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What to Wear on a Rafting Trip (And What Not To Wear)

Updated: Jul 14, 2022

Elements can be extreme when river rafting. This can sometimes mean lots of cold water, intense wind, and sun exposure. Even for the experienced rafter it's difficult to know exactly what to bring on a river trip in order to stay comfortable.

Whether you're on a sleepy class one or a whitewater trip, always assume that everything you are wearing is going to get soaking wet. Plan accordingly.

Cotton Kills

No matter what the current conditions are, bringing cotton garments on the river is a bad idea. Out of all the types of fabric you could wear, cotton is the slowest to dry. It becomes sticky when wet and holds moisture against your skin. Even on a moderately warm day, a wet cotton tee shirt can make a person miserably cold. Worst of all, wet cotton is abrasive to skin, a pair of wet cotton boxers for instance can make for a very uncomfortable day and even leave a rash. Our favorite fabrics are wool, polypropylene, polyester, fleece, and goretex.

Watch the Weather

It's a good idea to check the weather report before you head out on the river. Keep in mind NW river temperatures are generally cold so the air temperature right above the water can be up to 15 degrees cooler than the surrounding area.

Layer Up.

Instead of bringing one heavy garment, consider several thinner layers that can be added or removed as needed, don't forget rafting is a sport and you will be getting exercise. People tend to start the day cold but usually warm up as they start working out.

Prepare for the Sun

Some of the worst sunburns happen around the water, this is because wet skin burns more easily. Additionally, the sun can reflect off of the water surface, multiplying its effect. Hats are recommended on river trips where helmets are not required and sunscreen is a must. People with sensitivity to the sun should consider a long sleeved synthetic shirt and pants.

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”.

-Alfred Wainwright

What you should bring on warm sunny days .

-Swimsuit layer or a thin wool or polyester baselayer also works

-wind breaker/rain jacket

-sun protection

What you should bring on overcast, rainy days.

- polyester/polypropylene/wool baselayer

-polypropylene fleece/wool midlayer

-Warm water repellent outer layer, a jacket or shell such as goretex (best), hydrus, or latex.

What you should NOT wear

- Cotton/Flannel

- Down- While down is usually a great insulator, wet down has virtually no insulating value.

- Leather/Rayon/Silk- This should be obvious to most people but these are things that will get damaged by water.

Approved River Footwear

Neoprene booties or "Reefwalkers" are usually the best for most rafting trips. Sandals WITH a back strap such as Tevas, Chacos, or Keens during the warmer months are a great option as well. Sneakers can also work pretty well as long as you don't mind them getting wet.

BAD River Footwear

flip flips have a way of falling off your feet and are not recommended. Other shoes that really don't work for this activity include; leather shoes, heavy boots, rain boots, anything with a raised platform or heel, clunky or loose fitting shoes such as crocs or "slides".

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