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How to Prepare For Unguided River Trips

Two red canoes at the bottom of an enormous gorge

Have you ever dreamed of floating the Rio Grande through Big Bend National Park? Well, you’ve come to the right place. From deep canyons to colossal mountains and vast desert plains, Big Bend National Park is incomparable. The expansive vistas, the wilderness, and the fact there are very few other people around (if at all) provide you with an unforgettable outdoor experience. But the Rio Grande itself is something special.

The Rio Grande is an essential element of Big Bend National Park and every other town and village it winds through. It holds the title of North America’s 5th longest river as it starts in the San Juan Range of the Colorado Rockies and runs all the way down into the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately 1,900 miles (3,060km) long, its importance stems from two main factors: it’s an essential source of internationally regulated irrigation supplying much-needed water to land to grow crops and it also acts as the border between Texas and Mexico. Many of those who live near this glorious river make a living from outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore the area from the water.

We here at the Far Flung Outdoor Center have offered guided river trips for many years now and we love every section of this glorious river. For those of you who might want to “do it themselves” as an unguided trip, here are some preliminary thoughts on how to prepare.

Big Bend National Park Unguided River Trips

There’s nothing quite like a solo Big Bend river trip down the awesome Rio Grande. Coupled with the unrivaled beauty of the area and the blend of the rapids and the tranquil waters, it is quite simply an unforgettable experience. However, you must come prepared. Here are our tips to get the most out of your trip on the Rio Grande:

The equipment

Packing correctly for any journey is imperative to a successful trip. Ensure you have the following basic wilderness items: satellite phone, GPS, a first-aid kit (coast-guard approved recommended), any allergy/medications you require, a tent, plenty of drinking water in non-breakable containers, and cooking utensils (bring a good knife!). The right clothes are also important—be prepared to get wet!

Dress in layers

  • Comfortable, fast-drying layers that can be interchanged throughout the day
  • River shoes or old sneakers at all times on the river—never flip flops
  • Always have a dry set of clothes and shoes, bring a plastic bag for wet items
  • Depending on the season: hats and sunglasses in the summer, wool hats and a nice warm pair of gloves for the spring, fall, and winter months
  • Sunscreen & insect repellent are also essential

Weather conditions

Our second tip is to be hyper-vigilant of the upcoming weather conditions and prepare accordingly. You’ll want to be fully aware of what to expect when out on the river so nothing surprises you! The temperature at night will drop regardless of the season, so pack light for the day activities then jackets/sweatshirts at night—and don’t forget your waterproof gear!


Staying hydrated and properly fed goes without saying really. It’s important to continue drinking water and ensure it’s stored in non-breakable containers. Bring more than you feel is necessary—we can’t stress this enough. As for food, you’ll be burning a lot of energy throughout the day paddling your way down the Rio Grande. Fruits, protein bars, trail mix, nuts and seeds, veggies, pasta, sugary boosts, wraps, cheese, sausages, peanut butter, packet soup, the list goes on! Read our snack list for a few more ideas.

Talk to an expert

If it’s your first time planning a self-guided river trip or you’re a seasoned expert but just don’t know the area that well, talk to an expert. You’re also wondering about a canoe. How on earth are you going to float down the river? Well, get in touch with our friendly team at the Far Flung Outdoor Center and we can answer any and all questions you may have regarding rentals, river safety, tip and tricks, accommodation, and the rest! We know this area like the back of our hand and you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you’ve asked the right people.

We hope that you’ve found this post useful. It may seem a daunting task preparing for your self-guided adventure alongside working out what to bring on a kayaking trip but trust us, the end result is worth every ounce of effort. If you’re looking for any further advice on options in Big Bend National Park and on the Rio Grande, then get in contact with us or just send me an email at

– Greg