Gearing Up For Whitewater

By Paul Cleveland.

Match a cloudy, cool day-pretty typical for spring, when the rafting is best--with icy torrents of water cascading over you and pooling at your feet, and your concept of "cold" will leap into a whole new dimension. However, you can stay warm and enjoy every minute of the wild adventure if you bring the right combination of high performance apparel. Stick with me, and I'll show you how to arrive at the boat launch prepared.

I always tell my clients to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. Count on the conditions to be cold and wet, but that doesn't mean you have to be cold. Wet, yes, that's unavoidable. But with today's high-tech fabrics, conditions that might otherwise leave you hypothermic are definitely manageable, if not downright comfortable.

Expect to Get Wet

OK, here's a short list of items you'll be glad you packed:

Wetsuit. If you own one, bring it. If not, call the guide service/outfitter to find out what kind of gear they provide. Some companies include a wetsuit, splash gear, and neoprene footwear in the cost of the trip, others rent gear, and some offer nothing at all. Wetsuits aren't essential, but it they're available for an extra charge, then make the investment.

Waterproof shell. This is your primary barrier against the cold. It doesn't have to be the fancy breathable stuff. Plain ol' yellow rain slickers will work great, but if you have the good stuff, use it. If the river has Class 3 rapids or higher, you're definitely going to get wet. The shell won't so much keep you dry as prevent loss of heat to the breeze. The goal is to be warm and wet, as opposed to cold and wet.

Synthetic long underwear. This is your base layer, the layer of clothing next to your skin. You'll want to wear long underwear made of Capilene, polypropylene, nylon, merino wool, or any of the other warm-while-wet offerings on the market. Do not, repeat, do not wear cotton long underwear, unless you favor blue skin tones. Wetsuits go over this layer, so a trim fit is essential.

Insulating layer. Bring along a synthetic pile jacket or wool sweater just in case the weather turns out to be especially chilly. You can always leave it in the car or tie it around your waist to wear at lunch and rest breaks. Nice to have!

Warm hat. You've probably heard it before, but more than half of your body heat escapes through your noggin, so bring a fleece or wool hat. Since some outfitters require helmets be worn, the less bulky the hat the better.

Socks: Wool or fleece socks are essential. Cotton socks are a killer.

Footwear. If your outfitter provides neoprene booties, you're set. If not, then wear sport sandals or running shoes with neoprene or Gore-Tex socks pulled on over your regular socks.

Snack. Find out from the outfitter if lunch or a snack is part of the price. Even if you'll be fed, it's a good idea to pack an energy bar or other snack packed in a plastic bag and stowed in a pocket for a quick boost of energy on the river.

Gloves. If you happen to own neoprene paddling gloves, bring 'em. If not, a pair of fleece or polypropylene gloves will do the trick of keeping hands warm and helping stave off blisters. Just be sure any glove you bring has some "grip" in the palm and finger areas.

Glasses strap. If you wear prescription eyeglasses or sunglasses, then by all means bring a retaining strap.

Baseball caps. Excellent sun protection on sunny days.


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