What to Wear White Water Rafting

What to Wear White Water Rafting

If you’re an adventure-seeker, white water rafting is likely on your bucket list already (and if it’s not, it definitely should be). Riding rushing waves through the twists and turns of a raging river is enough to make anyone’s adrenaline levels surge! 

But do you know what to wear white for water rafting? If you are wondering how to prepare for a rafting adventure, that’s where we come in.

We’re going to break down what to wear white water rafting and why these specific items help protect you even through the wildest of rapids.

Things to consider when preparing to go white water rafting

White water rafting in Costa Rica

1. Weather and water temperatures

White water rafting is an epic adventure that can be had worldwide – from the tropics to high altitude terrain. Because there are so many options, it’s important to consider what weather you’re preparing for.

It’s a good idea to also lookup average water temperatures for the time of year you’ll be rafting. For example, white water rafting in Costa Rica provides a vastly different experience than rafting in Washington State. 

Good to know: Most rafting companies in cold weather places will provide wetsuits and necessary equipment and clothing to keep you warm.

2. Fabrics

The fabric your clothing is made of is just as important as what articles you choose to wear. Athletic material – more specifically quick-drying synthetic fabric – is the preferred choice for any outdoor activity that involve water.

You’ll stay warm and dry with athletic wear, unlike a fabric such as cotton.

3. Footwear

When it comes to footwear, you want to make sure to have some sort of waterproof shoes. Our favorite option is Chaco sandals because they are specifically made for white water rafting by rafting guides. These sandals are lightweight, offer great support and grip, making them perfect for pretty much every (warm weather) outdoor activity.

Bonus: you don’t have to worry about losing them because they strap to your feet and have the benefit of being open-toed for your feet to breathe.

4. What does the rafting company provide?

Be sure to look into what your company provides to its customers as well. Some can provide wetsuits and others provide lockers for valuables. Check your company’s website for everything they provide so you know exactly what you need to bring long with you.

They should provide the following:

  • Helmet
  • Life jacket
  • Wetsuit, gloves and booties (if the water temperature makes this necessary)
  • Paddles

Does your rafting company provide photos? 

Ask your rafting company if they have the option for you to purchase photos (or maybe they even include them in the cost of your booking). If photos are included, this means you may not want to bring your own camera or phone and you can focus more on being in the moment. 

Most companies we’ve gone rafting with around the world have provided this service either complimentary or at an additional cost. However, if they do not have a photographer on staff, you might want to consider packing a waterproof camera. (More information on that below.)

Psst! If you’re planning your next outdoor adventure, be sure to check out our list of the best outdoor apps for camping, hiking and road trips to get all the resources you need at your fingertips!

What to wear white water rafting

Preparing to go white water rafting

Since there are many factors that go into your outfit choice, we can’t provide a concrete list for your white water rafting venture. But we can provide the best options that are most suitable for rafting in general and that will be perfect for almost all planned trips. 

Below we have curated a list of the best clothing items to wear rafting.

  1. Bathing Suit: This is an easy one. Bathing suits are specifically made for water adventures and white water rafting is no exception. A bathing suit will help protect your body in the water and keep you dynamic instead of weighing you down.
  1. Athletic, Quick-dry Shorts: Athletic fabrics are designed with the intent to wick sweat and water away from your skin. A pair of athletic, quick-dry shorts will help keep you moving when white water rafting by wicking away water, being lightweight, and flexible for movement.
  1. Quick-dry Shirt: In the same vein of athletic shorts, athletic shirts are also designed to wick away moisture. A quick-dry shirt will help keep you dry and warm while you navigate those rough waves while staying flexible.
  1. Water Shoes or Chaco Sandals: Most people don’t think about what to wear on their feet and opt for tennis shoes or flip-flops. But these options are never a good idea for rafting. Tennis shoes will keep your feet cold because they absorb water and flip-flops can fly off your feet. The best choice for footwear is waterproof shoes or sandals. We recommend Chaco sandals because the creators are white water rafters who made their shoes specifically for this activity. They’re also super durable, meaning you can take them on all of your journeys without having to cash out for a new pair anytime soon. Psst! My first pair of Chacos lasted me 11 years!

What NOT to wear white water rafting

Getting pummeled while white water rafting

Now that you know what items are good to wear white water rafting, let’s discuss what not to wear rafting. These items are not a good idea to bring with as they can hinder your experience or have a chance of being damaged or lost on the river.

Trust us, there’s no chance of getting your lost phone out of that rapid!

  1. Cotton: Wearing cotton is a common mistake people make when planning for the outdoors. Sure, cotton is a comfortable fabric, but it’s also very absorbent and heavy when wet. When you’re rafting, you’re sure to get wet and a cotton shirt, for instance, will take a very long time to dry, leaving you cold and uncomfortable your entire time on the river. Not an ideal feeling as you ride the waves!
  1. Jewelry that can fall off: White water rafting is an intense activity. I mean, you’re riding an inflatable raft on the most turbulent parts of a river. You’re just asking to lose anything that is not secure. So be sure not to wear loose jewelry that can easily fall off such as earrings, rings, or bracelets. All this said, if you know your wedding right is not falling off or you have bracelets that are tied on your wrist, you’ll probably be just fine. Just take a moment to assess each item you’re wearing and decide accordingly.
  1. Glasses: If possible, swap your glasses for contacts, as glasses can easily fall off during a wild rafting ride. If you just can’t do contacts, be sure to invest in a good athletic holder strap that will catch on your neck if they slide off your face so they don’t fly out of your raft. Because you’re definitely not getting them back if they fall into the water!
  1. Flip-flops: The most common mistake people make when rafting is often in the footwear they choose. Flip-flops are made for days at the beach, going to the swimming pool, or lounging around the house… They were definitely not intended for rafting! Your flip-flops can, and will, very easily slide off your feet while you’re rafting because they’re not secured to your feet. And as if you needed any more reason not to wear flip flops, the bottom grip is pretty much non-existent, making it easy to slip and hurt yourself once they become wet. 
  1. Athletic Shoes: Athletic shoes are great for running or adventures on dry land but not ideal for rafting. They are very absorbent and will get very heavy when splashed with water. Not to mention they take a long time to dry out so you will have wet feet for a very, very long time (probably well past your rafting trip!).

Insider Tip: Check with your rafting company to see if they provide booties. Often times if they provide full wetsuits (usually in colder destinations), they’ll give everyone booties made of wetsuit material. In this case, you won’t need to provide your own footwear.

  1. Phone: We all live in an age dominated by social media and you might be tempted to bring your phone for that perfect action shot for your profile. But we all know (many of us from experience!) that phones and water do not mix! Plus, you might hit a rough wave and let your phone go flying out of the raft causing it to be lost to the water. If you don’t want to risk it, simply leave it in your car or locker at your rafting company. 

Insider Tip: However, if you absolutely must bring your phone with you, carry it in a waterproof case that goes around your neck like this one. You can tuck it inside your lifejacket when you’re not using it so it’s not bouncing around.

Other items to pack for white water rafting

White water rafting groups in Costa Rica

Okay, now that you know what to wear and even more importantly, what not to wear, let’s discuss all the other items you should pack. This way you’ll be fully prepared with everything you need for a white water rafting trip. Some of these things are meant to be left in your car or in a locker for after your trip.

Note: For the purpose of this article, we’re only discussing gear that should be packed for shorter day trips. If you plan to do a multi-day trip, you’ll obviously need more gear as well as food and water.

  1. Dry Bag: Be sure to bring a dry bag along with you to house all of your valuables that can’t get wet. It’s a good way to be able to bring valuables such as a phone, camera, water bottle, etc. on the river without risking it getting ruined or lost. Most dry bags have a long strap you can attach to yourself or your lifejacket so it doesn’t get tossed out of the raft. Just be sure to ask your raft guide if it is alright to bring a dry bag on the river. 
  1. Dry Clothes: No one wants to stay in wet clothes all day… umm can you say cold and uncomfortable?! Be sure to pack a change of dry clothes so when you’re finished rafting for the day you can change into something dry and warm. Your body will thank you.
  1. Quick Dry Towel: Obviously you’re going to get wet, so bring a towel along with you to dry off afterward. Nobody likes sitting in a puddle in the car! Some rafting companies are generous and provide clean towels to dry off with, while others do not. We like to err on the side of caution and always pack our own microfiber quick dry towels.
  1. Water Bottle: Hydration is very important for any physical activity, and white water rafting is no exception. Although it may not seem like it, rafting requires a lot of physical exertion and endurance. Be sure to hydrate before you hop into that raft and afterward. Depending on the rafting company, they may or may not have places to keep your water bottle while on the river. Listen to their recommendation on whether to bring it on the raft or not. 
  1. GoPro with a strap: In a world of social media everyone wants to document their latest adventure and white water rafting is no different. Instead of ruining your phone, invest in a waterproof camera such as a GoPro or an Olympus, as well as a strap to secure it to your body. This way you won’t ruin your own camera with water, plus, it won’t fall out of the raft because it’s secured with a strap. And best yet, you can still upload all your favorite moments! 
  1. Sunscreen: You’ll be getting wet as you navigate through river rapids and you might not notice your skin getting burnt. But trust us, you’ll feel it later! Water reflects sunlight, and you’ll be extra exposed which can lead to a nasty burn.    Make sure to apply sunscreen before getting into your raft so you can avoid having to buy aloe vera later.

Responsible Travel Tip: Any time we apply sunscreen before getting into a natural water source (the ocean, a lake, a river, etc.), we always opt for reef-safe sunscreen so it won’t damage the ecosystem with the harsh chemicals that are in traditional sunscreen.

Reef-safe sunscreen is often more expensive, so save it to use only when you’ll be entering a natural water source.

  1. Wallet, Keys, and Other Valuables (store them in a locker): As mentioned earlier, valuables are never a good idea to bring in the raft with you because they have a high possibility of being lost in the river. Be sure to ask if your rafting company has a locker area to store your valuables safely. Don’t forget to ask if a lock is provided, or bring one along just in case.
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Wear White Water Rafting | Go Wander Wild
Wear White Water Rafting | Go Wander Wild

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