Gear - 15 min read

What To Wear White Water Rafting (Recommendations by the Pro!)

Lauren Abbott

Lauren Abbott, Updated October 10, 2022

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White water rafting is a recreational activity that involves navigating a river on an inflatable raft. As the name suggests, the excursion features bodies of water with fast currents. 

While white water rafting is a thrilling activity for adventure-seekers, it comes with a certain level of risk. Safety measures are necessary to avoid dangerous consequences. Being safe on the water begins with what you choose to wear. 

The proper attire for a white water rafting trip will consist of several layers, starting with a swimsuit as a base. When the water is cold, a wet or dry suit will be required. In chilly weather conditions, add warm materials such as fleece with waterproof outer layers on top if necessary for rain or wind. 

If you are planning a white water rafting adventure and need some guidance on what to wear, look no further. We have put together a comprehensive guide that will teach you everything you need to know about dressing for a rafting trip. 

We will cover the ins and outs of layering, when to bundle up, and what not to wear for the best experience. Read on for our best wardrobe tips to consider while packing for your next white water rafting expedition. 

What To Wear White Water Rafting

Credit: Visit Clear Creek

White water rafting is an exhilarating activity that can be done at almost any time of year. Although it is typically associated with warm weather, this is not the only time adventure-seekers can participate in the water sport. 

The overall process of getting dressed for white water rafting involves adding several layers of clothing and protective gear on top of each other. Depending on the details of your trip, you may be required to add or subtract some of these components.

What To Wear In Mild Weather 

Credit: Active Outdoor Pursuits

Weather conditions play a huge role in how much clothing is required for a white water rafting trip. Read on for a breakdown of how temperatures affect what you should wear to go rafting by season. 

Related Read: What To Wear Kayaking

Bathing Suit

When the weather is mild with no extreme conditions, dressing for a white water rafting adventure will start with a base layer. This can be a bathing suit or another article of clothing made out of quick-drying materials. An example of an alternative base layer is a pair of waterproof board shorts. 

Rashguard / Water Shirt

On top of the base layer, a water shirt or rash guard is worn to protect against chafing and damage from UV rays. In warm weather conditions, there is usually no need for a wet or dry suit.

Sun Hat

A sun hat is necessary for hot days to protect your skin and eyes from harmful rays. The best choice for a hat will be one with a wide brim or a classic baseball cap. 

Waterproof Shoes

 Waterproof shoes are the final component of a white water rafting outfit in mild weather. They should be worn for any type of rafting trip for optimal performance and safety. Try to go for specific paddling shoes for your rafting journey. 

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What To Wear In Wet/Rainy Weather 

Credit: White Water Express

The appropriate attire for white water rafting in wet or rainy weather will begin with the same foundation of a base layer and rash guard or swim shirt. In wet and rainy weather conditions, you will need an additional layer of warmth on top of that. 

Fleece Jacket

Also known as the mid layer, this can be a jacket made out of fleece or a similarly warm material. You can also wear pants to stay warm in the rain or wind.

Waterproof Jacket / Pants

On top of this layer, a waterproof jacket can be used to block the wind and rain, keeping you warm and dry underneath. A windbreaker jacket or similar waterproof material will be ideal for your outer layer. 

Related Read: 25 Best Molokini Snorkel Tours

Proper Attire for Cold Weather 

Credit: Xtreme Spots

While it is possible to go rafting in the winter, you will need to take some extra precautions to stay warm and avoid freezing. White water rafting in the winter can be just as enjoyable as the summer with a few considerations explained below. 

Wetsuit

When the weather and water are both cold, it is necessary to add a wet or dry suit to your rafting ensemble. Wet suits are generally acceptable in most scenarios when the water is under the ideal temperature.

Drysuit

Severely low water temperatures will require a dry suit to stay warm and avoid hypothermia. The wet or dry suit should be layered on top of the rash guard or swim shirt. It sits in between the base and mid layers to keep you warm when you hit the water. 

Related Read: What To Wear On A Sailboat

What Type of Suit is Best for White Water Rafting?

Credit: M Live

Water temperature is one of the most important factors to consider in regard to white water rafting attire. The temperature range of the water you are planning to go rafting on will let you know if a wet or dry suit is needed. 

In general, water that is above 70 degrees is considered to be warm. No wetsuit is required for water at this temperature. The standard layering process applies for these conditions. 

A wetsuit comes into play when the water is too cold but the weather is still warm. By trapping a thin layer of water between your body and the suit, your temperature is regulated even when surrounded by cold water.

This setup allows you to safely dip into the water without freezing when you get back to shore. Even in the presence of wind, your body will remain insulated and warm.

When both the water and the air are cold, on the other hand, a dry suit is necessary instead. The suit will keep you completely dry and warm, from freezing water to cold climate. Unlike a wetsuit, no additional layers are needed on top to combat wind or rain. 

Safety Tips Before You Go White Water Rafting

Credit: Carolina Ocoee

Deciding what to wear for a white water rafting trip can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be complex! With some practice, you will eventually get the hang of layering and understanding what is needed for each trip. 

In the meantime, there are some additional tips that can help make your experience a little smoother. Keep the following suggestions in mind when putting your wardrobe together for your first rafting adventure and all subsequent trips. 

Wear Several Layers 

When it comes to getting dressed for white water rafting, you can never have enough layers. In fact, it is better to be safe than sorry and wear more clothes than needed instead of the other way around. Those participating should wear several layers including a swimsuit, rash guard, and as many jackets as necessary.

Think About Water Temperature (Not Weather)

Water temperature is one of the most important components when it comes to white water rafting. While the temperature in the air does play a role in what you wear outside, you will need to pay close attention to how cold the water is. This will help you determine whether or not you need a wetsuit and how many additional layers to accommodate for. 

Prioritize Safety 

Safety is of the utmost importance when going on a white water rafting adventure. The first thing you should bring with you is a PFD (personal flotation device). This should be working and on your person at all times. 

In addition to a flotation device, SPF sunscreen is needed for any outdoor activity. Be sure to apply it before you go and throughout your rafting trip to avoid sunburns and skin damage.  

What To Wear For Convenience and Comfort

Credit: OARS

The basic clothing pieces described above do a great job layering together to keep you warm during a rafting trip. In addition to comfort and safety, there are some accessories that can make your time on the water much easier. Below is a list of 5 additional components you may consider adding to your outfit for white water rafting. 

Zippered Pockets 

Zippered pockets are extremely convenient for holding important belongings while white water rafting. You can expect the raft to be bumpy and wet, which is not ideal for keeping track of small items. 

The excitement of the adventure will most likely take your attention away from whatever you are trying not to lose in the water. As a solution, opt for a layer or two in your outfit with zippered pockets to secure your things.

Retention Strap

Sunglasses are an important component of a white water rafting outfit. As a daytime activity, rafting on the water involves plenty of reflecting sunlight. It is vital that you protect your eyes from harmful rays that can potentially damage your vision. 

While sunglasses are certainly essential for your next white water rafting adventure, but as a small item they can be hard to hold onto inside the raft. Accessories are often launched into the water and never seen again. 

To avoid this, you can use a retention strap for your sunglasses. When in use, you can easily grab your glasses from the water if they happen to fall. The device will help your sunglasses float to the top, saving them from getting lost in the deep waters below. 

Paddle Gloves 

Paddle gloves are another convenient necessity to bring with you on your next white water rafting trip. When you wear gloves on the raft, you will be able to effectively paddle without sacrificing the skin on your palms. 

Any experienced rafter knows that paddling can get exhausting over time. This is especially true for extended trips. Incorporate a pair of high-quality paddle gloves into your outfit for your upcoming rafting adventure to avoid getting scabs and blisters on your hands.

Splash Pants 

Splash pants are intended to protect your clothing with an outer layer of waterproof material. They are worn on top of other clothes to prevent you from getting wet due to splashing or rain. This is a convenient piece to add to your rafting wardrobe if you have another activity to look forward to and would prefer to stay dry. 

Dry Bag 

If you plan to have small belongings with you on your next white water rafting trip, it will be wise to incorporate a dry bag into your outfit. Dry bags serve the purpose of keeping your loose items safe in a convenient waterproof pouch. 

You can store almost anything in a dry bag, from your cell phone and wallet to water and snacks. If you are planning an adventure spread out over several days, you may need to bring an extra towel or pair of dry clothes. This is another excellent way to utilize a dry bag during a rafting trip. 

Accessories You Can Wear to Increase Safety

Credit: Whitewater Guidebook

Along with the tools for convenience outlined above, there are additional accessories you can bring with you that will improve your overall safety. There is a certain level of risk associated with all outdoor recreational activities, especially white water rafting. 

From avoiding potential injuries to preventing more long-term damage, you can make a few adjustments to your wardrobe to have the safest possible adventure. Consider bringing the following items with you for increased safety. 

Personal Flotation Device (PFD) 

A personal flotation device is something you should always have on you before heading out on the water. It is the best accessory and should be included in every outfit you wear when you go white water rafting. 

First Aid Kit 

When participating in any outdoor activity, it is helpful to have a first aid kit in the event of any minor injuries. To incorporate this into your outfit for white water rafting, you can place all your gear into a waterproof zipper bag. You may be able to find a belt attachment for convenient transport. 

Whistle 

A whistle is an important piece of safety equipment you should have before heading out to a remote area. This is especially relevant for white water rafting. In the event you get lost or separated from your group, you will be able to quickly call for help. 

Sunglasses 

When rafting on the water all day, you will be subject to a lot of sun. From sunlight shining directly in your face to bright reflections on the water, you won’t be able to avoid it for long during your trip. 

This is why you should bring a pair of sunglasses along for the ride. Quality glasses will shield your eyes from harmful rays while staying in place while you are being active

SPF Sunscreen 

SPF sunscreen is always an important item to have on you while exploring outdoors. Not only should you apply it to your skin before you go, but the bottle should be with you during your trip. 

That way, you can reapply every few hours to ensure you don’t get sunburn. This is especially relevant for day trips and camping, but should always be on your packing list for any length of time. 

What To Wear If It’s Your First Time White Water Rafting 

Credit: Smoky Mountain Outdoors

For your first time water rafting, your general outfit will not be much different than the standard layers previously described. Every time you go water rafting, you will need to assess the details of your trip and make the determination of which pieces are necessary. 

Double check that you have your personal flotation device on you. It is also important to have a helmet on to protect your head. 

When in doubt, a wetsuit or drysuit is always a good idea. You can never be too safe, so if you are unsure what you need for your trip, include a suit in your outfit just in case. 

As a beginner, it can be difficult to decide what you will need to wear, and being under or over dressed can be cause for concern. Being that safety is the first priority, a good general rule is to wear waterproof layers. 

What Not To Wear White Water Rafting 

Credit: Voyageur Tripper

When you go white water rafting, there are several factors that make certain materials and pieces of clothing ideal for the activity. On the other hand, there are other accessories and clothing items that are not ideal to wear in the same scenario. 

Before you go on your rafting adventure, you will need to make sure you have the proper attire. This includes leaving out the items that are not ideal, as explained below. 

Absorbent Fabrics 

When participating in white water rafting or any similar water activity, it is important to stay warm and dry at all times. For this reason, wet suits and other waterproof fabrics are typically worn.

Absorbent fabrics such as cotton should not be worn while white water rafting, as they are not waterproof and soak easily. If you wear a piece of clothing made out of cotton or a similar material, it will stay wet for a long period of time after you come in contact with the water. 

In addition to drying slowly, cotton is not ideal for keeping you warm or regulating your body temperature. Depending on the specific clothing piece worn, it can also cause uncomfortable chafing. 

Open-Toe Shoes or Sandals

Open-toed shoes and sandals are not recommended for white water rafting or any water sport activity. On your adventure, you may encounter rocks or other sharp objects that can cause an injury to exposed feet. In addition, water can get inside open shoes. 

Flip flops and sandals with straps can be taken away by any water that enters the raft. When you exit the raft or explore nearby areas, it is a good idea to have a pair of durable, closed toed shoes on for safety. 

Accessories 

A white water rafting trip is not the best place to come with accessories on, as they can easily fall off and get lost or broken. All jewelry and hair accessories should be kept in a safe place at home and should not be on your person. 

Important Items 

Before heading out on your white water rafting adventure, it is recommended that you leave any important items at home. As a general rule, anything you are not comfortable losing should not come with you. This includes electronics and similar items that could become permanently damaged in the water. 

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