Best Kayaks For Rivers 2018 – Buyer’s Guide & Reviews

Kayaks are some of the most versatile boats in existence. They are excellent to use on lakes and the ocean. Perhaps the most challenging environment for kayaks is the river.

Some people specifically use river kayaks for fishing, others use them for family fun. It is crucial to know your purpose for your kayak, as it will help you make a buying decision.

Rivers make a challenging environment because a river can quickly change from flat water to rapids and back again. Choosing a kayak which can handle many different types of water is crucial for successful river kayaking.

River kayaks need to be made from either plastic or fiberglass and both design elements have advantages and disadvantages. The plastic and fiberglass kayaks allow for more safety when on rapids.

Plastic kayaks do have the disadvantage of facing more wear and tear over time. Meanwhile, fiberglass kayaks are light and durable, but tend to cost more upfront.

In this guide, we will discuss the best kayaks for rivers. 

5 Top River Kayaks on the Market


Product Name

Kayak Weight

Weight Capacity


Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 9.0 Kayak

40 pounds

220 pounds

Dagger Kayaks Axis 10.5 Kayak

50 pounds

300 pounds

Martini GTX Solo Modular Kayak

90 pounds

265 pounds


48 pounds

400 pounds

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-in Kayak

40 pounds

260+ pounds

5 Best River Fishing Kayaks

These kayaks are primarily whitewater kayaks--even if you are familiar with the terrain of your river, you want to be sure your kayak can withstand difficult passages.

Even the calmest of streams can suddenly change and morph. This article will focus on each kayak’s durability, stability, comfort level, and transferability to and from the water.

1. Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 9.0 Kayak

The Dagger Kayak Zydeco 9.0 is extremely lightweight, weighing approximately 40 pounds. This means that while this kayak is not going to save you in the middle of a hurricane in the ocean, it will still withstand some strong current in a river.

The recommendation for rapids with this particular kayak model is only taking it on a rapid of level 2. However, if your situation changes suddenly without warning, it should be able to handle the rapids.

With a deck height of 14 inches, this kayak may not handle high waves very well. When considering your kayak purchase, you must make the deck height is adequate for the class of rapids you hope to kayak on.

Additionally, because this kayak is lightweight and fairly short (9 feet is not normal for most kayaks), it is very easy to travel with and easy to carry long distances by yourself. Keep in mind, this is a solo kayak, so the lightweight feature is crucial.

Most short kayaks are known for causing difficulties for taller kayakers. However, this kayak has none of those issues--it is very roomy and has a slide lock brace system that is easy to adjust.

More on the Zydeco 9.0

The seat in this kayak is a ConTour CFS-R System, which means it is extremely comfortable and easy to adjust. It also has adjustable foot pedals, which makes it beneficial for kayakers of varying heights.

This kayak also has knee and thigh pads, which makes it great for sharp turns or rough rapids. You will certainly be comfortable for a long kayaking day in this boat!

If you are hoping to carry a lot of gear with you, this is simply not the kayak for you. It only has bungee storage on the bow and rear--no waterproof storage here!

Finally, though this kayak is made from a tough polyethylene, it does not show any significant signs of wear and tear after several years of usage.


  • Lightweight
  • Very durable, made from polyethylene
  • Good for tall and short kayakers
  • Can handle Level 2 Rapids
  • Easy to carry long distances
  • Comfrotable & adjustable CFS-R seat
  • Adjustable foot pedals


  • None that we could find

2. Dagger Kayaks Axis 10.5 Kayak

This kayak is made by the same brand as the Zydeco 9.0, but comes in a little longer, providing an extra 18 inches of boat.

It also weighs approximately 10 pounds more than the Zydeco 9.0. However, the higher weight and longer boat are also part of the reason this boat can handle class three rapids.​

The Axis 10.5 also has thigh braces on the inside of the kayak, which afford the kayaker quite a bit of comfortability as they are maneuvering tricky river scenarios.

Another part of this kayak which allows it to withstand class three rapids is the deck height. At 16 inches, it takes very rapids to cause any significant water intake.

Due to the length and weight of this boat, it may be more difficult to travel with--this is the type of situation you are the best judge for. Take note of how far you hope to travel with this kayak.

As far as durability goes, the Axis 10.5 is also made from polyethylene. However, it seems to hold up quite well over a long period of time. This kayak is made to withstand lots of trips and different types of weather.

For comfort, this kayak also has the ConTour CFS-R seating system, knee and thigh pads, and adjustable foot locks. This kayak also has the options to install thigh braces, which would help the kayak stay more stable in rough water.

More Protection with the Axis 10.5

These thigh and knee pads and the optional thigh braces are part of the reason this kayak can withstand class three rapids. The stability is simply unparalleled.

This boat has quite a bit more storage than the Zydeco 9.0, although it is still not enough to consider long trips. There is a waterproof compartment behind the seat, however, which means your car keys, phone, and other valuables will be safe in your journey on the rapids!

Last, but not least, this boat is fairly resilient in the water. Due to the heavier weight, it is less likely to tip. It has the same width as the Zydeco 9.0, of 28.5, but the higher bowline means less water is going to enter when you are in the midst of those heavy rapids.


  • 28.5 inch beam & 16 inch deck
  • Waterproof storage
  • Class three rapids
  • Very durable
  • Made from polyethylene
  • Safety in mind: has thigh braces
  • Seat is adjustable for more comfort


  • Not a fast boat (if that's your goal)

3. Martini GTX Solo Modular Kayak

This kayak is extremely different from the other kayaks we have seen.

This particular kayak is a modular kayak, which means in separates into two pieces for travel.

While this means this kayak is easy to move, it also means you have to carry two pieces--each weighing in between 45 and 50 pounds. This is definitely a feature you need to consider before you purchase this kayak.

This kayak does have pretty great handles for carrying, however. It should be fairly easy to move each piece of this modular kayak.

One benefit to the Martini GTX being a modular kayak is that it can easily turn into a tandem kayak. Simply add this mid-section to your purchase and your kayak is not only a single kayak, but a tandem as well!

For seating in this kayak, it has AIR seating with an adjustable backrest. The AIR seating can be a bit controversial. It is essentially a lightweight foam which molds to your back.

Some kayakers really enjoy this seating as they feel it creates good cushioning which can flex for different kayakers. However, some kayakers feel it is not sturdy enough and does not provide good support as you move through the water, making it more difficult to pick up speed.

That being said, the Martini GTX is very resilient in the water. It withstands a lot of difficult situations and is designed to withstand river rapids.

A Few Bonuses with the Martini GTX Kayak

Another bonus with this kayak is all of its fishing gear set ups. It has paddle rests so you can take a much needed break.

There are two storage compartments on this kayak, the bow hatch is 7.9 inches by 7.9 inches. The rear hatch is 17 inches by 10 inches. These hatches allow for decent storage for a river kayak--many kayaks for rivers do not have great storage capacity.

A fish-o-meter is also included with this kayak, allowing you to measure your catch right in the boat. This is an especially nice feature if you live in an area which is heavily policed by the DNR.

Finally, this kayak is very smooth riding in the water. Its 28 inch beam allows for a very stable ride, but it still allows for decent speed when kayaking.

Because of the weight, though, kayakers will not be able to get up to a very high speed. Be cautious when attempting to get this kayak up to a higher speed, as it could cause it to tip or cause it to be difficult to stop in case of emergency.


  • Breaks into two pieces for easy transport
  • Can add a third section for tandem kayaking
  • Withstands class 3 rapids
  • Has a Fishometer
  • Great for beginners
  • Comfortable foam seats & great handles for easy lifting
  • Has decent storage
  • Tracks well in the water


  • A bit expensive
  • Heavy to carry (about 90 lbs without the additional piece)
  • Seat may not be so comfortable (varies by user)

4. WILDERNESS SYSTEMS Aspire 105 Kayak

The first perk of this kayak is its weight capacity.

None of the other kayaks on this list come even close to a 400 pound weight capacity, but the Wilderness Aspire 105 is perfect for larger kayakers.

The Aspire 105 was designed specifically for tall kayakers.​

The Aspire 105 was designed specifically for tall kayakers. As the cockpit is 52 inches by 23 inches, there is quite a bit of room for kayakers who are over 6 feet in height.

Most kayaks which have such a high weight capacity also are very heavy--but not so with the Aspire. Sitting at only 48 pounds, it is an easy boat to load on and off your vehicle--even solo.

Another perk for this kayak, especially if you are river kayaking, is the thigh and knee padding. This padding allows for an easy time taking those sharp turns in rivers.

​More Perks with the Aspire 105 Kayak

For the seating in this kayak, you will find Phase 3 AirPro Seating. This seating is similar to the Martini GTX seating system.

However, the seating in this kayak is more adjustable than the GTX, so if you have back issues this is the best river kayak for those with back problems.

With a wide beam of 29 inches, this boat is not going to tip easily. It sits solid in the water, but due to its light weight still allows you to build high speeds. This feature easily makes it one of the best kayaks for rivers and lakes.

Additionally, this kayak has a deck height of 15.5 inches. This prevents any water from rapids getting into the cockpit of the kayak.

Finally, this kayak does not have much storage, just a back hatch. This hatch may not be completely waterproof, so considering bringing your own dry bag to store those valuables.

One final perk: This kayak has a small pouch which is attached to the seat--this allows you to keep sunscreen or snacks close to you. However, you do run the risk of losing your gear should the kayak tip.


  • High deck & wide beam
  • Has some room for storage
  • High weight capacity
  • Lightweight kayak
  • Large cockpit
  • Adjustable seat for comfort
  • Adjustable and knee padding
  • Great for tall kayakers
  • Perfect for those with back problems


  • Somewhat expensive
  • Not big enough to haul fishing or camping gear
  • Paddles are not included with the purchase

5. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-in Kayak

One of the first concerns with 10 foot kayaks is the amount of room they have for kayakers over 6 feet in height.

However, with a large cockpit, many kayakers over 6 feet fit extremely well in this short kayak.

Also, the lightweight feature of this kayak combined with the incredibly comfortable handles allow for ease of transport. At only forty pounds, lifting this kayak onto and down from the top of your car is a breeze.

This kayak is made for Class 2 Rapids, but no higher--due to the 13 inch deck, the Aruba 10 Kayak can quite easily take on water. Be cautious when taking this boat through the rapids.

The Aruba 10, just like the Aspire 105, has thigh pads for those sharp turns. This allows kayakers to enjoy quick turns and high speeds while staying comfortable.

Seating in the Aruba 10 is just a base level seat--not AIR or CFS-R. However, the seat is still adjustable which is always a nice perk if you will be sharing this kayak with others of varying heights.

As far as storage is concerned, the Aruba 10 does have a small gear compartment. It is not very large and it is certainly not waterproof, so be cautious what you place in it.

One perk to this kayak is that the polyethylene is treated to handle UV rays. This means that the kayak is less likely to age quickly due to sun exposure. Most polyethylene kayaks do deteriorate rather quickly for this very reason.

If you are looking for a basic model kayak, with no extra features, this is the kayak for you. Even though is basic, it is still very sturdy in the water, thanks to its 28 inch beam.


  • Lightweight
  • Good for tall kayakers
  • Reasonably priced
  • Sturdy in the water
  • Easy to kayak quickly
  • Has thigh pad for extra protection
  • Adjustable seat for extra comfort
  • Gear compartment for storage
  • Good for beginners


  • Short deck
  • No waterproof storage
  • Not a CFS-R seat

How to Buy River Kayaks

River Kayak

When you are considering a river kayak, you want to make sure you have a wide enough beam and a high deck. If the deck of the kayak is too short you will run a higher chance of taking on water when going through rapids.

It is also important to consider how easy the kayak is to get to and from the water. For river kayaks, you also want to make sure the kayak is capable of carrying your weight and providing comfortability while taking sharp turns.


For river kayaking, it is absolutely crucial that your kayak sturdy in the water, have a high deck, and is able to handle high speeds. This is because you never know when a river is going to change and become rough.

For the deck height, to handle a class 3 rapid, you should look for at least a 16 inch deck. If the deck is much shorter and you run the risk of your kayak filling with water or tipping over due to improper sizing.

Additionally, you want to make sure the beam is between 26 and 28 inches. Much more narrow and it is difficult to keep kayaks stable unless you are very experienced. If you choose a kayak much over 28 inches, your kayak can lose speed.

One benefit for maneuverability is thigh and knee pads. If your kayak comes equipped with thigh and knee pads or can easily be equipped with thigh and knee pads, it will be much easier to take sharp turns in the river or handle rough rapids.


Most river kayakers have to travel a good distance to get to their river. This may mean trekking through the woods or driving the car a long distance.

It is important to purchase a kayak of a weight which you can carry by yourself. This typically means a kayak which weighs under 50 pounds.

The lightweight of the kayak also allows you to load it in or on top of your vehicle with ease. Choosing a kayak under 50 pounds, especially if you are loading it on top of your vehicle, is very important.

You also want to ensure your kayak has comfortable handles. If your kayak only has basic handles, your hands may not be able to haul it a very long way.


For river kayaking, you do not need much gear other than your life vest, car keys, and paddles. If you bring too much gear, you can quickly lose speed when river kayaking.

However, it is important to make sure your kayak can carry what you need with you very safely.

Make sure your kayak has waterproof storage, and if it does not purchase a good dry bag for your kayak to keep your equipment safe.


When river kayaking, it is also important to choose a kayak of adequate comfort. As stated previously, thigh and knee braces are a must for river kayaking.

Additionally, you want to choose a kayak with good back support. The seating system which is encouraged most often by kayakers is the CFS-R system. However, the AIR seats can also be comfortable depending on your height and where the seat strikes your back.

Make sure that whatever kayak you choose has an adjustable seat--if it does not have an adjustable seat you will most likely find yourself uncomfortable in your kayak. An extra perk is if the kayak’s thigh and knee pads are adjustable.

Weight Capacity

Again, if you are river kayaking, you probably do not need to bring much weight with you. That being said, it is important to know what different weight capacities mean on kayaks.

If you are six feet tall or taller, you probably want your kayak to have a weight capacity of approximately 300 pounds or more. This is because most kayaks of 300 pounds allow for a greater cockpit space.

If you are under six feet, a kayak which can handle 200-250 pounds will probably suit you just fine.

Best Kayaks for Rivers: Our Final Review

River kayaking is a very intense challenge and it is crucial to choose the best kayak for rivers near you.

Each river and each kayaker has different needs, but being aware of the weight capacity, maneuverability and transferability is of key importance.

Consider each of these features, but focus in on the height of the deck and the class of rapids you typically kayak on.

Make sure that your kayak can handle the height of the waves on your river.

KayakBest is among the largest and most dedicated kayak review sites. We aim to help enthusiasts discover the best tips and products for an enjoyable paddling experience.

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