Essential Eligibility Criteria for Grand Canyon Trips

(With Hiking In or Out)

Two women hiking up the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park.

The following are the physical and mental eligibility criteria for all participants on any OARS river trip.

  1. Ability to remain seated and balanced while in a whitewater craft while holding on with at least one hand.
  2. Wear a Type V Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (maximum chest size of 56 inches). Wearing leg straps may be required to ensure proper fit. Where required, properly wear a helmet.
  3. Weigh less than 245 lbs. to ride in a dory.
  4. Ability to independently board and disembark a boat four to ten times each day. This may require stepping into the boat, and then maneuvering your body over and across tubes and fixed objects into a seated position.
  5. Ability to independently navigate shoreline terrain, including safely maneuvering around and across boulders, rocks, and slippery and uneven surfaces, under low branches, and around vegetation. This includes the ability to maintain your balance near precipitous ledges or cliffs.
  6. Ability to independently swim in whitewater or swift currents while wearing a PFD. This includes being an active participant in your own rescue, including having the ability to (a) keep your airway passages sealed while underwater, and regain control of your breathing when being submitted to repeated submersion under waves or currents; (b) orient yourself to new “in-river” surroundings; (c) reposition yourself in the water to different swimming positions; (d) swim aggressively to a boat or to shore in whitewater; (e) receive a rescue rope, paddle, or human assistance, and possibly let go of the same; (f) get out from under an overturned boat.
  7. Ability to swim 100 yards in flat water while wearing a PFD.
  8. Ability to assist another passenger who has fallen out of the boat by pulling them back in.
  9. Ability to follow both verbal and non-verbal instructions given by guides in all situations, including during stressful or dangerous situations, and to effectively communicate with guides and other guests.
  10. Ability to carry personal dry bags and other personal gear (as heavy as 20-30 pounds) uphill from the boats to your camping location and back the next morning, independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member. (This only applies on multi-day trips).
  11. Ability to manage all personal care independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member.
  12. If taking prescription medications, have the ability to maintain proper dosage by medicating independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member.
  13. Ability to remain adequately fed, hydrated, and properly dressed so as to avoid environmental injuries such as hypothermia, heat related illness, sunburn and frostbite.

If you are on a trip that requires you to hike in to meet the trip or hike out to finish your trip, the following physical criteria are:

  1. Ability to walk eight or more miles in a backcountry desert environment, with a backpack carrying all of your belongings for the trip plus sufficient water and food.
  2. Ability to independently navigate rough terrain, including safely maneuvering around and across boulders, rocks, and slippery and uneven surfaces, under low branches, and around vegetation. This includes the ability to maintain your balance near precipitous ledges or cliffs.
  3. Ability to walk and maintain your balance on backcountry hiking trails, including trails with rocks, roots and low branches. The trails are dusty, steep, and present numerous reinforced log steps, loose rocks, and mule excrement. They range in width from 3 to 5 feet with exposed overlooks.
  4. Ability to carry your own pack with a minimum of 2 liters of water, sufficient food, rain gear, insulating layers, sunscreen and all of your belongings for the trip (approx. 20-30 lbs).

The above criteria, if not met, will disqualify a person from participating in a river trip with OARS. The criteria exist for your own safety and that of all trip participants. None of the criteria are meant to discriminate on the basis of any physical or mental disability, and are applied uniformly to all potential trip participants, irrespective of the presence or absence of any disability. OARS is committed to making reasonable modifications to any trip for any persons with a disability, so long as they do not fundamentally alter the nature of the trip.

Further Information About Our Expectations of Trip Participants

The following paragraphs are meant to further inform all potential participants of the expectations for all participants in order to promote a safe, enjoyable experience for everyone on a trip. There may be requirements, whether physical or mental, that are not specifically applied “essential eligibility criteria”, but that help our guests understand the reality of being on a wilderness river trip.

Our primary goal is to minimize the risks associated with adventure trips in a wilderness environment. The trip involves physical exertion and exposure to the elements, including cold water and the potential for heat, sun, wind, rain and snow.  We have experience accommodating people with a wide range of physical disabilities and/or health conditions. However, individuals who are overweight, lack conditioning, or have other physical limitations or ailments that interfere with the realistic encounters on a wilderness river can endanger themselves, other guests, and the guides.  Please consult your doctor if you have medical or health conditions that could impact your ability to participate in this outdoor adventure.

It is very important that each trip participant take an active role in their own safety.  You will likely encounter wilderness conditions that you are unfamiliar with, and those conditions may change rapidly. It is critical to pay attention at all times, to be aware of your surroundings, and to avoid taking unnecessary risks.  Even a non-life threatening injury in a wilderness setting can become a major emergency for you, and can endanger the entire group.  Swimming alone or hiking alone is discouraged.  Excessive alcohol consumption or illicit drug use is not tolerated.  Using common sense, and following both the explicit instruction and the lead of your guides can go a long way towards keeping yourself and the group safe.   Some obvious things to avoid in camp and on shore (by way of example) are: walking around without shoes in camp, approaching wild animals, not paying attention to what is above or around your tent site that could harm you, not paying attention to hazards such as poison oak/ivy and rattlesnakes, and walking near precipitous ledges.

River trips, particularly those involving whitewater, are inherently risky.  While the risk of a trip is part of what makes it an exciting adventure, you must be entirely respectful of the risk that such a trip poses.  It is important that you are confident in your swimming ability, and your ability to stay calm in the event you become a non-voluntary swimmer.  Your odds of becoming a non-voluntary swimmer change with the classification of a rapid, boat selection and environmental factors. On class IV and greater whitewater, the probability that you will become a non-voluntary swimmer is significant.  A swim in whitewater is much more difficult and physically draining than swimming in flat water. Swimming in cold water can cause a gasping effect on your respiratory system. This can be overcome by focusing on your breathing and calming yourself down.  Swimming in cold water will also much more quickly sap your energy and decrease muscle function than swimming in warmer water. While our guides are highly trained and will do their absolute best to rescue you, a successful rescue is greatly hampered by a swimmer who is unprepared for a swim in whitewater, who fails to actively participate in their own rescue, and who is not able to follow directions while under stress.   You will receive a detailed orientation talk at the start of your river trip, but you can get a better idea of what to expect by watching a version of an orientation talk here:

Due to the physical nature of this trip, we highly recommend that you engage in regular exercise for at least three months prior to departure to ensure preparedness. No gym membership required!  Simple exercises like push-ups, sit-ups and squats go a long way to improving core fitness.  Start with these exercises and do three sets of ten repetitions each, three to four times per week.  Aerobic training is also easy to accomplish without expensive equipment.  Take 30 – 40 minutes two to three times a week and go for a brisk walk, easy jog or bike ride around town.  If you have access to a pool, lake or the ocean, swimming is obviously an ideal choice for aerobic exercise.  It provides a full-body workout and is training that is useful in the event of an involuntary swim in a whitewater rapid. It is important to push yourself in the months leading up to your trip by increasing your strength training repetitions and the pace of your aerobic training. Check with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise program to be sure you are medically safe to participate. Starting an exercise program that is more strenuous than you are ready for may result in injury or risk exacerbating existing health conditions.  Getting in shape will certainly add to your enjoyment of the trip.

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