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How to Choose an Outfitter

How do you choose an outfitter for a rafting trip? Remember, this is your vacation. It's going to be fun, but one where you truly need someone to take care of you. Someone you trust. Keep these two points in mind:

First, look for a company that has been in business for several years, has a current operating license, and is an active member of a professional rafting association. You should feel confident in the hands of a qualified guide: Very few accidents occur among the 2 million people a year who take trips with commercial outfitters.


Second, ask questions. Lots of them. There are no right or wrong questions, but there are a few things not to overlook:

Costs- Make sure you understand exactly what's included in the price. Prices vary. depending upon your destination, the trip's duration, and what the outfitter must do to prepare. Expect to pay a deposit up front, and the balance two weeks before the trip. Ask about group discounts if applicable, and always ask whether your deposit is refundable should you (or your outfitter) cancel.

Equipment- Ask for a list of gear showing both what will be provided and what you're expected to bring. In general, the outfitter provides all the boating equipment (boats, paddles, and lifejackets), while you bring personal gear. Some equipment, such as a wetsuit or wetsuit booties, you can rent from the outfitter. Food is also provided, and is invariably superb, prepared by cooks trained in outdoor cuisine.

Seasonal Considerations- When is the peak time to take your specific trip? Ask about water conditions, but also about foliage, wildlife, and river traffic.

To asses the rigor of the trip, consider the river's technical dificulty and your expected level of physical activity. Longer trips or trips that require you to help power the boat are more strenuous. You may even be asked to pitch in with portages and other chores, adding to the expeditionary spirit and physical challenge of the venture. A good way to initiate yourself is to take a day trip on a mild river. Then, if the sport appeals to you, try some more challenging whitewater.

Age Requirements- Most outfitters have minimum age requirements (usually somewhere between 8 and 18), for liability and safety reasons. Maximum age? As long as you're enthusiastic and your health is up to the challenge of the trip you choose, the sky's the limit.

Basic lunch and pit stop on the Hagerman Section

Extracurricular Activities- A rafting trip is more than just adrenaline-pumping thrills. On most multi-day trips, you'll spend only 5 or 6 hours a day on the river, so there's time for games and exploration. Does your outfitter have plans to fill that time, or are you on your own?

Specialty Trips- Does the outfitter run trips that cater to large groups? Families? Fishing parties? Adults only? Can the outfitter support a kayak or canoe trip? Can it accommodate someone with a physical disability? You will only help yourself by planning ahead. Start by deciding what you want. A white-knuckle ride? Quiet and solitude? Scenery? Fun with friends? Do you want to be pampered, or be an active participant? Be specific. Then pay close attention and compare how each outfitter responds to your query for information. How they treat you as a prospective customer may very well indicate how they treat you on the trip.

So do your homework. You'll be a more confident shopper, and a more relaxed traveler. And hey, that's the whole idea, isn't it?

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