Best kayak for rivers 2018

Best Kayak for Rivers 2020 – River Fishing & Recreation

Kayak fishing and recreation became a very popular activity in the last couple of years. They are practiced in rivers, lakes, and even in the open ocean water. And, this trend could be easily justified with the convenience which most of the modern kayaks give to the anglers. The kayaks nowadays are maneuverable, stable and versatile in the water. So, the kayak angler could easily access spots, which are unreachable another way. This last fact is especially relevant for river fishing. That’s why we have made research for the best kayak for rivers in 2020.

Choosing the Best Kayak for Rivers in 2020:

How to choose a river kayak for fishing and recreation?

There are so many kayak types and different models available on the market. They are produced by a variety of manufacturers and have different features. With such a variety of options, it could be really challenging to focus on the most important characteristics of the best river fishing kayaks.

Let’s find out some of the important things to look at when choosing the best river kayaks for fishing and recreational paddling:


Firstly, when buying an expensive toy everyone wants it to last long. So, durability is one of the key factors when choosing the best river kayak for you.

Actually, the durability of the yak pretty much depends on the brand and the material it is made of. Here you should pay attention to buy a boat produced with high-quality materials by a well-known brand with established quality control procedures.

Length and width

The dimensions of each kayak are one of its essential characteristics. The length of the kayak is important for its speed and maneuverability. However, shorter yaks are not so fast, but their maneuverability is better. On the other side, the width is crucial for the stability of your boat.

Furthermore, we should pay attention to the kayak dimensions as they directly impact how we will transport and store our yak.


One of the most important considerations when choosing the best kayak for rivers is its stability. You don’t want to tip over in a strong current or in case you need to stand up while fishing. So, it is preferable to look for a kayak with a wider beam, which will provide you with the stability you need while angling. That’s why in our list for the best kayak for rivers in 2020, we have selected kayaks with very good performance in relation to stability.


Generally, the tracking of your boat represents its ability to be paddled easily in a straight line. It is pretty much a result of the design characteristics and dimensions of the yak.


While you are fishing from a kayak, the speed of the boat is not the most important consideration. However, you should look for a kayak that enables you to maneuver as easy and fast as possible. As stated above the shorter boats are generally better in maneuvering than the longer ones. There is no general rule on the length of the best kayak for river fishing, but we believe that a length of more than 13 feet is not needed.

Weight capacity

Another essential feature that you should look for in the best kayaks for rivers is its weight capacity. It is important to look for a boat that is suitable for the weight of the paddler. Bear in mind that you will also have fishing gear. So, add their weight to the calculation.

Storage space

The storage space is one of the essential features of camping and fishing kayaks. When you will use your kayak for fishing you need storage space for all your fishing gears and essentials – tackles, baits, rods, and many others. So, bear in mind that it is better to look for a kayak with waterproof storage hatches and a cargo area secured by a bungee system.


Last but not least, you should consider how easy for transportation and carrying is the kayak you are going to buy. Longer and heavier kayaks are difficult for carrying, transportation and storage. However, in case you don’t want to bother with these issues, you could look for an inflatable or folding kayak.

Best Kayak for Rivers – Our Picks

Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 Fish and Dive

Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 - best kayak for rivers

The first kayak presented in our selection is Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12. As you can imagine from its name, this kayak has a length of 12 feet. And, it has a 33-inch wide beam, which promotes superior stability and maneuverability on the water.

The body of the kayak is made of high-quality polyethylene and has a weight of 60 lbs. Although it is not a lightweight kayak, transportation will not be a significant problem as the boat is equipped with bow and stern carry handles.

It is also important to note that Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 has an excellent maximum weight capacity of 450 lbs. The spacious open cockpit and adjustable foot braces offer great comfort for the paddler. So, it is made for ultimate convenience even for big guys and their fishing equipment. Unfortunately, although the Stealth has a molded-in seat, it is not equipped with a padded seat.

When we are talking about the fishing gears, we should pay attention to the storage spaces and the typical extras for a fishing kayak. Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 has 2 rear and 2 front rod holders, paddle holders and a molded cup holder. At the bow of the kayak, there is a storage hatch with plastic cover. A small kid could sit in front of the paddler in the molded seating area on the cover. Additionally, there is a live bait tank well in the center of the kayak and 2 small hatches on both sides of the tank. They are really suitable for your tackles and some gadgets. Last but not least, there is a large rear cargo area with a bungee system, which can be used for a dry bag or other larger items.

Reading the above, you probably understand why Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 is one of our pick for the best kayak for rivers in 2020. Just summarizing, it is a durable and stable kayak, which provides convenience for the paddler. And, it has so many useful features for a river fishing kayak.


  • High-quality and durable kayak
  • Stable and maneuverable
  • Spacious open cockpit and adjustable footrests
  • 450 lbs. weight capacity
  • Included 4 rod holders – 2 rear and 2 front
  • Spacious rear cargo area with bungees
  • Live bait tank well with 2 small hatches on both sides


  • A bit heavy at 60 lbs.
  • No padded seat included
  • No paddle included

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Angler Kayak

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 - best kayak for rivers

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Angler Kayak is the next item in our best river fishing kayaks list. It is a durable sit-on-top yak with a length of 10 feet and a width of 30.5 inches. And, its maximum weight capacity is 325 lbs. These dimensions make it a really exciting boat. Although it is not one of the widest kayaks, it provides very good stability. On the other side, it has an excellent performance in relation to maneuverability and it is unexpectedly fast considering its short length.

The body of the Tarpon 100 is made of high-density rotomolded polyethylene, which promises to last for years. Although it weighs 55 lbs, the yak is easy for carrying due to the comfortable bow and stern handles.

Although it is a relatively small kayak, Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 is surprisingly spacious and comfortable. It has adjustable footrests, which offer great comfort for paddlers of all sizes. Additionally, the boat comes with Wilderness Systems Phase 3 AirPro seat, which is specifically designed to provide extra cushioning along the spine and support for the back.

If you are looking for storage space, Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 definitely will not disappoint you. It has 2 Orbix dry storage hatches in the center and the bow of the kayak. The smaller one in the middle is suitable to keep dry your valuable items. In the larger 8-inch compartment could be stored some snacks or dry clothes. In addition, there is a large rear storage area, where you can put a dry bag, tackle boxes or a small cooler. To be honest, a minor drawback here is that there are no paddle keepers. But the Tarpon 100 comes with a dual Slide-Trax rail system, which enables you to attach to it accessories like GPS or a fishfinder.

All at all, Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 is a sturdy kayak with excellent performance. Furthermore, it comes at a really reasonable price considering all of its features.


  • High-quality and durable kayak
  • Stable and maneuverable
  • Spacious sit-on-top kayak with adjustable footrests
  • Comfortable Phase 3 AirPro seat
  • 325 lbs. weight capacity
  • 2 Orbix dry storage hatches
  • Spacious rear cargo area with bungees


  • No paddle rests
  • No paddle included

FeelFree Moken 12.5 Kayak

FeelFree Moken 12.5 Kayak - best kayak for rivers

Looking for the best kayak for rivers in 2020 we could not miss FeelFree Moken 12.5 Kayak. It is a sit-on-top kayak with a length of 12.8 feet and a width of 32 inches. The body of this yak is made of sturdy polyethylene and it is designed with stability in mind. And, it performs really well in relation to stability. Furthermore, it has a stand-up leash and standing pad for the optimal convenience of the kayak angler when he needs to stand up.

FeelFree Moken 12.5 Kayak has a maximum weight capacity of 419 lbs, which is more than enough for an angler with fishing gears. However, this kayak is also spacious and comfortable for the paddler. It comes with a King Fisher seat that allows you to feel comfortable during the long fishing trips. Therefore, the kayak also has adjustable footrests. Actually, this boat is heavier than the other kayaks on our list – 72 lbs. But at the same time, it has molded handles and wheel in the keel, which makes transportation to the water easier.

Of course, as most of the fishing kayaks, the Moken 12.5 has plenty of storage spaces. There are storage hatches in the bow and in the center console of the kayak. However, there are also side pockets in the cockpit and a large open cargo area with bungee cords in the stern.

Furthermore, every kayak angler will recognize as an important feature the front and rear Uni Track rails. They allow you to mount GPS or a fishfinder. Additionally, there are fishing rod holders and molded paddle rest.


  • High-quality and durable kayak
  • Very stable kayak
  • Spacious sit-on-top kayak with adjustable footrests
  • Comfortable King Fisher seat
  • 419 lbs. weight capacity
  • Good storage space
  • Rear and front Uni Track rails
  • Stand-up leash and standing pad
  • Wheel in the keel


  • A bit heavy at 72 lbs.
  • No paddle included

Malibu Kayaks X-Caliber Fish and Dive Kayak

Malibu Kayaks X-Caliber - best kayak for rivers

Malibu Kayaks X-Caliber Fish and Dive is one more kayak that deserves its place in our list for the best kayak for rivers in 2020. Made of polyethylene, this 12.5 feet river fishing kayak offers excellent quality and durability. However, due to its 31-inch wide beam, the X-Caliber performs really well in relation to stability and maneuverability.

Actually, this kayak is quite lightweight at only 52 lbs. and it is equipped with bow and stern carrying handles. Additionally, it has side bungee carry handles with paddle holders. On the other hand, Malibu Kayaks X-Caliber Fish and Dive allows maximum buoyancy of 400 lbs, which is very good for a fishing kayak.

Although the X-Caliber has a molded-in seat in the cockpit, the package does not include a padded seat. However, the kayak has adjustable footrests for optimal comfort.

The Gator hatch at the bow allows you to store your snacks or some clothes. And, if you plan to go kayaking with a kid – when the Gator hatch is closed it provides extra seating for a child just in front of the paddler. Also, the kayak has a central rectangular hatch where you can store your valuables or some fishing tackles. Of course, there is large rear bungee storage for waterproof dry bags, coolers or tackle boxes.

Therefore, Malibu Kayaks X-Caliber Fish and Dive also has other extras that every kayak angler will like. It comes with 2 rear rod holders and a transducer mount for a fish finder or GPS. And, a cup holder, to have a drink on hand.

Concluding on the above, we can say that the X-Caliber is a kayak that comes at a really reasonable price considering its high quality and the available features. So, if you are looking for an excellent river fishing kayak, you should give it a try.


  • High-quality and durable kayak
  • Stable and maneuverable
  • Lightweight at only 52 lbs.
  • Spacious open cockpit with adjustable footrests
  • 400 lbs. weight capacity
  • Included 2 rear rod holders
  • Spacious rear cargo area with bungees
  • Gator hatch at the bow and center rectangular hatch


  • No padded seat included
  • No paddle included

BKC UH-RA220 1.6-foot

BKC UH-RA220 1.6-foot

Writing about best river kayaks, we just cannot miss BKC UH-RA220. It is an 11.6-foot sit-on-top kayak produced by the well-respected brand Brooklyn Kayak Company. The boat is made of high-quality polyethylene and weighs 68 lbs. The design of this yak and its 34-inches wide beam make it really stable in the water. It even allows you to stand up for a cast.

Actually, BKC UH-RA220 also has many other features that make it a perfect kayak for river fishing. It comes with three watertight storage hatches and a large cargo area with a bungee system where you can put your dry bag or kayak crate. There are also two flush-mounted rod holders to keep safe your precious fishing poles while paddling. When fishing or taking a break, you can comfortably keep the paddle in the bungee paddle rest.

However, when in the water, this kayak has excellent tracking and maneuverability due to the foot pedal-operated rudder control system. The comfort of the paddler is also not compromised. The yak is spacious and has a weight limit of 450 lbs. So, it is really suitable for heavy kayakers. And, it comes with a comfortable aluminum frame seat with very good back support.


  • Durable
  • Stable and maneuverable
  • Spacious and Comfortable
  • 450 lbs maximum weight capacity
  • Excellent seat with back support
  • A lot of storage space
  • Rod holders and paddle parks


  • Not that fast
  • Not so lightweight at 68 lbs.

Sun Dolphin Journey 10

Sun Dolphin Journey 10

Compact and versatile, Sun Dolphin Journey 10 is definitely one of the best kayaks for river fishing and recreation. It is a 10-foot sit-on-top that has the characteristics of a recreational kayak supplemented by cool features typical for the fishing kayaks. Its hull is made of sturdy UV-protected Fortiflex High-Density Polyethylene, which is famous for its durability. Although the yak is made of high-quality materials, it is very portable and lightweight at only 44 lbs. The maximum weight capacity offered is 250 lbs.

In terms of stability, a 10-foot Journey also performs really well and allows you to stand up on it without significant worries of tipping over. The tracking and control are also excellent. No matter, its compact size, this kayak is really spacious and easy to entry due to the open cockpit design. The large and comfortable seating area is equipped with an adjustable padded seat, adjustable foot braces, and thigh pads. And, the hull has a self-bailing feature.

The anglers will like the storage compartments that Sun Dolphin Journey 10 provides. It has a small watertight hatch and Portable Accessory Carrier (P.A.C.). There is also a shock cord deck area where larger gear could be rigged. However, this river kayak also comes with 2 flush-mounted and one swivel rod holders.


  • Durable
  • Stable and maneuverable
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Easy to entry and exit open cockpit
  • 250 lbs maximum weight capacity
  • Comfortable and adjustable seat
  • Plenty of storage space
  • 2 flush-mounted and one swivel rod holders


  • Not that fast
  • Some customers state the scupper holes are not that good

Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 120T

Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 120T

One more kayak that could be used for both recreation and fishing in rivers is Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 120T. It is a 12-foot tandem yak designed and produced by the Vibe Kayaks brand. The hull of this sit-on-top is made of single piece rotomolded polyethylene for ultimate durability. Drainage of the open cockpit is also not an issue with the scupper holes with plugs included in the package.

Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 120T is 12.2-foot long and has a width of 35 inches. The weight of the kayak is 72 lbs and it has a weight limit of 500 lbs. With these specifications, the boat stays really stable in the water with 2 paddlers on board. It is also very easy to paddle and control. However, it is heavier body could be a bit challenging for carrying and transportation for solo paddlers.

This river kayak offers reasonable storage space. It comes with two 6-inch sealed hatches where you can store your valuable possessions. And a larger rear cargo area with bungee straps for dry bags, coolers or other larger items. And, the yak features 2 rod holders and mounting points for additional fishing accessories.

Actually, Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 120T also comes with 2 comfortable Vibe Deluxe padded seats and 2 high-quality Vibe Journey paddles. And, handy paddle parks to secure your paddles when you are not using them.


  • Durable
  • Stable and maneuverable
  • Spacious
  • 500 lbs weight limit
  • 2 Comfortable padded seats
  • 2 Paddle included in the package
  • Good storage space
  • 2 flush-mounted rod holders


  • A bit heavy at 72 lbs.
  • Not so good performance in strong currents

Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 12

Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 12 Best Kayak for Rivers

Sun Dolphin Aruba SS12 is a 12-foot sit-in kayak perfect for recreational paddling or fishing in rivers. It is made in the USA. The material used for its body is rugged UV-stabilized Fortiflex high-density polyethylene. No matter the material is durable, it is also lightweight and keeps kayak weight at only 47 lbs. Actually, the boat features retractable carrying handles for easy and effortless carrying and transportation.

This sit-inside yak has a large and comfortable seating area and offers a maximum weight capacity of 395 lbs. There is a padded seat with very good back support, adjustable foot braces and protective thigh pads for ultimate paddling comfort. The boat comes with large Portable Accessory Carrier in the stern, smaller hatch in the bow of the kayak and shock cord deck rigging where could be attached dry bags or other gear. Kayak anglers will also like that this craft comes with two flush-mounted rod holders.

Sun Dolphin Aruba SS12 has a design and dimensions that ensure its stability in the water. However, the yak still tracks and paddles easily and it is fast enough for river touring and recreation.


  • High-quality and durable
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Easy tracking and maneuvering
  • Really comfortable for longer journeys
  • Plenty of storage space
  • UV Protection
  • Includes 2 rod holders
  • Comes in different colors


  • Some customer state water can get in easily

Sea Eagle 370 Pro

Sea Eagle 370 Pro

Sea Eagle 370 Pro is one more kayak that you need to pay attention to when looking for the best kayak for rivers. It is an inflatable kayak with a length of 12.6 feet and a width of 34 inches that comes at a really affordable price. Its hull is made of thick 38-millimeter polykrylar and has a rigid I-beam floor. The boat features high-frequency welded seams and three separate air chambers for the floor, port, and starboard.

This inflatable kayak has an amazing load capacity of 650 lbs. and comes with 2 removable and adjustable Deluxe Seats with excellent back support. Actually, the generous weight limit of this boat even allows it to accommodate a third person on board.

When in the water, Sea Eagle 370 performs really well in terms of maneuverability and tracking thanks to its skegs attached to the bottom. The vessel also provides fair stability in the water. However, the manufacturer even states that this vessel is suitable for whitewater up to Class III. Actually, the yak also features lashed-down spray skirts to protect the paddler from water splashes and self-bailing drain valve to drain the water.

As a typical inflatable kayak, Sea Eagle 370 is designed with portability in mind. It weighs only 32 lbs and comes with a carry bag for convenient transportation. The boat allows painless inflation and deflation in just a few minutes as it features one-way valves and comes with a foot pump included in the package. Actually, there are also 2 paddles and a repair kit included in the package. All these features make Sea Eagle 370 Pro Package a stand-out option, especially for kayaking beginners.


  • High-quality and durable
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Affordable price
  • Good tracking and maneuvering
  • Generous weight limit of 650 lbs.
  • Easy inflation and deflation
  • Handles whitewater up to Grade 3
  • Comes with 2 paddles and a foot pump


  • Not that fast
  • Some customers state it is not so stable

Old Town Dirigo 120 Recreational Kayak

Old Town Dirigo 120 Kayak for Rivers

Old Town is one of the most popular and respected kayak brands in the world. They are well-known with their high-quality and durable kayaks made in the USA. And, here comes Old Town Dirigo 120, a recreational sit-inside kayak designed for solo paddling in lakes and mild rivers. With all its features, this yak is definitely one of the best river kayaks out there.

This kayak has a length of 12 feet and a width of 38 inches. It has a rigid construction of three-layer polyethylene. The Stabil-Form hull design ensures excellent stability, tracking, and maneuverability in calm waters. The body of this yak weighs 50 lbs and comes with a lifetime hull warranty. And, the carry handles featured make transportation really easy.

Old Town Dirigo 12 is a sit-in kayak that has a weight limit of 350 lbs. It is roomy and comfortable for all-day recreational paddling trips and touring as it comes with contoured Poly seat and Glide Track foot braces. The seat features ventilated back to keep paddler cool and a molded-in cup holder for your drink.

On the other hand, this yak provides plenty of storage space, so it could be conveniently not only for recreation but also for fishing or camping. It has a small waterproof glove hatch for keys or phone and a large Click Seal hatch in the stern to store your gear. It also has a bungee cord system that allows attaching of additional gear.


  • High-quality and durable
  • Portable
  • Very stable
  • Excellent tracking and maneuvering
  • Really comfortable for longer journeys
  • Comes with Poly cushioned seat and foot braces
  • Plenty of storage space


  • The waterproof glove hatch is a bit small to hold some of the new large smartphones.

What to consider when choosing a kayak for rivers?

Kayak Types

Generally, kayaks could be differentiated based on several different criteria. Based on the materials used for the production of the kayaks, they could be classified as hard-shell, inflatable, and folding kayaks. On the other hand, sit-inside and sit-on-top kayaks show the different types of cockpit designs. Depending on the environment, purpose, and style of paddling, kayaks could be also differentiated – recreational, touring, whitewater, and fishing kayaks. Below, we have provided basic explanations regarding the specifics of the different types of boats.


Sit-on-top kayaks have a spacious and open cockpit that allows free movements of the paddler and easy kayak entry and exit. Many of the sit-on-tops feature scupper holes that help water to drain easily. These yaks are built with stability in mind, but in most cases, they are not that fast and maneuverable. All, these specifics make the sit-on-top kayaks really suitable for river fishing and recreational paddling.

Sit-inside kayak

The main characteristic of the sit-in kayaks is their closed cockpit design. The closed cockpit could be a bit claustrophobic for some paddlers, but it keeps against water and wind.

Overall, this type of yaks has excellent speed and tracking while they still stay stable in the water. So, the longer sit-inside yaks are most often used for long touring trips. On the other hand, shorter boats are suitable for whitewater.

How are you going to use your river kayak?

River fishing

In case you are a kayak angler then you should look for a stable yak, that enables you to stand up and cast. Generally, sit-on-top kayaks are the best river fishing kayak type.

When choosing a kayak for river fishing, you could go for the specifically designed yaks for anglers. Most of these options come with important features that will make your life easier. They could feature pre-installed rod holders, paddle parks and mounting points for fishing accessories.

Actually, if you are a handyman you can always DIY if your boat does not have these features and allows customizations.

Another specific of the river fishing kayaks is that in nearly all cases they have plenty of storage space. They come with dry hatches and tank wells with bungee systems where you can store and attach your kayak crate, coolers or dry bags.

Recreation, touring and camping

If you are planning to use your river kayak for recreation and touring than you don’t need that much storage space. In this situation, you will need a boat with great speed and tracking performance which will not get you tired after long distances. And, sit-inside touring kayaks almost always tick all the boxes for this scenario.

On the other hand, if you are going to often use your yak for camping trips, then cargo space becomes a key factor again.


Based on their difficulty and skill level required, rivers are classified in six grades by the American Whitewater Association on an international scale of river difficulty. The Class I is the easiest, while Class VI is the most extreme.

Actually, this classification shows that whitewater kayaking is a completely different game than recreational paddling and touring. Conquering the rapids requires shorter, durable and versatile kayaks with specific design and rounded hulls.

Although our best kayak for rivers review is more focused on paddling in calm rivers, there are few kayaks reviewed that can handle whitewater up to Class III according to the manufacturers.

Single or tandem kayak

When looking for the best kayak for rivers, it is also important to pay attention to the seating capacity of the yak. Tandem kayaks are a great option if you are thinking of regular kayaking and fishing trips with a friend. Two-person kayaks also give you the opportunity to paddle alone in some cases. Just bear in mind they could be a bit hard to control and maneuver for a solo paddler. So, if you don’t plan to paddle or go fishing with a companion, maybe it is a better idea to look for a single kayak.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is river kayaking safe?

Actually, yes. Like every activity in the water, kayaking has risks, but you can successfully manage them if you follow some basic safety tips and rules.

First, you need to always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) no matter if you are an experienced kayaker or a paddling beginner. It’s very hard to sink a kayak, not so hard to sink a kayaker.

It is also important to plan your trip in advance. Check the weather forecast, research the route and never overestimate your skills and experience. According to the USCG Recreational Boating Accident Statistics for 2018, approximately 39% of accidents with kayaks are caused by hazardous waters or bad weather. Kayaker inexperience or inattention is the reason for an additional 26% of the accidents.

The third major contributing factor to kayak accidents with 9% is the use of alcohol or drugs. So, you should never do that before a paddling trip.

Are sit-on-top kayaks good for river?

Generally, sit-on-tops are very suitable kayaks for recreational paddling and kayak fishing in mild rivers and lakes. Sit-on-top kayaks are really stable in the water and that makes them a perfect choice for anglers and not so experienced recreational paddlers. On the other hand, tracking and speed are not a strength of sit-on-tops. So, they are not so suitable for long-distance touring. And, definitely not suitable for rivers with a grade above Class II.

Can you use river kayak in a lake?

Yes, nearly all of the kayaks suitable for use in rivers, will also perform perfectly in a lake. An exception here is again whitewater kayaks. They are designed for rapids, not for calm waters. And, you will not feel that stable in them.

Can you use an ocean kayak in a river?

In general, ocean kayaks work well for rivers. However, ocean kayaks are often much larger and stronger than the traditional kayaks for rivers. And, in many cases, their price reflects that. So, if you have an ocean kayak, it is perfectly fine to use it in a river. But it is not worth it to buy a boat designed for open waters and use it in a river.

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