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Packing Tips for a Whitewater Rafting Trip

whitewater rafting packing tips

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You’ve booked your white water rafting trip and it is almost time to head on your adventure. Only one thing stands between you and the rapids… packing your bags. 

We wouldn’t blame you for panicking. White water rafting is not your standard trip and you have to bring a few things that you wouldn’t normally think to pack. We’ve got you covered with packing tips for a whitewater rafting trip.

Things like helmets, life jackets, and other safety gear are usually provided through the white water rafting company, but there are still lots of things that you need to bring to ensure a successful and comfortable experience.

Advice From The Her Packing List Community

A reader wrote to me a while back 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 gave us some packing tips for a white water rafting trip. She told us exactly what to wear, what essentials to bring, and what not to bring. We hope this helps anyone else traveling and partaking in a whitewater rafting trip!

Megan has only gone on GUIDED day trips, never overnight, although that is on her to-do list! She has 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 – Leave these behind to change into when you get back from the trip.
whitewater rafting packing tips
Megan’s whitewater rafting trip

Essentials to Bring on a White Water Rafting Day Trip

  • 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 on Megan’s trip – it will not stay like this!

What NOT to Bring on a Whitewater Rafting Day Trip

  • 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/etc. – You won’t use them on the river, so why risk damaging them?

Some Essentials for Overnight White Water Rafting

While Megan gave us a very comprehensive list for packing for a white water rafting day trip, we know some Her Packing List readers will definitely be going on overnight adventures which includes a whole lot more gear.

Whatever tour you are going on will most likely send you a packing list with the equipment you need on it, but we’ve included some packing tips for a whitewater rafting overnight trip for you as well.

  • Windbreaker with a fleece or wool lining – As the sun sets, the air temperature is bound to get a little chilly camping beside the river – even during the warmer months. Make sure you have something warm to wear at night. Preferably something lightweight and water resistant in case it gets wet.

    The Columbia Mighty Lite Hooded Plush Jacket is a great option. It is made with Omni-Heat Reflective Insulation and is lightweight and water resistant.
  • Long sleeve shirt – A lightweight shirt with long sleeves will protect you from the harsh sun. This may not be as important on a day trip but you are going to want to be extra cautious of the sun when you are spending multiple days in it.
  • Lotion – While not the most obvious thing to pack, lotion will be a lifesaver at the end of the first day when at least one person in your group will be suffering from chaffing or sunburn. Transfer some to a small travel bottle so it fits easily in your pack.
  • Two plastic bags. One for your wet clothes and one for trash – Whatever you are wearing on the raft is bound to get wet. You don’t want to have to mix your wet and dry clothes in one bag.

    Keeping your wet clothes separate in your bag ensures that you start day two dry. There’s nothing worse than starting the day with a wet t-shirt before you’ve even gotten on the water.

    A bag for your trash doesn’t need any explanation. You are probably going to be rafting in a pristine natural environment. You don’t want to leave any trash behind.
  • Sunglasses with a strap – Polarized sunglasses reduce the reflection and glare coming off the water. Make sure they have a retention strap on them else there is a high chance that they may get lost in the river. (Try the Ombraz armless sunglasses – they have a strap instead of arms!)
  • Flashlight or headlamp – This is especially important when you need the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Insect repellent – Setting up camp next to the water means there are bound to be numerous insects out and about.
  • Travel towel – You are definitely going to want to dry off after paddling on the lake but don’t waste your valuable packing space on a big beach towel. Rather pack a travel towel that is lightweight, absorbent, and quick-drying.

The Best Shoes for White Water Rafting

Women walking through shallow water in sandals
Practical footwear is essential for walking over slippery rocks.

Arguably one of the most important things to consider when you go white water rafting is your footwear. One of the best packing tips for a whitewater rafting tour that we can give you is that your trusty flip-flops are not going to cut it. You need to consider that you will not only be in the raft but you will be walking over slippery river rocks as well.

Good tread and a heel strap are ESSENTIAL.

You want to ensure that your shoes are waterproof or quick-drying, can grip slippery surfaces, will stay on your feet in fast-flowing water, and have a thick sole to protect your feet from any sharp rocks you might stand on. 

Sturdy sandals are recommended because they drain well. Some great options for sandals are:

Something else to consider is socks. If it is very warm you may not want to be wearing socks, but in cooler weather or at night time, socks that cover your ankle are essential. Shoes that can be worn with or without socks are a great option.

A huge plus if your shoes float. That way if anything does go wrong and you lose a shoe to the rapids, it will be much easier to find and you won’t be stuck with only one shoe for the rest of the trip.

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 a Navy Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor and has spent over 20 years in service to the Navy. She is an avid traveler, having been to most of the 50 States (she hopes to visit all of them in her lifetime), and to many different countries as well. Her favorite destination to date is probably Australia. She is looking forward to all the travel opportunities to come! Catch Megan on Facebook.

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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.

  5. Lily Bridgers says

    Omg, I’m glad you mentioned that wearing clothing other than a suit when whitewater rafting can assist minimize chafing as long as you use the proper kind. I’ve never been whitewater rafting before, so I have no idea what to pack or what to dress when my family and I go on vacation next month. I’ll surely bear in mind your helpful advice and details so I can be ready for our whitewater trip.


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