Buying a Raft? Start Here

Considering of buying your individual rig? Observe our comparability information to seek out the proper whitewater raft for you. 

The primary and most necessary query that you must ask your self is:

“What do I wish to do with my raft?”

Appears easy sufficient, however most individuals assume that each one whitewater rafts are pretty related and find yourself anchoring the worth because the delineating issue between manufacturers and fashions. 

We have discovered that this could not be farther from the reality.

These in the marketplace for a brand new raft must be aware of three elements in addition to value:

  1. Boat form
  2. Boat measurement
  3. Boat materials

 As rafting fanatics, we’re private followers of 13-14′ roundboats, notably these from AIRE. We consider they’re essentially the most versatile boat measurement and boatshapes fabricated from the best high quality materials out there right this moment. 

Boat Form

Form is the primary option to make. The form of your boat determines what it is used for.

Boat Form Execs Cons CKSO Favorites
  • Most versatility
  • Secure
  • Good at punching by holes
  • Can deal with a big paddle crew
  • Can deal with a considerable amount of gear
  • Sluggish when weighed down
Paddle Cats
  • Excessive efficiency
  • Some versatility
  • Playful
  • Cannot maintain a ton of drugs or paddlers


  • Excessive efficiency
  • Quick
  • Higher monitoring
  • Least versatility
  • Least stability
  • Requires oars + oar body
  • Not newbie pleasant

A roundboat is a standard rounded raft. Roundboats are the commonest boat form as a result of they’ve excessive utility and flexibility. They can be utilized as a paddle raft, a gear boat, or a fishing boat.
Their form tends to make them sluggish and secure, and they could be a bit sluggish in whitewater if weighed down.

That being stated, weight tends to be the figuring out issue on the subject of how a giant hit performs out – the extra weight within the boat you will have, the extra punch you will have by waves and holes. Having numerous gear or a giant paddle crew is to your benefit with this boat form. 

A few of our favourite roundboats embrace AIRE 130 and the NRS Otter 130.


Cat is brief for Catamaran, that means that there are two hulls as an alternative of 1. In rafting, this equates to the boat being extra metallic than rubber, because the boat consists of two straight inflatable tubes which can be secured to a central aluminum body.

Cats are virtually solely managed by oars and are sometimes greater efficiency and sooner than a roundboat, however they lack the flexibility {that a} roundboat provides on the subject of carrying a crew or a considerable amount of gear.

Cats carry out higher towards options in whitewater than a roundboat. A large wave or gap that may stall, surf, and flip a giant roundboat could barely do something to a Cat. Since there may be little quantity touching the water’s floor, there may be little quantity that may be influenced by sturdy counter-currents.

Cats require you to be a extra exact boater with fastidiously chosen traces. Putting one tube on the incorrect aspect of an eddyline can lead to a really abrupt change of route.

Nonetheless, in change for your precision, you’re rewarded with velocity, higher monitoring, and higher whitewater efficiency than a equally sized roundboat.


If you’re available in the market for a small but versatile boat, a Paddlecat is what you need. Paddle cats are are very small Catarafts. Their design is meant to bridge the hole between the efficiency benefits of a cataraft and the flexibility of a paddleboat.

Also referred to as “shredders,” a paddlecat is usually solely meant for R2 (two side-by-paddlers). 

Of their factor, paddlecats are a blast. They’re about as helpful as a sports activities automotive to a household of 4 on the subject of utility, so avoid these until you desire a playraft solely. 

You can throw a body on some paddlecats to row, however I might advocate towards selecting a paddlecat altogether if you happen to plan to row it greater than you paddle it.

A few of our favourite paddlecats embrace AIRE Sabertooth, STAR Slice and STAR Slice XL.

blue star slice elk river colorado

Selecting a Measurement

It is tough to navigate the wide selection of choices out there for rafts, particularly when rafts just about all look the identical from their product pictures.

The size and width of your raft goes to return down to private choice, which is difficult to pin down if you happen to’ve by no means owned a ship earlier than.

There are some frequent sizes and types throughout all manufacturers, form of like how there are frequent kinds of automobiles throughout auto producers. Most manufacturers have a Sports activities Automotive, a Crossover, and a Truck. Rafts will not be so completely different…


Backside Line

Nice For

Not Nice For


Small, nimble, fast on their toes
  • Enjoyable runs/play rafting with small teams (3 paddlers max)
  • Technical sections with required manuevering
  • Day journeys or small in a single day journeys
  • Longer journeys that require gear storage
 12′-13′ Versatile, Better of each worlds
  • Enjoyable runs/play rafting with small teams (5 paddlers max)
  • Day journeys or small in a single day journeys
  • Can take a few of gear meant for bigger boats like dryboxes and frames
  • Journeys that require massive coolers and/or dryboxes
14′-16′ Much less efficiency, extra room
  • Room for gear and passengers
  • Utilitarian
17′ Uncommon
  • Their measurement makes them nice for supporting actually lengthy journeys. In case you can take it on a river, an 18-footer will carry it
  • They’re a behemoth to row, however they chug by nearly all however the largest hits
  • Impractical for many whitewater conditions outdoors of seven+ day multidays

hyside mini max
Boats sized between 9.5 to 11 toes are the Sports activities Automobiles of the rafting world. 
Our favorites embrace:

  • Star Slice Paddlecat
  • AIRE Cub
  • Hyside Mini-Max

    Boats sized between 12 to 13 toes are the Crossover Automobiles of the rafting world. Our favorites embrace:

    Professional tip: Whereas nonetheless small to retailer when rolled, this boat measurement could necessitate a automotive/truck trailer for transport

    Boats sized between 14 to 16 toes are the Vans of the rafting world. Our favorites embrace:

    Additionally, you will want to think about the place you propose on utilizing your boat. Do you reside on the headwaters of the Arkansas River in Colorado, or in Web page, Arizona close to the put-in for the Grand Canyon?

    A ship that’s king in technical water like that of the Arkansas will get swallowed by the massive waves and high-volume stream on the Grand Canyon.

    You must think about getting a measurement of boat that may carry out nicely the place you propose on utilizing the boat 75% of the time. Avoid something underneath 14 toes for high-volume rivers, and keep away from something over 14 toes on a low-volume river.

    Most people who find themselves available in the market for a ship decide on the 14 footer, as it’s the most versatile and succesful measurement throughout all kinds of conditions.

    We encourage you to make your individual alternative and take the time to think about what boat works greatest for you.

    13 foot boat grand canyon

    Selecting a Materials

    Just about all inflatables begin with a excessive denier nylon cloth as the bottom materials, then are handled with an outer coating. Usually there are two coatings:

    1. Artificial Rubber (Hypalon, Pennel-Orca)
    2. Plastic

    The patent for artificial rubber is public and due to this fact this materials is now produced underneath a number of completely different commerce names. The 2 commonest are “Hypalon” (Hyside) and “Pennel-Orca” (NRS).

    Artificial rubber could be very costly – 1000’s of {dollars} dearer than PVC.

    There are particular materials properties that may solely be achieved with rubber. From abrasion resistance to cleansing and treating, Hypalon is the superior materials and can last more over time. 

    aire rafts orange paddle guide

    Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of rafts are coated in Polyvinyl Chloride, or “PVC” to us regular people. Chemically talking, PVC is plastic. The identical materials that may be inflexible to make issues like pipes will also be handled with “plasticizers” that make the fabric a liquid coating that may be utilized to vinyl to strengthen it. 

    Let’s evaluate the important thing variations between plastic and rubber:


    (AIRE Superpuma)

    • Able to withstanding excessive stress
    • Brief restore time
    • Decrease value
  • Much less abrasion resistant
  • Heavier
  • Is not going to roll up as small
  • Extra prone to photo voltaic injury
  • Hypalon

    (Hyside Minimax)

    • Extremely abrasion resistant
    • Light-weight
    • Rolls up small
    • Lengthy restore time
    • Increased value
    • Incapable of dealing with excessive stress
    • Slippery when moist

    green hypalon yampa

    Now that we’ve highlighted the professionals and cons of those supplies, take into consideration the worth tag once more. I wish to warning people from anchoring to cost tag, as there are such a lot of extra necessary issues to consider when shopping for a ship than what it prices, however the materials the boat is made out of is the one most defining consider value.

    Are you able to financially swing shopping for a ship that’s at the least a thousand {dollars} greater than one other one of many identical value and form, simply because it’s a superior materials? How lengthy do you actually see your self having this boat earlier than upgrading?

    In case you see your self changing the boat in a number of years for a special one, go PVC. In case you see this buy as one thing you’ll use for the higher a part of the subsequent 20 years, go Hypalon. 

    There may be one exception to this rule: AIRE (and its sub-brand Tributary) makes a implausible PVC boat that rivals the standard present in Hypalon boats. AIRE boats are designed with a separate urethane bladder system that’s serviceable by a zipper that runs across the within the boat. When you have a difficulty, you’ll be able to patch from the within of the outer pores and skin, which is a way more efficient patch.

    aire teal river boat raft

    You may also substitute the inner bladders on AIRE boats if you’re noticing leaks. They’re the one raft producer that builds boats utilizing a component-based system, and are price contemplating if you’re shopping for a ship for long run possession. In addition they make boats in a very vast number of colours, and provide a ten yr guarantee that’s the greatest within the trade. 

    In case you actually really feel {that a} Hypalon boat (or AIRE) is what you’re available in the market for, do not forget that CKS On-line provides fee plans for a product with this price ticket. Try Affirm financing – the charges are approach higher than a bank card in my expertise.

    Rafting is usually a sport loved by the modest-income subsection of society, and having 5 or 6 thousand {dollars} mendacity round to drop on a brand new boat is one thing most traditional folks don’t have. Affirm makes it potential for regular people to afford good issues. Briefly – don’t go PVC simply because it’s what you’ll be able to afford. 

    Rafting is usually a sport loved by the modest-income subsection of society, and having 5 or 6 thousand {dollars} mendacity round to drop on a brand new boat is one thing most traditional folks don’t have. Affirm makes it potential for regular people to afford good issues. Briefly – don’t go PVC simply because it’s what you’ll be able to afford. 

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