The Ultimate Trip Packing List Plus a Little More

Trekker Hat TealWhat to bring and wear when you are going on a river rafting trip means packing the right stuff. The very top of your list should include a sense of adventure, fun, and humor of course. Pair that with a willingness to laugh often and happily, and you’ve got quite the adventure ahead. We can help with the rest. Holiday River Expeditions provides a detailed white rafting trip packing list for each participant. From what clothes and shoes to wear, to what small items to bring in your bag for the journey, we’ve included it all. 


The Essentials

It’s definitely helpful—and fun—to know what the essentials boil down to! Or the items you absolutely cannot do without in order to have a good time. You’ll look like a real pro if you come prepared, even if it’s your first time on a river. 


We’ve also got some tips and suggestions on what you can wear and bring on your white water rafting trip. Check your packing list twice, and make sure to grab everything before you head out the door towards your white water vacation. We will help. Here are the top 5 items to bring on your white water rafting trip…and why.


  1. Swimsuit – Let’s face facts here: on a river trip, you’re going to get wet. Which is a big part of the reason why you’re going in the first place! Picking a great bathing suit is key. You’ll want something that will stay on in rough waters. Ladies, this means avoiding the string bikini, and gents, leave the super baggy trunks at home—strong waters can pull such items right off. For women, it’s usually most comfortable to wear fitting swim trunks or quick-dry synthetic shorts over the actual bathing suit bottom.


Bonus tip: you can always take stuff off. The more skin is covered, the better.


  1. Sunscreen – Ye’ olde sun is mighty intense on the rivers out west. You’ll be in the sun all day, every day. The sunlight will reflect off the water, find every centimeter of exposed skin on the top of your head, and then, plot twist, somehow manage to turn the skin you thought was hidden beneath your shorts, pink. Even on a cloudy day, those UV rays will be burning right through the faint misty barrier. So slather on the sunscreen, for the sake of your fragile epidermis.


Bonus tip: fried lips also hurt. Pack along some lip balm with SPF.


  1. Footwear – Repeat after me: only newbies wear flip flops on a river trip. Now say it again. Why? One or both of those thongs are guaranteed to float away downstream quicker than you can say, “oh, no!”, and it will probably happen during the first day. You’ll need shoes that hang onto your tootsies for dear life. Water sandals (Keen, Chaco, Teva, to name some well-known brands), water shoes, or comfy old sneakers are your best bets. 


Colorado River TripsBonus tip: bring socks to turn your water shoes or sandals into hiking shoes for some of those gorgeous side trip hikes from camp. But don’t layer multiple socks on, that will cause friction. Make sure you get one solid pair of socks to rule them all.


  1. Snacks – Holiday River Expeditions will keep you well-fed, but you’ll feel more settled into the trip (especially if it’s your first time) if you have your favorite munchies on the boat with you. Whether you like to chow down on black licorice vines, bright orange cheese crackers shaped like animals, shiny red Macintosh apples, raw sprouted almonds dipped into homemade hummus, or handfuls of chocolate coated in hard candy shells (oddly specific, we know), bring ’em along and enjoy during the slow rafting parts. 


Bonus tip: bring enough to share with your boat companions. Snacks make good bribes. (Kidding!) Bringing extra also goes for your beverage of choice, because it can be lovely to share the bounty.


  1. Ziploc Bags – Oh yes. Different sized Ziplocs hold almost everything you need them to, snacks, dirty socks, your river journal, extra waterproofing for your camera, personal hygiene supplies, or anything you particularly want to seal off from getting wet. They’re practically weightless, take up almost no room, and come in handy when you least expect for keeping things dry. It’s also helpful to be able to see what you’re looking for so you can more quickly find it as you dig through your river bag. Plastic is your friend here. 


Bonus tip: the bags that seal by pressing together can be a better bet. The ones with a “zipper” that you slide tend to break off quickly from being stuffed in continuously with your other gear.


NatalieMore Items For You To Consider

Here are more tag-a-longs for your bag that you can’t get unless you make a second trip to the store. Don’t forget to put these goodies on your rafting trip packing list!


  • Sunglasses – with a safety strap (so you don’t lose them in the river)
  • Hand lotion – areas you’ll be rafting through are significantly dry
  • Travel towel – on the river you will get wet
  • Insect repellent – the bugs can sometimes be aggressive


Some optional items that could spice up your trip:


  • River map – if you’d like to know where you are (the guides will have this info already)
  • Fishing gear – make sure its compact and well protected, i.e., rods in a case
  • Waterproof camera – at your own risk
  • Binoculars – again, at your own risk
  • Ground cloth – for having picnics, relaxing or taking a nap
  • Hydration or fanny pack – to help you carry some stuff


BIG Question, What Should You WEAR On Your White Water Rafting Trip?

Picture this with me; you’ve booked a trip of a lifetime—a white water trip in fact, on the mighty rivers of Utah, Colorado, or Idaho. Now you’ve got to figure out what to wear when rafting. You’re going to want to pack light and for a mix of weather. It’ll be hot, but it could get cold. It also might rain, the weather in the remote southwestern wilderness can be unpredictable. But with a little planning, the packing will be no problem. Bring a quick-drying cover up like a sarong or sun shirt to protect yourself from the sun.


Speaking of sun, make sure you bring a hat to give you some relief from its unforgiving rays. You’ll also want to take 1 or 2 pairs of quick-drying shorts and t-shirts. Even if you don’t plan to swim in the river, there’s a good chance you’ll get wet while rafting.


Camp CircleWhat to Wear For Cooler Temps

Depending on where you’re rafting, nighttime temperatures can drop to the 40s. Pack a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, along with a fleece jacket with wind and rain resistant shell. Medium-weight synthetic long underwear for sleeping is optional.


Even though the majority of river trips take place in the heat of the summer, there’s a chance you could be rafting in the cold or during the shoulder seasons. This includes May, June, September, and October. So what else can you wear when it’s frigid? Look for fleece or brands like Smartwool and Capilene for inner and outerwear. Consider a stocking cap, beanies, neck tubes, close-toed shoes, wetsuit booties, thick outerwear, socks, and gloves made of lightweight and synthetic material.


What Shoes Should You Wear White Water Rafting?

They may not be the first thing you think about when you consider floating down the Colorado River under the desert sun. In fact, you’re likely imagining your toes dangling off the side of the boat to skim the green water or stuck deep into some silty mud on the riverbanks.


We get it, though. There’s a reason your feet might long to be free in the wild, but there’s also a reason why it’s vital to bring some solid footwear along with you on your river adventures. 


When it comes to shoes, you’ll want:


  • Lightweight hiking boots – that doesn’t mean your punk-rock combat boots or your steel-toed work boots. We’re talking about something breathable, with good tread, and a sturdy, supportive heel.


  • Water-sport shoes – this doesn’t mean flip-flops — although an extra pair of those is okay to bring — we’re talking something with a few straps to keep it locked onto your foot. Otherwise, your footwear will quickly fall off to face the rapids all on its own. While we aren’t really into recommending particular brands, a lot of the guides love their Chacos. Our friends at EVO carry lots of great footwear options!


What NOT to Wear or Bring on Your Rafting Trip

Make sure to steer clear of all cotton items. Once cotton gets wet…it stays that way. Once this happens, it’ll begin to irritate your skin, not to mention you’ll stay cold. Other items that you should leave at home include glass items, batteries, firearms, pets, electronics, and large amounts of cash


If you still bring any of the above items on your trip, you have the option to use a non-secure location at the Holiday River Expeditions headquarters. Other places may have a locker area for you. However, we don’t assume responsibility for any left items.


Sisters and Camping GearHow Holiday River Expeditions Can Help

We can provide guests with two waterproof bags to carry all their gear. This includes a 16″ × 2′ bag for sleeping gear and clothes, as well as a smaller day bag to access on the raft during the floats. That’s where you’ll want to keep your cover-up, hat, and a rain jacket if the skies spell rain, along with other necessities. Other items you should bring, but Holiday can provide if you forget, are:


  • Cup(s) – plastic mugs work well
  • Light tent – backpacker style, not the bulky, heavy types.
  • Poncho or rain suit – high quality important for Dinosaur and Desolation Canyon trips.
  • Sleeping bag – make sure it’s compact and warm 
  • Sleeping pad – again, keep it compact. Small enough to fit the 16″ × 28″ bag we provide
  • Stuff sack – to keep wet and dry clothes separated
  • Water bottle you’ll get thirsty


Some White Water Rafting FAQS

It can be tricky to know what you’ll need for a trip until you’re already in the thick of it. Or better yet, you may bring too much stuff. Here are some additional questions we see potential rafters asking that we thought were helpful in avoiding those situations.


Q: Should you wear something under a wetsuit? If so, what?

A: Yes. Wear multiple layers of quick-drying clothing. Fleece and synthetic thermals are suitable for this. 


Q: How many top layers should I wear?

A: It depends on how easily you get cold, but generally, 2 or 3 will do the trick. Just make sure they have fast-drying properties and retain heat.


Q: Is there a weight limit for items to bring white water rafting?

A: Try to keep it under 20 pounds.


Q: Should I leave my valuables at home? 

A: Definitely. If you must take something with you, leave it in your vehicle or somewhere safe and dry.


Q: How do you pack for a multi-day rafting trip?

A: Same as for the shorter trips, just bring more of it. Additional items to bring for longer, multi-day trips are:



  • Toothpaste – gotta’ stay fresh!
  • Brush or comb – in case wind and sleep mess with your hair
  • Medication – Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or other medication or prescription you need
  • Extra snacks – going on rafting trips can really increase the appetite
  • Biodegradable soap – in case you get a little too much dirt on ya
  • Tissue – being outside can sometimes make noses run quicker than the rapids



What Now?

Get moving and plan your next white water rafting trip with Holiday River Expeditions. It’s important to begin researching months ahead of time so you can make a reservation and get the best deals available for your ideal dates and times.