11 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started River Guiding

1. Take 15 minutes before cooking dinner to relax

How much does a Middle Fork guide work? 15 hours a day or none, depending on who you ask. Either way, everyone but the guides have downtime. Often the only time you can plan to take a break is before dinner. Relax with your friends and a guide beer on the sweep boat. You earned it.


2. Keep a watch in my zipped shorts pocket.

I learned to carry a cheap waterproof watch in my pocket. I don’t have to wear it, but I always have the time when I really need it. It also helps me sleep. I set it on top of my ammo can which sits right next to my pillow every night. I know the alarm will wake me and I no longer have to sleep close to the kitchen.


3. Bring two sleeping bags

Idaho can feel like winter and summer on the same trip. I bring both a 20 degree down mummy bag and a 40 degree synthetic rectangle bag.

Floating on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River


4. Double up on a tent

Most guides bring their own tent. One option is to carry an unused tent around for most of the summer. I find it’s much easier to just double up with someone on the few nights you need to. That way you carry and set up half as many tents.


5. Get at least 9 hours of sleep each night

Sometimes guides stay up too late with guests. It shouldn’t happen often though for a few reasons. You spend a lot of mental energy guiding. 7 or 8 hours of sleep is not enough. A lack of sleep increases burnout and decreases your ability to deal with adversity.


6. Get stuck on rocks where you want to

This is key. We row big boats down a little river. You’re going to get stuck. Some rocks are far stickier than others. The more you get stuck, the more you get stuck. You make more mistakes when you’re tired and getting unstuck is exhausting. Some spots on the river are nearly impossible to float through at low water. Plan ahead and hang up where you want to.


7. Wear a high floatation PFD

Unless you're hardshell kayaking, it’s a good idea to wear a high floatation PFD. They aren’t marketed as sexy these days but they work far better than low profile PFD’s. It’s extremely uncomfortable to be underwater in a rapid.


8. Bring a wetsuit and snorkel kit

This is my escape on the river. I can explore places very few people have been. I get the elusive cardio workout in. I finish the swim alert, clean, and cool. It’s a much better way to start out shopping for dinner.


9. Bring running shoes and use them.

This will always be the goal for next season.


10. Don’t try to sleep under a kitchen table when it’s raining.

I never did this, Really! I saw other people do it though, to my satisfaction and enjoyment. I won’t say who though*. Sleeping under a table doesn’t work when it’s raining, even when you’re tired. Set up a tent (See #4 for more on this.)


11. Bring no more than one dry bag

Rig, derig. Rig, derig. You’re going to carry a lot of heavy things while guiding. Just my personal things include; an ammo can, a large drybag, a 3” paco pad, my mesh diving bag, and my straw sunhat. Anything else I bring should fit in my drybag.

*It was Drew.

A sweep boat is stuck in The Chutes for nearly 20 minutes.