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.
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.
- 1.2mm PVC 15’ Whitewater Raft (BRF450) by Bris
- Outlaw 130 Self-Bailing Raft by NRS
- 9’6″ Whitewater Raft (RD290X) by Saturn Boats
- Super Duper Puma by Aire
- Outfitter 10.5 Min-Max by Hyside
- SB-105 Storm 10.5′ Self-Bailing Raft by Rocky Mountain
- Williwaw 1 Raft by Maravia
- Sotar SL 13′ Liquid Raft
#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|
- 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|
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Class 2 – A little rough water, few rocks, small drops, may require maneuvering
- Skill level required: basic paddling
- Class 3 – Moderate waves, about 3 to 5 ft drops, not much significant danger, may require considerable maneuvering
- Skill level required: experienced paddling
- Class 4 – Whitewater, great waves, extensive rapids, rocks, some considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be required
- Skill level required: advanced whitewater experience
- Class 5 – Whitewater, huge waves, uninterrupted rapids, huge rocks and perils, some large drop, precise maneuvering characterized by must-make-moves required
- Skill level required: expert
- Class 6 – Not passable rapids. Any attempt may result in serious injuries, drowning, or death.
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.