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Gear Tips for New Guides

Every Spring sees new people beginning their journey as a whitewater guide. In addition to the training and skill sets they learn, a crucial component to their success is the gear they use. But with so many options (and opinions) these days it can be daunting in figuring out what is best for you. Over the years we have taught countless guide schools and spoken with many guides, both new and veteran, about what they think works best. Here we briefly break down some basic points about what gear we believe is essential when starting as a guide and will hopefully point you in the right direction for further reading.

Helmets & Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

If you are a guide, these are the main items that will be used daily. There are countless styles, designs, and brands so it can be a bit overwhelming when first trying to pick. But when deciding which item is right for you, realize you will be wearing these items for potentially long periods in varying weather conditions and situations. Comfort and maneuverability should take priority over appearance or flashy attachments. Many helmet styles offer some type of brim, which can be a nice feature on sunny summer days. It is much easier to guide and do your job if you are comfortable. Below are links to excellent articles giving more in-depth detail on both helmets and PFDs:

Helmets -

PFD's -

Throw Bag/Waist Bag

Throw bags and/or waist bags are the next piece of gear that every guide should not only own but know how to properly use. The more practice one does (either on or off the water) with these will translate into more success when using it on the water. Throw bags can be clipped into the boat while waist bags are just that, throw bags with a waistband letting it attach around your waist and sit beneath your PFD. We have been using the throw and waist bags from the company below for years and have nothing but good things to say about them:

Salamander Paddle Gear


Carabiners are great in that they can be so useful in attaching gear and anything else they can fit on. Whether it is a lunch bucket in the boat to a water bottle, they keep it all clipped in. Every boater should always have a minimum of two (2) locking carabiners. Standard carabiners are great and have their purpose but the locking style can minimize getting caught on other things. The following article is a great breakdown of carabiners and how they work:

River knife

All guides should have a river knife on their person. You do not need a huge machete hanging off your PFD or an expensive name-brand one. Something practical and easy to use when needed is the key. Most guides tend to use a flat nose blade with a serrated edge on one side. The majority of the time it will be used to cut rope, veggies, and other items at lunch, or for some other general purpose. The article below gives much more detail on river knives and their uses:


Shoes are another item that should be chosen based on their comfort and usage. With your feet constantly in and out of the water, they should be easy to wear at all times. Personal preference comes into play when deciding on either a sandal or closed-toe style. Closed style shoes offer more foot protection, but can get filled with sand, small rocks, and other debris. Open style shoes are less protective, but allow more air circulation to the feet. Any shoes worn on the water should have a heel strap also. Guides are typically wearing their river shoes all day, so take into account what type you want to spend 6-8 hours in. The grip of the sole should also be a factor since guides are potentially walking on rocks or other slick surfaces at times. Although there are many other options, below are some links to a couple of manufacturers that we have used over the years:

Astral -

Bedrock -

Chaco -

Waterproof dry bag

Although not as essential as your helmet and PFD, a dry bag is a great addition to your gear whether you are just becoming a guide or a seasoned veteran. They allow you to keep all sorts of items out of the elements and still handy, such as extra layers of clothing and river gear. It is a great help to guests in being able to store an extra splash jacket or any personal items (medication, phone, etc.). The beauty of this item is also that it can be used not just on the water but in any outdoor environment. There are two main types of dry bags, roll-top and zippered style, and both work very well for most circumstances. Roll-top bags are less expensive and easy to access but aren’t always fully waterproof when completely submerged. Zippered styles are usually more robust and fully waterproof, ever after being dunked. You can also choose from multiple sizes depending on what your needs might be. At a minimum, we would recommend a basic roll-top dry bag, which is one that served us a couple of seasons before upgrading. Again, there are many brands and styles but we have added a link to some of the dry bags we have used and loved the most:

Watershed Dry Bags -

SealLine -


Of course we think straps are essential gear! We believe either a pair of 6 ft. or 12 ft. straps (or both) should be in everyone's gear bag. They can be used in a variety of ways on and off the water, with examples being strapping gear down in a boat, securing a kayak to a vehicle, or connecting boats together to float. Besides our own examples available here, check out these options as well:

Rollercam -

Cascade River Gear -

All of the items we have talked about above are key tools to your success as a new guide. A good pair of polarized sunglasses will also serve you well (make sure to put some glasses straps on them). Using these as directed along with proper training and safety procedures can aid all guides in their experience. Any brand-name product mentioned specifically is merely a suggestion (we are not sponsored by or paid for any endorsements) and we advise everyone to make sure they find the product that best suits them in all aspects. Use this as a stepping stone to finding out more about each item and how they would work best for you. The best advice we were given about gear was to “be a sponge”, meaning soaking up as much information as possible to make an informed decision on what gear works best for you.

set of river gear including a pfd, helmet, throw rope, dry bag, river shoes and splash top

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