9 Best Whitewater Kayaks of 2020: Playboats, Longboats
Whitewater kayaking is fun. But you need the right gear to enjoy this fun sport, and this includes getting the right kayak.
Whitewater kayaks are available in different styles, shapes, and sizes. Plus you need to know what each type of kayak does best if you want to make the best choice.
That's why this whitewater kayaks review includes a buying guide alongside the following list of the market's top offers, to help you choose the right offer.
9 Best Whitewater Kayaks – Review
1. Driftsun Rover 120 (Best Overall)
2. Sea Eagle 330 Pro (Best Budget)
3. Lifetime 90172 (Best Sit On Top)
4. Advanced Elements AE1006-Y (Best 5-Chamber Design)
5. Aire Tributary (Best Colorful)
6. Sea Eagle SE300X (Best Class IV Kayak)
7. BKC UH-TK181 (Best 2-Person Fishing Kayak)
8. Dagger Zydeco 11.0 (With Bungee Deck)
9. Hurricane Santee 116 (Beautiful Kayak)
1. Driftsun Rover 120
2. Sea Eagle 330 Pro
3. Lifetime 90172
(Best Sit On Top)
4. Advanced Elements AE1006-Y
(Best 5-Chamber Design)
5. Aire Tributary
6. Sea Eagle SE300X
(Best Class IV Kayak)
7. BKC UH-TK181
(Best 2-Person Fishing Kayak)
8. Dagger Zydeco 11.0
(With Bungee Deck)
9. Hurricane Santee 116
1. Driftsun Rover 120 – Best Overall Whitewater Kayak
- Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
- Materials: PVC tarpaulin
- Dimensions: 8.5 ft x 36 inches x 36 inches
- Weight: 22 pounds
Driftsun's Rover 120 is a stylish and top-quality construction with lots of helpful features. It inflates into a full-sized kayak in less than five minutes, it weighs just 22 pounds, carries up to 300 pounds, and comes with everything you need to get going.
There's an adjustable seat with high-back support made from EVA. It features five self-bailing ports, which makes it able to handle well in really rough waters, and there's an action-camera mount in the front so you can record all the beautiful memories.
Driftsun makes it using 1000D reinforced PVC side tubes and a heavy-duty PVC tarpaulin floor. You can take this kayak for adventures up to Class IV rapids or just use it for more gentle fun, the choice is yours.
The only issue it has is the price because there are cheaper 1- and 2-person kayaks. But they mostly don't meet the Driftsun Rover's quality standards, so it's worth every cent and this makes it our best whitewater kayak on this list.
Note: The Driftsun Rover is also available as the Rover 220 2-person kayak
2. Sea Eagle 330 Pro – Best Budget Whitewater Kayak
- Weight Capacity: 500 pounds
- Materials: K80 PVC
- Dimensions: 11 ft x14 inches
- Weight: 26 pounds
For those on a budget, Sea Eagle offers one of the cheapest whitewater kayaks here and it's even a 2-person kayak. The Sea Eagle 33 Pro is rated to handle loads up to 500 pounds while weighing just 26 pounds.
It's made from K80 PVC material, which is resistant to both sun and saltwater. Then, there are 5 1-way inflation/deflation valves. And Sea Eagle includes two aluminum shaft paddles with asymmetrical blades in the package.
Sea Eagle promises you can inflate this kayak and be in the water in under six minutes. It also features a 5-tube I-beam floor, which gives it natural chines for better speed and tracking, in addition to its two rear skegs.
For issues, the truth is that this Sea Eagle 330 Pro could be better-looking. Looks aside, it's a pretty impressive kayak with space for two, a great price, and 3-year warranty coverage.
3. Lifetime 90172 – Best Sit On Top Whitewater Kayak
- Weight Capacity: 250 pounds
- Materials: High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
- Dimensions: 8 ft x 30 inches x 30 inches
- Weight: 38 pounds
Featuring a 250-pound weight capacity, this Lifetime 90172 whitewater kayak is a great offer for lovers of sit on top kayaks. Lifetime makes it using high-density polyethylene, so it's a very tough and durable kayak.
Further helpful features include a great hull design for stability and speed, self-bailing holes, bungee cord lacing for securing your loose items, a center carrying handle for easy mobility, and an included paddle.
Another nice feature is its hull design with integrated skegs for stability and improved tracking. Then there's the adjustable seat, with its quick-release mechanism for your convenience.
For issues, first, you can only get this kayak in blue. And, although sit on top kayaks aren't kayaks in the traditional sense, its many other features, such as its nice style, sturdy construction, and 5-year warranty, make it our best sit on top whitewater kayak.
4. Advanced Elements AE1006-Y – Best 5-Chamber Whitewater Kayak
- Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
- Materials: PVC
- Dimensions: 9.8 ft x 34.6 inches x 9.8 inches
- Weight: 33 pounds
With this Advanced Elements whitewater kayak, you get a top offer that packs unique and helpful features. These include the built-in aluminum ribs in the bow and stern for better tracking and the comfortable and adjustable seat.
You can also set it up as a self-bailing kayak in rough waves or close the ports for a smoother cruise in calm or cold waters. Advanced Elements rates it for waters up to Class III rapids.
Everything in this kayak is pre-installed at the factory. All you need to do is just unfold the package, inflate it, and attach the seat. It features five chambers and is rated to hold up to 300 pounds of load.
Issues include the possibility of the aluminum ribs causing issues down the line. Asides from that, it remains a top-rated whitewater kayak, with 300-pound load capacity, and an attractive price.
5. Aire Tributary – Best Colorful Whitewater Kayak
- Weight Capacity: 325 pounds
- Materials: PVC
- Dimensions: 10.3 ft x 36 inches
- Weight: 40 pounds
Featuring a simple but sleek design, this Aire Tributary kayak is quick to catch the eyes of any style lover. It features nice curves, a 1000D PVC construction, and is available in four colors.
Aire rates it at a 325-pound weight capacity. There are three chambers, thermal welded seams for durability, and a repair kit in the package, so you can easily repair damages to the kayak.
For issues, there's no traditional deck and no bungees straps to hold your items. But Aire offers lots of add-ons that you can use to customize this kayak, and it's backed by a 1-year warranty, making it one of the best river-runner kayaks out there.
6. Sea Eagle SE300X – Best Class IV Whitewater Kayak
- Weight Capacity: 395 pounds
- Materials: 1000 Denier Polyester
- Dimensions: 9.1 ft x 3.3 ft
- Weight: 30 pounds
This Sea Eagle SE300X is another top kayak for those who like to push their limits. Measuring 9-ft 10 inches in length, it's rated to handle loads up to 395 pounds, plus, it's also rated for rapids up to Class IV.
Sea Eagle additionally includes 16 self-bailing drain valves to keep it dry in rough water, 12 D-rings to secure your gear and seat, and a removable large rear skeg for touring flat-water, making it one of the best whitewater kayaks for intermediate and seasoned paddlers.
One issue it has, however, is its included carry bag, which would have been more convenient as a backpack. Still, it includes a foot pump, inflates in just five minutes, and comes with 3-year warranty coverage.
7. BKC UH-TK181 – Best 2-Person Fishing Whitewater Kayak
- Weight Capacity: 440 pounds
- Materials: HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
- Dimensions: 12.4'x34"x20"
- Weight: 68 pounds
Those searching for the best whitewater kayaks for beginners may want to consider this 2-person sit on top kayak from BKC, the Brooklyn Kayak Company.
2-person kayaks are perfect for teaching beginners and it's also a means to bond with a friend or family member. This one also includes seven rod-holders for those who love fishing, plus there's a secure cargo area with bungee cords to set your mind at ease.
More innovative features include the waterproof storage hatches for valuables like walled and snacks, plus twin paddle rests to secure your paddles when not in use. This lets you free up your hands without losing your paddles.
For cons, there are cheaper offers. But the truth is those cheaper offers will not come with the same set of features like this kayak. It's also relatively heavy, but it's built for two people using High-Density Polyethylene, which may be a little heavy, but very tough and durable.
8. Dagger Zydeco 11.0 – Whitewater Kayak With Bungee Deck
- Weight Capacity: 325 pounds
- Materials: Polyethylene
- Dimensions: 11.2 ft x 28 inches
- Weight: 48 pounds
Here's one of the few kayaks on this list with a full body and it includes a bungee strap system on its deck. It also features a nicely designed and contoured seat, knee pads, and foot brace system to provide you maximum comfort while
You also get a stern hatch for dry storage. This kayak is rated to handle up to 325 pounds and it weighs just 48 pounds. Keep in mind that it's not an inflatable kayak, though. Dagger includes soft handles to make it easy to carry.
For its downsides, the package doesn't include a paddle. So, this means extra costs for you. But it's a full-body and solid kayak that will outlast most inflatable models.
9. Hurricane Santee 116 – Beautiful Whitewater Kayak
- Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
- Materials: ABS plastic
- Dimensions: 11.5 ft x 28 inches
- Weight: 36.5 pounds
If you are a beauty lover, then you may not help to fall in love with this kayak. It's so beautifully styled and shaped, plus it features a nice color combination to set it aside from the rest.
Besides, it's made from ABS plastic and only weighs 36.5 pounds. You get a deck bungee to secure your items and a security cable lock as well. Finally, it cruises very smoothly on the water, with a balance that's as great as it looks.
The only issue you can complain of here is its price. Yes, it's costly, but if you look closely enough, you'll also agree that it's worth its price.
Different Types of Whitewater Kayaks
Kayaks evolved rapidly over the years to create a range of specialized boats that each work best for specific activities. So, we have playboats or freestyle kayaks, river runners, long boats, and creek boats. Here's a closer look at each type.
1. Play boats Or Freestyle Kayaks
This type of kayak is both referred to as freestyle kayaks or play boats and they are the shortest of the different whitewater kayaks, measuring about six feet in length, on average.
Play boats also feature a planing hull with beveled chines to support a high level of maneuverability. Play boats are ideal for surfing, aerial maneuvers, vertical moves, and other freestyle moves on moderate to high flow rivers.
2. River Runners
River runners are the most versatile type of whitewater kayaks and are designed for going down a variety of rivers very quickly. They are longer than playboats, have more volume and softer chines, which combine to make them very forgiving and the perfect whitewater kayak for beginners.
3. Long Boats
To put it simply, long-boat kayaks are extra-long river runners that can reach up to 12 feet in length. They also come with an extra bow rocker, which gives them more volume and increases maneuverability. A longboat is a perfect choice for anyone who wants an extra fast river runner, especially for racing.
4. Creek Boats
Creeker boats are large, and this is both in length and volume. They are designed for fast maneuvering, going over rapids, and other tight turns with hazards. Creek boats are your best bet for steep, technical, and rocky environments, including waterfall drops.
How to Buy the Best Whitewater Kayak
There are a few things you need to understand about whitewater kayaks, so you can make the best possible choice. These important factors are as follows.
1. Hull Shape
As with any other type of boat, a kayak's hull is very important in determining its qualities and behavior in water. For clarity's sake, a hull is the underside of a boat that stays on the water. There are two major types of whitewater kayak hulls, and they are planing and displacement hulls.
Planing Hull. These are flat hulls that create a wide footprint on the water's surface, making them very stable and able to surf waves beautifully. Planing hulls have beveled up edges up to the sidewalls to produce varying levels of aggressiveness. A good example of a kayak with a planing hull is the play-boat kayak.
Displacement Hull. With displacement hulls, you get more rounded hulls. They were the standard on older kayaks but modern kayaks are switching increasingly to planing hulls. One advantage of displacement hulls is their ability to easily tilt on edge, but they are less stable and maneuverable than planing hulls.
2. Hard vs. Soft Chines
You also need to understand the concept of chines, because this goes a long way in determining how the kayak handles and what you can ultimately do with it. Chines are the transition areas between the kayak's hull and the sides and they are either smooth (soft chine) or with a hard angle.
The type of chine is important because a hard chine produces more effect when doing a leaning turn. That is, when you lean to the left, for instance, the kayak will turn right more abruptly on a hard-chine kayak, than on a soft-chine kayak. On the other hand, softer-chine boats are more forgiving.
A kayak's rocker refers to the curve that lifts the bow and stern out of the water. Some kayaks have longer and gentler curves, while others have shorter ones.
The rocker is important because it helps to determine the kayak's handling. For instance, more bow rocker makes it easier to ride over large waves and helps the bow stay above water when landing from a drop. More stern rocker, however, makes it hold speed and track better.
4. Weight Capacity
A whitewater kayak's weight capacity refers to the total weight of the boat, your weight, and that of your gear. You should keep an eye on this because the kayak can sit too low in the water if you overload it and this will impact your paddling efficiency.
5. Rapid Level
Rivers are classified according to how difficult they are to navigate. This rating goes from Class I for easy, smooth water up to Class VII for very difficult rivers where the paddlers face a constant threat of death.
Each kayak is also rated for the rapid level that it can handle, so it's up to you to first consider the type of river you'll be facing on your trips and to get a kayak that is appropriately rated. The Sea Eagle SE300X for instance is rated up to Class IV.
6. Safety Features
Safety is also important with whitewater kayaking and some kayaks come with more of these safety features than others. For example, you want a large cockpit, a full-plate footrest for cushioning from impacts, multiple grab positions, and an easily repaired plastic for inflatable kayaks such as the Aire Tributary.
This includes a lot of factors such as how fast it inflates to a full-sized kayak and how lightweight it is, making it easier to carry. Then there are adjustments for the seat and footrests, as well as storage space and cords, or any other feature that might make your life easier. You'll need to keep an eye out for such features.
We've come to the end of this whitewater kayaks review and it's now time for you to make a choice.
For a simple selection, we recommend the best overall whitewater kayak here, which is the Driftsun Rover 120, with its 1000D material, 300 pounds of capacity, and top-quality construction.
If you're on a budget, then we recommend the Sea Eagle 330 Pro, which is a 2-person kayak, with a 500-pound capacity rating, and a 3-year warranty.
Or, maybe you also love to fish with a partner, then we recommend the BKC UH-TK181, with its 2-person design, 440-pound capacity, and seven fishing rod holders.
- 9 Best Whitewater Kayaks – Review
- 1. Driftsun Rover 120 – Best Overall Whitewater Kayak
- 2. Sea Eagle 330 Pro – Best Budget Whitewater Kayak
- 3. Lifetime 90172 – Best Sit On Top Whitewater Kayak
- 4. Advanced Elements AE1006-Y – Best 5-Chamber Whitewater Kayak
- 5. Aire Tributary – Best Colorful Whitewater Kayak
- 6. Sea Eagle SE300X – Best Class IV Whitewater Kayak
- 7. BKC UH-TK181 – Best 2-Person Fishing Whitewater Kayak
- 8. Dagger Zydeco 11.0 – Whitewater Kayak With Bungee Deck
- 9. Hurricane Santee 116 – Beautiful Whitewater Kayak
- Different Types of Whitewater Kayaks
- How to Buy the Best Whitewater Kayak