Why Floating Down a River Is Summer's Best Sport: The Beginner's Guide to Tubing

Sometimes, where there's a tube, there's a way

Smiling female friends hanging out in inner tubes on river on summer afternoon
Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

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Picture this: You’re lazily floating down a river on an inner tube, with an ice-cold beer or seltzer in hand, watching the trees and clouds go by, without a care in the world. If this sounds like your idea of an enjoyable afternoon, then it’s time to plan your next river tubing adventure. And if you’ve never been tubing, you’re in for a treat. Here’s everything you need to know about how to plan the perfect float trip, so that, when the time comes, you can kick back, relax, and enjoy your time on the river to the fullest.

How to Pick a Tube

River tubes come in all shapes and sizes, but there are a few key criteria to be on the lookout for. Most importantly, considering the many obstacles you’ll encounter on the water (like rocks and sticks), you’ll want to pick a tube that’s made from durable, high-quality materials and has a mesh bottom. It’s also best to get something that’s on the smaller side (or that perfectly fits your body type)—the bigger the tube, the harder it will be to maneuver. Your tube should also have heavy-duty handles, so you can lug it down to the water and through shallow spots, if need be. And, a built-in cup holder is definitely icing on the cake.

Gear to Bring Tubing

Bringing the right gear can make or break any tubing trip. That said, pack as light as possible, and avoid bringing anything on the water you’d be upset to lose. (We don’t recommend bringing your phone, but if you do, be sure to put it in a sealed dry bag.) Here’s a list of some must-have items to have on hand: 

  • Water Shoes: Flip-flops don’t count—sturdy, waterproof footwear (Chacos, Tevas) will help you avoid cutting your feet on rocks and other debris. 
  • Sun Protection: Now isn’t the time for SPF 15; it’s SPF 50 or bust, baby. A baseball cap and sunglasses (with a strap) are crucial, too.  
  • Snacks: You’ll likely be on the water for hours, so bring healthy, filling snacks. It’s also a great idea to fuel up with a big meal beforehand. 
  • Coozie: What else will keep your canned rosé cold? 
  • Cooler: Make sure it’s not styrofoam, which is usually prohibited. 
  • Stainless Steel Water Bottle: It’s all about hydration when you’re on the river for hours, and an insulated water bottle will keep your H20 cold all day. 
  • Rope: You must have some rope for tying all your floats together. 
  • Portable Air Pump: If you’re bringing your own tubes, a portable air pump that plugs into the car will spare you from trying to find a pump in the case of unexpected deflation.
  • Waterproof Speaker: No, a waterproof speaker isn’t as necessary as water or SPF—but what’s a float trip without a party soundtrack?
  • Repair Tape: If you need to patch up a hole along the way, it’s essential to have some solid repair tape. 

What to Wear Tubing

You’ll get wet while tubing, so wear your swimsuit. Other than that, sun protective gear is an absolute must. A UV protective tee could mean the difference between a fun time on the river and a miserable one.

How to Plan Your Tubing Trip

To plan your tubing trip, you’ll first want to decide if you wish to go with a tubing outfitter or not. There are some definitive pros to going with a tubing outfitter versus doing things yourself. A tubing company can help you map the route, drop you off and pick you up, and provide supplies (like tubes, so you don’t have to buy your own). That said, this will be pricier than planning your own trip, and you’ll also have to stick to the company’s route (no off-the-cuff adventuring). But, it’s almost always preferable since you’ll save yourself the headache of logistics and shuttling everyone around. In addition, it’s essential to check the river conditions in the weeks leading up to your trip to ensure that the water is at optimal levels for floating. You can call a local tube outfitter’s website (even if you’re not renting from them) or a nearby state park.  

And, just for inspiration, here are just a few of the best places to go river tubing in the U.S.:

  • Frio River, Texas: You’ll hear many people talk about the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers in Texas, but the Frio boasts the prettiest scenery and best water quality.
  • Snoqualmie River, Washington. Soak up that classic Pacific Northwest scenery (towering pine trees, mountain vistas) on the super-lovely Snoqualmie. 
  • Ichetucknee River, Florida: Bright turquoise waters, giant oak trees, and beautiful natural springs…what more could you want in a float trip? 
  • Yampa River, Colorado: Thanks to its relatively small rapids and peaceful setting, the Yampa makes for a fabulous family-friendly float.

Tubing Safety Tips

Safety first—nothing will kill the mood faster than an intoxicated-related injury or legal infraction when you’re just trying to have a good time on the river.

  • Know the rules before you get on the water. Will you need to wear life jackets? What is and isn’t allowed on the river? Take the time to learn about regulations beforehand, so you don’t have to endure a run-in with park rangers or cops.  
  • Don’t bring glass. Glass is typically prohibited, for a good reason—this can present a serious safety hazard. 
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol. Enjoying a few beers on the river is great; getting so drunk that you put your life (and others’ lives) at risk is not.