What Not to Bring on a Rafting Trip
Packing for a Rafting Trip: A Quick Primer on the Cheap and Unnecessaries
When it comes to packing for a rafting trip, there are some things we’ve seen that aren’t the best choices. We’re not pointing any fingers, but if you don’t want to be “that person,” read on for a list of gear and personal items that don’t really cut it for river trips. It’s the kind of baggage you can definitely leave at home…
1) $5 flip flops
Cheap sandals are…cheap. If you bring Dollar Store footwear, it will likely be uncomfortable and fall apart within the first two days. Instead, invest in an amphibious shoe that drains water, and won’t come off in the swirling current. Chacos or other sport sandals with a heel strap and toe protection are a good option. Or even a retired pair of athletic shoes can work well too. Just be sure to break in any shoe well before your trip. Blisters in the sand are no fun.
2) Plastic Poncho
Don’t bring an over-the-head plastic poncho for a week-long whitewater rafting trip. It won’t keep you dry when it’s been raining for two days, it doesn’t fit snug under a PFD, and it won’t keep out the wind. What you need is Velcro wrists, a zipper, and a hood. You need quality to be comfortable. Because that’s the thing about being outside in the backcountry…sometimes it rains. Spend some time and money on a waterproof jacket (and pants too for that matter), and ensure that it fits well with a few layers of wool or synthetic underneath. Note the key word is waterproof, not just water-resistant.
3) Sunblock (and Soap) That’s Not Eco-friendly
In recent years, places like Hawaii have started to ban the sale of sunscreen products that contain chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate which have been proven harmful to coral reef and underwater ecosystems. We’re not rafting in the ocean, but you can guarantee that these products are also doing damage to our rivers and lakes. So while sunscreen is one personal-care habit that us river rats simply cannot skip, you may want to consider an eco-friendly product with healthier mineral-based, sun-blocking agents like zinc oxide. Our guides love Super Salve Herbal Sunscreen, but you can find similar products online.
While we’re talking about it, same goes for soap. Opt for one of the eco-friendly, biodegradable options like Dr. Bronner’s and be sure to ask whether or not bathing is permitted near or in the river.
4) Naked Sunglasses
Chums-free eye wear will only make you sad, and a little blind, should you get an extra-big splash in the face while rocking the inflatable kayak, sending your glasses to the bottom of the river. It’s far better if you just come to the river with an eye-wear retainer option like Chums. They only cost a few dollars and are easy to attach. Bonus points if you snag a product that floats! Trust us, spending a few extra bucks before your trip is way better than squinting into the sun and frowning for three days because your expensive sunglasses are swimming with the fish.
5) Phones…with a Disclaimer
We see a lot of smartphones on the river. After all, these handy devices are often at the ready, standing in for more bulky cameras to document adventures. And while we won’t tell you not to bring it (definitely put a waterproof case on it), we will tell you that a phone will be otherwise worthless to you. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are powerless when you’re deep in a river canyon.
So you’ll just bring a satellite phone, right? Just because satellite phones are more portable than ever, doesn’t mean you should bring one. Outfitters typically have one for emergencies, but the best part of a rafting trip, for you and your fellow guests, is that you’re completely disconnected and away from it all. That super-important deal at your office will just have to wait for your input until you get home next Tuesday.
6) Bluetooth Speaker
Maybe you like to listen to tunes while you’re camping or at the beach, but here’s the thing: most people head into the wilderness for peace and solace. They’re looking to recharge and let their minds wander with nothing but the natural soundtrack of nature playing in the background — not to listen to somebody else’s favorite playlist. Besides, if you’re really missing music when you’re on the river, you might be able to convince your guides to strike up an impromptu jam session around the campfire. And that’s so much better than whatever might be streaming out of a speaker, anyway.
Looking for info on what you should pack for a rafting trip? Check out our packing video for multi-day rafting trips.
*An earlier version of this post written by Codye Reynolds first appeared on the blog in 2013. It was last updated in 2019 by Cari Morgan.