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River Rafting Tips from the Pros

Western River Expeditions has been putting people and rafts on rivers since 1961 and they’ve seen it all. To help out the novice rafters, they’ve compiled the following list of nine tips for the beginner when it comes to rafting.

Pack like a minimalist

You really won’t need a third pair of pants or additional sneakers. That extra hoodie? That fifth t-shirt? A second high-powered lens for that camera? Leave all this stuff – and your boom box — at home.


People always seem to over pack by bringing unneeded electronics. The canyon is a dead zone so your cell phone won’t work. That iTunes collection and those Bluetooth headphones only drown out the cool sounds of nature. Wouldn’t you rather listen to the wind, the rippling water and resident wildlife? Without that digital distraction you can have a real conversation. Turn off your lantern and you can see satellites and the Milky Way. A Colorado River rafting trip can be life-changing and inspiring — but only if you let it. Also think about limiting or banning electronic devices for your kids while on the trip. Pack a book instead. Other trip participants will appreciate it.

Bring and Use Your Camera

But be sure to bring a waterproof case or bag. You will want to also bring spare batteries and memory cards. Remember to prepare for a full day on the river, your guide can’t stop the raft in the middle of a rapid so you can change a GoPro battery.


The isolated surroundings of a river rafting trip provide the best place to clear your mind and reconnect with thoughts and emotions that usually are buried and untapped in the bustle and noise of the “civilized” world. Try to take a few moments in the evening to jot down the location of your camp, what impressed you during the day, and what emotions and feelings you may have had. And when the guides start cracking jokes, remember them in writing as well!

river rafting

Ditch the Expensive Duds

So you thought about placing that online order for that high-tech shirt that repels dirt, water and mosquitos and still smells sweet on day six? Forget it. You already own what you probably need. Do you know what guides wear? Thrift store dress shirts with long sleeves and a collar to protect against the hot sun. Most likely they are cotton so they stay wet and cool most of the day.

You Don’t Need a Tent

Of course, one is provided but if it doesn’t call for rain, don’t even unpack it. Why everyone wants to sleep in a tent is something guides will never understand. A stuffy tent in the Utah and Arizona desert can be downright stifling. You will actually sleep happier under the stars. The night sky is breathtaking. Trees and thick vegetation in camp will provide all the privacy walls you’ll need for changing.

Be Prepared to Lose Anything You Bring Along

Use this simple guide for river rafting: if you can’t lose something in camp or in the river without falling into a fit of depression, just don’t bring it with you. Sure, losing a camera or pair of sunglasses can be expensive, it’s the heirloom jewelry or other irreplaceable items that need to be left at home.

Listen to Your Guide

If your guide tells you to drink water all day and wear sunscreen, do both. The first symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, a headache and irritability. No one wants an irritable raft mate and being stuck on the water with other suffering guests can be unpleasant. The happiest campers are those who did not get over-baked and sunburned in the first 20 minutes. If you want to remain happy through day four, be sure to put on sunscreen every day. Also, if guides say not to dive off that rock ledge into the river — DON’T. They all know or have heard stories about that knucklehead who got hurt doing exactly what you may be thinking about doing.


Seriously, relax. It’s why you decided to put your faith in the hands of a professional outfitter and a crew of seasoned guides for your river rafting vacation. They know how to best pull off an extraordinary experience with plentiful, delicious food, expert navigation of the rapids, topnotch equipment and ample time allotted to kick-back and enjoy the unforgettable scenery. Go ahead, pull your hat over your eyes, lean back, and enjoy a rare nap in the sand. You have earned it!

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