Going Rafting? How to Plan and Pack for a River Rafting Camping Trip

People enjoying a river raft trip.

Is river rafting on your bucket list? If not, it should be! There are few things in life that are as peaceful as meandering down a river, taking in the breathtaking scenery.

Also, few things that get your adrenaline pumping like hitting your first set of monster rapids. Rafting has a little bit of everything all rolled up into one spectacular, memory-making adventure.

But in order to fully enjoy a river rafting trip, you’ve got to plan ahead. Without the right gear, you’ll end up soggy, sunburned, and super grumpy when you reach your campsite. 

Keep reading to hear some of our best tips to plan and pack for a river rafting trip. 

Start with Your Guide

A guide leading a river rafting trip.
Image by Jonatan Lewczuk from Unsplash

The guide company is your go-to resource to make sure you’ve packed correctly. When choosing a guide company, do your research ahead of time. Read reviews, check out their website, and don’t be afraid to call around.

Find one that has a detailed website. Many companies will provide information about the average air and water temperature, special needs requirements, and expected weather conditions. This can be very helpful when it’s time to pack your gear.

Don’t just book online. Call them and talk to someone who has experience with the trip you’re considering. Then you can get a feel for how they operate and if the trip is appropriate for your skill level and needs. 

Every rafting trip is different. Packing for a cold-weather trip is very different from packing for a mid-summer trip. So it’s important to pay attention to the instructions given to you by your rafting company. A good company will provide you with a comprehensive packing checklist. They are the experts so make sure to follow the checklist closely. 

The Essential Gear

Backpacking gear by a river.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Of course, you’ll find most of your essential gear listed on the packing checklist, but there’s a big difference between how certain fabrics react to water and sun exposure. So, we’ll go into a little more detail now.

Raft Clothing

The amount of clothing you need depends on the length of your trip and the weather you’ll encounter. Of course, you can’t always predict the weather. Pack so that you can layer clothing to coordinate with Mother Nature’s mood swings. 

Many people choose to wear a swimsuit as their base layer because they dry quickly and it saves on packing space. If you’d rather wear underwear, we suggest you opt for the quick-dry variety made from synthetic fabrics. Cotton underwear can stay soggy for hours and really ruin your mood. It wil also make you very cold. 

If you’re packing for a cold-weather trip, you’ll want to pack long underwear made from fleece or wool. These fabrics help keep you warm even when they’re wet. You don’t want any cotton on you if you’re in cold weather. 

Opt for long sleeves even for a warm-weather trip. Unless you’re rolling through a canyon, you’ll probably encounter hours and hours of sun. There’s only so much sunscreen you want to apply. Choose breathable fabrics such as a polyester blend. 

Bring along a rain jacket with a hood in case of precipitation. You can also use your rain jacket to protect from splashes, and many jackets have removable fleece linings that can keep you warm at night. 

Camp Clothing

The clothes you wear once you’ve left the raft is more flexible since you don’t have to worry about getting wet. Feel free to pack what feels comfortable to you. 

Before you go, check your guide website for the weather forecast. Again, layering is best. Bring a fleece jacket or hoody to keep you warm in your tent at night. Or opt for cooler fabrics like cotton if you’re in for higher temps. 

Don’t forget to pack something that’s comfortable to sleep in. Your guide trip will often supply the sleeping gear, which usually includes an insulated sleeping bag. Check with them to see if they recommend bringing warmer clothing to sleep in. 

Foot and Head Gear 

Water shoes are a must when you’re rafting. If you’re in a pinch and don’t want to spend a lot of cash, you can opt to use an old pair of sneakers. Beware that sneakers don’t dry quickly, so your feet will spend a lot of time cold and soggy.

Instead, invest in a pair of sandals meant to be worn in the water. They’ll dry quickly and won’t leave your feet looking like prunes. Plus, these shoes have special grippy soles that help keep you from slipping when you’re trying to navigate around slippery rocks on the river’s edge. 

Always bring along another pair of shoes to wear at camp. Then you can let your river shoes dry out while you’re camping for the evening. Hiking boots work best if you’re planning to hike, but they’ll be bulky in your pack. Sneakers and flip flops will pack easier if you’re planning to stay around camp. 

We suggest bringing a pair of wool socks. They’re great for keeping your feet warm at camp and at night. You can wear these while rafting, but it might be smart to try to keep them dry. 

A wide-brimmed hat will keep the sun off your face and shoulders during the day. It’s also great for keeping your head dry in the rain. Just make sure there’s a strap on it to keep it on your head during gusting winds or rough rapids. A beanie cap made from wool can keep your head warm during colder weather. 

The “Not Essential but Nice to Have” Gear

Rafters getting splashed on a rafting trip.
Image by Logan Easterling from Unsplash

Although not required, it’s nice to bring along a few comfort items to make you feel more at home during your rafting trip. Wool gloves are small and easy to pack but make a big difference on cold nights or right away in the morning.

Pack a small, super-absorbent towel. This type of towel dries quicker than a larger bath towel and it collects less sand and dirt. 

You’ll be given some dry bags by your river guide company, but bring along a small day bag or fanny pack. A smaller bag is more convenient to carry things that you need at your fingertips, like sunscreen, sunglasses, and your smartphone. 

Speaking of your smartphone, invest in a sturdy, waterproof case for it before you go. You’ll want the ability to take pictures everywhere on your trip. You don’t want to worry about your smartphone getting ruined in the process. 

Separate the gear in your pack using large, ziplock bags. This keeps your clothes dry in case water gets into your dry bag. You can use these ziplock bags later in the trip to separate wet clothing from dry clothing. 

Pack a headlamp with extra batteries. You’ll find this is an essential piece of gear for moving around at night, and using a headlamp instead of a flashlight keeps your hands free. 

Tell us about your favorite rafting gear in the comments! If you’re still unsure about the right gear, visit one of our many locations and talk to an outdoor expert.  



One comment

  1. Thanks for the tip about getting water shoes for a rafting trip. Since it’s nearly summer, I’d like to try to do some extreme sports involving water and I think rafting would be something beginner-friendly. I heard that a lot of synchronization is needed in order to succeed in this sport so I guess I’m going to have to convince my best friend to come along.

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