Best Rafts

Updated September 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

54 Models Considered
9 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
680 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best rafts

Last Updated September 2020

If you’re looking to enjoy some time in and around the water, you’ll want to invest in a raft. An inflatable raft gives you the chance to relax, play, and even exercise on the water, either alone or with friends.

Inflatable rafts are made of durable polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. This makes for a lightweight and buoyant raft that can withstand the elements and stay afloat. Rafts come in many shapes and sizes, with some designed for staying in one spot and others made for getting around. Some are suited to enjoy on a lake while others may function conveniently in a pool.

A little preparation and maintenance is needed before you climb aboard a raft, and to make your outing on the water as fun as possible, it’s best to think ahead. This buying guide will arm you with the knowledge you need to select a fantastic raft and enjoy it to the maximum. We also offer some specific recommendations for rafts we think are exceptionally great products.

Oars and anchors are necessary accessories for lake rafting. The oars will get you where you want to be, especially if you’re moving from shore, and the anchor will keep you there.

Key considerations

Boating vs. lounging rafts

Rafts fall into one of two design schemes: boating rafts and lounging rafts. The design scheme won’t necessarily be advertised as such, but you can tell by looking what the main purpose of a raft is.

Boating: Some inflatable rafts are like small boats designed for movement. They are enclosed along the sides and can carry anywhere from one to four people. Oars or paddles are needed and typically included with purchase. You might use a boating raft in a stationary position for jumping off or fishing. Because of their design, however, these rafts aren’t necessarily the best for lounging comfortably in the sun.

Lounging: Those who want to bask in the sun and occasionally get their feet wet will want a raft designed primarily for lounging. Many inflatable rafts allow you to relax and recline. Smaller versions may accommodate one or two people; larger options welcome up to eight or ten. These larger lounging rafts are sometimes referred to as “islands.” The sides are typically lower for easy entry and exit, and generally speaking, these rafts are crafted for comfort rather than motility.

Size

Consider how much space you want your raft to have. Will others be joining you on it? The maximum number of people that can fit a raft should be specified by the maker. Look not only at the number of people that can fit but also the dimensions of the raft in question, noting that a crowded raft could make for an uncomfortable outing.

Also note that larger rafts take more time to inflate and require more effort to haul in and out of the water.

Weight limit

A maximum weight limit should also be specified on the packaging. Keep in mind that items you bring onto the raft, like food and drink, will add to the weight, and when wet, apparel weighs a bit more. Moving the raft around or jumping onto it also exerts extra pressure that could stress the raft material.

Pump

Inflatable rafts need a pump to fill them up quickly and effectively. If your raft doesn’t come with a pump, you will have to buy one separately. Decide whether you want a manual, corded electric, or battery-powered pump. Each offers specific advantages and drawbacks.

EXPERT TIP

Expect anything that enters the raft to get wet. Consider a waterproof case for your smartphone or leave your electronics and valuables ashore.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Seatbacks

If you plan to spend considerable time on the water, opt for a raft with seatbacks. These will make your time more comfortable by providing some support.

Cupholders

Many rafts come with cupholders so you can rest your beverage easily. While cupholders are convenient, be sure to note width and depth. Wider containers may not fit, and tall ones may be too top-heavy in a shallow cupholder. It’s best to bring beverages with lids on a raft, just to be safe.

Towables

Some rafts are towable. That is, they can be towed behind a boat or jet ski. Such rafts need a connection point for a rope, and they must be designed to skim easily across the water. Before towing a raft, put on a life jacket, and make sure you know what speeds the raft can withstand.

EXPERT TIP

When you’re on the water, it can be easy to forget to stay hydrated. Bring water with you and sip frequently, especially if you’re in the hot sun.


Staff  | BestReviews

Accessories

Inflatable drink holders: GoFloats Pool Drink Holders
Inflatable drink holders are convenient, fun accessories for those times when you’re socializing in the water. We love the varied options from GoFloats, which include flamingo, dragon, and even hamburger styles.

Inflatable pool bars: Airhead Aqua Oasis Insulated Cooler
Keep your drinks chilled and close by with a water cooler. We love this option from Airhead that holds up to 24 cans and also features six cup holders.

Inflatable lights: Solite Design Solar-Powered Light
Add some ambiance to your relaxing evening on the water with an inflatable light. This quality option from Solite Design is lightweight and waterproof, and it provides a warming glow when the sun goes down.

Dry bag: Earth Pak Waterproof Dry Bag
A dry bag provides a safe and secure spot to store valuables when you’re on the water. We recommend this durable option from Earth Pak for those times you want to store items without worry.

EXPERT TIP

It’s easy to get off a raft and cool off in the water but getting back on may be trickier. You may need to use ropes, or a helping hand, to get back on the raft.


Staff  | BestReviews

Raft prices

Inexpensive: You can find a decent raft that holds several people for under $50. These are ideal for lake or pool use and are unlikely to come with any accessories.

Mid-range: Most rafts run between $50 and $100. These products may include pumps, oars, or anchors. Four or even six people may fit on a raft in this price range.

Expensive: For very large rafts, especially islands, expect to pay well over $100 and possibly over $200. These rafts can hold a large number of people and are designed for hours of relaxation and fun.

Tips

  • Wear a life jacket. It’s important to stay safe on the water, especially if you’re venturing out on a lake or the ocean where the current could change suddenly. A life jacket will help keep you afloat.
  • Wear sunscreen. You can easily get sunburned atop a raft. Apply sunscreen frequently, especially if you’re jumping in and out of the water.
  • Use an anchor. On a lake or other body of water, you’ll start floating if you’re not anchored. Many companies sell bags that you can fill with rocks or sand to tie to your raft and lock it in place.
  • Carry the raft above the ground. When transporting your raft to and from the water, keep it off the ground. Otherwise, hot surfaces and unseen rocks could potentially damage the surface and create a hole.
Consider your apparel. A rash guard offers protection from the sun and may make sitting on the PVC surface more comfortable. Water shoes may be useful for getting on and off and moving to and from shore.

FAQ

Q. How do I find a leak?
A.
However careful you are, there is always a chance that your raft could spring a leak. While you may be able to tell that one exists, it’s not always easy to find. The best way is actually to put the raft in water. As air escapes, you will be able to see bubbles coming from the leak. If you’re not able to get the raft in water, try listening for the leak. Fill it with air, and then find a quiet place where you can listen for the leak and patch the hole.
 

Q. How do I patch a leak?
A.
All may not be lost if you have a hole in your raft. You can attempt to repair it, though this process must be done carefully and accurately the first time in order to resurrect it. Once you locate the hole, clean the area to free it from dirt and dust. Patch the hole with heavy-duty tape specifically designed for rafts. The tape will adhere to the surface and withstand the water. The tape must be affixed flat on the surface without any air holes or tapered edges. It should be flush to the surface so dirt and water can’t creep under the sides. Let the patched hole settle for a day before heading to the water to test your work.
 

Q. What are the best conditions for rafting?
A.
If you’re in a pool, you needn’t worry about the weather for rafting. On a lake, however, it’s important to consider the wind. While a gentle breeze may be comfortable on the skin, it can create a rocky time on the water, making it difficult to navigate or stay in one spot. Before heading out, you may want to check local conditions, which will inform you of water quality as well.

Other Products We Considered
The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
The team that worked on this review
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor

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