How to Get into Rafting if You are a Beginner

If you enjoy action, adventure, adrenaline, and the great outdoors then rafting is the perfect sport for you. There’s just something about being outdoors and at one with Mother Nature that city living can’t replicate. The air is fresher, the countryside greener, and the pace of life just seems to slow down when you’re outdoors.

When people think of outdoor sporting activities, a few activities that instantly spring to mind include things such as biking, hiking, or climbing. Don’t get us wrong, these are all very enjoyable activities and they’re a great way to stay in shape, but there is so much more. Rafting, in the form of river rafting or white-water rafting, is especially popular which is why we’ve compiled this guide today. If you’re new to the world of rafting and want to get involved, this guide is ideal. Listed below you’ll find everything you could ever wish to know about rafting, and more besides.

What is Rafting?

Rafting is sometimes known as river rafting, or white-water rafting. If you’re interested in outdoor sports and leisure, rafting is the perfect sport to get into. It is the ultimate adrenaline fuelled ride as it offers excitement with just a very slight edge of caution.

The basic premise behind rafting is that participants will sit in a specially designed raft and will paddle their way through a river’s rapids, or white-water. Sometimes they may navigate their way through a combination of both.  It has been performed for many centuries now, yet it only gained popularity in the 1970s. This was due to it being a featured sport in the Olympic Games.

Most commonly, you’ll find that rafts hold multiple individuals at once, with each participant being in charge of their own paddle. Some rafts however, are designed to hold just one participant, in which case they’ll raft solo.

A History of Rafting

Despite becoming a popular outdoor sport in the 1970s, rafting is not a new activity. In fact, it can be traced back to the 1800s in Wyoming. The date was 1811, and it was to be the world’s first recorded navigational attempt of the Snake River, Wyoming. Now, back then, there was no health and safety and no sophisticated equipment. The participants quickly found that the journey was too dangerous. Because of that very attempt, the river was given the nickname ‘The Mad River’.

The main issue was believed to be the “raft” the participants were using. In 1840, Horace H Day and Lt John Fremont created the world’s very first rubberized raft. The raft proved to be far more efficient and buoyant, and rubber rafts caught on. However, it wasn’t until a century later, that the Snake River Canyon was finally conquered by Clyde Smith.

In the late 60s and early 70s, white-water rafting companies started popping up all over the nation, and more and more people began taking an interest in the sport. During the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, white-water rafting found itself being included for the very first time. Rafting was now recognized as a legitimate sport and was broadcast to a global audience worldwide. After that, more people took up rafting, more rafting companies opened shop, and more companies started creating specialist rafting equipment.

Today, rafting is one of the most popular outdoor leisure activities in the world. It is a sport which generates billions in revenue every single year, and it is one which is enjoyed all over the globe.

White-Water Rafting Equipment

In this next section we’re going to give you a quick rundown of what you’ll need to get your rafting adventure started.


First and foremost, you’re going to need a raft. Rafts nowadays are made from very durable, hard-wearing materials such as: Denier nylon, neoprene, and Hypalon. They’re designed to withstand a fair amount of punishment and to hold a lot of weight. One thing to remember is that white water rafts will take a lot of water on board. Decades ago, you had to use a bucket to bail the water out before your raft became too heavy and sank. Nowadays, rafts are designed to be self-bailing. This basically means that the water drains itself away, so there is no risk of sinking.

Rafting Wetsuit

Needless to say, when you take up white-water rafting, you’re going to get wet. This is where a wetsuit proves to be so important. A wetsuit will help keep you relatively dry, it will keep you warm, it will protect you, and it will help improve mobility.

Rafting Water shoes

When rafting, it’s vital that you choose the appropriate footwear. Not only do you need to ensure that your shoes don’t become waterlogged, you also need to make sure that you have plenty of grip too. When rafting you’ll be in and out of the water and will be walking on various slippery surfaces. The last thing you want is to slip and injure yourself. Water shoes are ideal as they’re designed to be worn in the water. They help to drain away water, they protect your feet, and they offer superior grip. Before a rafting trip, be sure to invest in a good quality pair of water shoes.

Rafting Helmet

Helmets must be worn at all times during a rafting expedition. As you’re rafting down rough waters, small waterfalls, and other treacherous obstacles, there’s always the risk of injury. A helmet is designed to protect your head from injury. Make sure you try it on before and ensure that it fits perfectly. An ill-fitting helmet is useless and will offer no real protection at all.

Rafting Life Jacket

As well as a helmet, a life jacket is an absolute necessity when rafting on the water. No matter how strong a swimmer you are, you must always wear a life jacket when river rafting. Life jackets come in various designs, colours, shapes, and sizes. They’re designed to keep you afloat in the water. It’s important to find a life jacket that fits perfectly. If it is too big or too small, it could create additional problems in the water.

Rafting Dry suits

Dry suits are very similar to wet suits. They are designed to offer warmth in the water. The only real difference is that dry suits are waterproof. Dry suits are better for warmer parts of the year as they don’t quite keep you as warm as a wetsuit.

Rescue Throw Bag

A rescue throw bag is a vital piece of rafting equipment. Basically, they’re bags which contain ropes inside which are thrown to swimmers encountering difficulty in the water. One end of the rope attaches to the inside of the bag, and the other end is held by the rescuer. The bag is simply thrown to the swimmer in distress to enable them to reach the safety of raft with the assistance of the rescuer. The bags take up very little space, they’re light in weight, and they’re very compact.

Rafting Paddles

Rafting sandals for men and women

In order for you to propel your raft through the water, you are going to need paddles. Paddles come in a variety of different designs and can be made from different materials. If your budget will allow for it, we recommend carbon paddles. They’re light, they’re buoyant, they provide effortless strokes through the water, and they’re comfortable in the hand.

Miscellaneous Items to Pack

Okay, so now that you know some of the main pieces of equipment that you’re going to need when rafting, you also need to cover the basics. In this next section we’re going to list a series of items to pack for use outside of the water.

A change of Clothes

You’d think that everybody would remember to pack a change of clothes, but you’d be amazed by just how many people actually forget. When rafting, you’ll be in and out of the water and your clothes will likely get wet. Always bring a clean and dry change of clothes that you can slip into after your rafting adventure. Oh, and don’t forget dry shoes and socks as well.

Food and Drink

Rafting isn’t just a sport that you squeeze in when you have a spare hour. Most white-water rafting expeditions last several hours and can take up most of the day. As you’re rafting in the wilderness, you can’t just pick up a pizza or a coffee like you would in town. This is where it pays to bring your own food and drink. A few sandwiches, some ready-to-eat snacks, and a few bottles of fresh water should keep you going for the day.

A Cool Box

As you’re bringing food and drink, you’ll need somewhere to store it and keep it cool. This is where a cool box comes in handy. A cool box will keep your drinks chilled and will prevent your food from spoiling in warm weather.


When out in the sunshine, no matter what time of year it is, it’s essential that you use sun protection. The sun can be fierce and can seriously injure you if you let it. There’s the risk of sunburn, heat stroke, dehydration, and much more. Before you hit the water, apply sunscreen liberally. Pack a tube so that you can reapply it as the day goes on. As you’re on/in the water, always use water-resistant sunscreen as well.

Headlamp or Torch

Many people like to make a weekend of rafting and will head out into the wilderness to camp. When you set up camp, once it gets dark, you’re going to need something to enable you to see in the dark. We won’t insult your intelligence by explaining what a torch is and why it would be useful in the dark, but just remember to pack at least one. Oh, and don’t forget extra batteries.

First Aid Kit

Camping can be dangerous, being in the wilderness can be dangerous, and rafting can definitely be dangerous. Though we’re sure there will be no incidents whilst on the water, a first aid kit should definitely be packed by you. These kits contain various essentials for cleaning, dressing, and sterilizing wounds and are therefore very strongly recommended.


It’s also a good idea to pack sunglasses for your white-water rafting trip, and ideally to have them polarized. Sunglasses will help shield your eyes from the sun and to take the glare off of the water as the sun is reflected. They’ll also help to shield your eyes from splashes of water and various pieces of dirt and debris.

Waterproof Bag

You’re going to need something to store all of your belongings on during your rafting adventure. This is where a basic waterproof bag can be so useful. This way you needn’t worry too much about everything inside getting soaking wet. The last thing you’d want would be for your warm, clean, and dry change of clothes to get soaking wet when you’ve nothing else to slip into. A waterproof bag will help ensure that you keep everything dry and warm.

White-Water Rafting Tips for Beginners

Now that you know what to bring with you on your rafting expedition, you need to know how to prepare for your first outing. In this next section we’ll be taking a look at several white water rafting tips for beginners.

Choose a Rafting Destination

Before you even consider hitting the water in your raft, the first thing you need to do is choose a destination. You and the rest of your party will need to plan a safe route in which you intend to raft down. As you’re a beginner you should choose a very quiet, calm, and easy route to begin with. This will help you to master the technique of rafting and get used to the water. A class I is considered ideal for beginners. This is because it’s the calmest as it has no real obstacles or rapids to contend with.

As you progress, you can consider upgrading to a class II, and so on. Routes can go up to a class VI which is only considered appropriate for very advanced rafters. This is because these courses have a lot of obstacles and very fierce waters.

Always Listen to Your Rafting Instructor

As you’re a beginner, a rafting guide/instructor is simply a must. An instructor will show and teach you all of the basics when it comes to rafting. Online guides like this are very useful, but nothing beats getting real hands on experience in person. Your instructor will tell you what you need to wear, they’ll run through various safety drills with you, and they’ll teach you the basics. Always pay attention to what they’re saying and really listen to them. The more you learn before you hit the water, the better.

Choose the Correct Safety Gear

Okay, so your buddy’s got a spare rafting helmet laying around the home that they’ve given you, that means you’re all set, right? Well, no, not really. If your buddy has a much larger head than yours then your helmet is going to be too big. If your helmet is too big it will offer no protection at all. When buying a helmet and life jacket, be sure to choose items that fit you perfectly. If you don’t, the equipment won’t do its job.

Make Sure You Wear Your Safety Gear

Despite the fact that helmets and life jackets can literally save lives, some people still refuse to wear them when on the water. The most common excuses for failing to wear them are either: Being uncomfortable, or “looking silly”. Yep, some people would much rather risk their own lives than potentially look silly by wearing a helmet. Each and every single time you climb into that raft and get on the water, you need to make sure your life jacket and helmet are secured.

Stay Well Hydrated

When rafting on the water, you could potentially find yourself becoming dehydrated. People get splashed in the face with water and may even swallow the odd mouthful. This makes it harder to spot the signs of dehydration. Rafting is physically challenging, it’s a form of exercise, it could cause you to perspire, and you may find yourself becoming dehydrated if you aren’t careful. Take plenty of fresh drinking water with you and stay well hydrated. Oh, and beer is not a form of hydration. In fact, it will have the opposite effect, so don’t risk it.

Pack in Advance

Before you make your way to your river of choice, be sure to take the time to pack in advance. This way you aren’t rushing around at the last minute and you can triple-check that you’ve packed everything. Be sure to pack everything that we listed previously and create a check list.

Know What Not to Bring

You now know what you should bring on a rafting trip, but how about what NOT to bring? Well, to begin with, leave your wallet and money somewhere safe. There are no shops on the water so there’s no need to bring any money. If your wallet slips out of your pocket during a particularly rough stretch of water your life will become much harder and your day will be ruined.

When it comes to jewellery, again don’t bring anything valuable or sentimental. As tempting as it will be to bring your phone and record your adventure on the water, we strongly advise you against it. Smart phones are not cheap and many of them are not waterproof. Even if they are, there’s always the risk that you’ll lose them in the water. A Go-Pro camera may be suitable, as long as it is fastened securely to your head or torso.

Try to Stay Calm

Mother Nature can be unpredictable at times. On some days you may find that the waters are particularly rough, and you may feel out of your depth. Don’t worry. When rafting, the key is to stay calm, even when conditions are testing. It doesn’t matter whether a rapid catches you off-guard, or if your raft crashes into an obstacle, it’s essential that you stay calm. If you do, you can think clearer, focus more efficiently, and you’ll enjoy the experience more.

Check the Weather Forecasts

A couple of days before you’re due to venture out onto the water, start checking the local weather forecasts for where you plan on rafting. Ideally you want a fairly warm, still, and quiet day as this means that the water will be less likely to be as fierce. If bad weather has been forecast, keep checking, but if nothing has changed then you’ll need to postpone your adventure. As beginners, bad weather can make rafting very dangerous, even on class I routes. It may be frustrating, but it’s certainly not worth risking your life over.

Enjoy the Ride!

Finally, the last thing you should do when white-water rafting is take the time to enjoy the ride! The sport is extreme, but it’s easy to master and if you do as you’re told and follow instructions, you and your party will be perfectly safe. Simply focus on the task at hand and be sure to take in what you’re doing and enjoy the ride. After your very first session on the water you’ll almost certainly be hooked for life. Rafting is one of the most enjoyable experiences you could wish for, so get out there and see for yourself!

Read more: Best Water Shoes for White Water Rafting