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Running rapids can be a lot of fun. But finding the right boat can be another story. As you’ll probably know, there are many different whitewater kayaks out there, all with various features for different types of paddling.
If you’re searching for the best whitewater kayak we want to give you an idea of what to look for, so we’ve put this guide together to help you choose.
Top Choices: At a Glance
7 Best Kayaks For Whitewater
1: Dagger Mamba 7.6 Whitewater Creeker Kayak (best for beginners)
- Length: 7 foot 7 inches
- Width: 25.5 inches
- Weight: 44 pounds
- Paddler Weight: 120 to 170 pounds
This Dagger Mamba 7.6 is a 7 foot 7 inch creek boat with a volume of 64 gallons. It has a planing hull and is designed to offer improved distribution and increased volume, speed and control.
The Mamba is a stable craft that can be ideal for a range of whitewater paddlers, including experienced creekers and beginners. This size of boat is designed to suit youths up to medium sized paddlers.
In the cockpit you’ll find Contour Ergo outfitting, including a rotomolded seat with leg lifters for increased comfort and thigh support. The adjustable hip pads and thigh braces can offer increased comfort and stability. The ratchet adjustable back band can also keep you feeling more secure inside your cockpit.
- Stable, planing hull
- Adjustable outfitting
- Ideal for beginners and experienced paddlers
2: Dagger Nomad Whitewater Kayak (best overall)
- Length: 8 foot 3 inches
- Width: 25.75 inches
- Weight: 43.5 pounds
- Paddler Weight: 90 to 170 pounds
The Dagger Nomad is a small creek boat that is designed to handle serious whitewater. It features increased volume for added buoyancy and the hull is designed to improve speed and resurfacing, with added rocker for higher performance.
The yak features Contour Ergo outfitting in the cockpit, which benefits from having a ratchet adjustable backband and tank style seating with a leg lifter for added support.
For comfort and improved stabilizing there is an adjustable bulkhead foot brace which features foam padding for buoyancy. The adjustable thigh braces and adjustable hip pads can also improve comfort.
The Nomad has a volume of 73 gallons and is designed for smaller paddlers but there are different sizes available to suit different sized paddlers.
- Increased rocker
- Increased volume
- Comfortable cockpit
3: Riot Kayaks Magnum 72 Whitewater Kayak (runner up)
- Length: 7 foot 11 inches
- Width: 26 inches
- Weight: 48.4 pounds
- Paddler Weight: 110 to 180 pounds
This Magnum 72 Kayak is designed to optimize performance on whitewater creeks. This 7 foot 11 inch boat features increased volume behind the cockpit to help you push over holes, improving your speed and maneuverability. It also benefits from having sufficient rocker for optimal resurfacing.
The cockpit features a floating backrest with a Unity seating system for comfort and support. There is also an adjustable foot brace, as well as Suregrip thigh braces. For increased buoyancy there are front and rear flotation bags.
The Magnum 72 yak has a volume of 72 gallons and is designed for medium sized paddlers.
- High performance rocker
- Increased maneuverability
- Front and rear flotation
4: Aire Tributary Tomcat Solo Inflatable Kayak (best inflatable)
- Length: 10 foot 10 inches
- Width: 36 inches
- Weight: 34 pounds
- Paddler Weight: 375 pounds (max capacity)
The Aire Tributary Tomcat Inflatable Kayak is a high performance inflatable boat that is designed for a solo paddler. It’s made from durable 1000 denier PVC with AireCell vinyl bladders and features three air chambers to maintain buoyancy in the event of a puncture.
The Tomcat comes with an inflatable seat. But if you’re looking for a backrest with more support you may find you need to upgrade your seat.
It has a high weight capacity, which could mean you could bring your dog (if they wear a life jacket) or you could load it with a couple of dry bags for a slower paced river trip.
It’s designed to handle a variety of whitewater, with rocker in the bow and stern and good maneuverability.
- Inflatable solo yak
- Durable PVC
- High weight capacity
5: Dagger Nomad 9.0 Large Whitewater Kayak (best for large whitewater paddlers)
- Length: 8 foot 11 inches
- Width: 27.5 inches
- Weight: 51.5 pounds
- Paddler Weight: 170 to 265 pounds
The Dagger Nomad 9.0 Large is designed to accommodate larger whitewater paddlers. It is a wider boat, with a larger cockpit and increased volume (96 gallons) to suit paddlers up to 265 pounds.
This durable creek boat benefits from having a stable hull with added rocker and optimized deck shape for easier resurfacing. There are also grab handles for security and a safety step out wall.
The cockpit is crafted for comfort, with an adjustable back band, adjustable hip pads and precision adjustable thigh braces. There’s also a leg lifter feature in the seat for improved support.
- Ideal for large paddlers
- Spacious cockpit
- Increased volume
6: Dagger Phantom Whitewater Creeker Kayak
- Length: 8 foot 11 inches
- Width: 26.75 inches
- Weight: 49.5 pounds
- Paddler Weight: 145 to 255 pounds
The Dagger Phantom is designed to suit a range of paddlers with an optimized volume of 89 gallons for improved performance and fit for paddlers of different sizes.
The Phantom is built to offer speed, maneuverability and tracking with its rocker hull. It’s designed to turn quickly even when edging, so that you can easily navigate through rapids without losing momentum.
The yak features an adjustable bulkhead foot braces that has foam padding for increased buoyancy. The adjustable thigh braces and hip pads can help you stabilize yourself comfortably, while the adjustable seat back and leg lifter can help you to maintain an optimized position in the boat.
- Easy to maneuver
- Suits wide range of paddlers
- Improved tracking
7: Advanced Elements Attack Whitewater Inflatable Kayak
- Length: 9 foot 6 inches
- Width: 35 inches
- Weight: 34 pounds
- Paddler Weight: 225 pounds (max capacity)
This Advanced Elements Attack Inflatable Kayak can be a great option if you’re looking for a more portable whitewater yak. This 9 foot 6 inch craft is made from 840 denier PVC and features three air chambers for security and durability.
It has a wide, stable hull that can be useful for beginners, as well as added rocker for improved whitewater performance. It also features self bailing ports to help drain excess water during whitewater runs.
This lightweight inflatable boat has an adjustable seat and adjustable thigh straps to help you stabilize yourself and sit comfortably while paddling.
Another feature of this inflatable yak is the covered storage deck at the rear, which can be ideal if you plan to bring along a dry bag for longer trips.
- Storage area
What Is Whitewater Kayaking And How Do I Do It?
Whitewater kayaking is generally paddling on and through rapids of various intensities. When you think of whitewater kayaking, you’ll probably think of kayaking through rapids on a river, but it can be done on other whitewater as well, including ocean surf.
How To Begin
It can be a good idea to learn some basic paddling techniques on flatwater before you progress to whitewater. One of the most useful skills you can master is rolling your kayak. This can allow you to quickly right yourself after flipping over.
Video: The C To C Kayak Roll For Whitewater Kayakers
You might find it easier to practice some of the techniques in a swimming pool until you feel confident enough to try them out in moving water.
When you do progress to rapids, it can be a good idea to start with Class I or II rapids.
Some Whitewater Terms
- Edging: leaning your kayak onto its side so that it’s tilted for control and quicker turns.
- Holes: areas of the river where the current tends to circulate creating a sometimes dangerous hydraulic effect.
- Boofing: Lifting your bow over a water feature so that your hull can land flat over a wave or hole to maintain speed.
- Boulder Garden: a river run that is dotted with boulders creating various routes.
- Eddies: an area of calm water created by an obstacle where the current tends to flow in the opposite direction to the main flow. Often used as resting spots.
Video: Kayak Boofing Waves And Holes
What Are The “Class Of Rapids”?
This is the gentlest class of rapids, with light riffles and very few hazards. These rapids can be easy for beginners.
These are moderate rapids with relatively few hazards but more maneuvering and boat control required.
Class III rapids feature faster flowing water and often narrower routes through a higher number of obstacles, so experience can be recommended.
These are fast flowing, difficult rapids that can be dangerous. A high level of skill is recommended and you should always inspect the run before you attempt it. Rescue skills are also recommended.
These are classed as extreme rapids. They feature dangerous, violent and prolonged waves and currents. You’ll also find lots of rocks and hazards, such as extreme drops. They should only be attempted by expert paddlers in suitable whitewater crafts.
Class VI rapids are extremely dangerous and a risk to life. There will be persistent violent whitewater and these rapids should only be attempted by highly skilled top level athletes.
How To Buy A Whitewater Kayak
Rocker is the curve of the hull along the length of the kayak. Some may have more rocker at the bow or the stern, and some may have equal rocker, so that the bow and stern are both curved upwards.
This can be important so that you can navigate over and around water features. Yaks with more rocker can be easier to maneuver than ones with flatter hulls.
Many whitewater boats often have planing hulls. This can give you more speed and maneuverability on rapids, as the hulls can be turned on an edge, similar to a surfboard.
You can also find displacement hulls on some whitewater yaks. These will tend to offer better tracking but may sacrifice maneuverability.
Volume is usually measured in gallons and can be an important feature in a whitewater boat. Play boats will often have a lower volume than creek boats so that it’s easier to perform tricks.
Higher volume can mean your boat resurfaces quicker, which can be useful for running bigger rapids.
Types Of Whitewater Kayak
Creek boats will often have higher volume in the bow and stern. They’re designed for running rapids and may have more rounded bows and sterns for quicker resurfacing and less pins. These types of yaks will often be a little longer, sometimes up to 9 feet and they may have harder chines for improved edging and turning.
Play boats will often tend to have shorter, planing hulls and less volume in the bow and stern. This is so that you can perform tricks and vertical moves, with most of the volume centered around the cockpit.
These can be considered a cross between a play boat and a creek boat. They tend to combine the features of the two so that you can run rapids and perform tricks. Downriver boats will also generally have improved tracking so that you can paddle down river on flatwater.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Roll A Whitewater Kayak?
Using the hip snap technique and your paddle, you can roll your whitewater kayak similar to rolling a touring kayak.
Video: Rolling A Whitewater Kayak
How Do You Paddle Whitewater Yaks?
Paddling tends to be vertical, pulling your blade alongside your boat. This can be different to general paddling, where you may often use a lower angle.
How Long Should Whitewater Kayaks Be?
Generally, whitewater yaks are shorter than recreational or touring yaks and generally under 9 feet. Play boats tend to be shorter and under or around 7 feet.
We think the best whitewater kayak is the Dagger Nomad. This boat has a well designed hull to optimize maneuverability and speed, as well as having a comfortable cockpit.
Coming in at a close second is the Riot Magnum 72 with its increased volume, optimal rocker and a high level of flotation. But remember, not all of these boats will suit everyone, as you may want specific features for your personal style of paddling.
Whitewater kayaking can be an exciting activity but it can be dangerous. So it can be important to be aware of your own skill level and only attempt runs that you feel confident enough to handle.