Pro Tips for Early or Late Season, Cold Weather Rafting Trips
White water rafting trips in early or late season can be exhilarating, with larger-volume water flows and seasonal changes creating thrilling conditions. Often there are far fewer people out on the water, which adds to the wildness of the experience and the sense of having the river all to yourself.
But the chilly conditions can put a damper on things if you’re not well prepared, leaving both you and your gear feeling cold and wet. Read on to discover our top 13 tips for embarking on a cold-weather white water rafting trip that is memorable for all the right reasons.
Keep in mind that ROW provides much of the basic warm-weather gear you need for early season, cold weather trips. This includes wetsuits and booties, and on our Lochsa trips we also provide wetsuit jackets, helmet liners and a fleece sweater if needed.
1. Keep Your Digits Warm
Rafting in cold weather is all about being prepared, which means keeping your extremities warm both on and off the river. Invest in neoprene gloves and socks for when you’re rafting during the day, and be sure to pack wool or synthetic socks to keep your feet warm at night. It’s also highly recommended that you pack a synthetic or wool beanie to wear in the evenings and early mornings when temperatures at at their lowest point.
2. Consider Your Materials
Different materials have different heat retention properties, so it’s worth doing your research before purchasing new gear. Look for wool and synthetic materials that can retain heat (even when wet) and avoid cotton at all costs. Not only does cotton lose its warmth properties once damp but it dries VERY slowly. Look for quick-dry fabrics that are designed for the outdoors or opt for merino wool that offers many of the benefits of wool (warm, naturally insulating, and moisture-wicking) but without the itch!
3. Layer Away
Layering is key when you’re in the outdoors as it allows you to easily adjust as the exterior temperatures change or as your body temperature rises and falls. When you’re getting dressed in the cool of the morning, layer your clothing so that you can easily strip off and store excess items in the day bag that will accompany you on the raft. Ensure that it is easily accessible so that once temperatures begin to drop again, you can quickly grab the layers you need to add warmth.
4. Camp Layers and River Layers are Two Different Things
When packing for your cold-weather rafting trip, it’s important that you set aside at least one dry layer for putting on at arrival at camp each afternoon. Remember, there are no guarantees that your river layers are going to stay dry during the day OR that they will dry out overnight at camp. So don’t be tempted to put on that one dry shirt you have left before hitting the water! There’s nothing worse than being stuck in damp gear in the evenings when the temperatures are at their lowest.
5. Shed the Water
One of the simplest ways to keep your base layers dry when on the river is by wearing a waterproof paddle or rain jacket as your outermost layer. Even if there is no rain forecast during your rafting trip, this will act like a splash guard as you tackle rapids, as well as providing an element of protection against the wind. If possible, look for a paddle jacket with neoprene gussets around the neck and wrists that will keep water out. And always go with “waterproof” over “water-resistant”, as these words can mean two very different things.
6. Get Moving
Movement is one of the easiest ways to keep your blood circulating and stay warm in cold conditions. As you activate your muscles, they burn energy, and heat is produced as a byproduct. So rather than sitting around at lunchtime getting cold, take a short hike and reap the benefits of exploring beyond the river banks. In the evenings, get up to stretch your legs or participate in the activities organized by your guides. While there’s usually a campfire to keep you warm, there’s nothing quite like movement to get your internals feeling warm and toasty.
7. Cozy Up at Night
Getting a good night’s sleep is an essential ingredient for enjoying your rafting trip and being cold can quickly lead to a sleepless night. Be sure to pack plenty of warm clothing to layer on before you bunk down with your ROW-provided sleeping bag, pad, and tent. If you’re sleeping side-by-side with a family member or friend, don’t be afraid to snuggle up for a bit of added warmth! Find out more about how we take care of all the camping details on ROW rafting trips.
8. Stash Your Gear Overnight
While you might think that leaving your gear outside is the best way for it to aerate and dry off overnight, in cold temperatures it can do the opposite. The last thing you want is to wake up to find that the day’s outfit is covered in dew…or even frost! So bring your gear into the tent with you at night to keep it as warm and dry as possible. You might even want to put the next day’s outfit inside your sleeping bag to ensure it’s bone dry when you wake.
9. Drink Warming Beverages
Nothing is quite as warming as a hot tea, coffee, or cocoa, which there will be no shortage of on your ROW rafting trip. Our guides are always stocked with a wide selection of hot beverages for you to enjoy at each break on the river, as well as in the morning and at night. That being said, it’s important to be aware of your caffeine intake as too much can quickly lead to dehydration.
10. Stay Hydrated
One way to counter the effects of dehydration while still getting that hot drink you crave is by putting an electrolyte mix or tablet into warm water. Staying hydrated is critical to proper body functioning, including the regulation of body temperature, the lubrication of joints, and the proper functioning of organs. Always have your water bottle within easy reach on the raft so you get the hydration you need throughout the day and match any caffeinated drink with a good slurp of water.
11. Rotate Seats on the Raft
It’s no secret that the front of the raft is the most thrilling place to be, with the river stretching out directly in front of you. But it can also be quite a wet place to be if you’re constantly being sprayed or drenched with each passing rapid. Don’t be shy to ask your guides and fellow guests if you can rotate out of the splash zone for a while, particularly if you are starting to feel the chill. They’ll probably appreciate the opportunity to be at the head of all the action while you dry off a little behind.
12. Bust Out Your Cold-Weather Wetsuit
Wetsuits can be lifesavers in keeping you warm during a variety of outdoor pursuits, including surfing, diving, and rafting. They work by trapping a small amount of water within the wetsuit material, which is then heated by the body to keep you warm.
Note: On ROW’s cold-water trips, such as the Lochsa, St. Joe, Snake, Middle Fork of the Salmon, Bruneau and Owyhee rivers, we provide farmer john wetsuits during the coldest months of the rafting season.
Extra Pro Tip - Pack Hand Warmers!
After a chilly day on the water, air-activated hand warmers can be a pleasant treat and it’s easy enough to stash a few in your duffle bag for your trip. All you have to do is break the plastic seal and they will start heating up straight away, with the warmth usually lasting for a few hours.
If you're traveling during the peak of summer, or anticipating warm weather, don't forgot to read our top 10 Tips to Beat the Heat While Rafting!