How To Buy A Whitewater Raft
Whether you’re a rafting regular or simply enjoy the occasional whitewater excursion with your family, there’s a good chance you’ve given some thought to the possibility of buying a whitewater raft of your own. Owning a raft means holding greater freedom when determining the location and timing for your next trip. However, raft ownership also forces you to take on a number of additional expenses and responsibilities. It’s important to determine whether you are capable of operating under such constraints before you invest in a raft of your own.
The Best Time To Buy A Whitewater Raft
Given the excitement of rafting, it’s no wonder so many individuals decide to go all in with raft purchases after enjoying a single whitewater rafting adventure. However, it is definitely not advisable for a beginner to invest in a raft before building up a reasonable level of experience and understanding. A lack of knowledge surrounding the activity could lead to the purchase of the wrong type of raft, which, in turn, could result in an unrewarding experience and potentially put users at risk.
The best way to build the experience necessary for owning your own raft is to attend guided rafting adventures in a variety of settings. This will give you a better feel for the type of rafting your prefer; ultimately, such preferences will determine whether a particular raft is good fit. If you’re ready to conquer rafting on your own, consider renting a raft of interest and testing it in a favorite location before making the big purchase.
How To Find An Affordable Raft
Rafting equipment is, by nature, expensive. Often, a simple glance at a raft’s price tag is enough to dissuade enthusiasts from the prospect of owning their own rafts. Add in the cost attached to brand new life jackets,helmets and paddles, and it’s no wonder so many whitewater rafters choose to stick with rental equipment.
Fortunately, even when you’re strapped for cash, it’s possible to find a high-quality raft without emptying out your bank account. You may, however, be forced to let go of your dream of owning a brand new raft. For the recreational rafter, a used raft is far more practical than a new model. Outfitters carry a variety of used rafts; all of these are thoroughly vetted to ensure that they are in excellent shape.
Selecting Raft Style And Occupancy
Are you hoping to take part in a leisurely rafting experience with your kids? Or is your wild side aching for a crazy rapids-based adventure? It’s important to determine your purpose before you buy a whitewater a raft, as a model suited to slow-paced family trips might not work well in Class IV rapids. Occupancy is a particularly important consideration, as your raft needs to include sufficient space for both people and equipment. The most common size rafts used by private boaters are between 12 and 14 feet long. Larger and smaller rafts are available but are better suited to specialized uses rather than general recreational activities.
Once the intended size of the raft has been determined, it’s important to think about the ideal raft material. PVC plastic is a common material that proves quite popular with recreational rafters. However, some consideration should also be given to alternatives, such as Hypalon rubber or polyurethane. These types of material are far more expensive than PVC, but they also hold up better to wear and tear, making them preferable for challenging rafting trips.
Raft ownership certainly is not for everyone; this approach takes away many of the conveniences offered through guided trips and rental raft opportunities. However, some dedicated rafters are willing to give up these conveniences in exchange for the flexibility of raft ownership. If you identify with this mindset, it’s of utmost important that you try out a variety of models to determine which whitewater raft best meets your unique needs.
Rent Before You Buy A Whitewater Raft
Before purchasing your own whitewater raft, you may consider renting the equipment as an option. Raft Masters rents rafts, inflatable kayaks and rafting equipment seven days a week from March through October, water permitting. Take a look at our raft rental rates, equipment list and prices.
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Top 8 Best Whitewater Rafts | 2022 Reviews (NRS, Bris)
Nothing can be more exhilarating than the raw power of nature that you experience as you navigate through whitewater rapids. The turbulence that causes the water to turn frothy white, the water depth, and the speed of flow – all contribute to the fun and excitement of the ride.
Whitewater is one of the many water activities that once you have come to experience will turn into something you want to do at every given chance you get.
Let’s say, you’re given the chance to ride these fast rivers, would you know which pontoon to ride? Read on as we find out what makes the best whitewater rafts.
Table of Contents
Top 8 Best Whitewater Rafts: Making Frothy Fun
Not a lot of outdoor/water sports can match the excitement that whitewater rafting brings. The adventure of riding the flow of bends, sprays of cold water, and drops will only be as thrilling if ridden with the best whitewater raft.
We’ve scoured the marketplace to find out the best whitewater rafts that you may consider to buy for your next whitewater rafting. With so many of them in the market, it all boils down to having one that will not just help you stay alive on waters but leave you feeling confident you still have a raft to sit on towards the next bend.
#1. 1.2mm PVC 15’ Whitewater Raft (BRF450) by Bris Inflatables – Best Overall
- Pressure release valve equipped on tubes
- Rubbing strake all over the raft
- 6 lifting handles in front and side
- Main tube fabric: 2000D 1.2mm PVC
- Bottom floor fabric: 2000D 1.2mm PVC
- Floor type: 140mm drop stitch air floor
Bris Inflatables takes pride in having their river rafts all handcrafted and built tough with sturdy quadruple reinforced seams. This makes it easy for the raft to withstand the harshest water conditions. Complete with all the elements of durability and guaranteed quality, 1.2mm PVC 15’ Whitewater Raft easily becomes a must-have.
BRF450’s quadruple overlapped ridges make the raft excellent in resisting tearing and puncturing. The top-grade materials and superior construction back up the 3-year manufacturer guarantee, which is not entirely necessary, considering how tough it is.
Made with 2000 dtex 1.2mm PVC fabric together with polyester support, punctures and tears from rocks as you ride will not be an issue, especially that it is coupled with a high-pressure drop-stitch raft floor.
Aside from the promising durability, another reason to buy this whitewater raft is the many ideal accessories that come with it. To begin with, it has 3 inflatable thwart seats that can be attached/detached depending on necessity.
Inflation/deflation and repairs are a breeze with the repair kit and foot pump it comes with. The 12 D-rings all around are provided for an optional fishing frame or extra accessory attachment. BRF450 also includes an all-around lifeline rope than is a great deal of help.
While BRF450 does not come with a whitewater rating, a lot of rafters are confident that it is built strongly enough to handle up to Class 5 rapids. The length running at 15 ft and width at 7 ft make it roomy enough to have up to 12 adults hop in. Ideal for big groups and families, eh?
Additionally, BRF450 has outstanding strake protection that keeps the raft against damage when coming into contact with rocks, boulders, or pointy objects. Plus, you won’t worry about your boat bursting up when pressure increases when it gets pinned down. BRF450 is equipped with pressure relief valves that are designed just for that.
|Halkey Roberts valves guarantee easy inflation and pressure retention||Glued seams don’t look strong|
|Packed with all the essential accessories||Confusing instructions|
|Cheaper than most rafts at its size range||Difficult to transport|
|Drop-stick self-bailing flooring|
|Can withstand Class 5 rapids|
#2. Outlaw 130 Self-Bailing Raft by NRS – Best All-Around Boat
- Frame wear patches
- 12 stainless steel 2″ D-rings
- Three main-tube air chambers
- Main tube fabric: 2000D PVC
- Bottom floor fabric: 4000D PVC
- Floor type: 4-inch thick drop-stitch floor
What started as a professor’s attempt to prove the theories and principles he taught in the classroom turned into launching a line of boating gears all from $2000 savings. Bill Parks set out in 1972 the first catalog of NRS (National River Supplies) which aimed to carry out his vision to help others enjoy the water sport he loves so much.
His love for the rivers and all the beautiful places it carried him created the rugged and reliable pieces of equipment built to the standards of the toughest customers – professional outfitters and guides. Since its first product that launched in 1974, NRS’ line of products grew from dry bags, for boaters to boats, frames, life jackets, apparel, and accessories.
One of the creations they have is what has been considered the most versatile raft by a number of consumers. Outlaw 130 Self-Bailing Raft is not just for rafting, but for camping, day trips, fishing, and cruising. This raft can ride all that.
With its 14 feet length and width of 7 feet, gears, accessories, and passengers can all fill the boat to the brim. The thwarts that are intended for comfort are removable so you can just put them when necessary. The D-rings it has are perfect for all your gears attachments.
Outlaw 130 Self-Bailing Raft comes with 2 removable thwarts but, you can actually put up to three of them with ease with the help of the NRS BAT (Batten Attachment Thwart) system. Sounds like it is overly convenient for gear attachment, right? It is more than that.
Its incredibly sturdy and durable construction includes hull and tubes that are made with Pennel Orca® material. This material is resistant to damage and degradation. Toughest rocks and sharpest corners won’t worry you too much.
This versatile boat is easy to store and inflate, thanks to Leafield™ C7 and A6 Pressure Relief Valves. You will admire just how smooth the outer profile is, that prevents it from snagging other materials.
|Gives generous control and maneuverability||More expensive than most rafts|
|Can pile in up to 8 paddlers||Glued seams look flimsy|
|Fit even for smaller rivers||Unstable flooring|
|Sturdy and durable|
#3. 9’6″ Whitewater Raft (RD290X) by Saturn Boats – Best Compact-Sized Raft
- Industry-standard Halkey Roberts flat valves design with pushpins
- Soft lifting handles in front and rear
- Self-bailer holes all around raft bottom perimeter
- Main tube fabric: 1,100 Dtex High Strength PVC
- Bottom floor fabric: 1.5mm 1,100D PVC bottom
- Floor type: 1.2mm PVC drop-stitch “Outfitter”
One of the most affordable mini rafts in the market, RD290X 9’6″ Whitewater Raft offers speed and excitement adrenaline junkies crave for while still maintaining composure for a leisure flatwater ride of touring or fishing.
This newest addition to Saturn Boats’ line of rafts, it was built upon the idea of providing an alternative to overpriced mini-rafts in the market. This little beast has all the basic features of any big rafts but with extra maneuverability at its size of 9.6 feet.
Its dimensions of 9.6 x 5.3 ft allow for it to sneak through the closest-fitting spots. It may sure sound tiny, but it can carry up to 4 paddlers while handling Class 3 rapids.
If turbulence doesn’t entice you on certain days, you can still go on a calmer ride on your favorite fishing spot. While it can hold up to 4 fishers at the same time, it will have enough space to room your cooler and other fishing gears.
What most people like about RD290X is its portability. Bringing it around is easier than other big rafts as you can easily put it into the trunk of your mid-sized car or throw it at the back of your SUV.
Construction-wise, the tube is made of 1100 dtex high-strength PVC fabric. It is coated both sides with 1100 g/m2, 0.9 mm fabric and the floor has been revised and is now made from a double layer of PVC. Moreover, the bottom layer has an added thickness of 1.5 mm that wraps the exterior tube.
The recent revision of RD290X brought 70% more protection. It also added 50% more thickness to the drop-stitch method for more durable and stable flooring.
RD290X comes in blue, dark gray, and red. However, if you feel like you want to express yourself even with the color of your raft, you can call them to get a custom colored RD290X.
|Smaller dimension offers better maneuverability||Can’t hold 4 average-sized passenger|
|Drop-stitched floor for stability and rigidity||Oars have to be bought separately|
|Price more reasonable than most rafts||Not enough UV protection|
|Can be transported easily|
|Fits tight river points|
#4. Super Duper Puma by Aire – Best Large Sized Raft
- Can be used on fishing rivers and technical water
- Ideal for up to 7 people paddling team
- Narrow beam for a fast ride
- Base Fabric Denier: 1670D
- Bottom: 37 oz. double lacquer gray PVC
- Valve Type: Leafield C-7 & Pressure Relief
The largest version in the Puma Series of Aire Inflatables, the first thing you notice about it is its classic design. The majority of rafts in today’s market have the modern look, Puma still holds on to the classic cool look. This makes it really stand out among other rafts.
Aside from the classic look, you can also choose from different colors. Super Duper Puma is available in rare color options like while, lime, yellow, and the usual ones such as black, red, and blue.
Considered the largest, this 14 feet long raft can carry up to seven riders. Its construction and design aren’t just for holding a lot of passengers. It is super durable that it is suitable for Class 4 and 5 rapids. Super Duper Puma has a narrow width in contrast to its 14 feet length, making it suitable for narrow and tighter spots.
The bombproof PVC-coated tubes have a denier count of 1670. As if that is not enough to make it sturdy, Aire incorporated its AIREcell system where urethane air bladders are covered by PVC shell. Urethane is a more durable and lightweight fabric and thanks to it, this raft has the best puncture and tear resistance.
What you will really like about Super Duper Puma is its process of thermal welding for seams. This, together with urethane air bladders make it one of the most durable rafts in the market. The piano-hinged pre-lacing floor system that is PVC coated has a double lacquer gray PVC on the bottom making it extra resistant to scrapes and scratches.
In general, Super Duper Puma is an exceptionally durable raft. The narrow width may leave little room for your gears but, it is the same slimness that allows going for full speed and control.
|AIREcell System that offers easy repairs||All-around band protection not available|
|Different colors to choose from||More expensive than most rafts|
|Thermal welded seams||No accessories included|
#5. Outfitter 10.5 Min-Max by Hyside
- Basic Fabric- 1680 Denier Nylon Fabric with Hypalon Coating
- Ideal for up to 5 paddling crew
- Self Bailing Floor
- Bottom Chafers: Urethane
- Seam: Triple Bonded
- Leafield Valve
The Min-Max 10.5 by Hyside has been making waves ever since its launch. At 10.5’, the raft is just ideal for smaller rafters and pretty comfortable for the larger boaters as well. The highly cambered floor design of the raft considerably reduces its contact area with the water. This reduces the friction level and leads to quick responses especially during the rotational performance.
The urethane bottom chafers make a lot of difference in the performance of the boat. It enables the raft to slide smoothly even over hard rocks. It gives the performance of a plastic raft in a rubber body. The Hypalon provides the raft high durability. Moreover, the optimum thickness allows in keeping the raft weight under the limit.
The raft is equipped with 2 handles. Besides, it has 8 D-rings and 2 thwarts. The self-bailing floor does not require efforts to drain the water as the floor automatically drains through the holes provided for the purpose. The triple bond seams offer great strength in the most delicate areas of the raft and help in enhancing the durability of the boat. The raft also comprises a preventive wear patch to take care of small repair needs on the tube.
There are two chambers in the perimeter tubes one on the right and the other on the left. So, it does not create any durability concern for an overnight trip. However, for a multi-day trip, it can be a little tricky as you may not necessarily find a major beach in such expeditions where the evacuation is easy.
The overall design and the comfort level make it a fun experience to ride on the 10.5 Min-Max. The quick and easy maneuverability is the core advantage of the raft. This adds to the convenience level of the paddler. It can perform excellently well on the technical slots as well as over shallow rocks.
|Highly portable owing to the packability and lightweight||The tendency to flip on quick movements or on hard impacts|
|Excellent performance on Class IV and V creeks||Not so smooth on larger volumes of white water|
|Quick and easy turning. High maneuverability.||Struggles while crossing eddy lines|
|Super carving performance on currents|
|Highly comfortable for small rafters|
#6. SB-105 Storm 10.5′ Self-Bailing Raft by Rocky Mountain
- Ideal for 3 people. Good for 2 to 4 adults.
- 10 generous stainless steel D-rings
- Self-bailable holes around the floor perimeter
- Material weight/ square yard- 44-oz. tubes
- 3000-denier RockShield PVC
- Valve Type- Leafield D-7
One of the smallest rafts from Rocky Mountain at 10’6”, the SB-105 Storm Whitewater Raft also enjoys being one of the most affordable rafts in its category. Despite being small the raft is pretty strong owing to high 3000 denier PVC used in building the raft. And that is a big plus over many other self-bailing rafts.
There are two air chambers. Besides, it has a floor and two thwarts. The raft thus has five Leafield valves. In addition, there is one pressure relief valve fitted on the floor to release the pressure during the sunny days.
Though the raft is ideal to go with three adults, it can manage two to four people. The thwarts are removable and thus offer greater flexibility to change their position to your convenience. You can even remove the thwarts and row only with a frame. Even without any chafer strips, you can very easily wrap the bars on the frame side using the pipe insulation while preventing any marking what-so-ever.
The all-welded raft includes 10 D-rings welded on the sides, bow i.e. the foremost part of the raft & stern, the aftmost part. You can use more as needed.
The SB-105 Storm 10.5′ is available in multiple colors. The availability of color changes with each season. The blue/gray and orange/gray are mostly in the stocks in all seasons.
The raft is in a pretty affordable price bracket and does not squeeze your budget a great deal. You, in fact, won’t need to check your accounts to have it in your collection.
If you already have a biggie raft, it would be a good idea to have the smaller Rocky Mountain creation with you. Getting a new raft would only require you to pay for a bare raft as you would already have all the accessories to paddle in the white water. This wonderfully agile creature would not disappoint you a bit with its super easy & equally quick maneuverability.
|Quick to inflate and deflate||No grab handles. Tricky to board and deboard.|
|Quick maneuverability||Unsteady compared to the bigger rafts|
|Excellent valves quality|
#7. Williwaw 1 Raft by Maravia
- Perfect size for three to four persons along with gears for multi-day trips
- High-quality Class VI base fabric and Thermofusion process for seam welding
- Seamless Encapsulation using rotational process adding more material to delicate areas
- Raft Dimension: 14′ X 6’8”
- Tube and Thwart Size: 20″/12”
- Weight: 137 lbs.
This raft from Maravia Wind Series is built to withstand the most unfavorable environments and perform in the trickiest of white water conditions. The Williwaw has been the best selling model of Maravia for over a decade. This speaks about the trust that people have over the Williwaw.
The Williwaw 1 uses Class VI fabric for the base. The seamless Urethane coating coupled with the high-quality fabric offers 40x more resistance to abrasion as compared to PVC. Similarly, it is 15x more resistant than Hypalon. It has proven its high quality and performance wherever they are operating in the world.
The top surface of the raft floor is textured so that there is enough friction while paddling and boarding out from the raft. This is good for overall control, balance, and safety to the riders. Besides, the frictionless bottom enhances the performance of the raft.
The Williwaw 1 is a 14’ raft having tubes with 20” diameter. There are two thwarts provided with the raft. In addition, there is a provision for additional thwarts as there are three pairs of thwarts.
Three to four passengers along with their gear can go out for multi-day trips and up to eight adults can accommodate for a paddle. And the full diameter front bow and the rear stern ensure that all of them experience a drier ride. It is a good raft for both day and overnight trips.
The drop stitch self-bailing floor ensures there is an auto drain of water. Besides, it also offers the raft greater stability while pushing through the big white water waves. There are 10 D-rings fitted at different positions on the frame. Besides, the raft comes fitted with 4 handles. You can have more if required.
Showcasing huge confidence in the quality of its raft the company offers a long warranty of 10 years from the date of purchase against the defects including the 5-year commercial warranty.
|Capacity to carry 6 to 8 persons for paddling||Has only 2 thwarts|
|10 years of manufacturing warranty||On the expensive side|
|Highly rugged and sturdy||A little heavier than typical rafts|
|High abrasive resistance|
|Skid free top surface|
#8. SOTAR SL 13′ Liquid Raft by Sotar
- The interior space is equivalent to 14’ of other rafts
- Only one raft is designed and manufactured at a time
- It has a capacity of 7 people
- 40 oz./ 3000 denier
- Thwarts/Thwart Diameter: 3/13”
- I-Beams: 6
How design can be a big differentiator, you can experience it when you ride The SOTAR SL 13’ raft. By designing the 21” to 16” diminishing tube with, the designer at the SOTAR ensured that despite being a 13’ raft, you have the space of a normal 14’ raft. Isn’t this great!
You can either have a nimble raft or can plan for an overnight trip carrying your gear. Well, wait a while, with the SL13, you can have both. The SL13 is a high-performance raft. At its full capacity of 7 persons, you can use it as a paddle raft and smoothly row your waterway. However, if there are up to 4 persons boarding the raft, it makes for a great rowing experience for multiple days. For a day-long trip, you can have a similar experience with as many as 6 of you.
Extremely easy to maneuver, this raft can allow for the trickiest of maneuvering motions in style and surprise you with its quick and smooth delivery. Like all SOTAR inflatables, the SL13 is also given the utmost personal care with no two units being designed and built at the same time. With the production of one unit at a time, it offers excellent quality to every product that comes out of the manufacturing plants carrying the proud stamp of SOTAR.
The material used in making is so light that it makes SL13 a featherweight raft. It is a urethane material that is tougher than PVC and even Hypalon. The personal care to each product would mean that every raft is welded by hand thus making each one of them highly durable.
The screeching noise coming from the new material is the only flipside we could observe in the raft. The SL13 is on the higher price bracket but worth the price.
So, if the higher price is not your concern, then having the SL13 would be a wise decision to make if you are one of those white water rafting enthusiasts.
|High durability due to the use of Urethane||A little unsteady at full capacity on speed rowing|
|Smooth and quick maneuverability||The new material can make a screeching noise|
|High capacity even for multiday trips||On a higher price point|
|Excellent quality of workmanship|
Our Top Pick
Not all inflatable boats are suitable for whitewater rafting use. Sure, each one of them is great to use for camping or fishing. But, for whitewater, the best raft to use is the one whose construction is the sturdiest. Materials should also be considered.
The best whitewater raft should be easy to use, versatile, durable, and long-lasting. These are the characteristics we see in our top pick – Super Duper Puma by Aire.
The technology that Aire uses with their inflatable boat helps to deliver their promise of durability and longevity. These characteristics make up for the expensive price tag it has. Definitely, a good investment if you are really into whitewater rafting.
Buyer’s Guide: Things to Consider When Picking Whitewater Raft
With the many rafts available in the market now, the ones we have on the list are only 6 of the many best whitewater rafts you may consider. We may have narrowed down your search a little but if you need to check other rafts then here’s a checklist of what you should consider when picking one.
What You Will Use It For
Before anything else, you must have a clear idea of what you are going to use the raft for. Is it for fishing? Family adventure on a mild river? Or will it involve Classes 4 and 5 rapids?
If the majority of your water activities involve rafting through classes 3 and above rapids, it is recommended that you get a raft that is sturdy and durable enough to handle such water conditions.
Fishing with one or two friends or family members is fun with a raft that is just the right size for you. RD290X by Saturn Boats is ideal for such fishing trips since its rather small size allows reaching tight fishing points.
Now that you have an idea of what you will use the raft for, its construction will tell a lot about how it can handle the water conditions you will ride. A large number of rafts in the market today use one or a union of three materials namely urethane, Hypalon, and PVC. These 3 give different characteristics to each raft based on their composition.
- Urethane – Lightweight and durable. Best in terms of tear and puncture resistance. It may be expensive and difficult to store or transport. Aire uses urethane in their air bladders to make them durable.
- Hypalon – Easy to roll and offers excellent resistance to UV lights and chemicals. The downside is, they are often glued together and their blending can come apart. They are a little heavier, too.
- PVC – Inexpensive, light, and flexible. However, they do not stand as strong as Urethane or Hypalon. They are also not effective in withstanding UV or chemical decay. Therefore, most manufacturers use other coatings to make them a little more chemical resilient.
The raft’s design should be suitable for the purpose you will use it for. Wider rafts are more stable and rigid, but they can be less maneuverable. Narrower ones are easier to control but are less stable.
When it comes to design, you should also consider the bottom – if they are self-bailing, the number of D-rings for fishing gear attachments, pressure-relieve valves, pressure gauge, and ratings, etc. It also helps that your raft has an all-around grab line, strake protection, and handles for easy handling.
Different rafts may need specific accessories more than the basic ones we all know we need. The best whitewater raft should at least have thwarts, an air pump, a set of oars, a carrying bag, and a repair kit.
What Is Whitewater?
It can either be a river or a creek, so long as it contains rapids and too much turbulence for the body of water, usually a section of the river, to be bubbly and unstable. It is referred to as whitewater because of the frothy white effect it does to the water.
Whitewaters are created from four different factors: gradient, constriction, obstruction, and flow rate. The first three factors are streambed topography causes and are relatively constant. Streambed topography happens when streambed gets permanent changes from displaced rocks and boulders and alluvium deposition during the high-rainfall season, such that it may cause new channels for flowing water.
Gradient refers to how steep the river is. Steeper waters have more forceful torrents. Constriction happens when the river’s flow of water is injected or forced into a narrower channel.
The third streambed topography factor is obstruction. As to how obstruction is defined, it is when the displaced rocks and boulders become barriers, blocking and obstructing the river’s flow.
Flow rate is the general behavior of the river flow. It may be increased or decreased. Rapids are determined by the rate of how the river flows. It is measured in volume per unit of time.
Whitewater has different classifications. These are the grading system set by the International Scale of River Difficulty. This determines whether the whitewater is easy and safe or difficult and dangerous. The grades reflect both technical difficulties as well as the danger that may be potential with a rapid.
Whitewater’s different classifications are;
- Class 1 – Minimal rough areas, needs no maneuvering
- Skill level required: none
- Skill level required: basic paddling
- Skill level required: experienced paddling
- Skill level required: advanced whitewater experience
- Skill level required: expert
The sound of the waves crashing combined with the loud shrieks of your group as you navigate through rapids, as odd as it seems, is the kind of peace a lot of adrenaline junkies long to hear. The amazing thrill in drops, bumps, and jumps are just a few of what you should need to experience at least once in your life.
As fun as it sounds, it wouldn’t be achieved without the right boat to ride. Above all the things that we mentioned in this write-up, the most important thing to consider in picking the best whitewater raft is the safety the raft ensures. The best whitewater rafts should be rigid, safe, and durable. For more information on gear for the outdoors, check out Bushcraft Hungry.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q: What does “self-bailing” mean in whitewater rafts?
A: The simple design of having holes on the bottom of the floor is self-bailing. It is the same idea that kayaks have. Given that the top floor is permeable, water that enters the deck should have an exit passage. And, those are the inexpensive and simple hole design.
Q: What does Dtex mean?
A: Dtex stands for Decitex. It is a direct measure of linear density in textiles, particularly of continuous filament or yarn. It is equal to 1/10th of a tex or 9/10th of a denier.
The Best Inflatable Boats
Enjoy the ease of transport and convenience of an inflatable boat, we review this year’s top models
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate what we feel are the best products. We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.
Whether you’re spending a weekend at the family’s lakefront cottage or floating along the river with friends, you’ll need a quality boat. But the problem is, most people aren’t out boating every single weekend. We don’t have the time or space to store a large canoe or kayak in our small apartments. Not to mention our car in the driveway can’t fit a full size boat! We’re going to guide you through the process of purchasing a brand new inflatable boat, so let’s go through some things to consider when choosing the best one for you.
Best Inflatable Boats
Intex Mariner 4 Person Inflatable Boat Intex Excursion 5 Inflatable Boat Bestway Hydro Force Caspian Pro Inflatable Boat Passengers: 4 People 5 People 2 People Capacity: 1100 lbs 1320 lbs 568.8 lbs Includes: Oars, hand pump, 3 seats Oars, hand pump, 3 seats Oars, hand pump Boat Weight: 70 lbs 50 lbs 45 lbs Trolling Motor Compatible: Yes Yes Yes
For more of my boating gear recommendations, have a look through these popular Outside Pursuits guide links: Trolling Motors, Trolling Motor Batteries, Life Jackets.
Quick Answer: The Best Rated Inflatable Boats
Inflatable Boat Reviews
#1 Editor’s Choice – Intex Mariner 4 Person Inflatable Boat
- Passengers: 4
- Max Weight: 1100 Pounds
- 4 Boston valves for quick inflation and fast-deflation
- 2 Fishing rod holders
- 3 Inflatable seat cushions
- Includes 2 54-inch deluxe aluminum oars and high-output hand pump
- 1 year limited warranty
For the super affordable price, it’s pretty hard to look past the Intex Mariner Inflatable Boat that has room for plenty of people, gear and mounted equipment. With a reduced footprint, the boat is able to hold more solidly in form and function. I love that Intex prominently features the reinforced rock and abrasion guard around the inflatable hull. This is an area of significantly increased durability where the boat is made to handle bumps, scrapes and scratches. Overall, this 4-person boat features two rod holders for fishing, two rotating oar locks, battery and gear pouches.
It’s outfitted and engineered to handle a small transom trolling motor, which mounts up to preinstalled holes on the exterior of the inflatable boat. Because of the lightweight nature of the boat and relatively short frame, it makes a great candidate for a small electric trolling motor. Equipped with plenty of accessories, this boat really does it all. If you’re looking for an all-in-one boat that can take you and your friends for a day on the water, this is our Editor’s Choice!
#2 Best Budget – Intex Excursion 5 Inflatable Boat
- Passengers: 5
- Max Weight: 1320 Pounds
- 3 Air chambers safety and buoyancy
- 3 Inflatable seats with 2 with backrests
- 4 Built-in fishing rod holders
- Includes 2, 54-inch aluminum oars and hand pump
Intex makes the Excursion 5 ready out of the box to support a crew of up to 5 people. With enough space for tons of gear, beer and all the required daily goodies, there’s a lot to like about this boat. It comes with 4 fishing rod holders on each side of the boat. These are placed next to bench seating that faces inward for spending time together whether you’re landing fish or drifting on the lake. The Intex inflatable boat is made of three inflatable chambers which independently hold air. No need to worry about having your boat “pop” and sink to the bottom like the Titanic!
Of course with an inflatable boat, you’ll need a way to pump it up. That’s why there’s an included high-pressure manual operated pump. There are aftermarket electric pumps, but with the stock Intex pump you’ll be pumping it by hand. While there are motor mount fittings included with the boat, some users worry that this PVC boat isn’t quite sturdy enough to handle a motor. Having said that, the Excursion is easily one of the best inflatable boats suitable for a family of 4.
#3 Best for Fishing – Bestway Hydro Force Caspian Pro Inflatable Boat
- Passengers: Up to 2 adult riders
- Max Weight: 568.8 Pounds
- Hand pump and a 33-foot tow rope
- Two 57″ aluminum oars
- Motor mount for trolling
This 7.5′ long inflatable boat is made to outperform most boats when it comes to load bearing, motor mounting and fish-catching fun! With a huge weight capacity of almost 600 pounds for 2 adults, it’s a beast of a boat. There are 3 separate air chambers for safety and a puncture-resistant 1100 diner PVC hull, so you’ll always feel safe out on the water. You can even hook up a two-stroke outboard, or battery trolling motor, however you’ll need the optional motor mount. Two oarlocks hold the included paddles in place and can be adjusted into three separate positions.
The boat weighs a modest 38 pounds and features a drop stitch floor that, when fully inflated, is amazingly rigid – similar to a boat with a plywood floor. Unlike most inflatable boats, the Hydro Force Caspian has two floor drain plugs, which is a great feature to have. The key feature of the Hydro Force Caspian is versatility – you can use it for river rafting, fishing or leisurely days on the water.
#4 Best 6-Person Inflatable Boat – AIRHEAD Angler Bay 6 Person Inflatable Boat
- Passengers: 6
- Max Weight: 900 Pounds
- 2 Rod holders and multiple molded drink holders
- 32-Guage heavy-duty vinyl
- Swiveling oar locks and side mounted oar holders
- Trolling motor transom mounts
With a 6-person capacity, you’d think this inflatable boat would hulk like a behemoth. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth! This olive and yellow boat is ready to handle fishing, paddling or floating with any number of people. I love that they included several rotating oar locks so that people in the middle or rear of the boat can paddle, too. There are plenty of drink holders sprinkled around the boat and 4 separate drain plugs to dry it out when you pull up the boat for the night.
I like that the movable seat can be adjusted around the boat. This helps get it in the right spot, so you can put a transom trolling motor in the back and paddle from the front set of oar locks. Of course, you’ll want to leave room for fishing tackle and space for the kids to cast their lines without hooking you on the back swing! So don’t pack the boat too full, just in case.
#5 Best for Mounting an Outboard – BRIS Inflatable Dinghy Boat
- Passengers: 4 +1 Child
- Max Weight: 1200 Pounds
- Rigid aluminum deck floor + inflatable keel
- 3 Air chambers for safety and buoyancy
- Dual action foot pump and 2 aluminum oars
- Triple layered 0.9 mm PVC outer skin
- 3 year limited warranty
Unlike the Intex and Airhead boats we reviewed earlier, Bris Marine makes this boat in true dinghy fashion. The four air tub design is resilient, so there’s no need to worry about sinking or failure of the air baffles – there are four of them to back you up! By far the dinghy style with the hard-backed transom is ideal for mounting up a motor. With a max load of over 1200 pounds, you can safely mount up to 10 horsepower motors onto this dinghy. There’s no problem loading on a two-stroke outboard motor to zip across the lake.
With a full crash barrier and triple layered PVC, Bris Marine wants to make users feel safe when loading this boat up and heading out fishing. Unlike the other boats, this inflatable dinghy is more purpose-built. It belongs on the water with a small outboard motor and is the perfect boat for an angler. There’s no reason you can’t use it for transportation, though! Make no mistake, the Intex boats we reviewed above make better “party boats” for lazy days with lots of people. But, if you want a high-quality fishing boat that you can count on, the Bris Marine is a far superior choice to anything we’ve reviewed so far.
#6 Best Inflatable Dinghy – Shark Inflatable Dinghy 9.8
- Passengers: 4
- Max Weight: 1158 Pounds
- 2 Aluminum bench seats
- 2 Aluminum oars with lock-in holders
- Made from 0.9 mm/1100 denier thick PVC
- Compatible with either 2 or 4 stroke motors
- 3 year limited warranty
This Shark inflatable boat is made to handle smaller loads with a focus on the ability to handle higher output motors. This time we can plug in a motor up to 15 horsepower! With a 15 horse motor on this lightweight 70 pound boat, you’ll be flying out to your favorite fishing spot each morning. Like most dinghy-style inflatable boats, there’s minimal storage when compared to the raft style boats for 5-6 people (like the Intex boats above). However, you gain significant improvements in rigidity and capacity. With nearly 1,200 pounds of max load and welded 1100 denier PVC construction, this boat will hold up to just about anything.
I like the removable seat bag and cushion. It makes it easy to add a little extra storage for taking another person in the boat, or zipping across the lake for a dinner picnic. When there’s just one person in the boat, however, you can easily remove the seat and gain tons of storage space for tackle and gear. The seats on the boat are made from aluminum and lend to a much more traditional feel compared to inflatable rafts. I also like the solid aluminum floor and included oars with oarlocks. However, these heavier and more sturdy features make the boat harder to pack, so you mightn’t want to break down this boat every day.
#7 Customer’s Choice – Newport Vessels Dana Inflatable Sport Dinghy
- Passengers: 3
- Max Weight: 1,067 Pounds
- Made from 0.9 mm/1100 denier thick PVC
- Includes aluminum bench seat and 2 aluminum oars
- Compatible with either 2 or 4 stroke motors
- Includes carrying & storage bag and high volume foot pump
- 2 year limited warranty
Newport is bringing us the last boat on our list which is another addition to the dinghy class of boats. Like the Inflatable Sport Boats Shark 9.8, the Dana Dinghy is made from advanced, tough materials and supports tons of load, options and power. This Newport boat comes in quite a bit cheaper than the Inflatable Sport Boats Shark 9.8. For that cheaper price, you get the same sturdy 1100 denier construction, aluminum floor, decking and seats.
However, you lose the ability to handle some horsepower. This boat is rated for a maximum of 10 HP, versus the Shark 9.8 which can handle 15. If that sounds trivial, then perhaps the cheaper price and lower motor output is a good choice for you. But when you consider that 15 HP is 150% more power and speed than a 10 HP motor, you may want to splurge on a more expensive boat.
Inflatable Boat Comparison Table
Inflatable Boat Passengers Capacity Includes Boat Weight Trolling Motor Compatible Intex Mariner Person Inflatable Boat 4 People 1100 lbs Oars, hand pump, 3 seats 70 lbs Yes Intex Excursion Inflatable Boat 5 People 1320 lbs Oars, hand pump, 3 seats 50 lbs Yes Bestway Hydro Force Caspian Pro 2 People 568.8 lbs Oars, hand pump 45 lbs Yes AIRHEAD Angler Bay Boat 6 People 900 lbs 1 moveable seat, 2 rod holders 45 lbs Yes BRIS Inflatable Dinghy Boat 5 People 1200 lbs Oars, 2 seats 120 lbs Yes Shark Inflatable Dinghy 5 People 1160 lbs Oars, 2 alum seats. foot pump 70 lbs Yes Newport Vessels Dana Dinghy 3 People 1,060 lbs Oars, alum bench seat, foot pump 101 lbs Yes
How to Choose the Best Inflatable Boat
Inflatable boats are a relatively new addition to the options available for those who want to get out on the water. Traditionally, only hard-bodied canoes and kayaks were easy to find and buy. Not to mention the best inflatable rafts have to be sturdy, resilient and puncture-proof. With newer and better inflatable boats on the market today, it’s easier to find a boat to fit your needs. If you’ve never considered purchasing a new inflatable boat, there are a few things to look out for!
What Type of Inflatable Boat is Right for You?
Just like hard bodied boats, inflatable boats come in many varieties. Whether you want a kayak, canoe, single or tandem, there’s an option out there for everyone. But how do you know where to start?
Canoe-type inflatable boats are generally a good choice for 1-2 people with some gear. A canoe can handle enough gear to comfortably go out on a fishing trip or multi-day canoe camping trip. These boats aren’t as small and agile as a kayak, but the greater storage space provides more flexibility for boaters to choose their favorite activity.
Kayak inflatables are the smallest and most nimble boat available. They’re lightweight and will very easily fit in any vehicle when packed down. The smallest and lightest inflatable kayaks can even be packed into a backpack!
Rafts and larger inflatable boats can handle up to half a dozen people or more. These boats are usually known as “party boats”. Unless, of course, you upgrade to a full-on river raft. Most inflatable rafts for recreational use feature additions such as coolers, cup holders and often mounted oars.
How Often Will You Use Your Boat?
For those who may use their inflatable boat only occasionally, skimping on quality might be fine. Spending a few extra bucks to get a durable, high quality boat for regular use, however, is critical. If you plan to use your inflatable boat regularly, consider increasing your budget to accommodate. Getting an extra inflatable kayak for when the kids visit the cottage doesn’t need to break the bank. Buying a boat for weekend fishing trips might be worth investing in the most durable and rugged boats available, which could rapidly increase in price.
Catarafts or Regular Inflatable Boats?
Catarafts deserve to be in a category of their own. While they’re technically inflatable boats, they don’t quite fit the same bill. Catarafts are made of two inflatable bodies joined by a network of aluminum tubing and webbing. Catarafts are generally more agile and responsive than their equivalent sized raft counterparts. They’re inherently self-bailing since they don’t feature a full floor on the bottom. Instead, the bottom of the raft is usually open and sits up off the water.
While some traditional rafts can handle a motor, catarafts generally have a superior load bearing performance. They can be easily balanced and loaded with supplies or heavy objects like an outboard motor. Catarafts make a superior choice of inflatable boat if you have enough room to transport them.
Inflatable boats are generally made of just two materials. Fortunately, it makes things easy to distinguish when choosing. If you’re on a tight budget and need to keep prices as low as possible, you may prefer PVC boats. PVC inflatable boats are constructed with a coated PVC fabric. These fabrics are durable and dependable, although they fail to maintain the excellent properties of the superior Hypalon fabrics. There’s nothing wrong with PVC, and it will work great for occasional use.
Hypalon, on the other hand, is an advanced synthetic material which can be used to improve the performance of inflatable boats. Boats made with hypalon are heavier, but are significantly more robust than those made with PVC. If you want to keep your boat assembled and docked for long periods at the cottage, Hypalon might be a better choice for you.
Trade offs include the increased price of hypalon versus the lower cost of PVC. Hypalon is heavier and thus harder to pack and transport, so PVC might be a better choice for packing into the back of the car. Hypalon will also withstand more wear and tear than PVC.
Decking Material and Design
Decking underfoot in inflatable boats is usually designed either as a high pressure inflatable floor, or as solid aluminum planks that snap into place. Aluminum planks offer the added benefits of being more sturdy and rigid. They will perform more closely to an aluminum flat bottom boat compared to inflatable bottoms. These interlocking aluminum ribs or tubes form a solid feeling bottom, which might make many users feel safer in general.
Inflatable bottoms are generally high-pressure tubes that provide structure and rigidity to the boat. These floors can be a little “squishy” underfoot and may feel slightly unsafe at first. Usually the bottom of these floors is protected by design from being easily punctured from underneath. Nonetheless, you should be careful not to beach on sharp objects with abrupt force! Inflatable bottom boats tend to be more forgiving and absorb more of the shock of waves. If having a gentle ride or being easy on the knees is important, consider using an inflatable bottom raft.
Storing Your Inflatable Boat
Making sure your boat lasts long enough to enjoy is probably important, right? After all, you invested a lot of money into your boat so it stands to reason that you’d want to take care of it. As we’ve mentioned, sunlight can be harmful to inflatable boats. On top of that, storing your boat in a cool and dry area is important, as you need some ventilation to allow air movement. This will help prevent mildew which can severely damage inflatable boats.
What is the best inflatable boat to buy?
The best inflatable boat money can buy is our Editor’s Choice, the Mariner 4 Person Inflatable Boat from the well-known brand Intex.
Are inflatable boats in danger of sinking?
It is possible that your inflatable boat could be punctured. Most inflatable boats are made from multiple chambers of air, which prevent the entire boat from losing air if a puncture does happen. If your boat does have a problem like this, repairs are relatively easy. Since most inflatable boats come with their own repair kits, you’ll be able to get things working again in no time!
How long will an inflatable boat last?
Taking good care of your inflatable boat could mean that it lasts between 5-10 years. As plastics of any kind are susceptible to UV degradation, to keep your boat in good condition you should remove it from direct sunlight when not in use. If you’re not using it for over 24 hours, pack it up and store it away. At the very least, you could buy one of those cheap blue tarps and throw it over the boat if you don’t want to deflate it.
How do you clean an inflatable boat?
The easiest way to clean your inflatable boat is to use a damp cloth with some mild dish soap and wipe down any dirt or stains. Never use harsh chemicals like bleach, as these can quickly cause the rubber to decay and crack. Make sure all soap has been removed and allow it to fully air dry before folding it up and packing it away.
Can I transport an inflatable boat in my car?
Each of the boats we’ve recommended above vary in size and weight. On top of that, their packed size is also quite different. For compact cars, the best boats will be fully inflatable, like the Intex options on our list. These boats don’t have rigid components, so they can be folded down smaller.
Boats with rigid components, like catrafts and many inflatables, may not fit in smaller cars. These rigid seats, floorboards, and transom mounts likely won’t fold down in size. For that reason, they may or may not fit in smaller cars or SUVs. However, any of these boats will most certainly be transportable in your average truck.
Ultimately, boaters have three main choices in the world of inflatable boats. You could choose an inflatable raft style, such as the models from Intex, for more relaxed, group fun at an affordable price. Consider a cataraft style for the freedom to choose between lakes, rivers and other hard to navigate places when it’s just one person and their fishing gear. And for the heaviest loads and largest motors possible with an inflatable boat, you’ll likely want a dinghy style boat.
No matter which boat you choose, remember to start by considering how you’ll use it. Will you need to transport it daily, or once a year? How many people will be in the boat, and what types of activities might you want to do with it? Some of the boats on our list are great for more than one type of adventure, while others are best for fishing. Your choice will depend on your personal preferences and budget, and we hope that this buyer’s guide was helpful to make your decision that much easier!
April 6, 2022: Verified availability of all products. Awards have been assigned to each recommendation, additional FAQs have been included to address popular queries.
How We Researched
To come up with the top inflatable boats, we researched a variety of sources for reviews such as REI, Dicks Sporting Goods, Cabelas and Backcountry along with our own personal experience. We also consulted online magazines for product research and reviews to get as much unbiased information as we could. To help weed out fake reviews we used Fakespot.com to make sure we only looked at genuine reviews.
With so much quality gear available, we had to narrow it down based on what we felt were the best options for the price. The author, Casey Fiedler has been an avid kayaker and leads kayak camping trips during the warmer months in his native state of Michigan, so he has a broad range of experience with watercraft. To help narrow down the selection he used his personal experience along with recommendations from outdoor activity organizers. After extensive research, we came up with our list to help you choose the right one for you.
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