Gearing up for River Training

by Zachary Collier

Personal Floatation Device (PFD)

A PFD (commonly known as a “life jacket”) is the single most important piece of safety gear you own since it helps keep your head above water. Beyond comfort and style, there are a few other things you should consider:

A variety of whitewater PFDs

A variety of whitewater PFDs

Other considerations when purchasing a PFD:

My PFD Pick: Astral Blue Jacket


There are a ton of good helmets out there and it’s hard to say that one brand is safer than another. In general, Sweet Protection Helmets are amazing, but they are also incredibly expensive. WRSI Helmets make a good and more affordable option.

Sweet Protection Rocker Helmet

Sweet Protection Rocker Helmet

Here are a few things to consider:

My Helmet Pick: Sweet Protection Rocker Helmet

Drysuits versus Wetsuits

Proper dress for air and water temperatures is an important safety consideration. If you are underdressed you are susceptible to hypothermia or other medical conditions that arise from cold water immersion. We are commonly asked about the difference between a wetsuit and a dry suit.

When it’s cold, a dry suit is really nice to have. These are made from waterproof fabric that you step into and zip up with a waterproof zipper. You put your head and hands (and sometimes feet) through latex rubber gaskets. If your suit is in good shape, you’ll generally be dry and warm, except for your perspiration. Dry suits are a nice luxury if you can afford one but they do require regular maintenance of the fabric, gaskets, and zippers.

Immersion Research 7 Figure Dry Suit

Immersion Research 7 Figure Dry Suit

My Drysuit Pick: Kokatat Gore-Tex Idol Drysuit

Wetsuits don’t keep you as warm as dry suits but they have some distinct advantages. Dry suits and gaskets can tear, or the zippers can break, making them ineffective and potentially dangerous to wear. If temperatures warm up you can easily drop a layer of fleece or roll up the legs of a wetsuit so they work in a wider range or temperatures. Most people combine a farmer john style wetsuit with a fleece shirt and paddle jacket. Wetsuits are also much less expensive than dry suits and don’t require annual or semi-annual replacement of the neck and wrist gaskets.

My Wetsuit Pick: Stohlquist Rapid John Wetsuit


The most common river injuries are to feet. An old pair of tennis shoes or sandals can work but are not good for getting around wet slippery rocks and obstacles.

Astral Rassler 2.0 River Shoes

Astral Rassler 2.0 River Shoes

Here are some considerations:

My Pick: Astral Brewer 2.0 Shoes

Throw Bag

Throw bags are on of the most important rescue tools but require training before use. Here are a few considerations:

WWTC Waistbelt Throwbag

WWTC Waistbelt Throwbag

My Throw Bag Pick: Super Guide Throwbags

River Knife

It is generally a good idea to carry a river knife with a serrated blade to cut ropes, webbing, or other things that may catch a person or equipment in the moving current. Most people choose blunt-tipped knives with serrated blades made specifically for cutting rope. Some people like having a sharp tip to cut through boats or other equipment in an emergency. There are generally two types of river knives:

My River Knife Pick: Gerber EZ Out Rescue Knife

Personal Safety Kit

Each boat and/or guide with proper training should have a small personal safety kit to help with mechanical advantage systems and swift-water rescue. At a minimum, your safety kit should include:

Safety kits can be used to free pinned rafts

Safety kits can be used to free pinned rafts

My Flip Line Pick: Blue Water Titan Anchor Sling (10' or 12') with Black Diamond Screwgate Carabiner

Throw bag rope is typically not enough for many rescues, so consider carrying a 150’ to 200’ static line on every trip.

Clean Line Principle

There is no commonly accepted Clean Line Principle text, so I’m going to write one below.

“Whitewater paddlers should minimize or eliminate extra external lines or straps on their bodies and whitewater boats to minimize the possibility of entrapments while in the boat or while swimming.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind with your personal gear to follow the Clean Line Principle.

There are a lot of different opinions or ideas for personal equipment and I am always learning. If you have something to contribute, please add it to the comment section below.

Originally Published: | Updated on



Zachary Collier

As owner of Northwest Rafting Company, Zach Collier combines international guiding experience in places like Siberia, Bhutan, and Chile with a natural business acumen for systems and logistics. Whether he’s on big water or in the back office, Zach strives to ensure NWRC offers exceptional whitewater and wilderness experiences for guests and guides alike.

Connect with Zach:   Facebook   Twitter   Instagram

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