By Justin Malloy
Weather can be a lot like an unruly toddler: difficult to predict and impossible to control. Even if you live in the most tropical environment, you still must learn to take the rain with the sun. After all, as British author, Alfred Wainwright wrote in his book A Coast to Coast Walk, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
While the majority of days rafting the rivers of the Southwest are warm, sunny, and beautiful, we wouldn’t know how to appreciate those days without the few cold and rainy ones sprinkled throughout. Trips in the spring tend to have the highest chance of cold water temperatures and variable weather. To help you prepare for these days, here are a few tips to consider:
On the coldest, wettest river trips, you should consider having a wetsuit to wear during the day. Holiday provides wetsuits for guests on early season trips, but be sure to get fitted for it before heading to the river to ensure you have one your size. If you have your own wetsuit, we strongly suggest you bring it. We recommend that you wear a layer under your wetsuit for added warmth (which we will get into!). Holiday will bring a separate dry bag to store them in so you don’t have to worry about packing a wetsuit after it’s gotten wet.
– Layer up!
Being strategic with your layers is an important first step in battling cool weather. When wearing your wetsuit, start with a base layer that is comfortable but tight-fitting. This will help contain your body heat as well as wick any perspiration away. Popular fabrics for base layers are wool or synthetic polyester, many of which are rated for different seasons/temperatures.
*A cotton tee shirt is NOT a good base layer for cold weather activities as it does not contain your body heat or wick moisture away.*
If you are not wearing a wetsuit, your next layer is your mid-layer which will act as the insulation. This would be your fleeces, down jackets or vests, and thick wool sweaters. You want this layer to fit snugly enough that you can fit an outer layer on top of it, but not so snugly that your base layer becomes uncomfortable. On the coldest days, you may opt for two mid-layers.
Your outer layer acts as your shell, protecting you from any wind or rain. In harsh conditions, this can be the most important layer, but if the sun comes out, one that you may not need. This is an added bonus of layering: as the temperature changes, you can add or remove pieces to stay comfortable.
– Day clothes vs camp clothes
Another critical strategy for staying warm and comfortable on a cold-weather rafting trip is to pack clothes specifically to wear at camp. During the day, you may get wet due to weather or splashy whitewater, and having some warm, dry layers to change into at camp is a well-deserved luxury. For camp clothes, prioritize warmth and comfort over practicality… bring along your favorite sweatpants, sweaters, jackets, Ugg boots, or Snuggie. A pro tip is to have these layers easily accessible in your dry bag, so when you get to camp and want to change into something dry, the time you spend digging for those comfy clothes is limited.
– Keep your hands and feet warm!
It’s very easy to overlook, but it is extra important to keep your digits warm. On the boat, consider wearing neoprene gloves and river shoes with neoprene socks instead of sandals. Don’t let your digits go numb! Keep them moving in your pockets or by having thumb wrestling competitions with your boat-mates. At camp, lightweight gloves, wool socks, and dry shoes should do the trick.
– Quality rain apparel
There are few things worse on a camping trip than having to contend with a rainstorm with a completely saturated jacket from the day before. Over time, as our gear ages, water-resistant fabrics will lose their ability to wick moisture. So if your rain jacket is on the older side, consider purchasing a new, high-quality jacket, or at least pack a backup jacket or poncho. Also – don’t forget to pack the pants, too! You may never wear them at home, but they are critical in the backcountry.
– Get moving!
Perhaps the most fun way to stay warm is through movement and exercise. Whether you like to dance, do jumping jacks, run races, hop up and down, or execute a calisthenics routine, moving around to get your blood flowing is a surefire way to warm up. Sometimes, the people who need this the most are the least likely to do it on their own, so look out for your loved ones. If they are showing signs of being cold, encourage them to get moving. Make it a group activity. Chances are, everyone will join in and be much happier for doing so.
There you have it! If you follow these tips alongside our general gear checklist, you’ll be sure to stay warm on any cold river trip. Fortunately for us, they are so rare that we generally don’t need to pack all of this for every trip. Just remember: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
Originally from the suburbs near Cleveland, Ohio, Justin made his way to Utah after graduating from Ohio University with a degree in exploring and having fun… If not on the river or in the kitchen, you’ll find him wandering the mountains, drinking coffee, or writing down words he hopes will come across as sensical.