When Are You Ready for Class 5 Rafting?

Posted July 20, 2021 by Emily Vernizzi, river enthusiast and Armstrong cousin

To Class 5, or not to Class 5, that is the question…

So you have your eye on some Class 5 whitewater, but you’re unsure if you’re ready for it. There’s no exact formula to calculate a cleancut answer, but let’s talk it out…

The best way to prepare for Class 5: RAFT!

You don’t necessarily need to start from the bottom and work your way all the way up, but the ultimate way to hone your skills and gain confidence in the raft is to get out on some less-intimidating rivers. The most popular All-Outdoors progression is South Fork American River -> Middle Fork American River -> Tuolumne River -> Cherry Creek. All of these rivers have reliable seasons with dam-controlled water flows, which means they’re ready for you to work your way up. (Don’t forget the additional amazing seasonal opportunities on free-flowing spring rivers, such as the Merced, North Fork Stanislaus, or the Kaweah, as well!)

Rafting the smaller whitewater will introduce you to paddle technique, guide commands, how to stay in the raft, and you’ll learn what to expect during a rapid. Experience is not required, but it is strongly recommended. If you have not been rafting before, the following points become all the more important.

when are you ready for class 5 whitewater rafting
Left to right: North Fork of the Stanislaus, Kaweah, and Tuolumne Rivers.

No Hulks necessary, but…

Class 5 rafting is going to be physical! You don’t need to be a beefy gym beast or an IronMan athlete, but you will need to be ready and able to paddle hard. Each sport has its own form of athleticism, so being an accomplished skier or surfer doesn’t always translate to being a good rafter, but being athletic and coordinated is important, especially if you do not have prior rafting experience. Staying in your seat and in the right position on the raft is key in Class 5 rapids. Additionally, every paddle stroke matters, so it’s important to be ready to bring your A-game to “hit the lines” (navigate the best route through a rapid) and power through the waves (yeehaw!).

Class 5 Upper Tuolumne

Mental fortitude

You’re going to see some big, technical whitewater. Come mentally prepared to get yourself and your boatmates through these rapids successfully. It is extremely important to keep a level head, listen to your guides, and react without hesitation – Class 5 rapids don’t often offer time to stop and think “Does ‘left turn’ mean I back-paddle or forward-paddle?” You need to be all ears and ready to get moving! Sometimes the guide commands will go against your instincts, but trust your guides and give them the paddle support they need.

Class 5 whitewater rafting

Ya Gotta Swim!

For the safety of yourself and your fellow trip members, you need to be comfortable in water and able to confidently get yourself from Point A to Point B in moving water. On our Class 5 river trips, all participants will partake in a swim practice at the start of the day to make sure everyone can hang with swimming across the swift-moving river and get back into the boat. Should you fall out of the raft at any point throughout the day, it is important that you’ll be able to keep your cool, get through the immediate situation, and help yourself to the shore or back to the boat. To help mentally prepare, check out our blog post about what to do if you fall out of the raft.

rafting swim test before class 5 rapids

In good hands

Class 5 rivers may look intimidating in pictures and videos, but with a solid team of physically and mentally prepared paddlers paired with our extremely experienced guide team, you’re in for a day of poetry in the form of a whitewater raft trip.

Class 5 White Water Rafting

There’s no one formula to determine when you’re ready for Class 5 whitewater rafting. The first step is wanting a Class 5 experience. Don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone just to say you did because ultimately, you’re going to have the best time on the trip you feel most comfortable with. A warm-up on a Class 4 rafting trip is quite an enjoyable way to “practice!”

If you want to chat it out with one of our California Rafting Consultants, give us a call at (800) 247-2387.


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