I don’t know about you, but I don’t think anything screams summer like floating down a river. There’s something about the combination of the sun on your shoulders, your toes dipped in the water, and the laughter of your friends or family. I find it so relaxing to just lay back and take in the sights along the river’s edge. My whole family, even our youngest child, loves it when we announce plans to float down a river. If you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommending going!
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that you need to plan ahead for these type of adventures. Because once mid-summer hits, most retailers are sold out of river floats and you’ll have a hard time finding one. Keep reading to learn all about what to look for in river floats and which ones are the best. These inflatable river floats are really a great purchase; they’ll pay themselves off quickly and add so much excitement to your family’s summer!
Essential Features in River Floats
While there are many great options out there, you should consider what you want in a river float before selecting one. Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure you get a float that will meet your needs.
1. Float size
Do you want a tube that holds more than one person? If this is something you’re interested in, there are several excellent options for double tubes. But if you don’t foresee the need for two passengers, then it may not be necessary. Some tubes come with a grab rope so you can connect to other tubers that way.
2. Opening size
How big is the person who intends to use it? Kids may slip through tubes with extra large openings while an adult wouldn’t be properly supported on a smaller tube. Take note of how big the tube is you’re looking at.
How easy is it to carry the tube? It may be a good idea to look for a tube with heavy duty handles so you can transport it easily.
Does it require a pump? Most of the floats on this list can be pumped up manually, but for larger floats, you might want a pump for quicker inflation.
Do you want a mesh bottom? Some people love this feature but others find it unnecessary. It won’t keep you from getting wet, but it will prevent items (or small children) from falling into the river. Would you like a cup holder on your tube? Several river floats come with cup holders which is a nice feature to help keep you hydrated. However, you may pay a little extra for this.
Great Tubes for River Running
|Intex River Run II|
|Intex River Run I|
|Bradley Rubber River Tube|
|Bestway Rapid Rider|
|Intex River Run Connecting Tubes|
|Solstice Super Chill|
|Airhead Bimini Lounger II|
|Airhead River Otter Deluxe|
|Intex Color Whirl|
|SportsStuff Trek N Tube|
Intex River Run II Sport Lounge
You can trust the River Run II tube to get you through rough rivers when trees and rocks are in your path. Not only is it durable, but also very comfortable. You’ll feel like you’re lounging by the pool thanks to the back rests and spacious seats. Plus it makes it so much more fun to float down a river when you’re sharing the experience with a friend!
- Two connected seats
- There’s a built-in cooler and cup holders
- Designed for comfort with backrests and a mesh bottom
- You can tether other tubes to it
- It is big and cumbersome to move around
- You need a special pump to blow it up
- Make sure to test it before taking it out to ensure that it holds air
Intex River Run I Sport Lounge
Also made by Intex, the River Run I is just as comfortable as the River Run II. The only difference is that it’s made for one person and doesn’t come with a cooler. You really can’t go wrong with either of these options since Intex is known for their top-notch products and even experienced river guides recommend these tubes. It just depends on what you want in an inflatable tube.
- Built-in backrest and mesh bottom
- Equipped with two cup holders
- Comes with handles and a grab rope
- Great value for the price
- Too big for a small child
- The cup holders are a bit flimsy but if you put sleeve over your drink it should stay put
Bradley Rubber River Tube
Here’s the reason why a lot of people love these heavy Bradley rubber inner tubes: they are rugged enough to withstand rocky rivers. Also, their short valve stem makes deflation quick and easy. Just make sure to get the right size for whoever plans on using it. And don’t be alarmed if it is uneven when inflated because it will still work just fine. This heavy duty tube from Bradley will be perfect for your next river tubing adventure!
- Comes in a variety of sizes with diameters ranging from 32-72″
- Can also be used for snow tubing
- Made of thick and durable material
- To get it big enough you have to inflate it for a long time
- Not as visually attractive as other option
Bestway Rapid Rider
If you ask me, the Bestway Rapid Rider has all the features you’ll want for a float down the river. It is well-designed with cup holders, handles, a mesh bottom, and grab rope. It even has a backrest which is a big deal if you plan on sitting in it all afternoon. You won’t regret getting this tube once you see how comfortable and solid it is made!
- Great value
- Easy to blow up
- The air valve is at the bottom of the tube so you have to be careful that it doesn’t snag while floating
- Might feel small for taller people
Intex River Run Connecting Tubes
While these connecting tubes from Intex are a little bit expensive, they are worth every dollar! Once you see how easy it is to connect to other tubes you’ll be so glad you picked it. You can even connect an Intex cooler to your tube. You can easy socialize with the rest of your group with these tubes. It does work as a single tube as well if that’s what you’d prefer. But everything is more fun with friends, right?
- Made in the USA
- Deflates in 60 seconds
- Won’t capsize larger framed individuals
- Prone to losing air
- Sometimes the connectors rip off on rough water
Solstice Super Chill River Raft
For the ultimate aquatic lounge, check out the Solstice Super Chill River Raft. This six person tube has got everything you’ll need for a fun day on the water from comfortable chairs to cup holders to a built-in ice chest within reach of everyone. Keep in mind that if you don’t want one this big, Solstice also sells one-, two-, and three-person floats.
- Easy to socialize
- Nylon mesh insert seats
- Equipped with an ice chest and drink holders
- Made of thick, sturdy vinyl
- 5 size options
- Big and bulky, may not fit on all rivers
- The ice chest won’t keep your drinks cold for more than a few hours
- Large size difficult to maneuver
Airhead Bimini Lounger II
For those of you who don’t mind spending close to $100 on a river float tube, the Airhead Lounger III may be for you. With a backrest, leg rest, and cup holder, it doesn’t get more luxurious than this! The best part is that it comes with a storage compartment which you can zip shut to keep your gear protected. Overall, this is a great purchase which will last for a long time.
- Zippered storage compartment
- Has a built-in leg rest
- The cup holder holds drinks securely so they won’t tip over
- Holds air well
- The storage compartment is not waterproof
- May not withstand a rough river
Airhead River Otter Deluxe
You won’t regret buying the Airhead River Otter! It is exactly what you want in a river float that you’ll be spending hours sitting in: it is well-built with heavy duty materials and ultra comfortable with a cushioned backrest. This tube even has a drink holder! Plus it has a speed safety valve making it quick to inflate and deflate. Put on a life jacket and enjoy the ride!
- Drink holder
- Molded handles
- A bit small, not ideal for tall or large adults
- Rope is not included to tether to other tubes
Intex Color Whirl Floating Tube
I know I’ve already reviewed a few other tubes from Intex, but this list isn’t complete without the Color Whirl also from Intex. They offer a 30 day warranty to cover any defects in their tubes, which is a big deal in my opinion. This set of two tubes comes in bright, fun colors you will love. My favorite feature is the two air chambers because if one gets popped the other will keep you afloat. This is another great option!
- Great value
- Easy to carry with sturdy handles
- 30 day warranty
- No backrest, cup holder, or mesh netting
- Some people don’t like all the warning labels on the front of the tube
SportsStuff Trek N Tube
SportsStuff thought of everything when they designed the Trek n’Tube! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the built-in coolers/gear pockets and cup holders. Without them, I wouldn’t have anywhere to put my sunscreen lotion and keys while floating down the river. And it’s always nice when cup holders are included so you can stay hydrated. You won’t regret this purchase!
- Plenty of storage space for your accessories
- Provides a stable ride
- Includes a backpack to store and transport the tube
- The backrest is quite big and uncomfortable to some
- Difficult to patch leaks since vinyl covers the tube
What makes a good river float?
When floating down the river, you want a tube that can withstand the bumps, rocks, and whatever else it might encounter. A heavy duty vinyl or plastic is good. If you want to ride with more than one person, look for a larger float with a bigger capacity.
How can parents keep kids safe on a river outing?
First of all, parents should make sure each child has a good quality, well fitting life jacket. Keep an adult with young children at all times and don’t ride the river if the water is too fast or the water level is too high. Apply waterproof sunscreen often and keep well hydrated.
Is a pump needed to inflate a river float tube?
Most floats can be inflated either with a pump or manually. However, if you have a larger float you will likely want to use a pump as it will take a lot of time and energy to blow up a large tube manually. A basic, inexpensive pump is all you need.