If you’ve not spent much time in an inflatable vessel before, then it might feel a bit odd to consider an inflatable boat the best choice for serious paddling. However, with advanced durable fabrics and waterproof coatings that can withstand abrasions and knocks, there’s not much to worry about with a blow-up raft. They’re safe, reliable, and an effective solution to many paddling needs.
Whether you’re trying to find the right boat for pack-rafting, multi-day expeditions, or a weekend trip with the family you’ll be able to find a solution in the inflatable rafts category. These boats span from whitewater to flatwater and single person to many people. With room for gear, pets, fishing equipment, and more, you’ll be able to find the right inflatable raft for your next adventure. And to make it easy, we’re here to guide you through the selection process.
Our Pick of the Best Inflatable Rafts
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How to Choose an Inflatable Raft
Being happy with your new boat is all about buying a boat that suits your needs. Here are a few questions you’ll want to ask yourself before you go shopping:
- Where will you go and what conditions will you encounter?
- What activities do you want to do?
- How often will you use the boat?
- How many people and how much gear will you carry?
- How long will your trips last?
- Do you prefer traditional rafts or catarafts?
- Do you want to paddle or row?
Clearly, there’s a lot to think about. But don’t worry, we cover each of these criteria in more depth below.
Location and Activities
Looking to paddle the lake outside your buddy’s house? You’ll want something tamer. Looking to rip it down some backcountry rapids on a pack-rafting trip? You’ll want something high quality and lightweight. Fishing from your inflatable raft is a great way to spend the weekend, but it will require a different type of raft altogether.
Intended use is a huge determining factor in what type of inflatable raft you’ll choose. Get clear on where and how you’ll use your boat as well as the finer details such as size, shape, design, and quality from the beginning to save wasting time and money having to switch or upgrade boats later on.
Frequency of Usage
If you’re looking to use the boat on the occasional lazy Sunday at the family cottage, then you’ll want to save some money and look for a boat with minimal features. If you’re planning to take your raft down whitewater every day, then you’ll want a heavy-duty inflatable raft that’s durable, large, and rugged enough to withstand bumps and scrapes.
How often you use the boat will have an influence on the money you spend and, hence, the quality of materials and construction.
Passenger and Gear Requirements
Want to carry a single person and no gear? Perfect, you can get away with a small boat.
Looking to roll down the river with six people and enough gear for an overnighter? You’re going to need a much larger and fully-equipped boat!
Don’t forget that your needs and uses may change over time as your skill and preferences evolve. You may seek more challenge in the future, and you’ll need a boat that can grow with your sense of adventure.
Similar to the above, it’s important to consider carefully exactly how long you’ll want to be out in your boat. If you just want to head out for an afternoon with some friends, you’ll not need a massive boat. If you’re planning to do multi-week trips with 3+ people, you may need to consider a pretty beefy boat to handle all of that!
Paddling or Rowing?
This seems like a trivial question, but there’s a big difference between paddling and rowing on the water. If you want to row your inflatable raft, you’ll need a boat that features oar locks and a sturdy structure to support it. This is a great option for single paddlers or larger boats.
Paddling is appropriate for multiple paddlers or smaller boats. This is a more likely option for smaller boats and shorter trips, especially for users that will be doing more recreational activities such as whitewater rafting.
Rafts vs Catarafts
When choosing an inflatable raft, you’ll have to choose from one of two main categories. There are conventional rafts, with solid floors and large tube walls. Then, there are catarafts which consist of two parallel tubes joined by a framework of tubing.
Catarafts can be more agile and responsive to input, they’re inherently self-bailing and can be outfitted with outboard motors quite easily. Rafts, on the other hand, can be easier to load and use due to their closed floor construction.
Balancing loads and distributing weight is critical to top performance on catarafts while rafts are much more forgiving of being heavily burdened and improperly loaded.
Reviews of the Top 5 Best Inflatable Rafts
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AIRE Super Puma Self-Bailing Raft
This raft is meant to run rivers with a team of 3-6 people taking advantage of its relatively agile design. With plenty of rocker, the boat will feel like it’s a much shorter hull length when you’re steering and maneuvering. AIRE made the external tubes thicker and more durable than many competitors to ensure this boat can hold up to narrow, low volume water.
At just over 12’ overall, the 5’ 8” wide raft tips the scale at 100lbs which isn’t bad for a 6-person boat. With three air chambers and up to three thwarts, you’ll be safe even if you somehow manage to deflate one of the tubes. AIRE even plugged in a 10-year manufacturer warranty on top of all that. This is a serious consideration even for experienced guides on narrow rivers.
Make no mistake, this boat is capable of handling an easy day on flatwater but its primary home is in the whitewater where it was made to excel. If you’re looking to be able to fish from the raft, AIRE sells an angler setup that can suit your needs!
AIRE Tributary Twelve HD Self-Bailing Raft
This maneuverable boat tips the scales at 118 pounds thanks to its 2000 denier PVC construction. It’s meant for tight maneuvers on small rivers and can shoot through water that larger boats would never handle. Two center thwarts can be moved anywhere along the length of the boat to maximize flexibility and customize the raft to your needs whether it’s flat water or whitewater.
With three main air tubes and zippered access to the urethane air bladders, you’ll have redundancy in case of emergency and easy repairs. Sprinkled with exterior D-rings, this boat is made to handle gear and equipment for longer trips. You’ll want to consider this boat for family adventures on easy rivers or challenges on whitewater. If you’re planning to use the boat for longer trips, be sure to get a realistic idea of how much gear you’ll need before committing to a smaller boat like this.
At just a touch under 7’ long, this boat isn’t meant for serious stability or massive gear hauling. Instead, this lightweight and compact boat is meant to be carried in a backpack.
Pack rafting is a variation of backcountry travel where the goal is to backpack and take advantage of the ease of river travel in some locations. Hike for miles, then paddle a river for days, then hop out and walk to the next river. It’s an adaption of backcountry travel meant to add versatility to any adventure.
With two inflation chambers per tube, a removable floor, inflatable seat, and tie-down straps front and back, you’ll be able to paddle and store your gear without worrying about falling in the drink. Repair kit and storage bag are included. Be careful though, because this raft is meant to be lightweight, not ultra-durable.
HydroForce Voyager 1000
This inflatable raft is much more suited to weekend work on calm or slow-moving water. With enough room for two adults and one child, you’ll be able to fit enough people in for a quick afternoon paddle. Make no mistake, though, it’s not nearly durable enough for whitewater or tough backcountry trips.
Made of PVC and weighing in at just under 35lbs, this lightweight boat is ideal for the kids to take out on the lake. Or better yet, with built-in fishing rod holders, inflatable seats, and a real nimbleness to it, the Voyager 1000 is probably the best inflatable raft for fishing trips. It’ll hold ~600lbs, which should be plenty for two adults, fishing gear, and a few snacks.
The impressive part about this boat is that it is rated to handle an outboard motor up to 1.4hp. With built in oar locks, though, you won’t need the motor unless you want to blow the competition and get to the best fishing holes first. What I really like about this boat is the ability to customize it to fit your needs each time you take it out.
Intex Excursion 5
This is the party boat of inflatable rafts. Stuff it full with five people and take advantage of the two integrated oar locks and fishing rod holders for a full day on the water where everyone can have fun. This inflatable raft is at home floating a lazy river or paddling to the neighbor’s lake party.
Again, not a boat for serious whitewater or extended expeditions but you’ll be able to upgrade with a motor mount on the back a gear pouch, and grab lines all around for safety. Intex reinforced the massive boat with an inflatable center I-beam which adds structure and rigidity along with an extra set of seats for guests.
We recommend an additional electric motor for propulsion, or you’re going to get tired quickly trying to row this yacht of an inflatable raft. Make your friends do the rowing if they owe you one. Boat comes with pump and oars along with the inflatable seats front and back.
If you’re heading into whitewater or just out for a day on a lazy river, there’s an inflatable raft for your needs. Even within our top five rafts, there’s a broad selection that are equipped for varying conditions and requirements.
One of the biggest advantages of inflatable rafts is their ability to be stored and transported easily. Even for the lake house, you’ll love being able to deflate the boat and store it in the shed. No need to pay for dry docking.
On a final note; make sure you fully consider your needs before you commit to a raft for your next trip. And as always, we recommend taking a lesson before paddling whitewater. Safety first, Shaun!