Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Blog

Essential Gear Guide for Whitewater Rafting

gear for rafting

Get ready to dive into the splash zone as we uncover the secrets of essential whitewater rafting gear. From must-have safety gear to specialized equipment that turns you into a river maestro, we’re about to spill the tea on the whole kit and caboodle. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or dipping your toes into this watery world for the first time, this guide highlights everything you need to know before hitting the river.

Essential Personal Gear

Flotation Devices

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are a fundamental aspect of whitewater rafting safety, serving as a critical tool to keep individuals buoyant in unpredictable river conditions. Participants must wear a properly fitted PFD to ensure its optimal effectiveness. The snug fit guarantees that the PFD remains securely in place during rapid movements, providing necessary buoyancy and support in challenging situations.

Understanding the different types of PFDs available is essential for selecting the best option based on factors like skill level, the intensity of the rafting experience, and the specific characteristics of the river.

PFDs are provided by rafting companies and will be assigned to you before your journey. Your guide can assist you with any questions or concerns you might have.


Helmets play a vital role in safeguarding participants from potential head injuries, given the presence of rocks, turbulent waters, and other obstacles in the water. Rafting helmets are crafted with durable materials designed to absorb impact, providing protection during collisions with the raft or other hazards. Proper coverage, a secure fit, ventilation, and safety certifications are key when selecting a helmet. A well-fitted helmet ensures comfort without compromising safety, contributing significantly to a safe and enjoyable rafting experience.

When you book a commercial rafting trip, you will be given a helmet at the same time you receive your PFD.


Gloves are a significant component of whitewater rafting. They serve the dual purpose of protecting your hands from friction during paddle maneuvers and provide insulation in chilly water. Choosing suitable gloves involves considering factors like material, grip, and insulation properties to ensure comfort and functionality throughout the rafting journey.

Gloves are generally not provided by a rafting company for commercial trips.


Eyewear is another crucial element for rafters, providing protection from the elements. Whether it’s the sun’s glare, splashing water, or wind, eyewear shields the eyes from potential discomfort. Options include goggles or sunglasses, each offering specific features catering to different preferences. UV protection, secure fit, and impact resistance are important considerations when choosing rafting eyewear.

It’s best to pack your own sunglasses with UV protection for your commercial rafting adventure. Another tip is to invest in a sports strap to help secure your sunglasses in case they get splashed off.

Rafting Apparel

Wetsuits and Drysuits

Choosing between wetsuits and drysuits is pivotal for a comfortable and safe experience on the water. Wetsuits are designed to keep the body insulated by trapping a thin layer of moisture between the skin and the fabric, which is then warmed by body heat. This insulation is particularly beneficial in cooler conditions, providing a buffer against icy river waters.

On the other hand, drysuits offer waterproof protection by preventing water from entering, keeping the wearer completely dry. The choice between these two depends on the water temperature and your preference for dryness or insulation. Ensuring a good fit is essential for their function. A perfect suit should help you navigate rapids with comfort and confidence.

You won’t need a wetsuit or drysuit for a commercial rafting ride. Your swimming suit will work just fine. Stay away from heavier materials like cotton that can add weight when wet and take a long time to dry.



Your footwear directly impacts stability, protection, and overall comfort on unpredictable river terrain. Opting for appropriate footwear ensures secure footing on slippery surfaces and guards against potential injuries. Stay away from flip-flops and sandals. Water shoes, designed with sturdy soles and quick-draining features, are an excellent choice for their ability to provide traction on wet rocks and riverbeds. Closed-toe water shoes offer added protection against accidental collisions with submerged obstacles, enhancing the safety of rafters.

The best shoes for a commercial rafting trip are anything that will stay on your feet and can get wet. Flip-flops and sandals can fly off and get lost in heavier rapids. Instead, opt for an old pair of tennis shoes or more breathable water shoes for your trek down the river.

Neoprene Booties

Additionally, neoprene booties are an insulation layer, particularly beneficial in colder water conditions, ensuring that participants maintain warmth and comfort throughout the rafting adventure. Selecting the correct footwear based on the specific demands of the river and personal preferences contributes significantly to the overall enjoyment of whitewater rafting.
You won’t need neoprene booties on a commercial rafting outing unless you’re venturing into colder waters.

Rafting Accessories


Rafting accessories play a pivotal role in enhancing the overall performance and safety of participants on the river. Paddles, the primary tools for maneuvering through rapids, come in various types to accommodate different skill levels and preferences. Selecting the right paddle involves considerations such as blade shape, material, and length, with proper paddling techniques ensuring efficient navigation.

On a guided trip, your rafting outfitter will provide paddles for everyone on the raft. You’ll also receive instructions on how to use them.

Throw Bag

Equipping oneself with a throw bag is essential for safety, as it is a crucial tool in rescue situations. Using a throw bag enables rafters to swiftly respond to emergencies, contributing to a collective sense of preparedness on the water.

You won’t need a throw bag on a commercial rafting trip, but you can pack a smaller waterproof bag to hold essentials like your cell phone. It’s important to always check to see what’s allowed on your raft prior to boarding.


Additionally, carrying a knife is a safety measure, especially if you are rafting privately. A pocketknife can help you cut entangled ropes or webbing during rescue scenarios. Choosing a knife with features suitable for rafting ensures that it remains a valuable asset without compromising safety. These rafting accessories collectively contribute to a well-prepared and secure rafting experience, allowing participants to confidently navigate the challenges of whitewater.

Keep in mind that you won’t need this on a commercial rafting trip. Your guide should be trained and well-versed in all safety procedures.


Understanding the types of rafts available is integral to a successful and enjoyable whitewater rafting experience. Inflatable rafts and hard-shell rafts each offer distinct advantages, catering to the preferences and requirements of different adventurers. Inflatable rafts, often the preferred choice for commercial rafting trips, provide a balance of stability and maneuverability. On the other hand, hard-shell rafts, constructed from durable materials like plastic or fiberglass, offer enhanced durability and control. Choosing the right size and style of raft depends on factors such as the rafters’ skill level, the river’s intensity, and the desired experience.

Maintaining raft integrity is also crucial, involving regular checks for leaks, timely repairs, and proper storage and transportation practices. A well-maintained raft ensures a reliable vessel for navigating challenging rapids, contributing to a safer and more enjoyable whitewater adventure.

Rafts are inspected and maintained regularly by the outfitter on commercial rafting excursions. Most commercial companies use inflatable rafts that seat eight or more people.

Safety First – Always!

Emphasizing safety is paramount in whitewater rafting, where the unpredictable nature of rivers demands a proactive approach to risk management. Pre-trip safety briefings are critical in preparing participants for potential challenges, ensuring they are familiar with emergency procedures, communication signals, and the overall plan for the journey.

Understanding and practicing rescue techniques is essential, and it empowers you to respond effectively in an emergency. Communication on the water facilitated through clear and concise signals, fosters coordination among team members, contributing to a safer and more synchronized rafting experience. The combination of thorough safety briefings, practiced rescue skills, and effective communication enhances the collective preparedness of the group, mitigating risks and fostering a sense of confidence among participants as they navigate the exhilarating waters.

For commercial rafting trips, you will receive a training session at the beginning of your trip. Your guide may explain techniques to you before you get in the raft, and there will be ample time to practice in the raft before you encounter challenging rapids.

  • Posted in: