Gearing Up for a Whitewater-Rafting Adventure

The reservations were made ages ago, and now that long-awaited weekend of wild whitewater adventure is just around the corner.

As a professional whitewater river guide, I can guarantee you'll have the time of your life. I can also tell you horror stories of unprepared clients who didn't anticipate just how truly cold you can be in a raft even on days that are sunny and warm.

Match a cloudy, cool day pretty typical for spring, when the rafting is best with icy torrents of water cascading over you and pooling at your feet, and your concept of "cold" will leap into a whole new dimension. However, you can stay warm and enjoy every minute of the wild adventure if you bring the right combination of high-performance apparel. Stick with me, and I'll show you how to arrive at the boat launch prepared.

I always tell my clients to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. Count on the conditions to be cold and wet, but that doesn't mean you have to be cold. Wet, yes that's unavoidable. But with today's high-tech fabrics, conditions that might otherwise leave you hypothermic are definitely manageable, if not downright comfortable.


OK, here's a short list of items you'll be glad you packed:

Wetsuit. If you own one, bring it. If not, call the guide service/outfitter to find out what kind of gear they provide. Some companies include a wetsuit, splash gear and neoprene footwear in the cost of the trip; others rent gear, and some offer nothing at all. Wetsuits aren't essential, but it they're available for an extra charge, then make the investment.

Waterproof shell. This is your primary barrier against the cold. It doesn't have to be the fancy breathable stuff. Plain ol' yellow rain slickers will work great, but if you have the good stuff, use it. If the river has Class 3 rapids or higher, you're definitely going to get wet. The shell won't so much keep you dry as prevent loss of heat to the breeze. The goal is to be warm and wet, as opposed to cold and wet.

Synthetic long underwear. This is your base layer, the layer of clothing next to your skin. You'll want to wear long underwear made of Capilene, polypropylene, nylon, merino wool, or any of the other warm-while-wet offerings on the market. Do not, repeat, do not wear cotton long underwear, unless you favor blue skin tones. Wetsuits go over this layer, so a trim fit is essential.

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