Best Inflatable Kayaks (And Rafts) For Whitewater
An inflatable kayak can be a convenient way to get out on the water, particularly if you like to travel to your favorite whitewater spots.
These portable, versatile boats can be a great option for many paddlers, so to give you an idea of what to look for, we’ve checked out some of our favorite inflatable kayaks and rafts for hitting the whitewater.
Top Choices: At A Glance
(these links take you to Amazon and REI)
5 Best Inflatable Kayaks For Whitewater
1: Aire Tributary Tomcat Solo Inflatable Kayak (best overall)
This Aire Tributary Tomcat is a solo inflatable kayak that is designed for whitewater. It features three air chambers and a self-bailing floor.
It is made from durable 1000 denier PVC and has vinyl bladders. The craft is also built for stability, making it ideal for both beginners and more experienced paddlers.
For increased comfort there is an inflatable seat that can be adjusted and removed. The hull has sufficient rocker at the bow and stern to let you handle various whitewater and is crafted to be easy to maneuver.
As well as being able to handle rapids, it also has a pretty high weight capacity, meaning you should have room to bring along dry bags or even your dog (if he/she has a suitable life vest).
2: Advanced Elements Attack Pro Whitewater Inflatable Kayak (runner-up)
The Advanced Elements Attack Pro is an inflatable whitewater kayak that’s designed for a single paddler. It is made from durable PVC tarpaulin with three air chambers and has a high pressure drop stitch floor for added durability and rigidity.
This yak benefits from having an adjustable seat with a high seatback for added comfort. There are also adjustable foot braces and thigh straps.
The hull has increased rocker for easy maneuverability and improved whitewater performance. It also has self-bailing ports for drainage. If you want to bring gear along with you, there is a covered storage deck at the stern for holding a dry bag.
3: Aire Tributary Tomcat Tandem Inflatable Kayak (best tandem whitewater)
The Aire Tributary Tomcat Tandem can be a great option if you plan to hit the whitewater runs with a friend. This is a two person inflatable kayak that is built for whitewater.
It comes with two inflatable seats but it can also be paddled solo if you’d prefer to load it with gear instead. It’s made from strong PVC and has durable vinyl bladders. It also has three chambers, similar to the Tomcat Solo.
It has a high capacity, allowing you to bring along gear for a multi-day river trip and has a high level of rocker at the bow and stern for quick and easy turns on whitewater.
It’s also self-bailing and has a carry handle at the bow and stern to make it easier for you and paddling partner to carry.
4: Driftsun Rover 120 Inflatable Whitewater Kayak
This Driftsun Rover 120 is a lightweight, durable whitewater kayak that’s made for one person and comes with a paddle included. It has a stable hull with increased rocker at the bow and stern for easy maneuverability on whitewater conditions.
It’s made from durable 1000 denier PVC and features a rigid drop stitch floor. The bottom of the hull is also reinforced for added durability.
This yak features an adjustable EVA padded seat that has a high seatback for added paddling comfort and support. There’s also an adjustable foot brace that can be removed if preferred.
Another great feature of this inflatable yak is the camera mount at the bow so you can document your adventures. The craft also comes with a removable skeg so that you can handle flatwater on your trips too.
5: Airhead Montana Two Person Inflatable Kayak (best budget option)
The Airhead Montana Two Person Kayak is an inflatable tandem kayak that is aimed at the budget paddler.
While it can handle low class whitewater, it may not be suitable for anything more challenging than Class III rapids. But it can be a good choice if you’re a beginner looking for an affordable craft for light to moderate rapids or lakes.
This kayak comes with two seats but you can configure it for a single paddler if necessary. You’ll also find neoprene elbow patches for added comfort while you’re paddling.
It’s made from heavy duty PVC and features an I-Beam floor for increased buoyancy and comfort. It also benefits from having storage areas at the bow and stern so that you can carry your gear with you for extended trips.
The attached D-rings can be useful for securing additional gear.
Best Inflatable Rafts For Whitewater
1: Bris 13Ft Inflatable Whitewater River Raft
This Bris Inflatable Whitewater River Raft is built to carry up to eight adults and can be a good choice for family river adventures, both on whitewater and slow moving rivers.
It’s made from thick 2000 denier PVC fabric which is designed to be resistant to punctures and abrasions. The raft has 10 D-rings with rope rigging around the entire boat to make it easier to climb back in.
This raft features increased rocker at the bow for handling whitewater, a removable drop stitch floor and self bailing holes. There are also two inflatable and removable thwarts to maintain rigidity and increase buoyancy.
This raft comes with a repair kit, carrying bag and a foot pump.
2: Kokopelli Packraft Nirvana Self-Bailer
The Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailer Packraft is a whitewater raft that’s designed for a solo paddler. When deflated it measures just 26 by 12 by 7 inches, so it can be a good choice if you’re looking for a compact craft that you can easily carry into backcountry spots. It’s also lightweight.
It features two separate chambers, which includes the buoyant inflatable floor. The inflatable floor insert benefits from having self-bailing drain holes, which means water can escape when it enters the craft, allowing you to continue downriver.
The raft features increased rocker on the bow to improve whitewater performance and there are six nylon D-rings to secure gear. For added comfort, the raft also has a seatback and there are attachment points if you want to add thigh straps (sold separately).
Why Use An Inflatable For Whitewater?
Inflatable vessels can be more buoyant than hard shell vessels because of the air chambers. This can make them ideal for running whitewater, as you tend to need more buoyancy to stay afloat in rough water than on calm water. They can also offer more stability than hard shell yaks because they tend to have wider hulls.
Inflatable boats that are built for whitewater will also often have features that you’ll find on hard shell whitewater kayaks, such as rocker hulls, that can aid maneuverability and increase performance on rough water.
Most inflatables that are designed for whitewater are crafted to be extremely durable and are often made out of some type of PVC. This can be a tough material that can offer abrasion resistance and can be difficult to puncture.
It’s this durability that can make them suitable for rivers, as they tend to be designed to bounce off of rocks and obstacles while you’re in the water. This can make them less susceptible to damage compared to hard shells which may be difficult or expensive to repair. Inflatable boats can often be repaired with a patch kit.
Video: How To Repair An Inflatable Boat Or Inflatable Kayak
Getting From A to B
One of the main advantages of an inflatable boat is that it can be stored and transported more easily than a comparable hard shell boat. This can mean you can venture into backcountry areas or otherwise inaccessible areas to run new routes with less crowds.
Kayak Vs. Raft For Whitewater?
This will usually depend on your personal preference and often your skill level. Compared to kayaks, rafts can be much wider. This can make them a little more stable than kayaks, which can be beneficial if you’re a beginner. Kayaking can require skills and experience to safely handle whitewater.
While you can get one-person rafts, some rafts are designed to hold multiple people, which can be ideal for family or group river trips. You may even find they can be useful for camping trips if there’s enough room.
Whitewater kayaks, on the other hand, are usually built for one person and will usually be able to carry no more than two people (if it’s a tandem). The narrower hull on kayaks can make them quicker on the water and offer increased performance for skilled whitewater paddlers.
Before You Buy: Top Features To Look For
Drop Stitch Floor
A drop stitch floor can be a good feature to look for on an inflatable boat because this can be more rigid than a standard inflatable floor. Drop stitch floors are frequently found on stand up paddle boards (SUPs) and can help to distribute the weight across the floor.
Multiple air chambers can be a useful feature for safety. This means that if one chamber suffers a puncture the rest of the chambers will not be affected, so you should still stay afloat.
Some inflatable kayaks and rafts will come with seats that can usually be removed. For more comfort it can be important to look for a seat with a backrest so that you have support.
Foot braces can also be useful as they can let you stabilize yourself in your vessel and sit more comfortably in your seat. Some foot braces will be individually adjustable, like foot pegs and others may be a single foot brace that you can position to suit your leg length.
This can be an important feature to look for in an inflatable whitewater kayak because water will inevitably end up in your boat. A self-bailing kayak can help to remove some of this water through the drain plugs on the floor.
This means you shouldn’t need to race to the riverbank to empty your boat, at least not quite as often as you might if you didn’t have a drainage system.
How To Care For An Inflatable
Let It Dry
Once you’ve used your inflatable boat you might be tempted to pack it up and leave it. But it can be important to let it dry completely before you deflate it and pack it away in storage.
Allowing it to dry means you can help to prevent mold and mildew from building up on the fabric. Storing your boat somewhere cool and dry is also recommended for this reason.
Many inflatable vessels will often have some type of protective coating that helps to resist UV damage. But you can top it up by spraying it with a suitable protective spray that can help prevent the fabric being weakened by extreme temperatures and sunlight.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Paddle Should I Use?
A shorter paddle can be better for high angle paddling often used in whitewater. But the length of your paddle will usually depend on your height and the width of your boat.
Are Inflatable Boats Safe For Whitewater Rapids?
Yes, they can be safe. But you should make sure that the inflatable boat you choose is specifically designed to handle whitewater.
Can You Repair Holes In An Inflatable Kayak?
Yes, you can repair holes using a patch kit that often comes included with your inflatable kayak. The repair kit lets you patch over the hole to prevent further damage and to prevent your craft from deflating.
We think the best inflatable kayak for whitewater is the Aire Tributary Tomcat Solo because of its increased rocker and durability. It also benefits from being self-bailing and having a high weight capacity.
A close runner up is the Advanced Elements Attack Pro as it has adjustable foot pegs and thigh braces as well as an adjustable seat and room for your gear.
When you’re choosing an inflatable whitewater craft it can be important to look for a vessel that can handle the class of rapids you intend to run, and make sure you don’t exceed its (or your) limitations.
As with anything, make sure the boat suits your specific needs and remember to stay safe out there.