Smith River ChecklistHope for the best, Prepare for the worst
What to expect on the Smith River
The Smith River float is arguably one of the coolest floats in the state, even the country. There are only 2 public access points to the river that are 60 miles apart. Camp Baker is the put-in point, just 30-45 minutes West of White Sulfur Springs, MT. The take-out point is at Eden Bridge a few miles from Cascade, MT. In the 60 mile stretch, it typically takes 4 days / 3 nights to complete it. During peak season (May 15th-July15th) floaters are limited to 4 nights on the river.
Depending on when you go, the weather can be a bit unpredictable, like everywhere else in Montana. We suggest packing for the worst case scenario. The spring floaters must be prepared for rain and snow all the way into June. Fall floaters could see some snow in September and on. From first-hand experience, there is nothing worse than running into weather and not being prepared for it.
For many, they haven’t done an overnight float trip, which was the case for me before mid-April of 2019. It’s tough to know what to pack and what to leave home with somewhat limited space to pack everything into. I will point you in the right direction as far as what you’ll need to bring to make sure you are comfortable.
The first thing on the checklist better be the rafts, or else it will be a little hard to float the 60 miles to the take-out.
We have the NRS Star Outlaw rafts with the fishing frame rigged up. Included with this rental is 3x PFD’s, Eddy Out Dry box, extra oar, repair kit, first aid kit, and throw rope. There is also a socket drive to rig your boat on the fly. Our custom frames allow for an angler/ passenger in bow and stern and a mid-ships oarsman. The bow seat will need a cooler to sit on, and we highly recommend the Canyon Prospector 103 qt. It fits in the frame nicely and is easily accessible while still being able to keep your food and beverages cold.
These rafts are incredibly sturdy in the water yet easy enough to maneuver around the bends in the Smith River. Even loaded down with 4 days worth of gear, you won’t notice it. There are a few class 2 rapids towards the bottom end of the canyon but they weren’t enough to even spill my beer. These rafts outperformed my expectations while floating down the river.
Dry bags and dry boxes are a necessity when going down the Smith. If you don’t have a way to keep your gear dry, it will be wet for 4 days straight, and that will ruin your trip.
You can get away with 1 dry bag per person, but you’ll want a few extras for camp and furniture. We have all sorts of sizes of dry bags from 65 L to 140L. For our 3 night trip, I used a 65L dry bag and was able to fit all of my clothes, bag, pad, cot, and pillow. Then we used a few of the 110L dry bags for our camp, furniture, and miscellaneous gear.
Dry boxes were another life saver. These sit right on the frame of the boat and are easily accessible. We put rain gear and electronic’s such as cameras and phones in here. Putting electronics in here was nerve-racking sometimes because they are only water resistant, not waterproof. It worked for us though and had no problems. We also had our cooking gear in these to keep everything together and dry.
Everyone has a different idea of what being comfortable feels like, so my list may vary from your’s a little. Since it is a multi-day float, you’ll need shelter and sleep gear.
The top on my list was the Sugarloaf Shelter. We can all agree that nobody likes to hang out at camp in the rain or cooking with bugs swarming them. This was a sweet shelter to get out of the elements a little but still being able to enjoy the river off to the left and cliffs to the right. The tent is another important comfort factor. The tensleep 6 person tent is big enough to sleep 3-4 comfortably on cots and tall enough to stand up to change clothes. It gets old changing clothes from your back every morning.
The sleeping bag may vary depending on the time of year you go, but you can’t go wrong with a 15° down bag from Big Agnes. It will keep you warm on those cold nights in the canyon. Next, you either want a pad or cot. If you’re really looking for comfort, have both. Many of the camping areas are rocky so getting off the ground is key. I set the Alps cot out and put an air pad on top. You’ll never even know you were sleeping on a rocky camp spot all night long. We also offer air pillows and memory foam air pillows.
The furniture you choose is the next step of being comfortable for the 3 or 4 nights at camp. The one thing I have found is that you can never have too many tables. From tables to cook dinner or even just set your beer, you can’t have enough. The NRS Campsite Table was perfect for cooking dinner every night. It stands at 31″ tall making you lean over the table less for you taller folks.
Additionally, we have shorter, more packable tables. The Helinox camp table is a nice addition to the Helinox camp chairs. They are a little shorter, but for the packability and comfort of these, you can’t beat them. The standard folding chairs will work, but finding a good spot to keep them dry could be a nightmare, and who wants to sit on a wet chair? Not me.
Lighting is the other key feature while at camp. You’ll be on the river most of the day depending on where your camps are, so you could be spending some time putting up camp in the dark. Not an easy feat. We have Goal Zero lanterns for around the cooking table and headlamps for everything else. Everyone in our group was wearing some sort of headlamp every night at camp.
The next thing you’ll need to get sorted out is the food situation. What do you plan on bringing and how are you planning on cooking it? Many of you may have your old Coleman stove tops or charcoal grills, but I would say to leave those at home. We have a fully inclusive river cooking kit featured around the Jetboil Genisis. On our trip, this was the only cookware we used. It is small and packable, it even fits in a small dry box with room left over. This made cooking and cleaning up about 10x easier.
As far as where to keep your food, you’ll need some coolers. We had 2 Yeti 65’s per boat. We were able to fit all of our cold food and beverages in these. We used a big dry box for the rest of our dry food. Coolers will be a necessity, especially in the summer months. We offer Yeti and Canyon coolers in all sorts of sizes. The Canyon Prospector 103 would be the ideal cooler for the front of the raft because it sits in the frame nicely and is lighter than your larger Yeti. Both of these coolers are IBGC compliant coolers, which are required for the Smith River.
Freshwater is another important factor. Both for cooking and for drinking water. We brought a Scepter water container full to start the trip and used the Katadyn water filter to fill it up every night. This was enough for all 4 of us on the rafts every day.
If you haven’t heard by now, IGBC compliant food storage is required on the Smith River. If you don’t have anything to protect your food from bears, you won’t be allowed on. The Smith River goes through the Little Belt Mountains, which is not known to have grizzly bears. It does, however, have its fair share of curious black bears. Our group saw a total of 7 bears on the 4-day trip, so it is not uncommon to see them.
We took a bear fence from the shop and used that along with our Yeti Coolers. The bear fence is incredibly easy to set up and keeps bears away from the food. If you decide to just use the coolers, you will need to have locks on both ends of the coolers. With two locks, they are technically bear proof, but it still doesn’t stop a bear from messing with them. In addition, we have bear-proof containers for dry food such as mountain houses or even chips.
I understand some may just float to enjoy the scenic area, but occasionally, the river can be hot for fishing. Don’t leave your fly rods and spinning rods at home, take them on the trip. If you catch it at the right time, you could pull in some big brown trout and colorful rainbow trout. For us, the fishing was slow. We caught a few but towards the end, we didn’t spend a great deal of time trying to fish. The river was blown out and chocolate milk colored. During the river’s peak season, it can be great. The river will have cleared up by then and the fish will bite anything.
Waders were a must have for me personally, as I lived in them for 4 days straight. It wasn’t warm enough for us to just wear shorts and shirts, so I just had the waders on to make getting out and pulling the raft to bank easier. Our Echo fly rods also make for a great rod on this river to hook a couple of browns.
I hope that the overview gave you a little better understanding of what to expect and plan for the Smith River. If you have any further questions, most of the folks at the office have some experience floating the Smith and would be happy to answer any additional questions you may have. Best of luck and enjoy the Smith River!
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Explore Rentals has been providing superior outdoor gear rentals since 2011. Our goal has always been to provide the best possible rental gear for outdoor adventures so comfort and safety is never compromised. Through many years of professional guiding, our experience enable us to provide better products for Montana adventures.
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