Gear for white water rafting

Gear for white water rafting

Rough water adventures necessitate the sort of gear that can protect from the harshest of elements. On a recent multi-day whitewater rafting trip through southeastern Utah’s Westwater Canyon, river conditions and weather put mine to the test—and made me wish I’d added a few more pieces. I’ll outline each piece that performed well below, as well as each item I (desperately) wish I’d been using.

Our first day paddling on this Yeti-sponsored excursion on the Colorado River captured the essence of serenity, but conditions on day two were anything but. Clear skies overnight gave way to morning clouds that cooled temperatures prior to our team setting off for a stretch of river that beckoned with Class IV rapids.

Through each rapids segment, tumultuous white waters washed over our rafts and plastered smiles on the faces of each drenched participant. It wasn’t until reaching what we anticipated would be calmer waters and the natural drying process of light winds that Mother Nature began peeling back the curtain on an unsavory surprise.

Clouds that elicited no distress in the early morning hours suddenly appeared more ominous. Rain began to fall. And the wind—let’s just say it showed up. Gusts of 65 miles per hour hit us head-on, prompting us to tie all four rafts together, tighten down gear once more, and uncase a motor to ease the pain of what was becoming futile manual labor.

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Even with the mechanized boost, the going was more akin to operating on a chaotic, weather-exposed treadmill. Although momentary relief came when multiple attempts to escape one particularly problematic river bend finally yielded success, the subsequent hour between our boats and the take-out point added a heavy dose of reality.

Blasts of wind relentlessly hurled intermittent waves in the opposite direction of the river’s flow. Sheets of rain slammed into us with unbearable force. Extremities went numb and changed color, though each of us smiled masochistically through the experience in universal acknowledgement of shared misery. With so much of our gear packed away tightly to withstand the storm, all we could do was hunker down as best as we could.

“I’m putting on every layer I own,” I remember telling no one in particular when we finally got to the take-out.

Fishing through my bag revealed numerous pieces of gear I’d wished I’d kept handy. These items, coupled with those my counterparts and I did use, will no doubt influence my gear decision-making ahead of the next trip that shows even the slightest hint of petulant weather.

Let’s go through some of what worked, and what would have worked had their owner been smarter.

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Yeti Panga 50-Liter

Yeti’s waterproof bag had just gone through dunks of class IV whitewater and winds bordering on hurricane force, and yet inside there was nary a hint of moisture. Items are kept dry thanks to a HydroLok Zipper that seals the bag completely, even when fully submerged, and a ThickSkin shell made from a high-density nylon that maintains puncture-resistance in brutal environments. I can say with absolute certainty that the Yeti Panga’s ability to keep my spare layers dry in these chaotic conditions saved my skin from hypothermia. If you thrust yourself into any environment in which gear durability is put to the test, the Yeti Panga a must-have. Grab one here.

Mammut Shell Jacket

I donned the Mammut Nordwand Pro outer shell jacket ahead of our departure specifically to keep dry, or at least limit damp exposure, through the rapids section. (None of us realized the awaiting test would be a little more extreme.) A Gore-Tex hardshell best layered over a puffy jacket or fleece, the Norwand is designed for mountaineering in extreme alpine conditions, and with temperatures reasonable at the time, I felt good about using it without a layer underneath. Mistakes were made, yes, but the Mammut performed admirably. Every wave and blanket of rain hurled by strong winds battered the shell without any penetration. I’m afraid to think of how bad things could have been had the Norwand not passed its test with flying colors. Grab one here.

Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded Down Jacket

Tucked away neatly, and perfectly dry, in the Yeti Panga was this jacket that I didn’t know I would soon be fantasizing about. With how dry the Mammut outer shell kept things inside, the added layer of warmth provided by the Fuego’s water-resistant 800-fill down would have been unbelievably welcome. The lightweight jacket is one I’ve enjoyed using during every season, and it packs a punch when up against harsh elements. Some lesson are learned the hard way. Grab one here.

NRS Sandal Socks

black sock against white background
NRS Sandal Socks

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Courtesy of NRS

Another “I really wish I had these handy” item, NRS Sandal socks are made of neoprene and titanium-laminate adhesive and are fully sealed to help keep your feet warm—in sandals or river shoes—without adding bulk. Like most of our group, I had nothing going on between my river shoes and skin. I suffered for it—significantly. In fact, full feeling in my right heel took days to return. If there is even a hint of inclement weather in the forecast, do yourself a favor and break out this insulating layer. Grab one here.

NRS Endurance Pants

navy blue pants against grey background
NRS Endurance Pants

Read more: Best shoes for river rafting

Courtesy of NRS

Much to my chagrin, the wish list continues. I wore board shorts the day of our precarious paddle, and I would have felt good about the decision without Poseidon throwing gusts that scoff at terms like “gale.” If conditions turn nasty on future trips, the NRS Endurance Pants are a sufficient response. Waterproof and breathable, the pants are constructed using a neoprene waistband and durable HyproTex fabric that keeps things dry in high-water areas while maintaining flexibility. Waterproof is always better than water-resistant, and the NRS Endurance meets that criteria and then some. Grab one here.

Costa Lido Sunglasses

Rain or shine, keeping things out of your eyes with a sturdy pair of sunglasses is always a good idea. My Costa Lido pair handled the day with ease thanks to protective side shields and lenses that filter any reflective glare. The pair’s adjustable, non-slip nose pads, meanwhile, are designed to maximize fit and stabilization. They did just that, never budging once despite the intensity of rapids and wind. For added security, loop retainers and straps are also available. Grab yours today.

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