Introduction to Whitewater Rafting

Trip Length I Trip Type I Shuttle I Locations I Gear I Cost

If you are new to whitewater rafting but interested in getting some experience on rivers - watch out! - you are starting a journey that could develop into a full-fledged addiction. There are so many things to love about whitewater - there really is something for everyone when it comes time to play on the river.

If you have never been rafting before, and you are not lucky enough to have a friend with all the gear who wants to be your guide, you should look into contacting a good outfitter.

What makes a good outfitter?
Basic intelligence, a commitment to safety, solid gear, great guides, a convenient location and lots of personality!

How can you tell by a website that a raft company is a good one? Here are a few tips:

Do you have a good feeling when you first look at their material? Your gut reaction is usually right.

Do they emphasize safety and care of their clients? Do they offer advice on choosing an appropriate trip for age or physical ability level?

Do they have their staff on the website?-This shows that they have the same people that return for years. It also shows that they value their employees.

Do they offer training courses or safety classes? This shows that their owner or manager is active in training and emphasizes the importance of risk management as it relates to whitewater.

Does it matter who has been in business the longest? It does not matter how long a company has been around once it has reached 10 or so more years in the business. The important thing is that they have experienced managers and returning guides. Some companies that have been in business over 30 years can be complacent when it comes to keeping up with advancements in the industry. Some of the younger companies will try harder to win your loyalty.

Does the raft company operate on permit from a government agency? Is it regulated?

Is there any required certifications that guides need to have?

Call them up. Ask pertinent questions. Book a trip!

Length of trips
Professionally Outfitted whitewater rafting trips vary in length from about 2 hours to 2 weeks. Day trips are often offered as Half day or Full day Trips. If you just want a taste of whitewater rafting, you can try a half day or full day trip. Half Day trips are usually 1 - 3 hours long. Full Days can be 5-8 hours long and usually include a lunch. Make sure to ask about the lunch. Many rafting companies will allow you to stash something in the cooler if you need to. Beer is most likely not allowed on a day trip. But try a multi day trip and there you will find beer.
If you want to "go big" and experience the full river trip magic, go for a week long trip. Heck, go for the longest trip you can possible do. Most commonly, you will be sleeping in a tent as you travel down the river, but there are outfitters that offer "luxury" trips for rafters who stay the night at different lodges along the river.

Types of Trips
Whitewater Rafting Trips can be totally flat water, or only small rapids. (Class 1 )These trips are often billed as "scenic rafitng" . The next level of rafting is Class 2 - These can be large or small rolling wave rapids that are easy to navigate. A Guided raft trip on class 2 is usually mostly fun and not scary. Great for families with kids or first timers. A great way to get started on whitewater without having to stress.
Class 3 starts to add some excitement and challenge. Rapids require good navigation, with consequences for incorrect navigation. Usually appropriate for families or first timers but requiring participatiion and obedience.
Class 4 trips are challenging and usually not suited for children or older folks.
Class 5 is very challenging and only suited to experienced rafters or fit people looking for big adventure.
Scenery is a huge benefit of enjoying a river trip. Do you prefer a deep canyon or an open valley? Do you like the red rocks of the southwest or the lush forests of the east? Do you need mountain scenery? Who doesn't?

Shuttle To and From the River
When whitewater rafting, you are traveling in one direction - namely "down" - a river. In order to get back where you started your trip, you need a shuttle vehicle to transport you to and from the river. White water rafting can be quite a vehicle intense activity since many of the best river runs do not occur right next to a highway. Many do , however and this makes the shuttle much more convenient. When you are looking at running a river, ask how long the shuttle is. That will help you understand how much of the total trip time you will spend traveling to and from the river. Some outfitters are located right on shore at the beginning or end of a trip. Some are located a long drive away from the river. Longer shuttles are found on rivers in West Virginia and Colorado. If the guides are fun and entertaining, they will tell jokes and stories on the vehicle. This is an extra service that should always be rewarded with a good tip.

There are a few rivers that are famous for rafting, like the Grand Canyon in Arizona and the Gauley in West Virginia. There are also places that are known to have lots of rafting options like Colorado and California. Basically anywhere you have a river with some degree of elevation change, you have white water. Whitewater rafting is often to be found near ski resorts (Aspen or Banff) and National Parks (Yosemite and Yellowstone).
Some locations are more pristine than others. Some are more accessible. Some rivers are busy with hundreds of outfitters (the American in CA) and some are smaller and less crowded (the Gallatin River, MT). The geography of rivers is very diverse from desert settings to thick forests, canyons, valleys lush tropical settings to arid rocky barrens.

Gear- Boats and Paddle Equipment
White water rafting is a gear intensive activity. You need a lot of gear.
The raft itself can be any size from a 8 foot "mini" for two to three people to a 22 foot barge for groups of 30.
The raft can be a paddle raft - with people paddling under the leadership of a Guide with a paddle or it can be an oar rig rowed from the center or the stern (back) of the boat with or without paddling assistance from passengers.
In order to transport the raft to and from the river, it is necessary to have an appropriate vehicle and trailer. Yes, you can strap a raft to the roof of Hortense's 1981 Cadillac Deville, but it is not standard practice. Generally, commercial raft companies use 15 passenger vans and school buses with trailers to transport up to 8 rafts at a time.
There are different methods of tying down the boats. The most common is the use of ropes and or cam straps. Cam straps are webbing with metal buckles that automatically place a hold on the webbing. Ingenious and Magical; Cam straps are a subject in and of themselves.

Difference between paddles and oars
A paddle is used in canoeing or in rafting with one blade (picture)
Oars are used to Row a boat. In rafting, the oars need to be mounted on an oar frame.
Each participant is required to have a Personal Flotation Device (lifejacket). More and more, you will see rafters wearing helmets, especially on rivers class 3 and above.

Personal Gear
If you are rafting with a company, they will most likely provide you with all the necessary gear for a day trip. Many charge for rentals, but a few raft companies don't. Beyond that, here is a list of gear you might want to have if you take up rafting as a hobby or a profession.
Splash top and bottom
footwear - sandals or tennies
throwbag, webbing and carabiners (for rescues)

for cold water rivers:
Wetsuit or Drysuit
Polypropelene tops and bottoms

Group Gear
Tie-Down straps
Oar- Rig Frame and oars

Cost of Whitewater Rafting
The least expensive whitewater raft trip you can get is probably about $35 per person for a half day trip. Ask your outiftter if they offer any group discounts, military discounts, boyscout discounts or anything you can dream up. If you can make friends with rafting guides, you can often get on a trip for free. In the early season, guides are always taking freebie trips so they can get trained in to work as a raft guide. If you live in an area that has rafting companies, ask when they do their guide training and that you would like to be a guinea pig for the guides in training. This really only works for fit and healthy people who appear to be able to survive a swim should the training run be less than perfect. It is generally good manners to bring some beer for the guide as they are not making money yet.