Picking an adventure travel outfitter can be its own adventure, says David Sakowski, a senior staff engineer for Lockheed and a licensed California guide. He's been hiring outfitters for more than a decade and suggests five characteristics to look for in a first-rate operator.

* Sound business history Small, independent outfitters can vary wildly when it comes to quality and reliability. Choose only those that have well-established business practices and a reputation earned from several years of reliable service.

* Experienced senior guides You're putting your company's best and brightest in the hands of one or two expert guides, so be sure they have the right credentials, such as licensing, emergency medical training, and years of service in the activity and location of your trip.

* Established record of safety Insurance companies, guide associations, and local and state agencies keep records on the safety and practices of every licensed outfitter. Research this information before you make a decision.

* Compare services, not just price The fees for seemingly comparable adventure travel packages and activities often vary dramatically. Make sure you understand what exactly your contracted price includes. Ask about on-site transportation, tips, fees, food quality, lodging specifications, and other potential costs.

* Supply your outfitter with good information Find out if your travelers have any special needs that may restrict their participation. For instance, non-swimmers or obese participants may endanger themselves and the safety of their colleagues on a rafting trip. Special diets, medications, and medical conditions should also be noted.