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Packing for a White Water Rafting Trip

white water rafting

Sage advice for packing for white water.

Summer is almost gone and you still want to get in that last white water raft trip. We asked our friends at Arizona River Runners to give our readers some sage advice on how to pack for the trip. Here’s what they told us.

With more than 40 years of experience, Arizona River Runners knows the ins and outs of what is a must for a whitewater trip, as well as what to leave behind. Our veteran rafter and one of our long-time employees, Shirley, says “People try to make it more complicated when it comes to packing. Just go by what’s on the packing list your rafting company provides and you’ll be fine. And always call the company if you have questions.”

What kinds of clothes are right for spending a few days on the river? Where do you keep the clothes?

Rafting Kicking Horse River

White water rafting means getting wet– a lot.

There are three important things to remember when packing for a whitewater trip: water, sun, and dirt/sand.

Quick dry is king. First, a trip will involve a significant amount of time on the river, which means a lot of time will be spent on, near, and perhaps in the water. Clothes should be fast drying and okay to get wet. Leave the jeans and fashion tops at home. Bring quick-drying nylon shorts and shirts that will dry off quickly or will be dry by morning.

Hiking along Grand Canyon

The right clothing and footwear can make rafting and hiking safer and more comfortable. Photo courtesy Arizona Rafting Co.

Less is more. The good news is clothes like these are not terribly difficult to find, nor are they horrifically expensive. Any sport store or general retail store will carry clothes like the ones described. Don’t go overboard though – no need to bring a new outfit for every day on the river. Shirley suggests, “For six days, bring four of each shorts and shirts. You don’t have to change clothes every day.”

Suit up. Bathing suits are a good idea to wear beneath your clothes, or even as clothing. However, women should avoid one piece suits, which may seem a bit counter intuitive. While a one piece may provide more coverage, it makes things like going to the bathroom or changing clothes much more difficult. Privacy is in short supply while on the river; something to keep in mind while deciding what clothes to bring. Keeping things simple and easy will make everything less stressful during the trip.

Prepare for mud stains. Finally, water on rivers like the Colorado is not clear. Come August it can be a muddy brown; due to rains and rafting. Clothes soaked by the water have the potential to take on the color of the river itself, so leave the designer clothing behind! Bring clothes that will not be missed if they happen to change color to a less flattering shade of “dirt.”

Rafting Kitcking Horse River

White water rafting, especially the Colorado or glacially-fed rivers, can mean muddy water that can stain clothing.

Lather up. Sun protection is very important when getting ready for a white water rafting trip. Especially rafters coming from less sunny climates, must understand how important it is to have sun protection at all times. Lip balm and lotion with an SPF of at least 30 is recommended. And reapply it often. Sometimes a long sleeve shirt with built in UV protection is the best idea during months when the sun is especially strong, such as June, July, August, and September. These long sleeved shirts can be found in sport stores. They are lightweight without any cotton, will dry quickly, and be less likely to irritate skin when they get wet. Don’t forget your hat and sunglasses (both with retention string) for added protection. A bandanna is helpful too, it comes in handy for cooling off or keeping the sun off your neck [Editor’s note: Tilley Endurables makes incredible hats with SPF 50. Read our reviews of some of their offerings, including their Organic Cotton, Plaid Hat, and, my favorite, the Tilley Airflow.]

summer tilley hat provides spf 50 protection

A hat like this summer Tilley, which provides SPF 50 and comes with a attachment strap, can keep you from baking in the sun.

Stay warm and dry. For cooler times and rainy weather, especially as we move into late summer and fall, a lightweight fleece or fleece-lined jacket will keep you cozy. Rain gear is a MUST. Look for quality pieces that are waterproof, not just water resistant. Remember, the point is to stay dry!

Shirley adds, “And don’t forget to pack a hoodie, they are great to wrap around a pillow for softer sleeping.”

Shoes and socks too. Bring two pairs of shoes, one for the raft and one for camp; make sure they are well broken in! Don’t forget socks, these are great for camp and help your feet if you get sore spots from your shoes.

Protect your camera. Make sure your camera has extra batteries and memory card, and store in a zip lock bag – not just to protect it from the water, but from the sand!

Stay hydrated. Lastly, bring a water bottle; hydration is important on rafts and on hikes.

raingear for white water rafting

Protecting yourself from rain is just as important as sun protection. Photo Arizona Rafting Co.

Pack It Right

The outfits have been picked, now how should they be packed? Everyone should pack one sports bag/duffel measuring 24x12x12 inches to bring with them on the boats. This is pretty standard, not just for our company, but for most white water raft companies.

Stay organized. One of the best ways to make sure the clothes stay organized and dry is to use plastic zipper bags. Our veteran rafter Shirley offers this advice, “I roll my shorts and shirts up like a cigar and put them in zip lock bag. It keeps things separate and easy to get to.”

grand canyon water fall

Clothing that dries quickly is the best choice for rafting. Photo Arizona Rafting Co.

About Arizona River Runners

White water rafting through the Grand Canyon offers a unique view of one of the most incredible natural wonders of the world. Since 1970, Arizona River Runners has provided all-inclusive Grand Canyon rafting trips with customized, state-of-the-art rafts. They offer a wide variety of trips from 3- to 8- ay motorized Grand Canyon rafting trips to 6-, 8-, 13-day oar-powered whitewater trips.

Arizona River Runners, P.O. Box 47788, Phoenix, AZ 85068, 1-800-477-7238, (email),

Haven’t chosen your white water rafting company yet?

Check out this advice piece, “Be Safe, Have Fun: 8 Questions to Ask Your White Water Rafting Company.”


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Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

RFT co-founder Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. An award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook, Bobbie is editor-in-chief at

3 thoughts on “Packing for a White Water Rafting Trip

  1. Advantage Grand Canyon

    I really enjoyed reading your packing tips for rafting. The points you describe is very helpful. White water rafting is an adventures sport and will get unique experience. To make your trip better and adventures you can book your trips from Advantage Grand Canyon. You can easily get information on tours, trips and routes in their website:

  2. Maggie Allen

    It’s good to know that your clothes can potentially get stained by the mud. Me and my friends all want to go white water rafting, but I wasn’t sure whether to buy new clothes for the trip. It sounds like I should just wear the stuff that I won’t miss, like you said. Plus, I think that not worrying about my clothes would make the trip a lot less stressful!

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