8 Things to Ask a Rafting Company Before You Book
Its getting hot in your area and you want to cool off with your friends and have a little excitement on the river. Maybe you saw a rafting trip on a daily deal site and thought it looked fun. Well don't get suckered into a trip that you don't want or get a trip that you weren't expecting. These 8 things to ask your rafting company before you book will make sure that you are getting a quality trip.
1. How many miles is the trip?
An average commercial rafting trip will be between 8 and 15 miles for a day trip. In general the tougher the river the shorter the trip. Some commercial outfitters on particularly tough rivers may only offer a few miles, but Outfitters run all kinds of trips on all sorts of rivers, but some outfitters try to gain advantage over each other by offering more miles. Getting more for your money sounds great, but you're not buying bus tour. Remember, rafting is a physical workout. Like running marathons? Because that's what a 21 mile trip is going to feel like. Focus on the river trip as a whole not just the number of miles.
2. On average, how many hours is the trip?
More important than miles is time on the water. How many hours will you be on the river on average? An 8 mile class III trip can be on the water 1.5 hours or 4 hours. If the river is rated class IV or class V that couple of miles may take all day so they can have extra time to get you down the river in case anything happens. The length of time that you spend on the river is directly related to how much paddling that your guide will make you do. Less time often means your vacation will end up being more work than fun. This all ties into our next point.
3. Do you have a set take out time?
"Professional" Guides often feel like they are in a race to get down the river. They think that takeout is a time not a place. If the outfitter that you are thinking of using has a set takeout time that is typically a sign the company has lots of arbitrary rules in place for their guides. Alternatively this could mean that the company has adopted a culture of rushing down the river. If you want quality you need flexibility out on the water. Things happen; maybe there is an accident on the river or you see something that you want to explore. Guides with set take out times will feel like they have to make up time on the river by pushing you down faster and making you work harder. This is a red flag in our book either way.
4. What are the inclusions? Such as side hikes, lunch, or camping.
The inclusions often speak to the quality of the trip. Side hikes up different creeks that you pass along your river trip are an awesome addition to the trip and make it feel like an adventure. The quality of meals and camping will speak volumes about your outfitter. Some outfitters offer wilderness trips while some offer glamping. The important things to remember is do the meals have options for your diet, and what kind of bedding is included with camping. An outfitter that provides options for alternative diets and provides all of your bedding will typically provide a more comfortable and consequently more enjoyable experience.
5. Do you allow guests to jump off rocks?
Who doesn't like jumping off of rocks into the river? It is fun, thrilling, and most of all it just feels awesome. Guides know where hazards are in the river, where it is deep, where it is shallow, and where it is safe. If they say it is a liability issue that is a bold faced lie. This is an expected part of a river trip and operating in a river environment (from a legal perspective). There are a couple reasons an outfitter would not allow this a) The outfitter is scared of a lawsuit b) The guides are scared, lazy, or hate guiding and just want to rush down the river c) It is one of the few...and I mean few rivers that this actually is an unsafe practice. For most rivers though guides know good spots to do rock jumps and it is a really awesome and fun part of the adventure
6. Do you allow guests to swim rapids?
On nearly river there is a swimmer's rapid. It is actually one of the best parts of rafting and one of the most exciting. On many tough rivers there is even a swim test that they administer at the beginning of the trip and if you can't swim you can't go. on more mellow class III and IV river you will find that there is a rapid or two that you can swim. The reasons that the outfitter would not let you do this are the same as number 5 on our list.
7. Do you employ first year guides?
New generations of guides make your trip fun and exciting. They may not be experienced, but they are full of vitality, gung-ho spirit, and as an added bonus they still shower and shave. Your average first year guide is an outdoorsy 18-24 year old college student or recent graduate that lacks the crustiness of a seasoned guide. Now there are two sides to this coin on one hand if you are a young fit and want an adventure a first year guide will definitely give you an exciting trip. On the other hand...I don't care how many marathons Grandma runs...she probably won't appreciate how many times she will be swimming the bigger rapids on the river. It is always best to communicate with your outfitter on what your group looks like, if you want an experienced guide, or don't mind it getting a little rowdy.
8. How many people do you put in a boat?
This is another extremely important question to ask your outfitter. In general there are no industry standards. From a fun perspective the 6 per boat plus a guide is about optimal for most rivers. Big water rivers tend to increase the number to add more weight and power to plow big waves and smaller rivers tend to have 6 or less to make life easier on the guide. The 6:1 ratio is often the best for the most interaction with your guide and a good mix of people to hang out with. Sometimes outfitters will try to save money by packing as many people into a raft as possible. I have seen Class III river trips with 12 people in a 14' or 16' raft. If your outfitter does this on an easier river as a standard practice it screams one thing...we are cheap as hell.