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Top 10 Essential Gear for White Water Rafting

  1. PFD-Otherwise known as a personal flotation device or more commonly a life jacket. You need a Coast Guard Approved PFD in either a Type III or Type V style.  Type III PFDs are what are most commonly worn by guides. A PFD may become a Type V due to being enhanced as a “rescue vest” or by having a pillow on the back.  As a whitewater raft guide, you do not need a rescue vest until you have taken the appropriate swift water rescue classes that will teach you how to use it correctly (so as to not put you at extra risk).  Be sure to get a PFD designed for whitewater, not one designed for sea kayaking or water skiing.  Many guides like Astral, NRS, Kokatat, MTI, and Extrasport brands to name a few.
  2. Helmet-A helmet is an absolute personal essential on those rivers that require them. Some rivers don’t require them so check ahead.  Helmets can have an outer shell of plastic, carbon fiber, or fiberglass (???).   Some helmets have holes in the top that are great for hot summer days, while others completely cover the top with no ventilation. These can be hotter in the summer, but provide better insulation in the cooler months.  Popular brands of helmets include Shred Ready and Sweets.
  3. River Shoes-Most whitewater raft guides prefer to guides in sandals if the water is not insanely cold. Teva, Chaco, and Keen seem to be the most popular brands.  If you will be guiding on a river that requires running on rocks to set ropes, invest the extra money and get water shoes with special soles like Diamond Rubber, or Stealth Rubber. If you have to do more hiking, a pair of closed toe shoes like the Keens may be a better fit.  Regardless, make sure you have a dry pair of shoes for the end of the day because “foot rot” can be unsightly and extremely painful!
  4. Whistle-A whistle is one of the least expensive pieces of gear to purchase, yet can assist greatly in emergencies.   We personally like the Fox 40 River Safety Whistle that is simple, yet effective.  Whistles may be your best means of communicating over the roar of a river in an emergency, so they are definitely an essential piece of gear.
  5. Rope-Some companies require each guide to provide their own throw rope while other companies will provide each guide with a rope.  If you do any kind of boating on your own, it is essential to carry a rope anyway, so it is a good investment.  There are a couple different styles: rope bags-literally a rope in a bag; rope belts-a rope inside a bag that is attached to a belt-very easy to carry and you always have it on you; rope pouches-a pouch that attaches to the backs of some PFDs that carries a rope bag inside; and, a coil rope.
  6. Knife-Most of the time, a raft guide’s knife will be used for spreading peanut butter or slicing tomatoes; BUT, in those instances where a rope is caught around a person, or something else, a knife can be a lifesaver. There are a couple different varieties like curved edges, straight edges, folding knives, and stationary knives with sheaths. There are benefits to all of them. Just make sure you have one!
  7. Prusik Loops- These loops are from pieces of rope that are Prusik hitches or knots in them. They can be used to tie in water coolers or dry bags, but are usually required for their purposes in river rescue procedures. For information on how to make one, click here.
  8. Carabiners-These come in several shapes and sizes, as well as locking vs. unlocking carabiners. They are used in safety situations (as well as holding in gear), so don’t get the kind that is designed to be a keychain. Most guides have the unlocking style like those here.
  9. Paddle-We put this near the end of the top 10 since some rivers only use oar rigs; or, the company you work for will provide you with a paddle. If you choose to purchase one, they are commonly called “guide sticks.”  Paddles sold as guide sticks usually have larger blades and stronger shafts.   Personally, I just use the same paddles that the guests use. This way, in case a paddle gets lost, you can use theirs and it isn’t a big shock. That also makes it free!   Otherwise, here are some that you may like.
  10. Paddling clothing-Since you will likely spend many wet hours in your paddling gear, it pays to have stuff that is quick drying and will retain heat.   Synthetics such as polyester, fleece, silk and wool are great for keeping you warm. To stay cool, a good pair of nylon shorts and a capilene shirt is great. For outerwear, it pays to have at least a paddling jacket (I like both long sleeve and shorties); and, if you have the money, a pair of paddling pants can make a cold rainy day into just another day on the river.