Best Kayak for Rivers of 2018 & Buying Guide

Whether you want to take on the water rapids or simply drift along the river current, choosing the right kayak can add to your outdoor experience. Adventuring through new waters is loads of fun when you have a quality vessel to propel you forward. Even if you are a seasoned kayaker, it doesn’t always come so easily when searching through endless new options on the web.

Our helpful buying guide will educate you how to choose the best kayak for rivers so you can focus less on the hard part and more on what is important. We will present the top 5 picks along with insights on making a decision that will be a perfect fit for your needs.

Buying Guide

How Should I Use a River Kayak?

River kayaks can be used in a handful of different ways depending on your hobbies and preferences. Here are a few of the most common uses of this type of kayak:

  • Leisurely Drifting – If you simply want to paddle and enjoy drifting along with the smooth current, you can use the kayak to navigate down the river. This can be a fun solo activity but you can also have friends or family members join alongside or in a tandem river kayak.

Emotion 90257 Glide Sport Kayak

Emotion 90257 Glide Sport Kayak

  • Exercising – A river kayak can be a great way to exercise as you can control the intensity of your workout. You will get to enjoy new surroundings while engaging your upper body and core muscles.
  • White Water Rapids – If you want a thrill and have the experience to handle intense currents, you can use river kayaks to soar through class 2 and 3 rapids. For those who have never encountered rough water conditions, it is helpful to get some training before using the kayak in this type of river.

Choosing A River Kayak

Deciding on a river kayak that will fit your needs is more than just finding a model that has an appealing design. Here are some important factors to think about when purchasing a kayak:

  • Weight Capacity– The first thing to consider is whether you will be taking solo adventures or if you will want to bring a kayaking companion. If it will just be you using the kayak, you simply will need to make sure the vessel accommodates your current weight. When you are factoring in another person, try to find the highest weight limit possible so you have some flexibility available for different sized passengers.
  • Comfort Level– You should think about your desired level of comfort and adjustability when selecting a kayak model. If you need extra support, you will want to find a kayak seat with added cushioning or padding. Some models even have adjustable options such as footrests or armrests that add to your experience.
  • Portability – If you are limited on storage space or simply want a kayak that you won’t have to dock, an inflatable kayak is the best solution. For a more durable and long lasting option, a full size kayak can still be portable depending on it’s size and weight. Carrying handles or pull ropes can make any type of kayak easier to pick up out of the water.
  • Warranty Coverage– If you want added piece of mind when buying a river kayak, finding a model with included warranty coverage can be a good idea. Some warranty periods last only a year long while others last for several years so it is vital to take note of how long the kayak will be covered for.

Features to Look For

Sun Dolphin Bali SS 8-Foot

Sun Dolphin Bali SS 8-Foot

  • Self-Bailing Drain Valve – No one likes to deal with a kayak full of water, hence the need for a self-bailing drain valve. This feature allows you to easily drain water out of the cockpit without having to flip over the entire vessel.
  • Storage Space – When traveling down the river, it can be convenient to have spaces to store extra gear. If you want to keep a beverage close-by, look for a model where you can attach a dry bag or cooler. Some models even have built-in storage compartments or cup holders. Especially if you are planning all day trips, you will want to be able to secure your stuff on the kayak.
  • Included Accessories – It is always nice to buy a kayak that comes with the paddle included to save you from looking for the right size to purchase separately. If you plan on buying an inflatable kayak for more portability, you will benefit from having the carrying bag, repair kit and pump included.

Is There a Downside?

  • Limited Versatility – Not all river kayak models are designed for use on rough currents which is why it is important to consider the durability and strength of the model you plan on buying. There are many options that do provide versatility to be used for all types of current but not all models have full functionality. When making your final decision, be sure to find a river kayak that is fitting for your intended use.
Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 11.0 Kayak

Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 11.0 Kayak

Top 5 Picks for River Kayaks

1. Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak with Deluxe Package Review

The Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak with Deluxe Package comes included with everything you need to embark on a river adventure. This kayak is extremely lightweight weighing at only 26 pounds and can be deflated for easy storage.

Two adults and their gear up to a combined weight of 500 pounds can hop in the kayak and blast through the white water river with confidence. This model is designed for ease of use in all aspects including inflating, carrying, paddling and deflating.

The two removable skegs also enhance the tracking and speed of this kayak so you are able to go faster with less effort.The 33 mil Polykrlar hull is extra thick for handling any water environment, even class 3 rapids.

To provide further reinforcement and resistance against punctures, the seams are welded shut with 10,000 of high frequency power for a solid structure. To keep the water out while you are enjoying water sports, it has a self-bailing drain valve which is particularly helpful in ocean water or white water rivers.

This kayak assembles with the included foot pump in a mere six minutes to a full size of 34 x 19 x 10 inches. Additional accessories include two oars for paddling and a convenient carrying bag.

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Not only is the kayak made of high quality materials, but it is backed by a three year manufacturer warranty. The Sea Eagle 330 will be a great choice if you are in search of the ultimate weekend getaway boat.


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    Enhanced directional traction
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    Warranty coverage
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    High weight limit


  • Requires inflation
  • Smaller oars

2. Sun Dolphin Bali SS 8-Foot Sit-on top Kayak Review

The Sun Dolphin Bali SS is a premium quality 8 foot kayak that is perfect for use in lakes, rivers and other large bodies of water. This bright-colored kayak comes in three different design options including ocean blue, tangerine orange and red.

Whether you are learning how to paddle for the first time or are a seasoned water sports pro, this model offers enhanced stability with its sturdy structure. Along with being easy to paddle, this kayak features a portable accessory carrier which is helpful for extra storage, towing behind or use as a backpack.

There is also plenty of versatility for storage with the built-in dry storage comparable that is secured by shock cord deck rigging.Constructed from Fortiflex high density polyethylene, the Bali SS is built to withstand the outdoor elements. It’s surface is both rugged and UV-stabilized which is great for when you are navigating through unknown waters in the hot beaming sun.

The 96 x 28 x 16 inch kayak is easy to enter with an open cockpit design. For added comfort and flexibility, the inside of the kayak has adjustable foot rests and a paddle holder. This river kayak is perfect for spontaneous trips as you can quickly grab the 25 pound boat by the attached carrying handle and it will be ready to go.

It can safely hold one person up to 190 pounds with the large seating area. For those who want a kayak for all-day river excitement, this model is packed with convenience features for your next water trip.


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    Open cockpit
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    Bright color options
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    UV resistant surface


  • Cannot be drained
  • Shorter length

3. Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 11.0 Kayak Review

For water sports lovers, the Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 11.0 Kayak is an intricately designed river kayak. This model comes in 4 different unique design options including lime, blue, freeze and molten.

The freeze and molten designs are particularly eye-catching as they fade between three different colors for a unique effect. This model is crafted for superior comfort as the CFS seating system is contoured to support your body.

It even has knee and thigh pads to keep your legs cushioned while sitting in the 13 x 30 x 132 inch kayak. Weighing at 48 pounds, this kayak is extremely stylish with a durable polyethylene construction to withstand many wet and wild adventures.

Built to perform for water exploration, this model can hold one person weighing up to 325 pounds. For carrying in and out of the water, you can grab the soft touch handles for easy transportation.

The stern hatch features bungee deck rigging which is great for storing extra gear while you are on the river. The stern bulkhead section has a place to park your paddle which is convenient when you just want to relax and drift along.

The cockpit is 21.75 inches wide which is provides plenty of room to sit. When sitting on the foam seat for hours, you won’t feel muscle fatigue because it provides thick cushioning for your rear. This is a great choice if you want to be able to bring along a cooler bag and kayak down the river in style.

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    Storage space
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    Vibrant design
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    High weight capacity


  • One person seating
  • Doesn’t include paddle

4. Emotion Glide Sport Kayak

The Emotion Glide Sport Kayak model is a great choice if you are looking for a durable solution for river kayaking. The high density polyethylene surface is super strong and built to handle any type of water, even white water rapids.

For those who value stability, this model offers a perfect combination of speed, maneuverability and traction. Measuring at 14 x 29 x 116 inches, this kayak weighs a mere 40 pounds for portability.

The kayak will stand out in any body of water ranging from slow moving rivers to large lakes. It is built in the USA with a combination of domestic and import components.

With a weight capacity of 275 pounds, the Emotion Glide Kayak provides comfort for one person to paddle through the water. The Comfort Rest System seating has thick padding for cushioning along with a fold down drink holder which allows you to bring your beverage for the ride.

For added comfort and flexibility, there are adjustable foot braces to keep your feet in place. If you want to bring your gear, it can be secured to the top of the kayak with the attached bungee cords.

The surface is also UV protected which prevents it from melting or cracking in the sun. You will have the added piece of mind of a 5 year manufacturers warranty that protects the kayak in case of any defects. For those who want a river kayak that is comfortable with added convenience features, this model will be a perfect fit.


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    Storage space
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    Stable design
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    Built-in drink holder


  • Limited weight capacity
  • No watertight storage

5. Ocean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Kayak

The Ocean Kayak Malibu is a great option for the whole family as it can hold two adults plus a child. This kayak holds a maximum weight range of 375 to 425 pounds and comes with several comfort features.

With 2 comfort plus seats and three molded-in seat wells, you and your child can enjoy water activities with ease. The seats even change positioning for added versatility depending on whether you are sitting solo, tandem or tandem with your little one. The hull and deck design allows you to stack multiple hulls on top of each other for storage on the boat dock.

This kayak measures at 20 x 34 x 144 inches and provides plenty of room to stretch out your legs while in motion. With patented overlapping foot wells, you can rest your feet inside without feeling cramped up.

For carrying, there are molded handles on the sides to make it effortless to lug around the 62.5 kayak. You can choose from three design options including bright yellow, envy and sunrise.

Stand out from the other kayaks and experience the durability and comfort of this two passenger model. It handles seamlessly in both calm waters and river rapids. This is a perfect solution if you want to bring along your friend or significant other for a fun ride through the water.


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    Fits multiple passengers
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    Leg room
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    Versatile seating options


  • Bulky size
  • Not ideal for small vehicle transportation


The winner for the best river kayak is the Emotion Glide Sport Kayak as it provides both portability and comfort for a single passenger. With 5 years of warranty coverage, you can be assured that this model is built to last in any body of water, no matter the current intensity. This kayak is durable enough for long days in the sun and provides enhanced comfort features for a fun ride.