You have planned your rafting trip, made the reservations, and the big day has just about arrived… it's time to pack! Don't wait until the last minute to pack for your rafting trip because this is not a typical trip to the beach a theme park. You will need to pack a few specific items that will help your adventure go smoothly.
When you pack clothes for your rafting trip, stay away from cotton for anything but camp time. This applies to both summer and fall rafting. Cotton is known to be very cool or even cold when wet. Other materials like nature’s wool, or man-made polyester “fleece” or polypropylene can still retain your body’s warmth – even when wet. The temperatures outside may be cool, and you do not want to be cold. Depending on the location and weather, you may want to wear layers of clothes. Many wear poly-pro long underwear as a first layer, river shorts, fleece jackets and then rain gear or “paddle jackets” that have rubber gaskets for wrists and neck. You may see wetsuits being worn as well. Often the outfitters that recommend them will also rent them on-site. One tip: guides tend to wear river shorts over their wetsuits so as not to slide around like a wet seal on the rubber raft… you’ll want to do the same!
The best tip is to follow your outfitter’s specific packing instructions if they are provided. In the Grand Canyon or Moab Utah, for instance, a wetsuit is rarely recommended due to the heat. A good splash is a welcome refreshment in many cases.
There are three types of bags you will use for a multi-day rafting trip. Day trips generally do not recommend you bring any gear at all. A camera that can buckle to your lifejacket, or a water bottle are generally expected, but otherwise a day trip raft will not have place for gear bags as described below for multi-day rafting trips.
Often the outfitter will provide the rubberized (dry) bags for your personal gear that arrives with you in your own duffel. Check with your outfitter to be sure they provide the dry bags and whether they provide sleeping bags among the gear.
- Large Dry Bag
- Sleeping Bag
- Personal Duffel Bag
- Small Gear Bag
Your dry bag will be used to store your personal items that you do not want to get wet – like most of the contents of your personal duffel bag. These large dry bags are generally large enough for the sleeping bag, and your personal duffel. However, be sure to leave out items you’ll want during the day such as sun screen, lip balm, camera, medications, etc. and use the smaller gear bag for those things. You will have access to the gear bag throughout the day. The larger dry bags are stored in a load that makes it inaccessible during the day. It’s always a good idea to put things inside of your own zippable bags just for extra protection from water. One tip: if you have reading glasses or anything else that could be crushed, place them in the bag with crush-proof case surrounding them.
A duffel bag can hold all of your items, and it makes it easier to carry through the airports or when traveling to your destination. Suitcases are never used on river trips!
If you want to capture the highlights of your rafting trip, make sure you pack a camera. There are a number of very rugged digital cameras that are 100% waterproof. Olympus and Pentax are among them. You may want to take a disposable, waterproof camera so it doesn’t get ruined in the rapids, but if you do choose to risk it with a normal camera you can put it in your dry bag and only use it when the risk of water damage is not an issue. Another option is to purchase a waterproof housing for your camera so that you can use it in the rapids. Again, be mindful of things that can get crushed inside a rubber gear bag.