Packing Tips for a Whitewater Rafting Trip

whitewater rafting packing tips

A reader recently wrote to me and asked if we could put together some packing tips for a whitewater rafting trip. Having never been on this sort of trip myself, I turned to our awesome community to ask for assistance. Megan McConahy gladly jumped in and listed out the following helpful response that we are now sharing on the blog. We hope this helps anyone else traveling and partaking in a whitewater rafting trip! See all packing list posts here.

As always, leave your feedback in the comments to help make this the best resource possible. Thanks!

Whitewater Rafting Prep & Packing List

Please note that I have only gone on GUIDED day trips, never overnight, although that is on my list to do! I have been whitewater rafting four times on two different rivers, the New River and the Gulley River both in West Virginia.

What to Wear White Water Rafting

  • Bathing suit – I would wear a suit underneath any clothes you may wear during the rafting trip.
  • Clothing – I have been rafting in the summer and the fall when outside temperatures have been pretty cold. Clothing over just a suit can help prevent chafing as long as you use the right type.

    The key to wearing clothing while rafting is avoiding anything COTTON. Cotton sucks all the body heat out of you when it gets wet. Stick with technical clothing, Under Armor type, fleece, wool, etc. Again, NO cotton! Clingy clothes are better than loose-fitting clothes because you WILL get wet, even if you stay in the boat.

    Also, if it is going to be cold, use layers. Some river outfitters will even rent wetsuits if the outside temperature is going to be cold, or if you’re rafting in very cold water.
  • Water shoes – Water shoes, old tennis shoes, sandals, Chacos, etc. that stay on your feet and have a sole that is made to grip in wet conditions are very, very helpful. If you can’t keep your feet planted you may have a difficult time maintaining your balance. I wear Tevas with “spider rubber” soles. (Check out the Teva Tirras, too.)
  • Socks – On the last trip, the temperature was in the high 40s; my Tevas are sandals. Therefore, I wore wool socks to help keep my feet warm during the trip. I do not wear socks on summer trips.
  • Dry clothes – That are left behind to be able to change when you get back from the trip.
whitewater rafting packing tips
Packing for a whitewater rafting trip

Essentials to Bring White Water Rafting

  • Dry bag – For anything you don’t want to get wet. If you’re only taking little things and not too much, most guides have a “community” dry bag you can put your stuff in.
  • Waterproof camera – I just bought a cheap disposable one for my last trip. (Or, you can try a waterproof camera case/bag.)
  • Sunscreen/Chapstick – I’m a fair-skinned redhead. I live in sunscreen. Make sure it is of the waterproof variety, and don’t forget a chapstick with SPF also. This is one item I would ask the guide to put in the dry bag so that reapplication can be done when you get to a calm spot on the river.
  • Towel/Toiletries – The outfitters I have rafted with have showers available on location. It is nice to be able to take a shower before changing into your clean, dry clothes.
  • Money/Credit cards – Most of the time, the outfitter will have a staff member out on the water documenting your journey down the river. If you are interested in any of the photo/video keepsakes, get your money ready. These are usually pretty pricey.
whitewater rafting packing tips - calm before the storm
The calm – the trip will not stay like this!

What NOT to Bring Whitewater Rafting

  • Cotton clothing – Except for your dry change of clothes, as stated before. (We’re also not big fans of cotton clothing for travel here at HPL!)
  • Jewelry – I would take all my jewelry off. I did wear my waterproof sport watch the last time and that was ok.
  • Electronics/Phone/iPod/etc. – You won’t use them on the river, so why risk damaging them?

What additional packing tips for a whitewater rafting trip would you recommend? Leave them in the comments to help grow this resource!

* * * * *
About the author: Megan McConahy is an Aviation Ordnanceman in the US Navy, and has been for nine years. Even before the Navy, she was an avid traveler, having been to most of the 50 States (she hopes to visit all of them in her lifetime), and to 14 countries (so far). Her favorite destination to date is probably Australia. She is moving to Japan in just a couple of months, and is really looking forward to all the travel opportunities this move will provide! Catch Megan on Facebook.

*Photos by Megan McConahy.

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Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.

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Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.

Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


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Reader Interactions


  1. Monica says

    I am thrilled to find this site! I have been rafting numerous times in Ecuador, where changing in the brush is normal for everyone. I always brought along my favorite long skirt to change into afterwards. It makes changing from a wet suit quick, easy, and modest!

  2. Hgexjones says

    I did a 28 day trip on the Grand Canyon and there were a few things I would recommend. It seems that this is day trip specific, but I think my input would work for either. If its cold – WOOL is amazing. Also consider gloves, otherwise your hands may get sunburned and if its chilly, neoprene really helps. I would suggest using neoprene socks under wool socks in your river shoes (whatever the shoes may be), as neoprene is constructed to e warm when wet and works best against your skin so the body heat warms the water. Also, a ball cap is essential for under your helmet – and WEAR CROAKIES! Rivers eat sunglasses like crazy. Trust me, your eyes will be in a sorry condition if you spend all day on te water without sunglasses.

    • Amma T says

      Thanks for the additional information. We’re taking a week trip through the Grand Canyon. A couple of questions – shoes? Should we wear minimal teva like sandals or closed toe sandals? Fleece? How warm?

  3. Jen says

    Check with your outfitter to see what is provided already – the company i work for provides wet suits, booties (water shoes), and splash jackets if the weather is cold or wet.

    WATER BOTTLE!! just bring it.

    Never wear flip flops. sandals like Tevas, Chacos, or Keens are great… if the water is cold you will want socks too, or booties.

    Don’t bring or wear anything you don’t mind losing! I’m mostly talking about shiny things and hats (if no helmet). And I second the croakies or chums for glasses of all kinds.

    And remember that sometimes the water is VERY cold even if outside spring temperatures are warm.

    great list!

  4. Brooklyn Johnson says

    I like how you state that when going whitewater rafting, clothing over just a suit can help prevent chafing as long as you use the right type. My family and I have plans to go whitewater rafting on our vacation next month, and I’ve never been and have no idea what to pack or wear. I will definitely keep your great tips and information in mind so that I can be prepared for our whitewater adventure.


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