Rivers Run Through It

Bozeman's water-sport scene. 

So you want to slay the river dragons?

Or do you just want a peaceful day on the water?

Montana has very special waterways that remain largely unspoiled, and a bunch of pristine backcountry rivers as well—you have all the opportunities right here.

First off, which boat is right for you? You need to choose one that matches your needs and, more importantly, performs well in the water you’re recreating on most often. If your boat doesn’t match your purpose, you’re losing performance-potential and missing out on a better time. 

Nothing beats a whitewater kayak for all-out thrills and intimate contact with the water—as in rapids, waves, and holes. Here you need a good skillset and all the right gear to make it safe for all involved. Rafts and inflatable kayaks are good whitewater partners as well, and carry a good amount of gear for extended trips.

Packrafts are a newer super-light option for carrying into remote runs, allowing you to float the smallest of navigable rivers and streams. Some folks even have a mountain bike with them to get in or out of these remote runs. The whole idea with packrafts is to go as minimal as possible—but never leave home without coffee!

Recreational and touring kayaks are amazing vehicles for peace on the water and I believe a well-paddled canoe can sing songs in your head. I started in a canoe and it set me on a lifelong path of chasing rivers in all type of crafts.

In the spring, we have frigid, fast-moving rivers, and it’s important to be dressed correctly; if you end up in the water, it’s far less likely to be a bad experience. When whitewater kayaking, your base clothing and drysuit or dry wear should protect you very well. If you’re canoeing, kayak-touring, or rafting, you should never hit the river without the appropriate river wear, plus a dry bag with extra clothing. Every year, people succumb to hypothermia, and the extra clothes can be your best first-aid in a river or cold-lake capsize. I always have enough for myself and another person and have kept many folk happy with fresh, dry clothing. Think fleece, wool, and other appropriate fabrics. LEAVE THE COTTON AT HOME WHEN FLOATING!

Once again, work with a checklist when you hit the river and always know where you’re going. The best plan is to have a good map and inform a family member or friend of your plans. Call them when you’re off the water. If you have a problem or get separated from your craft, you might need help, so have a cell phone or two in waterproof bags. 

If a boat is going to be a new thing for you, I strongly urge you to think about where you are going to use it and try before you buy. Go to a real boating store; they use these products and know what separates a good design from a poor one.

In the end, you want to have fun, be safe, and improve with time.

Mike Garcia owns Northern Lights in Bozeman.