Wondering What To Wear Rafting?

The internet answer to ‘what to wear rafting?’ (swimsuit, board shorts, and a quick-drying shirt) is NOT entirely correct. A single layer of skin coverage does NOT work for all rafting trips. Board shorts and a sun shirt (pictured below) may be appropriate for rafting mid-summer when the air temperature is hot and the water is warm. But what if you are rafting in the spring or fall, on a multi-day trip, or on a river in the mountains and forest with cooler water temperatures?

What To Wear Rafting

Photo: River Drifters

At River Drifters, we have experience rafting on a variety of rivers across the Pacific Northwest throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

Our clothing recommendations for what to wear rafting will work for all of our river trips and the varying weather Mother Nature sends our way. Remember the saying ‘Cotton Kills’? When cotton gets wet, it dries very slowly, does a poor job of insulating your body, and will likely leave you cold and miserable when worn outdoors. Non-cotton clothing is ideal to wear on any river trip, regardless of weather and conditions. Why? Non-cotton clothing includes items made from polyester and nylon or other synthetic materials. Wool, neoprene, and Gore-Tex offer several benefits depending on the material it is made of.

  • Polyester, nylon, wool, and other synthetic materials dry quickly, insulate body temperature, and wick moisture away from your skin to help you stay warm and dry.
  • Neoprene (wetsuit material) reduces body heat loss by trapping a layer of water under the neoprene that your body warms. This eliminates cold water passing over your skin.
  • Gore-Tex or coated nylon materials are breathable and waterproof (or water-resistant) materials meaning water is kept out AND moisture produced by your body can pass through.

The other key to dressing appropriately for whitewater rafting, especially on multi-day trips, is selecting clothing that can be layered. The layering system allows you to stay comfortable by adding or removing layers in response to weather changes on the river and at camp if you are on an overnight river trip. The layering system includes three distinct layers of clothing:

  • Base Layer: Long underwear (tops and bottoms) made of wool or synthetic fabrics. The base layer is an essential first layer for both the river and camp because of its moisture-wicking and quick-drying properties.
  • Mid Layer: Middleweight to heavyweight fleece, wool shirt or sweater to wear over your base layer and serve as your insulator.
  • Outer Layer: Rain jacket and pants made of coated nylon or Gore-Tex that keeps water out and also serves as a windbreaker.

Bottomline: you will get wet while whitewater rafting (especially your feet) and layers are designed to help keep you warm but not necessarily dry.

Last, foot protection is required for all our river trips. We recommend shoes that stay on your feet and do not fall off easily like an old pair of tennis shoes with laces, water shoes, or sandals with a heel strap (closed-toed, such as Keen, for protection). It’s a good idea to pack a couple pairs of wool socks to wear for cooler temps or if your feet are sensitive to getting and staying cold and wet. It’s also an option is to invest in neoprene socks with a foot sole so that you’re prepared for the future river trips and other water sports!

Over the last 40+ years, we’ve learned that comfort and appropriate clothing is key to a great whitewater rafting experience.

This is why we provide all guests the following high-quality river gear including additional layers when the weather and river conditions call for it:

  1. Neoprene ‘farmer john style‘ wetsuit (offers warmth and mobility for paddling),
  2. Fleece (mid layer to serve as an insulator),
  3. Splash jacket (outer layer similar to a rain jacket),
  4. Life-jacket (coast guard required Type V approved floatation device), and
  5. Helmet (optional).
What To Wear Rafting

Photo: River Drifters

So let’s pull this all together into a useful wrap-up for our answer to your questions: ‘What do I wear rafting?’

  • Quick-drying and non-cotton clothing is ideal for river trips.
  • Footwear is required.
  • For multi-day trips, you should pack clothing that can be layered to accommodate a variety of weather forecasts and changing conditions.
  • River Drifters issues wetsuits, fleeces, splash jackets, life jackets, and optional helmets for guests to use for all our rafting trips.
  • A swimming suit, board shorts, sun shirt, and water shoes is often the best clothing for half or full-day trips on the Deschutes River in the middle of summer when the air temperature is forecasted to be warmer than 80°F with mild winds.
  • On spring and fall Deschutes River trips, White Salmon trips, and Clackamas River trips, you should plan on wearing a wetsuit, fleece, and/or splash jacket issued by River Drifters.
  • Finally, always check the weather forecast before your rafting trip!
What To Wear Rafting

Photo: River Drifters

The above information will also be in your river specific trip itinerary that will arrive in your inbox after you book your reservation. Haven’t booked your reservation? What are you waiting for…save your seats now!