Any Alaska hunt requires specialized gear not normally used in hunts elsewhere. Float hunting focuses some of the requirements even further, with the need for specialized gear required for hunting in riparian zones.

 

Maule load of gear for an Alaska float hunting expedition

Gear for Alaska Float Hunts

Gearing up for an Alaska float hunt bears little similarity to a road-based hunt in the Lower 48 states. If things don't go well for you down south, you just load it all back in the pickup and go home. But in the remote reaches of Alaska's wilderness, where you may be on your own for two or three weeks, usually in a place where an aircraft cannot land, you're at the mercy of the weather, the river, and the quality of your gear. Think it through, and choose wisely or you could regret it later.

For sake of discussion let's divide your gear into two main categories; personal gear and community gear. The personal gear consists of your sleeping bag and pad, clothing, toiletry items, and hunting equipment you will be using yourself. Community gear includes your camping equipment, the camp kitchen, tents, bulk water filtration equipment and your boats and accessories.


Personal Gear

Your personal gear should fit into two dry bags and a pack (more on that later). If you're flying to Alaska, these are the items of luggage you will check in on the airlines. Let's break it down.

Clothing

On all Alaska hunting trips you must plan for wet weather. For that reason you should not bring cotton clothing. Cotton loses its thermal effiency when it gets wet, so leave the jeans and flannel shirts at home, or in the air charter's hangar, if available. Instead, go with wool or synthetic clothing. Some excellent fabrics for Alaska float hunts include wool / poly blends and synthetic microfiber materials. Some hunters prefer pants with zippered pockets, to avoid losing small items when you are sitting on the raft or up on the spotting hill. Here is a list of clothing you should bring with you:

  • Socks: Smartwool or Thor-lo brand
  • Underwear
  • Tee shirts
  • Thermal underwear, light-weight
  • Pants, synthetic or wool
  • Long-sleeve shirts
  • Vest: synthetic or wool, with wind-block material
  • Light jacket
  • Medium-weight jacket
  • Rain gear: Helly Hansen Impertech

 

Toiletries / Personal Care

Toiletry items depend on individual needs. People with dry skin will need moisturizer and chap sticks to prevent cracked, bleeding lips in the raw weather expected on a float hunt. Those with oily skin may forego these items. Everyone should bring any prescription meds. A small first aid kit is handy for normal bumps and scrapes, remembering that you should also have a comprehensive first aid kit in base camp with your community gear.

  • Chap stick
  • Contacts / solution (or glasses)
  • Cotton swabs (Q-tips)
  • Deodorant
  • Dental floss
  • First Aid kit
  • Medicines, prescriptions
  • Moisturizer
  • Moleskin / molefoam
  • Pocket mirror
  • Razor
  • Shampoo
  • Soap
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush / toothpaste

Sleeping Gear

Sleeping bags come in different lengths, widths, temperature ratings and fill materials. If you're buying or borrowing a bag, test-fit it before taking it afield, to make sure it has ample length and shoulder width. Bring a synthetic-fill bag to the field (no down bags, because of the increased chances of a dunking in the river; when down gets wet, it's nearly impossible to dry in the field). For hunts taking place during the month of August, a 20˚F bag is fine for most people. If your hunt is during the first two weeks of September, drop it down to a -20˚F rated bag, and for hunts after the middle of September, go with -40˚F. Note that because there are no objective industry standards for calculating sleeping bag temperature ratings, you are taking a risk of getting cold in an untested bag. If your bag is on the borderline, consider bringing a synthetic fleece liner; in most cases that will bump the temperature rating around ten degrees or so.

Bring a compression bag as well, but not the kind that cinches from both ends. These turn your bag into a round cannonball that's impossible to pack. Instead, go with a side-cincher that turns the bag into a cylinder. This is much easier to load onto your backpack, should you decide to set a spike camp away from your main base camp.

A stocking cap can make a huge difference in keeping your head warm, especially if you're getting a bit thin on top. Toss one in your bag. The penlight is for those midnight scampers out of the tent to answer the call of nature.

  • Compression bag
  • Penlight
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Stocking cap

Hunting Gear

  • Ammunition
  • Backpack stove, fuel
  • Binocular
  • Camera, batteries, memory cards
  • Cartridge carriers
  • Cleaning rod, brush
  • Compass
  • First aid kit
  • Foam pad for sitting
  • Food items
  • Game bags, synthetic
  • GPS, batteries
  • GPS, batteries
  • Gun and reel cloth
  • Headlamp, batteries
  • Headnet
  • Hunting / fishing regulations
  • Lens brush / cloth
  • License and tags
  • Loc-tite
  • Maps
  • Matches / fire starters
  • Multi-tool
  • Pack, external frame
  • Pack frame pins
  • Parachute cord, 100'
  • Pot / lid / cup
  • Raingear
  • Rifle / bow
  • Spoon
  • Spotting scope / tripod
  • Tarp (10 x 10)
  • Tetra-gun oil
  • Water bottles (2)
  • Water filter

 

Packing Your Gear

Packing seems hardly worthy of a separate topic, and if this wasn't Alaska, it would be true. But most remote Alaska hunts involve travel by small fixed-wing aircraft (helicopters are illegal for hunting in Alaska), where package sizes and shapes are crucial to proper aircraft loading. Let's have a look.Bill's Bag 3.8, Bill's Bag 2.2, Barney's Moose Pack on an Alaska float hunt for moose

Personal Gear

As was mentioned earlier, your personal gear should fit in two dry bags, a backpack and a rifle or bow case. A separate day pack containing your optics (binocular, range finder, GPS, camera and spotting scope) is also appropriate, especially on the airlines, where rough handling could break something. Let's break it down a bit.

Dry Bag #1

This bag should contain your sleeping bag, pad, and possibly a stocking cap, along with the compression bag for your sleeping bag. A great bag for this purpose is the Northwest River Supplies "Bill's Bag, 2.2". This bag has backpack straps and a grab handle, making it ideal for portage situations, and the handles are very convenient for loading and unloading it from the aircraft and the raft.

Dry Bag #2

This bag contains you extra clothes, toiletry items, first aid supplies, extra ammunition, spare hunting accessories and camp shoes. It's helpful if you can group like items together (clothes, hunting accessories, etc) and load them into colored nylon stuff sacks. These bags weigh next to nothing, and they vastly simplify the process of rummaging around trying to find that one item (that usually ends up in the bottom of the bag). Again, the Northwest River Supplies "Bill's Bag" is ideal for this purpose, but you need a larger one. Go with the 3.8 size.

While we're talking about dry bags, if you're hunting with a larger group, you might consider choosing a different color for each hunter. This makes it much easier to identify which bags belong to which hunter, so you can ensure that each boat is loaded with the gear belonging to the people in that boat.

Backpack

Load your pack with everything you will need while hunting; ammunition, game bags, field care equipment, tarp, parachute cord, headlamp, extra food, water bottles, backpack stove, small cookpot, etc. There is a possibility that you may not come back to camp in the evening, as you may take an animal late in the day and have to stay out late to field dress it. You don't want the inconvenience of having to walk all the way back to camp in the dark just because you didn't have your game bags or knives with you. Plan on a few nights away from camp without shelter; just what's in your pack, and you'll get the idea. This frees you up to move as the mood takes you, without being tied to a fixed location every night. It will increase your chances of success.

Choose a backpack that you will wear while hunting and packing meat and trophies back to camp. If you're not sure which backpack to choose, check out our review of the Moose Pack by Barney's Sport Chalet, in Anchorage. This pack is all you will need for hunting in Alaska.

Rifle or Bow Case

Because most airlines charge for excess baggage, it's likely that the rifle or bow case will push you into additional charges. Save some money by loading your weapon in the same case with your partner's, if
Tuff Pak for shipping rifles on Alaska huntspossible. Note that some airlines require that the bolt is removed from the rifle. Some carriers allow ammunition to be carried in the same case with the weapon, and others do not. In most cases, ammunition must be packed in a container designed to carry ammunition; the original factory carton or any container that keeps rounds separate from each other is usually all that's required. Finally, some carriers restrict the amount of ammunition you are allowed to carry in checked luggage. Check with your air carrier for details on this, or you risk confiscation, fines or temporary incarceration.

Rifle cases come in all sizes and shapes. Some hunters, out of concerns of theft in transit, opt for rifle cases that don't look like rifle cases. The Tuff-Pak is one such case. Because the Tuff-Pak does not have dividers to keep weapons separated, you must pack your rifles in soft cases first, and in some cases, pack clothing around them to prevent movement.

Lock your rifle case with a TSA-approved lock, which can be removed by agents inspecting your firearm. If you use a lock they cannot remove, they will cut it off with bolt cutters. Failing that, you could be called back to the ticket counter to remove the lock, possibly causing you to miss your flight.

Packing these items in this way before you leave home accomplishes many things that will help you later. First, it saves you time at the air charter, by avoiding the need to repack your gear. One of the main complaints pilots have about hunters involves the time wasted waiting for people to repack before the airplane can be loaded. Second, it protects your gear from getting wet. It may be raining at the air charter's base, and your gear may have to sit out on the ramp a while before it can be loaded. Or you could land at the river in a downpour. When you arrive at the river, your pilot is going to want to unload quickly and get out of there, because he has other loads to haul that day. Your gear is going to sit out in the rain until you can find a tarp to cover it. Pre-loading it in waterproof bags and packs in advance eliminates worries about waterlogged clothes. 

A final word on flying on the airlines with dry bags and packs: Load the dry bags and packs into canvas duffel bags before you check in at the airlines. Dry bags and packs have loose straps and buckles that are easily caught in airline conveyor systems, and can be severely damaged in transit. Also, dry bags can be torn on rough metal edges in transit. Always load your dry bags and packs inside protective canvas duffel bags. Ask your air charter for permission to store the duffels, along with your hard rifle or bow case, in their hangar while you are in the field.

Saving Money on Dry Bags: "Poor Man's Dry Bag"

Quality dry bags can set you back several hundred dollars, which is fine if you plan to do multiple hunts. But if you plan to do only a few hunts, or if you want to supplement your dry bags with additional dry storage for your food or other items, consider using some "Poor Man's Dry Bags". Simply place an unscented plastic trash compactor bag inside a nylon grain sack. Place your items inside the trash bag, twist the top of the bag closed to seal it, doubling it over on itself for a better seal. Tie it off with parachute cord (don't use duct tape or you will tear the bag when you remove the tape). Tie the top of the nylon grain sack with parachute cord, place some duct tape on the outside of the bag and write the contents on the tape. The total cost is about a dollar.

Some hunters are concerned about the white bags, because the color could spook game. It's a good point; consider spraying the bags with olive drab, brown and black spray paint before loading them. This should camouflage the bags from prying eyes.


Community Gear

As was mentioned earlier, community gear is anything the group uses in common; camping equipment, bulk water filtration systems, cooking gear, tents and so on. Your camp can be as simple or as elaborate as you like, given the constraints placed upon you by your air charter. Pilots like light loads, and your air service should give you firm weight limits. More than any factor, this will drive what you can and cannot bring, without paying for additional flights. Therefore the following gear lists are intended to be complete; you will likely prune some items off of these lists if you need a simpler camp.

Camping Gear: General

Folding chairs are cheap, compact comfort, and most hunters bring one along for each person in the group. Get the kind that fold up into a cylindrical bag. Cots are very nice on river trips where the ground may range from spongy, wet tundra to lumpy, rocky gravel bars. If you're traveling a river with sweepers, strainers and logjams, a sharp hatchet is very handy for dealing with trees that are in your way. In some cases, a small chainsaw is even better. The hatchet is also very handy for removing moose antlers from the skull; leave it in camp and pack it to the kill site on your last load. Bring along at least two 16 x 20 tarps; one for the meat pole and the other to cover your kitchen area in the event of a downpour. Bring plenty of parachute cord to secure your tarps, and at least 100' of 1/2" braided nylon rope for hanging meat, setting up the meat pole and for supplemental tarp support. Some hunters like to have a lantern in camp, but frankly the daylight hours are so long during the fall hunting season, that you can probably get by with headlamps alone. If you prefer a lantern, get one that uses propane, rather than white gas. They are much more reliable, and they are more compact. Of course if you are using propane, you will need to bring fuel. Some groups prefer using bulk 20# bottles instead of the disposable canisters. If you go that route, Coleman® makes a propane tree that attaches to the bottle. The lantern screws on top, and you can run propane hoses off the additional fittings on the tree. Test fit all your propane fittings, to ensure you have all the hardware you need to hook everything up and to access your fuel. The only challenge you may have with propane is in very cold weather, when propane does not flow very well. The same is true of the Iso-Butane fuel canisters. In those cases you are better off with liquid fuel stoves and such.

A few trash compactor bags tossed into the kitchen gear will be used for trash and for keeping things bagged and dry, in case a dry bag leaks. A small shovel is handy for digging cat holes for disposing of human waste (do this at least 200' from the river). Consider putting a small tool kit together, consisting of a multi-tool, duct tape, electrical tape, wire and Super Glue. A pair of smaller screwdrivers (a phillips and a flat blade) come in handy for scope removal if necessary. 

You will need at least one tent in good repair. If you plan on setting a spike camp away from your base camp, you should consider bringing along a smaller light-weight mountaineering tent for camping in unprotected, open areas you will find when you are away from the river. Refer to our Tents, Awnings and Shelters page for important details on choosing a proper tent for Alaska conditions. This is extremely important, as your tent is your primary protection from the elements! Finally, toss in a five-gallon water jug into which you can filter your drinking water. All water must be boiled, treated or filtered on your hunt, as many of Alaska's rivers are plagued with giardia lamblia, cryptosporidium or other intestinal bugs that can make your trip miserable. Never drink raw river water in Alaska.

  • Chairs, folding
  • Cots
  • Hatchet / sheath
  • Tarps
  • Toilet paper
  • Trash compactor bags
  • Lantern
  • Parachute cord
  • Propane
  • Rope
  • Shovel
  • Tent
  • Tools
  • Water jug

Kitchen Box

Pack your basic kitchen items in a plastic box with a lid. If you have coffee drinkers, bring a light-weight percolator with the guts inside, otherwise you can use the percolator without the insides to heat water for tea or hot chocolate and such. A light-weight plastic cutting board is handy for cutting up game meat and vegetables for dinner. It also doubles as a fillet board for cleaning fish. Bring along a dishpan for washing dishes; a square plastic pan fits nicely into the box, and you can pack other items inside it. Bring along a roll of heavy-duty foil for cooking fish and meat in the coals of your fire. It can double as a lid for your cockpit. Put the foil in a large Ziplock® bag, and double-bag the dish soap, in case it leaks. The matches should also be bagged in plastic. Keep in mind that the old "strikes-anywhere" matches are illegal for air transport; you'll need regular wooden-stick kitchen matches to light your stove and your campfire. A gas match (a long-stem butane lighter used for lighting gas grills) is handy for lighting the stove, as the striker on the stove makes a loud metallic clang when you use it. It's too loud for hunting camp. Use a two-burner propane stove instead of the white gas version. They're lighter weight, less bulky and more reliable. If you're hunting with more than three people, you should consider two stoves and two tables, along with an extra propane hose. Running two stoves at the same time cuts your cooking time in half. The Roll-a-Table® is available at rafting supply stores. It's solid, light-weight and packs into a small bundle. A rectangular wire grill is handy for cooking meat or fish over the fire. Wrap it in foil to keep it from fouling other items in the kitchen box. We'll talk about the pots and pan bag and the seasoning kit in the next section.

The bulk water filter does not normally go in your kitchen box, because it is too bulky to fit in most cases. The only time you need a larger water filter is with groups of three or more; on the other hunts, each of you can just use your personal water filters. But staying ahead of the water situation is critical with larger groups and it's easier if you can process gallons of water at a time. A good gravity-feed filter can do three gallons of water in about ten minutes. Bring along supplies to clean the filter element; glacial or turbid water clogs filters pretty quickly and your flow rate will drop off dramatically if you don't clean the element regularly. On glacial rivers, you can prevent some clogging by letting your water settle overnight in a collapsable plastic bucket. Depending on the river and how fine the silt load is, most of the heavier particles will drop out overnight, and you can pour off into your filter bag.

  • Bulk water filter
  • Cereal bowls
  • Coffee pot
  • Cutting board
  • Dish cloth
  • Dishpan
  • Dish soap
  • Dish towel
  • Foil
  • Flashlight
  • Gas match
  • Matches
  • Pot scrubber
  • Pots and pans bag
  • Propane fittings
  • Propane hose
  • Propane stove
  • Propane tree
  • Roll-a-Table
  • Seasoning kit
  • Water jug
  • Wire grill

Seasoning Kit

Put together a small plastic box that fits inside your kitchen box. It should contain salt and pepper, together with other seasonings you like; garlic powder, cayenne, onion powder, steak seasoning, lemon pepper, Tabasco, a few bullion cubes and so forth.

Once you set up your kitchen area on the river, consider placing the entire kitchen box under your table, with your seasoning kit inside to keep it away from squirrels and other small mammals that might also like a little extra seasoning with their lunch.

Utensil Kit

Pack your utensils in a small plastic box as well, making sure it is the right size to fit inside your kitchen box. The tongs are for picking up hot items out of the coals or off the wire grill (fish, potatoes, meat, etc.). If you are going with simpler foods such as freeze-dried meals, of course you can prune a lot of items out of your utensil kit. To simplify cleanup, some groups allocate personal utensils and cups / mugs to each person in the group at the beginning of the hunt. If you are using the larger insulated mugs with lids, personal silverware will fit inside the mug. Snap the lid on, and nothing will fall out.  Include the following items: 

  • Butter knives
  • Can opener
  • Corkscrew
  • Fillet knife
  • Forks
  • Kitchen knife
  • Ladle
  • Pancake turner
  • Potato peeler
  • Serving spoon, regular
  • Serving spoon, slotted
  • Steak knives
  • Spatula
  • Spoons
  • Tongs
  • Wire whisk

Pots and Pans Bag

A colander is necessary if you are cooking pasta, otherwise you have no way to drain it. Insulated mugs are handy, because they keep hot drinks and soups warmer longer. Use plastic so you don't burn your lips! The saucepans should have lids (saves cooking time by trapping heat), but if not, you can use aluminum foil for lids. You could substitute the large skillet for a wok if you like, especially if you are re-heating bulky foods like fried chicken and such. The wok holds heat better and accommodates larger items. Bring at least four rolls of paper towels for general cleanup (many dishes can be simply wiped clean with paper towels instead of breaking out the soap every time). Use heavy-duty paper plates instead of regular plates; it's less cleanup and you can burn them in the fire. Pack your pots and pans in a "Poor Man's Dry Bag" (as outlined above). The bag makes a smaller package that loads right into the aircraft, and it's a handy way to keep your larger items contained,that would not otherwise fit in a plastic box.

  • Colander
  • Insulated mugs
  • Saucepan, medium
  • Saucepan, large
  • Serving bowl, lg.
  • Serving bowl, med.
  • Skillet, lg.
  • Skillet, med.
  • Paper towels
  • Pitcher w/lid
  • Plastic cups
  • Plates

First-Aid Kit

Most off-the-shelf first-aid kits are incomplete, and you will need to add supplemental items to suit your needs. The hardest thing about the community first-aid kit is in walking the balance between bringing too many items and being unprepared. Keep in mind that you will need to be able to handle normal emergencies, but you will also be prepared to call for a MEDIVAC if necessary. Depending on circumstances, though, it could be a while before help arrives. Be prepared. Here is a list to work from. 

  • ACE bandage™
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Ambesol™
  • Antibacterial soap
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Aspirin
  • Bloodstopper bandages
  • Band-aids™, assorted sizes
  • Bandages, large self-adhesive
  • Chapstick
  • Gauze, 1 roll
  • Gauze pads, large
  • First aid cream
  • Ibuprofin
  • Immodium
  • Mole skin
  • Mole foam
  • Nail clippers
  • Needle 
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Q-tips
  • Red Cross 1st aid manual
  • Safety pins
  • SAM splint™
  • Scissors
  • Scalpel
  • Sunscreen
  • Sutures
  • Tweezers, pointed

Emergency Signaling Kit

Bring along a small waterproof dry box with a fully-charged satellite phone inside, along with two spare batteries, fully-charged. Include simple instructions on how to operate the phone, and include a laminated card with the statewide emergency rescue phone number 1 (907) 551-7230 for the 11th Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) in Anchorage. Note that there is an 800 number for both the RCC and the Alaska State Troopers, but satellite phones do not always work with 800 numbers! The emergency contact card should include the numbers for the RCC and the Troopers, along with the phone numbers for your air charter and at least two other responsible individuals you can call from the field in an emergency. Review the operating instructions for the phone, and for what to do in an emergency with everyone in camp. This way no matter who is injured or missing, someone will be able to call for help. Keep the phone box in the same place at all times, and make sure everyone knows where to find it. Additional information is available in our Wilderness Survival section.

Meat and Trophy Care Supplies

Bring along one packet of citric acid powder for each animal for which you have a tag. Include a pint-sized pump spray bottle in which to mix up the citric acid solution. The contractor bags are for immersing meat in water to eliminate body heat rapidly. They're only necessary if your daytime temperatures are above the mid 60's or so. If that's the case, bring along six or eight of them and leave them in your backpack while you are hunting. They only do you any good if you use them at the kill site. The electric fence is only necessary on rivers with lots of brown bears (typically salmon streams), where there is some concern about bears getting into the meat. Set up a fence around the meat area, and consider a second fence to protect your boats. A list of the quantity of game bags needed for each animal is listed in the next section.

Note that we are including hunting regulations here and in your backpack. This is your backup copy. Keep it in a ziplock bag with your field care supplies. The parachute cord is for helping secure your tarp over the meat pole, and to tie off holes in game bags, and seal the opening at the top of your bags that do not have draw cords (some bags don't). The pulleys and carabiners are intended for helping move animals out of the water. The rope should be at least 1/4" braided nylon with a 900# breaking strength. It's for securing the meat pole and for hanging your game meat. Inspect the breaking strength; some rope cannot handle heavy moose quarters, which can weigh over 160# each. Braided rope is best for this, as it does not come unraveled. The quantities of salt needed for different hides is covered in a following section. The scraper is for bear hides, which are greasy with little congealed fat. An ulu or a metal serving spoon with the handle broken off and one edge sharpened make great scrapers for bear hides. The tarp should be a 12 x 20 or a 16 x 20, depending on how many animals you are hanging. Moose quarters are typically hung about 3' apart so they don't touch each other. The Transfer of Possession forms can be photocopied from the back page of the Alaska hunting regulations. Their purpose is to allow your air charter to fly meat out of the field without you in the airplane. They are also used for meat donation, so if you plan to give meat away (either to other parties on the river, or back at the air charter base, you need these forms. Keep them with the regulations so you know where they are. The wire tags and marker are for marking each game bag so you know what's in it. Laminate the tags so they don't get damaged by rain or river water.

Many more details on the meat and trophy care equipment is provided in our Field Care section.

  • Citric acid powder, spray bottle
  • Contractor trash bags
  • Electric fence
  • Game bags
  • Hunting regulations
  • Parachute cord
  • Paring knives / fleshing knives
  • Pulleys / carabiners
  • Rope
  • Salt
  • Scraper
  • Tarp
  • Transfer of possession forms
  • Wire tags / markers

Game Bags

The following list is a breakdown of how many game bags of each size you need for most Alaska big-game animals. This list includes one bag for the cape / hide. More details are provided in the Field Care section of this site. The bags listed here are cotton bags, which offer superior absorption of moisture and good ventilation, essential qualities to keep your meat cool and dry. Use synthetic bags to move the meat from the kill site to camp, and change out for cotton in camp. Carry the synthetic bags in your pack (listed earlier).

  • Bear: 1 large, 6 medium (if salvaging meat)
  • Caribou: 5 large, 2 small
  • Moose: 7 large, 3 small
  • Sheep / goat: 6 medium or 2 large

Salt

Hides and capes should be salted twice in the field, for maximum effect, after fleshing. Salt should be packed double-wrapped in plastic trash compactor bags, in a "Poor Man's Dry Bag".

  • Bear: 40-50# for whole hide
  • Caribou: 20-25# for cape
  • Moose: 30-50# for cape
  • Sheep / goat: 15# for cape
  • Wolf: 15# for whole hide
  • Wolverine: 5# for whole hide

When shipping your gear via commercial passenger or cargo aircraft, certain items must be declared as Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT). In some cases, these items may not be allowed on passenger aircraft. Common HAZMAT items found in camping and rafting gear include: Butane lighters, stove fuel, glues and solvents, matches and compressed gas. Check with your carriers for specific details. Attempts to ship HAZMAT in violation of these standards are treated very seriously.


Rafting Gear

Many air services supply rafting gear to hunters, but the quality, condition, and completeness of the packages varies considerably from one operator to another. A common mistake made by some air services that fly out summer float-fishermen is to use the same number of boats / people for fishing as they do for hunting. The problem with this is that hunters typically pack heavier gear loads, and they end up with heavy loads of meat and trophies in addition to that, whereas fishermen generally pack lighter, and certainly don't bring animals home with them. An additional issue with this is that fall water levels are typically lower than summer water levels. This translates to situations where hunters are packing heavier loads with the same boats fishermen are using, and they have to drag them through shallow water.

It goes without saying that hunters need more "lift"; more floatation, than fishermen. If your air charter supplies the rafting gear, work closely with them to ensure that you have what you need. The following is a detailed list of the minimums for a round boat, a cataraft and an inflatable canoe. Use this as a starting point. Our general section on Inflatable Boats contains much more information on this topic.

Round Boat Package: 15' NRS Otter

If you are renting a boat from a raft shop, it will usually come to you wrapped in a tarp, with a large strap around it. If your air service is supplying the boat, it may not have a tarp overwrap. The bow line should be a minimum of 50', but you can supplement out of your gear with additional rope if necessary. Bow lines are essential, because without one, you cannot tie the boat off. If the water rises, you lose the boat. You need a cargo platform for each end of the boat, along with the straps to secure it (usually five 6' straps), and a cargo net to place over your load. The net also needs straps, usually five or six will do, 6' in length. In a pinch, you can lace the cargo net on with parachute cord, but it's a real pain having to re-tie it every time you unload. 

The simplest frames are either the NRS Longhorn frame or a simple electrical conduit frame. NRS frames use U-bolts to secure the frame members to each other, so be sure you have all the hardware and some spare in the repair kit, along with a couple of frame wrenches (in case you drop one in the river). Keep the wrenches in the repair kit; remember, you have to disassemble the frame at the end of your trip, to get it back in the airplane! Conduit frames require keeper pins instead.

Let's break down the straps a bit, so you understand what is needed, and where. Our list shows two 1' straps. These are for your spare oar. Secure the oar to the side of the frame, with the blade facing the bow. You need six 3' straps to secure the frame to the boat. One on each of the four corners, and one on each side, near the oar stands. You need 12 4' straps; six for each of the cargo platforms (one at each end of the boat). You can use three 3' straps to secure one end of each cargo net to the frame in the following ways: The net in the stern is secured to the oarsman's seat bar. The net in the bow is secured to the crossbar at the front of the frame. Once the nets are secured, you should not have to detach them from these crossbars. Instead, to load and unload, you will detach the straps that secure the net to the bow and stern D-rings, and toss the net toward the center of the boat, leaving it attached along the inboard edge. To secure the rest of the net to the boat's D-rings, you will need three 6' straps for each end of the boat. Run one end of each strap through the appropriate D-ring, then through the net in a couple of places to the left and right of the D-ring. Cinch the straps evenly around the load to tighten the net around the gear load (you should consider tarping the load before securing the net, to protect the load from rain and splashing, and to mask the colors from game animals along the river). Consider bringing along another half-dozen 3' straps for securing loose items to the outside of the net (your rifle, a day pack with your lunch, rain gear, backpacks or any other items that require quick access throughout the day).

Don't forget to try on your life jackets, and wear them at all times when you are aboard. You need three oars with blades. The purpose of the third oar is in case of damage or if you lose one over the side. Never do a float hunt with only two oars! The oars should be properly-sized for the boat; in this case the 15' Otter needs 8'-9' oars. You also need a couple of 1' straps to secure the spare oar to the frame. Some raft frames come with an oarsman's seat or a cooler, which you sit on. The seat is more comfortable, and you may not need the cooler anyway, unless you are bringing fresh or frozen foods on your hunt. The seat is padded, keeps you warmer, and offers good back support. If a passenger is riding along, they will need a seat too, but sometimes you can save weight in the airplane by foregoing a passenger seat, using the front thwart as a seat instead, with the passenger gaining back support by leaning back onto the gear that's loaded in the front of the boat.

Finally, don't forget the rescue line! It's yellow and it floats. It's purpose is to have something to toss to someone who falls overboard. It's essential.

  • Boat
  • Bow line (1)
  • Cargo platforms / nets (2 ea.)
  • Frame
  • Frame wrench (2)
  • Frame hardware
  • Life jackets (1 per person)
  • Oars (3)
  • Oarsman's seat (1)
  • Passenger seat (1)
  • Pump / hose (2)
  • Repair kit (1)
  • Rescue line (1)
  • 1' straps (2)
  • 3' straps (18)
  • 4' straps (12)
  • 6' straps (6)

Cataraft Package: 18' AIRE Leopard

A cataraft cargo module is a separate, rectangular-shaped frame section that is added to one or both ends of the boat. In most cases you can get by with only one cargo module, and it is secured to the front of the frame. There are many ways to support a load on a cargo module, but one of the best is to use cargo decking from one of the raft supply stores. It's a heavy-duty mesh material with sleeves along the sides, which are slipped around frame pieces while the boat is being assembled. The mesh is great for hauling meat loads, because it allows reasonably good air circulation around the meat, which facilitates cooling and drying. You can purchase floor panels made of the same material, which provide a solid platform for walking and standing in the boat, while keeping dropped items from falling in between the tubes, into the river. Passenger seating is accomplished several ways, but one of the most comfortable options is to use a swivel seat with a backrest, mounted on a base plate. These can be mounted on just about any frame bar, but for load balancing purposes, it's usually best to position single passengers toward the center of the axis of the boat, toward the front cross-bar.

Use a couple of 1' straps to secure your spare oar along the side of the frame, with the blade facing forward. In securing the frame to the boat tubes, use eight 4' straps (four for each tube) to secure the outside of the tubes to the frame, and use eight 3' straps to secure the inside of the tubes to the inner drop rails of your frame. In most cases the cargo decking material is laced to the frame with rope, or it is designed with sleeves that fit around your frame pipes, so you don't need straps to secure it. The same goes for the floor decking material. You will, however, need straps to secure your cargo nets, which are installed at each end of the boat. Begin by securing one edge of the net to the oarsman's seat bar, using four 3' straps. Do the same with the cargo net on the front of the boat, securing the net to the front bar on the main frame. When you are loading / unloading, the net remains attached to the boat at this point, and you simply toss it over the seat toward the middle of the boat, to get it out of the way. Once the boat is loaded, cover it with a tarp and draw the net over the entire load, securing it along the sides and across the back edge of the frame (the front net is secured to the front edge of the cargo module). Loop straps are great for securing loads; use four 9' loop straps at each end of the boat; two running from side to side, and two running from front to back. On the ones running toward the middle of the boat from either end, secure the buckle end (the short end) to the last crossbar on the frame and the long end to the bar where the net is permanently attached. In this way, you can unload the boat by loosening the easily-accessible buckles instead of climbing over the load to reach them. Consider bringing along a half-dozen extra 4' straps. These can be used to add length to your loop straps if necessary, and to secure items needing easy access during the day as you float (backpack, rifle, day pack, etc.)

  • Boat tubes (2)
  • Bow line
  • Cargo module
  • Cargo net / straps
  • Cargo platform / lacing
  • Floor system
  • Frame wrench (2)
  • Frame hardware
  • Oars (3)
  • Oarsman's seat (1)
  • Passenger seat, base (1)
  • Pump / hose (2)
  • Rescue line (1)
  • 1' straps
  • 3' straps
  • 4' straps
  • 9' loop straps (8)

Repair Kit

The repair kit should contain fresh adhesive (if it freezes, it's no good, and it must be less than two years old), fabric swatches, something to rough up the fabric so a patch will hold, and other repair supplies. Your putty knife should have rounded corners on it, to prevent damage as you use it to press air bubbles out of your patch to secure a good bond. As a back-up, bring along some Tear-Aid Tape™; it's very sticky and can be used to repair most punctures or tears in the field, without glue! Note that there are two different kinds of tape, one is for plastic fabrics (PVC and urethane) and the other is for rubber (Hypalon® and neoprene). Get the right one for the boats you are using. If you are using a boat made by AIRE, quick field repairs can be made with urethane tape. Simply unzip the outer shell of the deflated tube, locate the puncture or laceration on the inner bladder, dry the surface and apply a length of urethane tape to the bladder, pressing firmly from the center, outwards to form a good seal.  The spare zipper carriage is also for AIRE boats, in the event that yours becomes damaged in the field.

A spare valve is handy to have along in the event of a failure. Consider tossing a spare overpressure relief valve in your kit if you're running a self-bailing round boat. They sometimes fail in the field, and will leak air.

  • Adhesive
  • Aqua-Seal®
  • Ball-point pen
  • Duct tape
  • Mixing container (plastic cup)
  • Paint brush, natural bristle
  • Patch materials
  • Patch roller
  • Pliers
  • Putty knife
  • Razor knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Scissors
  • Screwdrivers
  • Solvent
  • Tear-Aid Tape®
  • Urethane tape
  • Valve, spare
  • Valve wrench
  • Zipper carriage
  • Zip-ties

 Conclusions

The lists presented in this section are ideas generated from many years spent in the field in both recreational and commercial capacities, but that doesn't mean they are perfect. Every group has different preferences, so use these lists as a basis for your own! 


More Information on Float Hunting in AlaskaFloat Hunting Alaska's Wild Rivers cover image

Michael Strahan in a remote location in AlaskaMichael Strahan is the author of "Float Hunting Alaska's Wild Rivers", the definitive guide to float hunting in Alaska. The book is over 500 pages and is filled with float hunting lore, discussions of the gear needed, tools, tips and details on all aspects of Alaska float hunting. The book dives into the details of finding a river to hunt, and outlines 50 river systems across the state, of interest to float hunters. Use these rivers as a guideline for your hunt, or use them as a template for your own research! Michael is a Registered Guide with a specialty in float hunting, and an experienced public speaker on the topic of Alaska float hunting. He wrote this entire section on float hunting for the Alaska Outdoors Supersite. If you want to learn more about Alaska float hunting, this book needs to be close at hand, while you plan your hunt. ORDER YOUR COPY HERE.

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