When you’re looking for thrilling adventures, whitewater kayaking delivers. Whether you’re an experienced paddler or not, you’ll find plenty of kayaks to suit your skill level.
To choose the right kayak, there are a few things to consider. These include safety features, speed ability and stability, in order to handle the class of rapids you love to tackle.
In this guide, we’ve reviewed some of the best whitewater kayaks on the market, to get you out on the water and into adventure.
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5 Best Whitewater Kayaks 2020
|Dagger Mamba Creeker 8.1 Kayak||8 ft (other lengths available)||Flat Hull||Class III||Check Current Price|
|Riot Kayaks Thunder||7 ft||Semi-Planing Hull||Class IV||Check Current Price|
|Dagger Axiom 8.5 Kayak Blaze||8.5 ft||Planing Hull||None||Check Current Price|
|Riot Kayaks Magnum 80 Whitewater Creeking Kayak (Red, 8-Feet)||8 ft||Rounded Hull||Class V||Check Current Price|
|LiquidLogic Remix XP 10 Kayak||10 ft||Flat Hull||Class IV||Check Current Price|
1. Dagger Mamba Creeker 8.1 Kayak
Dagger is one of the top companies in the world of kayak design. The Mamba is at the top of their list and it comes in multiple sizes.
You can order it at 7.6 feet, 8.1 feet and 8.6 feet. These each provide comfort levels for kayakers of differing heights, which is a major perk.
When purchasing a whitewater kayak, shorter is often much better. This means it’s best to purchase the shortest kayak you can comfortably fit in.
The Mamba has a flat hull which makes it easy to roll and stable in the water. However, it can also make it more difficult to use on the rapids. Typical whitewater kayaks have either a flat hull or a rounded hull, so there are benefits to each and there are negatives to each.
As it’s easy to tip your kayak in whitewater territory, a flat hull is better for safety purposes. If you feel confident in your ability to roll your kayak, regardless of the hull shape, this probably won’t be an issue for you.
Additionally, in case of tipping, this kayak is equipped with five grab handles. Grab handles are not designed to help carry the kayak, but to help the kayaker should the boat tip. This allows those lost in the water to pull themselves up.
More on the Dagger Mamba Creeker
The Mamba has both a rounded stern and a rounded bow. Because of these two features, the kayak is able to cut through waves very efficiently.
With a flat hull, rounded stern and rounded bow, this kayak can handle Class III rapids very efficiently. It can even handle the occasional green wave. A green wave is found in the ocean and is a large wave which is deemed “unbroken”. In other words, it can extend for thousands of miles.
When it comes to comfort, the Mamba is ideal. First, the seat is padded and contoured to fit almost any body shape. There is an adjustable back band, which is ratchet adjustable.
Other adjustable features are offered with this kayak. Thigh braces and hip pads are adjustable, which ensure the kayaker will have maximum comfort while kayaking. The bulkhead in the kayak is also adjustable, which provides comfort while kayaking.
- Very comfortable
- Flat hull
- 5 grab handles
- Rounded bow
- Thigh braces
- Hip braces
- Flat hull
Another extremely well-known kayak company is Riot. They offer the Magnum 80 which is designed for whitewater kayaking and creeking, and the Thunder 65/76.
The Thunder 65 is an all-purpose kayak with a fat stern that carries more volume than the bow. This makes it easy for rolling.
It’s fast, stable and a good choice for beginner whitewater paddlers. Additionally, this kayak is ideal for small and mid-range paddlers, with a kayak weight of 21.77 kg.
Because it’s designed to run rapids, it offers excellent performance with a range of features for comfort.
These include a unity seating system, a floating backrest and sure-grip thigh braces. In terms of safety features, there are front and rear floatation bags, four tubular webbing grab loops, two rubber handles and a security bar.
Further Review of the Riot Thunder Kayak
This kayak is built to last and comfortable, though at the lower end of the price range. It’s stable enough for beginners on whitewater. However, its high performance allows challenges for more experienced paddlers.
The Thunder 65 is high floating and easy enough to roll. Also, it’s responsive to decisive paddling making it a good choice for stiff rapids.
- Sure-grip thigh braces
- Class IV Rapids
- Security bar
- 4 grab loops
- Very responsive
- Good for beginners
- Small cockpit
Another Dagger kayak is the Axiom 8.5 Kayak. Like the Mamba and the Machno, it comes in multiple sizes. The small version is 8 feet, the medium is 8 and a half feet and the large is 9 feet long.
These sizes are a bit different from, although comparable to, the Mamba. One of the perks to all of the different sizes of these kayaks is that you can choose the kayak which fits closest to your body.
The Axiom has a planed hull. A planed hull is similar to one seen on many ocean boats. With the sides of the hull designed to slope down to a mild point, the boat to handles more difficult waves. This makes it one of the best whitewater kayaks for rough waters, but it’s difficult to roll.
To help with the rolling difficulty, the Axiom is equipped with three grab handles. It also has a low volume stern. This means that the stern helps the kayak handle rough water even better, preventing tipping.
Speed is a crucial factor and the Axiom simply does not disappoint. The low volume stern and the rounded bow allow the kayak to move quickly and efficiently through the rapids. A planed hull adds to this speed.
Comfort was a major part of the design of the Axiom. First, the interior has contour ergo outfitting. The seat is roto molded, but there is a leg lifter. A leg lifter helps your legs stay where they fit best, which prevents them from falling asleep. It also provides your legs with maximum comfort, as it pushes them against the thigh and hip pads.
- Leg lifter
- Counter Ergo Outfitting
- Low Volume stern
- Rounded bow
- Planed hull
- Multiple sizes
- Difficult to roll
- Only three grab handles
The Magnum comes in lengths of 8 feet and 7 feet, which is much shorter than most of the other kayaks on this list. For handling rapids, this is a huge plus.
Remember, the shorter the kayak the better it handles the rapids. That being said, 7 feet is very short for many kayakers. However, the cockpit size on the 7 foot kayak is 34 inches by 18 inches. This doesn’t leave much room for legs, so be sure you fit in this kayak.
The hull on the Magnum is rounded, which is good for rolling your kayak should you tip. It’s also good for cutting through the rapids.
Additionally, the bow on this kayak is rounded and the stern is flat-nosed. This is similar to the build of the Axiom.
In terms of extra safety features, this is one of the best whitewater kayaks. It comes equipped with only two grab handles, but it has two flotation devices, one at each end of the kayak. The seat has a floating backrest, which helps the kayak right itself in case it tips.
Comfort features are standard, with adjustable seating, adjustable thigh braces and adjustable foot braces. You can also purchase a compatible power seat to place inside of this cockpit. A power seat is a seat which ties into the kayak, provides greater comfort, and a much higher back.
- Power seating compatible
- Adjustable seat, thigh and foot braces
- Flotation devices at front and rear
- Floating backrest
- Very short
- Rounded hull
- Very short (not the best for larger kayakers)
LiquidLogic is not as well known as the other companies on this list, but this kayak is a phenomenal whitewater choice.
First, it comes in two lengths, 9 feet and 10 feet. This kayak by LiquidLogic is quite a bit longer than the others on this list.
However, in order to keep the speed capabilities up, the boat sits a little lower in the water, allowing it to match with shorter kayaks.
This kayak is also meant to serve multiple functions. It should work extremely well on flat water, such as calm rivers and lakes, and can haul gear very well.
Camping and kayaking is easy with this boat, even for several days at a time. That means this kayak, unlike others on this list, does have a storage hatch.
The hull on this kayak is flat which makes it much more easy to roll. However, it can be a little trickier to use on the rapids. That being said, it works well on rapids up to class IV, as it stays extremely stable due to the lowered water line.
As far as safety is concerned, the Remix XP has three grab handles. In case you would tip, the Remix gives you the ability you need to grab your kayak and right yourself.
- Large cockpit
- Comfortable seating
- Adjustable thigh braces
- Adjustable foot braces
- Good for camping
- Good on lakes as well
- Two lengths
- Class IV rapids
When considering the best whitewater kayaks, it’s important to check for the right features to suit you. This depends on where you want to hit the water. First, you want to make sure the kayak can handle the rapids class you wish to ride.
You also need to make sure it has the safety features you need, depending on your skill level. Then, it’s all about your level of comfort. Here’s a rundown of the details for choosing the best whitewater kayaks.
Rounded hulls allow you to cut through whitewater rapids more efficiently. This is because the rapids meet less resistance with the hulls. However, it can be more difficult to roll these kayaks.
Planed hulls are a blend of rounded and flat hulls. They look very much like the hull of a speedboat. They’re easier to roll than rounded hulls and they slice through the water better than flat hulls.
Flat hulls meet a decent amount of resistance in rapids, however, they are also incredibly easy to roll. If you’re a kayaker who is not entirely comfortable on whitewater rapids, you certainly want to consider the flat hulled kayak.
In terms of speed for the best whitewater kayaks, stern shape is very important. Much like the hull shape, rounded sterns can cause less resistance in the water. However, some kayak companies prefer to design low volume sterns, which allows water to quickly roll over the top of the kayak. This can prevent tipping and increase speed.
Bow Shape is possibly the most important feature, here. For a kayak to be speedy, it must meet the water smoothly and not cause enough resistance to have to fight the current. This means that a rounded bow shape is absolutely crucial when purchasing.
Length is also crucial. The longest you want a whitewater kayak to be is 10 feet in length. Any longer and it becomes difficult to get through narrow parts of the river and there is simply too much resistance to kayak efficiently.
Choosing a kayak based on rapid level provides you with protection while you’re kayaking in whitewater conditions. That being said, there are technically 7 water classifications. The first is Class A, which is merely flat water. This is typically lake or calm river conditions.
Then, there are classes I, II, III, IV, V, and VI. Class I is considered easy, while VI is the most difficult. For example, in Class I rapids, you may encounter bridges or obstacles in the water. There may be light waves. Class VI rapids usually require expert-level skills, due to large drops, extreme obstacles and tumultuous currents.
If you purchase a kayak which can go up to class IV or V, you will most likely be safe on most rivers in the United States.
Among common safety features of the best whitewater kayaks, are grab handles. Grab handles are placed strategically on the kayak. Should the kayak tip, they allow kayakers to grab on so it’s easier to either right the boat or steady themselves.
Another feature which can be incredibly useful is a flotation device. Some kayaks come equipped with flotation devices which can help the kayak right itself. This is a must-have if you are a beginner kayaker who does not feel comfortable in your ability to roll the kayak or do a wet exit.
Furthermore, the hull shape is also important. Flat hulls allow for the easiest roll while round hulls are more difficult. Consider the hull shape as you are assessing your skills.
Comfort is always important in the best whitewater kayaks for you, but especially so if you plan on taking a camping trip in your kayak or spending all day in it. First, make sure that your seat and braces are all adjustable.
Also, you may want to ensure that your seat is contoured. If you have any back issues, molded seats can cause more issues, as they don’t allow for your body to dictate the shape of the seat. A contoured seat shapes to you.
Finally, a leg lifter may be an option you want to consider. A leg lifter simply boosts your legs, pushing them into the thigh braces. This allows you to have your legs in a position where they are much less likely to fall asleep. It also helps your legs when you’re taking sharp turns or dealing with rough rapids.
Whitewater kayaking is extremely rewarding, especially when you choose the right kayak for you. Take safety features, hull shape, comfort and your skill level into account before you purchase one. Then, you’ll enjoy incredible adventures in the whitewater kayaking destinations of your choice.