Ah, summer! It’s one of the best times to be on the river. It means long daylight hours for tackling fun rapids and enjoying leisurely breaks swimming in majestic wild places. But if you’re not prepared, all of that fun in the sun can translate into sunburn, heat-related illness, and all of their associated issues.
So to help you plan a safe and enjoyable river adventure, here are 10 of our top tips for staying cool and avoiding heat-related illness while on a rafting trip.
1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
One of the most common first aid situations we encounter on the river during the summer months is dehydration, which is why it’s essential that you drink plenty of water. During long periods of sun exposure, it is your most effective strategy against dehydration. We recommend that you drink water before you get on the river in the morning, while you’re on the river, and while you’re relaxing in the evening. If you do decide to drink alcohol, be sure to go drink for drink with water and keep a full bottle of water beside your pillow in the evening. One top tip is to invest in a locking carabiner and clip it onto your water bottle so you can hook it somewhere near to you on the raft and have easy access throughout the day.
Guide Tip: Consider packing some electrolyte tablets or powders that can be easily mixed into your water when needed.
2. Cover Up
When the mercury rises, your instincts are probably to strip down to the bare essentials. But to avoid heatstroke, it’s important that you do the opposite and stay covered to protect your body against the sun’s harmful rays. If possible, invest in lightweight, quick-drying clothing, ideally with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) built-in. This will ensure that your arms and legs aren’t going to get fried, even if you haven’t lathered them in sunscreen.
Guide Tip: As it turns out, "cotton isn't rotten" in a heatwave as it helps provide some evaporative cooling. So while the typical advice in the Outdoor industry is to avoid cotton, consider throwing a few cotton shirts into your duffle for the week!
3. Slather on the Sunscreen
It should go without saying, but sunscreen is an absolute “must” during hot, sunny days on the river. Look for a sunscreen that is waterproof and be sure to apply it multiple times a day so that you are continually protected. We recommend that you lather on sunscreen in the morning when you get up (not forgetting those places such as the ears and lips), then reapply it each time your raft pulls over for a break or something to eat. Yes, you may feel a little greasy at the end of the day but you won’t end up dealing with sleepless nights as a result of sunburn.
4. Take a Dip
One great thing about being on the river during a heatwave is that there are plenty of opportunities to cool off with a swim. If you don’t want to completely submerge yourself, you can splash the water onto you while seated in the raft or even park your chair in the shallows over lunch or during evenings at camp. Our guides will always keep an eye out for places to take a swim throughout the day, provided the conditions are suitable and safe.
5. Become a Shade Seeker!
Temperatures can differ significantly between open sun and shade, so, wherever possible, find a shady spot and use it to your advantage. While this is easier said than done while running the river, during breaks, look for shady trees or large boulders where you can enjoy a respite from the heat. On ROW Adventures trips, we also provide sunshades or umbrellas that guests can relax beneath at camp.
6. Dip your Hat, Shirt, or Sarong
With freshwater all around you, it’s so easy to dip your hat or shirt into the river for an instant reprieve from the heat. We also recommend that guests bring a lightweight sarong with them that can be saturated and worn around the head and neck to help cool you down. This is a particularly good option during long stretches on the river when there isn’t the opportunity to take a swim.
Guide Tip: Dip your sarong or a spare shirt in the water and cover your thighs while sitting on the raft to avoid sunburn on your legs, a common ailment of rafters!
7. Invest in Polarized Sunglasses
The reflections that bounce off the water’s surface can be damaging to your eyes and can even result in them getting sunburned. That’s why we highly recommend that you invest in a pair of polarized sunglasses, ideally with a retainer strap to keep them secure on wild river rapids. Not only will you spend less time squinting to see what’s up ahead but you won’t have fatigued eyes at the end of the day.
8. Accessorize for Sun
From buffs to bandanas and light gloves, there are plenty of ways to accessorize your river outfit to make it sun safe. Gloves are effective at protecting the backs of your hands (which are one of the most common places for skin cancers to develop) while buffs and bandanas will shield your neck from the sun’s harmful rays.
9. Wet Your Bed!
Not literally! But on sweltering nights, you can dip your towel or sarong into the river before going to bed and either lay it beneath or on top of your body. Guides have been doing this for years to help their bodies cool down in the evenings and ensure a good night’s sleep.
10. Open the Tent or Sleep Outside
Even though we provide our guests with lightweight camping tents, some heat can still get trapped inside at night. If you’re up for the adventure, you can open up your tent to let any cooling breezes in or even sleep out under the stars. It’s a magical way to immerse yourself in the outdoors experience while keeping you cool at the same time.
Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
While your ROW Guides will be trained in Wilderness First Aid and educated to recognize the signs of heat-related illness; it's always helpful to be self-informed and able to recognize any warning signs in yourself or your travel companions. Your Guides are always your first and best resource for any first aid or safety-related questions or concerns while you're out on the river.