These Are the Best Kayaks for Rivers

When you first start kayaking, rivers will be a body of water you explore often. They have rushing currents, but riding in rivers isn’t risky like whitewater kayaking is, so it’s recommended for beginners, intermediates, and even more seasoned kayakers. What are the best river kayaks?

Here are the top 10 river kayaks:

  • Sun Dolphin Journey 
  • Intex Explorer K2 Kayak
  • Pelican Sentinel 100X
  • Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak
  • Perception Pescador Pilot 12 
  • Sea Eagle 3-Person Inflatable Kayak
  • Perception Flash 9.5
  • AQUAGLIDE Navarro 130
  • Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105
  • Solstice by Swimline Durango Kayak

In this guide, we’ll review each of the 10 kayaks above, providing specs, pricing details, and an overview of features so you can select the right river kayak for you. Whether you prefer inflatable kayaks or hard-shelled ones, there’s something on this list for everyone!

The 10 Best Kayaks for Rivers

Sun Dolphin Journey

A sit-on kayak with a rigid body, the Sun Dolphin Journey is a highly recommended kayak for all your river excursions, especially if you want a kayak that’s less than $900. 

The Sun Dolphin Journey is built from Fortiflex high-density polyethylene with UV stabilization.

As suitable in lakes as it is in rivers, the Journey weighs a mere 44 pounds, so transporting it into and out of the water isn’t difficult. Even beginner kayakers should find the Journey quite a maneuverable boat. The carrying handles help too; those are retractable for when you don’t need them. 

Throughout the kayak are all the features you need for a comfortable day of river boating. Protective thigh pads safeguard your legs so you can feel free to spend hours on the water. A water bottle holder helps with hydration.

The included foot braces are adjustable, and you can shift the shock-cord deck rigging as well. A storage compartment in the kayak is the ideal place to stash your keys, wallet, and smartphone. 

In the sizable main cockpit is a padded seat you can adjust your way. The dual flush-mount rod holders come in handy if you like fishing in your kayak. A third fishing rod holder even swivels. 

The Sun Dolphin Journey comes in one color, olive green. 

Intex Explorer K2 Kayak

An Amazon’s Choice and a preference of ours as well, the inflatable Intex Explorer K2 is for two people to use at once. 

Intex designed the Explorer K2 river kayak for durability, as its shell is heavy-duty vinyl with puncture resistance. Boston valves throughout the kayak allow you to inflate your boat faster so you can waste less time on the shoreline. Even deflating your kayak is easy.

The Explorer K2 features an I-beam floor as well as triple air chambers so it’s built to handle the rigors of everyday paddling. 

The kayak measures 10 feet by three feet by one foot, eight inches when inflated. The weight capacity of the Explorer K2 is 400 pounds. Its cockpit is spacious, and the inflatable seats are adjustable.

Included with your purchase are a carrying bag, a high-output inflator pump, and two 86-inch aluminum paddles. That’s a nice value for under $200. 

The Intex Explorer 2 is bright yellow for visibility in the water. 

Pelican Sentinel 100X

Get ready to ride in the Pelican Sentinel 100X. This hard-shelled river kayak for under $500 is nine feet, six inches long and weighs 44 pounds. The weight capacity is 275 pounds. 

The Sentinel 100X is built with RAM-X material that includes triple layers of high molecular weight polyethylene or HMWPE that’s impact-resistant.  

As part of Pelican’s ARGO Recreational Sit-in Collection, the Sentinel 100X features a twin arched multi-chine hull that’s flat underneath to increase your stability. Even beginners can comfortably go river riding in the Sentinel 100X.

Included in the kayak are a smartphone holder, dual paddle holders, accessory eyelets, and a drain plug. Carry handles on either side of the kayak are molded in for easy and reliable grip every time. 

The ExoPak storage compartment has space for vertical rod holders. You can remove the storage compartment if you’re traveling light or leave it intact to take full advantage of this kayak’s features. 

The Pelican Sentinel 100X has an army green top and a tan hull. 

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak

At first glance, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame kayak might not look inflatable, but it is! 

This streamlined river kayak measures 30 inches by 17 inches by 10 inches when packed. Its cockpit is 43 inches by 16.5 inches. 

The kayak itself is 36 pounds and its weight capacity is 300 pounds. Although it’s a one-person inflatable kayak, the AdvancedFrame has a generous weight capacity!

Built from three layers of polyester with a dual coat of PVC, Advanced Elements promises puncture resistance. Its aluminum stern is a skeg to advance your tracking abilities. Advanced Elements even added a tracking fin to the AdvancedFrame kayak. 

Rubber handles on either side of the AdvancedFrame help with transport. The spray skirt and cockpit coaming will control how much water gets into your kayak.  

Speaking of the cockpit, it’s built plenty spacious, so legroom won’t be an issue. The single seat of the cockpit has plenty of padding and is adjustable as well. If you bring gear that you want to keep out of sight, you’ll quite like the deck sheds with water-resistant zippers as well as the bungee deck lacing with tie-downs for security. 

To inflate the AdvancedFrame inflatable kayak, just open the Twistlok valves and the spring valves. A 12-volt pump will fill the boat quickly. 

The included duffle bag makes transporting your deflated AdvancedFrame kayak easy. A repair kit allows you to patch up minor issues with the boat.  

Perception Pescador Pilot 12

Although it’s one of the more expensive options on this list, the Perception Pescador Pilot 12 is a highly renowned river kayak.

The Pescador Pilot 12 is 12 feet, five inches long and 33.5 inches wide, so it’s tremendously spacious. The kayak itself weighs 95 pounds and its weight capacity is up to 475 pounds. You can go river kayaking solo with a day’s worth of gear or bring a buddy.

This river/fishing kayak includes Perception’s Pilot Drive system. The pedals in the Pilot Drive system allow you to fine-tune your performance on the water while remaining whisper-silent the entire time so you don’t scare the fish away.

There’s plenty of space in the Pescador Pilot 12, as we’re sure you can imagine. The rear and front storage areas include bungee lashings for securing your stuff. Molded-in rod holders, four in all, are ready to make your next fishing day more convenient. You’ll also find space for a fish finder as well as gear tracks.

The captain’s chair is all decked out with mesh for breathability. The chair is also fully adjustable. A nearby drink holder lets you sip your beverage of choice after reeling in your latest catch. Under-seat storage helps you keep other essentials close by as well. 

The rudder control is intended for single-hand use so you can continue paddling or fishing with the other hand. 

Despite its large size, the Pescador Pilot 12 river kayak has an impressive turning radius of 360 degrees. 

You can select from four colors for the Perception Pescador Pilot 12: Dapper (teal blue and black), Grasshopper (yellow-green and black), Moss Camo (green, orange, and black), and Sunset (red, orange, and yellow). 

Sea Eagle 3-Person Inflatable Kayak

You should never kayak alone, and you take that advice to heart. For you, a three-seater kayak like the Sea Eagle should be right up your alley.

The inflatable kayak is lightweight at 32 pounds. You almost won’t believe the Sea Eagle has a weight capacity of 650 pounds, but it does! Its price is also quite nice at less than $400. 

The Sea Eagle river kayak features rugged construction. It’s suitable for Class III whitewater usage. 

Dual bottom skegs improve your speed and tracking so you’re the one in control when on the water. Included four-part AB30 kayaking paddles feature an aluminum shaft and an asymmetrical blade. The two paddles are each seven feet, 10 inches in length.

The set of kayak seats built into the inflatable Sea Eagle are redesigned for better back support. 

When it comes time to inflate your Sea Eagle river kayak, the manufacturer throws in a basic foot pump. You might want to upgrade to a more efficient pump, but at least you can inflate this kayak right out of the box. You also get a carry bag. 

The Sea Eagle three-person inflatable kayak is available in white with blue trim. 

Perception Flash 9.5

The second Perception river kayak we recommend is the Flash 9.5. A polyethylene kayak that’s nine feet, six inches long, it could become your new favorite.

The Flash 9.5 is an entry-level river kayak that’s recommended for beginner kayakers or those transitioning into river riding. For under $500, the price is entry-level too. 

The Flash 9.5 has a 12.5-inch deck height and a width of 28.5 inches. Its weight capacity is 325 pounds and the boat itself weighs 41 pounds. 

Loaded with features, the Flash 9.5 includes carry handles at the front, paddle park bungees, a center cup holder, a rear drain plug, and molded-in rod holders in the rear. The large cockpit gives you the room to stretch your legs while the seatback is adjustable.

The Flash 9.5 boasts a multi-chine hull design. You’re afforded 10 generous inches of rear storage to keep your electronics dry until you arrive back to shore. Foot braces allow bigger and smaller kayakers alike to comfortably use this river kayak.

Built for maneuverability, the Flash 9.5 is excellent at turns and other techniques. It has two tracking channels so you can navigate with confidence and ease. 

The Perception Flash 9.5 kayak comes in two color schemes. Earth is green with blue and Classic Camo is dark green and dusty brown. 

AQUAGLIDE Navarro 130

The AQUAGLIDE Navarro 130 is an inflatable kayak. The boat weighs a mere 35 pounds. It measures 26.5 inches long by 11.5 inches tall and 24.5 inches wide. Its weight capacity is 300 pounds and is intended for single users.

The Navarro 130 features zip-on decks, drop-stitched flooring, zip-open dry storage compartments, adjustable footrests, Velcro seats, and a drain plug. You can secure your items using D-rings or take advantage of the accessory strap.

To bring your river kayak to and fro, AQUAGLIDE includes a molded handle in the Navarro 130. A paddle keeper lets you take a break and enjoy the open water without worrying about where your paddle will go. 

The AQUAGLIDE Navarro 130 comes in varying shades of green. 

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105

A high-end sit-on river kayak, the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 is an upgraded version of a previous Wilderness Systems kayak.

The new and improved Tarpon 105 weighs 55 pounds and has a weight capacity of 325 pounds. It’s 10 feet, six inches long by 32 inches wide. 

The rigid frame of this river kayak includes front carrying handles. A bow paddle park bungee at the front will secure your paddles when you want to put them down. Front bow dry storage secures with a bungee so your smartphone doesn’t get splashed as you explore the river.

The Phase 3 AirPro seating system is one of the newest and most innovative improvements of the Tarpon 105. The seating boasts honeycombed 3D ergonomic foam and mesh, both of which support breathability. 

The AirPro seating is flanked by a DryTech dry storage box which you can remove to save on space.

The Keepers XL foot brace system is newer and better than past Wilderness Systems kayaks. 

On the note of innovation, the MagnaTec water bottle strap is magnetic so your bottle won’t go flying even if you’re traveling on a fast water current.

Towards the rear of the Tarpon 105 kayak are a stern deck loop, a stern tank well complete with a cargo net, and a skid plate that’s replaceable once yours wears down.

The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 comes in four color schemes. Your options are Breeze Blue (white, teal, and dark gray), Fossil Tan (light tan), Galaxy (black, bright blue, white, and yellow), and Mango (red and orange). 

Solstice by Swimline Durango Kayak 

A lower-priced river kayak and our last pick on this list is the Solstice by Swimline Durango

This 40-pound inflatable kayak is built from 22-gauge K-80 PVC. The river kayak is finished with a 1,000-denier reinforced nylon cover. 

Able to sit one to two kayakers, the pack-down size of the Durango is 26.5 inches by 21 inches by 12 inches. It can support up to 440 pounds. 

The Durango utilizes triple air chambers for better stability and balance. Grab handles make it easy to carry the kayak when it’s inflated or empty. Across its length are 22 D-ring tie-downs. Velcro paddle holders can secure your kayaking paddles for a spell too. 

The kayak also includes storage bungees, spray skirts for the rear and front, and a screw drain valve. 

The Solstice by Swimline Durango is available in blue and white. 

Final Thoughts 

River kayaking is a treat for kayakers of all experience levels. With the 10 great kayaks we recommended today, you can buy a river kayak of your very own that fits your budget and preference for inflatable or hard-shelled kayaks.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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