whitewater rafting
Whitewater rafting

What to Pack for a Safe and Enjoyable Whitewater Rafting Experience

A whitewater rafting trip can be an amazing experience, and you want to be able to concentrate fully on the water and scenery. Multi-day rafting trips where you get to camp overnight can be a truly one-of-a-kind adventure. That is, as long as you’re prepared and have packed everything you need.


Of course, if you’ve never been on a rafting trip before, let alone a whitewater rafting trip, what to pack can be a mystery. There’s only so much you can pack into that raft. What you bring can depend on the specific trip, but there are some universal items you’ll need no matter what.


What Clothing to Pack

The clothing you pack depends on the weather and how long you plan to be out rafting. Layers are the style of the day; you want warmer layers for winter and cool mornings in other seasons, and cooler layers for summer or as you get warmed up. However, keep in mind that a sudden dunk into the water is always possible, and you want to be dressed warmly enough so that the temperature of the water doesn’t cause you problems. REI even recommends wearing a wetsuit if water temperatures are going to be below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.


This may be one of the few times when cotton isn’t exactly encouraged as the material to wear. While cotton can usually help keep you cool, it’s also really absorbent and likes to hold onto water. That’s not comfortable, especially when you won’t be able to change out of those clothes for several hours. Instead, look for synthetic materials that wick water away from your body and dry out quickly.


You need a hat, something that will stay on in wind and rough water. Look for hats that have adjustable bands (there’s usually a drawstring around the crown) along with chin straps that you can tighten so the hat does not budge.


Bring extras of everything in case something you’re wearing is lost or gets ruined.


What Protective Gear to Pack

The rafting company should provide gear such as flotation devices that meet standards set by the U.S. Coast Guard. You can always ask about bringing additional flotation devices, but if you do, make sure they meet those Coast Guard standards. Don’t get something lesser because the rafting company is providing gear, too.


What Other Items to Pack

Clothing and protective gear are important, but they aren’t the only things you’ll need, nor will they be what really makes the trip enjoyable from a preparation standpoint. You’ll also need personal products, food, items that let you function, and some way to record the trip.


For personal products, sun protection is a necessity. If you can’t wear sunblock/screen for whatever reason, be sure your clothing has a UPF number, or ultraviolet protection factor, that indicates how sun-protective it is. Bring sunglasses that block UV rays, too. A flashlight is also something you have to pack, along with basic first-aid items. The entire rafting group should have a larger first aid kit as well.


If your trip is for longer than a day, remember things like deodorant and toothcare products. Food that’s easy to transport and that won’t be ruined if it gets wet is another product you need to pack. You’re not going to want to haul a lot of food and dishware with you, obviously, so think protein bars, bags of nuts and trail mix, and similar portable and nutritious foods. And do not forget water bottles/canteens.


And finally, how do you plan to record the trip? Find a good, water-resistant camera, and bring a small notebook and pencil to record your thoughts. You won’t be using these on the water, most likely, but when you’re taking a break or setting up camp for the evening on multi-day trips, those are great times to jot down what the day was like. Place everything in waterproof bags just in case.


To recap, you’ll need layers of synthetic, quick-drying clothing that preferably have a UPF number. You’ll need a hat that you can fasten securely, sunglasses, personal gear like deodorant, flashlights, and first aid items, and some easily portable food — enough to last for the trip and then some. Your guide for the trip should have additional supplies, but it’s always good to have some of your own to use first. If camping is part of the trip, you’ll need items for that as well, such as a sleeping bag and roll mat, all protected from the water.


The rafting company you’re traveling with can give you more details that are specific to your trip, so ask them early about what you’ll need to pack. You want to have fun on this trip and not worry about forgetting anything. With good supplies, you’ll have the trip of your life.