How do I choose an Outfitter for my family or group?

How do I choose a California river rafting Outfitter for my family or group?

That is a great question!  There are a number of different choices for outfitters in California, the US, and the world. What 06-04-2013_SFA_SC_WWE_I00050009type of rafting trip are you looking and what is the adventure level of your group, are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself and your trip participants.  When you’re ready to make an investment into an adventure for you, your family, company, or a group of friends, it’s important that you choose the right company.

Not all whitewater rafting outfitters are created equal.

Surfers have their favorite surf spots, and whitewater rafters have their favorite outfitters, and for a quite a few different reasons.  When you compare outfitters, your first step should be to ask yourself:  what are important factors to me, and what do I want to get out of this trip. Factors that would be a the top of most lists would include: safety, experience, different options of trips, equipment, dedication to guest service, cost, facilities – camp areas, and most of all the feel of the first contact with the reservation staff. Do you get a good feeling talking to them? This one is often overlooked.  There are also the considerations of availability, difficulty level, and are you going to be camping also or just coming for the day.

Let’s tackle the American River.

Choosing an American River Outfitter can be a confusing endeavor to say the least. There are quite a few rafting companies that offer whitewater trips on each of the 3 different forks of the American, each with a different philosophy and culture.  How do you choose between them?

Go online and do some research.

What I would suggest first (you most likely have already done this in getting to this page) is go online and get a feel of what some companies are like, what they offer, how many years have they been in business.  Many of the companies on the American river have been operating for quite a while, but others just a few years.  Does there web site look organized and professional?  Does it answer questions and give you good information, or is it just trying to sell you a rafting trip. Check out some reviews on Yelp or Trip Travel Advisor; look at their Facebook page for informational posts, not just selling or specials.

Give them a Call and Talk to them.

After you narrow down your choices, the next step would be to give them a call and to personally talk with their reservation staff.  Are they friendly, do they answer all your questions, are they pushy or don’t seem like they have the time to answer all your questions?  You can get a great feel for the company by their reservation staff, as it usually will translate into the guide staff on the river, at the camp, and their overall level of customer service. Another important factor to consider – is the owner of the company on hand and does he or she still guide.  There are a few owners who are on site each and every day, some even still guide the trips – why is this important?  Well, it is saying something if an owner is actively involved in the operation.  Some owners have been in business over 40 years and still love to guide and interact with their guests. They will make sure that everything is near perfect for you and your group.

Safety and Experience are always big considerations,

Ask how experienced the guides are: some 10 year guides are no better than some first year guides; however, having a good core of well trained, experienced guides is a must.  Training is also a big factor.  Does the company train their own guides or rely on others.  Quite often a first year guide that has been trained well by their company can be a bright, energetic addition to the trip (and you) that will make your trip super fun.  Companies are required to have guides trained at a minimum in first aid and CPR.  Some will have WFR (8 day wilderness first aid course certification), EMTs, and even paramedics. Some companies often use non-regular guide staff (guides from other companies) on busy days (called rent-a-guides), while others use only in house guide staff, a pretty big deal.  What kind of safety equipment do they bring on the trip?  Some companies bring a first aid and repair kits only, while other companies bring in addition to those, satellite and cell phones, SPOT devices, river rescue kits, and one even has AED’s (Automated External Defibrillator) on board. Do they require helmets on their class 3 trips?  Some do and some don’t, wearing helmets adds another little safety feature that could help save and/or reduce an injury.  Whitewater rafting does have inherent risks associated with it and some of those risks just cannot be taken out of the equation, however, the more constants that are in the equation, equals a much safer trip.

Cost is another big consideration.

Don’t let that be your deciding factor, however, as a lot of companies are within a few dollars of each other. Some of the big discounters, even the Group-On type “deals” are not really deals if you do some math with other company’s group, family,  or weekly discounts.  What are they offering, most day trips on the South Fork American and Middle Fork American River raft the same stretch of river, and so how are they different for each other?  What do they serve for lunch (bargain brands or National Brands – like mayonnaise (I’m a mayo snob, I only like Best Foods mayonnaise))?  What about other meals if you are on a multi-day trip?  Some companies go all out and some quite frankly do not.  Little things like avocados (some serve them and some don’t due to cost), and what they serve you at the end of the day for the bus ride back?  Do they just hand you a water bottle, or are there other options like soda, Gatorade, Capri suns.  There is even a company that serves snacks like snickers and other candy bars for their bus ride back.  These are little things, I know, but if they are important to you, then they can lead you to the right outfitter for you and give you value for your hard earned dollars. Some invest heavily in their facilities.  Others don’t.  Surprisingly, though, the difference in rafting trip prices is often only a few dollars, and in some cases, the lower rafting price might be available with the full-service rafting outfitter. But either way, the larger outfitter is most often able to provide you not only the greatest flexibility in trip choice, but also the superior facilities and amenities that you should expect from a professional whitewater rafting outfitter on the American river. Some companies offer what is called a Preferred Guest Discount.  When you raft once with one of these outfitters, you then get special pricing for future trips, which can be as much as a 20% savings.  If you are able to organize and book your trip early, say in January, a few companies offer as much as a 25% discount off the trip.  Again, DO THE MATH!  Some great online deals might not be so great, and you might even pay more!

Facilities

This area is where many differences between companies show up, their Camp Area and/or Meeting Area.  A lot of Our Facilitiescompanies have their own camp/meeting area, some right on the banks of the river, and others not right on the river, often 100’s of yards away from the river. Some have camps in public campgrounds where the general public can come in, while some have private campgrounds that only serve their rafting guests. While some companies don’t have their own camp and meet guests beside the road somewhere with no facilities.  Also, a few river rafting companies on the American river have full time, dedicated camp hosts to show you to the camp area and answer questions when you arrive, and are around the camp most of the day (and night).  Some just have a list up and you need to find the camp on your own. Private Camp areas are by far the best, because only the companies rafting guests will be there giving the camp a real rafting sense.  Does their camp/meeting area offer small items that you may have forgotten?  A big thing now a day, do they offer free Wi-Fi and free cell phone charging stations?  Want to experience a multi-day trip, but you are not too much into camping on the ground.  A few rafting outfitters have deluxe outfitter cabin tents on decks overlooking the river with comfortable cots and pads, a total upgrade from the ground.  One outfitter even has a “Honeymoon” cabin tent that has a queen bed, night stands, lamps and all on a deck overlooking the river – wow, now you don’t have any excuses. Also, a few American River rafting companies have their own dedicated camp cooks, which makes a huge difference with meals and customer service.

Equipment

What kind of rafts do the companies use, are they 6, 7 or 8 person rafts, and how old are they (rafts can last a long time and if they are taken care of, and perform just fine).  Are they industry standard rafts?  Each has their advantages and disadvantages.  If you have a family of 8 that want to raft together, most companies will put you all in the same raft.  However some companies will have custom designed rafts for 8 that do not “squeeze you in like sardines”.  Others use large rafts even on normal water flows, while others use smaller sized rafts that are much wetter rafts and give that sports car feel without jeopardizing safety, of course.  Their vans and busses are they fairly new or are they from a far distant time and place?  Are they inspected by the Highway Patrol?  Are their vans newer with air conditioning for rides to and from the Middle Fork of the American? What about wet suits for spring trips and high water conditions?  Again, a mixed bag, most will rent them to you for about $20 or so, while a few offer them as part of the rafting trip (FREE!).  Watch out – sometimes you get what you pay for and you might actually pay more with a discount oriented rafting company.

Trip Options – Family Friendly

This is also an important factor in choosing an outfitter.  Some companies run cookie cutter operations, offering very few options, while others can have 5-6 different options for, say, the South Fork of the American river.  Some will customize a trip for you with whatever you want to do, which is great, as cookie cutters only want to steer you toward the trip they want you to be on vs. what you really want to do.  Ask, Ask, And Ask.  Do they offer trips for younger kids, and do they have the “right fit” guides to work with the little ones?  Why are options so important to you?  If the whitewater outfitter offers lots of different rafting trip options and on different rivers, your chances of settling on the perfect rafting trip on the perfect stretch of whitewater (considering the ages, experience and needs of the group) are tremendously enhanced.  Plus, if you have a great experience with that rafting company, you can look forward to going back again and again, enjoying the same great service, having the same quality guides (sometimes, the actual same guide)but on an exciting new trip each time.

Are you ready to get on the river this year?  

Do your homework, do the math, and ask questions, lots of them.  Find the right river rafting company that you feel good about and you will be on your way to a fantastic adventure.

Keep Posted for our brand new informational Must’s!

Insider’s Guide to the American river – for first timers and longtime rafters.  It will be packed with information about insider guide screen shot rafting, camping, what else to do in the area, other lodging options, where to eat with photos of local establishments favorite meals and goodies.  Just information – no selling! Coming soon!

  Ask “FLASH” – our Answer man.  

We have answered over  120 of the most common  questions that guests  ask before, during, and  after their trips.  If you have questions about river  rafting, stay tuned and  Ask “FLASH”.  If he cannot answer you right then,  he will research it  and  get right back to you! Again no selling just  questions answered and  information given. Coming  real soon!

flash close up for wweblog answers I hope that this helps, as always if you have questions about this  information, or have other  questions about river trips, please feel free to E-Mail me, I am always  here to help no matter  what or where your river adventure is to taking you.

Hope to see you on the river this year,

Flash  (over 30 years of river rafting experience around the world and back)

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