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Float Tripping 101: A First-Timer's Guide

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Individual floating tubes on Salt River in Arizona

What would you think if I said to you: “Let’s go on a float trip!” Some of you might be hearing this phrase for the first time and respond, “A what?” Others would say, “Heck yeah!” and then wonder why that other person is so confused. (The latter is likely my fellow Missourians and those who enjoy water activities.)

I have been on many a float trip. Growing up in Missouri where “floating” was invented, days in which you’d go down a river or creek in an inner tube, raft, kayak or canoe were very common. You planned an afternoon with friends or family, brought along lunch and drinks and spent some quality time in the sun.

Floating is done in many other areas now. And if you want to see the natural views of a new place, this activity is a great way to do so. I recently went tubing with some friends on the Salt River near Phoenix, Arizona, and it was the most beautiful float trip I’ve ever been on! (Most of Missouri's waterways have a lot of brush surrounding them. This river, however, had open areas with cacti, mountains and even wild horses!)

Canoeing on Missouri's rivers

So if you’re thinking about going on a float trip to catch the last rays of summer, here are some steps you should take:

1. “Book” your float trip.

If you have your own kayaks/rafts and want to use them, do it! Most rivers/creeks have put-in spots available to everyone. Just be sure to drop off a vehicle that can carry your flotation devices at your river exit area. (Those who get their equipment through a company will automatically be transported on a bus to the put-in area and be picked back up again at the end.)

If you don’t own flotation devices, find a company that does. Just keep in mind that water rafting is typically a different activity, as it’s often all about the rapids! There might be some small rapids on a scenic float trip, but it’s much more relaxed. Check how booked a company is on the day you’re going as well. It might be best for your group to go at an earlier or later time. Price usually varies, but I would say the average is around $20 per person or it's priced per raft.

2. Pack for your float trip.

This is a very important step, as I’ve seen many people forget to pack the essentials. You don’t need much (though you always need sunblock), but consider bringing:

• Rope: If the company provides individual tubes, you’re going to want to bring rope to hook everyone together, or at least your storage tube to you. In Arizona, we watched many people come unprepared and have to hold onto the other tubes going down.

• A Cooler with Food/Drinks: It’s going to be hot on the river/creek, and float trips can be 2-6 hours or more. Even if it’s a 2-hour trip, though, people are likely going to get hungry and thirsty. So pack some food and drinks, and use a cooler, preferably a waterproof one, to keep everything fresh.

• Waterproof Bags: You never know when something or someone is going to fall in, and you'll want to protect your electronic devices and other items. I recently saw one guy take his wallet out of his pocket at the end of his float, and it (and everything in it) was completely ruined. If you bring your phone, always put it in a waterproof phone case.

• Music/A Speaker: Music is such a key part of the fun of floating, so be sure to bring along a waterproof speaker and a designated phone with all the tunes. And don't forget to download the songs in advance — there's a 99% chance you won't have service. Your group will enjoy the trip more (and so will other people who didn’t think to bring a speaker!). There’s nothing like hearing a chorus of “Chicken Fried” on the water.

3. Relax, chat and enjoy the ride.

Floating is a great way to spend quality time with others outside in the summer. For those of you who think these trips are just for hicks or super outdoorsy people, I'd ask you just to try it! You may be surprised how much fun you have and how much you want to plan another afternoon drifting lazily down a river.



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