How to Get the ‘Stealth Newbie’ Award on Any River Trip

Three years ago I got a call from a friend who had a last-minute spot open up on a 28-day Grand Canyon trip she was organizing—a.k.a. the trip of a lifetime. With just six weeks to get ready, I went into full preparation mode. From my most trusted pieces of gear to the advice that will keep you on any guide’s good side, here are a few insider tips for how to get the ‘stealth newbie’ award on any river trip.

How to Get the ‘Stealth Newbie’ Award on Any River Trip

1) Learn how to read river maps and follow along as you float downstream. Tom Martin’s guide books are some of the best. They’re durable, waterproof, and chock full of natural history and other fun facts.

2) You’ll be in the sun all day. Take cover in a lightweight, quick-drying shirt like Patagonia’s Sunshade Hoody which will keep you from burning, and function as your personal air conditioner when removed, dunked in the river, and put back on. Also, make sure you have a good sun hat with a chin strap so it will provide shade, but not blow away when you’re barreling through the rapids.

How to Get the ‘Stealth Newbie’ Award on Any River Trip

3) While we’re talking about sun, here’s the best sunscreen for a river trip.

4) Make time to take care of your injuries. On a river trip, even the tiniest cuts and scrapes can turn into menacing infections. My favorite all-purpose healing sidekick is this salve.

5) Be a good guest. Each guide is the captain of his/her own raft, and for the duration of the rafting season these boats are their homes. Take notice of their preferences and respect them like a good guest would. Here’s how you can really wow your river guide:

  • Dunk your feet in the water before hopping in the boat to keep sand and dirt in the raft to a minimum.
  • Pack a few locking carabiners to keep your personal items (water bottles, hats, sandals, etc.) clipped and tidy in the boat.
  • Surprise your guide and fellow passengers with snacks you’ve brought to share (a handful of Snickers Minis goes a long way).

How to Get the ‘Stealth Newbie’ Award on Any River Trip

6) Open up. One of the best parts of a river trip is the community that gets formed while you’re out there. Sing songs, tell jokes, share stories, listen deeply, and get to know your fellow travelers. If you’re a musician, bring your instrument. Bird-nerd, binoculars. Fisherman, fly rod. Artist, watercolors. Pack a hobby to share with your trip comrades.

7) If you really want to go above and beyond, take a swiftwater rescue course. While it’s certainly not necessary before going on a guided rafting trip, if you enjoy recreating on rivers in any capacity, knowing some rescue basics never hurts. Swiftwater safety courses can teach you how to swim out of rapids, read the river, self-rescue, as well as some essential wilderness first-aid skills.

Take this advice to heart and you’ll fit right in on any river trip. In fact, nobody will even suspect you’re a first-timer.