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Navigating whitewater rapids in a kayak can be an exhilarating endeavor. However, like other extreme sports, whitewater kayaking involves learning and practicing skills before progressing to bigger water. River rapids are classified according to their difficulty with a Class I being the easiest and a Class V being the hardest. However, selecting the best whitewater kayak can be almost as daunting as running the river itself. 

And while we can’t help you perfect that roll, we here at The Adventure Junkies pride ourselves in helping you pick the best gear for your next whitewater kayaking adventure. In this guide, we’ll help you select the right whitewater kayak for you and have you running the river in no time.

For more of our top kayaking gear recommendations, check out the Best Beginner Whitewater Kayaks.

 

Quick Answer - The Best Whitewater Kayaks

  1. Star Raven I
  2. Advanced Elements Attack Pro
  3. Dagger Mamba Creeker 7.6
  4. Riot Kayaks Boogie 50
  5. Riot Kayaks Magnum 80
  6. Riot Kayaks Astro 58
  7. Dagger Nomad 9.0
  8. Riot Kayaks Magnum 72
  9. Driftsun Rover 120
  10. Driftsun Rover 220

 

Comparison Table - Best Whitewater Kayaks

PictureNameSolo/TandemPaddler Weight RangeTypePriceRating
Star Raven ISoloN/AInflatable$4.5
Advanced Elements Attack ProAdvanced Elements Attack ProSolo225lbsInflatable$4.4
Dagger Mamba Creeker 7.6Solo120-170 lbs.Solid$$$$4.8
Riot Kayaks Boogie 50Solo120-200 lbs.Solid$$$4.6
Riot Kayaks Magnum 80Solo170-230 lbs.Solid$$4.7
Riot Kayaks Astro 58Solo170-230 lbs.Solid$$4.7
Dagger Nomad 9.0Solo170-265 lbs.Solid$$$$4.8
Riot Kayaks Magnum 72Solo110-180 lbs.Solid$$$4.8
Driftsun Rover 120Solo300lbs (Maximum)Inflatable$4.5
Driftsun Rover 220Tandem600lbs (Maximum)Inflatable$$$4.5
PictureNameSolo/TandemPaddler Weight RangeTypePriceRating
Want to learn more about a technical term? Check out our Features Explained section below.

Need buying advice? Take a look at these Things to Consider.

Reviews - The Best Whitewater Kayaks

Star Raven I

Specs
  • Length: 9’10”
  • Weight: 38lbs
  • Paddler Weight Range: N/A
  • Type: Inflatable
  • Width: 38”
  • Solo/Tandem: Solo
Features
  • Self-Bailing So It Won’t Sink If You Take On Water
  • Comfortable Folding Seat
  • Attachment Points For Gear

BEST FOR: CROSSOVER PADDLING 

The STAR Raven I is a crossover inflatable kayak that excels in any flatwater and small whitewater rivers. This boat was designed to inspire confidence on the water. The self-bailing option is ideal for expelling the water from the kayak. The wide hull is specifically designed to create a stable platform for any level of paddler. And while this kayak is designed for a wide range of paddlers, keep in mind that inflatable boats are easier for beginners to enter and exit. It works well up to Class III+ whitewater rapids and the inflatable option makes it easy to store and carry.

Advanced Elements Attack Pro

Specs
  • Length: 9’6”
  • Weight: 34 lbs.
  • Paddler Weight Range: 225lbs
  • Type: Inflatable
  • Width: 35”
  • Solo/Tandem: Solo
Features
  • Self-Bailing Ports So The Kayak Won’t Sink If It Takes On Water
  • Adjustable Thigh Straps To Help You Feel Secure And Comfortable
  • Adjustable Seat
Advanced Elements Attack Pro

BEST FOR: SOLO INFLATABLE KAYAKING

If you want to take your inflatable whitewater game up a notch, consider the Advanced Elements Attack. While it has many of the same features as the other inflatable options in this guide, it also features adjustable thigh straps for staying secure when the water gets rough. The inflatable tubes are more forgiving than rigid boats in that they absorb the impact with obstacles in the water and often just bounce you off, sending you around rocks and trees without getting stuck. The self-bailing ports move the water that enters the kayak quickly away. And while it’s not waterproof, the stern of the kayak features a self-draining covered cargo area for stashing and securing gear on the river.

Dagger Mamba Creeker 7.6

Specs
  • Length: 7’7”
  • Weight: 44 lbs.
  • Paddler Weight Range: 120-170 lbs.
  • Type: Solid
  • Volume: 64 gallons/242L
  • Width: 25.5”
  • Solo/Tandem: Solo
Features
  • Ideal for Smaller Paddlers
  • Adjustable Thigh Braces and Hip Pads
  • Adjustable Foot Brace

BEST FOR: SMALLER PADDLERS

There’s nothing like learning a new skill at a young age. Kayaking is no different. Dagger has been making iconic whitewater boats for over thirty years and we have included multiple models in this guide. The Mamba Creeker is for smaller paddlers (less than 170 lbs.) who are intent on running some serious whitewater or looking to hone their skills in a super stable model that’s also easy to roll. This is a great boat for young adults looking to up their game on the river and the high volume makes it ideal for taking those drops as it will remain horizontal and pop up quickly.

Riot Kayaks Boogie 50

Specs
  • Length: 7’8”
  • Weight: 36.3 lbs.
  • Paddler Weight Range: 120-200 lbs.
  • Type: Solid
  • Volume: 50 gallons/189L
  • Width: 24”
  • Solo/Tandem: Solo
Features
  • Customizable Foam Foot Blocks For Finding An Ergonomic Sitting Position
  • Padded Knee Pockets Provide Additional Comfort
  • Two Rubber Grab Loops Help You Recover From A Roll

BEST FOR: WHITEWATER SURFING

Surf’s up! Grab your paddle and get ready to ride the waves in this high-performance whitewater surf kayak. The unique shape of the Boogie 50 featuring a flattened tail end with a roomy front end make this boat ideal for achieving speed and carving power while riding in and out of the whitewater surf. And while the low profile makes it ideal for carving, the volume is greater in the front, allowing for a wide range of paddlers to fit. The molded-in padded knee pockets along with the easy-to-shape foam foot blocks allow this boat to be customized to the paddler and creates a well fitted cockpit on the water.

Riot Kayaks Magnum 80

Specs
  • Length: 8’4”
  • Weight: 51 lbs.
  • Paddler Weight Range: 170-230 lbs.
  • Type: Solid
  • Volume: 80 gallons/303L
  • Width: 26.5”
  • Solo/Tandem: Solo
Features
  • Floating Backrest Moves As The Paddler Moves On The Water
  • Front And Rear Flotation Bags Provide Extra Buoyancy
  • Adjustable Foot Brace

BEST FOR: CREEKING

Just one of three creeking kayaks in this guide, the Magnum 80 will accommodate larger paddlers (up to 230 lbs.). It is the ideal length and shape to navigate the features in the water while maintaining the necessary speed to maneuver the gnarliest of steep whitewater. The front and rear air bags provide ample buoyancy for running drops and popping back up quickly. Also, the floating backrest is perfect for comfort and flexibility as the river seeks to thwart your efforts. As no two paddlers are the same, the adjustable foot braces allow for the cockpit to be customized for the paddler.

Riot Kayaks Astro 58

Specs
  • Length: 6’5”
  • Weight: 39.8 lbs.
  • Paddler Weight Range: 170-230 lbs.
  • Type: Solid
  • Volume: 58 gallons/220L
  • Width: 25.7”
  • Solo/Tandem: Solo
Features
  • Suregrip Thigh Braces For Extra Comfort And Security In The Boat
  • High Performance Fit
  • Two Rubber Grab Loops To Assist You In Righting The Boat After A Roll

BEST FOR: PLAYING IN THE WHITEWATER

Playboats (freestyle) are the ideal boat for those seeking the opportunity to surf big waves and perform maneuvers on the water. They are designed to run fast whitewater and allow for easily navigating obstacles in the river. The Riot Astra 58 is capable of all of that and more. The features on this boat make it ideal and comfortable for an intense day surfing waves on the river. When you’re getting tossed around by big waves, you want to feel secure in your boat. This is achieved by an array of padded and molded features within the cockpit including suregrip thigh braces which will make you feel secure even in the wildest whitewater.

Dagger Nomad 9.0

Specs
  • Length: 8’11”
  • Weight: 51.5 lbs.
  • Paddler Weight Range: 170-265 lbs.
  • Type: Solid
  • Volume: 96 gallons/363L
  • Width: 27.5”
  • Solo/Tandem: Solo
Features
  • Adjustable Foot Brace With Foam Padding
  • Adjustable Thigh Braces And Hip Pads Help You Feel Secure In The Boat
  • Roto Molded (Rotational Molding) Seating (See Definition In Features Explained Section Below)

BEST FOR: LARGER PADDLERS

This large creeking boat is truly designed for the big boys and will accommodate paddlers up to 265 pounds. The Nomad has been updated in recent years and features a whopping volume for aiding in the buoyancy of the boat while the increased hull angle (bottom of the boat) also keeps the bow (front) of the kayak up. In addition to deciding on what kind of kayaking you are most apt to pursue, it is also important to find a boat that fits the kayaker perfectly (much like one should do when shopping for athletic shoes). This is a large boat and it’s important when fitting into the cockpit that the features designed to keep you secure are able to perform based on the size of the paddler.

Riot Kayaks Magnum 72

Specs
  • Length: 7’11”
  • Weight: 44 lbs.
  • Paddler Weight Range: 110-180 lbs.
  • Type: Solid
  • Volume: 72 gallons/273L
  • Width: 26”
  • Solo/Tandem: Solo
Features
  • Floating Backrest For Seated Comfort
  • Two Rubber Grab Loops To Help You Right The Boat In Case Of A Roll
  • Suregrip Thighbraces So You Feel Super Secure In The Boat

BEST FOR: PLAYBOATING 

The Riot Magnum is a boat created to play on the water. Armed with the perfect amount of hull angle (front and back) along with streamlined edges and just the right amount of buoyancy to allow you to drop below the water when desired and pop back up as needed. Imagine if you will, the river is like a pinball machine and the kayak is the ball. This boat is designed to bounce around on the water. The Magnum is designed to allow for maximum range of motion of your torso, thus allowing extreme maneuverability without trading off comfort. If you’re looking to take your game to the next level, this is the boat to take you there.

Driftsun Rover 120

Specs
  • Length: 8.5’
  • Weight: 22 lbs.
  • Paddler Weight Range: 300lbs (Maximum)
  • Type: Inflatable
  • Width: 36”
  • Solo/Tandem: Solo
Features
  • Inflates In About 6 Minutes
  • Front Action Camera Mount
  • Removable Rear Tracking Skeg (Acts Like A Rudder)

BEST FOR: CASUAL WHITEWATER ENTHUSIASTS

For some, being confined within a cockpit is just too much to fathom. With that said, there are options that allow the casual whitewater enthusiast to get on the water and enjoy some decent whitewater. The inflatable options are more forgiving and they’re similar to being in a solo raft. The inflatable tubes bounce off of rocks and other obstacles while providing an easy bail option should the river throw one your way. Since there isn’t a covered cockpit, water will pour over the sides, but don’t fret as the self-bailing ports will send the water straight back out. And when you’re done for the day, deflate the boat and toss it back in your car and head home.

Driftsun Rover 220

Specs
  • Length: 12’6”
  • Weight: 28 lbs.
  • Paddler Weight Range: 600lbs (Maximum)
  • Type: Inflatable
  • Width: 36”
  • Solo/Tandem: Tandem
Features
  • Inflates In Just Under 10 Minutes
  • Self-Bailing Drain Plugs
  • Can Hold Two Paddlers For Shared Whitewater Adventures

BEST FOR: TANDEM WHITEWATER ENTHUSIASTS

Want to take a friend along for the day? The Rover 220 is the tandem version of the Rover 120 above. It has the same features as the solo version but packs twice the fun. It features a large capacity (up to 600 pounds) for a full day on the water. And just like the solo model, you don’t have to worry about water filling up the kayak as the self-bailing ports allow the water to flow in and out at will. The advantages of inflatable models are that they inflate quickly (approximately nine minutes for the tandem) and take up minimal space in your car or in your garage. And, there’s a front action camera mount to capture all of the action from your day on the water.

 

 

THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BUYING A WHITEWATER KAYAK

 

TYPES

Not all whitewater kayaks are created equal. There are different styles to accommodate the specific needs of the boater. Choosing the right kayak model can be instrumental in determining what type of water you intend to run.

Freestyle/Playboats: 

While this can easily be broken down into separate categories, they are similar in that the boats are typically shorter and are designed for surfing and performing tricks on the water. The one major difference is that playboats can be slightly longer and are still viable for running full lengths of the river while freestyle boats are only designed for performing tricks.

River Running Boats: 

These slightly longer boats are designed to run fast whitewater while navigating obstacles and allowing for running drops. They tend to be lower volume than creek boats but higher than freestyle kayaks. 

Creek Boats: 

Creek boats (AKA Creeker) are high volume boats that typically feature more rocker and are designed for running steep and difficult river sections. 

 

SIZE

The size of the boat typically dictates the number of paddlers that they will accommodate. However, in relation to whitewater kayaks, most of the boats in this guide are solo. The one exception is the Driftsun Rover 220 which is a tandem inflatable model and accommodates two paddlers.

 

WEIGHT

Most of the boats in this guide are relatively light as they are shorter to provide unprecedented maneuverability on the water. Seven of the ten included in this guide are hard-sided to protect the kayaker from the rocks in the river that will inevitably be encountered on any given run. The other three are inflatable and while weighing significantly less than the hard-sided boats, they don’t provide the same maneuverability. 

 

PRIMARY USE

Determining the primary use of your kayak can help to best determine the type of water you plan to paddle. This is explained in greater detail in the TYPES section above. 

 

COST

The inflatable options are cheaper than hard-sided models but are limited in the type of whitewater than can be run in these boats. Most all of the boats in this guide are affordable and all can provide years of quality use with proper care.

 

 

FEATURES EXPLAINED

 

ROCKER

Rocker refers to the upward tilt of a kayak at the bow and stern. The more rocker translates to greater maneuverability of a kayak on the water.

 

HULL

The bottom of the kayak is the hull. 

 

STERN

The back of the kayak is called the stern.


BOW

The front of the kayak is called the bow.

 

MOLDED-IN

Some of the boats in this guide are made of heavy duty plastic. When the boats are poured into the molds, some features can be created during this phase (i.e. cup holders, seat features, etc…).

 

SKEG

A skeg is like a rudder for your kayak. Skegs are typically integrated into the hull side of the stern and aid in keeping the kayak going in a straight line. 

 

ROTOMOLDED 

Also called rotational molded, this process involves pouring a specified amount of plastic into a hollow mold and rotating the mold allowing the plastic to disperse and stick to the walls of the mold evenly.

READ MORE

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