Gear: All the Right Stuff for Rafting

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Wet as You Wanna Be

Gear: All the Right Stuff for Rafting
By Steve Shimek

Waterproof bags

Everyone and everything gets totally drenched on any self-respecting whitewater trip. If you want to keep the snacks and the wallet dry, a waterproof bag is key. For convenience, nothing beats Seal Paks ($22) by Cascade Designs: small waterproof bags with a waist belt, big enough to hold your water bottle and sunglasses case. The Large Seal Pak ($31) has an eight-liter capacity, enough space for one person's camera gear, lunch bag, and scrunched-up sweater. For more room, check out the huge variety of bags made by Seattle Sports, Voyageur, and Northwest River Supplies. The River Pack 4.2 ($50), Seattle Sports's largest bag, has shoulder straps and will haul enough gear for a multiday trip. Bags with blow-up air pockets, such as Voyageur's nylon Shutterdry camera bag ($45-$60), keep your gear both dry and safe from bumps.


Old nylon running shoes are adequate if the tread is still rugged, but the best solution is the new genre of water shoes. The Teva Wet Climber ($80) and Rockport's HydroSport XCS ($100) are a bit pricey but provide the best traction. Other options include the new Hi-Tec Piranha ($50) for good value in a solid shoe, and the new Adidas Equipment Water Moccasin ($65) with a super-fast-drying upper and sticky sole. If you prefer your toes tanned, the new Nike Tiyo ($65) and the Merrell M2 Blackwater ($85) both have all the right features--like neoprene cuffs and cinches--to keep the sandal locked on the foot.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Most rafting companies will provide life jackets, but too often they're more than a little funky after a summer of blended sunscreen and sweat, and the PFDs provided to children are often adult size small. If your family is around water a lot, consider buying your own. Coast-Guard-approved PFDs are rated in terms of the amount of flotation provided. Type II PFDs have extra flotation in the front and a large collar, and will float a "swimmer" face up. Strong swimmers might prefer a Type III PFD; it provides the same amount of flotation, but is more comfortable and easier to maneuver in. The Extrasport Basic Kids ($50 for Type II and Type III), Stearns Heads-Up ($20, Type II) and Perception Wave ($42, Type III) all are excellent PFDs for children. Kids' small torsos make it essential that they use a crotch strap to keep the jacket from riding up around the head. Popular adult models are the Extrasport Rogue ($79) Stearns Adult River Rafting Vest ($50), Lotus Designs Rio Grande ($80), and the Stohlquist Silhouette ($90). The obvious is worth repeating: Life jackets are only effective when worn.

River Accessories
The glare on the water can be intense, so make sure that the whole family is wearing sunglasses. So certain are most raft companies that a big wave will knock your glasses off that they require eyeglass retainers. Croakies or Chums cost $3.50-$6 and can be found at most sporting goods stores. Candid snapshots of everyone getting splooshed by waves will keep the memories of your raft trip alive. Let the kids take their own pictures with a dunkable Kodak Fun Saver Weekend 35 one-time-use camera (about $15) or Fuji's Fujicolor Quicksnap Waterproof Plus (about $17), both recyclable with 27 exposures. Finally, no raft trip would be complete without the end of the day (sometimes day-long) water fight. Come well armed. Super-soaker water guns sold at most toy stores have an effective range of 30 feet, but real water-fight aficionados prefer the quick-loading Hydro Stik sold by Northwest River Supplies ($17-$18.50). Then again, maybe it's best to just pull out the corn cob pipe and read aloud a few chapters of Huckleberry Finn.

W H E R E   T O   F I N D   I T
Adidas: 800-423-4327; Cascade Designs: 800-531-9531; Chums: 800-222-2486; Croakies: 800-443-8620; Extrasport: 800-633-0837; Fuji: 800-755-3854; Hi-Tec: 800-521-1698; Kodak: 800-242-2424; Lotus Designs: 704-689-2470; Merrell: 800-359-3050; Nike: 800-344-6453; Northwest River Supplies: 800-635-5202; Perception: 800-595-2925; Rockport: 800-343-9255; Seattle Sports: 800-632-6163; Stearns: 800-783-2767; Stohlquist: 800-535-3565; Teva: 800-433-2537; Voyageur: 800-843-8985

Photographs by Jennifer Moller

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