Top 8 River Kayaks for Different Environments & Uses
The river's route takes you through a staggering variety of ecosystems, some of which are so strikingly different from one another that it's sometimes difficult to realize you're still on the same river.
That's what makes river kayaking so popular.
In an instant, you could be relaxing on stretches of calm, slow-moving water, and the next thing you know, you could be paddling through rapids that give your heart a workout.
You will need the most incredible river kayak, though, if you want to combine a variety of fun paddling activities, such as fishing, exploration, and enjoyment, into a single, action-packed excursion.
When I say "best," I mean the effective solution in the abovementioned circumstances and settings.
If you click on a link on this page and then proceed to make a purchase, we may be eligible to receive a commission, but doing so will not result in any additional charges. Discover more about this topic here.
Wilderness Systems Aspire 105
Is it Risky to Go River Kayaking?
There is no other way to phrase it: all activities on the water come with some inherent risk. And sure, that holds for river kayaking as well — and the reason for that is rather apparent:
Whitewater rapids, stretches of flat water, powerful currents, variable water levels, and twists and turns can all be found along the course of a single river, making paddling on rivers an experience that is somewhat unpredictable.
River kayaking is the kind of activity that won't let you become bored very quickly, that's for sure.
It would be best if you additionally got yourself ready for the potential risks and dangers that come along with kayaking in flowing water, including the following:
The swift and violent currents in the confined river section can force you to lose control of your kayak and sink if you're not careful.
Wave trains, often known as a succession of surging waves that do not break, can frequently be encountered in whitewater rapids.
obstructions on the river that take the form of sweepers and strainers
Riverbank undercuts that have the potential to trap you beneath the overhanging edge of the riverbank
Dams with a low head are difficult to locate, far more challenging to escape from, and frequently lethal.
And it doesn't even consider personal flotation devices (PFDs) that don't fit properly, cold water shock, hypothermia, head injuries, or anything else that can go wrong when you aren't attentive enough.
This gets me to the second point I want to make:
River kayaking is generally as safe as you make it, considering all the risks and dangers discussed above. Prevention, ensuring that you remain out of trouble, is almost always preferable to maneuvering your way out of precarious circumstances using deception or cunning.
The fact that you are using a kayak that is suitable for the river you will be paddling on is another factor that contributes to the safety of river kayaking.
A Comprehensive Buying Guide to Assist You in Selecting
It might be challenging to choose just one river kayak, which is much more difficult when you do not yet know how to use your new kayak. There are a wide variety of river kayaks available. And the fact that the term "river kayaking" may refer to such a wide variety of activities is not helpful either:
A recreational river kayak can suffice if your primary motivations are taking in the sights and spending time in the great outdoors with loved ones and friends. When you add fishing to the mix, you need to search for specialized fishing features, a sit-on-top design that is roomy and solid and has storage space.
Choosing The Best River Kayak
However, suppose you intend to head straight for the whitewater rapids, particularly those of class III and above. In that case, you will need to purchase a specialized river kayak capable of handling the rapids.
Are you getting the gist of what I'm trying to say here?
If you could find a river kayak capable of performing well in various environments or a kayak that serves multiple purposes, that would be perfect.
But, in all seriousness:
The ideal river kayak can move quickly through the peaceful sections of the river while handling the more challenging rapids when necessary.
I'm aware of the difficulty of putting that into practice.
This buying guide, however, can assist you in determining what you require in a river kayak in terms of design, specifications, and features – depending on where and how you intend to use it.
Are our sit-on-top kayaks suitable for rivers, or would it be more beneficial for them to have a sit-in-style kayak instead?
However, you shouldn't expect to hear "Yes" or "No" too often in response to questions about river kayaks.
Again, it all depends on the kind of river you plan to kayak on, the water in the river, your tastes, and how you expect to use the kayak.
This is what I mean by that:
Sit-on-top kayaks come into their own on calmer rivers and move more slowly, but who can also use them in whitewater as long as the rapids aren't too intense and you don't mind getting wet. Rapids up to class III are within my comfort zone when paddling in a sit-on-top kayak.
These kayaks offer other advantages, like broad, roomy decks, quicker re-entry, and self-bailing scupper holes, which can be appreciated by kayak anglers who are just starting. In rivers, sit-on-top kayaks can even be used as stand-up fishing platforms, providing a degree of mobility that is not available in sit-in kayaks.
However, sit-on-top kayaks have some restrictions, particularly when the waves and currents become more challenging to navigate.
Best Sit On Top Kayaks 2020 - Top 5 Best Sit On Top Kayak For Beginners
When traveling for a greater distance, it is recommended that you use a smaller SIK. However, suppose you plan on paddling over class III rapids or higher. In that case, you should opt for a shorter, "stubbier," and more maneuverable sit-in whitewater kayak rather than a more extended, traditional model.
Want Some Stability (Especially If You Plan On Kayak Fishing)
When you're racing down a river, dodging obstructions, and paddling against shifting currents, you can anticipate that the trip will be a little tricky. Stability should also be one of your top objectives if you want to avoid flipping your kayak during whitewater river kayaking because of the rough and tumble nature of the river.
Finding a river kayak that has rock-solid stability, which is often a shorter but wider one, becomes even more critical if you plan to fish while you're in it:
It should offer a sturdy platform for fishing, but at the same time, it should be agile enough to traverse currents, eddies, and rivers with rapids.
The hull's breadth, sometimes referred to as the "beam," is one of the most important factors, if not the most crucial aspect, in deciding how stable river kayaks will be. The width of the kayak has a direct correlation to the degree of stability it provides.
When determining which river kayak is ideal, paddlers and anglers should consider this factor, especially just starting.
Now, in terms of speed, broader kayaks tend to feel a bit slower than narrower ones.
However, unless you paddle against the river's flow, you will have the river's currents working to your benefit and helping propel the kayak forward. If you aren't too concerned about the kayak's stability, by all means, opt for a narrower hull if speed isn't going to be much of an issue for you the majority of the time.
River running in a kayak that is difficult to handle and maneuver is a prescription for disaster, and the likelihood of this happening increases significantly the more complex the kayak is.
River kayaking presents its share of challenges, including obstructions that are difficult to notice and creep up on you, giving you little time to respond, as well as areas of the river that are small and have several twists and bends.
This river has some of the most fun rapids for whitewater kayaking!
Being in a kayak that is not agile enough to navigate these obstructions makes the situation significantly more complicated than it needs to be. That can be attested to by anyone who has previously gone kayaking on a river.
Considering this is sufficient justification for including mobility on your list of priorities.
The degree to which a river kayak's rocker (the curve in the hull that runs from bow to stern) is rounded can indicate how easy it will turn. River kayaks with a more prominent rocker profile, in which the hull somewhat lifts out of the water, are likely to result in higher mobility. This is because rocker profiles allow the kayak to track better.
However, you must not forget to take into consideration the length of the kayak:
One rule of thumb to remember is that shorter kayaks are more agile and maneuverable than longer ones.
Because of this, whitewater kayaks are often shorter than other types of kayaks and have a more prominent rocker. Regarding the length of the best kayaks for rivers, I would say that the sweet spot is between 8 and 10 feet, with a maximum height of 12 feet.
The same level of mobility cannot be expected from kayaks any longer than 12 feet, particularly when navigating tight curves and narrow rivers. If you were curious about whether or not an ocean kayak, also known as a sea kayak, or a touring kayak, would be suitable for rivers, the answer is yes.
When searching for the ideal river kayak, there are a few important factors to consider, and we have outlined some below.
Because kayaks may be categorized into several categories based on several essential factors, it is vital to make sure that you choose the right boat for the activity in which you intend to participate.
If you are searching for a fishing boat or are still learning the ropes in kayaking, this is the type we recommend the most. A sit-on-top kayak does not contain a standard enclosed cockpit.
When readjusting your position to reel in a large catch, these boats are much more sturdy than you might imagine and allow for some much-needed movement. You also won't have to worry about wriggling your way out of the kayak in the unlikely event that it capsizes and turns on its side.
A sit-in kayak will probably be more suitable if you have some previous kayaking expertise. Compared to sit-on-top kayaks, kayaks with enclosed cockpits have a lower center of gravity, and this lower center of gravity makes it less likely that the boat may capsize in the event of a sideways tilt.
The obvious disadvantage of this situation is that if the kayak capsizes, you will need to extricate yourself from the cockpit before you can make your way to the water's surface.
Still, if you've gotten good enough at kayaking that you can do it for fun, this is the best choice because it's much easier to steer.
When looking for a river kayak, deciding whether you want a hard shell or an inflatable model is important.
Inflatables are the option that we would advise you to go with the vast majority of the time, even though your decision should at least partly depend on your level of experience.
Don't be misled by the name or the lesser weight of modern-day inflatable kayaks; these boats can take a significant hammering if necessary, and if you're traveling at a fair pace, the odds are good that they'll easily bounce off any obstacle in their path.
Even if most kayaks can sustain upwards of 200 pounds, you should still pay close attention to the data for each sample if you intend to fish from your kayak or carry a significant quantity of stuff.
In general, tandem kayaks can take a lot more weight for obvious reasons, but if you plan on fishing, you should consider a kayak that can carry at least 400 pounds for whatever you reel in. This is because tandem boats can support much more weight than single kayaks.
This is especially important to keep in mind if you intend to take your time and stay at a campsite near the river for several days. If you go out paddling for an indeterminate amount of time, you should probably aim for a higher-echelon kayak that can hold around 600 pounds. The chances are that you will pile on more and more into your kayak as the days go by, so if you decide to go out paddling, you should probably aim for a kayak that can hold around 600 pounds of weight.
Most river kayaks, including many options we've selected for this list, come equipped with a storage compartment where you may put your caught fish and other personal items. You can probably guess that this is a major selling factor for any boat, and as a result, you can typically rely on the online marketplace you are using to tell you whether or not a kayak has one.
One type of storage facility is a cargo net, while another is an enclosed space that is a couple of feet long and wide. If the former is what you're after, you should keep in mind that smaller, lighter boats are more likely to have it, which means that you could have to spend a little bit more money if this function is incredibly essential to you.
You can efficiently use the space in the kayak's cockpit that you do not occupy, even if your chosen kayak does not include a storage compartment designed explicitly for that purpose.
You should keep a close eye on the maximum weight capacity of the boat you are considering purchasing to make an educated selection regarding how much cargo you can transport.
You will discover that most of the river kayaks we have included on this list are on the shorter to the intermediate section of the kayak range. Many rivers don't provide much space in terms of breadth, so you'll want kayaks that hover at around 10 feet to make those quick-reaction turns safe and easy. The rationale for this is very straightforward.
Although we have included some more extended options in this roundup, the ones we've selected are distinguished by durability and maneuverability that are well above average.
In light of all that has been stated, paddling along a river for fishing or transporting freight requires a heavier kayak. If you plan on purchasing an inflatable boat, you should look for one that weighs at least 40 or 50 pounds when deflated.
Although the weight-to-capacity ratio of kayaks is not precisely one-to-one (a lot of it has to do with the build), you can generally anticipate heavier kayaks to be more trustworthy for managing larger loads. This is because heavier kayaks have a greater surface area to distribute the weight.
Then there's the problem of getting the kayak into and out of the river, which is a challenge in and of itself. If you are kayaking by yourself, anything that falls into the sub-50-pound bracket should be pretty easy to manage, but if you have a paddling buddy, you can most certainly afford to go over that threshold.
A kayak usually has several accessories to help you paddle on the water. Even though most of these items can be removed, having them is often necessary for a safe kayaking experience, mainly when stormy weather.
The skeg has a lot of different jobs, but its main job is to make sure the boat can move around. This is important if you want to keep your river kayak moving, especially on a windy day or in a fast-moving river, because the skeg keeps the boat from changing directions.
The rudder is another important piece of equipment that must be carefully watched. It does the same thing as the helm, but more complicated. The rudder is a crucial component of the kayak that must be in place for you to be able to guide it in the desired direction, and it is found in the rearmost area of the boat's bottom.
Even though it might not seem like much, it is well worth the money to purchase a kayak that has a seat that is comfortable enough for you to use for extended periods when you are out on the water. There is always the option to buy a seat separately if the one that comes with the kayak is not to your liking, and this will allow you to get the kayak to fit you perfectly every time.
The Top 8 River Kayaks,
Explorer K2 Kayak, 2-Person Inflatable Kayak Set
The Explorer K2 sit-on-top tandem kayak from Intex, the industry leader in producing affordable inflatable kayaks, does not disappoint customers.
It's the perfect answer for parents who want to share the delights of paddling with their children but are concerned about safety concerns.
Compared to its longer-than-average length of 10.25 feet, the Explorer K2 weighs in at an astonishingly low 30.6 pounds. It has a capacity that is capable of supporting an incredible 400 pounds.
Is it the perfect answer for more extended river trips?
Well, not quite. The inflatable seats provide very little back support. Nevertheless, it is attractive for novices and has laid-back days on the river.
In terms of construction, it also outperforms its pricing point. You may rest convinced that this inflatable kayak will provide you more benefits than you initially anticipated.
SUNDOLPHIN Sun Dolphin Bali SS
The Sun Dolphin Bali SS is the sit-on-top cousin of the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10, and you should give it some thought for your upcoming recreational river trips.
This kayak will be an excellent companion if you are a novice paddler anxious to discover the allure of paddling down a river.
A paddler who weighs more than 250 pounds and has a lot of gear may find that this is not the best solution for them because the capacity is only 250 pounds. Despite this, it is essential to point out that the Bali SS comes with a substantial amount of storage space, in addition to the one-of-a-kind Portable Accessory Carrier, or P.A.C.
The kayak's hull is made of polyethylene and measures 9.6 feet in length. It is lightweight and compact and is relatively easy to navigate on moving water.
However, and I am aware that this may come out as too picky, lightweight construction also has a downside. This kayak will be challenging to steer with solid winds and a flowing river.
3. Pelican Prime 100
When it comes to kayaks for rivers, the Pelican Prime 100's dimensions—10 feet in length and 50 pounds in weight—are not particularly out of the ordinary.
Despite this, it can carry an incredible 325 pounds and has good storage space, including a rear tank with bungee rigging and a quick-lock bow door. This is particularly impressive given that the kayak has a hard shell.
In addition, the multi-chine flat bottom hull of the Prime 100 gives it an excellent level of stability while also making it remarkably easy to steer. This is the most impressive aspect of the kayak, making it possible for paddlers of varying skill levels to experience a ride on the river that is both stable and agile.
Pelican's river kayak comes equipped with the ERGOFIT seating system, which features a padded seat cushion. However, who may have improved upon the back support?
4. Pelican Sentinel 100X
River kayaks have to be as versatile as possible to accommodate all types of paddlers, and fishers are not an exception to this rule.
In light of this, Pelican's Sentinel 100X is an ideal kayak for river fishing enthusiasts because it is not only lightweight but also incredibly loaded with features.
You will receive two-rod holders designed to be flush-mounted, two paddle or rod tie-downs, accessory eyelets, and a central console with molded-in pockets. It also comes with the ExoPak, a detachable storage box with two additional rod holders that are vertical.
In addition, it is strong, well-made, and, perhaps most significantly, stable. Pelican created this river kayak with a beam of 2.5 feet and a multi-chine flat bottom hull for optimal stability.
It's great that it only weighs 41.8 pounds, but the maximum load it can support is 275 pounds. The weight capacity may have increased slightly, especially considering the additional gear and supplies that fishers require.
5. Perception Pescador Pilot 12
Are you seeking a kayak that will allow you to spend extended hours paddling on waters with a slow current without becoming uncomfortable? Then, please let me present to you in all its splendor the Perception Pescador Pilot 12!
Compared to the other river kayaks I've recommended, this one is an absolute monster, thanks to its startling length of 12.5 feet and weight of 85 pounds. On the other hand, here's the thing:
The pedal-drive mechanism that comes standard on the Pescador Pilot 12 from Perception can be removed to make transporting the board more convenient.
In addition, it has a capacity of 475 pounds, open storage in the front and back, gear tracks, additional storage for small items, and four-rod holders that are molded in, making it the best captain's chair in its category. Complaints are completely unjustified at this point!
And even though I believe it to be one of the best pedal drive kayaks for rivers in terms of its value, the price is not exactly affordable.
6.Wilderness Systems Aspire 105
The Aspire, manufactured and refined by Wilderness Systems, is designed to accommodate varying expertise paddlers. To put it another way:
Beginners will appreciate stability, while more experienced kayakers will adore its versatility.
In terms of comfort, you will be able to use the spacious cockpit that is simple to enter and the Phase 3 AirPro seating. In addition, the Aspire 105 has an incredible capacity of up to 400 pounds and numerous onboard storage options.
It has a huge dry storage hatch, front and rear bungee deck rigging, and a molded-in dashboard with storage for smaller items so you can easily access them.
This kayak has an impressive stability rating, yet it still provides the degree of mobility you'd expect from one of the best kayaks for rivers, despite its length of 10.5 feet.
It moves through the water quickly, and its TruTrak adjustable skeg helps improve tracking and the kayak's ability to cut through the water without snagging.
7.Old Town Twister Sit-On-Top Kayak
The game of Twister is one of the more affordable activities that will allow you to get a feel for river sports.
The simple but comfortable deck is not designed for extended journeys because it does not have a lot of extra features and is not overly sophisticated.
Surprisingly, the kayak's stability is not affected by the fact that the hull is just 2.5 feet broad, even though it is slightly narrower. It has the maneuverability one would anticipate from a kayak designed for novice paddlers and also tracks well.
When viewed as a whole, it affords novices just starting in river kayaking a considerable degree of freedom.
In terms of its capacity to hold 275 pounds, it is, at best, average. I've seen better, and I've seen worse.
This beginner kayak does not have any dry storage space, which is an additional drawback in addition to the fact that it does not have an actual kayak seat. You'll need a dry bag to keep your essentials dry when kayaking.
8. Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105
Even if earlier Tarpon models from Wilderness Systems were inducted into the kayak hall of fame, it would appear that even legends have room for advancement. The utmost evidence is found in Tarpon 105.
With this model, Wilderness Systems upped the ante, particularly in terms of comfort, by introducing the Phase 3 AirPro seats. This was done to meet customer demand, and it has become linked with paddling for extended periods without experiencing any discomfort.
Because it can hold up to 325 pounds and has multiple storage choices, you shouldn't have any trouble fitting all of your gear inside. Additionally, it has specific storage areas for your equipment, such as SlideTrax rails, a detachable dry box, and a cup holder.
Previous models of the Tarpon received criticism for their lack of stability. However, the hull of this 10.5-foot kayak has been modified, enabling gains in both the primary and secondary degrees of strength.
The speed could use some upgrades, although this would mainly apply to flatwater and slow-moving rivers.
Specifications and Data
The Winner of the "Best Kayak for Rivers" Contest
River kayaking is a gratifying activity because it gives such a wide variety of experiences; no two excursions down the river are ever the same:
You may spend the day casting a line into a calm river, navigating whitewater rapids that send a rush of excitement through your body, or paddling down a river with a quiet current.
However, this is also one of the reasons why selecting the best river kayak may appear to be a struggle. The tricky part is determining where you'll paddle and choosing a kayak suitable for the river you'll spend most of your time on.
And the answer is yes, there is a river kayak that is tailored to your requirements, one that will allow you to experience the peace and excitement that river kayaking offers. The Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 has earned my selection as the best option.
It is sturdy, demonstrates great adaptability in that it can easily handle both flat water and rivers, tracks well thanks to the adjustable skeg, and possesses good stability, on top of all those other attributes.
Paddling through the river in this kayak will give you the most enjoyable experience possible!
Kayaks suitable for fishing rivers are typically between 12' and 14' long, allowing for plenty of storage space, a wide enough beam to make it stable, and enough length to glide efficiently over flat water.
Paddling a sea kayak over long distances is easier and more stable due to the sleeker hulls and flatter hulls of a river kayak.
Sit-on-top kayaks are usually polyethylene and feature a large beam for stability and self-bailing holes to shed water splashed into the cockpit. These kayaks are ideal for recreational paddling on lakes, slow-moving rivers, and protected coastal waters.
Quick Answer: Best River Fishing Kayaks in [YR] Jackson Coosa. Perception Pescador Pro 10.0. FeelFree Moken 10 V2. Bonafide SS107. Nucanoe Flint. Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler. Wilderness Systems Ride 115. Pelican Sentinel 100XR Angler.