The Best Inflatable River Raft 2020 – Buyer’s Guide

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Choosing a great inflatable raft is the first step in having fun whitewater rafting, exploring a small pond near your home, or taking an extensive camping trip across multiple lakes. There are a variety of important aspects of your raft to consider before purchasing one.

inflatable river raft review

It isn’t wise to just grab the first one you see or even the most expensive. High prices don’t necessarily denote quality in the world of rafting, as even inexpensive rafts can be reliable and sturdy enough for most river rafting conditions.

The following inflatable river raft review is going to walk you through five great rafts and help you choose the best inflatable river raft, one that is right for your personal rafting needs. It will include the benefits of each raft, the downsides, specifications, and any other important and relevant information. This information can be used to narrow your search down to both the best raft for your money and the best inexpensive option.

Let’s not dilly-dally any longer: the more we wait, the longer it’ll take for you to choose the best inflatable river raft and get out on the river. First, we’ll take a look at five high-quality rafts and list all the relevant information necessary to help you choose between them.

Inflatable River Raft Comparison

ItemNameRatingPrice 
Intex Excursion 5
Intex Excursion 5
4 out of 5 stars
$$
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Intex Challenger 2
Intex Challenger 2
4 out of 5 stars
$
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Intex Explorer 200
Intex Explorer 200
3.5 out of 5 stars
$
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Intex Mariner 4
Intex Mariner 4
4 out of 5 stars
$$$
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Intex Seahawk 3
Intex Seahawk 3
4 out of 5 stars
$$
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Inflatable River Raft Reviews

Intex Excursion 5

best river raft review

One of the toughest and most reliable rafts on the market today is the Intex Excursion 5. Strong enough for up to five brave rafters, it comes with three air chambers, two main hull chambers, a grab line, an I-beam floor, welded oar locks, a Boston valve, and quick-fill and deflate speed times. This incredible raft is among the most respected on the market, and is made out of heavy-duty PVC vinyl that protects it from untimely punctures and other unfortunate accidents.

This makes it the best inflatable river raft for heavy duty rafting. Its tough surface will resist the pressure of the rocks and the water, and its tough oars will keep you upright. However, this raft also comes with four built-in fishing rod holders and a gear pouch. These items make this a great river fishing raft or even one you can take out on the lake. Although five people can fit comfortably on this raft, it’s probably best used with four if you plan on extended fishing expeditions.

While this raft has many great benefits, it does have a few downsides. The most obvious is the price, which is a bit higher than most of the other rafts on this list. It’s also a little too heavy for casual rafting. At nearly 60 pounds, it takes a full-grown man or woman to haul this beast when it’s not inflated. When it is filled with air, it can be bulky and hard-to-control. As a result, it may be hard to use it to go rafting with less than three or four people.

In spite of these slight downsides, the Excursion 5 is still one of the best rafts on the market and more than worth the extra cost. Just make sure to take good care to store it properly in the winter, to avoid the risk of puncture damage that may make your raft useless. Try to store it in an area that is at least room temperature (70 degrees Fahrenheit). Keep that tip in mind for all inflatable rafts, no matter which one you choose.

PROS
  • Pre-installed fishing rods.
  • Large seating room.
  • Strong surface exterior.
CONS
  • Cost.
  • Weight.

Intex Challenger 2

river raft reviews

If you’re looking for rafting fun for just two adults, the Intex Challenger 2 is a great choice. This inflatable river raft is designed for fishing, relaxing, and exploring rivers and lakes. Don’t use this one out on heavy or strong water or you might end up taking a swim. Like the Excursion, it comes with an easy-to-use Boston valve that fills and deflates quickly. It also features many of the same advantages, such as a grab handle and a grab line.

One neat thing about the Challenger is that it comes with a repair patch kit. This neat little addition helps you make quick patches on the fly while you’re rafting. While more serious repairs may be necessary when you get home, a patch kit will help you stay dry and avoid dangerous situations should your raft start to deflate.

What else sets this raft apart from the Excursion? For one thing, it’s a lot lighter: just under 16 pounds. This makes it much easier to haul to and from your rafting area. As a result, it’s fair to say that this is one of the best inflatable river rafts for two adults or even solo rafting. Unfortunately, you might not have a lot of room for a cooler or fishing rods and gear. In fact, this raft doesn’t have Excursion’s rod holders, another slight downside to an otherwise great raft.

However, it is one of the toughest of all inexpensive two-person rafts, holding up to 253 pounds. It also has a motor mount, should you decide you want a little more power than the somewhat awkward oars. These oars are another problem, as they can warp in the sun. As mentioned above, keep your raft stored in a cool and dry place for the best results. Other than these honestly minor details, the Challenger is a great river rafting choice for just about anybody.

PROS
  • Holds a lot of weight for a light raft.
  • Repair patch kit.
  • Boston valve.
CONS
  • Awkward oars.
  • No fishing rod holders.

Intex Explorer 200

intex explorer 200 review

Like the Challenger, the Intex Explorer 200 is built for two people and comes with French oars and a mini air pump, but is a little limited in its weight capacity, supporting just up to 210 pounds. While the raft won’t sink if you exceed it by several pounds, it will start to sag in the water. This makes the Explorer a little more appropriate for lighter or younger rafters, such as teens. It may also be a good choice for younger children.

One nice feature is its repair patch. While not quite as tough as the repair kit from the Challenger, it is a nice addition for emergency situations. The exterior of the Explorer is tough, being built out of tough PVC plastic that makes it more than capable of avoiding punctures. In severe water, however, the boat may be more easily punctured. That makes it necessary to keep this one on calmer waters, such as on slow rivers or calmer lakes. Needless to say, whitewater rafting is out with this one.

Perhaps the nicest advantage of this raft is its light weight: at just over seven pounds, it’s easy enough for one person to haul. Considering that this seven pound raft can hold 210 pounds, it is very sturdy. Other benefits include the pump which, while not being very powerful, is more than enough to provide this raft with a nice level of air and buoyancy. While more powerful pumps are available, it’s not likely that you’ll need one tougher than this.

Another positive is the low cost of this raft. Well below the cost of other rafts of its type, it still provides the kind of strength and sturdiness necessary for a great rafting experience. Taking it out by yourself with a cooler filled with soda or beer makes for an exciting personal fishing experience.

PROS
  • Low price.
  • Sturdy PVC exterior.
  • Extremely light.
CONS
  • Limited weight capacity.
  • Weak pump.

Intex Mariner 4

mariner 4 raft

Somewhere between the Excursion and the Explorer lies the Intex Seahawk 4. This four-person inflatable boat comes with high-quality aluminum oars and a high-output air pump, like the Excursion. However, it is closer in price to the Explorer, making it a great alternative to somebody who likes the look of the Excursion, but is looking for something a little less expensive.

Like the Excursion, it is built out of super-tough 30 gauge PVC vinyl construction. This helps avoid abrasions and impact damage that could cause the raft to deflate. It also comes with two air chambers that make it sturdy and easy-floating. For extra comfort it has inflatable front and rear cushions which provide a superior level of comfort, especially compared to boats with harder seats. Nice little touches like that make this raft stand out.

Like the Excursion, it comes with rod holders, this time just two. This makes it a more-than-comfortable fishing option for two people. Add a cooler or even a radio to make the fishing experience even more fun. Another similarity it shares with the Excursion is its high weight capacity: it can hold up to 814 pounds, which is under the 900 pounds of the Excursion, but still very tough.

Are there any disadvantages to this raft? There are a few. Like the Excursion, it is fairly heavy at just over 46 pounds. It also loses out to the Excursion when comparing just about every stat, including weight capacity, the number of available rod holders, and other small items like that. Think of this particular raft as a smaller version of the Excursion.

The major advantage this raft holds over the Excursion is a lower price tag. Deciding between the two largely comes down to how much you want to spend for the extra amenities of the Excursion. Most people will be more than happy with the Seahawk, but for those that want the absolute best inflatable river raft, the Excursion probably edges it out by a hair.

PROS
  • Tough 30-gauge PVC vinyl construction.
  • Inflatable cushions.
  • Heavy weight capacity.
CONS
  • Cost.
  • Few rod holders.
  • Weight.

Intex Seahawk 3

intex seahawk 3 inflateble boat

Last, but not least, is the fun little two-person inflatable boat. It is built out of sturdy pre-tested vinyl that resists just about every kind of puncture damage. The biggest advantage this possesses over the others on this list is its Realtree photo-realistic graphics. These graphics are printed right on the boat to give it a more camouflaged look. Unlike the other river rafts on this list, this one can be used for stealthy purposes, such as going duck hunting.

It also comes with a single fishing rod holder, which makes it a great one-person fishing raft. The inflatable floor and seat cushions also make it comfortable for a variety of seating positions. Imagine lying on your belly of this comfortable raft with your gun in hand, taking aim at a flock of ducks. It’ll never be easier or more comfortable than with this boat.

Unlike the other two-person boats on this list, it has a high weight capacity. It can hold up to 661 pounds, making it even more useful as a hunting raft. It can easily contain a rifle, your ammo, camo gear, and a cooler for hunting snacking. Even if you’re not a hunter, this raft is one of the best inflatable river rafts on the market for rafters who weight a little more. So if you and your partner are heavier set, this is a great raft choice.

The major disadvantage of this particular raft is its weight. Like the Excursion, it’s quite heavy. This is necessary, due to its high weight capacity, but this makes it more difficult to use as a one-person raft. That said, it’s still a great choice for anyone looking for a two-person raft. It might require a little more muscle to use than its two-person competitors, though.

PROS
  • Camouflaged exterior.
  • Heavy weight capacity.
  • Great for hunting.
CONS
  • Too heavy for one-person use.
  • Only one fishing rod holder.

The Best Inflatable River Raft

Best Inflatable River Raft

If you’re aiming for a higher-end raft that fits a large number of people and which has excellent amenities, you simply can’t go wrong with the Intex Excursion 5. This five-person boat has sturdy aluminum oars that rarely, if ever, warp in the sun or even in the cold. It’s powerful pump is also one of the best on the market, making it easy to quickly inflate your boat before you go out and deflate your boat when you’re finished.

What really sells us on this particular model are the auxiliary air chambers. These help give the raft a lot more buoyancy and help prevent sinking, if it starts to deflate a little. We’re also a big fan of the use of the Boston valve: this is typically one of the easiest to use and most reliable of all valve types. It’s PVC vinyl surface is also very resistant to punctures, and is durable enough for rafting with a whole family.

The one major downfall of this particular raft is its size. Weighing nearly 60 pounds, it is rather bulky and may be hard for one or two people to carry. However, if you go out with a full raft, it shouldn’t be difficult for everyone to lend a hand. In fact, it will likely be necessary for everyone to pitch in if you ever need to portage.

This sturdier and heavier construction of this raft does have a few major benefits, such as making the raft strong enough to allow you to bring a small cooler filled with snacks and drinks. This is perfect for situations in which you are taking it slow with a loved one while on a nice, calm river.

The Best Cheap Inflatable River Raft

cheap inflatable river raft

While you can splurge and pick up an expensive raft, the best inflatable river raft for your needs may not cost that much. For example, if you plan on occasionally rafting with a friend (or a partner), you don’t need the massive Intex Excursion 5. Save a little bit of money and pick up the Intex Explorer 200. This two-person raft comes with a nice set of oars, a mini air pump, and a variety of other amenities that make it a great deal for the price.

Like the Excursion, it contains two air chambers, an inflatable floor, a grab rope for safety, and even a U.S. Coast Guard ID number. It also comes in a variety of bright and memorable colors. This makes it easier to spot your raft when on the water. It also makes it easier to find when you’re trying to get it out of storage. There’s nothing more frustrating than storing an item somewhere that seems safe and then struggling to find it years later.

Beyond these advantages, the Explorer 200 is also surprisingly sturdy. Made out of high-quality 13-gauge PVC plastic, it is capable of holding up to 210 pounds. Not bad for a raft that weights under eight pounds! However, this maximum weight limit may be a problem if you or your partner are a little on the heavier side. If either of you weigh over 150 pounds, it might be best to look for a raft that supports a heavier weight limit.

This minor downside doesn’t detract from the fact that the Explorer 200 is a great raft that is worth your money. Its light weight and inexpensive price makes it particularly useful for rafters who plan on rafting with their children or going by themselves.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many great rafts from which you can choose. Did you like the look of the Intex Excursion 5 or are you going to take our advice and pick the Intex Explorer 200 to save yourself a little money? Honestly, choosing any of the products we’ve highlighted guarantees you one of the best inflatable river raft experiences for your money. Don’t be afraid to invest a little bit of your cash into one of these rafts.

inflatable river raft review

You’ll be surprised at how much fun you and your family will have with it. Even better, a ride on a raft makes a great date destination for you and your significant other. Just make sure to wear your life jackets, to strap in carefully, master your rafting skills, and have the kind of rafting fun that only the best inflatable river rafts have to offer.

Most of these rafts will be available at your local sporting goods shop or with online shops, such as Amazon. When shopping online, it’s not a bad idea to check the prices and the reviews for each raft. You might find a customer review that highlights something unfortunate about a raft and which you can use to carefully steer yourself away from disappointment. Don’t hesitate to share this inflatable river raft review with your friends to help them choose a raft they can appreciate.

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