15 River Essentials For Any Whitewater Rafting Trip

For adventure-seekers wanting an adrenalin pumping experience, a whitewater rafting trip offers a completely unique perspective on your destination. It allows you to be totally immersed in your surroundings, listening to the calls of the wild reverberating around as you journey down legendary waterways. 

But it also requires some logistical know-how, particularly when it comes to packing! Not only do you want to pack light, but also include a few things that you might not otherwise take on vacation with you. So to help you out, we’ve put together a list of 13 river essentials not to forget when packing for a white-water rafting trip. 

Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive packing list, just a snapshot of “must have” items for the most comfortable white-water rafting experience. If you're hoping to dial in your packing for early or late season, when temperatures can be more unpredictable, we encourage you to read our top tips for cold weather rafting

If you choose to join us for a rafting trip, rest assured, we'll send you a comprehensive packing list to help you prepare for your adventure.



1. Swimsuit 

Being on the river all day means being wet all day. So you want to have swimwear that you’ll be comfortable wearing for long periods of time that is practical, rather than fashionable. For men, this might mean board shorts and a rash guard to protect against sunburn, while women might want to consider two-piece suits with a rash guard on top and river/swim shorts on bottom, which will make going to the bathroom in the great outdoors that little bit easier! A one or two peice bathing suit with a quick-drying polyester sun layer on top also makes for a great option for women.


A red and black headlamp hanging from a tree branch with the Snake River and red rafts blurred in the background


2. Headlamp 

A headlamp is essential for maneuvering around riverside camps at night, allowing you to work hands-free while assembling tents, cooking dinner or playing games. Opt for headlamps with long-lasting or rechargeable batteries so you won’t be left in the dark at an inopportune moment. If you bring along a headlamp with batteries, be sure to bring along an extra set of batteries. A small handhelp lamp works well too, but we recomend headlamps for any adventure!

3. Wet/Body Wipes 

Camping on white-water rafting adventures usually means no showers for days on end. There will probably be plenty of options to swim in the river, but it’s nice to be able to freshen up at the end of a long day before getting into your camp clothes. Wet wipes will do the job, helping to remove any build up of sunscreen or sweat that accumulates throughout the day. Look for environmentally-friendly, biodegradable body wipes that won’t end up clogging up landfill sites for years to come. Your guides will have a trash readily available upon arriving at camp, so once you use your wipes, you can easily dispose of them proeperly. For those looking for a quick shower to freshen up, ROW provides solar showers starting on night 2 on all mulit-day rafting trips. 



4. Rain Gear 

Getting wet is all part of a whitewater rafting experience. But once you’re settled into camp at night, you might prefer to stay dry. A lightweight waterproof jacket is a great addition in case the skies open in the afternoon while you’re trying to set up camp or in the evening in the midst of preparing dinner. Additionally, if you find yourself wanting to stay dry one day while on the river, a good rain jacket doubles as a fantastic splash layer. This is one peice of gear that is always better to have with you then not, because when you need it, you'll be really thankful you have it!


two people on rocky mountain above river


5. Long Underwear 

Long underwear or thermals are a practical solution for an added level of warmth, being light in weight but heavy on insulation. They are ideal for wearing between upper layers around camp or inside your sleeping bag at night, doubling as pajamas. Lightweight breathable options can also be used for added sun protection on hot, cloud-free days! Long underwear also make for the perfect layering underneath a rain jacket if it gets cool and rainy.


A person washing their hands into a white bucket while camping along a river


6. Hand Sanitizer 

Washing your hands and ensuring you are not spreading germs on the river is of utmost importance, especially on group adventures. With proper hygiene and attention to hand washing and santization, germs have a hard time spreading at river camps. At camp on any commercial river trip, there will be two buckets with a faucet style hose for you to conveniently wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating meals. If you’re looking to be extra careful while on your adventure, consider packing some hand sanitizer. It will help to eliminate any germs, bacteria or viruses, with those containing a minimum of 60% alcohol preferable. This is a great thing to put in your day bag to have easy access to throughout the day on the water when you may need it.



7. Water Bottle

When you’re surrounded by water, it can be easy to forget to hydrate. But this is critical to having an enjoyable experience and maintaining your optimal performance level on the water. Make sure you bring a water bottle with a carabiner so you can latch it onto your pack or the side of the raft and have it within easy access. You may want to put your waterbottle in your day dry bag, but we always recommend you dont put 'wet in the dry,' So, having a caribeaner is incresingly helpful on the river. Be sure to bring along a waterbottle thats at least a liter in size. Having an insulated waterbottle can also be nice to keep your water cool on hot days on the river. Fresh, filtered water will available throughout the day and provided by your guides, so don't hesitated to stay hydrated!


A person holding a pair of Bedrock sandals in Canyon Current color on a sunny day


8. Quality Sandals

Flip flops just won’t cut it on the river. They can easily come loose and won’t give you the support you need to get around on rocky river shores. Remember that whitewater rafting is not just about being on the water, but hiking along the shore and transferring in and out of the raft. So a pair of high-quality sandals is critical, with supportive backs and sturdy straps that will hug your foot comfortably. Sandals like Chacos or Bedrocks are popular among river enthusiasts.


Woman with brown hair in a braid leaning out of a green tent smiling and applying sunscreen to her face


9. Sunscreen 

Sunscreen is a must on the river and don’t go for anything with a rating less than SPF 50+. Look for waterproof and sweat-proof options that will endure the white-water rafting conditions and don’t forget to reapply at regular intervals. It's best to bring along reef safe sunscreen as they are better for any natural environment. You can keep your sunscreen in your day dry bag for easy reapplication throughout the day.

10. Lotion

After a long day on the river, nothing feels better than moisutizing your skin. The mixture of sun and being wet from the river will make sure skin chapped, dry, and thirsy for moisture at the end of the day. Skin care is vitally important on the river! We recomend any kind of body lotion, but any kind of advanced repair or working hands cream works wonders on the river. 


woman and child on a red raft on river


11. Sarong

Sarongs are a fantastic multi purposeful peiece of gear that we also recommend people bring on the river. They are usually lightweight and small enough to stuff in your day bag. You can break out your sarong when you might be feeling hot, dip it in the cold, fresh, river water, and drape it over your legs or shoulder while you are on the raft. This makes for a great alternative to staying cool if you are rafting through a section of river that might not be appropriate to swim in. You may also find yourself at camp dreading putting all of your belongings in the sand. With a sarong, it serves as an excellent mat to help keep out sand from crawling into your bags. 



12. Hats 

A hat to protect you from the sun’s rays is essential, as you may be in exposed conditions for long intervals. But once you’re in camp and the temperatures drop, you’ll probably prefer a beanie to keep your head warm and reduce heat loss. Bring a sun hat with a chinstrap that will stay securely on your head to use while on the raft. Unexpected winds can easily blow off hats so having a chin strap is an extra good safety measure.



13. Socks

After a day of having wet feet, it’s a great feeling to have your toes dry and snug. Socks are also a wondeful option to have for the many side hikes offered through the trip. So pack a couple of pairs of socks to wear hiking, around camp in the evenings, or for sleeping, particularly if you’re prone to cold feet-induced insomnia.


two women raft guids on red river raft


14. Polarized Sunglasses

Invest in polarized sunglasses that will protect your eyes from harmful UV rays as the glare and reflection from the water can do serious damage. Polarized sunglasses contain special filters that block intense reflected light, helping to reduce glare and improve visibility. Make sure you bring a retaining strap to keep your sunglasses securely in place, no matter the bumps that the river brings. 


A woman sitting outsider her blue tent at sunset with numerous yellow dry bags outside her tent


15. Dry Bags

Reusable small dry bags are an essential item for keeping your belongings safe and dry while on the river, even if they are going to be in a larger dry bag. They’re also a good idea for creams and lotions that are prone to leaking, rapidly soiling everything in your pack! We always recommend bringing a few reusable wet bags, or small dry bags to utilize within your luggae or larger ROW provided dry bag. You can stash wet or dirty clothes along the way and keep them separate from your clean, dry gear. 


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