PFD: check. Music: check. Hot Sauce? Okay.

River rafting day trip gear
A few of the essential items needed for a day float down the river.Terrance Siemon

An epic winter has begun to (finally) wind down across the Southwest, making way for an excellent boating season. If you’re hopping on the river for a rafting day trip with your friends this spring and summer, make sure you show up to the put-in with the proper essentials.


This is the absolute first thing you need to consider before getting on the river. It doesn’t matter if you are sticking to the slow-moving current and avoiding the rapids that day — you can still fall out of the boat at any moment. If you don’t own a PFD, ask a friend if they have one that you can borrow. Many raft shops also have PFDs that are available to rent for the day.

Strappy Sandals

We’ve lost a flip flop or two in our day. And there’s nothing worse than soggy sneakers. While companies like Astral make a breathable water shoe specifically designed for boating, we prefer a sturdy, strapped pair of sandals for warmer rafting day trips. Make sure that the sandals you choose (we like Chacos for the river) wrap behind your heel and sit snugly on your foot. This will prevent it from coming off, and reduce your chances of making any unwanted sacrifices to the river gods.

Sunscreen and Lip Balm

You may think that a short day trip does not warrant an application of sunscreen, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. While your crew is running shuttle, use the time to put on sunscreen anywhere that might see the light of day: face, shoulders and the tops of your legs and feet. Lip balm is also important to prevent chapped lips. Bonus points if it contains SPF 15.

Hat and Sunglasses

Sunscreen and lip balm only goes so far to protect you from the elements. A hat is beneficial to keeping the sun out of your face, while sunglasses help to alleviate the eyes from problems that a hat can’t solve. Light reflecting off the water makes it difficult to see and can also damage your eyes in the long run. Opt for a pair of sunglasses that are polarized. Polarized lenses significantly reduce the glare on the water, helping to improve visibility. Our affordably and fun go-to brand is Goodr.

An Extra Layer

The sun might be shining and the temperature is sitting at a comfortable 75-80 degrees, but spring runoff can immensely lower the temperature of the water. A longer, lighter layer is also another way to protect you from the sun. Even if you don’t plan on running any rapids that day, it’s always nice to get off the river and have an extra layer to throw on while loading the boats, especially if the sun is starting to go down.

Waterproof Speaker

Set the vibe for your day float by providing some tunes. A waterproof, or water-resistant at the very least, bluetooth speaker is the way to go while on the river. That way, you can stow your phone or music-playing device safely away in your dry bag without having to worry about it getting damaged. And while it’s nice to talk and catch up with friends, it’s also nice to chill out and sit back while the speaker provides the entertainment. Your group will thank you.

Small Dry Bag and/or Dry Box

If you’re on the river, no matter how splashy the run, there’s a really good chance that you’re going to get wet. Protect your valuables, such as your cell phone and car keys, in a dry bag or dry box. The best part is that many of the items on this list — sunscreen, lip balm and extra layers — are best placed in a dry bag when not in use. Organization and consolidation at its finest.

Water Bottle

When partaking in any outdoor activity, it’s important to never overlook water — even when you’re surrounded by the stuff. There’s nothing worse than sitting on a boat under the hot sun while feeling the signs of dehydration creeping in. And you may want to think twice before drinking right out the river. That’s a quick way to get giardia. Stay hydrated the safe way. Put your water bottle in your dry bag right now.

Beverages w/ Koozie

Chances are, you’ll want something to drink other than water while on the river. If you have room, bring a little cooler that will hold several drinks — a few for you and a few for your friends. A koozie will help to keep your drink cool for a little longer. Just remember to drink responsibly and to never overdo it while floating down the river. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings, and who knows? The person guiding the boat you’re on might need a paddle stroke or four from you at a moment’s notice. Know your limits.

hot sauce
Hot Sauce: a must-have, even on the river.Terrance Siemon
Bonus: Hot Sauce

Now, this one might appear to have come out of left field, but think back to the day floats that lasted more than a couple of hours. You and your crew thought ahead and brought lunch or snacks to share. Now think about how cool you will be when you pull out the hot sauce to spice up those boring sandwiches? Just remember that bringing glass on the river can prove dangerous, so make sure to wrap that bottle in duck tape ahead of time. Or maybe stick to a plastic bottle, or hot sauce packets instead.

For the most fun on your next rafting day trip, be sure to check the water levels before you hit the river.