Choosing an Adventure Outfitter
Look before you leap into an adventure
By Charmian Christie
Poking about websites to see what various outfitters offer is a start, but don't base your vacation plans on an online browse. If you can't visit the outfitter in person, at the very least pick up the phone and interview the prospective company. It's worth the long distance charges. After all, you're not merely booking a flight with these people. You could be living with them 24 / 7 for the duration of your vacation, so be sure you find a company that you can trust and makes you feel at ease.
Your first hint of the outfitter's attitude toward safety will come from their brochures or website. Do they stress safety, or do they downplay it (or ignore it completely)? When interviewing, ask:
- What safety equipment do they provide?
- What precautions do they take? Can they answer your questions knowledgably?
- What kind of first aid training do the outfitter's guides undergo? How often are they updated?
If, for any reason, you think they're only paying lip service to the legal safety requirements, end the interview and call the next outfitter on the list.
Ramshackle gear, moth-eaten sleeping bags and leaky tents can ruin an outdoor venture. Be sure to find out all the details:
- What equipment is provided? What are you expected to rent or bring yourself?
- How old is the equipment? Get brand and model information so you can check it out at a local store.
- Does the guide use the same equipment as the clients? If so, it's likely good quality. If not, why the difference?
What good is your dream trek if you're led by uniformed guides and using inferior equipment in unsafe conditions? Once you're sure the outfitter is a competent and comfortable fit, pull out your wish list and ask for details.
- If their tour descriptions aren't what you're looking for, do they offer custom tours?
- What physical activities are involved? Get specifics. A "laid-back trek" to an outfitter might induce a heart attack in an out-of-shape couch potato. Find out:
- How many miles will you hike / bike / canoe…
- …and under what conditions? Will you be cycling 30 miles a day uphill, three miles on flat roads or trailblazing terrain on a mountain bike all day?
- Will you be able to decline an activity if you find it too exhausting? Or once you start, are you committed to crossing the finish line?
Be sure to find out about the individual guide(s) who will conduct the tour. The person you're speaking to might not operate the excursion you have in mind. Be sure to ask:
- Who will be assigned to your tour?
- How experienced is this particular guide? How often have they led this specific trek?
- What type of training do they have? You should hear safety mentioned at least once.
Is the company a member of a professional association like America Outdoors (AO) or a state outfitters' association? If so, ask them about the outfitter's safety record and reputation.
If you find a company with a golden safety record, dream treks and a price that fits your budget, be sure you can live with the fine print. Cancellation and rescheduling policies should be outlined on their promotional materials and detailed in the reservation confirmations. Don't accept "We'll work something out," as an answer. They might work out a deal where they keep your money and you miss out on your trip.
Ask for References
Don't judge by testimonials posted to a website or forums. Ask for references from guests who've been on a recent trip with the company in question - and follow up.
With a little homework, you can find an outfitter who will not only provide you with a fabulous trip, but memories that last a lifetime.