CO Raft Purchase Advice - Mountain Buzz

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Old 04-29-2017   #1
slampe's Avatar
Fort Collins, Colorado
Join Date: Apr 2017
Posts: 18
CO Raft Purchase Advice

Hello MB Community-

Seeking some advice, or affirmation, on raft choice as a Colorado resident.

I'm new to purchasing, but have grown up rafting and spent the last few years renting setups.

I grew up paddle rafting the Deschutes with my family. I've guided paddle boats on the Clark Fork in Montana. I've sticked oar boats on the John Day, Green River/Desolation canyon and Upper Colorado the last few years. All of my oar boat experience has been renting. I ran an 18' NRS on the Green, rented 16' boats for John Day and Upper C. I lived 5 minutes from the White Salmon river in Washington and spent a small time of my life whitewater kayaking around there.


- Run rivers within a 4 hour drive of Denver
- Haul gear and up to 4 or 5 other passengers on 3 day/2 night trips
- Foreseeably, running up to class IV with the group I would float with
- Will need to roll the boat up for storage [don't have space for partial inflation/trailer; do have room for inside/climate control storage]
- Will likely run 4-6 trips per season
- Don't foresee running anything setup as a paddle boat


- I'm concerned a 14' boat will be too small for my gear/human count
- I'm concerned of being limited by a 16' boat due to size here in CO in low water

What does the community think?

This is my first boat purchase. Ideally, I'm looking for a used setup - but coming into season, those are harder to find. I missed a great deal on an AIRE 156R in Durango fully outfitted for $4000. I've seen some decent deals on 14' Hysides/AIREs, but I'm concerned about size.

Also considering an Otter 150 as a happy medium, but new purchase price is high and I'm concerned about total investment by the time it is outfitted.

Would love to keep cost to $4000 [boat/frame/boxes/PFDs/etc.]. I want to buy something that will last and hold its value, but I still have a M-F day job that keeps me in the office and off the river or trails (MTB) more than I would like.

Am I on the right track? Should I be looking at something else for these requirements?

14', 15', or 16'?

Thanks all-

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Old 04-29-2017   #2
Fort Collins, Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 144
With that many passengers I would go 16', and even then it may be tight. 16' may limit you a little on any more tight and technical runs you might want to do, but wouldn't be an issue on any of the major multiday stretches in the area (and probably wouldn't be that limiting anyways). 14' will not be big enough for 4-5 passengers on a multiday trip. If that is your main purpose for the boat, go bigger.
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Old 04-29-2017   #3
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 108
With that many passengers, have to go bigger. And, your rig is going to be incredibly heavy to row down the river. With a 14', you'll be able to fit 2, maybe 3 passengers very tightly with minimal personal gear. With a 16', you can probably fit 4, but not gear for all of them plus the rest of the group gear that you need easily. We've done it a couple of times on our 16' cat, and it wasn't terribly comfortable.

Rivers within 4 hour drive of Denver:
Poudre (day runs)
Upper Colorado
Glenwood Canyon (day runs)

Are there others within that distance? None of the permitted rivers are. Even Ruby-Horsethief is more than 4 hours unless driving very fast.
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Old 04-29-2017   #4
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Tabernash, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 1,901
Ya man, 4-5 passengers with gear is a pretty big load, you would want more of an 18' range for that. Without a trailer, maybe limiting number of passengers on your boat for the overnighters could make your boating life much happier. Could you put some folks in duckies, or get a second raft for multi days? Then you could stick to the 14-16' range. What runs are you likely to boat in the 4-6 hr. range from Denver? Any of those sizes, including an 18', are fine for runs like the upper-C, Rivers like Clear creek would be to small though.
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Old 04-29-2017   #5
slampe's Avatar
Fort Collins, Colorado
Join Date: Apr 2017
Posts: 18
Thanks to those that have replied.

I guess I should add a few details and engrain a few realities for myself.

- Our past few trips we have rented 3 boats, so split group gear up
- We have also put a few people in duckies on some of the trips

My "4 hour from Denver" aspect is my ideal drive time. As most have noted, that limits me to Poudre, Upper C, Ark namely. Ruby is more than 4 hours in my 1996 4Runner... I will be driving more, I just wanted to use that range for a reference on rivers I would be most inclined to see.

As folks here have noted:

- Reduce people/gear!
- Bring more boats!

Thanks MB-
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Old 04-29-2017   #6
laramie, wy
Paddling Since: 2010
Join Date: Oct 2011
Posts: 80
You will get a lot more use out of a 14' boat in Colorado, and if you need to store it rolled up, it will be a lot easier to move the boat and the frame into and out of storage. Tell your friends to get there own boats.
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Old 04-29-2017   #7
wildh2onriver's Avatar
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1987
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 1,311
Based on your list of rivers a paddle raft seems like a better fit. For overnights, they may have to rent or buy there own...

There is no perfect 'Colorado' sized multi day setup that would comfortably/safely carry that many people in my opinion.

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Old 04-29-2017   #8
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Eastern Slope, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1980
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 2,466
You want the NRS E-161. Narrow like a 14' raft, longer for a bigger frame and cargo. Put an Everything Bag under a cargo net in the stern. 4 bay frame. 4 ammo cans in a bay, a cooler in a bay, and dry box in a bay. 3-4 passengers for bigger Colorado rivers with good flow. Big enough for the Grand, small enough to paddle the Numbers. I know a guy selling some used 161s if you're interested.
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Old 04-29-2017   #9
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The narrow 16' isnt the worst idea. If you really have to row that many people around all the time, it may be the way to go. That said, if I could only have one boat it would definitely be a 14.
4-5 passengers on a multiday is miserable no matter what size boat. 4-5 passengers on a day trip is doable in a 14, it just feels like a grand canyon load in your boat. Over time you may end up doing trips with less people and youll want the smaller boat. If you get the 16' you'll want to start saving to get a little boat (9-12') for lower water, smaller rivers and more excitement.

If you have friends that will be going repeatedly, make them buy life jackets, helmets, etc. Let them store them with your raft.
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Old 04-30-2017   #10
Portland, Oregon
Join Date: Mar 2015
Posts: 182
15' Williwaw --- budget aside, best boat perfect size

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