“There’s always room on the raft” is a common refrain amongst my closest river friends, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Whether during pre-trip planning, prepping, or loading at the put-in, everyone must make tough decisions on what stays and what goes. That proved especially true this year while planning to take my wife and two teenage sons on their first 5-day whitewater trip on our humble and oft cramped 14’ raft. My general tolerance for gear piles the size of Mount Everest and a willingness to look like the Beverly Hillbillies notwithstanding, I had very real concerns about balancing the needs and wants of my family with a finite amount of space. Instead of the usual one- or two-person load of gear, food, and drinks, I was staring down the impossible task of adding two additional teenage boys and all the stuff that comes with it. Overwhelmed by the endeavor, I spent an evening atop my tailgate staring out at the available room inside my raft contemplating the ways in which I could make this all work.
As I considered the logistics of our trip (5 days and 5 nights, potential triple digit daytime temps, 2 group meals, and breakfast/lunch on our own) I realized quickly that I needed to think outside of the box, or better yet think about what type of box would serve my family well on this trip and in the future. After careful consideration of my options and lots of measurements, I got in touch with the Canyon Crew down in Arizona to get a second Prospector 103 on the FedEx truck heading north. I had just enough room to reconfigure my setup to include a second Prospector 103 where my drop bag and wood cover were.
With the new Canyon Prospector 103 in hand, it was time to reconfigure the frame setup. To get the second cooler to fit I had to remove my foot bar and add a second crossbar with enough space to open each cooler lid from opposite directions. Once in place I confirmed everything worked as I wanted and began prepping for our trip knowing I had twice the cooler space to work with.
As I have come to expect from Canyon, some beneficial changes were made in the newer version of the Prospector 103 accessories. The ability to stack baskets and/or divide remained, but an excellent change was made to the height of the divider to allow for a basket to be used in the upper position without having to remove the divider. This came in handy for managing items we wanted to stay cold, but up away from the ice and eventual water in the lower part of the cooler.
Now that I knew everything would fit my wife and I began determining the best accessory configurations based on our menu and drink selections. What we decided was to use 1 cooler for the first 2-3 days, and the second cooler to finish out the last 2-3 days. This allowed us to keep one cooler closed for several days without opening it, thus maintain precious ice and nice cold food and drinks. We went with the first-generation divider and a basket set in the lower position for our early trip cooler, and the second-generation divider with two baskets in the upper position for later in our trip.
As was expected, temps were warm (ok, flat out hot) from day one. It took some educating my boys or ice maintenance, but the combination of coolers, secondary insulation, and shading allowed us to maintain ice throughout the trip in challenging conditions. After consuming most of the food and beverages in the early trip cooler, we consolidated into one cooler and used the now empty one to balance our pack-in pack-out needs. I used a contractor sized garbage bag to keep the cooler clean as we switched to using it for dry storage of recyclables and camp trash.
While obviously not for everyone, I found that changing to a two cooler setup for a family of four resulted in an improved river experience for us. While many people run two dry boxes, I found the trade off between cold storage and dry storage to be worth it. Had the weather been cooler or conditions required more dry storage, I would have likely forgone the luxury of two coolers. That being said, this may well be my configuration for any overnighters moving forward regardless of number of people in my raft, as the reward to transporting ice cold drinks may well mean I get to leave the groover at home!