Best Kayaks For Rivers 2019 – Buyer’s Guide & Reviews

River kayaking offers an abundance of recreational fun for paddlers. Whether you love fishing, taking the family out for a day on the water or tackling a fast current, the best kayaks for rivers ensure a fantastic time for all.

Because river kayaking is so versatile, it’s important to choose a kayak that can handle different types of water.

In this guide, we look at the best kayaks for rivers, to help you to purchase the right one for your recreational needs.

5 Best Kayaks for Rivers


Product Name

Kayak Weight

Weight Capacity


best kayaks for rivers Oru Kayak BaySt Foldable Kayak 26 pounds 300 pounds Check Current Price
best kayaks for rivers Dagger Kayaks Axis 10.5 Kayak 50 pounds 300 pounds Check Current Price

Martini GTX Solo Modular Kayak


90 pounds 265 pounds Check Current Price


best kayaks for rivers

WILDERNESS SYSTEMS Aspire 105 Kayak 48 pounds 400 pounds Check Current Price
Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-in Kayak 40 pounds 260+ pounds Check Current Price

5 Best River Kayaks

These kayaks are generally suitable as whitewater kayaks. Even if you’re familiar with the terrain of your river, you want to be sure your kayak can withstand difficult passages when necessary.

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. Oru Kayak BaySt Folding Kayak

The Oru Kayak BaySt Folding Portable Lightweight Kayak is an all-rounder. It’s good for beginners as it’s very stable. However, it’s also fast enough to challenge experts. Best of all, this is one of the best kayaks for family days out on the river, as it’s extremely lightweight, at just 26 pounds.

In terms of travel, it folds up to the size of a large suitcase. So, it’s easy to pop in your car or even check into a plane for an overseas kayaking trip.

best kayaks for rivers


This is a durable kayak, despite its lightweight, as it’s made from double-layered polypropylene. It’s also capable of handling class II rapids and very puncture resistant.

Despite the fact that that the Oru BayST is quite long at 12-feet, the turning radius is good and relatively quick. Due to its pointed shape, this kayak tracks well and slices through the water without much correction needed from the paddler.

Don’t be concerned about putting it together either. It only takes a few minutes to unfold the kayak into a fixed, rigid form ready for the water.

More on the Oru Kayak BaySt

For longer trips that include camping or other gear, this is one of the best kayaks for rivers. The hull offers ample space for tents, food and water.

In terms of comfort, foam seating and an adjustable backrest are included. You’ll also find an adjustable footrest in the cockpit.


  • Extremely lightweight
  • Very durable, made from polyethylene
  • Ample storage for longer trips
  • Half deck rigging
  • Bow and stern bulkheads


  • First-time setup may be complicated
  • Higher price range

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2. Dagger Kayaks Axis 10.5 Kayak

The Axis is one of the best kayaks for rivers in terms of versatility. It’s easy to maneuver, with an optimized rocker and defined chines. With this kayak, you can enjoy a relaxing paddle and also tackle a running river.

best kayaks for rivers

The Axis 10.5 also has thigh braces on the inside of the kayak, which affords the kayaker quite a bit of comfortability.

Another part of this kayak which allows it to withstand rapids is the deck height. At 16 inches, it’s capable of resisting taking on water.

Due to the length and weight of this boat, it may be more difficult to travel with. This is the type of situation you’re 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 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 has the ConTour CFS-R seating system, knee and thigh pads, and adjustable foot locks. This kayak also has 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 rapids. The stability is simply unparalleled.

This boat has quite a bit of storage, although it may not be 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 on your river journey.

Last, but not least, this boat is fairly resilient in the water. Due to the heavier weight, it’s less likely to tip. The high bowline means less water is going to enter when you are in the midst of those swirling currents.


  • 28.5-inch beam & 16-inch deck
  • Waterproof storage
  • 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)

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3. Martini GTX Solo Modular Kayak

The Martini GTX is a modular kayak, which means it separates into two pieces for ease of travel. It features handles for carrying the two pieces and it’s a good option for when you need to walk a bit of a distance to get to the water.


best kayaks for rivers



One of the reasons the  Martini GTX is among the best kayaks for rivers is that it can easily turn into a tandem kayak. Simply add this mid-section to your purchase and you can happily kayak with two people.

In terms of seating, the Maritini GTX offers AIR seating with an adjustable backrest. This is essentially a lightweight foam which molds to your back. Some kayakers really enjoy this seating as they feel it creates good, flexible cushioning.

However, some kayakers feel it’s not sturdy enough and does not provide good support as you move through the water, making it more difficult to pick up speed. This is strictly a personal preference.

Furthermore, the Martini GTX is very resilient in the water. It withstands a lot of difficult situations and is designed to handle river rapids too.

Extra Bonuses of the Martini GTX Kayak

Another bonus with this kayak is that it offers plenty of perks for fishing.

It has paddle rests so you can take a break when you need to. There are two storage compartments and 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.

A fish-o-meter is also included with this kayak, allowing you to measure your catch right in the boat.

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. However, be cautious when attempting high speeds, to avoid tipping.


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


  • Higher price range
  • Heavy to carry for some kayakers (about 90 lbs without the additional piece)

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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.


best kayaks for rivers


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 with such a high weight capacity are also very heavy, but not so with the Aspire. Sitting at only 48 pounds, it’s an easy boat to load on and off your vehicle, even when you’re on your own.

Another perk for this kayak, especially when you’re 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 among the best river kayaks for you.

With a wide beam of 29 inches, this boat is not going to tip easily. It sits solidly in the water, but due to its lightweight 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 water getting into the cockpit of the kayak.

Finally, it offers a back hatch for storage. This hatch may not be completely waterproof, so consider 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 knee padding
  • Great for tall kayakers
  • Perfect for those with back problems


  • Higher price range
  • Not big enough to haul fishing or camping gear
  • Paddles are not included with the purchase

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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, the Sun Dolphin boasts a large cockpit, allowing for tall kayakers to fit comfortably.

best kayaks for rivers


Also, the lightweight feature of this kayak combined with the incredibly comfortable handles allows 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 II Rapids, but no higher. Due to the 13-inch deck, the Aruba 10 Kayak can quite easily take on water when paddling through the rapids.

The Aruba 10 offers thigh pads for sharp turns. This allows kayakers to enjoy quick turns and high speeds while staying comfortable.

Seating in the Aruba 10 is a base level seat. However, the seat is still adjustable which is always a nice perk if you’re sharing this kayak with others of varying heights.

As far as storage is concerned, the Aruba 10 offers a small gear compartment. Another 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’re looking for a basic model kayak, this is the kayak for you. Even though it’s basic, it’s 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

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How to Choose the Best Kayaks for Rivers

River Kayak

When you’re considering the best kayaks for rivers, you need to make sure you have a wide enough beam and a high deck. If the deck of the kayak is too short, you could run a higher chance of taking on water when going through stronger currents.

It’s also important to consider how easy the kayak is to get to and from the water. Always check that a kayak is capable of carrying your weight and providing comfortability while taking sharp turns.


For river kayaking, it’s absolutely crucial that your kayak is sturdy in the water, has 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.

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, 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 with your kayak, for example.

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. A lightweight kayak also allows you to load and unload it from the top of your vehicle with ease. You also want to ensure your kayak has comfortable handles for lifting.


For river kayaking, you don’t 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’s important to make sure your kayak can carry what you need with you, if you intend to camp or do day trips. Make sure your kayak has waterproof storage, and if it doesn’t purchase a good dry bag for your kayak to keep your equipment safe.

best kayaks for rivers


The best kayaks for rivers are those that are comfortable, for you. 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, to avoid feeling uncomfortable. An extra perk is if the kayak’s thigh and knee pads are adjustable.

Weight Capacity

Again, if you are river kayaking, you probably don’t need to bring much weight with you. That being said, it’s important to know what different weight capacities mean on kayaks.

If you’re 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 more cockpit space.

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

Best Kayaks for Rivers: Our Final Review

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 on the height of the deck and whether or not you’ll be tackling strong currents or rapids. That way, you’ll easily determine which of the best kayaks for rivers is right for you.

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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