Raft Materials and Manufacturers

by Zachary Collier

Picking the right raft is, like many things, complicated. Your choice will depend on the type of boating you're doing, your budget, and even your geographic location. The first thing you want to consider is your raft material. Here are the main choices:

1. Urethane: Pros: Slips nicely over rocks, most durable fabric, lightweight, best puncture and tear resistance, durable. The welding process they use to make these boats is bomber. Cons: Fairly expensive, tough to roll and transport, difficult to field repair*.

Urethane Rafts do well on Rocky Rivers

Urethane Rafts do well on Rocky Rivers

2. Hypalon: Pros: Easy to roll, relatively easy to field repair, and the material has a long life. Cons: Expensive, glued together (instead of welded) so it can come unglued sometimes. More abrasion and puncture resistant than PVC, but less than urethane.

Hypalon Raft on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Hypalon Raft on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

3. PVC: Pro: inexpensive. Cons: not particularly durable, can crack when rolled in cold temperatures, tend to be mass produced so these boats are known for quality issues.

PVC Inflatable Kayak on the Chetco River

PVC Inflatable Kayak on the Chetco River

*Some people think that urethane is easy to field repair, but I really struggle with it. I do like that you can use Tear Aid to do a quick field repair on urethane and PVC boats.

Once you've picked the right material, then you need to think about brands. The next consideration is choosing between an American made boat or one made overseas.

American Made

The American made boats tend to have better warranties, are better made, but are more expensive.

1. Maravia uses a PVC base fabric and encapsulated in polyurethane - an awesome combination. They look beautiful and are absolutely bomber but are a bit heavy and tough to roll. You'll rarely ever see a Maravia with a patch. Ten year warranty on boats for personal use and five year warranty for commercial boats. Maravia rafts are all made in Boise, Idaho.

Maravia makes some good looking boats!

Maravia makes some good looking boats!

2. AIRE has a unique system of an inner bladder and an outer layer made of PVC or urethane. They are the fastest draining boats, roll well, and they have great boat designs. AIRE boats have a ten year no-fault warranty and stand behind it 100%. The factory is located near Boise, Idaho, which is convenient for Idaho and Oregon boaters.

AIRE Raft on the White Salmon River

AIRE Raft on the White Salmon River

3. SOTAR works almost exclusively with urethane and specializes in well made custom boats. Their factory is in Southern Oregon, which is convenient for Oregon and California boaters. Six year warranty.

SOTAR specializes in beautifully made custom rafts

SOTAR specializes in beautifully made custom rafts

4. Wing Inflatables rafts are made from urethane and were the bee's knees back in the day. For a while they primarily made boats for the military but have recently began to make whitewater boats.

Wing Raft on the Cal Salmon

Wing Raft on the Cal Salmon

5. Demaree Inflatable Boats (DIB) make high quality and absolutely bomber hypalon boats. This is a boat that will last 20 years.

Custom DIB Sweep Boat on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Custom DIB Sweep Boat on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Internationally Made

Most of these brands are made from PVC in China or Mexico so the prices are much more affordable. They're a great value but tend to not be as durable and well made as the American-made rafts.

1. NRS offers a huge variety of boat styles made from a variety of materials. Their warranty is between 1-10 years depending on the material and style of boat.

Running an NRS Raft in Bhutan

Running an NRS Raft in Bhutan

2. Hyside makes hypalon boats overseas. They have a great reputation among outfitters for durability. Five year warranty.

Hyside Raft on California's Middle Fork of the American River

Hyside Raft on California's Middle Fork of the American River

3. Vanguard makes PVC boats and has some good designs.

4. Bullet Watercraft is a newer company that makes PVC boats with some great innovative designs.

5. Rocky Mountain Rafts is a new company that offers some great pricing. I don't know much about their designs or durability yet.

6. Avon Inflatables made the best boats for many years. I think of them as the Cadillac of rafts. They're hypalon and made in the UK so a bit expensive but bomber and worth the extra money. Unfortunately Avon stopped manufacturing whitewater boats a few years ago.

Avon Rafts on California's Tuolumne River

Avon Rafts on California's Tuolumne River

There are pros and cons to each material and manufacturer. Remember that, like many other things, you get what you pay for!

Please note that this is a complicated topic and much of what I wrote is my opinion based on my experience. I would love for others to add their personal thoughts and experience in the comment section below. Thanks!

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Author

Zachary Collier

Zach is the owner of Northwest Rafting Company and has led groups throughout the U.S. as well as Siberia, Bhutan, Nepal, Honduras, and Chile. His passion for wilderness shines through how he runs both his trips and his company. He's as confident on the oars as he is on the chess board, while he delivers a truly memorable experience in the most amazing places on the planet.

Connect with Zach:  Google+  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram

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