The Ultimate Guide for Rafting on the River for the First Time

The Ultimate Guide for Rafting on the River for the First Time

Rafting is arguably one of the most fun ways to spend time outside during the summer. But there are a lot of different factors to consider if you’re going rafting for the first time. How do I know what company I should book with? Where should I go rafting? What should I bring with me? Never fear, these 6 tips will help you properly plan for your first rafting trip to make sure that you have an excellent first experience!

Assess Comfort in the Water

One of the most important things to consider before going rafting for the first time is “how comfortable am I in the water?” Now, you don’t need to be an Olympic class swimmer to enjoy rafting. In fact, most of the time you won’t end up “going for a swim” unless you purposefully jump out of the boat!

However, if you do end up going for an unintended swim through rapids, having a basic knowledge of how to float and swim is key for having a safe trip. 

Selecting a Rafting Guide Company

Selecting a Rafting Guide Company

Now that you have assessed your comfort in the water, it’s time to figure out how you are going to go down river! Unless you own a raft or know someone who does, you’ll most likely book your first trip with a rafting guide service.

Here are a few ways to find an awesome raft guide company:

  1. Google search “Raft Guides in (where you plan on going rafting)” and see what pops up.
  2. Always check the reviews. Look for reviews that talk about how the experience was. 
    • Did the guides provide good service? 
    • Was the company responsive to the questions people had?
  3. If you are already in the area that you intend to go rafting, talk with the hotel concierge to find out which raft guiding companies they recommend. This is one of the best ways to find a raft guide company, because locals talk to each other and know what the most current news is among rafting companies in the area.

River Classification System

River Classification System

Now that you have selected a raft guide company to take you down the river for the first time, it is time to figure out what sort of trip you want to go on. Are you looking for a mellow float down the river with a few fun splashes thrown in along the way? Or are you more interested in a fast-paced thrill ride? Knowing which style of trip you want to go down will help you determine whether you want to go down Class I or Class V rapids. Below is a short description of each class of rapid to help you make the best decision for your first trip:

  1. Class I: Are you interested in a peaceful float down river with little chance of going for an unintended swim? Do you want to sit back and relax while your guide rows the boat down the river? Then Class I is for you. Class I can be fun for people that have limited comfort in the water, because the water is mostly flat and slow. Typically, guides will row the boat, so you don’t need to worry about paddling at all!
  2. Class II: Want a little more excitement compared to Class I? Class II sections tend to have flat sections like in Class I, but have a few splashy waves thrown in along the way. Depending on the season that you end up going, Class II waves can be big and rowdy or small and playful. Most of the time, guides will row the boat down the river and won’t require that you paddle.
  3. Class III: This is the entry level for adrenaline seekers. Class III sections are defined by their big waves and fun technical sections. Are you looking to be an active participant in the trip? Good! Rafts going down Class III and above usually require that guests paddle due to the narrow sections of river that make rowing impossible. Don’t worry, your guide will still be in control of steering the raft, they’ll just need you to provide the power!
  4. Class IV: If you are after big waves, thrilling drops, and remote stretches of river, Class IV is for you. This class of river is challenging and will require that guests are in good shape to paddle through big sections. Being comfortable in the water is a must with this section due to the potential for falling out of the raft on bigger waves.
  5. Class V: True adventure and adrenaline seekers only! Class V sections are the most thrilling, difficult, and dangerous. Big waves and technical water await those who dare to venture down Class V rapids. Only those who are confident in the water should go down these sections due to the high risk of falling out of the boat on large wave sections.

When Should You Go?

When Should You Go

Most people tend to go rafting during the summer. When you go in the summer may have a large impact on the quality of your trip. Below are some considerations to make when deciding when you want to go rafting.

  1. Early Summer: Water levels will be high because of the run-off of snow going into the river. The water will also be colder as well. Most guide services provide guests with neoprene wetsuits and splash jackets to keep you warm during the early season.
  2. Mid-Summer: Water levels have come down a bit and the river won’t be running as fast compared to earlier in the season. This is often the best time to go because the water has warmed up a bit and will feel very nice on a hot summer day.
  3. Late-Summer: Water levels have come down significantly compared to early in the season. Depending on area that you want to raft, water levels may have gone down to a point where the section is no longer runnable. These trips are nice for beginners though, because the waves aren’t as big and the water is much warmer.

What to Bring/Wear

What to BringWear

You have now decided when and where to go rafting for the first time. Great! But what should you bring on your trip? Rafting companies will provide the necessary safety items like helmets, Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs), and wetsuits, but in order to maximize your first time on the river, be sure to bring the following items:

  1. Quick Drying Swimwear – Quick dry material like polyester is a must on the river. Even in the summertime, wind blowing against wet clothing can make you cold quickly. Having quick dry swimwear will help you stay warm after your done rafting for the day.
  2. Sunglasses with a Strap – The sun can be blinding in some points on the river, so to make sure that you get to enjoy all the views, bring a pair of sunglasses. It’s also recommended that you have a strap to keep your sunglasses from falling into the river accidentally. Companies like Croakies sell inexpensive sunglass straps to keep your sunglasses on your head and not in the river!
  3. Waterproof Sunscreen – There is nothing worse than going rafting all day to come back and see that you have been burnt to a crisp by the sun! Bringing waterproof sunscreen is a must to make sure that your skin remains uncooked.
  4. Proper River Footwear – Footwear keeps your feet safe from sharp rocks that might cut your feet when walking to the riverbank to get into the raft. A pair sandals that you can strap onto your feet is better than open back sandals, because if you do end up going for a swim, your sandals will stay on your feet!
  5. Towels and a Change of Clothes – After you have returned from an awesome day of rafting, it’s really nice to dry off with a towel and have a fresh, dry set of clothing to change into. 
  6. Water Bottle – Staying hydrated on the river is a must, especially if you are exerting yourself all day! Most water bottles will be fine, but the best water bottles are those that have a hard loop on them. This will allow you to secure it onto the raft with a locking-carabiner so that your water bottle doesn’t accidently go into the river! 
  7. Waterproof Camera with a Strap – You’ll definitely want to remember your time on the river and what better way to do that then to have a waterproof camera along with you. You could bring your phone in a waterproof case, however to reduce the risk of losing or damaging your phone, consider bringing along a disposable waterproof camera.

What to Expect on Your Trip

What to Expect on Your Trip

You’ve booked your trip and now you’re ready for the best part; rafting! Once you arrive to the guide headquarters, you will be fitted for the gear that you’ll need for the trip: 

  • Helmet
  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
  • Wetsuit (depending on the location of the river and water temperature)

Once everyone in your party has their equipment checked out to them, you’ll likely get a safety talk for the river. Your guide will inform you on everything that you need to know to be safe on the river. They will start by instructing you on how to properly wear your PFD and work through how to properly enter the raft as well as how to safely use your paddles. 

After you’ve gotten your safety talk, it’s time to go rafting! Enjoy the scenery, soak in the sun, paddle hard, and have fun! 

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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