If you’re planning on whitewater rafting for the first time, there are things you can do leading up to your adventure to make the experience more safe and fun, even before you reach the river. The best way to prepare for your first whitewater raft ride can be divided into two parts: The initial planning before the trip, and what to do when you’re actually in the raft.
In the weeks and months leading up to your first whitewater rafting experience, planning is key. While whitewater rafting is a fun outing, it also can be dangerous at times, so safety is of the utmost importance. Making the right decisions early can absolve any questions. Let’s take a closer look at some important pre-planning do’s and don’ts.
Choose Your Guide
The first step to planning any whitewater rafting trip is to select a professional guide for your summer outing. Choosing the right guide can make or break your rafting experience. A seasoned whitewater rafting company will be knowledgeable about the local rivers and provide the proper safety and first aid equipment like helmets and life vests. Rafts, paddles and other equipment should be of good quality and properly maintained. Many companies will offer gear rentals like wet suits and dry bags as well.
Choose a trip package that’s appropriate for the age and skill level of your group. Rafting companies should have a varying selection of trips, so talk to your outfitter about what’s best for you. Making your plans as soon as possible and booking in advance can also help ensure you get the trip you want. Also, keep in mind that late-spring and early-summer trips offer more aggressive rapids while late-summer outings provide calmer waters.
Exercise Your Body
Whitewater rafting is a fun, exhilarating adventure, but it also takes a lot of paddling. Plan on giving your arms, shoulders, back, legs and core a good workout. If you’re looking to do a little pre-trip training, here are some areas to focus on.
Include extensive stretching exercises in your plan. Spend at least five minutes stretching at the beginning and end of each workout. Flexibility and strength are equally important when whitewater rafting because you’ll be twisting and turning with all that paddling.
Cardio and high-intensity interval training can get you ready for the demands of the river. Exercises like burpees, elliptical, jogging, jumping rope, spinning and swimming laps are all great ways to get an appropriate burst and build your cardiovascular health. Feel the burn and boost your endurance, and you’ll thank us later.
Do push-ups, pull-ups and chest presses to build muscles for paddling. Upper-body training is key, but work in some planks and side planks to work the muscles you’ll need to lean into your paddling. Working your legs with forward and backward lunges along with squats and back squats can help improve your overall strength.
Pack Your Bags
If you’re heading to the mountains for a whitewater rafting ride, you’ll be able to pack light. There are only a few key items other than your regular vacation gear. Here’s what you’ll need to pack in your suitcase for a whitewater adventure.
- Sunscreen (Use SPF 50 or better, and apply it early and often. It’s recommended that you reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. So-called “waterproof” sunscreen needs to be reapplied every 45-90 minutes)
- Sunglasses with a safety retention strap
- Swimsuit (a one-piece is recommended for women)
- A towel
- Comfortable footwear (An older pair of shoes or sandals are best. Socks are recommended to avoid sunburn on your feet. Avoid Crocs and flip-flops.)
- A water bottle (Two 32-ounce bottles are best. Many rafts have D-rings to attach your water bottle, so bring a carabiner clip for each bottle. It’s imperative that you stay hydrated on the river.)
- Dry clothes
It’s best to pack waterproof layers, so you can add and remove layers as needed. More loose clothing like fleece and micro fleece, wool, and polyester and poly-blends are recommended because they dry quickly. Stay away from cotton clothing and anything with a hood, like a rain coat or poncho.
For added protection, wear a lightweight shirt with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 30 or higher. Additional items like water shoes, wet suits and dry bags can be rented from the whitewater rafting guide company. A wet suit can provide additional warmth in cooler waters, and dry bags can be used to keep your gear and other valuables dry while on the river. It’s also best to keep jewelry, watches, wallets and cell phones out of the raft.
Get in the Raft
When you arrive at your whitewater destination, it’s time to get in the raft. Listen to your guide. Your guide is experienced and knows the river well. Stay alert and pay attention to what your guide has to say. He or she will have valuable tips and tricks to share before hitting the rapids. They will teach your group a series of commands to use while on the water. They will also get you lined out with all of your safety gear and paddle. If you have any additional questions, now’s the time to ask.
You should be equipped with a life jacket and a helmet. Your floatation device needs to be snug enough to your body that it will not go over your head. Even though helmets are not required on some rides, it’s best to wear one at all times.
You will also be given a T-grip paddle for most trips. Prior to heading out, your guide should give you paddling advice and let you know what to expect on the journey. Your guide will explain paddling and how to work as a team. They will even explain what to do if someone falls out of the raft.
Along the way, your guide may share stories and history about whitewater rafting in the area. Many times, these stories are one of the best parts of the trip. Be friendly and keep a positive attitude and you should have an unforgettable experience.