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2007 small raft shootout

by mania

thumbnail of Incept Raft
Welcome to the Whitewater Addiction 2007 small raft shootout! There are so many rafts that it would be impractical to cover them all in one article, so this one focuses on self-bailing that are 12 feet long or under. That means no Avon, Achilles or Tributary boats are covered in this article because they do not make self-bailers that short. I also do not include Alpacka Rafts since they are not self-bailing to my knowledge. We do discuss boats from AIRE, Hyside, Incept, Maravia, NRS, SOTAR, Star and Vanguard. Later articles will take a look at mid-sized and large rafts.

Small rafts are very good for playing, creeking, fishing and all around fun. They aren't so good at carrying gear or charging through gigantic holes, but its been done.


thumbnail of Puma

Since you already have decided on a small raft, you'll just have to compare things like length, tube diameter, capacity, weight, material and price. If you need to carry it a long way then weight is pretty important, especially if you are going to R2. Most people already have a preference for material, which comes down to hypalon vs all others. You will be able to slap a frame and oars on most of these boats if you want, but check with frame manufacturers on available sizes first.

Many rafters worry about getting a boat that is too small for the river they run. In my opinion this is almost never a problem, the problem is can you carry enough? Jeff Hammond and I took a Puma down the Owyhee at 12,000 cfs and we had a much easier time than the 14 foot rafts.

The Contenders


thumbnail of AIRE logoAIRE makes the Puma, a longtime favorite for raft creeking. Lately they have been making bigger versions of the Puma called the Super Puma and the Super Duper Puma but I feel like they should make a smaller version and call it the Baby Puma or something. Recently I portaged a Puma for three miles and that wasn't too fun. If you are listening AIRE please build me a Baby Puma, 9 feet long and weighing less than 40 lbs.


thumbnail of Hyside logoHyside is the proud maker of the Mini Me 9 foot raft. What fun! These things are popular R2 boats and make it possible to do some serious raft creeking. Made of Hypalon.


thumbnail of Incept logoThese New Zealand boats are imported directly to Idaho through a giant whirlpool from the Buller River straight to the Payette. They offer not one but three small rafts in delightfully light weights for those days where half your time is spent walking.


thumbnail of Maravia logoMaravia makes two small rafts but don't try to find them on the Maravia website - better off visiting the River Connection instead. I was part of a two man crew that paddled a little Maravia down the Green Truss section of the White Salmon and the boat held up very well.


thumbnail of NRS logoNRS has two 12 foot self-bailing models both made of hypalon. The E series is made for commercial abuse but is pretty heavy. The Otter is a good value and should be a great boat for the private boater.


thumbnail of Sotar logoSotar has three basic raft models. The ST is their standard design, the SP is the standard design but in Tan color only and the ST has a diminishing tube design. The prices are pretty high for boats this small, save perhaps the SP model. Sotars have been used on some pretty balsy stuff including the first raft descent of the Green River Narrows.


thumbnail of Star logoStar is the maker of the Bug and Ultra Bug as well as standard rafts. The bugs are supposed to behave more like catarafts since they have a lot of clearance. Check it out to see what I mean.


thumbnail of Vanguard logoVanguard makes two small rafts with a nice price. Unfortunately they are very heavy and would be difficult to carry for just two people.

The Specs

AIRE Puma 11'6" 66" 18" 88 lbs PVC/U 950 lbs $2500
Hyside Mini-Me (108SBU) 9' 62" 18" 45 lbs Hyp 4 $1764
140SBU 11'8" 70" 18" 87 lbs Hyp 6 $2779
109RBS 9' 62" 18" 71 lbs Hyp 4 $1420
139RBS 11'6" 66" 18" 84 lbs Hyp 6 $1975
Incept G25S 8'5" 53" 15" 55 lbs Poly/U 2 $NA
G29S 9'6" 57" 15.75" 66 lbs Poly/U 3 $NA
W33S 10'10" 63" 15.75" 78 lbs Poly/U 4 $2190
Maravia Seal 11'6" 72" 17" 77 lbs Poly/U 4 $2201
Elan 12' 69" 18" 95 lbs Poly/U 6 $3998
NRS E-120 12' 66" 17" 108 lbs Hyp NA $3400
Otter 120 12' 66" 17" 88 lbs Hyp NA $2475
SOTAR SP10E (Tan) 10' ? 18" ? lbs Poly/U ? $2400
SP12E 12' ? 18" ? lbs Poly/U ? $2779
ST11E 11' 62" 19" 78 lbs Poly/U ? $3381
ST12E 12' 70" 19" 85 lbs Poly/U ? $3381
SL11E 11' 64" 20" 75 lbs Poly/U ? $3740
ST12E 12' 68" 20" 82 lbs Poly/U ? $3974
Star LX12-SB THUNDER 12' 72" 18" 116 lbs PVC 3-6 $2449
VX12-SB 12' 72" 18" 90 lbs PVC 6 $1485
B12-SB LIGHTNING BUG 12' 57" 24" 103 lbs PVC 3-5 $1919
U9-SB ULTRA LITE 9' 50" 18" 75 lbs PVC 4 $1675
Vanguard PSB-1104 11'4" 66" 16" 101 lbs PVC 4 $2395
PSB-1200 12' 73" 18" 114 lbs PVC 6 $2595


Well every shootout has to have some winners. The winner on price is the Hyside 109RBS at $1420 followed closely by the Star VX12-SB at $1485. Given that the Star is 12 feet vs 9 for the Hyside you get the most boat for the buck with the Star. We all know price isn't everything so check around for durability reports.

thumbnail of Maravia

The lightest boat in our shootout goes to the Hyside Mini-Me with only 45 lbs to tote around. The Incept models were not far behind, but the smaller two models must be imported from New Zealand before you can get your grubby hands on em. Keep in mind lighter boats are usually made with thinner materials so your durability may suffer. I sincerely hope manufacturers will consider making lighter weight boats for those times we have to carry them. It would open up many more possibilities in terms of exploration and pushing the limits of rafting.

If you are looking for toughness, Maravia and Sotar have good reputations in this area, but it shows in their prices. The Aire bladder system is supposedly very easy to repair but I have yet to pop one.

Thats it for our small raft shootout. I hope this helps you in your boat buying decisions. Please feel free to link to this article or site anytime.