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Size Matters

By Christopher Pyle

When you are choosing an outfitter for your rafting vacation, there is one basic consideration to take into account: should the the outfitter be a large company or a small company? While this consideration is true of all outdoor vacations, today we will focus on the South Fork of the American River.

There are ups and downs to both choices, so be sure to know what they are before making any decisions. Below are some tips that will help guide you in the right direction for your next vacation.

First and foremost, all rafting companies are equipped with safe guides who are trained professionals.

Second, it is important to define the terms “small” and “large.” For our purposes, any company that rafts more than 1,200 people down the river a year will be defined as “large,” while a company that rafts fewer than 1,199 participants is considered “small.”

Thirdly, for reference purposes, in 2008 some 60,000+ people went down the South Fork of the American River. The largest outfitter ran near 6,000 people (nearly 10% of the total volume) while the smallest ran approximately 200 people. There are thirty-three total companies currently operating on the river.

One of the standout differences between larger and smaller companies is the availability of trips. There is no hard-and-fast rule as to which one is better. A large company can almost always squeeze in a party of one, two, or four, because there is almost always a trip already booked for that time. A small company does not necessarily have this advantage, because the costs may be prohibitive if there is not already a trip running. On the other hand, larger companies may run out of space or permits for those looking to book. This is simply not an issue that smaller companies face.

A smaller company may have the ability to more easily accommodate special requests or customize your trip for you. A larger company cannot always make this accommodation. Your party may only comprise a small percentage of the people that are rafting that weekend. Thus, in order to run things in a smooth manner, they must adhere to their schedules and routine.

Equipment can be a factor as well. Like the guides, ALL rafting equipment adheres to safe, professional standards and is commercial-grade. However, the more often equipment is used, the more wear-and-tear is placed on it, so a large company’s equipment may not be aswellfresh. More importantly, a larger company is going to purchase larger boats in order to accommodate more people and raft in a wide variety of places. A small company may only raft one specific river, and thus, the boats they use are specifically designed to raft that river. Here is a good analogy: if you have the option to drive over a bumpy road with an SUV or a motor scooter, which will provide the bigger, more exciting ride? Boats operate in rivers in a very similar manner.

Pricing cannot be left out of the equation. Due to the enormous amount of rafting providers on the South Fork of the American River, all outfitters need to be price-competitive. However, there are times when a large company can absorb overhead costs that a small outfitter simply cannot. One particular situation like this occurred in 2008. A group asked for a price quote from their regular outfitter, a smaller company. The pricing included two days of rafting, two lunches, dinner, breakfast and camping. The smaller company quoted $250 per person. After shopping around, the group found a larger company that was able to provide the trip for $199 per person, and pricing won out. While the equipment, attitudes, and service varied greatly among the two companies, price was the key factor in the decision. It is important to identify your priorities and then make the calls.

Flexibility is something to think about, and again, there is no clear winner in this category. Given that a large company sees a greater volume of clients, they may or may not be able to meet all of your timing and scheduling needs. A smaller company has much more flexibility in their schedule. However, if you want to run a different river, a smaller company may not be equipped to do this, so you are more likely to have that need accommodated by a larger outfitter.

The final factor to consider is customer service, which can vary tremendously depending on the size of your outfitter. While all providers will have quality staff, larger companies must adhere to stricter schedules, which will certainly pull the attention of their staff. With a small company, you may deal directly with the owner or the small staff, who will remain hands-on throughout the entire process. As in many other industries, a small company will deliver a more intimate environment, while a larger company is more likely to provide a mass experience.

Most importantly, figure out what your priorities are, and then base your decision on what is most important to you. No matter what size you choose, when it comes to deciding on a rafting outfitter, size matters.

Action Whitewater Adventures is the leading small outfitter on the South Fork of the American River. With whitewater trips, summer camps, and outdoor education programs alike, it is no surprise that this family-owned, family-operated company provides world-class service every step of your rafting adventure.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Pyle, Christopher "Size Matters." Size Matters. 17 Aug. 2010. 4 Aug 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Pyle, C (2010, August 17). Size Matters. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Pyle, Christopher "Size Matters"

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