The Best Kayaks for River Paddling

 sit-inside rec kayak for slow moving rivers

This sit-inside recreational kayak is great for slow-moving rivers (photos courtesy of @paddle365)

Because rivers provide a different environment for kayakers than the flatwater and open ocean environment, a different type of kayak is needed.

Ken Whiting of Paddle Tales gives us his take on the best kayaks for river paddling in this video:



What makes rivers different from lake or open ocean paddling? Current and hazards are the main differences. Rocks and boulders, fallen trees, dams…all can demand quick maneuvering and stability.

Ken recommends four different types of kayaks to make river kayaking safe and fun:

1. Hard Sit-on-Top Kayak

Recreational sit-on-top kayaks are designed to be extremely stable and can handle some whitewater. The higher end models often have adjustable-height seats that are very comfortable.

 hard sit-on-top kayak for river paddling

The hard sit-on-top model is very stable and swamp-proof (photo courtesy of @cakejaggaley)

One big advantage of a hard sit-on-top is they won’t swamp. The scupper holes let any water drain out when it’s upright. And if you do happen to capsize, it’s an easy matter of either flipping it back upright there in the river, or dragging it over to shore to get back on.

2. Inflatable Sit-on-Top Kayak

Quality inflatable sit-on-top kayaks are both very comfortable (“They’re like sitting in a lounge chair,” says Ken) and very durable. They can take a lot of abuse from rocks and other hazards.

They’re also extremely stable, even in whitewater. “They’re the 4x4s of the kayaking world.” They’re even better on rapids than a hard sit-on-top.

While very stable, neither type of sit-on-top kayak is high-performance. Let’s move to the sit-inside models…

inflatable kayak for rivers

Quality inflatable sit-on-tops can handle big rapids

3. Recreational Sit-Inside Kayak

These multi-purpose and low-cost kayaks are wide and stable. They have big cockpits that are easy to enter and exit. They’re easy to paddle and maneuver and are a little faster than the sit-on-top models.

They’re only good for mild current, though. Anything with waves will quickly splash abundant water into the cockpit. Worse, if you flip, your kayak will fill up with water and make it heavy to drag over to the shore.

4. Whitewater Sit-Inside Kayak

This is the ultimate performance kayak for any rapids, from Class I to 5, even going over waterfalls. They’re short and wide, stable and extremely maneuverable. Their small cockpit can be covered with a paddle skirt to keep water out.

 whitewater kayak in rapids

In a whitewater kayak, you’re only limited by your own ability (photo courtesy of @jay_siemens)

“Your own limitations are the limitations of a whitewater kayak,” Ken explains. “The sky’s the limit.”

We want to help you find the paddle that’s right for you! Contact our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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