RTIC Tough River Tube Review

Video best river tube to buy

The RTIC Tough River Tube is a tube designed with a rugged cover suitable for summer floating fun. Pretty straightforward. However, if you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering if the RTIC Tough Tube is rugged? Is it a good value? Will it work for the places you want to float?

To get us a closer look, RTIC sent Man Makes Fire a review unit. After taking it to the river and beach to get it in the water, this is what we learned:

The RTIC Tough River Tube

Years ago, the only water play river tubes were rubber inner tubes repurposed from truck or tractor tires. They work great, but they’re sometimes hard to find in the sizes you want. Plus, they have pesky valve stems that poke you (which are usually not shown in the photos at online stores). Not fun, but still, it was all just part of tubing on hot summer days.

This photo shows the RTIC Tough River Tube in the Tree Frog green color option inflated floating on the water.
The RTIC Tough River Tube pairs a PVC inner tube with a rugged polyester cover.

Today’s modern river tubes blend the durability and simplicity of inner tubes with better usability features.

The key feature we look for in a river tube is a rugged exterior that can fend off rocks, occasional sticks, and even some brush as you haul the tube to and from the water.

Typical cheap vinyl pool floats don’t cut it.

The RTIC Tough River Tube uses a heavy gauge PVC with a double-stitched heavy-duty polyester cover for durability. The polyester cover is thick and should protect the PVC tube well. In our experience, the biggest puncture risks come when you sit on the tube on the beach, in shallow water, or more usually, when you hit the bottom in a shallow river . . . and then try to scoot free.

We like exterior shells that help protect your tubes from such punctures — and the RTIC Tough River Tube polyester shell seems durable.

Cover Design

This photo shows the RTIC Tough River Tube bottom cover
The rugged cover creates a floor with four drain holes.

The three-quarter coverage design has some benefits and drawbacks. A benefit of the design is that you get a built-in floor. Another benefit is that you can easily adjust the inner tube during inflation to reduce binding with the cover. When it’s time to deflate and dry the tube for travel or storage, the cover design lets it dry faster than full-cover tubes.

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The biggest drawback is slightly lessened protection against punctures. It’s also possible that you could get gravel or debris between the PVC inner tube and the cover, which could wear a hole over time if you’re not paying attention.

RTIC includes a fabric webbing rope anchor that you can use to tether tubes, ideally with a carabiner vs a knot.

Shop the Tough River Tube from RTIC direct and get FREE Shipping!

The PVC Tube

The inner inflatable PVC tube portion isn’t whitewater-rugged, but it’s far stouter than most PVC and vinyl tubes and floats you find in department stores.

This photo shows the RTIC Tough River Tube inflated from a top view.
We appreciate the comfortable extra inner inflatable ring and back rest.

RTIC uses three air chambers. The most important is a high-volume main air chamber. The valve is a one-way valve that makes it easy to pump up your tube — and fast to empty it when you pull the secondary part of the valve open. Again, it’s not the kind of rugged valves you find on iSUPs or whitewater rafts, but it’s good for casual floating.

This photo shows the primary valve on the RTIC Tough River Tube.
The primary one-way valve makes inflation easy — and deflation fast.

The second air chamber is a smaller ring inside the primary ring. It provides the fit and comfort you want in a river tube. If the interior diameter is too narrow, you sit too high in the tube. Too wide and your butt falls too deep.

The RTIC Tough River Tube is a price-to-value winner.

I’m a relatively big guy — about 6’3″ and 225 pounds — and the fit is comfortable. Smaller gear testers report excellent fit as well . . . visually they look better in the tube than I do!

Last of all, RTIC includes an additional backrest air chamber. It works well.

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Excellent Price-to-Value Ratio

RTIC Outdoors is most known for its rugged coolers that it sells direct-to-consumers at competitive price points. While we like the RTIC Hard Coolers, our favorite is easily the do-it-all 52-quart RTIC Ultra-Light Cooler.

This photo shows the author floating in the RTIC Tough River Tube during the testing process.
Despite the author’s larger-than-average size, the RTIC Tough River Tube was comfortable and stable in the water.

The rugged polyester exterior is the key to the RTIC Tough River Tube. It’s very good. It does not, however, provide full coverage around the entire tube like, for example, the LLBean River Tube or NRS Big River Tube (noted below).

We’re not thrilled with the standard pool-toy valves in the inner ring and back rest, but these are admittedly less critical to the overall float. They rarely fail, but they are annoying to deflate. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of volume to worry about here.

This photo shows the inner ring valve.
Not our favorite valve style, but RTIC only uses it for the non-essential ring and back rest.

As for the PVC vinyl, it’s significantly thicker than most pool and beach floaty toys, and we expect it to last multiple seasons.

We also appreciate the built-in cup holder and the built-in handles.

Overall, the RTIC Tough River Tube delivers an excellent price-to-value ratio. If you need to outfit multiple people with river tubes — or even just want extra-rugged tubes for the beach — the RTIC Tough River Tube is a great midrange buy.

Shop the RTIC Tough River Tube from Amazon and get Free Shipping!

Competitive Alternatives & Options

While the RTIC Tough River Tube is a great price-to-value ratio buy, there are a few other river tubes that provide additional rugged protection. Consider these alternative options if you’re looking for even greater durability over the long haul:

NRS Big River Float Tube — The NRS Big River Float Tube uses a full-coverage cover with a heavy-duty urethane-coated polyester bottom for shallow-water protection. The inner bladder is PVC, which is similar to the material used in the RTIC Tough River Tube, but the NRS inner tube uses a very high-quality valve system. The interior of the ring has a mesh floor. If you’re looking for an ultra-rugged river tube, the NRS Big River Tube is for you.

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L.L.Bean River Tube — Like the RTIC Tough River Tube, the L.L.Bean River Tube uses a heavy gauge inner PVC tube with a polyester cover. The main benefit of the L.L.Bean River Tube over the RTIC version is the full-coverage cover. The one-way valve is similar. One key difference is the lack of an inner ring and back rest air chambers. The biggest drawback is the lack of a floor.

NRS Star Makara River Tube — The NRS Star Makara River Tube doesn’t use a nylon or polyester cover like those noted above. Instead, the NRS Star Makara River Tube is made from a super-durable PVC-free material that’s similar in feel and ruggedness to the PVC used in whitewater rafts. One key benefit is the increased simplicity of the design, which also dries fast.

Need a pump? Try the AIRHEAD Double-Action Hand Pump. It’s affordable but tougher than most inexpensive hand pumps.

The Bottom Line

The RTIC Tough River Tube is a price-to-value winner. While it’s not quite as durable as river tubes with full coverage covers, the rugged polyester cover protects the bottom and sides of the tube from the most likely pokes and scrapes. The design also dries faster than full-cover designs, which we appreciate for travel and cleanup at home. We also appreciate the comfortable inner ring as well as the inflatable back rest. Highly recommended.

Get the Gear:

  • RTIC Tough River Tube

Related RTIC Gear Reviews:

  • RTIC Ultra-Light Cooler Review
  • RTIC Tote Bag Review: ‘Rugged & Ready’
  • RTIC Soft Pack Cooler Review
  • RTIC Hard Cooler Review
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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>