River trips are participatory experiences

Essential Eligibility Criteria

This is a list of the minimum physical and mental capabilities that all trip members should possess before participating in one of our trips.

Everyone should be able to:

  • properly fit into and wear a Type V Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device with a maximum chest size of 56 inches
  • maintain balance while seated in an inflatable whitewater boat while going through rapids
  • get in and out of an inflatable boat multiple times per day
  • hold their breath while underwater and regain control of their breathing after repeated submersion under waves or currents
  • orient themselves into proper position (face up, feet up, feet downstream) when floating in their personal floatation device in whitewater or turbulent current
  • get out from under an inflatable boat while in the river
  • move themselves through whitewater or turbulent current and actively participate in an in-river self-rescue situation by receiving a rescue rope, paddle, or human assistance
  • assist with the rescue of others who may have fallen into the river by pulling them back into the boat
  • independently navigate natural shoreline terrain including steep embankments, uneven surfaces, slippery ground, and unstable footing.
  • carry personal belongings, either independently or with the assistance of a companion, between the boats and campsites along the river
  • care for their own personal health and well-being, either independently or with the help of a companion, by monitoring fluid and caloric intakes, administering medications, and remaining properly dressed for changing conditions
  • follow instructions given by our guides during potentially stressful situations

More rigorous physical and mental capabilities may be required to participate in certain trips under certain conditions. The high flows and inclement weather that we often encounter on spring and early summer Illinois, Tuolumne, Selway, and Middle Fork Salmon trips require everyone to also:

  • be in good health, agile, coordinated, and capable of taking care of themselves in rough water (self-rescue).
  • have no current risk factors associated with heart disease or other heart conditions
  • get regular vigorous cardio-vascular and aerobic exercise
  • be at least 15 years old and weigh over 100 pounds
  • not be afraid of the water or of swimming
  • be aware of and be mentally prepared for the rigors of the trip

These criteria are to help ensure your safety and the success of our trips and are applied uniformly to everyone. If you do not meet these criteria, you should not go. We are committed to making reasonable modifications for individuals with disabilities or others as long as those modifications can be made without compromising the overall safety of the trip. If you are concerned about your eligibility, please call us (209-962-7873).


Here are some additional situations that occur frequently enough on our trips that you should consider them when making a decision about joining us:

Falling out of the raft – If you go on a whitewater rafting trip, you should be willing to fall out of the raft and into the river in the middle of a rapid. On some rivers under some conditions, we can reduce the chance of falling out to almost zero, but we can never completely eliminate that chance. Everyone will be wearing a personal floatation device while rafting and our guides will instruct you on proper swimming/floating/rescue technique, so the ability to swim is not a requirement. The best way to combat a fear of falling in is to get more comfortable in the water before the trip (go to the pool, take swimming lessons, etc.) and to get in the river voluntarily early in the trip.

Encounters with wild animals – Most of our trips take place in wilderness areas that are home to wild animals including poisonous reptiles and insects. While we often see bears, we rarely have any issues with them. We occasionally see rattlesnakes, but we rarely have any issues with them. We are commonly dealing with wasps, bees, gnats, and mosquitoes; if you have a known allergy, we expect you to bring TWO applications of appropriate medication (epinephrine, etc.) and keep one with you at all times and give the other to our guides.

Weather conditions – We will be outdoors for almost the entire trip and exposed to a variety of natural elements and conditions. There is potential for hypothermia and dehydration on every trip; sometimes both on the same trip. If you bring the appropriate gear as described in the trip details and you follow appropriate procedures as given by our guides, your comfort and safety will be greatly increased.

Communication – We will be away from standard communication options for the majority of the trip. No cell coverage, no wi-fi, no internet. We carry a variety of communication devices that are only available for our use in emergency situations. If you feel a need to communicate with the outside world during your trip, you will need to provide your own communication device.  You can learn more about your options here.

General fitness level – Some of our trips are very demanding and should only be considered by active, healthy, fit participants. Other trips are less demanding and suitable for almost everyone. All of our trips are more fun and less risky for people who get regular exercise and are comfortable in the water. Every year we have guests who use their river trip as motivation to improve their physical conditioning.

Social Contract – Successful small group expeditions require teamwork, cooperation, and mutual respect. We have put together an informal Social Contract that outlines desired guest behavior on our trips.