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Self Support SUP Trip on the John Day

“Self support” is a term kayakers use for overnight trips without the support of rafts. You can only bring the bare necessities, but the simplicity and freedom of these trips are rare and special. After taking a paddleboard down the Rogue River with raft support, I’ve been wanting to do a self-support trip on a SUP.

At 284 miles, the John Day River (including the North Fork of the John Day) in Central Oregon is the Northwest’s longest free flowing stretch of river. The 70 mile section from Clarno to Cottonwood has tons of Class I and II rapids with a few Class III’s thrown in. We thought this would be the perfect stretch to paddle our SUPs loaded with gear for 3 days.

The John Day River flows through a beautiful desert canyon in Central Oregon
The John Day River flows through a beautiful desert canyon in Central Oregon

We did a quick food buy in Hood River and left town to meet some friends from River Drifters to paddle a section of the White River. From there it was a quick drive to Clarno, the put-in for the John Day. The next morning we packed the essentials in dry bags and loaded some food in a small Yeti Cooler, which we strapped in on our SUPs, and headed down river.


We learned quite a bit about what and how to pack SUPs on this trip. Here are a few quick tips:

– The plastic D-rings on most SUPs break pretty easily. Bring some thin cord that you can use to replace them with. Next time we’ll glue metal D-rings on our boats.

Our stand up paddleboards packed for a 3 day trip
Our stand up paddleboards packed for a 3 day trip

– Tie your gear as close to the center of the board as possible. This makes it easier to maneuver. Kevin and Dan tied their watershed duffles at the center of the board and straddled them. This also made a nice saddle for when they needed to drop to their knees and paddle through some of the bigger rapids.

Stand Up Paddleboards loaded with gear
Stand Up Paddleboards loaded with gear

– “SUP-ping is swimming” so you will likely flip your board and get your bags wet. Not all dry bags are dry, so make sure yours are.

– Leaving your sleeping pad at home and sleeping on your SUP seems like a good idea to save weight. Next time I’ll bring a sleeping pad as a SUP is a bit to stiff to sleep on.

Sleeping on our stand up paddleboards
Sleeping on our stand up paddleboards

– I brought a small Yeti cooler that was rigged on the front of my SUP. This worked fine on this trip, but it would have been tough to manage on a harder river like the Rogue.

The River

The John Day starts off pretty easy which allowed us to get used to our paddleboards with some weight on them. About 5 miles down there were some Class II rapids followed by Clarno Rapid, a solid Class III+. I scouted and took photos with some rafters we ran into while Dan and Kevin bombed down. Just above the crux of the rapids they dropped down to their knees to help with stability.

Dan and Kevin running Clarno Rapid on the John Day
Dan and Kevin running Clarno Rapid on the John Day

After Clarno Rapid there was one more set of rapids called the Basalt Rapids that we ran just before a beautiful camp on river right across from a stunning basalt wall.

Basalt Geology on the John Day River
Basalt Geology on the John Day River


Our second and third days we fell into the rhythm of our river trip. Sometime we paddled as a group telling stories and other times we paddled separately as we took in the beauty of the canyon. We all agreed that we loved the way standing on our board allowed us to take in the beauty of the canyon and it’s wildlife.

Self-Support SUP Equipment

Overnight SUP trips require specialized equipment to minimize weight, live comfortably, and respect Leave No Trace Principles.

  • Food: We brought a small Yeti Cooler (Tundra 35) to keep food cold. The new Yeti soft side coolers would work well too.
  • Trash: I really like using 5 gallon buckets with Gamma Seal screw on lids. These fit nicely in a medium sized dry bag for rigging on your SUP.
  • Human Waste: On most rivers (including the John Day) you are required to pack out all human waste. We used Wag Bags which store nicely in sealable buckets along with trash.
  • Fire Pan: If you’re going to have a fire you need a fire pan and need to pack out your ashes. Oil change tins are small and light and can be found at auto parts stores.
NWRC Thank You

Thank you Sawyer Paddles, Lifeproof, Watershed, and Gerber Gear for providing the support and equipment for this story.

Originally Published: | Updated on | Categorized under: Trip Reports

Post Author

Zachary Collier

As owner of Northwest Rafting Company, Zach Collier combines international guiding experience in places like Siberia, Bhutan, and Chile with a natural business acumen for systems and logistics. Whether he’s on big water or in the back office, Zach strives to ensure Northwest Rafting Company offers exceptional whitewater and wilderness experiences for guests and guides alike.

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