All the Right Stuff for Whitewater

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

1999 Family Vacation Guide, Don't Spare the Bubbly

All the Right Stuff for Whitewater
By Steve Shimek

Rule number one of river travel: Rafters have more fun if they're toasty warm. On a scenic Class I float, that may just mean staying dry. But if you're taking a ride on the white and wild side, you need to think about staying warm while drip-drying.

If the water or air is cool, a neoprene wetsuit is your best initial defense. An outer layer of nylon laminated to the neoprene will make the suit more durable but not as warm; look for wetsuits with an outer layer of nylon only at the wear spots — the knees and butt. O'Neill wetsuits have been keeping surfer kids and adults warm since before the Beach Boys. Check out the Epic 3/2 suits ($200) for both juniors and adults. Not as warm but more versatile is Perception's line of HydroFuzz tank tops and shorts ($43.50-$82) made of a thin fleece laminated to a close-fitting stretchy waterproof shell.

Now start layering. If the air or water is relatively warm, you can skip the wetsuit and begin with a quick-drying fleece top — a simple pullover is best. Kokatat offers a full line of paddling-specific clothing and has the only complete kids' collection. The Kokatat PolarTec PowerDry underwear top ($44) is a super-simple long-sleeved crewneck next-to-skin layer. Add the waterproof Kokatat Super Breeze splash top ($85) or the very simple NRS Rio Top ($29.50), and you're boosh-proof.

For the feet, wetsuit booties are warmest. The NRS Paddlers Pull-On ($27.50) is a good basic choice. For more traction, consider the Five Ten Maverick booti ($52) soled with climbing-shoe rubber. In warmer conditions you just can't beat the age-old favorite, the Nike Aqua Sock II ($35) — available for infants to adults — for cost and solid protection. If you're a leather curmudgeon, take a look at Rockport's Hydro Surf XCS for adults ($90).

To keep extra layers from getting soaked, bring along a dry bag large enough for your daily necessities and at least a sweater. The Watershed Chattooga ZipDry gear bag ($90) has a fast, convenient, and totally waterproof zip closure. Seattle Sports offers bags of every size and dimension — the size-large Clear Super Delta Sack ($27) is good for day trips, and the River Pack 4.2 ($66 for extra-large) can handle longer expeditions.

PFDs must fit snugly to do any good, and fit is often a problem with kids. Lotus makes the most durable, best-fitting PFDs for paddle sports — the new Half Pint ($66) fits kids from 50 to 70 pounds, and the popular Lola ($88) is available in unisex extra-small. For half-pint-sized kids, the Stearns Heads-Up and Watersports vests ($20) work well and even come in fun graphics. Kokatat, Perception, and Lotus all offer a large selection of PFDs for adults.

Photograph by Clay Ellis

Copyright 1999, Outside magazine

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