Recreational Kayaks

River kayaks designed for whitewater rapids are some of the shortest kayaks on the market, as paddlers need enhanced maneuverability to tackle rapid moving waters. These kayaks, available in both a sit-on-top or a sit-inside configuration, are easy to transport and easy to carry, meaning you can launch off the banks of your favorite fast or slow-moving river. 

The choice of whether a sit-on-top or sit-inside whitewater river kayak is the right fit for you will come down to your personal preference, along with the level of rapids your kayak will be tackling. 

Ideally, if you’re making your way down Grade 3 or above rapids, then you’ll want a sit-inside kayak with an enclosed cockpit. Enclosed cockpits not only prevent the lower half of your body from getting wet (you will still get a little wet, but obviously not as much as a sit-on-top), but they also give you the ability to help control your kayak with your knees.

Alternatively, there are also river kayaks that are longer with more adequate storage for multi-day camping trips or even river fishing. These kayaks, again, come in a sit-inside or sit-on-top configuration, with sit-on-tops being favored thanks to their large amounts of storage space and the fact that you can freely move around. 

River kayaking really gives you the best of both worlds and if you’re looking to take your paddling up a notch, be sure to check out these kayak life jackets, as the faster-moving waters and far more dangerous than those in lakes.

Anatomy of a River Kayak

Whitewater river kayaks are fairly simple boats that are designed to be able to tackle fast and rapid moving water. As the hull of a river kayak is fairly short, there is very limited storage space for any additional gear. 

River kayaks designed for touring or even recreational purposes will have more storage spaces, typically fitted with bungee cords to hold your belongings down. 

Both whitewater and recreational river kayaks will feature a comfortable seat that is accompanied by footrests to suit paddlers of all sizes. Sit-on-top river kayaks will also promote scupper holes to drain any water that gets onto the deck. 

Additionally, river kayaks can also come in a hardshell or inflatable variation and with displacement or planing hulls. Planing hulls which you commonly see on short playboat kayaks have hulls that skim the surface of waves and rapids, allowing the paddler to spin. Displacement hulls, on the other hand, allow the paddler the track easier.

How to Choose a River Kayak

The type of river kayak you purchase will ultimately come down to the paddling you wish to partake in, but if you’re ready to invest in your next kayak, keep these below features in mind.


Hardshell river kayaks will be constructed from rotationally molded polyethylene which is an extremely durable and sturdy material. Thicker density polyethylene will be stronger than a thinner density, but the cost of the kayak will be considerably more.

Inflatable kayaks, on the other hand, are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that is sewn together by a process called drop stitching. Just like the molded polyethylene, the thicker the denier of the PVC, the more durable the kayak will be. 


All kayaks have a recommended weight capacity, and if you exceed this limit, you will compromise the performance of your kayak. Overloading your kayak will cause the hull to sink slightly in the water, which in turn makes it difficult to paddle, handle, and maneuver your kayak. As whitewater river kayaks especially require you to turn at fast speeds, it is crucial that you remain under the limit.

Before you purchase your kayak, calculate your weight and the weight of any gear you’ll be taking on board with you. Then, compare this figure to the maximum weight capacities of the kayaks you’re interested in and ensure you’re under the limit by ideally 25%. 


River kayaks for whitewater rapids are considerably short, whereas river kayaks for touring are relatively long. As a general rule in kayaking, the longer the kayak, the faster it will go, and the shorter the kayak, the more easily it will maneuver. 

If you want to paddle down whitewater, then opt for the shortest kayak you can find, and if you want to paddle downstream for days at a time, consider a slightly longer kayak with adequate storage space.


Touring river kayaks will also be narrower than whitewater river kayaks. When it comes to stability, width is everything, so the wider the kayak, the more stable the boat will be on the water. 


Whitewater river kayaks will have little to no storage on their decks or in their cockpits. You may be able to fit a few personal belongings at your feet, but it will be a squeeze nonetheless. Alternatively, touring river kayaks will have adequate storage in the form of bungee areas or dry hatches to store your camping gear, your fishing gear, and your personal belongings. 


Rudders aren’t a necessity in kayaking, but if you value performance and if you have the funds to add one to your kayak, then they’re handy to have and improve your tracking significantly. Most kayaks come with a rudder, or at least the option to add a rudder on if you so wish. 


Whitewater river kayaks will usually come as a bare-bone model with little to no accessories or features. Touring river kayaks, however, may have some built-in or additional features, but these can slightly weigh the kayak down. Consider what you’ll be using your kayak for, and then decide on whether you’d benefit from a light or a fully loaded kayak.


🏆 Can river kayaks take on rapids?

River kayaks that are short in length are able to take on rapids. Ideally, you want a whitewater river kayak with an enclosed cockpit, but short sit-on-top river kayaks can also take on rapids up to a Grade 3. 

👍 Are sit-on-top or sit-inside river kayaks better?

River kayaks that are designed to take on rapids are more popular in a sit-inside construction. The enclosed cockpit of a whitewater river kayak prevents the paddler from getting substantially wet, and the paddler also has the benefit of controlling his kayak with his knees.

Touring river kayaks, on the other hand, are favored in a sit-on-top variety as the open deck allows for increased storage and allows the paddler to move around freely.

🏝️ If I want to paddle in whitewater, what type of river kayak should I purchase?

The best type of river kayak for whitewater paddling will be a short sit-inside hardshell kayak. Many whitewater paddlers favor short sit-inside hardshell kayaks because they prevent vasts amount of water from entering the cockpit, they feel sturdy, and they allow the paddler to control the boat with his knees.