This Piece of Gear is the Secret Weapon of Rafters
I learned my lesson on the Rogue River. On a four-day rafting trip I brought a rain jacket and shorts. The sun that shone while I packed disappeared a few miles into the trip, and for the following three days it rained. Adrift in the boat with goose-pimpled legs, I couldn’t help but think back to that fateful decision. I held my rain gear in one hand and my phone in the other. I checked the forecast and it had called for bluebird days ahead. Now, I felt like a wet cat and every time we stopped I did jumping jacks on the bank.
All rafters have a story of getting caught out in the storm. You can divide those stories into two distinct camps: Those who brought rain gear and those who forgot. If the storyteller uses words like “beautiful” you know they donned some serious Gore-Tex. If they use words like “miserably hypothermic,” odds are they forgot. With such distinct differences, you’d think the decision would be a no-brainer every single time. Yet as you pack for each trip you may still ask yourself, “Should I bring my rain gear?”
The short answer is yes, always, and forever. Throughout the history of humankind, the sentence “I wish I didn’t bring my rain gear,” has yet to be uttered. Sure, it sometimes goes unused; yes, it weighs a few ounces and takes up a little room, but the net benefit of bringing your rain gear on every trip outweighs the negatives.
Think of it as a backcountry insurance policy. You hope you don’t need it, but if you do, it’s a lifesaver. This past April I paddled a snow-fed river. The air temperature hovered near 60 degrees, the water 10 degrees cooler than that, and the sun was patchy at best. I wore a 4-millimeter wetsuit, and when we flipped the raft and went for a breathtaking swim, I pulled myself up onto the bank. My heart was racing and my hands were shaking. I unpacked my rain gear and pulled it on over my wetsuit. For the rest of the day, it shielded me from splashing waves, blocked the cooling forces of evaporation, and kept the heat I generated around my core.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that rain gear only works in the rain, but in truth, the uses are multitudinous. When the up-canyon wind rears its ugly head, it makes for a mighty fine windbreaker. If you need to get out of the sun, throw on that rain jacket and put up the hood. Open the pit zips and you’ve got the best sunblock on the market. Pair it with a down jacket and you have a high performance layering system for the coldest conditions.
So the next time you’re packing for a rafting trip, make it easy on yourself. Bring the rain gear. If a storm rolls in, you won’t shake your head and curse under your breath. Even if the storm spares you without a drop, it’s a confidence booster knowing you have a secret weapon ready at a moment’s notice.
Photos: Tom Gotchy