Wondering which inflatable kayak is the best one to use for whitewater? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve made a list of all our favorite inflatable kayaks that are great for whitewater to help you narrow down your choice. If you’re still on the fence about getting a kayak suitable for rapids vs just a regular inflatable kayak then we cover a number of the features and benefits like their durability, great buoyancy, and a high weight capacity that make inflatable kayaks so popular with whitewater kayakers.
So, before we get on to our top list of the best inflatable kayaks for whitewater in 2021, we’ll jump into our buyer’s guide to talk you through everything you need to know before you buy one.
Quick Answer: The Top Inflatable Kayaks for Whitewater
If you’re in a rush, here’s our favorite inflatable kayaks suitable for whitewater. We’ll cover them in more detail later on.
How to Choose an Inflatable Whitewater Kayak: A Buyer’s Guide
Before we cover the kayaks that we think are best for whitewater we’re going to take a look at some of the features and questions you need to consider before buying one.
Are Inflatables Good for Whitewater?
The first misconception is that inflatable kayaks aren’t any good for whitewater rafting but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Inflatable kayaks are highly durable, they can even compare to some hardshell models. What most people don’t realize is that inflatable kayaks nowadays are rather tough and stable on the water thanks to their construction.
Most models are made using strong, hard-wearing materials that effectively resist punctures, so they’re not nearly as fragile as you’d think. The flexibility of inflatable kayaks also makes them less vulnerable to damage from collisions with obstacles.
Another great reason that inflatables can be good for whitewater is that they’re incredibly portable and compressible. This means you can deflate the kayak and fold it down into a very compact package, which allows you to effortlessly move it from one place to another or fit it inside your car to get to more remote launch sites.
Being so lightweight, inflatable kayaks are also very easy to take to the water’s edge. This is a huge plus for whitewater kayakers because hardshell kayaks are often quite heavy and rigid, which makes them difficult to carry for long distances and a hassle to transport by car.
Important Features to Look out for
If you’re looking for an inflatable kayak specifically to use in white water then there are a handful of features that you’ll want to ensure the kayak you go for has.
Strong Anti-Puncture Materials
When choosing a kayak for whitewater and rapids, durability should be at or near the top of your priority list.
It’s understandable why durability is a major concern for a lot of people interested in inflatable kayaks, after all, this is a kayak full of air that’s supposed to go up against harsh currents and possibly clash with rocks.
This is exactly why inflatable kayaks are made using extremely thick anti-puncture materials that are much tougher than you’d see on other types of inflatable products.
Consequently, these kayaks are highly durable and are built to withstand serious contact with rocks and other sharp obstacles. Check out the video below to see how strong they really are.
Multiple Air Chambers
Despite the massive amount of protection offered by the strong construction of inflatable kayaks, the probability of getting punctures should never be overlooked. The risk is always there, so it’s a smart idea to come prepared.
A particular feature that makes inflatable kayaks well suited to whitewater is having multiple air chambers.
There are several advantages to owning a model with multiple air chambers, the most obvious one is serving as a backup in case one of them gets punctured. This prevents the air from escaping outside the whole of the kayak so it stays afloat enough for you to get to shore.
Having multiple inflation chambers also boosts the overall rigidity of the kayak’s construction, which means it’ll have greater stability, a larger weight capacity, and generally deliver better performance out on the water.
An inflatable kayak featuring only one air chamber is more likely to bend in the middle, kind of like a beach lounge seat. This leaves you with a flimsy kayak that’s hard to maneuver and slow to gain speed.
Scupper Holes (Self Bailing)
Scupper holes are one of the features that’ll surely come in handy on an inflatable kayak, especially if it’s meant to take on whitewater. With the splashes that are guaranteed to happen, it’s very likely that you’ll end up with water getting into your kayak.
This is where scupper holes come in; these structures will help drain out water so it doesn’t build up inside your inflatable kayak to the point of sinking.
For the same reason, kayakers almost never need scupper plugs on an inflatable whitewater kayak because it’s simply inevitable to have loads of water raiding your kayak.
Some people use a kayak bilge pump to manually remove water from their boats. While they’re easy to figure out, these pumps are highly impractical on whitewater because your hands will be busy and you won’t be able to steer the kayak.
Scupper holes, however, will do the draining work on their own so you can keep steering without worrying about the water entering your inflatable kayak.
As mentioned above, portability is one of the biggest advantages that inflatable kayaks have over hardshell models.
Hardshell kayaks are known to be difficult to carry or transport, but on the other hand, inflatables kayaks are remarkably portable due to their lightweight construction and the fact that you can deflate them down to a small size. This allows you to reach more remote locations with much less effort. Even a larger tandem inflatable kayak would be easy to carry with one person.
Of course, these kayaks won’t be as light as a mere pool inflatable because of the very thick materials used to give kayaks resistance against punctures and collisions.
Keep in mind to look for a kayak that inflates and deflates quickly to save yourself the waiting time. For added convenience, consider buying a sturdy carrying bag to make transportation in and out of the water easier.
As with all kayaks, stability is another important consideration when choosing an inflatable kayak for whitewater. Even more so when you’re facing difficult water where your balance will be tested.
Inflatable kayaks are one of the most buoyant and stable types of kayaks that you can get. This is due to the air inside them and their generally wider hulls that means that they’ll give greater stability out on the water.
On first thought, you might not think inflatable kayaks will be a good option for white water kayaking. But, nowadays, advancements in the materials used mean that they’re actually incredibly durable and more than adequate to tackle even the higher class sections of whitewater.
While there’s a higher chance that you’ll eventually suffer a puncture, whitewater kayaks are made using high-grade PVC plastics that are really tough to puncture and often have abrasion resistance. You can also get easy-to-apply puncture repair kits if you do need them.
Set up and Inflation Time
One of the main drawbacks of inflatable kayaks vs hardshell kayaks is the setup and inflation time. With hard shells, you can launch almost instantaneously, but inflatable kayaks require a bit longer. You have to pump up each air chamber individually which can take a while.
Thankfully though there are lots of good inflatable kayak pumps that can speed up this part of the process by inflating quickly. It will still take around 5 minutes at the quickest to get going and then another 5-10 minutes at the end to empty your kayak of air.
Another factor to consider is the weight capacity of the kayak you’re looking at. It needs to be able to hold you, any other passengers, and some gear without the risk of sinking. This is where inflatable kayaks come into their own as they have one of the largest weight capacities of all types of kayaks.
The downside to a large weight capacity is that you’ll usually lose some maneuverability as they are usually larger kayaks. But, if you’re looking for an inflatable kayak for whitewater, the likely hood is you won’t be taking loads of gear so can opt for a smaller one and give up a bit of capacity.
The Whitewater Rapid Classifications
Inflatable whitewater kayaks are designed for, well, whitewater. But not all of them will deliver the same performance out on the rapids. Whitewater is a broad term that describes any river with enough turbulence to create a bubbly current that appears white.
But not all rapids are created equally and there is a classification system to determine the severity of them. There are six difficulties ranging from Class I (the easiest) to Class VI (the most difficult). Here’s a simple breakdown of the classes:
- Class I – Moving water with some riffles and small waves that are easily avoided. Few or no obstacles.
- Class II – Rapids with more riffles and frequent or bigger waves that are easy to avoid or run through. Some knowledge of paddling and maneuvering is required.
- Class III – Rapids with larger irregular waves (4 feet and higher) and extended periods of whitewater. Narrow passages need extra paddling knowledge and precise maneuvering.
- Class IV – Rapids are long with very narrow passages that require advanced maneuvering. Waves are large and irregular with a possibility of drops up to 5 feet. Scouting is often necessary.
- Class V – Very dangerous rapids that are long, complex, and highly violent. Large drops over 5 feet are often expected. Possibility of injuries or death in case of mishaps.
- Class VI – Extremely dangerous and borderline impossible to run. Requires specialized training and gear. For experts only.
Under each class, there are subcategories to further describe the rapids. You must refer to your inflatable kayak’s specifications and check if it meets the grade of rapids you plan to conquer.
When it comes to looking at which are the best inflatable kayak brands for whitewater there are a few companies that really stand out. The first being Sea Eagle who have a fantastic reputation for quality and at a very affordable price. Then you also have Driftsun, AIRE, Advanced Elements, and Intex amongst others.
Best Rated Inflatable Whitewater Kayak Reviews
Now that we’ve covered some of the things you need to look for in an inflatable kayak for whitewater, we’ll take a look at some of the ones we recommend in our inflatable whitewater kayak reviews section.
#1. Sea Eagle 300x Explorer
If you’re looking for one of the best inflatable kayaks for whitewater then look no further than the Sea Eagle 300x. It’s an ideal choice for whitewater kayaking as it’s rated for up to Class IV rapids due to being made from strong 1000 denier polyester-supported high-pressure PVC that is really hard to break. If you saw the video in our buying guide above you’ll see just how strong it is.
Weighing only 28 pounds, it’s very portable but despite being so lightweight it’s got a large weight capacity of 350lbs. If you did want more space for a second person you also have the Sea Eagle 380x which is worth look at too.
Another reason we like the Sea Eagle 300x one for our number one choice is that it’s a complete kit and comes with a paddle, pump, seat, bag, skeg, and repair kit. All in all it’s a fantastic inflatable kayak that’s ideal for whitewater kayaking and at a very affordable price. Get the best price by clicking the button below.
- 5 minute inflation time
- Three air chambers with 350lbs weight capacity
- Complete kit with everything you need
- Can be difficult to pack away
#2. Driftsun Rover 120/220 Inflatable White-Water Kayak
- Durable & Lightweight - Fully inflates to a full sized kayak in less than 5 minutes and weighs a manageable 22 Lbs. 1000D...
- Stable & Maneuverable - Rigid High Pressure Drop Stitch Floor, Removable Flat Water Tracking Fin, and ample rocker profile deliver...
- Adventure Ready - Whitewater Rating: Suitable up to class III and IV rapids, 5 Self Bailing Ports, Plentiful Tie Down Points for...
If you’re looking for one of the best-rated kayaks for white water rafting then we’d suggest trying the two-seater Driftsun Rover 120/220 inflatable kayak. It’s designed specifically for white water and can handle up to class III and IV rapids.
It’s built with a very strong and durable reinforced layer PCV that provides two layers of protection so it can bounce off rocks and other obstacles that you’re likely to encounter on a river. Despite being made out of strong PVC it’s surprisingly light weighing in at only 28lbs making it very easy to transport and take to more remote locations without the need for trolleys or a second pair of hands to help.
When you’re in the water it performs very well with good tracking and stability. It comes with two adjustable seats that are very comfortable giving you great back support with footrests too that could be better designed but are still very handy.
If you’ve been in whitewater then you’ll know that a lot of water can get in the yak but the Rover 220 has self-bailing plug holes that let all the water out (without letting any water in) like magic. And we also love that it has a camera mount at the front of the kayak to film everything for posting on YouTube later.
- Only takes 9 minutes to inflate
- Reinforced carry handles for easy portability
- Three air chambers that can 600 lbs capacity
- Comes with a pump and paddles
- Can be difficult to pack away
- Skeg is hard to take off
- Footrests aren’t the best quality
#3. Sea Eagle SE330 Inflatable Kayak
In at #3, we have the Sea Eagle SE330 inflatable kayak for whitewater. As you’d expect from a reputable brand like Sea Eagle, it’s incredibly durable with customers reporting that it has lasted for decades. A great sign of the build quality and strong anti-puncture materials that you want to see on an inflatable that’s used in rapids.
Unlike the Sea Eagle 300x Explorer, the SE330 is a tandem kayak so you can have fun running the rapids with a friend. Don’t worry about overloading it either as it has a massive weight capacity of 500lbs, plenty for you a friend, and lots of gear.
All in all, one of the most popular inflatable kayaks in the world and one that is an easy recommendation for us to make for paddlers looking for a lightweight, portable, and long-lasting whitewater kayak.
#4. AIRE Tributary Tomcat Inflatable Kayak For Rapids
Another good option for whitewater paddling is the AIRE Tributary Tomcat Tandem Inflatable Kayak. It’s a great option for beginners due to its spacious, durable, and stable design that is capable of tackling up to Class IV rapids with ease. With 3 air chambers for additional safety, the hull is made using AIRE’s Aircell System which uses a 1000 denier outer PVC floor to prevent punctures.
It’s got all the other features you’d expect to see on an inflatable kayak for white water with self-bailing holes, a high 450lbs weight capacity, an included carry bag, a 1-year warranty, and much more. A great option that gets very good reviews.
#5. Driftsun Voyager Inflatable Whitewater Kayak
- INFLATES QUICKLY: The Driftsun Voyager Kayak inflates to a full size kayak (10ft. x 35” x 16”) in less than 5 minutes with the...
- COMPACT & MANEUVERABLE: When deflated for transport this inflatable kayak measures only 26”(L) x 16”(W) x 8”(H) and fits...
- DURABLE DESIGN: Heavy-duty PVC Tarpaulin bottom provides durable protection from punctures, Double Threaded Boston valves are...
In at number 5 for inflatable white water kayaks is the Driftsun Voyager 2 Person inflatable kayak for whitewater. As you’d expect from a reputable brand like Driftsun it’s
If you are looking for an inflatable tandem kayak that is easy to set up, handles well, and has a durable construction that will last season after season, the Driftsun Voyager is an excellent choice, with rave reviews all over the internet from experts and amateurs alike.
The Driftsun Voyager is a great inflatable kayak, with a super lightweight, portable design, but a generous, comfortable cockpit with a high weight rating. It is made of durable, high-quality materials and has great details in design. It handles well in the water and comes with everything you need to enjoy your water adventures in comfort and style.
FAQs about Inflatable Whitewater Kayaks
Are Inflatable Kayaks Good for Whitewater?
Are inflatable kayaks good for whitewater is a common question that lots of first-time buyers ask. In the past, inflatable kayaks were not much stronger than cheap pool toys, but a lot of developments in the materials used means that now, inflatable kayaks are more than capable of withstanding the stresses of rapids and whitewater.
What is important to note is that an inflatable kayak is not going to be as strong, or made of the same kind of material, as a hardshell kayak. The materials used in an inflatable kayak mean that it will be easier to damage them if they hit rocks and other obstacles too much. Maintenance requirements are also higher – there will almost certainly need to be some patching done on the boat to repair any leaks after a lot of use.
How Much Does an Inflatable Whitewater Kayak Cost?
One of the most common questions is: how much does an inflatable whitewater kayak cost? The answer to this question will mainly depend on the materials used in construction. The thicker the material is, the stronger and more rigid an inflatable kayak will be (and the better for whitewater and rapids it’ll be too).
There are many different brands out there, but some of them are better than others in terms of design strength. If you’re interested in buying a high-quality inflatable whitewater kayak then it will cost around $800 to $1,800 for the best of the best. You can definitely get them for under that price, but, the materials used won’t be as good.
Conclusion: Which one Should you Buy?
That’s it for our article on the best inflatable whitewater kayaks. We hope it helped give you a better idea of what to look for when choosing yours. There are lots of different types of inflatable kayaks and so know which one is suitable can be tough.
But, if you’re still not sure which one to go for, we’d recommend the Sea Eagle 300x Explorer. Considering the price, incredibly strong anti-puncture materials plus the fact that it comes with everything you need to get started straight away we think it’s easily the best value for money on the market today. Check the best price by clicking the button below.