If you like the idea of paddling furiously at the command of your guide, bracing for rapids, and riding wave trains, whitewater rafting might be for you. This exhilarating summer activity is a great way for everyone from adrenaline junkies to vacationing families alike to experience the rush Mother Nature has to offer. But that first trip out on the river can be an intimidating experience. From choosing the right guides to choosing the right gear, here are 6 tips for a great first rafting trip.
This isn’t the wild river ride at your local theme park. Whitewater rafting is very real and has the potential to be very dangerous, which is why safety should come first on any rafting trip.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the class rating system. Rivers are classified on a scale from I to VI, with I being a meandering river and VI being a deadly waterfall. Before you head out, call up a local kayak/canoe outfitter and ask what the weather conditions are like on your local river. Even slow high waters can mean fallen trees and strainers (trees that strain water and debris). You don’t want to get caught in a strainer.
With any activity that involves so much risk, it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into and also know your own personal limits. And it’s imperative to bring the proper safety and first aid equipment such as helmets and personal flotation devices.
Choose the Guide and Trip for You
Unless you’re slowly floating down a rapid-free river, it’s probably best to hire a guide for your first whitewater trip. Guides offer the added knowledge and safety needed to ensure that your first experience on the river is a positive one. Many raft guide companies will also help outfit their clients with most of the necessary gear for rafting, including wet suits and dry bags for your personal belongings.
Depending on which region of the country and which river you’ll be rafting, there are many trip packages suited for families and thrill seekers alike. Different sections of the same river can vary widely in difficulty, so be sure to ask a lot of questions about what kind of trip you are buying when you hire a guide.
Once you’re out on the water there’s no paddling back upstream, so make sure you come prepared with everything you’ll need. This means sunscreen. Nothing can ruin a day on the water quite like a sunburn, so be sure to bring some—preferably one that’s waterproof and has a high SPF.
Eye protection is equally as important as skin protection. Avoid a headache and a burnt retina by wearing sunglasses, and be sure to wear a retention strap to ensure you don’t lose them in the waves.
If you happen to end up in cold water, you’ll want to dry off as quickly as possible once back in the boat. To help speed up the dry off, wear synthetic clothing that won’t retain water. And to avoid having to dry off your personal belongings, place anything you need to take with you, such as medication, in a waterproof bag.
It takes everybody in a raft to successfully navigate a set of rapids, and your guide and fellow rafters will be depending on you to paddle when needed. Your guide should teach you a series of commands before hitting the water. Following these commands while rafting not only improves safety, it improves the entire experience for everyone. If a guide feels like he or she can’t rely on their crew, they might avoid the most exciting rapids, which would really be a bummer, so listen to your raft guides and follow their instructions at all times. You’ll have more fun.
You wouldn’t be out on the river if you didn’t want to have fun, and neither would your fellow rafters. So be friendly and open to your guide and crew, be willing to paddle, and get ready for a wild ride!