People sledding with heavy-duty snow tubes.

Difference Between River Tubes And Snow Tubes

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Cheap river tubes and snow tubes are out there. I’m not a fan. They serve their purpose, I suppose, but they bust and tear easily leaving you with the question, “Now what?”

Go heavy-duty tubing or go home. We are all out there to have fun and with that fun comes some level of abuse to snow and river tubes.

That said, let’s get to it.

The biggest difference between heavy-duty, river tubes and snow tubes are the bottom surface materials. Snow tubes have a glossy, heavy-duty, slick vinyl bottom where most river tubes have a reinforced, PVC mesh floor that would act like a cheese grater on snow stopping you dead in your tracks.

Heavy-duty river tubes and heavy-duty snow tubes have some similarities, right?

They are round tubes with a hole in the middle.

They are inflatable.

They are made of quality, reinforced materials with welded seams.

And they are most of all… fun.

So how can they be that different? Let’s take a look. Heavy-duty river tubes and heavy-duty snow tubes are different in design, construction, materials, and valves.

Inner Chambers and Outer Covers of Heavy-Duty River Tubes And Snow Tubes

There is a difference in the inner chambers and outer covers of heavy-duty river tubes and heavy-duty snow tubes.

Heavy-duty river tubes come in two design styles:

  • A tube made of synthetic polymer reinforced denier material like the STAR heavy-duty river tubes.
  • A slightly more vulnerable, yet still tough, urethane or PVC inner chamber protected by synthetic polymer reinforced denier cover. For example, check out the heavy-duty river tubes from AIRE and NRS.

Heavy-duty snow tubes are made with a reinforced rubber inner tube covered by a snow-worthy shell. The shell is often constructed with a top side of heavy-duty denier material like polyester and a bottom side of protective, slick, and thick urethane or vinyl.

For a greater understanding of the materials that go into these tubes, check out the article “Understanding Heavy-Duty Inflatable Boat Air Chamber Materials And Specs“.

Materials Used in Heavy-Duty River Tubes And Snow Tubes

There are some similarities in the materials used to make heavy-duty river tubes and heavy-duty snow tubes.

Whether you are buying a heavy-duty river tube or heavy-duty snow tube, they are both tubes made with or covered with reinforced synthetic polymers that resist cuts, tears, punctures, and abrasions.

The seams of both tubes are thermally welded for a permanently bonded seam. Don’t buy a tube with glued seams. They don’t hold up as well and the glue is not environmentally friendly or good for the health of the employees who use the glue.

This is where heavy-duty river tubes or heavy-duty snow tubes start to differ in material.

The bottom covering of a heavy-duty river tube will most likely be a coated denier polyester or nylon bottom where the bottom of a heavy-duty snow tube is most commonly covered in a heavy-duty, vinyl bottom that is far slicker than the coated fabric.

Snow tubes resist one additional element that river tubes do not, freezing temperatures. They’re made of a synthetic polymer material with a special additive formulated to withstand freezing temperatures.

A river tube is not designed to endure the same punishment at sub-zero temperatures. Its synthetic polymers become less supple and more susceptible to damage in freezing weather.

The Bottom of Heavy-Duty River Tubes And Snow Tubes

A snow tube might be used on a river except they have different bottoms. The bottoms of river tubes and snow tubes serve different purposes.

A snow tube has a solid vinyl or urethane bottom to decrease friction and increase speed and there might be a foam insert pad on the floor inside for comfort.

A river tube has a mesh bottom to allow water to pass through. If its bottom was solid like a snow tube, you’d have the need to bail out water. And if you used a river tube with a mesh bottom in the snow the mesh would dig into the snow and quickly bring you to a stop. Too much friction.

Tube Air Valves of Heavy-Duty River Tubes And Snow Tubes

The air valves of heavy-duty snow tubes are like the valves on truck or tractor tubes.

Inflatable boat valves like Summit or Leafield air valves are used in quality heavy-duty river tubes. These valves are far superior to standard valve stems. They allow faster inflation of the air chamber too.


Heavy-duty river tubes and heavy-duty snow tubes are designed with different purposes in mind. Getting one of each instead of trying to use one in the wrong environment is best.

If you want a river tube, the best heavy-duty river tubes are AIRE, STAR, and NRS. The best heavy-duty snow tubes are made by Pro Tube. I have no affiliation with Pro Tube. They’re just the best I can find. Check them out and see what you think.

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Steve Hood

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