How to Protect Your Phone on a River Trip

4 Min. Read
Playing with a phone on a raft in the American River

Protect Your Phone While Rafting

While we highly recommend disconnecting yourself from the digital world while on a river trip, we understand that smartphones serve more purposes than simply accessing the internet. They’re cameras, communication, work and, in some cases, a monitor for health. For many of these reasons, and sometimes others we can’t fathom (what’s all this about TikTok anyway?), you may choose to bring your device on a multi-day or one-day rafting trip. We thought it might be helpful to offer some tips about how to protect your smartphone in these wild and wet environments. 

Consider Not Bringing It

Yes, they’re pretty nice to have along, but keep in mind that there is serious risk of losing or damaging this expensive gadget—and that is not conducive to a fun and satisfying trip. On most rivers OARS runs, service is extremely limited and likely not available while in many canyon areas. If you absolutely can’t live without it, the following should help you bring your phone home damage-free. 

A guide uses a phone to take a picture of two guests on an OARS trip.

Waterproof Phone Case

Invest in a reliable waterproof case. Though most phones now have some level of waterproofing, they can easily be flooded or retain some moisture in unwanted places like the camera. Make sure the case is properly sealed and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for usage. Does it float? , If you’re going to try and keep your phone accessible to capture awesome whitewater rafting photos, you may want to consider a case that floats. Just be sure to test it out in shallow water or a bathtub before your trip. If it sinks with the phone in it, attach foam or other floatation. These cases can also act as the first line of defense against sand, dirt and scratches.

Secure Attachment

While it’s not recommended to have a strap or lanyard on your phone while you’re rafting because they can pose an entrapment hazard, having a removable strap is not a bad idea. This ensures that even if it slips out of your hand while you’re using it on shore or in the shallows, it will stay within reach and not get lost in the water. It’s crucial to make sure that any strap you’re using does not protrude while the phone is tucked away. We hopefully don’t need to say it, but we will anyway: Never wear a strap around your neck while rafting. 

Dry Bag or Hard Case

Even if you already have a waterproof case, consider placing your phone in a waterproof dry bag or small dry case when not in use. On most multi-day river trips, guests will have access to either a small personal dry bag for days on the river. For one-day trips, ask a guide if there’s room in a dry bag for phones or if it’s okay to bring your own—as space can sometimes be limited. Dry bags provide an extra layer of protection against water and can keep your phone safe from splashes, rain, or accidental submersion. Hard cases are great for protection from sand, dust and heat. 

Cold Case Gear insulated smartphone case helps protect your phone while rafting

Avoid Exposure

Overheating or freezing can also damage your phone when you’re outside. Extra durable  cases like the insulated West Slope Case protect against both water and big temperature swings that can disable your phone or damage it permanently, if left too long. While not in use, put your phone in shaded or covered space like a dry bag or hard case. This can also help avoid sand and dust getting into the nooks and crannies. 

Backup Your Data

Before your river rafting trip, make sure to back up all your important data, photos, and contacts. In case your phone does get damaged or lost, you’ll still have access to the important photos and data that’s stored.

Let Your Guide Know

If you’re going on a guided river trip, always inform your guide that you’re carrying a phone. They may have additional recommendations or provide secure storage options to keep your phone safe.

Side Note on Apple Watch and Smart Watches

These accessories are becoming more common, and every year more and more of them are lost in rivers. If you wear one on a rafting trip, make sure you have a solid adjustable strap that won’t slip or pop off during the turbulence of whitewater or if bumped accidentally on a paddle or boat. Having a glass screen protector on can save the watch face from common scratches while hiking or boating. 

Portrait of Dylan Silver

Dylan Silver

Dylan Silver is the digital marketing and foundation coordinator for OARS. He loves photography and exploring California's rivers and lakes.

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