Illinois River Equipment List and Packing Guide

Prepare yourself!

The weather on the Illinois River is unpredictable; everyone should come prepared for cool, sunny days and cold, rainy days. Being prepared with the proper gear will make your trip much more enjoyable, so take the time to get the right stuff. Space is at a premium so bringing appropriate items, not more items, is the key; two fleece pullovers are much more compact and versatile than six cotton sweatshirts. Because the river is extremely cold, we will provide “Farmer-John” type wetsuits and splash jackets, but everyone should bring their own thick fleece top, (or two) as well as wool or fleece layers for their head, feet and hands. Drysuits are a great option and can be rented from Pacific River Supply (510/223-3675) for about $170 for the week. The following list and packing advice are designed to help you decide on and find the right gear. Please follow it closely and call if you have any questions.

What to bring:


Come prepared for challenging weather conditions. Do not skimp on this list.


These will be packed in your dunnage bag and will generally not be available during the day.

  • Compact sleeping bag*, (down or synthetic, rated to 30 degrees).
    Available to rent, see below.
  • Closed-cell foam or self-inflating sleeping pad*, (Thermarest, or Paco Pad).
    Available to rent, see below.
  • Sleeping bag liner* (will add warmth on cold nights)
  • Compact, lightweight tent*, (free-standing preferred, no wall tents please) or small tarp or ground cloth.
    Available to rent, see below.
  • Your favorite pillow (an extra pillow-case is handy for organizing stuff in your bag).
  • 2 complete changes of clothing (versatile pants and shirts, cotton is fine – something exciting for dinner is welcome!)
  • Camp shoes. Our guides wear flip-flops or lightweight trail-running shoes.
  • Small towel, soap and shampoo (Campsuds and Dr. Bronner’s seem to be the most environmentally friendly; Ivory is fine).
  • Personal hygiene items, including medicine, insect repellent, dry-skin lotion, etc. Please bring double the amount needed of any essential medicine.
  • Warm jacket, (thick fleece is great – will work on-river as well – or compact/down coat).
  • Rain gear, jacket for sure, rain pants recommended
  • Small flashlight with extra batteries, (headlamps are great).
  • Book, sketch pad, journal, etc.


These will be worn, or packed in your personal dry-pack and will be accessible during the day

  • Base layer (comfort): swimsuit and polypro pants/tights and long-sleeved polypropylene shirt.
  • Insulation layer (warmth): thick fleece top, (pullovers work best)
  • Outer layer (waterproof): wetsuit or drysuit. ARTA will provide wetsuits; if you have your own wetsuit or drysuit, you should bring it. No one has ever regretted renting a drysuit, (see below for more information)
  • Outer layer (waterproof): splash jacket or dry-top. ARTA will provide splash jackets; if you have your own dry-top, you should bring it.
  • Outer layer (fashion): shorts to wear over your wetsuit
  • On your feet (protection): shoes or sandals that will stay on while swimming and are comfortable to hike in.  No flip-flops, slip-ons or aqua shoes for on the river.
  • On your feet (warmth): wetsuit booties, neoprene, fleece or wool socks under your shoes
  • On your head (warmth): a fleece or wool beanie (you will be wearing a helmet)
  • On your hands (warmth): neoprene gloves or dishwashing gloves over fleece gloves, (surprisingly effective)
  • Lightweight cotton or synthetic clothing for sun protection
  • Waterproof sunscreen/block (SPF 30), lip balm
  • Sunglasses with strap, (maybe not your best pair)
  • Small water bottle, 1 quart, (essential – even if it’s just an empty plastic Gatorade bottle)


Not absolutely necessary but you are welcome to bring them.

  • Waterproof camera, (if you want to bring your cell phone to use as a camera, we strongly recommend getting a sturdy case such as a Lifeproof or Otter Box)
  • Beer, wine, liquor, or soda in unbreakable containers, (cans or plastic bottles).
  • Sarong (very versatile)
  • Locking carabiner, handy for securing your day-pack.
  • 1 or 2 plastic garbage bags and some gallon size zip-locks for organizing gear.

Underlined items are the choice of our professional river guides.
We will provide: a wetsuit and paddling jacket plus chair, cup, plate, and eating utensils for each guest.
Please do not bring: Valuable jewelry, bluetooth speakers, guns or irreplaceable items.


We have good camping equipment available to rent. Reserve and pay for it in advance, pick it up at the pre-trip meeting, leave it behind when you’re done; simple.

  • Sleep Kits (polarguard bag, liner, thick, self-inflating pad, and tarp) are $40 per trip.
  • Tents (two-person, free-standing, comfortable) are $40 per trip.


Drysuits are waterproof coveralls (and wonderful.) They have tight-fitting latex wrist and neck gaskets and integrated neoprene or latex socks; combined with an insulation layer, they are the warmest, driest, coziest way to stay warm on the river on a cold day. They are also expensive, specialized, and fragile; even if you can find a friend who has one, they may not want to loan it to you. Pacific River Supply rents drysuits for about $175 per week. You will need your own insulation layer (polypro, fleece, etc.) but if you are worried about being cold on the Illinois (who isn’t?), consider a drysuit.

How to dress:

ON THE RIVER: Think layers. The key to being comfortable on the Illinois is being dry and adaptable; a thin synthetic layer (polypro) next to your skin with a thick synthetic layer (fleece) over it with a waterproof layer (wetsuit and splash jacket or drysuit) over that seems to work the best. Feet and hands get cold easily and we suggest wetsuit booties or neoprene socks under sturdy shoes and neoprene gloves or fleece and dishwashing gloves. Cotton is worthless when wet and should not be used for on-river insulation. 

IN CAMP: Think dry. The Illinois River canyon is a wet place, even when it isn’t raining. Staying dry in camp is important. You will want a sturdy waterproof rainshell and rainpants, (not a windbreaker) and good insulation; our guides bring gore-tex shells, puffy down jackets, fleece vests and cotton hoodies. Campsites often have wet grass and sand, so waterproof shoes (like LL Bean boots or irrigation boots) are pretty nice for keeping your socks dry and your feet warm. Cotton is o.k. for camp stuff, but because it is worthless for keeping you warm on the river, many people bring two sets of fleece – one for the river, one for camp – and have a backup in case one gets drenched.

Professional Dressing Tips

‘Fleece’ is a generic term for a spun, polyester fabric developed for outdoor use. It is thick and fluffy and does not absorb water, making it ideal insulation on a river trip. It is commonly called Polartec or Polarfleece. Polypropylene is a thinner, stretchier, woven variation used predominately for long underwear. Any polypropylene long underwear will work; heavyweight is the most versatile.
Layering your clothing is an effective way to adjust to the daily weather changes that you will encounter. A light polypropylene layer under a heavy fleece top under a rainshell will get you going on the chilliest of mornings and allow you to shed layers as the day warms up.
Our guides say that one of the handiest things to bring on a trip is a sarong. Versatile, comfortable and colorful, sarongs get used for quick clothing changes, beach throws, sun screens and dinner celebrations.

Where to find it:

Local outdoor or sporting goods stores should have everything you need and fleece garments are now available at most department and closeout stores. Great selections of river trip gear are also available on-line through:

Pacific River Supply (drysuit rentals)
Northwest River Supplies
Columbia Sportswear

Professional Shopping Tip

Thrift Store

How to pack:

CAMP ITEMS go in a watertight dunnage bag provided by ARTA, (one per person). These are not accessible during the day. Each bag is roughly 17 inches in diameter and about 24 inches tall, (the size of a large duffel bag). We ask that you limit all of your gear to 35 pounds. Although we will show you how to close the dunnage bag so that it stays watertight even if temporarily submerged, packing your sleeping bag in a garbage bag provides extra protection. Zip-lock bags and small stuff sacks are good for keeping track of small and/or wet things inside your bag.

RIVER ITEMS will go in a watertight dry-pack provided by ARTA, (one per person). These small packs are 9 inches in diameter and 12 inches tall, perfect for rain gear, fleece, sunblock, and other things you want to keep handy during the day. For expensive cameras we recommend a Pelican Box, which can be found at most surplus and outdoor stores.

Professional Packing Tip

Our dry-bags are great for keeping things dry but are somewhat awkward for packing and living out of, (they are tall and narrow with a small opening at the top). Compact sleeping bags are much more convenient, and small stuff sacks, pillow cases or zip-lock bags are helpful for dividing up your stuff inside the bag. Trying to put your entire duffel bag or luggage into the dry-bag never seems to work.


If you still have questions, please feel free to call us (209-962-7873) or e-mail us ( We have been on many trips, have tested a lot of gear, and enjoy talking about what has and hasn't worked.