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*.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
4. Wing Inflatables rafts are made from urethane and were the bee's knees back in the day. Now they only do boats for the military unless you can order in quantity.
5. Demaree Inflatable Boats (DIB) make high quality and absolutely bomber hypalon boats. This is a boat that will last 20 years.
Except for Wing, these companies are actively involved in the boating community and have a true passion for whitewater.
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.
2. Hyside makes hypalon boats overseas. They have a great reputation among outfitters for durability. Five year warranty.
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.
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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