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14 River Essentials for Any Whitewater Rafting Trip

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The great thing about whitewater rafting is that every trip is unique. Colorado has more than 30 commercially rafted rivers, so endless possibilities exist. However, you prepare the same way for most rafting trips in Colorado. There are always a few essential items that you should bring along on your whitewater rafting trip. Some you’ll pack and take in the raft with you, while others are for before and after your journey. Here are 14 river essentials for any whitewater rafting trip.


A swimsuit should be your base layer. If you are whitewater rafting, you are going to get wet. Make sure your swimsuit fits and is comfortable enough to spend all day wearing. Think practical over fashionable. Women should consider a two-piece because it is easier to remove if you need to use the restroom. Remember that you’ll have your life jacket on top of your suit, so consider a more streamlined swimsuit without frills or accents. You don’t want your suit getting tangled with your life jacket. For men, a comfy pair of board shorts can fit the bill.


There are a few misconceptions about what you should wear on your feet when whitewater rafting. Flip-flops are not good on the river. They fall off easily and don’t give you the support you need. Remember, whitewater rafting is not just on the water. It includes getting in and out of rafts and hiking along the shore. For men and women alike, a good pair of sandals with a supportive back and sturdy straps that hug your feet comfortably is a must. Or you can opt for an old pair of tennis shoes that fit comfortably and won’t bother you if they get soaked (or completely ruined). However, a bulkier pair of tennis shoes can weigh you down when they get wet, so keep that in mind as you pack for your adventure.


A hat to protect from the sun’s rays is essential. The sun can be intense on the river, especially in the summer. You will likely be exposed to the sun for extended periods throughout the day. Pack a hat with a chin strap, so it stays securely on your head even if you capsize while traversing the rapids. If you take an overnight rafting trip and plan to camp, you may want a hat to keep warm when the temperature drops at night and the temperature drops.

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Invest in polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Glare and reflections from the water can wreak havoc. Polarized sunglasses contain special filters that block intense light, helping to reduce glare and improve visibility. Make sure to bring a tether to keep your sunglasses securely in place, no matter how rough the river gets.


Sunscreen is a must for river rafting. Don’t use sunscreen with an SPF lower than 50+. It won’t be strong enough to block the intense sun you’ll get on the river. Look for waterproof and sweat-resistant sunscreen that can withstand rafting conditions. Don’t forget to reapply it throughout the day.

Water Bottle

It’s easy to forget to stay hydrated when surrounded by water. However, water is essential to have an enjoyable experience and maintain optimal levels of performance on the water. Be sure to bring a water bottle with a carabiner so you can attach it to your pack or the side of the raft for easy access.


A towel is one of rafting’s most valuable items. After all day in the river, it feels terrific to dry off you’re your favorite towel. Bring your towel from home to use when you get done rafting. If you have longer hair, pack a second towel to wrap around your hair.

Dry Clothes

Always pack some dry clothes for after your rafting trip. Pack a comfy outfit for the ride home if you’re only out for the day. Consider fast-drying clothes over cotton if you’re packing for an overnight trip. Cotton-based clothes can take a long time to dry in the wilderness. Shirts and pants with water-wicking technology are always a wise option.

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Wet/Dry Bags

Reusable wet and dry bags are essential to keep your items dry and safe on the river. Wet bags were initially developed to store soiled cloth diapers. The wet pocket fabric retains moisture so that you can take your used diaper home without worry. When camping, dry bags are great for storing wet and dry clothes and carrying snacks because they keep out moisture and bugs. We recommend bringing several reusable wet bags or small dry bags, especially for an overnight camping trip. You can store wet or dirty clothes while on the go and keep them separate from clean, dry gear.

Long Underwear

Long underwear is a must if you’re camping. However, it can also be worn on the raft as an extra insulation layer. Long underwear or thermal pants are a convenient solution for extra warmth as they are lightweight yet highly insulating. They’re great for wearing between top layers while camping or in your sleeping bag at night. A light, breathable option is best for sun protection on hot, cloudless days. They can also double as pajamas.

Dry Socks

After a day of wet feet, keeping your toes dry and comfortable feels great. If you’re on a half-day or full-day outing, dry socks will keep you comfy on the ride home. For overnight rafting excursions, pack a few pairs of socks to wear while at night at camp, especially if you tend to lose sleep because of cold feet.

Hand Sanitizer

If you don’t feel comfortable washing your hands in the river water, bring a bottle of hand sanitizer to use before eating. It helps eliminate any germs and viruses. Choose a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. A camping trip can mean days without a shower. There may be plenty of opportunities to swim in the river, but it’s nice to clean up before changing into camp clothes at the end of a long day. Wipes will do the job and help remove any sunscreen or sweat that builds up throughout the day.

Rain Gear

If you’re headed out overnight, pack your rain gear. Sure, getting wet is part of the whitewater rafting experience. But once you’ve set up camp for the night, you’ll probably prefer to stay dry. A lightweight waterproof jacket is an excellent addition in case it rains in the afternoon when you’re trying to set up camp or in the evening when you’re preparing dinner.


Headlamps are essential for maneuvering at night in a river camp, so you can keep your hands free while pitching a tent, cooking, or playing games. Choose a headlamp with long-lasting or rechargeable batteries, so you’re not left in the dark at the worst possible moment.

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