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The Boathouse Blog

What We Use: An Overview of Whitewater Rafting Gear

At Winding Waters River Expeditions, we take the gear we use seriously. The rivers we raft are powerful, but with the right equipment and safety precautions, they’re a whole lot of fun.

Read on to learn the gear we use on our white water rafting trips on the Snake, Salmon, and Grande Ronde Rivers!



All of our rafts are well maintained and intended for use in the exciting rivers that we raft.

While there are many types of rafts, the types we use are self-bailing, framed rafts. These rafts are designed to comfortably fit the groups we take out on the river and are very stable for our guests. 

As mentioned above, these rafts are self-bailing. They’re designed to remove any water that gets in them on their own. Developed in the 90’s, self-bailing rafts have created a way more pleasant rafting experience. Prior to their invention, you’d have to physically use buckets and pumps to get water out of the raft. This not only led to a more uncomfortable experience, but also weighed the raft down and reduced stability in rapids.

4 key parts to a white water raft:

  • • The raft: Made from rugged, durable materials, rafts are made into their oval-ish shape through many different inflatable air chambers. This ensures if one breaks the raft will still remain safe until the raft is patched. 
  • • Frame: This is the metal frame that holds the 2 primary oars (which are controlled by the guide) and has a seat or slanting board where your guide will sit. 
  • • Thwarts: Used in our paddle rafts, these cross tubes of air add stability to the inflated raft and help keep its shape. They’re also useful for those not in the front of the raft to help keep them secure.


Oar Boats vs Paddle Rafts

In our oar boats, the guide sits in the center of the raft and rows, controlling the boat 100% through rapids while our guests sit in the front and/or back and hang on. In a paddle raft, both the guide and the guests will provide power for moving the boat. While paddle rafting, the guide will be steering through tricky rapids and have control over the raft. The guests will also have their own paddle. While the guide will be the driver of the raft, you and the other guests will be the motor that powers it through the river.


Personal Safety Equipment

While white water rafting would not be possible without the rafts and oars, the most important piece of white water rafting gear is undoubtedly a personal flotation device, also known as a life jacket.

No matter how good a swimmer or rafter you are, life jackets are necessary to ensure your safety. While we’ve all seen life jackets throughout our lives, PFDs made specifically for white water rafting are necessary for a safe trip. The white water grade life jackets will make sure that if you are to fall out of the raft, you’ll be kept floating despite the white water. We provide comfortable, clean, and whitewater rated personal flotation devices on all of our trips.

We also provide helmets for our inflatable kayakers and paddle rafters.



While not a piece of gear that’s needed to physically go down the river, groovers are necessary for multi-day trips on the rivers we raft.

To protect the ecology, cleanliness, and wildlife of our rivers, we’re legally required by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to pack out everything we bring into the river. Yes that’s right, even our own human waste.

While this is an unsightly topic, groovers are portable toilets designed to make the process a whole lot less icky. 

At Winding Waters River Expedition, we do everything possible to make sure the bathroom experience out in the wilderness is as comfortable as possible for our guests. Part of this is setting up and cleaning the groover, as well as providing full washing facilities for when you’re using the groover. We even have a “key” system to ensure you’re provided with adequate privacy. 


Dry bags

One of the most crucial pieces of gear when you’re spending time out on the water is a quality dry bag. 

These rugged waterproof sacks are used to keep your belongings dry throughout your white water adventure. 

When you raft with us, each guests will receive: 

  • 1 large dry bag (127 liters; 18″ diameter by 31″ high)
  • 1 small dry bag (22 liters; 10″ diameter by 20″ high)

Your large bag will fit a large duffel, as well as your sleeping bag and pillow. We recommend that you bring your own sleeping bag, but do offer them for those without their own. This bag will go on a cargo raft and will not be accessible throughout the day.

Your small dry bag will be for personal items. You’ll bring this bag with you daily and will have it with you on the raft. 


Helpful gear you should bring

At Winding Water River Expedition, we have you covered with all of the professional rafting and camping gear you’ll need for the trip.

There are some items that we always recommend for your trip down the river, and have provided a helpful packing list for just this purpose. Most of these items are to improve your experience and ensure you’re comfortable on the water. Some of the most key items include:

  • Sun block and chapstick 
  • Sunglasses and eyeglass holders
  • Rainsuit or poncho 
  • Long sleeve pants and shirts, quick dry if possible
  • Swimwear 
  • River sandals (our guides love Chacos)
  • Wool socks
  • Sun hat and warm knit hat


Book your river adventure today!

At Winding Waters River Expeditions, we raft some of the top white water rivers in the United States. Our trips are fully catered with gourmet meals and you’ll be rafting with some of the best guides in the Northwest. Take a look at some of our trips and reach out to us with any questions you have! 

If you’ve already booked a trip with our team, we’re looking forward to seeing you out in the land of the winding waters!