Pro Tips: Types of Whitewater Rafts
There are a handful of different types of whitewater rafts around the world. Some have been around for decades while others are the latest and greatest.
Most Commonly Used Types of Rafts
These are the rafts types used by most commercial rafting companies and most private boaters.
This is what most people imagine when they think about whitewater rafting. A paddle raft often has 4-8 people paddling while a guide steers and calls out commands. Most paddle rafts are in the 14' - 16' range. They are great for class II - III and even class IV-V with a skilled guide.
Oar Paddle Combo Raft
Similar to the paddle raft, the oar paddle combo boat adds a frame and oars to the rear of the boat for the guide. Many guides choose this boat set up for extra control on extremely difficult rivers. It gives the guide extra power and maneuverability with out having the rely heavily on the paddle crew.
The power of oars makes this a good fit for stretches that have flat water as well. Paired with a really strong paddle crew this boat can be fast, nimble, and an excellent set up for getting down the river.
While you may not have heard the term "mini-raft" often, you may have heard the term "R-2" or maybe "R-3." That stands to "raft" and the number of people in the boat. These boats are generally 11' and smaller.
The Hyside Mini-Max is a favorite of many. Some people will even strap on a tiny frame and grab their oars to row these down the river.
Rafting is similar to car camping meaning you can take everything, even the kitchen sink. With a wide range of lengths you will typically find the gear raftt to be in the 16'-18' range.
A gear raft is typically outfitted with a larger cooler (sometimes multiple), dry boxes, and ample storage space for the tables, chairs, kitchen gear, and space for large dry bags. Some gear boats are used only for hauling gear down stream while others are set up to take a few passengers up front.
While they look quite different, catarafts share many similarities to rafts. There are big 16' - 18' catarafts that haul great like a gear boat. Additionally, there are 12' - 14' ones that are fun for harder rivers and/or with light overnight gear. There are even small 8'-12' ones that are like a mini raft (keep reading to learn about "shredders").
Often referred to as a cat boat these crafts are versatile and forgiving. You can load up some equipment like a gear boat or keep light to act as a "safety cat" and help pull swimmers out of the river.
Other Unique Types of Rafts
The following rafts are not as commonly used but have some really cool and unique purposes on whitewater rivers. There are some strong opinions and followings for these unique types of rafts. These are definitely worth checking out if you have the opportunity.
The shredder (sometimes called "paddle cat") is similar to cataraft with two big parallel tubes but it also has a center compartment for paddlers to sit. The original Shredder is made by Airtight Inflatables.
It has inspired a number very similar designs including the AIRE Sabertooth, Star Slice, and Rocky Mountain Rafts PhatCat. Again, 1-2 paddlers power this craft downstream. Similar to the mini-raft, some folks add a frame and oars to row these down the river.
This boat is one of the rarest boats on the list. If you have floated down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River you have probably seen one of these river barges cruise past you.
Its origin story goes back to the early days as settlers tried their hand at living in the woods. Coming in around 20' - 25' these boat tuck gear into dry boxes and pile it all in. Driving these boats downstream isn't for the weak at heart. Top notch water reading skill and knowledge of the river is required.
Maybe the strangest looking type of raft on the list is the Creature Craft. The tag line "Takes You Places You Never Though Possible" is what these boats are trying to do. You may only see these in the wild after record rainfall when not many others are getting out on the river.
The precursor to the Creature Craft is another "unflippable" inflatable craft called the Bublik (Russian for "bagel). It has two large inner tubes connected by wood that is typically cut down at the put in.
This boat is powered by one paddler in each bagel and, like the Creature Craft, is incredibly forgiving in big water.
Are you looking for a raft you could carry around with you every day? Thinking about hiking for days and days to float around on a remote alpine lake? Well a packraft is the perfect craft for you!
In the last 10 years packrafts have gone from almost unknown to common place on the river, hiking trails, and even part of long distance bicycle trips.
While many of us go rafting to get away from certain conveniences some times a motor is used to help makes things a little easier.
The most common place to see a motor rig is probably the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. These huge 30"+ boats use a small outboard motor to carry gear and people down big water rivers.