1. Decide on Your Intended Use
Do you want to build out a fishing rig? Are you looking to paddle your family on day trips? Do you want a raft and all of the gear to support you on multi-day whitewater trips? Some combination of everything?
How many days a year will you use your raft? How much time are you willing to put towards cleaning, maintaining, and repairing your new raft? Where can you store your raft during the summer? During the winter?
These are all important questions to ask yourself before making a raft purchase. They will help dictate which shape raft you need, the length and width, and material.
2. Pick a Boat Shape
Each type of raft has its respective pros and cons. When people hear the word "raft," they typically think of Round Boats. Round boats are the most versatile shape, as they can run paddle crews, row frames, and haul lots of gear and/or passengers. They tend to be stable and can punch through large holes and hydraulics. However, they can get sluggish when weighed down and can loose some tracking ability. CKS carries round boats ranging in length from 9' to 16'.
Paddlecats are a popular option amongst those who want wild rides through whitewater. Paddlecats are designed to be run by 2-4 person paddle crews and typically do not have space for much else beyond a day bag or two. What you gain in whitewater performance, you lose in versatility. However, it is not unheardof to rig a small frame to paddlecats for one person to sportily row day trips or shorter multi-day trips.
3. Determine the Best Raft Size
The best length and width raft for your intended usage is highly subjective, but here are some guidelines to follow when determining which size you will need.
- 9'-11' rafts are small and nimble and are ideal for play rafting with up to 3 paddlers, 1-2 anglers, or day trips or short multi-day trips for 1 rower. They are light, small to store, and can fit in most sedans or hatchbacks. They are not recommended for longer overnight trips that will require lots of gear.
- 12-13' rafts are generally considered the most versatile rafts as they can easily accomodate 2-6 paddlers, 2-3 anglers, or a rower and a passenger's gear for day trips and short to mid-length overnight trips. They do not feel too large to R2 and do not feel too small for a 7-day trip's worth of gear, if properly packed. They do not, however, have the width to accomodate large dry boxes or coolers that are sometimes needed for longer multi-day trips.
- 14-16' rafts are usually intended to haul lots of overnight gear or carry 6-8 person paddle crews. They are bulky to store and usually necessitate a trailer to transport. They are not ideal for technical whitewater that requires quick, must-make moves.
4. Choose a Raft Material
In general, inflatable rafts are constructed with high denier nylon or similar fabric that is coated with plastic or rubber. The plastic coating in high-quality rafts is PVC and the synthetic rubber coating is branded under the names Hypalon and Pennel Orca. A raft's coating material is the biggest determining factor of the price. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of coatings:
- More affordable than synthetic rubber, but heavier
- Can be welded, making for extra durable seams
- Can be inflated to high pressure (i.e. dropstitch floors)
- Short repair time
- Susceptible to UV damage
- Incredibly durable, lightweight and long lasting
- Long repair time
- Up to twice as expensive as PVC
- Cannot be welded