GEAR: WHAT TO BRING
The tube. If you’re not renting a tube through an outfitter, you’ll obviously need to bring your own. The most practical type of tube for the river is something with a mesh bottom (unlike those donut-like pool floats), which makes them more comfortable to lay in for hours, keeps you cool from the water underneath, and provides a catch-all for things you might have with you (like a water bottle or dry bag). Look for a tube with handles or other hardware for tying ropes onto, as well as tubes outfitted with a headrest for peak relaxation during lazy floats.
Water shoes. Riverbeds can be rocky, so sturdy footwear will help you avoid cutting up your feet when entering and exiting the water. Word of caution: Flip flops don’t work here because they won’t stay on your feet in the river.
Sun protection. It should go without saying that you need to apply sunscreen before entering the river and keep reapplying throughout your tubing trip to avoid sunburn. To protect your face even further though, you’re going to want a hat and sunglasses -- but consider leaving your $200 Ray-Bans and irreplaceable lucky hat at home. Be prepared for the fact that anything you bring with you could potentially end up at the bottom of the river. Instead of a wide-brimmed straw hat -- which is more likely to be carried away by the wind -- go for something snug-fitting, like a baseball cap. And if you’re worried about dropping your shades, a sunglass strap will keep them more secure.
Leave your phone behind. It’s just not worth the risk to bring your cell phone. If you need one for emergencies or to coordinate your transportation back, designate one person in your group to seal theirs in a waterproof bag (this goes for other valuables like car keys, too). Now, we’re not suggesting you don’t document your epic tubing adventure for social media. If someone in your group owns a waterproof camera, bring that, or throw it back with a couple of disposable waterproof cameras -- then upload the pics to a group folder after your trip so everyone can share.
Rope. Nylon rope resists rot, and can be used to tie multiple tubes to one another -- cause a crew that’s tied together, sticks together (literally, because they have no choice). Don’t forget scissors to cut it, and a handful of carabiners can also come in handy for attaching things to your tube -- water bottles, hats, dry bags, etc.
Portable air pump. For the BYOT route, this is a must-buy. Get a model that plugs into a car to speed up the process of inflating your tubes without anyone in your crew passing out from blowing them up manually.
Clothes (optional). You’re going in a river so a bathing suit is appropriate. But you’ll want to pack towels and a change of dry clothes for when you finish the trip -- especially if you plan on popping into town for a bite afterwards. If your skin burns easily, you may also want to consider wearing a sun-protective shirt on the river. When you’re being kept cool by the water, it’s easier to forget to reapply sunscreen.
Insulated water bottle. Hydration is important when you’re talking about floating in the sun for hours -- but there’s nothing refreshing about water that’s been boiling in a plastic bottle. A stainless steel bottle will keep water cold for hours, and often comes with a handle that makes it easy to attach to your tube with a carabiner.