellite Burner. It is essentially a linked standard Jetboil Flash burner and accepts the various Spare Cups. The addition of the Java Spare Cup takes care of coffee in the morning, while the main Halfgen burner is used for breakfast. $180. Buy Now
Uco Flatpack Grill & Fire Pit
Anglers who venture out on wilderness rivers, or designated wild & scenic rivers, may need to pack out any fire ash remaining from their campfires. To make this task easy, while minimizing the impact on the campsite, many boaters use portable firepits, and the Uco Flatpack Grill & Firepit is the best we’ve found for easy river camping. The Flatpack utilizes durable stainless steel throughout, and the V-shaped pit keeps the hot embers focused in the center of fire to ensure complete combustion. That means less ash left after the burn. A stout steel grate can be used atop the fire pan to allow grilling for those that like to char meat and veggies for dinner. The Flatpack folds down to a compact 12″ x 10″ x 1.5″ package and weighs just over 3 pounds. $50. Buy Now
Yeti Hopper Backflip 24
Hard-sided coolers will keep your beer and steaks colder longer, but for trips of less than a week, the soft-wide Yeti Hopper coolers work well. And the new Hopper Backflip 24 is the ideal solution for rafting anglers. The broad rectangular container swallows a block of ice with ease, along with a six pack and enough cold meat to feed a pair of hungry anglers for 3-4 days. A waterproof zipper seals the lid onto the cooler securely but when fully opened, the lid flips backs completely for unfettered access to the cooler’s contents.
The tough exterior of the cooler absorbed tons of river-side abuse with no signs of wear or tear, and the durable interior held our food and drinks safely, with no leakage. The thick flexible insulation wrapping the Backflip proved up to the challenge or keeping our perishables cool – after a four-day float on Oregon’s John Day River, we still had ice in the Hopper Backflip when we hit the take-out. $300. Buy Now.