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Kayaking might be a heavy physical sport but there are other factors to consider for an enjoyable kayaking experience other than how energetic and tactical you are with the paddles. I’m talking about the kayak boat itself.

If you are pro at this, you already know that not all kayak boats are equally justifiable to be used in a swirling river. And since you are here to know about buying the right kayak for river, I better start making my point before you get into one of those fancy inflatable sit on top kayak reviews and purchase one without proper guidelines, only to regret later.

What types of kayak boat should you consider for rivers?

The very first thing you need to consider while choosing a kayak for river is the type of kayak boats. The categorization of kayaks can be based on the sitting arrangement, suitability in different water body and construction.

Depending on the sitting arrangement, the kayaks can be categorized as sit-on-top kayaks and the traditional kayaks.

Sit-on-top kayak

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The sit-on-top kayaks are the ones, as you have guessed, which you sit on top. These kayaks are most suitable for rivers with steady water flow. Due to the availability of bigger space in this type of kayaks, they are well suited for overnight outings.

Other advantages of sit-on-top kayaks include easy access for quick get on or off and comfort in warm weather. Besides, due to the scupper holes on these kayaks, you won’t need to pump the water out when the kayak starts to fill up. However, these are a bit heavier than the traditional sit-in kayaks.

Traditional Sit-in kayak

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These are the traditional ones that you sit inside. The biggest advantage of these kayaks is they are fast. That’s why people use them to reach destinations and follow precise tracks. Another advantage of these traditional sit-in kayaks is they can be handled with more efficiency due to your knees and feet tucked in the kayak. Last but not least, they are more efficient in paddling compared to sit-on-top kayaks.

Weight should be a consideration

The next thing you should consider while choosing your kayak for river is the weight.

In a few words, more lightweight your kayak, more mobile your ride will be. Remember, a lightweight kayak will speed up quicker than a heavy one. Besides, if your kayak is lightweight, you can easily load and unload your kayak to and from the car on your own. And if you need to pack a lot of stuff to tag along in your kayak, you would wish you had even a lighter one. However, lightweight material means a higher cost.

Choose the right material

Most of the kayaks are made of these three materials –

  1. Polyethylene plastic
  2. ABS plastic
  3. Composites

Polyethylene plastic

Among the three materials, Polyethylene plastic is the most inexpensive one. However, it is the heaviest of all three. That being said, it is still abrasion resistant.

As a precaution, you will need to store the kayak in covered place since the UV ray from the sun can degrade the material after long exposure.

ABS plastic

In terms of durability, ABS plastic is similar to Polyethylene plastic. But compared to Polyethylene plastic, ABS plastic is slightly more expensive. But this higher price tag gives you a lighter kayak. Besides, this material offers UV resistance. Another interesting fact about this ABS plastic is thermoformed ABS Kayak boat’s distinctive 2-tone designs originates from having the hull and deck made separately and then bonded together.


Composite of ultralight carbon fibers and fiberglass is the most efficient in quick speed ups and steady rowing. Even though the performance is increased, it is not the sturdiest one. Also, the price is moderately high in comparison to other materials. But if you want the best kayak for river, you’ll need to loosen up your wallet eventually.

The perfect Kayak boat length

The length of Kayak boats ranges from few feet to almost 15 feet or even higher. To put it in simpler words, lengthier kayak boats are a lot faster than their shorter counterparts. This is mainly because the long kayak boats can cut through the water more efficiently. That’s why for faster and precise tracking, these long kayaks are most suitable in rivers. However, there is one downside to having longer kayak boats.

When you buy a long kayak boat, the size becomes a problem when you carrying or storing it in your home. And if by any chance the kayak doesn’t fit in or over your car, you might even need to hire another car to get it near the river you want to kayak in. Also, when you are not using it, storing it in your home will be a lot more difficult than storing a shorter one.

On the other hand, a short kayak will swing left-right a bit when you stroke it to move forward. This makes the kayaks super maneuverable for the “skinny” water. However, the biggest drawback for these shorter kayaks is their speed. They are fairly slow and you need to strain yourself by paddling more to cover the same distance as with a longer kayak. So, at the end of the day, both of them have their own advantages. All you need to do is asses which downsides are less likely to affect your kayaking. Once you figure that out, it will be easier for you to choose a kayak for rivers.

To give you a perspective on the size, I summed up the sizing for kayaks that can be used in the river.

For flatwater river, sit-in fishing kayak and fishing sit-on-top kayaks are both good options. But the suitability of tour size kayaks is limited in flatwater. On the other hand, the preference for sit-on-top fishing kayaks in whitewater rivers is not advised. However, the sit-in ones will give you the upper hand and so will the whitewater sized kayaks.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is, the perfect kayak for river will depend on the river type and your activity. So as long as you are reading one of those inflatable sit-on-top kayak reviews or sit-in kayak reviews before buying one, you can’t be wrong about the purchase.