I spend the winter dreaming of rivers—specifically dreaming of the perfect riverside beach camp. In my dreams, my Shangri-La Camp always has the calming sound of running water, a smooth landing spot for rafts, a kitchen not to close to the river, yet not too far away. Some large old-growth trees that can tell a story in their beauty alone, cast shade. There’s always a deep clear swimming hole, a glassy, eddy-serviced surf wave, coarse warm sand that doesn’t blow in the gentle downriver breeze, and of course, a Tiki Bar where the group can gather and enjoy a cold beverage. That’s right, a Tiki Bar. If your wintertime dreams and summertime trips don’t include a River Tiki Bar then you aren’t dreaming big enough!
The amazing, portable River Tiki Bar was not created in a day but rather over many years of trial, error and super fun parties. We built the first version on a pair of skis for a Winter Solstice Party. As we were building it in my garage, with boats hanging from the rafters, we dreamed of warmer temperatures, beaches and bringing the tiki bar on river trips. When the darkest day of the year arrived, Santa came down a zipline, handing out presents to the kids. An elf driving a snowmobile towed the Tiki Bar. Santa skied away behind it as fireworks lit up the night sky.
When the snow finally melted and the rivers came up, our dreams came true when we strapped Tiki V1 to the frame of a 16’ NRS Cataraft and paddled it down the Teton River with a large flotilla of sundry watercraft. Someone last saw this Tiki Bar hundreds of miles north of the Teton River at a wedding in West Glacier, Montana. Rumor has it that V1 died a warrior’s death and had a spectacular flaming Viking funeral to send it off to Valhalla. The Tiki Bar V1 had some epic adventures but because it was nailed together and weighed over 100 pounds calling it “portable” was a stretch.
Covid put a damper on all our river trips and social isolation sucks for Tiki Bar parties but after two years of lockdowns and cancellations, we were headed down the Yampa River. And The “Right Reverend” Robby Rechord was once again part of the team! Robby is a very well-seasoned, NOLS instructor and AZRA Grand Canyon Guide, who is a legend for his stories and straight talk. His wife, Kate, gave us the heads up that Robby was going to have a BIG birthday during the trip. We knew what we had to do, and so, we got to work.
To keep an epic Tropical River Party a surprise, we needed to keep the Tiki Bar itself a surprise. Meaning, we couldn’t haul it intact, it had to break down. Version Two broke down easily and attached directly to a river table, specifically the sturdy NRS Campsite Table. On the Big Birthday, we assembled the Tiki Bar and mixed a fruity rum drink all before Robby—veteran guide or not—had unloaded his raft. The River Tiki Bar, complete with flamingos, palm trees, and party lights set the scene for an epic beach party. We gifted V2 to Robby for his birthday and today, it continues to do laps through the Big Ditch. Rumor has it that Tequila Beach has never been the same.
While we had improved the portability with our second attempt over V1, there were still crucial elements that we needed to dial in. V3 needed to be more compact, more durable and easier to assemble. After returning from the Yampa, Greg Young and I turned his garage into “Frankenstein’s Tiki Bar Lab.” We tried many new designs and materials as we attempted to create the Ultimate River Tiki Bar.
After many hours, and at least one lightning bolt, we created a monster. Version 100 of the Portable River Tiki Bar can be used with a variety of river tables, sets up in 10 minutes, breaks down in five and stows away in one NRS Bill’s Dry Bag or NRS Outfitter Dry Bag. This design allows you to not only bring a River Tiki Bar on just about any river trip but it also allows you to get more use of whatever camp table you own at home.
By now, you may be wondering if you really need a Portable River Tiki Bar? The answer is a resounding “Hell Yes!” I can almost guarantee that anyone who can add a Portable River Tiki Bar to the group gear spreadsheet will have more fun and get invited on more river trips!
How to Build Your Own River Tiki Bar
Building a Portable River Tiki Bar can happen in about a day with some standard carpentry tools. The materials to build will cost you about $300. That doesn’t include the NRS Campsite Counter or the NRS Outfitter Dry Bag to store and carry it on the river.
- 1 campsite counter (or camp table)
- 2 rolls of palm thatch, 35″ x 8′
- 8 bamboo poles, 5′ x 1′
- 10 one-inch PVC tees
- 5 c-clamps, 1″ x 2″
- 10 hose clamps, 1 11/16″ – 2″
- 1 can Krylon Camouflage spray paint – color, extra flat sand
- 12 reuseable rubber twist ties, 12″
- 12 reuseable rubber twist ties, 6″
- 1 pack heavy-duty zip ties, 8″
- 1 NRS Outfitter or Bill’s Bag (110-140L)
Note: If invasive species are a concern or your permit requires it, use artificial thatch and bamboo.
1. Before you start, make sure you have the supplies above and a clean workspace. At a minimum, you will need a skill saw and hand tools.
2. Set up the table and design your layout with bamboo. It will help to look at the photos in this article. Keep in mind that your longest pieces of bamboo will need to be a maximum of 32” to fit in a 110L Bill’s or Outfitter Dry Bag or 41” to fit in a 140L Bill’s or Outfitter Dry Bag.
3. Attach four 1-inch PVC tees to a C-clamp with two hose clamps. These will attach to the corners of your table and hold the bamboo uprights. Depending on your table, you may need shims. Getting the bamboo to fit securely into the PVC tees requires a bit of artistic carpentry. You may need to sand the bamboo down and pound into the tee if they are too big, or shimmed or glued if they are too small. To join shorter pieces of bamboo together you can use the extra PVC tees.
4. The thatched roof needs cross pieces the width of the table for support. The ends of these cross pieces get “notched” to fit snuggly. We permanently zip tied the cross pieces to the thatch roof. It rolls up for storage and transport and saves time and hassle on the set up. Spray paint the tees, c-clamps, PVC, etc. so that it blends in with the Palm Thatch.
5. The second piece of palm thatch makes a skirt around the front and sides of the table.
6. Once you have all the pieces, the tiki bar can be assembled using the heavy-duty reusable rubber twist ties. This process is fast and efficient.
Be sure to add some party lights, signs, palm trees and flamingos. In the wilderness, bring the tiki bar but skip the tiki torches. Nothing ruins a river-side tiki party like starting a forest fire. Practice your setup because when it is time to party you want to be ready fast!
While I can’t guarantee that all your beach camps will have shade, surf waves, and gentle downstream breezes, if you pack the Portable River Tiki Bar, I can guarantee that all the camps will have epic parties with friends. This summer, rumor has it there will be a Tiki Bar Beach Party on the Alsek River. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, stop in for a rum drink and share a story, just remember to bring your pirate costume.
Editor’s Note: Guest contributor Trevor Deighton is a mountain guide, a river guide and a middle school science teacher who lives in Teton Valley, Idaho. He’s passionate about getting into the backcountry for short or long adventures. Not interested in DIY, Trevor sells his version of the Tiki Bar on his website.