Gear Guide – 14 Foot Rafts For Every Budget

There’s water in them thar’ hills this year, from California to the New York Island, and there’s no better way to experience it than Huck Finn-style from the high-and-dry seat of a raft. But with apologies to Huck and Jim, there are far better materials and designs on the market these days than a pallet-shaped hunk of wood. We narrowed our look to versatile 14-footers, a size that can handle the rigors of carrying gear down the Grand Canyon while staying nimble enough to paddle boat the Arkansas. When raft shopping, bigger, rounder tubes usually mean more load capacity on a stable ride while smaller, sleeker shapes (and narrower overall widths) with more rocker lend maneuverability. Read about these five river-worthy rides, then grab your cam straps, ammo can, and river sandals and climb aboard. As Huck puts it, there warn’t no home like a raft.

Aire 143D
$3,849 ($4,249 with SFP floor upgrade*),

  • L: 14’3”
  • W: 6’8”
  • 146 lbs.
  • Tube Diameter: 20”
  • Chambers: 7
  • *Sealed Floor Pocket—basically, a waterproof zipper designed for use on silty rivers so water doesn’t get into the floor compartment

For Aire, it’s the bladders that matter. The company’s trademark is stuffing a urethane bladder inside a durable 1,670-denier, 35-ounce PVC outer shell. The advantage is repairability. While a Hypalon boat might require a lengthy stitch and glue repair process to get you back on the water, with the Aire you simply zip in a spare or slap a piece of temporary duct-tape on the inside of the shell and away you row. Design-wise, its 14-footers are broken down into D, E, and R series. The R features larger diameter, rounder tubes for hauling gear and a stable ride; the E stand for elliptical, with a flat spot on the stern for guides; and the D (featured) stands for dimensional tubes, whose tapering provides rocker that makes the craft more versatile, agile, and quicker turning. For 2008, Aire added a chafe strap on the tubes to prevent the dreaded frame rub, and is also offering a Urethane outer fabric option, which is more abrasion-resistant than PVC, for an extra $1,000.

Avon Adventurer SE

  • L: 14’2”
  • W: 7’1”
  • 138 lbs.
  • Tube Diameter: 20.25”
  • Chambers: 7

Different fabrics on the floor vs. the tubes distinguish the time-tested Avon Adventurer. The craft’s floor is made of chafe-resistant 40-oz. polyurethane, which lets it slide over rocks like a greased otter. Its tubes are made of tough-as-nails 1,680-denier 40-ounce Hypalon, making a raft you can pass along to the grandkids after you’re too old for Old Man River. The Adventurer also has a lower floor, offering more room for passengers and gear, less chance of falling out, and a lower center of gravity that spells fewer capsizes (on the flip side, however, it can also mean a wetter ride). You get what you pay for, and its sticker price owes itself to a time-tested design and higher unionized labor costs associated with its manufacturing in Wales.

Hyside 166 ASBU

  • L:14’3’
  • W: 6’10”
  • 136 lbs.
  • Tube Diameter: 21”
  • Chambers: 7

Though you still might have to highside if you get off line, you won’t have to worry about minor punctures in the Hyside 166 ASBU, thanks to beefy tubes made of overkill 2,520-denier Hypalon, featuring Hypalon on the inside and out instead of the customary inner layer of neoprene. While this makes the raft Rambo tough, it’s also one of the lightest Hypalon boats on the market, thanks to removing the rub strake, gluing in the self-bailing floor instead of lacing, and employing hinge-and-pin thwarts and lightweight plastic Leafield valves instead of military grade metal. Regularly tested on the Kern outside the company’s office in Kernville, Calif., other features include round tubes for a high, stable ride and a urethane-coating on the bottom of the tubes for durability and sliding off rocks you do accidentally highside.

NRS Otter 140

  • L: 14’
  • W: 7’
  • 120 lbs.
  • Tube Diameter: 20”
  • Chambers: 7

The Otter is as venerable a design there is (nearly as venerable as NRS founder Bill Parks himself). This owes itself to a wide, stable design perfectly suited for oar rigs and big water (for a more maneuverable paddle boat, try the slimmer Otter 142 at 6’6” wide). Made from 41-ounce, 1,100-denier Hypalon, a key feature of the craft is its proprietary, tracking-friendly I-beam floor that the company calls the “Y” beam, which eliminates sheer failure in the floor beams (NRS hasn’t seen a blown I-beam for more than six years). Also look for 40-ounce high-density Hypalon gum chafers (those black zebra stripes along the bottom) that provide the slipperiness of urethane with the repair ease of Hypalon.

Vanguard PSB 1402

  • L: 14’2’
  • W: 6’8”
  • 144 lbs.
  • Tube Diameter: 21”
  • Chambers: 7

You’ll be saying en guarde to the river in this Vanguard 14-footer, whose PVC-polyester blend promises a stiff ride with minimal drag. While its tall, 7.25-inch floor (compared to 4.25-inch floors on other rafts) might make it hard to carry dry boxes and coolers as an oar rig, it rides high in the water for sports-car-like responsiveness and horse-to-the-stable tracking as a paddle boat. Its water displacement and maneuverability also make it the perfect fishing platform. Above all, consider it a mortgage-saving raft for the family man, with its PVC construction—whose attached floor wraps all the way up to the top rub strake—keeping it affordable enough to whisk by the bank without breaking it.

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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