Whitewater Rafting on a Cold Day: How to stay warm

Even when the water is 60+ degrees on the Lower Salmon or the Rogue River, those chilly spring mornings or late afternoon rain storms do occasionally make it a little brisk to be relaxing in a torpedo wearing only a swimsuit and PFD.  There are some tricks to staying warm, and when you can stay warm, some of the most fun paddling can be in the middle of a rain storm.
Tricks to staying warm.

1. Dress Correctly:  This is absolutely essential to staying warm.  How to dress is dependent on what type of cold you’re dealing with.  On a chilly morning a splash jacket may be all you need; however in the middle or a rainstorm some more serious gear may be required.  One main factor for staying warm is AVOID ALL COTTON.  Never wear cotton on the river.  When it gets wet in makes you cold.
OTT Provided Stuff: to be combined with your non-cotton swimwear.
1. Paddle Jackets: This simple Nylon Paddle Jacket retains a little heat and deflects the splashes from your skin.  This can go a long way towards keeping you warm.  This simple jacket worn under your PFD can be the difference between warm and happy and chilly.  Not effective at keeping you warm when swimming in the water.

2. Wet Suites: On trips where being chilly is a possibility we supply “Farmer John” style wetsuits.  This open shoulder style makes the suits much more comfortable to paddle all day while keeping the core of your body insulated and warm.  This combined with a paddle jacket is enough to withstand 90% of spring and summer cold weather.

What you can add and supplement:
Often times a wetsuit is just too much but a paddle jacket alone is too little.  There are also times when even a paddle jacket is overkill, but just a swimsuit and PFD is a little brisk.  Below are a few of our favorite pieces of clothing to wear on the river.  If you click the image it will take you to the item at NRS or REI where you can purchase them.
Hydroskin tops : These are great on an early morning.  More breathable than a paddle jacket and they continue to warm even if you are swimming in it.  I love mine both on a brisk morning for that little extra warmth until the sun comes up or for wearing under a paddle jacket on a cold day.  The paddle jacket breaks the wind and keeps the splashes off while these insulate and help keep you warm even in a swim. Combine this with a wetsuit AND paddle jacket for the coldest summer weather and stay warm and toasty.

Fleece: A basic fleece under a paddle jacket is also a great insulator.  When fleece gets wet is retains its ability to keep you warm.  It’s not as comfortable to wear when wet as the hydroskin, but it dries fast and is much more comfortable around camp making it a little more versatile.  If you are on a raft where swimming is unlikely, a good SIMPLE fleece jacket under a paddle jacket is great for the coldest weather. Click the image to see a nice simple jacket.

Lower Body:
Generally not as important in the summer time.  Especially since we will supply you with a wetsuit.  However often times a wetsuit is just too much so a shorter version comes in handy.
Rodeo Shorts: Many of the guides find these wetsuit shorts, generally worn under a pair of swim trunks, to be an on the water savior.  These are great when paddling a torpedo on a brisk morning.

Splash pants:  If you are exclusively going to be riding the raft splash pants can be a great way to keep the wind and water off.  They are not at all helpful if swimming or sitting in water so not much good in a Torpedo, but on raft these are a glorious comfort.

2. Consume Correctly:
Make sure that on cold days you eat some extra food.  Being active paddling on the river your already burning through more calories than you are probably used to, and if you are cold your body needs even more fuel to try and keep you warm.  On a cold day ask your guides for some extra snacks like granola bars.  If it is real chilly your guides may have a thermos of hot tea or hot chocolate.  It is also crucial to stay hydrated.  Often on chilly day people will drink less even though they are still burning through fluids paddling.
3. Know your body:
Don’t be afraid to acknoladge you’re getting cold.  It is much easier to stay warm than get warm.  If you start to get chilly let your guide know and they can help avoid waves to keep, move you to the raft, get you additional food or maybe a warm drink.  Often times guides will even have some additional cold weather gear hidden away they can outfit you with.  All it takes is letting a guide know you’re getting chilly before you get cold.  After you are cold it’s much more difficult to get you warm and happy than it would have been just to keep you there.

This advice is for the rare cold SUMMER weather experienced when rafting the Rogue River, Salmon River, North Umpqua River, or Klamath River.  Paddle trips in the winter can be extremely enjoyable but require an entirely different approach to staying warm.  
Have fun out there.

Orange Torpedo Trips is a for profit company and while all advice on this blog is based on it being good advice and products shown are shown strictly because they are good products, we reserve the right to profit from the sales of these items both online or in our retail store.