[VIDEO] What to Wear for Summer Rafting in California

Posted June 18, 2024 by Jack Armstrong: grandson of founder George Armstrong
View time: 3 mins

Summer rafting in California is usually warm and sunny, and always awesome. Listen to our guide Emma as she provides some tips on what to wear and how to gear up for a summertime rafting trip so that you can enjoy your day on the river in maximum comfort, and in style!

Summer Rafting Trips: What to Wear & What To Avoid

Heading off for a summertime California whitewater rafting trip? Listed below are some of the items you’ll want to bring with you, as well as some you want to leave at home.

Swimsuit or a base layer

Whether or not you plan to jump in the river and go for a swim, you will want to have a quick-drying base layer. For most guests, swimsuits do the trick, but if you have a favorite piece of functional clothing that you believe will make you more comfortable – go for it.

What you don’t want: Cotton underwear!

Quick-drying shorts

Nylon or polyester shorts are perfect. What you need to look for is a fabric that will dry quickly. You want to be able to get splashed, jump in the water, and yet still have dry shorts at lunch. Your day will be a lot more comfortable that way. If you prefer to have your legs covered and protected from the sun, quick-drying athletic pants or leggings should do the trick.

What you don’t want: Jean cut-offs!

Quick-drying top or a cotton T-shirt

Whether it’s a tank, or a shirt with UPF sun protection, wearing a quick-drying top for rafting is an excellent choice. A lightweight cotton T-shirt is a great way to keep cool in hot summer weather, but avoid wearing cotton on cool or overcast days!

What you don’t want: Extremely heavy cotton T-shirts with low-hanging sleeves that would make it difficult to swim.

Athletic shoes

A pair of lace-up sneakers, such as an older pair of running shoes, are great on the river. They stay on your feet when you’re swimming and they offer the best foot protection. Athletic-style sandals like Tevas and Chacos are acceptable but not ideal because your toes are exposed. If your feet tend to get cold easily, wearing thick wool or neoprene socks will provide warmth and comfort.

What you don’t want: Flip-flops, slip-on “aqua-socks”, Crocs, or boots!

Hat with a brim

Whether it’s a wide-brim sun hat or a ball cap, you’ll want to bring a hat on your river trip to keep your face, ears, and scalp out of the sun’s harsh rays. On rivers where helmets are optional (most South Fork American rafting trips and float trips), you should wear a hat that will stay on in the warm summer breeze and as you go through splashy rapids. If your river trip requires wearing a helmet, you can either wear a baseball cap underneath or stow it in the dry bag to wear during lunch break or at camp.

What you don’t want: No head cover at all!


Just like when you’re snow skiing, you’ve got to protect your eyes from glare. Wearing good sunglasses while rafting is key to avoiding sun-damaged eyes (make sure they provide UVA/UVB protection). Use a retention strap like Chums or Croakies attached to your glasses so you aren’t at risk of losing them.

What you don’t want: Your favorite designer sunglasses.


This is the single most important thing to wear on your rafting trip. There’s nothing worse than having a great day on the river, then suffering through the next day with a blistering sunburn. Besides, studies show that each sunburn raises your cancer risk (especially every sunburn before age 18). Do yourself a favor and slather on sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30. When you’re applying it, don’t forget your ears, neck, and the backs of your hands.

Now you know what to wear on your summer California river rafting trip. If you are planning to raft during other parts of the season, make sure you read our tips about what to wear for spring rafting and what to wear for fall rafting. We look forward to seeing you on the river!


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