Wearing comfortable, functional clothing is important in a wild environment, but dressing fashionably (AKA, looking “steezy”) is also important.
On the River: Base Layers
First we’ll start with the functional part of your wardrobe. Your very first layer could be a swimsuit or quick-drying underwear (I suggest Exofficio). In cooler temps, you’ll want long pants or leggings paired with long sleeves. However, for most of the rafting season, shorts and a tank top will work well.
My favorite warm-day-on-the-river outfit would be comfortable longer shorts or capris (or these Prana Mojo Shorts for men) with a quick-drying tank top (think anything you might wear to the gym), paired with a long-sleeve top. Long sleeved shirts like this guide-favorite from Patagonia help keep the sun from burning your arms and shoulders, and on really hot days, you can dip your shirt in the water and put it back on to cool down.
Don’t forget to bring extra socks! They don’t take up much room, and you can always layer wool socks with your sandals if your toes get cold on the raft. Socks also help protect feet from the sun. (Although wearing socks with sandals isn’t recommended fashion if you’re not on a backcountry trip…) Dry, clean socks feel great after your feet have been wet and sandy all day.
On the River: Extra Layers
On cooler days, you may want to bring along some extra layers in case you get cold. We will give you a day bag (small dry bag) to keep near you on the raft that you can keep your clothes in, or anything else you may need throughout the day.
Items people put in their day bags include: rain jacket, extra shirt to put on at lunch, sunscreen, camera, extra hat.
Splash pants and a splash top are most useful for cold, wet days, but if you don’t want to buy them, an extra set of quality rain gear will work well. Pair this layer with a long sleeved fleece shirt to stay warm. On our trips, we can also provide wetsuits and paddle jackets upon request.
On the River: Footwear & Accessories
There are a few styles of river shoes that work well on the river: sandals, river shoes, and booties. Popular river sandals include Teva, Chaco, and Keen. Our other favorite river shoes are multi-functional shoes from Astral Designs.
Having sunglasses makes bright, sunny days much more enjoyable. You’ll want to bring along some Chums so that they don’t fall off during splashy rapids. Most guides wear ones from Smith Optics because they’re steezy.
A wide-brimmed hat is great to have to protect your face from the sun. You may also want to bring a ball cap for the river or in camp. Make sure to bring lots of sunscreen, a sunburn on day one will make for an uncomfortable next few days.
Once you get to camp, you’ll probably want to change out of your wet clothes as soon as possible. This is where you have more freedom in what you want to wear. Some folks want to go super casual and wear comfy sweatpants and a t-shirt. Others may be happy to get out of their gym clothes and feel more comfortable changing into something dressier, more how they would dress in their day-to-day lives.
On warm evenings, my go-to camping outfit is a cute and comfortable dress. This soft and stretchy one from Prana is my favorite.
On cooler evenings, I like wearing soft pants like fleece or yoga pants and a stylish, but comfortable cotton top. If it’s a chilly evening, I like my camp clothes to double as sleepwear so I don’t have to change a second time.
For men, plaid, long-sleeved shirts are a warm and comfortable way to look classy. Snap button shirts are extra steezy.
For men, our favorite thing to put on are a pair of canvas shorts, pants if it is cold, and a cotton t-shirt. Cotton doesn’t kill, it is comfy. As it cools down I like to put on a flannel shirt or a half zip long sleeve. In the morning, you can add a puffy jacket for while you’re eating breakfast and packing up.
You need to wear shoes in camp. We recommend wearing closed toe shoes to protect your toes as you walk around on sand and rocks. The most common injury on the river happens in camp — twisted ankles and injured toes. Other folks choose to wear flip flops or continue to wear their river shoes.
How many changes of clothes should I bring?
Quite often people (myself included) bring too many clothes on river trips. It’s nice to have some clean clothes to change into, but you will find yourself going back to the same outfits for your days on the river. Here is a packing list that I would suggest for a 4-6 day trip.
- 2-3 sets of river clothes: 2 base tops, 2 base shorts/capris, plus 1 set of pants and long sleeves in case you are cold
- 2-3 sets of camp clothes: 2-3 tops and 2 bottoms (eg. 1 pair of shorts or skirt, 1 pair of pants)
- 2 jackets: 1 rain jacket and 1 fleece jacket + warmer jacket for spring and fall trips
- 2 sets of quick-drying underwear/sports bra or swimsuits
- 3-4 sets of cotton or other underwear/bras for when in camp
- 4 pairs of wool or synthetic socks
- 2-3 pairs of shoes: 1 for the river, 1 for camp, optional hiking shoes (could double as camp shoes)
hat, sunglasses, and bandana or Buff
I typically leave my make-up behind, but if you are more comfortable wearing some, a tinted moisturizer with SPF paired with a tinted lip balm or gloss would work well on the river. You could also bring a waterproof mascara, but don’t forget to also bring make-up removing wipes for ease of washing your face at night.
Some women choose to bring a couple of pieces of simple costume jewelry to feel feminine while they are away from their normal beauty routine. Don’t forget to bring your hairbrush.
If you arrive with painted nails, know that they will probably be chipped by the end of your trip. If you want to get your nails done before your trip, go for a light or translucent polish color. Consider trimming your nails shorter so they don’t break or snag.
Kids and guides enjoy having their nails painted, and an extra bottle could double as an in-camp activity.
These are my ideas and suggestions, but let me know what you think I left off! What are your favorite items and brands to wear on the river? Let us know in the comments below!