Fun to ride at fast or slow speeds. Very stable, with few flip-overs during use. Easily fits up to 3 adults or kids, or 1 adult stretched out. Sturdy backrest that doubles as a chariot wall when rear tow connection is used.
Inner and outer tubes aren’t connected, so inflation valves can retract into the tube when deflated and are hard to locate. Can develop slow leak after a couple seasons of use.
Fun to ride, and can fit up to 3 people. Great for kids and adults. Has attractive, sporty graphics that look great on the water. Not too difficult or time consuming to inflate.
Slow leaks are common, and it's not the easiest tube to steer.
Well-made, sturdy, and balanced. Inflates quickly and easily. Lasts through multiple seasons with little wear and tear showing.
Smaller than expected, with a lower weight limit. Can be a rough ride because attachment point location is very low.
Durable, lasting multiple seasons when cared for. Comfortably holds up to 3 adults. Easy to ride, with sturdy handgrips. Doesn’t flip easily at slower speeds.
Tube seams may split after several uses, and tube can develop leaks. Less stable when towed at high speeds. Filling tube can be time-consuming.
Easy to inflate, with an included Boston valve. Cover is very sturdy, as is the interior bladder. Fast or slow towing is enjoyable. Towable is stable on the water, and pops nicely into the air on wakes. Easy to climb back on when in the water.
Barely fits 2 adults, and is more comfortable for just 1 rider. Tow line attachment is a bit flimsy.
Looking for some exhilaration and fun on the water? Consider water tubing. All you need is a motorized boat, a tow line, a towable tube, and a body of water where you can do some laps. What kind of tube is best? That depends on what your goals are. There are tubes designed for slow trips up and down the lake — perfect for the young, old, and slightly timid. There are other tubes that will appeal more to adrenaline junkies — the kind of tube where you either “hold on” or “fly off.”
This guide will help you to find the best tube for your next family outing. In it, we examine the styles, features, and prices you can expect to find when shopping for a towable tube. We also touch on a number of our own tube recommendations.
Your first decision when considering a towable tube: what style should you buy?
Towable tubes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but there are five general style umbrellas under which they all belong: donut tubes, cockpit tubes, deck tubes, banana tubes, and chariot tubes.
No surprises here: this tube is shaped like a donut. Donut tubes are simple, inexpensive tubes that you can usually sit, kneel, or lie on. They generally support one rider, although larger tubes may be able to support more. One downside to this type of tube is that they have a tendency to roll easily.
You don’t sit on a cockpit tube; you sit in it. These tubes usually contain some form of seat with sides built around it to give you some support. Cockpit tubes tend to be safer than donut tubes, and as such are great for kids. The tubes vary in size but can usually accommodate two or more riders.
A deck tube is flat and usually V-shaped. This type of tube can hold several riders lying down.
This type of tube is meant to be straddled. Banana or hot dog shaped, the tubes are long and thin and designed to be sat upon. They have less drag in the water and can accommodate several riders at once.
You get two-in-one fun in the form of a chair/couch with a chariot tube. If you choose, you can flip the tube around and ride it like a chariot. This dual-tow feature opens up your tubing fun to a wide range of riders.
Like all water sports, the number-one accessory to use with your towable tube is a personal floatation device (PFD).
Any tube you consider should be designed with one or more inner PVC bladders. It should have a thick outer covering made of double-stitched nylon, polyester, neoprene, or PVC. The rugged outer material keeps the inner bladder safe from the forces unleashed by the water and the riders as the tube is dragged around.
Tubes without hand grips are essentially aquatic launching pads. Hand grips should be secure enough to withstand the pressures of you hanging on for dear life while also being comfortable. The best handles include knuckle guards to further protect your hands when you’re bouncing around.
The area where the tow line connects to the tube is called the tow point, and it goes without saying that it should be one of the sturdiest sections of the tube. The majority of tubes will have one tow point, although some tubes, such as those of the chariot style, will feature one in the front and one in the back for different towing experiences.
Some tubes include pockets for storing the tow rope or other valuables. Any tube storage compartments should be zippered or offer some other way to secure their contents.
Because they achieve speed quickly, banana-style tubes are a great option for dragging behind a pontoon boat.
How comfortable is it?
A towable tube that is just built for durability is going to be a bit of a rough ride. In order to protect passengers from the ravages of tube burn, any tube you are considering should offer padding to protect against burn and prevent riders from easily sliding off. Inflatable headrests or backrests increase comfort, as do inflated seat bottoms.
How easy is the tube to inflate and deflate?
A tube that is quick to inflate is a tube that will be on the water all the faster. Similarly, the tube should deflate quickly so you’re not spending an hour breaking it down at the end of the day. Consider a tube with something like a Boston valve to help with both inflation and deflation. (A Boston valve is a special kind of screw-on valve that allows air to go in but not out. This can be a great help in terms of quickly and fully inflating the tube.) The tube should also have some form of flap or covering that can be secured over the valve to protect both it and riders when the tube is in use.
How large is the tube?
Know the actual physical size of the tube, both inflated and deflated. Some of these are pretty large and may be a handful to use and store.
Another important consideration is the tube’s weight limit and rider limit. For safety’s sake, these limits must be adhered to. Overloading the tube with too much weight or too many people puts everyone at risk.
Towable tubes for boating: prices
A lower-end option like a simple one-person donut tube may cost under $50. However, the majority of towable tubes will run you at least $100 and can reach into the $200 to $300 range or higher. With a higher price, you can expect to find towable tubes with greater rider/weight limits, more towing options, and an overall higher build quality.
Some tubes have stabilizer fins on the bottom. These helps keep the tube upright when it is being towed.
A cockpit-style tube that includes drainage vents will “self-bail” and spare you from constantly having to empty the tube of water.
Check the forecast before heading out. High winds and severe storms can blow in quickly. Know what to expect, weatherwise, before your tube ever hits the water, and keep up-to-date on conditions if they are at all questionable.
Before hitting the water, read the documentation and any tube warnings to be sure you’re abiding by all weight/rider specification, speed limits, and other safety factors.
Don’t leave or store your tube in direct sunlight. The heat will expand the air within the tube, which could lead to over-inflation and tube damage.
Invest in an electric inflator. These are inexpensive and can save you both time and energy when inflating your tube.
“Booster balls” are compact inflatable balls that attach between the towing tube and your boat. Investing in one of these will help to keep the rope out of the water, which reduces drag and helps improve the tube ride.
While the majority of towable tubes don’t ship with one, think of picking up a tube repair kit to keep minor problems from ruining your day on the lake.
For safety, always include a spotter on the boat. This person can let the driver know when someone has fallen off the tube and use a flag to wave off other boats when someone is in the water.
A comfortable towable tube, preferably with cup holders, can double as a relaxing floating tube when you want to take a break from water tubing.
Boat drivers should familiarize themselves with who they will be towing before heading out. Ages, familiarity with towable tubes, swimming experience, and the number of riders that will be on the tube are all important to know so the driver can provide the safest conditions possible.
In addition to the towable tubes we selected for our matrix, we wanted to mention a few others that stood out for us. WOW’s Big Bubba Towable Deck Seat includes both front and back tow points and doubles as a relaxing standalone float. The single-rider Airhead Rebel Tube Kit includes everything you need — tube, inflator, tow rope — in one lake-ready package. Finally, the Rave Sports Warrior 2 Towable Ski Tube looks amazing and provides comfortable full-back support for two riders.
Q. How easy is it to climb back on the tube?
A. If you fall off the tube out in the middle of the water — and chances are you will at some point — you are going to want an easy way to climb back on. Boarding straps and sturdy hand grips are two features to look for. The overall design of the tube can also provide more stability when you are trying to climb back on.
Q. Can I use a regular rope for towing?
A. It is not advisable. Specialized tow ropes are designed with a high breaking point and generally sold by specific weight or rider limits. For safety, the length of the tow line should be 50 to 65 feet long.
Q. How inflated should the tube be before I use it?
A. For safety and performance reasons, you should inflate your tube to the point where it is firm. It should support an adult sitting on it with little give, and the covering should be tight with no wrinkles.
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