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Best Whitewater Rafts Reviewed
We want to be perfectly transparent about our opinion here: whitewater rafting is just the bomb. It’s like extreme tubing behind a boat, minus the boat of course, and instead just blasting through standing waves and going wherever the river takes you.
Whitewater rafting is crazy exciting, dangerous, stimulating, but those words all fall way short of the experience.
For serious whitewater, only the best whitewater rafts will stand up to the test of time. Providing safe passage through the most rigorous whitewater is taxing on any boat, and a cheap and flimsy whitewater raft is not a watercraft worth trusting with your life.
You also might be surprised to know that river rafts can be used in a number of applications. Pitching through whitewater with a group of friends is a popular use, but adding a rowing frame to a whitewater raft provides incredible control and allows a single rower to maneuver with agility and finesse. Another type of rowing frame is specifically designed with fishing in mind. The addition of standing platforms and lean bars provide the ideal environment for casting and working a line through the underwater habitat of trophy fish.
With that in mind, how you want to use your whitewater raft will have a significant impact on which features seem to be worthwhile and necessary for your application.
We are huge rafting fans, and we know first hand that any decent raft is a significant investment. Getting what you need and want while spending your money wisely will help to ensure your raft will last for many years to come.
Top Whitewater Raft Features To Consider
- Durability – Whitewater is nothing to be trifled with, and a whitewater raft that you can rely on is worth it’s weight in gold when you are pitching through standing waves in the middle of nowhere. Whitewater rivers generate a tremendous amount of force and a bargain basement raft simply is not going to stand up to the power of a wild river. As an additional layer of safety, the top river rafts feature multiple air chambers. Even in the event of a catastrophic puncture, multiple chambers provide buoyancy so you can safely return to shore and make necessary repairs.
- Passenger Capacity – Striking a good balance between passenger and gear carrying capacity is important. On one hand, you don’t want to find yourself looking at big water when your raft isn’t up to the task. And on the other hand, a large raft takes a steady hand to handle safely in big water. Large rafts are more capable river rafts in class III, IV, and V whitewater, but you will also pay for that higher level of performance. You can save some coin by opting for a smaller river raft if you are planning on primarily running class II water.
- Self Bailing – This feature becomes particularly helpful for those really wet runs through soaking rapids that load-up the boat with water. Self bailing rafts feature drainage holes in the floor of the boat that allow water to drain through the inflated floor and empty back into the river. Whether you want to use your raft simply for rafting whitewater, or as an all-access fly fishing raft, quality self bailing rafts are very enjoyable boats that let you focus on your pastime rather than wasting time bailing water out of your boat.
- Dependable Valves – You won’t be inflating your large whitewater river raft with a few quick puffs of air. It takes a large volume of air to properly inflate a river raft, and a high-volume pump can help you inflate your raft fast and get you on the water much quicker than hand pumping. Some rigid self-bailing floors require high pressure pumps in order to attain a proper rigidity and a provide stable standing area. Quality valves like Leafield C7’s allow for super fast inflation and a reliable seal that won’t leak air under the rigors and stresses of whitewater.
- Quality Materials – Durable fabric reinforced PVC outer shells are the standard in the manufacture of whitewater rafts today. Cheap vinyl is great for disposable pool toys, but not a river raft. A large river raft will inevitably experience some interaction with abrasive surfaces. Avoiding puncture and abrasion resistance is a key attribute of any reliable river raft.
Top Whitewater RaftComparison Chart
Best Whitewater Rafts
1. AIRE Tributary Fourteen HD Self-Bailing Raft
To kick off our list, we’re going to start with the AIRE Tributary Fourteen HD Self-Bailing Raft. AIRE, short for Argonaut Inflatable Research & Engineering, is one of the fastest-growing companies in the industry thanks to their innovative work and research on inflatables.
They’ve been providing the industry with some wonderful products for a long time and the Tributary series of rafts is quickly becoming one of the most popular and practical collections that we’ve seen in terms of whitewater rafting.
With its construction, size and design, you’re getting an exceptionally sturdy whitewater raft that will help keep you stable in the water while also providing you with excellent maneuverability. It also has a surprising amount of stability to ensure that you and your passengers don’t fall out when you’re whitewater rafting. Lastly, the four-chamber design provides extra safety and peace of mind when you’re out on the water.
One of the things we absolutely love about the AIRE Tributary is how easy it is to handle. We’ve tested many whitewater rafts in the past that are around the same size and weight, but they never seem to handle as well as the AIRE Tributary when it matters the most. Sure, smaller whitewater rafts might offer an even more nimble package, but the formidable size of this whitewater raft really plays into it’s advantages and makes it a lot more agile, stable and overall enjoyable to use for big water.
We can definitely recommend the AIRE Tributary if you’re looking for a sporty and sleek-looking whitewater raft. It’s easier to handle than most of the larger rafts and the sturdy design and construction definitely cannot be overlooked! To top it all off, AIRE is known for offering extremely good customer service, meaning they’ve always got your back should you need help or if your raft comes damaged for some reason.
Here is a great video showing the abuse the Aire Tributary is built to take:
2. Saturn 9.6 ft Inflatable Whitewater Mini Raft
The Saturn 9.6 ft Inflatable Whitewater Mini Raft is a rather small and nimble whitewater raft that is made from heavy-duty 1,100 Dtex High-Strength PVC fabric. It’s thick, puncture-proof and even abrasion resistant, making it extremely durable and able to withstand all of the dangers that whitewater rafting could throw at you. This gives you some added peace of mind when using the Saturn, so don’t let the relatively small size fool you!
Included with the Saturn is an accessory kit that includes repair supplies, a spare valve and also a carry bag. While nothing outstanding, the Saturn’s included accessories are a nice touch and we can’t fault them for trying to create a complete package that anyone can just pick up and start using on the water.
A lot of people will find it hard to get used to the amount of space in the raft. This is especially true given the overall size of the raft. While many people find it adequate for around two to three people, it can start to quickly become imbalanced if you’re not careful. When the waters get a little too rough, you’ll start to feel the lack of stability and may find it concerning just how hard the raft is to control. It’s not the most nimble little raft but can still be used to traverse class III whitewater rafting sections.
While the rafting experience isn’t the most exceptional, we can still give the Saturn high marks for being portable, light and able to fit into the boot of your car. We can’t recommend it enough for calmer waters that won’t rough up the raft as much, but if you’re going to be tackling stronger waters, we definitely suggest going for something a little more sturdy.
3. BRIS 12ft Inflatable White Water River Raft
The bright-yellow BRIS water raft is a large and maneuverable whitewater raft that is made using some of the industry’s sturdiest materials. With its heavy-duty PVC fabric, it’s exceptionally strong while still remaining light and affordable, and the relatively large size means that you can fit quite a few people in this whitewater raft without compromising speed or stability. It’s even capable of taking on class 4 and class 5 rapids if you have the experience, making it a fantastic choice for serious whitewater rafters that are looking to push it to its absolute limits.
One thing we noticed about the BRIS is just how high-quality the overall build of the product is. This does complicate the inflation process a bit and you’ll need a relatively powerful pump to get it done in a short time, but results in one of the strongest and most durable whitewater rafts available on the market. This helps it become a fantastic raft for serious rafting and we can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re going to be tackling something class 4 and above.
However, this tight design isn’t without its flaws. We found that water has trouble escaping the raft and draining out once the waters get a little rough and it starts to splash around on the inside of the raft. This could be a problem for inexperienced rafters and may be troublesome when you’re out on the water. It’s a noticeable issue but not a massive deal-breaker. Overall, we can highly recommend the BRIS whitewater raft for beginners and experienced rafters alike and have no outstanding complaints.
4. Saturn 12 ft Light River Raft
The second Saturn product on this list, this long alternative is similar to the previous inflatable raft but is able to fit more people. In terms of stability, having more people aboard a longer raft can have some serious consequences out on the water. We wouldn’t suggest trying to take this Saturn 12 ft light river raft on anything above a class 4, especially if you’re at full capacity and will have all of the seats filled. However, if you’re in the raft with fewer people and are experienced, we can easily see this being taken to class 5 rapids.
One advantage of this longer raft is that you’ll have more space available for your belongings. This is a great feature if you’re planning on using your whitewater raft to travel between areas. A Saturn whitewater raft is a fantastic investment either way and comes highly recommended. The brand has been known to create some wonderful whitewater rafting products and the 12 ft light river raft is no exception. It can brave some of the toughest waters and you’ll still have plenty of room left over for your belongings.
In short, there are a lot of good things about the Saturn raft that we can certainly recommend. It’s got plenty of space, it’s sturdy and well-constructed. That’s typical of a Saturn whitewater raft and it’s to be expected of such a well-known brand. Picking bad things about this raft is more difficult, and we really can’t pinpoint any huge concerns that would stop us from recommending it. If you’re looking for a long-term investment, then a Saturn is always a good choice and this longer raft is the perfect choice for someone that is looking for more storage space.
5. Intex Mariner 4 River Raft
Strong, sturdy and with plenty of space for people or your gear, the Intex Mariner 4 River Raft is a wonderful choice for beginners and experienced rafters alike. It’s created using incredibly durable plastic that makes it highly resistant to impact and abrasion, and it’s also got a durable rock guard that helps to keep it from puncturing.
While it’s built for whitewater rafting, this particular raft has plenty of uses and makes the perfect accompaniment for a fishing trip or just relaxing on the water in general. This is thanks to the incredible amount of space that you get with the Intex Mariner 4, making it well-suited for all kinds of uses out on the water. It’s sturdy enough that you can hold all of your gear and even place a light chair or two on it to relax while you fish.
In terms of whitewater rafting, it’s nimble and easy to control, sturdy enough to give you confidence that it won’t crumble under the waves or deflate as soon as it grazes a rock. This level of durability is difficult to find in whitewater rafts around this price range, but the Intext Mariner 4 manages to pull it off beautifully. If you want to purchase this as a general-purpose raft that can be used for virtually anything, then we can highly recommend it. If you’re getting this for the purpose of using it as a whitewater raft, then we also have no complaints thanks to the overall durability and sturdiness of the construction. We’re confident that an Intex Mariner 4 will last a long time regardless of what you use it for.