NPS Grand Canyon Gear Regulations for Kayakers

The National Park Service has a gear list that’s strictly enforced for river trips through the Grand Canyon, but it was originally written with raft trips in mind and has only been modified slightly over the last few years to account for self-supported kayak trips. Exactly how the raft-trip gear list is enforced at Lee’s Ferry has varied from ranger to ranger and from year to year. This article’s goal is to make sense of the regulations and how they apply to kayak trips, and to try to keep up with the changing enforcement over the years.

The NPS provides a checklist of required and recommended gear at the end of the Noncommercial River Trip Regulations, and it’s a good starting point, but it actually contradicts some information in the rest of the document.

Group Gear

* indicates more information below
Spare PFD 1 per 4 kayaks
Breakdown paddle 1 per 4 kayaks
Major first aid kit 1
Minor first aid kit 1 for every kayak
Signal Mirror 1
Signal Panels 2 required, 3’x8′
Repair kit* 1
Kitchen tarp* 1
Food strainer* 1
Firepan* 1
Fire blanket* 1
Water filter* 1
Hand wash system* 1
Gas stove (standard camp stove) 1
Paperwork Permit, participant list, photo IDs, Lees Ferry Checkout Sheet, Incident report form, and regulations

Individual Gear

Groover 1 per person
Garbage bags
PFD* Coast Guard Type I, III, or V

Repair Kits

The regs are mostly referring to raft patch kits here, so for kayak-only trips, the situation is a little different. Any standard kayaker safety hardware kit will usually do: gorilla tape and a screwdriver. In our experience, as long as you have something moderately useful seeming when they ask about it, you’re good to go. If you are on a self-supported packraft trip, you likely need the full raft patching gear that they usually check for.

First Aid

The regs list “Suggested First Aid Items” but don’t make any strict requirements. The rangers generally don’t look at the minor first aid kits, just ask to see that they exist, but they will ask to inspect the major first aid kit. Use your best judgement, but one first aid kit needs to be fairly substantial — larger than anything we typically carry on a day trip.

Kitchen

On winter trips, it’s possible to cook primarily on the fire, but the Park Service does require that every trip bring at least one gas stove.

Over the years, we’ve had varying experiences with regards to the kitchen tarp and strainer requirements. On our most recent trip, we were told we had to have a kitchen tarp, but we were allowed to launch using our signal panels as our kitchen tarp (they were only orange on one side). Other trips have mentioned being told that tarps are not required for kayak trips, but that they might start requiring them in the future. We recommend playing it safe and bringing a tarp.

The food strainer is definitely required, but what passes for a food strainer can vary. It’s easiest to just buy a cheap strainer and shove it in your boat, though we’ve seen things like coffee filters pass muster for this requirement.

Water Filter

We typically just use a settling bucket and bleach for treating water in the Grand Canyon, but the regulations do mention “water filter” explicitly. While you can probably get away without one, the safe bet is to bring at least one water filter between the group so they can check this box at the put-in.

Hand-wash System

We have never had this required beyond the ranger asking if we had soap and hand sanitizer, but a reader recently told us that in 2017, he was required to have a hand-wash system. He didn’t have one, but the ranger allowed him to claim his water filter (a pump filter) was a “hand wash system” and let him put on. We don’t think this is a consistent requirement and it may have just been that ranger; if you have any information about recent trips, please let us know.

Groovers

The standard PVC groover is well-accepted by the Park Service at this point. They do sometimes ask about your “day-accessible groover,” which is a little unnecessary since kayak groovers are pretty much always day-accessible, but if the ranger is a stickler you may need to have wag bags available.

Firepan / Fire Blanket

For winter trips, the NPS indicates that these are required, but there is a little-known “fire waiver” option: if you commit to not having fires (and sign a waiver to that effect at the put-in), they will allow you to launch without a firepan.

The standard break-apart firepan design has been approved by the NPS, but they recently (end of 2017) turned down this clever ultralight pan due to the small holes in the attachment points and the sharp corners of the titanium foil base.

PFDs

This isn’t specific to kayak trips, but it’s been the cause of a lot of boat-ramp panic attacks: PFDs must be in good condition. What this means is, no broken buckles, no other visible damage (even superficial), and perhaps most importantly, the Coast Guard certification must be on the vest and intact.

Have you had a different experience?

Let us know! If you’ve been down the Grand on a self-support trip recently, please take this survey so we can keep this page as up-to-date as possible.

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