I hope you will let me say:
There are not many outdoor activities that can match the exhilaration and adrenaline-pumping action of rafting.
Whether you are in the Tuolumne River, California, or Colorado River in Grand Canyon, it is exciting to be on a raft. However, what is overwhelming is seeing the wreckage of substandard rafts. It is a struggle to find the best rafts for a river that come at a reasonable price.
When I started looking for my personal raft, there was not much to find on the internet. Therefore, I decided to provide a detailed account of some of the best rafts in the market. Rafts are expensive and it is not wise to put thousands of dollars on something which you do not really know about.
Call the Shots: Comparing 10 Best Rafts for River 2021
Let me get this away straight off the bat, I have not personally used all of the rafts on my list. However, I can assure I have asked owners across different rafting forums and did my research. Following are some of the top river rafts in the market.
I have intentionally excluded some of the pricey ones costing more than $4000-5000. However, I have included some of the affordable ones to cater to a wide reader base. The focus of our list would be durability and affordability. This is because I personally would have a raft which is durable yet affordable instead of some random features.
Weight Capacity (lbs)
1100 Dtex PVC coated fabric
2000 denier PVC fabric
1100 Dtex PVC coated fabric
2000 denier PVC fabric
2000 denier PVC fabric
PVC coated fabric
2000 denier PVC fabric
One vinyl + two PVC layers
See our list of Best Whitewater Rafts
If you would look at the table, you will find out that most rafts have a PVC fabric construction. This is because, amongst river rafts, PVC rafts are the most affordable ones. However, they are not less than any costly raft when it comes to durability and impact resistance. Let’s go further and have a detailed account of each of our picks.
1. Saturn 9.6 Inflatable Raft – Best Budget High-Quality River Raft
Saturn is in business for more than fifteen years. They produce a variety of inflatables including boats, kayaks, and kaboats. They essentially are one of the leading manufacturers of river rafts. Their rafts are cost-effective and ensure high quality. The raft we have at hand is their 9-foot-6-inch mini raft. This is the smallest raft on their raft series.
One of the advantage you would find with any mini raft is that it can get through tight spots. In addition, Saturn 9.6 is big enough and has a high enough rocker to get you through 3+ rapids. This mini raft comes with the capacity to hold four people.
I would like to clear for this raft and any future mention about a raft’s ability to handle rapids. Rafts come with an approximate capacity of handling a certain type of rapids. However, what matters more is your rafting skills and experience. If you believe you can handle class V rapids, pick up a suitable raft and go for it. However, if your skill and experience level is not up to mark, a raft with class V rating is not going to be much of a shield.
Coming back to Saturn 9.6, it has a construction of 1100 dtex PVC coated polyester fabric. One key feature that PVC-coated polyester fabric imparts is extreme tear resistance. Therefore, Saturn rafts are durable and puncture resistant. Saturn 9.6 has a tube diameter of 17 inches and has five air chambers in total. Saturn rafts use cold welding to join the seams which are more durable than glued seams.
This is a floor design Saturn came up in 2017. Therefore, keep an eye out for the year of manufacturing. This is because Saturn claims the revised floor provides 70% more protection and the floor has 50% more thickness.
Moving on, Saturn 9.6 comes with 12 D-rings, 2 on the inside and 10 outside. These rings help with additional frame attachment. This raft also has all-around stake protection. However, what it lacks is a grab rope, which is a necessity in a river raft. Nevertheless, you can add a custom rope through the D-rings.
The valves Saturn uses are Halkey-Roberts style valves. These are the valves you would most commonly see in inflatables. They are sturdy and have a smooth surface. This mini raft also has a pressure-release valve which helps to release the air pressure if it reaches a certain level. Saturn 9.6 river raft also comes with self-bailing holes which are at the bottom of the raft.
In terms of accessories, it comes with a carrying bag, a repair kit and a couple of detachable thwarts. Moreover, it also comes with a generic air pump. However, it does not come with a set of paddles, which is a disappointment.
2. Bris 9.8ft Inflatable Raft – A Little Beast to Handle Class IV Rapids
BRIS Rafts produces a whole range of inflatable products. Their whitewater rafts range from 8.2 to 15 ft. One of their characteristic features is the price. They come at a very reasonable price considering the features they provide. The raft we have at hand is their 9.8 ft raft.
If you have a keen eye for rafting, the first thing you will notice about this raft is its rocker. It has a rocker of 25.5 inches, which is quite good for a raft under 10 ft. This enables it to handle some of the high waves effortlessly.
This raft has a construction of 2000 denier 1.2 mm thick PVC fabric. This makes the main tube and the bottom floor. Denier is the measure of the density of the fabric and anything above 1000 denier is durable and tear resistant. Drop-stitch floor has been a hit in inflatables for a while now as this makes the floor more rigid. BRIS also uses a drop-stitch floor which has 140 mm thickness. The tube diameter is 18 inches and it has seven chambers.
One of the major concerns in any raft is the seam where the main tube joins the floor. However, BRIS rafts use thermal welding to adjoin the seams. This makes them withstand different water conditions and varying temperatures.
3. Saturn 12 ft Light River Raft – Best River Raft for Beginners
This light river raft we have at hand is the upgraded version of previous Saturn light river raft at 12 feet. Saturn claims that it has 70% thicker bottom PVC cover which uses 1.5 mm PVC. It also has 40% thicker drop-stitch floor which has 1.3 mm PVC. Talking about the floor, the good thing about this floor is that it covers the whole bottom of the raft.
When it comes to construction, this raft has 1100 Dtex high-strength PVC fabric. This additionally has a coating on both sides of 0.9mm 1100 g/m2. This makes it highly tear resistant and gives it durability. Moreover, it has modified Halkey-Roberts Naru valves which have a pushpin. The overall tube diameter is 15″ and it has 3+2 air chambers.
This raft comes at a rating of class II+ rapids. However, we have used it on East Fork Carson River which has good class IV rapids and it handled quite well. It basically has a good rocker to punch through the waves. Nevertheless, it is stable enough to use it as a fishing raft.
Saturn 12’ has a weight capacity of 770 pounds. This means that you can have 3-4 persons on board and still have the capacity to have your gear. For comfort, this raft comes with two detachable thwarts, which you can use or remove according to your preference. The thwarts are rigid enough to provide good back support and fit snugly in the raft.
One of the notable features in this kayak is its weight which is only 50 pounds. This means you can easily carry it to your favorite rivers and lakes. What adds to easy handling are the bow and stern soft handles. It has also six D-rings for additional frame attachment.
In terms of accessories, this raft comes with a couple of paddles, a repair kit, and a carry bag. The paddles are two shorts for my liking and you might have to add new ones. However, the raft does have paddles holders on both sides.
4. BRIS 1.2mm 12 ft Inflatable River Raft – Best River Raft for Family Trips
BRIS 12 ft is the big brother of the BRIS 9.8 ft discussed earlier. This comes at a length of 12 ft and a width of 6 ft. The greater length gives it the ability to hold up to six adults. It has the ability to handle class V+ rapids and is essentially what you call a proper whitewater raft.
BRIS 12 ft uses 2000 denier PVC fabric which is 1.2 mm thick. This constitutes the bottom floor and main tube. Like most rafts on our list, this raft is also self-bailing. This means you do not have to worry about water accumulating in the raft. This river raft uses 18.5″ diameter tube. The boat itself weights at 100 pounds and has seven air chambers.
Drop-stitch floor technology has been a hit in inflatables. It essentially makes the floor rigid enough to stand on and was first used in paddleboards. BRIS rafts also have a 140 mm drop-stitch floor. This floor design adds stiffness and the additional rigidity enables the raft to cut through waves efficiently. This also adds to the speed of the raft.
BRIS 12 ft comes with 8 D-rings which are around the exterior of the raft. This allows for optional frame attachment. A grab rope runs through the D-rings. An all-around grab rope is a real help when you are in water and are trying to get on to the raft. There is also all-around strake protection which acts as an extra layer of protection against pointy objects.
Almost all of BRIS rafts feature a prominent rocker. In this raft, the rocker or bow/stern rise is of 27 inches. This gives it the potential to handle some of the higher waves easily. Last year, we packed it up and went for a weekend trip to West Virginia. It essentially handled the class IV rapids of Gauley River pretty well.
One of the improved features in BRIS rafts is their seams which now use thermal welding. They earlier used to have a glue for seams which were a concern. Now, this essentially means that it can handle all sorts of water conditions without tearing the seams apart.
In terms of accessories, the raft comes with two inflatable thwarts, which you can remove for additional storage. It also comes with a repair kit, a foot pump, and a carrying bag.
5. Bestway HydroForce Voyager 1000 – Best Inflatable Fishing Raft
Bestway makes is a well-known name in inflatables and has been in business since the 1990s. They attract a market share of as high as 34% of the inflatable market in Europe. This is a good indication of the quality they bring into the equation. Their product which makes our list is their HydroForce Voyager 1000 which is the biggest boat in their three-boat series.
Voyager 1000 has a construction of high-grade three-ply vinyl. This makes it abrasion and tear resistant. One of the characteristic features of vinyl is UV resistance. This means they can withstand direct sunlight and would not lose its composure and color. This boat basically has two air chambers. One chamber makes the sides and other the floor.
One of the notable features about this boat is its almost flat construction. This means it has literally no rocker. The main attribute this flat design imparts is stability. However, it also just makes it limited to flat water bodies like lakes and slow-moving rivers.
When it comes accessories, it has a couple of 60″ aluminum paddles. It also comes with a repair patch, a storage bag, and an inflation pump. This boat essentially has a weight of around 33 pounds and this means you can easily carry it to and from the waters. You can also secure your paddles in oarlocks on board which is a good convenience to have. This boat additionally has a couple of fishing rod holders.
6. BRIS 15ft Inflatable Whitewater River Raft – Best Raft for Rafting Guides
One of the reasons BRIS rafts are my favorite rafts around is the excellent price they come at. They provide great quality at an unbelievably low price. I often get asked how they can be so affordable in this quality. The only answer I can think of is that BRIS sales the rafts themselves, there are no dealers involved. This is their third product that makes my list. This is because frankly, it is hard to go around them when talking about good rafts.
BRIS 15ft is the biggest raft in their raft series. It essentially has the same construction as other rafts on the series. The main tube and bottom floor fabric have a construction of 2000 denier PVC fabric which is 1.2 mm thick. The tuber diameter is good 20″.
This raft is great for you if you are a rafting guide as it can hold up to 12 adults. It also has five pairs of foot straps on board which add an extra level of safety in heavy rapids. Additionally, on sides, it has extra patches of rubber which make the sides less slippery.
This BRIS raft also has a drop-stitch floor, which is 140 mm thick. The main attribute of drop-stitch is the stiffness and stability it adds to the floor. This floor is also self-bailing. It also has all-around strake protection which adds protection for the raft against rocks and pointy objects.
On the outside, it has 12 D-rings and an all-around grab rope which runs through them. D-rings are essential for attaching an optional frame. It also has six soft handles which help in its transport.
Like other BRIS rafts in our list, it also uses Halkey Roberts valves. HR valves are the go-to values in most inflatables. They are efficient in that they have a quarter-turn lock and this reduces the chance of air leakage.
This raft also has pressure-release valves. These valves release air pressure if it reaches a threshold. Air pressure can increase if the raft is in use or in the sun and this essentially can damage the tubes.
7. Saturn 13′ Inflatable Raft – Best inflatable River Raft
Saturn makes all kinds of inflatable boats and their river rafts are their trademark products. Amongst river rafts, this 13-feet raft is their best-selling product. This is because it comes at an in-between size for river rafts. This enables it to not only handle heavy rapids but also go through tight spots. Saturn Rafts also provides a number of color options.
Like the Saturn 9.6 ft raft earlier in the list, it also has a construction of 1100 Dtex PVC fabric. At 1100 Dtex, it has good durability, and tear and puncture resistance. If you have ever owned a raft, you would know that it is the seam that often comes apart. However, Saturn rafts have strong seams because they use cold welding for seams in addition to a chemical glue. It has a tube diameter of 17.6″.
Saturn rafts have a drop-stitch floor like any good raft nowadays. This five-layer floor is stiff and rigid and gives the raft stability in low water conditions. Saturn claim after the floor revision in 2017, it gives provides 70% more protection.
In inflatables, air valves direct, regulate and control the flow of air. Saturn 13 ft uses C7 Leafield valves which have a smooth and low profile. C7 valves have a seal which wipes seal surface during operation and this reduces dirt contamination. Because of their smooth outer surface, C7 valves do not snug with other materials.
With this raft, you will get detachable thwarts, a repair kit, and a carrying bag. However, it does not come with an air pump or a set of paddles. Nevertheless, you can use any mattress pump for its inflation.
8. BRIS 1.2mm 13ft Inflatable Raft – A Feature-Rich River Raft
This next raft which makes our list is the BRIS’s 13 ft inflatable raft. It comes at a width of 6.2 ft and can hold up to eight adults. When it comes to the size of raft, 13 ft is a size which promises a lot. It is big enough to handle those heavy waves and still agile enough to get through those tight constraints.
Just like other BRIS rafts, this raft also has a making of 2000 denier PVC fabric which is 1.2 mm thick. This configuration makes the main tube and bottom of the raft. The overall tube diameter is 18.8 inches and it has seven chambers. BRIS now also uses thermal welding seams which makes seams strong.
This raft also has a drop-stitch floor which is 140 mm thick. Drop-stitch technology makes the floor more rigid and stiff. This makes the floor stable enough to stand on it. Moreover, this floor is self-bailing which means it prevents water from accumulating in the raft.
On the exterior, BRIS 13 ft has 10 D-rings which help with additional frame attachment. It also has six soft handles on the outside. These handles help with easy transport and getting into the raft.
9. Intex Mariner 4 Inflatable River Raft – A Versatile River Raft
Intex makes a variety of inflatable including airbeds, boats and above-ground pools. Their product which makes our list is the Intex Mariner 4 which is a four-person inflatable boat. There is also Mariner 3 in this series and that can hold three persons on board.
This raft makes our list for being versatile. Its features enable you to use it as a fishing boat and go on recreational trips. Nevertheless, you can also use it for up to class III river rafting. Additionally, this raft has points for attaching a motormount kit. This enables you to attach a trolling motor giving you an inflatable raft with a motor, which is cool.
When it comes to construction, it is like a whitewater raft, which means it consists of three layers. It has a polyester layer which is between two thick PVC layers. However, it also has a vinyl layer on top making it abrasion and UV resistant. The key attribute which makes this boat very stable is the hard floor.
Moving on, Mariner 4 has two fishing rod holders and two 360-degree oarlocks. This means that you can rotate oarlocks to varying degrees and can lock them according to your preference. On the outside, it also two grab handles, one each at the bow and stern, for carrying and handling.
Mariner comes at a capacity of 800 pounds and claims to hold up to four adults. However, I would say having four adults on board would make it congested. It is better to have two adults and two kids for an easy ride.
10. Intex Excursion 5 Inflatable Raft – Best Recreational River Raft
Intex has been in business for more than forty years. They produce a variety of inflatable products. Intex Excursion 5 is by far their best-selling boat. This is an entry-level inflatable boat which is great for a fun day on the water with family and friends. Whether you love fishing, paddling or just float around the river, Excursion 5 has you covered.
It has a durable PVC vinyl construction which is puncture resistant. Moreover, it has an inflatable I-beam floor which gives it stability and rigidity. Like Mariner 4, it uses Double Quick pump with Boston valves and you can inflate it in around 10 minutes. It basically has three air chambers with an auxiliary air chamber. The auxiliary chamber adds an extra level of safety as it can keep you afloat alone.
Excursion 5 has four fishing holders, which are not strong enough to hold a heavy bass, but they count. On the outside, it also has two pairs of welded oar locks for securing your oars. By the way, Excursion 5 does come with 54-inch aluminum oars. It additionally has a gear pouch, where you can put your valuables like cell phone and wallet.
Excursion 5 is not easy to paddle with people on board. However, it has motor mounting points on the back and you can add a trolling motor of up to 1.5 horsepower. It also has an all-around grab rail which helps in carrying it to and from water.
Additionally, Excursion 5 comes with inflatable seats with backrests which are not much to talk about. I think with seats on board you would not have much space. Therefore, as it has a rigid floor, I would recommend removing the seats.
Ultimate Buyer’s Guide for Best Rafts for River
I hope the above list helps you find the best raft for your needs. However, if you would like to go on your own and get one, following are the features you need to consider.
There are a lot of things you need to look for in a raft. However, there is none more important than its construction. Construction not only gives raft durability, it also imparts a lot of characters to the raft.
Nowadays, different raft manufacturers use a single or a combination of different materials. Some of these materials include urethane, Hypalon and PVC. Urethane and Hypalon are more durable than PVC. However, they come at up to four times the price of a PVC raft.
Most affordable rafts use PVC fabric and this makes them lightweight, inexpensive and flexible. However, they are not much efficient in UV or chemical resistance. In addition, look at the floor of the raft. Most of the high-quality rafts use drop-stitch floor which gives additional stiffness and rigidity to the raft.
An important factor in construction is the quality of seams. Seams are the point where different parts of the fabric joint together. Keep an eye for this factor as seams are mostly the trouble part of a raft.
They can give way on you in the middle of your excursion. Among seams look for rafts which use thermal or cold welding for seams. Any rafts which have glued seams are not durable and can leave you stranded.
Design of Raft:
What ultimately defines the purpose or use of a particular raft is its design. A raft with a wider design is generally more stable, however, it renders the raft less maneuverable. On the other hand, narrower rafts are easy to control, however they are generally less stable.
Amongst factors related to the design of a raft include its rocker, which is the measure of bow/stern rise. Generally, a raft with a higher rocker enables it to handle heavy waves and makes it suitable for fast-moving rivers. On the other hand, a raft with a less bow-stern rise or flat hull is not efficient at handling heavy waters. Therefore, such a raft is suitable for flat water bodies like lakes and slow-moving rivers.
Safety Profile of Raft:
When you are going for the river rafting, one of the most important things is your safety. This is because if you are rafting in fast-moving rivers with heavy waves, you can end up in the water. Therefore, look for rafts which are stable and safe enough to prevent you from toppling into the water. Nevertheless, if you end up in the water, they make you returning on the raft easy.
Some of these features include an all-around grab rope. This is essential if you are looking to get into class III+ rapids. Firstly, it helps you to hold on to the rope while on the raft. However, if you are in the water, it can help you get on the raft. The all-around grab rope also helps in moving the raft from and to water.
Another safety feature you can look for in raft are the foot straps on board. BRIS rafts come with foot straps on board. These help you to put your foot in the straps and prevent you from tripping over.
Self-bailing property of rafts is also something you add to the safety profile of the raft. Self-bailing prevents water accumulation in the raft and can help prevent it from drowning.
You can not put a raft in water without some of the necessary accessories like an air pump. Some of the accessories that come with rafts include air pump, oars, repair kit, and a carrying kit.
One accessory which can make your dream recreational trip miserable is the seating. Therefore, look for rafts which come with good thwarts and seats. If you will go for a budget raft, chances are you will get a substandard seat. This is because everything adds to the cost and comfort of a seat is relative for different people.
Although accessories are important, I would not recommend making them the deciding factor in your purchase. It is always better to look for solid construction and better design than accessories. There are always custom accessories available and you can add them on.
Here are some random but important features you should look for in a raft.
Last not least is the price of a raft. The major factor which determines the price of the raft is its construction. Generally, a high-priced raft is more durable.
However, I would recommend looking for a nice compromise between price and quality. This is because if you are not a rafting guide, you are not going to be on the water every day. Therefore, get your hand on something which comes at a good price and can give you five to six years with proper care. This will save you a couple of thousand dollars.
Saturn and BRIS have some high-quality raft series and can last you for a time with good performance on the water.
Frequently Asked Question About River Rafting
River rafting is fun and is a good activity to go on with family and friends. However, renting a raft is costly if you would want to adopt it as a hobby. Therefore, owning a raft opens new horizons for any adventure-savvy soul.
River rafts come at a very wide range of prices ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to up to $10,000. However, it does not always have to be costly to be good. We have included some of the high-quality rafts which come at a very reasonable price.
We hope our list helps you select the best raft of your needs. However, if you still have any questions, drop us a line below and we would love to help.