The Best White Water Kayak | Paddling Your Way To The Top Whitewater Kayak

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Ease your way into kayaking by purchasing the best white water kayak for you, gathering the necessary accessories, researching the best places to go white water rafting and learning basic white water rafting skills.

Whitewater rafting is an invigorating sport that everyone should try. Although it may seem intimidating, whitewater rafting has different comfort levels for new thrill seekers to seasoned adrenaline junkies. Class I-II is family friendly while Class III requires experience. Class IV and V should not be tried at home (a.k.a. you will need to take a professional with you to help guide you through the rough rapids).

There are several kayak features that you will need to take into consideration before purchasing your kayak. The shape and volume of the kayak are both very important and should be noted when you are deciding what intensity of white water rafting you are interested in. Other features such as the hull, chines and rocker all have two distinct choices that are available when choosing your white water kayak. Choose a style of kayak that will give you the most individualized comfort and control for your next white water rafting adventure.

Kayak Features

Understanding the key features of a kayak can help you choose the best white water kayak for rafting. It is ultimately up to you to determine what features will allow you to have the best kayaking experience. The main features of the kayak include the hull, chines, rocker and volume. 

Hull 

Planing hulls are known for their flat surface which aids in your whitewater rafting experience by turning quickly and maneuvering with ease. The planning hull has a flat top surface; water can glide easily over the hull allowing for less resistance and quicker response time.

Related: Best Kayaking Apps

Displacement hulls are able to push through the water due to their deeply curved shape creating more stability. The bottom of the curve helps the kayak track easier. Displacement hulls tend to fare better in calm waters where maneuvering is not as important.

Chines

 Chines are the part of the hull that is below water. There are two styles of chines, hard and soft. Hard chines are more difficult for beginning kayakers but should not be avoided.

The harder chine helps you learn how to “move with the water” and help you stabilize your body control. The advantage of a hard chine is the ability to make quick turns. The disadvantage is that the sharp edges of the chine can catch easily on sharp rocks or debris in shallow water causing the kayak to tip.

Soft chines are easier to control. The rounded edges navigate easily through shallow water that may have rocks that are not easily seen. The disadvantage is that soft chines do not have a quick response time, forcing the kayaker to have more strength and stamina to paddle through the water.

Rocker

There are two distinct rocker styles, a kick rocker and a continuous rocker.

A kick rocker is when the kayak has a flat bottom center with a dramatic angle on the ends. This keeps the majority of the kayak sitting on top of the water with the ends high off the surface. This increases the grip on the water and ability to do tricks on the water.

A continuous rocker features one continuous curve. This minimizes the kayak’s contact in the water lengthwise in order to maneuver quicker and easier.

Volume

 Volume is determined by how many gallons your kayak can hold. Depending on what style of boating you will be pursuing, will help you choose the best whitewater kayak for your needs.

High-volume kayaks appear bloated on the ends and allow the kayak to resurface quickly. This type of kayak is perfect for beginners and rapids due to the front and the back of the kayak being able to shed water very quickly.

Related: Best Tandem Kayak

Low-volume kayaks are the opposite and feature very thin, scooping motion shaped bow and sterns. You will be able to spot the difference quickly as there is little to no room in the front and back of the kayak and it looks flat compared to the high-volume models. This type of kayak is great for free styling but not recommended for whitewater. However, in more advanced whitewater situations where water is consistently above the kayak, low-volume kayaks can increase in speed and control.

Rapid Kayaking

Choosing the Best White Water Kayak

 Now that you have learned about the features of white water kayaks, check out our five best white water kayak picks. Each kayak has it is own unique features, size and price. Be sure to choose a kayak that is comfortable for your body, has all of the features you need for your kayaking level and is best for the style and location of your kayaking adventures.

1. Riot Kayaks Magnum 80 Whitewater Creeking Kayak (Red, 8-Feet)white water kayak

The Riot Kayaks Magnum 80 Whitewater Creeking Kayak is a great whitewater creeking kayak. It has a unity seating system and floating backrest for superior comfort. Maximize your torso movement with its high-performance contour fit. Front and rear flotation bags are included. This kayak is perfect for all of your global adventures with its sleek deck shape and rocker profile. This kayak has supreme control with a soft resurface that will not create pressure on your back and torso. The expertly shaped tail and volume behind the kayaker stabilizes the kayak and keeps you from getting into sticky situations and a rough eddy you cannot get out of. The Riot Kayaks Magnum 80 Whitewater Creeking Kayak is great for all levels of kayakers. You will love the easy handling and be able to enjoy the scenery while you are paddling in your new creeking kayak.

Related: How to Store a Kayak

Features unity seating system, front and rear flotation bags, four heavy-duty creek handles, drainplug, suregrip thighbraces, adjustable creek footbrace, and anti-theft bar. The kayak measures 8 feet, 4 inches by 26.5 and weighs 45 pounds; cockpit: 34 inches by 20 inches.

Measures 8 feet, 4 inches by 26.5 and weighs 45 pounds

ASIN: B006K9A6SQ

Item model number: Magnum 80

Price: $1,284.69


2. Riot Kayaks Thunder 65 Whitewater River Running Kayak (Red, 7-Feet)best white water kayak

The Riot Kayaks Thunder 65 Whitewater River Running Kayak is a great mix between an everyday kayak and a white water dream machine. Super lightweight, the kayak has a slender bow and slim deck profile. The kayak has an advanced pilot rudder system and just the right amount of chine for expert tracking in the water. All of these features come in a smaller, light-weight kayak than most of its competitors. Also features lightweight thermoform construction, advanced contour outfitting, lightweight thermo hatches and bow & stern sealed bulkheads.

Specs: length 14’4” (439 cm), width 22.4” (57 cm), weight 51 lbs (23 kg), max displacement 325 lbs (147 kg), cockpit size 32” x 18′ (81X 46 cm), beluga skirt size X-large

ASIN: B006K9A4Y2

Item model number: edge14.5crosslight

Price: $788.96


3. Riot Kayaks Boogie 50 Whitewater Surf Kayak (Red, 7-Feet x 9-Inch)best white water kayaks

The Riot Kayaks Boogie 50 Whitewater surf kayak is perfect for your next white water rating adventure. The high-performance kayak handles rocky areas with ease.  Its sleek shape allows for tremendous speed and will satisfy even the most advanced kayaker.

Features surfing powerseat for intense motion, customizable foam footblocks, drainplug, molded-in padded knee pockets, and two rubber grab loops. The kayak measures 7 feet, 9 inches by 24.7 inches and weighs 35 pounds; cockpit: 32 inches by 17 inches.

ASIN: B006K9A9TW

Item model number: Boogie 50

Price $788.11


4. Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 11.0 Kayakwhite water kayaks

Recently redesigned, the Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 11.0 Kayak will keep you on your toes. Super stylish and in an all-new size, the Dagger Kayaks Zydeco is ready for any white water rafting adventure you can dream up. The Dagger features a Tour CFS Seating System, ConTour Knee/Thigh Pad, SlideLock Foot Brace System,Stern Hatch, Bungee Deck Rigging,Soft Touch Handles, Stern Bulkhead,Paddle Park, CFS-R Seating System, Bungee Deck Rigging, Paddle Park, Slide lock Foot brace System and Retractable Skeg.

ASIN: B00NCX10VK

Item model number: 9030535061

Price: $599.00


5. Driftsun Rover 120 Inflatable Whitewater Kayak with High Pressure Floor, EVA Padded Seat, Action Cam Mount, Paddle, Pump and Morewhite water kayak review

The Driftsun Rover 120 Inflatable Whitewater Kayak is the perfect solution if you do not have a lot of storage space. The full sized kayak inflates in less than five minutes and only weighs twenty-two pounds. It has reinforced layered PVC side tubes for stability and a heavy-duty PVC tarpaulin bottom for strength against pesky punctures. Created in California, the kayak was designed by avid kayakers who know what is important in design and styling.

Easy to maneuver with a rigid high pressure drop stitch floor, removable flat water tracking fin and a rocker profile that will keep you safe in calm and rough waters.

Keep your mind at ease with this high-quality inflatable kayak. This kayak is ready for advanced class III and IV rapids. The kayak includes five self bailing ports, lots of tie downs for kayak accessories. Plus a front action camera mount is perfect for capturing all of your white water rafting memories.

The Driftsun Rover has the least expensive price tag and comes with the most accessories. The kayak includes removable/adjustable EVA padded seat with high back support, anodized aluminum paddle with ergonomic grip, removable/adjustable foot rest, four fixed handles for easy transport, deluxe double action hand pump, front action camera mount, removable rear tracking skeg, travel carry bag and repair kit.

Inflated Dimensions: 8.5’ ft. x 36” x 13”

Deflated Dimensions: 28”x 21” x 9”

Kayak Weight: 22 Lbs.

Capacity: 300 Lbs.

Inflation Time: 6 Minutes

Inflation Pressure: 3 PSI Side Tubes & 6 PSI Floor

ASIN: B07B8C81WX

Price: $579.99


white water rapids kayaking

Best White Water Kayak Necessities

 After choosing the best white water kayak, there are a few necessities that you will want to purchase before heading out on the rapids. Each of the items below will help keep you safe and comfortable in and out of the water. At some point your kayak may roll or you will be forced into the water. It is best to be prepared for the inevitable. The more you kayak, the more you will want to invest in high-quality accessories. The more intense the rapids are, the sturdier your accessories should be. Make sure to pack all of these items on your next kayaking trip.

PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

 A personal flotation device or a life jacket is not only a good idea when taking on white water rafting but most places require it by law. When kayaking, you will spend at least some time in the water swimming. For under two hundred dollars you can purchase a life jacket that keeps you afloat and is comfortable to wear while paddling too. You can also purchase a whitewater-specific PFD. These specialized life vests have a lower profile for a better range of motion and a quick-release harness in case of quick water rescue.

Helmet

A well fitting helmet is a must for whitewater rafting. Your helmet should stay in place even when you have hit massive rapids. The helmet protects your head from hitting rocks while in the water. Choosing a paddling specific helmet will help you in case of rolling while in your kayak. These helmets drain water and dry quickly. Choose a helmet with a significant brim to help protect your eyes from the sun and deter water spray.

Paddle

Choosing a Whitewater rafting paddle is generally up to personal preference but there are a few key things to keep in mind. Choose a shorter padding for play boating and freestyle and a longer paddle for river running and creeking.

Related: Best Fishing Kayak

Paddles come in two shaft styles, bent and straight. The bent shaft is mainly for people who have discomfort when using a straight shaft. It is best to test both options to see what grip feels better. Paddles are also made with different materials. Most are made with either carbon fiber or fiberglass. Weight, sturdiness and price will all play in to which paddle is right for you.

Spray Skirt

Before hitting the rapids, you will need to invest in a quality spray skirt for your kayak. A spray skirt is a middle man of sorts, acting as a seal from incoming water. Without a spray skirt, it only takes a few waves to capsize your kayak.

You will need to take some time measuring the cockpit of your kayak to see what size spray skirt will work best. You want a spray skirt that will fit properly and stay in place. However, do not purchase a spray skirt that is too small or you will spend more time trying to place and remove the spray skirt than you will riding the rapids.

As with most products, there are a variety of spray skirts that vary in price and quality. For the novice, a moderately priced one will do. Invest in a better made spray skirt if you are rafting more frequently or moving up a Class.

Dry Suit

If you are looking for the best dry suit protection, consider purchasing a dry suit. Dry suits are an investment but come with many benefits. They are the most comprehensive whitewater rafting gear you can buy. A one-piece breathable suit has integrated socks, rubber gaskets around your neck and wrists and a heavy-duty waterproof zipper.

Dry suits are perfect for regulating your temperature and keeping the water out. They are indispensable when you’ve rolled in your kayak and find yourself floating downriver.

Paddling Gloves

When you take a whitewater rafting trip in a colder climate, you will need paddling gloves. Paddling gloves are made from water-friendly neoprene and come in different thicknesses for temperature control and comfort.

Footwear

When you are whitewater rafting, specialized footwear is a must. You cannot go rafting with bare feet or sandals.  Choose a sleek water shoe such as ones made out of neoprene for the best protection against sharp rocks and water debris. If you choose to wear a hiking type shoe to protect your feet, make sure they fit comfortably in your kayak before you get out on the water as some shoes are too bulky.

Float Bags

Float bags protect your kayak when the whitewater kayak is flipped over. They are an air filled bladder that aids in displacing water. You will need a float bag for each side of the rear pillar of your kayak. Without float bags, you will be unable to grasp your kayak out of the current. Even if you are able to retrieve the kayak, without float bags it will weigh several hundred pounds from all the water it has taken in and nearly impossible to pull to shore. Protect your kayak and invest in a set of float bags.

Throw Bag

Practice your life saving skills with a throw bag. A throw bag is a bag that is stuffed with a long length of rope. When you hold the leading end of the rope and throw the bag, the rope unravels in the air allowing you to help out a fellow paddler who is trapped in the water or who has tired from swimming.

Related: Best Kayak Coolers

Combine the throw bag with locking carabineers. This creates multiple the uses for this essential gear such as hiking, as a supplement gear in debris filled waters and securing your kayak while on shore.

River Knife

If you are going on a long whitewater rapid ride, you will want to add a river knife to your gear list. A river knife can easily attach to your life jacket and can come in handy when you least expect it. Use it to build a campfire, cut rope or while fishing.

Dry Bag

Add a watertight compartment to your kayak by purchasing a dry bag. The dry bag seals out water and air and can carry valuables like keys, wallet and a camera. You can also use them as flotation devices in case the kayak flips and you take a swim.

After you have chosen your kayak and gathered all of your necessary accessories, it is time to plan that white water rafting trip! There are several places all over the globe that have adrenaline pumping rapids and gorgeous scenery. Keep in mind if you are new to white water rafting and especially if you are bringing the whole family, you will want to keep your trip limited to Class I and Class II rapids. Also, choose a well respected white water rafting excursion that is equipped with certified guides. The guides are an invaluable resource for the local area, weather conditions and any questions you may have regarding the journey, your kayak and how to use all of your new accessories.

Additional Items to Pack

If you are new to white water rafting, there are a few things you will want to bring on your trip. You will be more comfortable if you wear a bathing suit with quick dry outer layer such as shorts. A rash guard for warmth from the water and protection from the sun is also recommended. It is best to avoid clothing made of cotton, since cotton gets cold when wet. Protect from sun burns by wearing a hat with a large brim, sunglasses and sun tan lotion.

If it is not provided by the white water rafting company, you will also want to pack water bottles to stay hydrated and snacks for nourishment.

Best Places for White Water Rafting

Some white water rafting destinations are perfect for unplugging. Depending how remote the location is, some areas do not have cell phone reception. If you need to truly unwind, a white water rapids excursion might be the perfect medicine for you. It is also great for families or friends who are interested in increasing their bonding without any distractions.

If you enjoy spontaneity in your vacations, white water rafting is for you. The river is never the same and can exude non-stop fun and entertainment for a willing rafter. The nonstop wilderness is a welcome retreat from a busy city life. You can be active and thoroughly relax on the same trip. White water rafting is perfect for thrill seekers and is a popular bucket list entry. Keep in mind you should be in good health to go white water rafting. You should also know how to swim and properly take care of yourself in the water.

Once you have chosen a white water rafting excursion as your vacation destination, you will need to decide where you want to travel to. According to The Manual.com, the five best places to go white water rafting in 2018 are Zambezi River (Zimbabwe), Colorado River (Arizona), Futaleufú River (Chile), Middle Fork of the Salmon River (Idaho) and Gauley River (West Virginia).

The top five were chosen for their massive waterfalls, up close and personal wild animals, adrenaline pumping Class IV-V rapids and pristine natural landscapes.

After you have chosen your adventure location, you might want to learn some white water rafting skills before you head out to your destination.

White Water Rafting Skills

Familiarizing yourself with some key strategies while rafting with your kayak will give you more confidence in the water. Here are a few basic skills that you will need to practice before your next white water rafting trip.

Active Blade

The active blade or paddle stroke when kayaking is a skill that should not be taken lightly. Mastering active blade not only prepares you for the rapids but gives you control and stability to keep you upright in the water. Having a strong active blade will help you stay connected with the water and alert at all times.

It is important to practice your paddle stroke in calm waters so you can see the different ways moving your paddle in the water affects your direction and stability in the water.

Once you hit small waves, practice putting your paddle in the water to control your direction and speed. Then remove your paddle from the water. It is amazing how little control you have without an active blade in the water. Continue to practice and build up your strength to increase your stamina.

Moving Downstream

Break down your white water rapid journey in sections that are easy to comprehend, remember and navigate. Especially in longer runs, moving downstream can be daunting if you have not taken the time to properly mark your route.

By understanding the different sections of the rapids (calm water, rapids, slow/fast currents) it is easier to be confident in the water and keep your kayak afloat.

Peel Out

A peel out is a move essential for navigating across water and existing the eddy. You will need speed to keep you upright and able to find the flow.

To master the peel out, you need to find the correct angle to cross the eddy. Use your edge to the inside of the turn which will allow water to freely pass under your kayak. This will prevent you from tipping over and requires a forward paddling posture. Finally employ your active blade while facing the direction you need to go to control the angle and edge of your kayak.

Ferrying

Ferrying is similar to a peel out. The difference is you are allowing the power of the main flow keep your kayak at the correct angle to go towards an eddy on the opposite side of the river.

Start on calm waters and set out as if you are doing a peel out. You will need to use your speed, angle and edge as in the scenario of the peel out. However, with ferrying you will be using your active blade to maneuver your kayak to the other side of the eddy.

Be careful of your angle. Too much of an angle will cause lots of water to hit your kayak and you will go spinning downstream. You should not have to fight the water. You should be able to angle across the water with minimal active blade.

Eddy Turn

An eddy turn is the opposite of a peel out. The eddy turn helps you navigate downstream from eddy to eddy. You will need to practice your speed and angle to hit the eddy just right and end in a calm stable part of the eddy. Keep backup eddies in mind in case you over or under shoot the eddy you were aiming for.

S-Turns

An s-turn is the combination of an eddy turn and a peel out that are down quickly back to back. You will need to have momentum to complete a successful s-turn. Using minimal paddle strokes is also seen as good technique while accomplishing an s-turn.

Scouting & Portaging

While you are white water rafting you will frequently need to use your skills of scouting and portaging.

Scouting is most commonly done on a nearby bank to watch the rapids and access if the rapids are passable and how to best navigate them. Scouting can also be done in your kayak while sheltered by a calm eddy. Looking forward at upcoming rapids can help you determine your next plan of action.

Portaging is the action of walking around the rapid. This action is normally taken when the rapids are too advanced for the kayaker or there is a danger in the current that prevents the kayaker from moving forward in choppy waters.

It is advised to always inspect each section of river while rafting. Even if you have run the same course several times, there could be a fallen tree or debris that is preventing a smooth ride down river. Spotting these dangers before you get to that section of river can help save you from injuries and protect your kayak from expensive damage.

Once you practice these simple kayaking skills, you will be eager to seek out new waterways and take your kayak on more trips throughout the year.

Conclusion

All of the kayaks on our list are under eight hundred dollars. If you are serious about white water rafting, this investment is minimal for a lifelong hobby. The investment you make in a quality kayak will last you for years of fun excursions without the added time and frustration of renting gear every time you want to white water raft. You can rest assured that your kayak will carry the same comfort level time after time. You can also personalize all of your gear based on your individual needs.

Whether you kayak for a few hours on the water or dedicate a few days for a relaxing vacation, having your own kayak and gear is a worthwhile investment. Be sure to clean and maintain your kayak and gear to keep it in good shape. Take an inventory of all of your gear before entering the water. You will also want to test all of your gear before going on a long white water rafting trip to ensure your safety. If you forget to bring one of your necessary accessories or part of your gear is damaged, you will need to look into purchasing a replacement or renting the gear so you are not rafting without it.

The most important aspect of white water rafting is your safety on the water. Do not take any shortcuts. Take the time to learn safety procedures and if you are kayaking alone, take sufficient gear to survive in the water or on the shore until help can arrive. Continue to educate yourself on best kayaking practices and purchase current river guides so you can make intelligent decisions when navigating the rapids.

Congrats on purchasing a kayak, necessary accessories, booking your next adventure and learning basic kayaking skills. White water rafting is an experience of a lifetime and is a great way to make memories with friends and family.