If you have the hankering for a little white water action this summer, you need to get your hands on the top 7 inflatable kayak for white water that you can. These are affordable, easy to transport, and safer than a hard body kayak. This isn’t even considering how much more fun they can be!
Before you rush out and do some shopping, let’s talk a little about what you need to look for and some of the specifics about whitewater and the craft that you need to make it safe and fun. There isn’t a lot but being informed will keep you from making mistakes that could lead to injury or wasted money.
Inflatable Kayak Considerations
This is just the basics. There is nothing complicated about this craft but you need to do a little research on your own to make sure you are prepared.
All whitewater rivers have ratings depending on the degree of difficulty involved in surmounting them. These go from the simple and smooth to the dangerous and death-defying. This is the single most important thing to understand and one of the hardest to judge. Most inflatable kayaks are capable of handling Class 3 or better but start low and work up.
- Class 1 – Small rough area that requires no navigating.
- Class 2 – Some rough water with rocks, small drops and may require maneuvering.
- Class 3 – Significant maneuvering around rocks, drops of up to 5 feet, not considered dangerous.
- Class 4 – Sharp and quick maneuvering with large rocks, drops, and long rapids. Can be very dangerous.
- Class 5 – Large waves, large rocks and other hazards, and possible long drops that require precision. Can be incredibly dangerous.
- Class 6 – Considered impassible with any level of safety.
By no means should you go up to a higher class of rapids until you are very familiar with techniques and are comfortable with lower classes of rapids.
Boat Size and Shape
If you look at serious whitewater kayaks, the kind with a hard body, you will notice they are short and quite narrow. This makes them more maneuverable and regardless of how it would appear, more stable. More of the boat stays in contact with the water and on the surface, which prevents tipping. They are easier to right if they do capsize.
While you can attempt to emulate this with an inflatable boat, it would be very difficult. Most inflatable boats are broader and longer by necessity. However, an inflatable boat performs differently. It can not go under like a hard kayak can. It is much harder to capsize. They who are not analogous.
An inflatable kayak is more like an inflatable raft. It keeps you afloat and allows you the ability to maneuver reasonably well. That said, they are also not a raft which is much harder to flip and is impeccably stable.
You should go with a shorter, narrower model when possible. This will give you more maneuverability without compromising the stability of the craft too much. If you are looking at a multi-person craft it will need to be longer but keep the width about the same no matter the length.
With most inflatable kayaks, portability isn’t going to be a big issue. They weigh little and generally fold up quite small. Many will fit in a large backpack and some will even come with their own. No matter the vehicle you drive, transporting them is often a non-issue.
A few models have a partial internal frame and these will be larger overall and may weigh a few pounds more. There is a tradeoff with these types. They are usually more maneuverable, especially on flat water, than a traditional soft body design.
No one is going to pretend that going down whitewater is gentle. Even on a class 1 rapid, you can rub bottom, hit small rocks, and even occasionally drag over sticks and other snags. This gets worse the higher class of rapid you are on. To survive this, you want a boat that is quite durable.
The fabric across the bottom should be very tough as it will experience the worse beating. Any of the air chambers should have a thick or double wall fabric to improve its puncture resistance. An uncommon feature but one worth looking for is multiple air chambers. This means a puncture, if it does happen, will not fully collapse the craft.
Top Inflatable Kayak for Whitewater
Advanced Elements Single
When it comes to quality, Advanced Elements probably makes the premier inflatable craft. They aren’t only better than the competition, they blow the competition away in almost every way. Of course, there is a cost associated with this quality and they will run a little higher priced than most of their competition.
Their Single person model is a great size for a whitewater boat at just over 10 feet long and 3 feet wide. This makes for a maneuverable and stable craft. To add to that stability, the Advanced Element boat can hold up to 300 pounds so it rides high in the water and slips across rapids with ease.
One of the most innovative features of is product is the aluminum ribbing in the fore and rear of the boat. This helps the boat keep its shape for better tracking on smooth water. On whitewater it will have little effect other than a small boost to maneuverability.
Despite the rigid ribs, this kayak only weighs about 36 pounds and collapses down quite small. It also has three layers of material for amazing durability. This is as close to a hard shell kayak as you can get in an inflatable and easily the best on the market. You will need to add your own paddle and pump.
Driftsun is newer company and has yet to make is mark in a big way but that time is coming. Their kayaks are top of the line, very reliable, and easy to use. What is better is that their boats are sold as a complete kit with paddles, pump, carry bag and everything else you need. Though they may appear higher priced, it is for a whole kit.
The Voyager model is built for two yet manages to keep a compact size of just 10 feet long and about 3 feet wide. Despite the smaller size, it can easily support 450 pounds and still ride well. You do want most of the weight in the rear of the boat but that is easily arranged.
The bottom of this kayak is made of an extra-thick PVC tarpaulin material that is highly abrasion resistant and quite slippery. This helps you get over some of the shallow obstacles. The upper is a tear resistant oxford cloth that is both UV resistant and quite tough.
In total, this inflatable only weighs 27 pounds which can be easily carried in a pack. It is one of the most transportable models available. If you are after a great kayak that can handle the tough stuff, likely the Voyager is exactly what you are looking for.
Sevylor Big Basin 3
If you want to take your friends along, you are going to need more space and that is exactly what you get from the Sevylor Big Basin. This kayak can hold up to 3 people with ease or can be handled by two. You wouldn’t want to try it alone, its far too much for solo trips but everything is more fun with friends.
At 12 feet long and 3 feet wide, this is easily the most spacious choice on this list and that means it will be very stable, even in rough water. It also holds up to 490 pounds so it stays high in the water even when fully loaded. Despite this, the total weight is only 34 pounds for easy transport.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this boat is going to be maneuverable in whitewater. With its length, movements will be sluggish and take more practice to perfect. Instead you will be relying on the buoyancy of the boat and its size to keep you going. Luckily, it will do that with near perfection.
Made of a heavy grade PVC with a tarpaulin bottom cover, this is a durable kayak that can take a beating. It also uses multiple air chambers so even if things go bad, you won’t go down. The whole design is made to be as rugged as possible to handle whatever gets thrown at it.
Sea Eagle 370
When you want a great, affordable option that can handle rough water, Sea Eagle is an amazing option. Designed from the ground up to handle up to class 3 rapids, this is the single choice that will give you the best performance in a two-seat craft.
At 12.5 feet long, this isn’t the most maneuverable model on this list but its construction is more like a whitewater raft than anything else. It can easily stand up to some solid rapids and take a beating without unseating you or turning over. This is in the design with two skegs mounted on the bottom to keep you straight.
Though you only get two seats, you can add a third and there is plenty of capacity at a total of 650 pounds. It rides high in the water to keep it off the bottom but with a PolyKrylar proprietary hull material it can handle being banged around.
At only 32 pounds, it is easy to carry in the included bag. It even comes with paddles, pump, and everything else you need to get on the water. If you want to enjoy some lighter whitewater with confidence and safety there is no better option and it will last you season after season.
In a similar vein as the Sea Eagle, the Montana was designed from the ground up to handle some white water. You may not want to take on the rough stuff, not at first anyway, but it can handle up to class 3 with little issue. You can see the durability in the design and tell this is a perfect kayak for getting some good river action.
At 12 foot long, this 2 person kayak isn’t the most maneuverable but it rides very high in the water and almost skates across the surface making it far more maneuverable than its length suggests. It can hold a total of 500 pounds and weighs in at only 36 pounds.
When it comes to construction the Montana is top notch with very few products doing better. The whole boat uses a semi-rigid PVC making it track and hold shape better than most other similar options. The floor uses three layers of this material in a tubular I-beam construction for better tracking and superior durability no matter where you take it.
It should be said that this is a bulkier craft than the other kayaks above but it is still compact enough for easy transport. Everything about the craft was designed more for comfort and safety than size so you make some small sacrifices. You will have to add your own kit but for a kayak only this is a great deal!
Intex Explorer K2
If you are more interested in saving some money, the currently best-rated inflatable kayak is easily the Explorer. This two-person model has sold thousands of kayaks to many happy customers and all for under $100.00. That is a deal you just can’t beat.
While it may not be quite as good as some of the above models, specifically it isn’t quite as rigid, this 10-foot boat will definitely get you down milder rapids with relative ease. It is reasonably maneuverable and stays afloat quite easily even with two people thanks to a total capacity of 400 pounds.
This kayak is constructed from a high-grade PVC that is quite thick if not so thick as some more costly choices. It can handle class 2 rapids no problem and could probably manage class 3 with little issue at all. The tacking on smooth water leaves something to be desired so having some current to push you along is helpful.
The Explorer comes with the complete kit to get you on the water and going the day it arrives. It has both a high volume pump and two paddles that are good quality and very functional. It’s hard to hope for the best quality at such a budget price but Intex has done a good job on this particular product.
Intex Challenger K1
If the Explorer was the best budget 2 person kayak, the Challenger takes that spot for a single seat craft. It has all of the quality of the Challenger and comes out on top as far as rigidity and tracking is concerned. This is thanks to the improved shape and shallower draft.
At only 9 feet long this is probably the nimblest option on this list for whitewater work. This also means its quite narrow at only 30 inches and has a total capacity of 220 pounds. If you are close to this weight, you may have issues with the kayak riding deep in shallow rapids but if you are under 200 it should ride quite high and be very maneuverable.
The construction of this craft is the same as the Explorer in every way. It harkens back to Intex’s experience in making other inflatable products like swimming pools and air mattresses. The construction of these isn’t much different but the material has changed to a more robust vinyl for puncture resistance and durability.
Like the larger model, this is a complete kit with everything you need to get on the water. You can have it inflated in minutes and be sailing down your local river in no time at all. Packs down to about the size of a case of soda and weighs just 27 pounds for excellent portability. The best thing about the Challenger is the price. For well under $100.00 most anywhere you shop, this fits everyone’s budget.
Foremost, remember that water is powerful and white water can be dangerous. Don’t push yourself straight out of the gate. Always get a feel for your chosen craft and the water before you try rapids and then take it slow and build up. When you have confidence and the best inflatable kayak for whitewater, you will get to the bigger stuff soon.