- What is whitewater kayaking?
- Reading the whitewater
- Whitewater classifications
- What to look for an inflatable kayak for whitewater
- Best Inflatable Kayak For Whitewater – Top 6 Picks!
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final words
Before you brave the rapids, you must have the best kayak that can endure the current, rocks, and other harsh elements. The best inflatable kayak for whitewater is a good option since it remains portable while durable at the same time. It stays nimble on top of the water, allowing you to maneuver along large rocks easier. In this post, I reviewed six of the best inflatable kayaks that you can take on your next whitewater adventure.
What is whitewater kayaking?
Whitewater kayaking is a popular sport that involves navigating the rapids while riding the kayak. It’s widely done through a raft, but many enthusiasts are braving the currents with narrower and lighter vessels that are easier to maneuver.
Unlike using rafts, whitewater kayaking requires an intense sense of balance and proper technique. Kayakers who are brave enough for the rapids have to undergo rigorous training. This is to ensure the kayaker’s safety as the rapids can be deadly for those who are not skilled enough to maneuver the vessel.
If lake kayaking is a walk in the park, whitewater kayaking is like running with boulders coming your way while the ground shifts. Strategy is the name of the game. Above all, you need the best inflatable kayak for whitewater that will not puncture easily.
Reading the whitewater
When it comes to whitewater, you’re not supposed to paddle blindly. You should know how to read the waters so you can make it to the end safe. For starters, the following are the basics of whitewater reading:
This is the basic whitewater feature that you should know how to spot. A Downstream V forms a letter V on the water with the point of the ‘V’ directed to the downstream. This will show you the deeper parts of the rapids, which is usually the best path to take. A Downstream V usually has green or dark water, which means it’s free of any obstacles.
🌊Eddies/ Eddy lines
An eddy line refers to the swirly line that the current creates when the downstream meets the upstream flow. Take note that such eddy lines are unstable spots, especially for inflatable kayaks.
Meanwhile, eddies refer to the water flowing upstream. This will let you stay on one spot without being flushed down by the downstream current.
In rapids classes II and III, eddies are easy to cross with minimal effort. However, once you enter classes III and up, you must have a strategy to pass eddies without tipping or capsizing.
Whirlpools often form on eddy lines as a result of the upstream and downstream meeting together. This is a very unstable thing that you must avoid at all cost if you’re a newbie. If you get caught in a whirlpool, it will take intense power to get out of it without being thrown out of your kayak. However, if you know how to ride a whirlpool, you can counter its strength and it will dissipate slowly.
Hydraulics are formed under the surface of the water as a result of water flowing through the rocks. You simply can’t ride hydraulics the way you do with waves. It has large foam piles that flow upstream, which can throw you out of your kayak. It’s best to keep a hawk-eye of hydraulics so you can avoid it as much as possible.
Rocks are part of the fun of whitewater kayaking. It’s one of the reasons why the water is raging so you must learn how to avoid the rocks even before you hit it. Remember that once you’re at the rock, it would be too difficult to maneuver back to the right pace. The trick here is looking ahead of your path instead of concentrating on individual rocks. This bigger view will let you anticipate other obstacles along the way.
A drop refers to the abrupt and sudden descent on a river. Remember that steep drops are the notorious spots for hydraulics. You must spot drops ahead so you and your kayaking buddy can formulate a plan.
Before you buy the best inflatable kayaks for whitewater, you must know the classification of the rapids you’re going to. Remember that inflatable kayaks, duckies as paddlers call it, are rated for specific whitewater classes. The following are the classifications you should know:
🌊Class A. This is flat water that’s characterized with slow current with no movement. It’s suitable for almost any kayak.
🌊Class I. In this type of water, there are light ripples, but it remains smooth and stable for just about any kayak. The only issue a paddler might encounter are obstacles like overhead bridges, several sandbanks, and mild curves.
🌊Class II. This class is considered a type of rapids with moderate movement. It has regular waves that are still tolerable among experienced paddlers. Still, maneuvering skill is required for this type of rapids so newbies should avoid this for the meantime. Aside from the water movement, the Class I rapids have ledges and rocks.
🌊Class III. A tad more complicated than Class II, these rapids will have irregular and more forceful waves. Also, you will encounter eddies and rocks along the way, which requires extensive paddling technique. You need a whitewater kayak as well as flotation bags. This class should be left to experts.
🌊Class IV. This is a difficult class. Waves are powerful and raging enough to topple a duckie with an unskilled paddler. You will also encounter boiling eddies and holes. These rapids are best left to experts that are prepared for possible rescue work.
🌊Class V. This is an extremely difficult class where you will encounter violent and lingering rapids. Also, the river will be filled with obstacles left and right. Remember that the movement in this class is non-stop so you should have endurance and expertise in navigating rapids. Again, this is suitable for experts with intensive training in rescue work.
🌊Class VI. These rapids are the most difficult of all. Only a few paddlers can tackle this water due to the extraordinary obstacles, water movements, and hazards. The rapids here are violent and can be deadly without proper training. This should be left to Olympic paddlers under ideal conditions.
Take note that you need to secure local permits before you can go on any of these rapid classes. For classes III to VI, you need professional training as well as pre-planned trips. Also, you should never go whitewater kayaking without other paddlers. Should you capsize, there should be other kayakers to perform a rescue, especially on violent rapids.
What to look for an inflatable kayak for whitewater
When it comes to the best inflatable kayak for whitewater, you need one that’s built to endure the toughest conditions. While inflatables are not meant or Class V and VI, you can still find some that are rated for Classes II to IV. You should check the following features to ensure that the kayak is suitable for the whitewater classification you’re eyeing for.
The first thing you should check is the kayak type. The following are the types of kayaks used for whitewater purposes:
Long boats. These are extra-long and can be as long as 12 feet. The extra length gives the kayak a fast speed when dealing with the downstream current. It’s also maneuverable and can deal with higher river classes. This can produce excellent speed, so it also makes a good choice for racing.
Creekers. Creekers are the largest kayaks in terms of build. It has a burly shape that’s built to charge on foamy rapids as well as steep drops. And since it has more volume than long boats, it floats faster whenever the vessel capsizes.
River runners. This one is used for better tracking and resurfacing. It has a lot of give, so it’s suitable for beginners who are in class I to II rapids. River runners are versatile enough to be used on other water types.
Play boats. Play boats are short and made for riding the waves. It’s suitable for paddlers who want to practice their aerial tricks. It’s stubby for just six feet long and has a very minimal amount of rocker. Take note that playboats are not for serious rapids.
Next, you must check the capacity of the inflatable whitewater kayak you’re going to buy. When we talk about capacity, we need to consider two things: the weight limit and the number of passengers.
Most inflatable whitewater kayaks can support up to 400 to 700 pounds of user weight. Remember that for your safety, you should limit your load to 75% of the weight rating. The other 25% is a ‘give’ for the working weight when paddling on the rapids.
Another thing that you should consider is whether you’ll get a one-person or a two-person whitewater kayak. A one-person whitewater kayak lets you maneuver the vessel at your own terms. However, it can be challenging to use on strong rapids as you’ll bear all the brunt of the water movement.
On the other hand, two-person kayaks require coordination and training prior to the whitewater trip. Still, the advantage here is that when you get tired, someone can compensate for you. It’s up to you to decide which one suits your style.
The material of the inflatable whitewater kayak will dictate how well it can endure impact and the puncturing effect of rocks. There are two widely-used kayak material: PVC and Hypalon.
PVC kayaks are durable enough for most users, even on Class II or IV rapids. It’s also cheaper and can be welded to create one solid piece. Should punctures occur, PVC is easy to patch. Also, PVC is often used as a coating on nylon or polyester material to increase the tear-resistance of the kayak. Reinforced PVC kayaks can endure up to Class IV rapids, just like the Sea Eagle 380X (full review below!)
On the other hand, Hypalon is the best choice if you’re going to Class V and VI rapids. It’s a synthetic rubber that has been patented by DuPont. It’s highly resistant to extreme temperatures, chemicals, UV, and punctures. In fact, Hypalon is so durable that even the U.S. Coast Guard uses it for their boats. The only downside to Hypalon is its higher price. But if you’re looking for quality, this is worth the splurge.
Aside from the kayak shell, you should also check the material of the kayak floor. A drop stitch floor is a good option since it’s more durable than those without it.
Your inflatable whitewater kayak should also endure the beating of ultraviolet rays. As much as possible, avoid kayaks with too much polyurethane as these materials become brittle when exposed to UV.
If possible, look for an inflatable kayak with a UV coating. Take note that the Hypalon material is resistant to UV damage, making it a top choice for professional kayakers.
Another thing you should check on inflatable whitewater duckies is its air chambers. Most inflatable kayaks have compartmentalized air chambers so it will not deflate totally if a part got punctured.
Multiple air chambers reduce the danger a punctured kayak may bring. Even if one chamber got punctured, the kayak remains buoyant. Also, it prevents the kayak from bending in the middle, especially on steep drops.
A self-bailing feature is a must for every whitewater kayak. This feature allows the water to escape the cockpit so the kayak will not sink. Such a feature is also useful even for inflatable kayaks.
The rapids will splash water into your kayak. And in the flurry of water movement, you don’t have the luxury of time just to scoop the water out.
Aside from the bailing feature, you should get spray skirts to reduce the water that may enter the kayak. This can be bundled with the inflatable kayak or sold separately.
Although this isn’t really a big issue, consider a whitewater kayak that you can inflate within 10 to 30 minutes. This way, you won’t have to wait by the shore for too long. Also, it will prevent you from being a bottleneck on your group’s trip. If you consider inflation time paramount, you should look for a whitewater kayak with high-capacity valves that you can use on electric pumps.
Lastly, consider how easy it is to store and transport the whitewater kayak. The biggest advantage of using an inflatable whitewater kayak is you no longer have to use a trailer to bring it around. Most of these inflatable vessels can fit inside a duffel bag that you can toss at the trunk of your car.
Best Inflatable Kayak For Whitewater – Top 6 Picks!
OUR #1 CHOICE
OUR TOP PICK: AIRE Outfitter II Inflatable Kayak
Product Name: AIRE Outfitter II Inflatable Kayak
Product Description: If you’re looking for the best inflatable kayak for whitewater, the AIRE Outfitter II is right on the money. It’s made of a reinforced PVC hull that can endure harsh water conditions. It’s a very stable and forgiving two-person whitewater kayak that you can take on regular adventures. Although it’s a two-person vessel, you can also convert it into a single-person kayak. This is made for beginners who are just starting to learn the waves. Overall, this is rated for Class II and III rapids, where you will have an adrenaline-pumping experience without a high level of hazard. The highlight of this inflatable whitewater kayak is its AIREcell system with three air chambers. It also has a zippered construction with a PVC skin to keep the kayak buoyant.
Offer price: $$$
Value for Money
Moreover, the main float of this kayak is fitted with Leafield B7 valves, which is one-way and protected by a durable cap. This prevents air from escaping even on the roughest conditions.
This kayak is 12 feet and 2 inches long, which gives excellent tracking and performance on whitewater. It has a tube diameter of 12.5 inches for added stability. Also, there are self-bailing drain holes to keep the water off the floor pocket.
Aside from that, this kayak is fitted with 12 sets of cargo loops as well as D-rings on both the bow and stern. It also comes with a Cheetah chair, a repair kit, and an owner’s manual. If ever you capsize on a whitewater trip, the two grab handles will be indispensable.
3-chamber AIREcell system
Rated for Class II and III rapids
Not for Class IV and up rapids
NRS Star Viper XL Inflatable Whitewater Kayak
If you’re looking for a whitewater kayak with flotation bags, the Star Viper XL is the one for you. It’s made of rugged PVC that resists abrasions. It also slides easily on rocks, and it has a drop-stitch floor for added rigidity similar to hard-shell kayaks.
Moreover, the Super Viper XL has an aggressive rocker design on its 10 feet and 2-inch length. It also has displacement chambers on the bow and stern for added flotation. This also serves as a backrest and bulkhead if you need to brace your feet.
This inflatable whitewater kayak has 11-inch tubes with five air chambers. Such a design prevents deflation while adding rigidity to the kayak.
Like most reliable whitewater kayaks, this has self-bailing holes with two handles and 12 D-rings for rigging your gear. Aside from that, you’ll also get thigh straps to lock you into the kayak before plunging into the whitewater adventure.
Overall, this kayak can ride waves, surf, punch through holes, and ferry into frothy water like a hard-shell vessel. This is safe to use on Class II and III rapids, but if you’re skilled enough, you can take this to Class IV.
Remember that this is a solo kayak which isn’t designed to be converted to two-person. If you’re looking for a tandem type, you should get the AIRE Outfitter II instead.
Sea Eagle 380X Inflatable Kayak
If you’re looking for another tandem kayak option, you should consider the Sea Eagle 380X. This is made with 1,000-denier polyester fabric that can resist punctures and scratches. This is designed for three adults, but it’s more solid if used as a tandem vessel. Overall, it can hold up to 750 pounds of load.
Aside from that, the Sea Eagle 380X has a drop-stitch floor for added rigidity. It’s also equipped with a removable rear center fin that reduces yawing when used on calmer waters.
This inflatable kayak has three air chambers, one each on the port, floor, and starboard. And to ensure that the kayak can take the beating of whitewater, its seams have a glued quadruple overlapped design. It also has 16 rapid self-bailing valves that are easy to close and open.
With this construction, the Sea Eagle 380X is suitable for up to Class IV rapids. It’s the perfect duckie for paddlers who want to level up their whitewater experience.
This extra-tough inflatable kayak is 12 feet and 6 inches long that you can inflate in as fast as 8 minutes. Aside from the kayak, you will also get two AB40 paddles, back seats, foot pump, back skeg, repair kit, stow bags, and a user manual. A three-year warranty covers the kayak itself for any manufacturing defects.
If you’re looking for an inflatable kayak that can put up on rougher waters, the Sea Eagle 380X is the one for you. It’s also bundled with extras for the best value.
Sevylor Big Basin Inflatable Kayak
For those who are going to Class A to Class II whitewater, the Sevylor Big Basin is a good choice. It’s made for calm lake cruising up to easy whitewater. This is made of heavy-duty PVC construction with a tarpaulin bottom to shield the kayak from punctures. It’s also covered by 840-denier nylon for added durability.
This has Sevylor’s proprietary AirTight System that prevents air leaks even on tough adventures. Also, it has multiple air chambers as well as Boston valves that make it easy to inflate and deflate.
Moreover, this three-seater kayak has a spray skirt that blocks water from splashing into the cockpit. It’s also NMMA-certified to support up to 490 pounds of total weight load. Once inflated, this whitewater kayak is 12 feet and 3 inches long.
Aside from that, this has a removable skeg that improves speed and tracking when used on flat water. The cockpit is also versatile enough to be configured as a solo kayak or a three-person vessel.
In addition, the package includes a pressure gauge and carry bag. You’ll have to purchase the pump and paddle separately, which is already a good bargain, considering the lower price of this duckie. Just make sure that you close the plugs at the stern so the kayak won’t fill with water.
Take note that the Big Basin has a lower air pressure requirement for just 1.5 PSI. This is the same reason why it can’t be used for higher rapid classes.
Solstice by Swimline Durango Inflatable Kayak
The Solstice Durango Kayak is a convertible vessel that can be used as a single-person and tandem kayak. It’s made of a 600-denier nylon cover with a triple-layer bottom to resist punctures. To ensure that the kayak will remain durable on easy whitewater trips, it has an I-Beam floor that adds rigidity to the vessel.
It also comes with two detachable seats and a removable skeg for flat water use. Aside from that, it uses high-pressure Boston valves for faster inflation and deflation.
In addition to the kayak, you’ll also get two detachable seats, foot pump, carry bag, and a removable skeg. The kayak is fitted with heavy-duty D-rings as well as a bow cover complete with elastic cords for rigging.
Overall, this kayak is 11 feet long with a cockpit width of 37.4 inches. It can hold 440 pounds, which is lighter than other whitewater options but understandable for its price range. Another good thing about this kayak is its lightweight construction that’s easy to transport.
The only snag I noticed on this inflatable kayak is the quality of the seats. It’s tricky to set up, and it’s not as comfy as other options here. Anyway, you can always purchase a seat that suits your needs. But all-in-all, this inflatable kayak has excellent construction.
Sea Eagle 330 Deluxe Inflatable Kayak
My last recommendation for this roundup is the Sea Eagle 330. This is a deluxe kayak that you can take to Class III whitewater. It’s made for two persons with equally inflatable seats that complement the kayak really well.
This duckie is made of rugged PVC to endure tough obstacles and hydraulics. One thing that makes Sea Eagle 330 popular among paddlers is its lightweight construction. It’s actually the lightest in the Sea Eagle line for just 26 pounds.
Moreover, this inflatable whitewater kayak is 11 feet long with a tube diameter of 10 inches. It also features three air chambers and five deluxe one-way air valves.
Meanwhile, the floor is reinforced using an inflatable I-Beam construction that makes the kayak tolerant of steep drops, waves, and hydraulics. Its seams are welded together, making a one-piece construction on its shell.
You will also get two skegs for excellent speed and tracking when the kayak is used on flat water. Aside from that, the 12-kilogram hull of this kayak is suitable for intense UV and saltwater exposure.
As a rugged kayak, the Sea Eagle 330 can support up to 500 pounds of user weight. It can be used by two and carried by one. It’s also very quick to inflate and deflate, allowing you to get to the water with less prep time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is needed for whitewater kayaking?
A: For whitewater kayaking, you need a kayak rated for the specific whitewater level you’re going to. You also need an ergonomic paddle, helmet, flotation device, and a spray skirt. If you’re kayaking on a cold day, you should also get an extra layer of insulation to keep the moisture out of your kayak.
Q: Can I use a whitewater kayak on a lake?
A: Yes, whitewater kayaks are made durable so it can endure the strongest currents. And since lakes are calmer, you can definitely use your whitewater kayak on it as well. As long as the kayak has a decent length, it should tread smoothly on a lake.
Q: Can one person use a two-person whitewater kayak?
A: If you’re planning to go on a whitewater adventure alone using a two-person kayak, you should check the owner’s manual. Some tandem kayaks are convertible to a single-person setting.
Q: Are inflatable kayaks safe for whitewater?
A: If the inflatable kayak has been rated for a specific whitewater level, it’s definitely safe to use. Modern inflatable kayaks are made to withstand harsh conditions of at least whitewater class I. Many inflatable kayaks have a puncture-proof shell that endures sharp rocks and impact.
Q: What happens if I go beyond the limit of my kayak?
A: Kayaks are rated for a specific weight limit for a good reason. Going beyond that will result in poor tracking and increased risk of tipping. Aside from following the weight limit of the kayak, you should also observe strategic weight distribution to increase your performance on the water.
The best inflatable kayak for whitewater is made to withstand the harshest elements the river will throw at you. Although inflatable, it remains solid and tough on the water. Paired with excellent paddling skills, inflatable kayaks will give you a high-octane water experience like no other.