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While some consider whitewater rafting an extreme sport, others see it as a meditative journey. The disconnect from the ordinary world and complete immersion in the sights, sounds and smells of the river is an expansive sensory experience and reminder of the vast, wild nature all around us. Ignite your primitive instincts and sense of wonder with the juxtaposition of survival and surrender on the river.
On the exterior, rafting may seem like a means of transportation – a way to travel from point A to point B – but underneath you’ll discover that whitewater rafting is an unordinary way to bend time and access a portal to your inner peace, connection with nature and intimate joy.
To reach this state of wonder and experience the river like a pro, it’s imperative to dedicate your attention to a few key factors prior to your journey. Relative to many outdoor adventures, the phrase “know before you go” greatly applies.
Research the prospective rivers, whitewater rafting services, climates and safety precautions. Many overnight rafting trips require a permit obtained through www.recreation.gov. The amount of permits issued are regulated to protect the rivers and surrounding areas. American Whitewater is a great resource to determine which rivers (and/or river segments) require a permit. If you’re interested in rafting with a commercial outfitter, a quick Google search will provide a list of outfitters eager to guide you down the whitewater.
Packing proper gear, food and safety equipment will ensure a positive experience and set your group up for success. For starters, a personal flotation device (or PFD), water shoes, sunglasses, reef safe sunscreen and protective clothing are critical (read on for our list of favorite KUHL summer items).
Planning the logistics ahead of time, creating shared documents for all adventurers to access and creating checklists to account for the essentials ensures everyone is on the same page. No matter how many people are involved, communication and planning is essential for a seamless rafting experience. Better planning = more fun!
Experience and have fun. What wildlife might you see? Could you forage for native plants? Have you gazed at the stars lately? Would it be fun to surprise the group with a “fancy” river cocktail or mocktail. Perhaps enjoy an evening dance party with streamers and champagne!
Create a Rafting Checklist – Whether your rafting checklist is in plain sight on the kitchen counter or created digitally in a shared drive, creating a landing zone for all the personal and group “to-dos” is imperative. Additionally, creating a shared spreadsheet for everyone to access collective information such as breakfast and dinner assignments, gear responsibilities and river information is a great way to get everyone “on board.”
Check (or rent) your rafting gear – Make sure your watercraft is in tip top shape! Inflate rafts and inflatable kayaks to determine that the vessels are in tip top shape. Make sure all safety gear is gathered and ready. Paddles and throw bags are a must!
Assess Logistics – Reference maps, identify where the “put-in” is located and determine the driving route to arrive at the chosen destination. Most rivers have a shuttle service to transfer your vehicle from the put-in to the take-out and it’s important to book the shuttle service in advance. This way, your vehicle will be at the “take out,” aka your final destination, when you arrive.
Brainstorm the menu – FOOD, FOOD, FOOD! The fun really starts when the group starts planning meals. Typically on a group rafting trip, breakfasts and dinners are assigned to groups of 1 or more depending on the number of people and number of nights on the river. Determine who brings “the kitchen,” how the meals are split up and which cooking essentials will be shared versus what items may be independent of the group – BYOB!
Stoke the excitement with a group chat. It’s fun to share your packing and planning process with the squad. This will also enable everyone to support each other and build a sense of community.
Schedule a planning call to cover all bases including safety, logistics and meal planning. A video call is like a “rafting pre-party.” Vibes are high and questions are answered. Logistics questions may include, “What time are we meeting at the put-in?”, “Are we camping the night before we launch on the river?”, “Who wants to carpool?”. Safety questions may include, “Who is Swift Water Rescue Trained?”, “Who is CPR trained?”, “Will anyone be bringing a satellite phone?”, “Does everyone have an emergency kit on their boat?”.
Determine who is responsible to bring communal gear. Some folks choose to bring “the kitchen,” some may offer to bring solar charging stations or some may offer to bring the groover, aka “loo with a view.” Leaving no trace is key to any outdoor adventure so that means absolutely no poopin’ in the river.
The stoke is high and it always feels like a scramble leading up to the departure date of a big river trip. Because river trips are self-supported and largely in the middle of the wild, desolate lands lacking cell phone reception, it’s up to you to be 100% dialed beforehand.
Last minute check lists – Are the batteries charged? Do you have fresh ice in the cooler? Is it going to rain? What are the high and low temperatures? Who is bringing the tequila?!
Gather bonus goodies for fun times such as binoculars for wildlife viewing, a fly rod to catch fresh fish, a speaker for dance parties and yahtzee for campfire games.
Consider rafting “luxury camping.” Don’t forget your favorite camp gear!
Pack your favorite KUHL apparel. Of course, KUHL has a wide array of versatile pieces perfect for rafting, camping and hiking all in one trip.
Many rivers are protected under the National Wild and Scenic River Act as Wild and Scenic Rivers. It’s imperative to leave the river better than you found it. Consider fire regulations, fishing restrictions and other various precautions found on www.rivers.gov and www.recreation.gov to respect the wild places we love and enjoy. Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics are critical to honoring the river so make sure to pack it in and pack it out.
Whitewater rafting is an incredible way to experience freedom from your day to day life and independence as you weather the waters. The river is healing and invigorating, exciting and dangerous. If you’ve never experienced a day on the water or an overnight river immersion, take a leap of faith and dive into researching and connecting with the river community. It’s a way to wild places like a pioneer and make memories you can tell stories about.