The Complete and Only River Rafting Checklist You’ll Ever Need

By admin / October 19, 2020

The first river rafting expeditions took place way back in the 1840s when Lt. John Fremont and Horace H. Day invented the first raft.

It was all business back then though. They used these innovative crafts to survey deep into the previously unexplored Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains.

It wasn’t until 100 years later that adventurous souls decided to raft down the Salmon River in Idaho just for fun. Since then, whitewater rafting’s become a popular pastime and the IOC included a similar sport, whitewater slalom, in the 1972 Olympic Games.

If you’ve decided to try out this exhilarating sport for the first time don’t leave home without reading this guide on what to bring and what to leave at home.

What To Expect on a Rafting Trip

Your big day, or days, out could involve anything from a gentle meander over a few rocky ripples to a full-blown white knuckle adrenaline-fest.

Rafting rivers fall into different categories rated on a scale of I to V. River rated I offer the mildest adventure, so bear this in mind if you’re new to the world of whitewater rafting.

The Grand Canyon uses a slightly different scale with 1 being the least severe and 10 the most extreme.

Rivers meander through forests, deserts, mountains, and plains that will also affect your experience and the weather plays a major role in comfort levels during your rafting trip.

In fact, the weather in another state can even affect depending on where the river in question starts and ends. Heavy rains upstream will mean you’re in for a wilder ride.

There are as many river rafting adventures as there are rivers, so you’ll never get bored with this activity.

Some of the best-known ones are:

  • The Grand Canyon section of the Colorado River rated I to V
  • Salmon River, Idaho rated III to V
  • Chattooga River, South Carolina, and Georgia rated III to IV
  • Gauley River, West Virginia rated IV to V
  • Arkansas River, Colorado rated II to V
  • Nahatlatch River, British Columbia rated IV
  • Kennebec River and Dead River, Maine rated II to IV
  • Youghiogheny River Maryland and Pennsylvania rated I to V
  • Tuolumne River, California rated V and IV
  • Rio Santa Maria, Mexico rated III to IV

Class I rivers are very mild with few challenges along the way, while Class IV and V rivers are very tough to navigate. Class II and III rivers are usually a good choice for a good mix of thrills.

Remember, you need a permit to raft on some rivers.

The Basics For All River Rafting Adventures

While Olympic level rafting’s a highly specialized and sometimes dangerous event, recreational river rafting’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

According to, anyone can join in the fun. Thanks to modern-day equipment, there’s a safe way for everyone to get down the river.

Your entourage will usually consist of a large stable raft for the guests and a few safety craft powered by standby personnel. On longer trips, a seperate oared craft carries all your food and supplies.

Your single or multi-day trip takes place under the watchful eye of experienced river guides who’ll ensure you’re taken care of all along the way. As such, you don’t need any fancy equipment for a river rafting jaunt.

Your tour operator will give you a list of things to bring and your packing list will depend on where and when you’re going.

These are the basics you’ll need no matter how many days you plan to spend on the water:

Warm Weather Rafting

  • Bathing suit
  • T-shirt
  • Sunblock Sunglasses with straps, and lip balm
  • River shoes, neoprene boots, or old sneakers
  • A waterproof camera
  • A small dry bag and zip lock bags
  • Two towels
  • A warm waterproof jacket

Cold and Wet Weather Rafting

  • Warm clothing like a sweater, socks, and polypropylene underwear
  • A padded jacket
  • Paddling pants
  • Wet suit
  • Drysuit
  • Neoprene gloves
  • Neoprene booties

Usually, your operator will provide drinks and snacks but you can take an energy bar and drink along too. It’s a good idea to take some water too.

You can usually rent wet suits and other gear on arrival so take some form of identification along if you intend to do this.

Single-day outings usually involve either a half-day or a full day on the water.

For a one day trip, you’ll need a change of clothes for the drive home as you’re bound to get splashed soaking wet in the height of the excitement. Don’t assume a wetsuit’s going to keep you dry, water always works its way in through the neck and arm holes.

If you’re heading out for more than a day the list gets a lot longer.

What to Pack for a Multi-Day River Rafting Trip

It’s important to pack light for your multi-day rafting trip since most of your supplies will travel down the river with you in a seperate raft.

In some instances, where the terrain allows, operators may have land support vehicles with a team to set up camp instead.

These are the main ingredients for a successful rafting trip, bear in mind your tour operator may take care of some of these items, so always ask first if you’re unsure:

  • Two dry bags (more on that later)
  • Essential toiletries in a waterproof bag
  • Sanitizing wipes
  • Eco-friendly shampoo and conditioner
  • Plenty of bug spray
  • A headlamp, lantern, or flashlight
  • A first aid kit
  • Clothing and underwear for each day

Moisturizing cream will help your hands cope with the constant wet environment and ponytail holders help keep long hair out of your face. If you don’t want to wear your bathing suit day in and day out,  take a couple of pairs of quick-dry underwear along.

A beanie comes in handy for cold evenings alongside the river. It’s also a good idea to pack a pair of jeans or even a dress for the evenings, so you can get a break from river gear for a few hours daily.

Flip flops are a godsend for drying out your feet in the evenings, as long as it isn’t too cold.

Usually, your guides will see to all the tents and camping gear, but you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and ground cloth. Some rafters like to bring their own tin coffee mug to do double duty as a beer mug in the evenings.

Things You Should Never Bring on Your Rafting Trip

A plastic poncho’s almost useless on a rafting trip. It won’t keep you dry or protect you from the wind and easily snags on riverside trees and bushes.

Rather opt for a good quality waterproof jacket with velcro wrists, a zipper, and a hood. Make sure you buy one big enough so that you can wear a layer of warm clothing underneath it.

Cotton clothing doesn’t keep you warm when the weather’s wet and windy and it takes a long time to dry. Synthetic materials and wool work best for whitewater rafting trips.

You don’t need any makeup but a good quality moisturizer is a must.

Glass bottles are a safety risk as they can break and damage the raft. If you want to take beer or liquor along, rather choose cans of beer and decant your liquor into a steel or plastic bottle.

Leave your car keys and your wallet back at HQ. It’ll be safe there until your return. You don’t want to lose these items in the river.

Need we tell you there’s no place for phones out in the great outdoors. You won’t be able to get any reception and they’re just another expensive thing to worry about.

Stick to a camera in a waterproof case for your photographs, they’re a lot easier to keep a grip on during rough going.

Likewise, a Bluetooth speaker or another source of music will only disturb everyone’s peace and quiet.

Creature Comforts for a More Enjoyable Trip

While getting wet’s part of the fun on a rafting expedition, you don’t want to spend the entire time soaked to the bone. On cold, wet trips the following items will come in handy:

  • Rain gear and fleece clothing
  • Tall rubber boots
  • Wool socks are best for wet feet

If you’re cutting a path through the desert or rafting during the summer months, you’ll stay cool and comfortable with these tips:

  • For the ladies a sarong doubles as a sunshade and after-rafting skirt
  • You can dip a bedsheet in the river and use it as a cooling cover over your legs
  • You can safely attach an umbrella to your raft
  • Lightweight UPF clothes keep you covered and cool at the same time

It’s a good idea to ask your tour organizer for some tips too. They know their area best.

Some form of entertainment’s a bonus for dull moments ashore too. Rafters recommend bringing a frisbee, or horseshoes as a way to keep busy.

Packing Your Dry Bags

You’ll need two dry bags for a multi-day rafting trip. You need to pack all your personal items into the larger one. These include:

  • Toiletries
  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Sleeping bag
  • Pillow
  • All other sleep items

Packing this bag’s a fine art since your sleeping bag must go in first and everything else needs to fit around it, leaving enough room at the top for it to fold over into a watertight seal.

This means you’ll go through the arduous ritual of dragging out everything every night to get at your sleeping bag.

One way to get around this is to roll your clothing up tight and place it into several zip lock bags before packing it into your dry bag. That way it’s easy to unpack your bag at night and place your clothing at the bottom of your tent.

It’s quick and easy to repack everything in the morning too.

Your small dry bag stays with you on the raft all day. It’s much easier to pack this bag as long as you ensure you have everything you need for your journey down the river.

Remember sunscreen, bug spray, a few first aid essentials, and some snacks. You should still have plenty of room in the bag for any layers of clothing you peel off during the day.

You should also include a few items that you’ll need right after you disembark from the raft. You’ll usually need to set up camp before you can unpack your large bag, and you’ll certainly be wet and maybe cold when you arrive at the shore.

A dry fleece and pair of shoes in your day bag makes things a lot more comfortable at these times.

Top Packing Tips From a River Rafting Guide

Bring a journal, there’s something about all the fresh air and wide-open spaces that releases your most intuitive creativity.

When it comes to water bottles, bigger is always better. Attach your water bottle to the raft with a carabiner and stay hydrated. You’ll get hot and thirsty out on the river and end up with a serious headache if you become dehydrated.

Break your shoes in before the trip. There’s a lot more walking involved in a rafting trip than you expect. You’ll have to help set up camp and hike from the river to your campsite, as well as for fun.

Most guides recommend a much-desired treat to make your trip memorable and celebrate your achievements. Bring a little something along like a luxurious chocolate bar or a snifter of expensive whisky.

Get Out There

If your a keen adventurer looking for something new to try, river rafting deserves a place on your bucket list. There’s always a new waterway to experience and you’re bound to find one that suits your energy and experience levels.

Whatever your interests, you’re bound to find something to pique your curiosity on our site. Keep reading and enjoy it!

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