The 13 Best Kayaks for Rivers Reviewed 2023 [Best for Fishing & Camping]
Do you know what the main problem with kayaking is these days?
Choosing the right one.
It’s not an easy task, given how rich the market is with all sorts of different vessels, each designed with a particular activity in mind.
Are you going to be touring in your kayak? Is it just a short trip? Will you be using it for fishing or hunting? Are you tackling whitewater? What about those overnight excursions in the wilderness?
And is there a kayak that can do it all?
With those questions in mind, I’ve put together this review of the best kayaks for rivers, with particular emphasis on fishing and camping yaks.
There might not be a specific one that encompasses everything, but you’ll find some excellent hybrid craft here that will suit a variety of needs.
Some might lean towards fishing.
Some might lean towards camping.
And all will be suitable for calmer rivers.
- TOP 13 Best Kayaks for Rivers & Camping 2023
- Intex Challenger K1 Inflatable Kayak
- Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 Fishing Kayak
- Sevylor Coleman Colorado Fishing Kayak
- Sun Dolphin Aruba SS Sit-In Kayak
- Third Coast Arbor 100 Recreational Kayak
- Perception Rhythm Kayak for Touring
- Riot Kayaks Edge 11 LV Flatwater Day Touring Kayak
- Vibe Kayaks Yellowfin 100 Kayak
- Perception Pescador Pro Kayak for Fishing
- Vibe Kayaks Skipjack Kayak
- Old Town Dirigo 106 Recreational Kayak
- Ocean Kayak Zest Two Expedition Touring Kayak
- Hobie 2023 Mirage Passport Pedal Fishing Kayak
- How to Choose the Best Kayak for Rivers, Fishing & Camping
TOP 13 Best Kayaks for Rivers & Camping 2023
Intex Challenger K1 Inflatable Kayak
Review: If you’re on a budget but you really want to get out onto the river, then look no further than this inflatable kayak from Intex.
It continually gets excellent reviews and is extremely popular, with a solid build from heavy-duty puncture-resistant vinyl.
There are two separate air chambers to help you get back to shore should you do actually damage one, and with a large, meshed storage section to the bow, you have room for plenty of gear. It can take a maximum weight of 220 lbs, so bear that in mind when loading it up with you and all your kit.
For this price, it’s the best inflatable kayak for rivers without spending a fortune.
- Outstanding price.
- Paddle and pump included.
- Excellent portability.
- Not the best performance.
- Storage is limited.
- Won’t last forever.
Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 Fishing Kayak
Review: Probably one of the best entry-level fishing kayaks around, the Lifetime Tamarack also comes in a tandem version.
It’s made from a high-density, UV-protected polyethylene, with a stable flat bottom and deep hull tracking channels with chine rails for improved performance and maneuverability.
There are two, flush-mounted fishing rod holders and one top-mounted holder, as well as extensive storage options with two six-inch storage compartments at midships and stern.
Bungee cord webbing is also available at the bow and stern of the craft for extra storage possibilities. It has a maximum weight capacity of 275 lbs.
- Excellent features for the price.
- Tough, durable construction.
- The seat isn’t the most comfortable.
Sevylor Coleman Colorado Fishing Kayak
Review: Another kayak that regularly appears in the reviews, this inflatable tandem craft has a lot going for it when it comes to camping and fishing.
It’s a rugged and durable construction, made from 18-gauge PVC while the underside is a 1000 denier tarpaulin bottom with 840 denier nylon cover to provide extra protection from punctures.
There’s plenty of fishing hardware attachments and even the option of adding a trolling motor if you don’t feel like paddling.
There’s storage space at the bow and stern, as well as mesh pockets and D-rings for extra gear.
However, I’ve selected it here because I think it would work well as a single person yak with loads of room to store your camping kit.
- Tough, durable construction.
- Boston valve for easy inflating/deflating.
- Fishing hardware could get in the way.
- Would need dry bags to keep gear from getting wet.
Sun Dolphin Aruba SS Sit-In Kayak
Review: Sun Dolphin are a by-word for fun, inexpensive recreational kayaks that are ideal for beginners.
They offer various models and sizes in this range, but I’ve gone for the Aruba 12-foot sit-in kayak, because it has that large, portable accessory carrier located in the stern of the craft.
It has excellent tracking and paddling, made from a rugged UV-stabilized Fortiflex high-density polyethylene that is both lightweight and durable.
It also offers two, flush-mounted fishing rod holders, an extra storage hatch on the bow deck and shock cord webbing to hold more gear.
For the price, this could well be the best river kayak for beginners there is.
- Excellent storage options.
- Covered center console.
- Choice of colors.
- Let me know if you find one.
Third Coast Arbor 100 Recreational Kayak
Review: A sit-in kayak with a large cockpit, this Third Coast Arbor model offers some great features to rival that of the Sun Dolphin above.
With large, clamshell storage hatches to the bow and stern, storage bungee, paddle and rod holder, and 8-inch yak attack mounts, there are options to keep all users happy.
Side handles and cushioned carrying handles ensure the kayak is easy to transport, while the hull design and shape makes for a great marriage of performance and stability.
These Third Coast kayaks seem to be some of the best-kept secrets in the yakking world – you’d usually pay double for the features and user experience here.
- Excellent price for what you get.
- Great performance.
- Sleek design.
- A little too heavy for some.
Perception Rhythm Kayak for Touring
Review: Perception is yet another quality name in the kayaking world and with plenty of options to choose from, I’ve gone for their stylish Rhythm sit-in model.
It’s an entry-level touring kayak, ideal for lakes and rivers with plenty of on-board storage to stash all your camping gear.
At 11-feet long, it’s still slim enough to track and paddle well, with a nice balance of speed and stability.
Features include a deluxe padded seat with adjustable backrest, dry hatch, and bungee cord rigging, and easy carry handles at the bow and stern.
It has a maximum weight capacity of 275 lbs and offers bulkhead flotation foam adding buoyancy and safety on the water.
- Top-quality make
- Sleek, stylish design.
- Excellent performance.
- Hatch should have been watertight. Use a dry bag.
- Bungee cord isn’t the most practical.
Riot Kayaks Edge 11 LV Flatwater Day Touring Kayak
Review: Riot Kayaks produce some excellent all-purpose yaks for a variety of activities, including some excellent whitewater craft.
I’ve chosen this sleek but stable touring kayak that lends itself to short, overnight camping trips. It tracks and paddles well with excellent speed to boot and has some excellent features incorporated.
These include an advanced, custom-fit seating system, stern bulkhead compartment, an integrated fishing rod holder, retractable skeg to assist with tracking, bungee cords at the bow and stern and reflective life lines.
It’s a beautiful looking craft, possibly the best kayak for river camping on those last-minute excursions.
- Sleek design.
- Great performance.
- Good storage and rod holder.
- Cockpit might be a little narrow for larger humans.
Vibe Kayaks Yellowfin 100 Kayak
Review: You simply can’t have a kayak review article without mentioning Vibe, and it was another hard choice to narrow down which of their models I would include.
I’ve gone for the Yellowfin, and it’s the first yak in my review that comes with the super-comfortable, aluminum-framed anger’s chair.
This will keep you out on the water for much longer than most kayaks.
As it’s targeted at fisher people, it packs in loads of storage, with stern and bow hatches and a very generous tank well with a bungee cord to the rear.
And with 375 lbs in weight capacity, you can store you and all your camping and fishing gear with peace of mind.
Easily the best river fishing kayak for the money on the market.
- Packed with features.
- Excellent storage.
- Top-quality seating system.
- Highly customizable.
- Not built for speed.
- Probably not ideal for longer distances.
Perception Pescador Pro Kayak for Fishing
Review: Another Perception model enters the fray and one to rival the previous Vibe fishing yak.
This is also packed full of features, with a two-position, stadium-style seat, stern and bow tank wells and bungee cord webbing/mesh, a leak-proof one-piece construction with built-in buoyancy for added safety, and a ridiculous amount of fishing hardware options.
GPS and fish finders can be added with ease, and if you’re looking for that kind of tech, check out these amazing kayak fish finders so you can add the right one to this Perception.
It’s a close one between this model and the Vibe for which is the best kayak for river fishing, but I’ll call it a tie.
- Fully customizable.
- Loads of features.
- Excellent storage.
- Again, speed and distance not the best.
- A little on the heavy side.
Vibe Kayaks Skipjack Kayak
Review: Vibe has another entry here with the Skipjack sit-on-top tandem kayak. It has a 500 lbs weight capacity while offering the space for up to three people – if one of those people is a child or a family pet.
It features two V-Wave Hatches with built-in cup holders for smaller items and a rear cargo area with bungee tie-down straps for larger gear such as tents or tackle boxes.
It has four fishing rod holders, two fishfinder mounts, and built-in ergonomic seats and backrests.
For its size, it claims fast and nimble tracking, while the paddle parks keep your paddles out of the way if you’re fishing.
Molded carry handles are incorporated for ease of transport.
- Solid, sturdy build.
- Paddles included.
- Fully customizable.
- On the heavy side.
- Limited storage for the size.
Old Town Dirigo 106 Recreational Kayak
Review: Without a doubt, my favorite recreational kayaks come from Old Town – the oldest kayak company in the world.
They craft some beautiful yaks, up there with the best kayaks for rivers and lakes there is.
With stunning lines and a wonderful aesthetic that looks really good in the water and is guaranteed to turn heads. If you ever own an Old Town yak someone will surely ask you where you got it.
The gorgeous, black cherry Dirigo is no exception, with an excellent performance/features/price ratio, you get a lot of bang for your buck here.
The Dirigo offers a large storage hatch to the stern, as well as bungee cord webbing to both front and rear.
All in all, it’s just a really comfortable and sexy looking ride.
- Beautiful design.
- Excellent performance.
- Ideal for all skill levels.
- I haven’t found one yet.
Ocean Kayak Zest Two Expedition Touring Kayak
Review: Arguably manufacturing the best sit-on-top kayaks in the world, I’ve chosen this Ocean model for its expedition qualities.
It has a whopping 600 lbs weight capacity, and at nearly 17 feet long it’s built for going some distance.
It can easily carry two adults and a child or family pet, as well as all your gear for camping and/or fishing trip. You can store all your kit, food, and other items in the oversized stern tank well, which includes bungee straps.
It’s also pretty fast considering its size, and – short of a hurricane – it’ll pretty much handle whatever water conditions Mother Nature decides to throw at it.
- Great performance for its size.
- Can pack in a lot of stuff.
- Built like a tank.
- Ideal for choppier swells/waves/currents.
- Very heavy.
- Seats are not the best quality.
Hobie 2023 Mirage Passport Pedal Fishing Kayak
Review: If you’re doing a review about anything to do with fishing kayaks, you have to include a Hobie – otherwise, you’re not doing it right.
I’ve gone for the slightly smaller (and cheaper) Mirage Passport model. It offers their award-winning Mirage Drive pedal system for moving silently and rapidly down river.
There’s a super-comfortable, aluminum, suspended mesh seat, and a steering option with a Stowable rudder. It has two rod holders and two accessory mount tracks for customization.
There’s also loads of storage, with a large stern tank well and webbing, a midship watertight storage hatch and bow well with webbing there, too. And for a Hobie, the price ain’t half bad.
- Pedal drive and rudder system.
- Loads of storage.
- Super-comfortable chair.
- Still on the expensive side.
How to Choose the Best Kayak for Rivers, Fishing & Camping
Now, there’s going to be a lot to cover here – because what you need to look out for will depend on how you want to use the kayak.
So, pay attention 007. An FAQ section will follow.
As this is something of a hybrid article, I’ve included a selection of hybrid kayaks.
However, for the most part, kayaks come in two very different types.
Are kayaks that you quite literally sit on top of. They’re generally more stable than their sit-in counterparts, but they sacrifice speed and performance.
Uses are largely for fishing, playboats and general recreational kayaking.
Have a cockpit that you climb into. They’re built for speed and excellent tracking through the water.
They’re more regularly used for long-distance touring if they’re long and narrow, or whitewater kayaking if they’re shorter and stubbier.
Both have their advantages and disadvantages which we won’t go into here.
However, you can take a look at the video below for more helpful information.
When choosing a good river kayak and deciding between the two types, just ask yourself what are you most likely going to be using it for and then go from there.
Fishing Kayak Features
When choosing your river kayak, if you want to be able to fish from it you should look out for the following features.
Fishing kayaks are generally sit-on-top kayaks because they offer more stability. This is ideal when casting or reeling in your catch.
They’ll nearly always come with built-in rod holders. These can be flush-mounted, or swivel-mounted for trolling as you paddle.
However, even if it’s not a specially designed fishing kayak, you should look out for those yaks that can be customized.
You can always add mounts, rod holders and extra tech like GPS or fish finders at a later date. Especially if you don’t mind a bit of DIY.
And the best fishing kayaks will come with options to customize until your heart’s content.
Fishing kayaks nearly always have excellent storage, too, with front and rear tank wells and bungee cord to store tackle boxes, coolers and extra gear.
Of course, you could easily substitute this for camping equipment if you prefer.
More expensive models will come with rudder and pedal systems to give you a completely hands-free fishing experience and significantly improve your chances of getting a bite.
Camping Kayak Features
Kayaks that are excellent for camping trips should really only have one main but vital feature.
As much storage as possible.
For this reason, fishing kayaks are also excellent for use as camping yaks.
However, there is something else to consider if you’re planning on going greater distances.
Touring kayaks will nearly always be of the sit-in variety. They’re longer and narrower, offering much better tracking and speed so you can get to where you need to be with ease.
The storage options in these kayaks will be hatches in the bow and/or stern, as well as bungee cord rigging lashed across the deck.
When making your choice of kayak for camping purposes, consider first how much gear you want to transport and don’t forget to evaluate the weight of everything – yourself included.
Whitewater or Choppier River Conditions
When researching and writing an article about “river” kayaking, unless solely focussing on calmer waters, it’s not always that black and white.
For the most part, the craft I have selected in the above review are built for up to class three whitewater at an absolute maximum.
Some only to class two.
Perhaps a couple of the sit-in yaks could go higher, but I’ve not really covered real whitewater here.
Bear this in mind when selecting one of these kayaks – if you’re looking for a whitewater version, you need something specifically suited to that task.
Shorter, stubbier, more rounded yaks with a V-shaped hull should be what you’re after.
And they’re really not going to be any good for camping or fishing, at all.
Just a friendly reminder that not all kayaks can handle every situation.
Are Sit-On-Top Kayaks Good for Rivers?
It depends on the type of river.
Rivers are classed from one to six, depending on how fast they’re flowing and how much whitewater there is.
For anything up to class three, a good sit-on-top kayak should be more than adept at handling it. Be prepared to get a little wet though.
In quieter, calmer rivers, sit-on-top kayaks come into their own and they make a great yak to use in such situations.
They won’t track as well as a sit-in kayak, so they’re not that great at going long distances, but they should be perfectly suitable in any river providing the whitewater isn’t too crazy.
For more on the classification of rivers, check out this short but informative video below.
What Kind of Kayak Should I Buy for River Kayaking?
Again, this depends entirely on what you’re chosen activity is and the class of the river.
Here’s a quick reminder to help you out.
If it’s up to a class three (at the very maximum) and you’re wanting to do some fishing – then a sit-on-top kayak is what you’re looking for.
For greater distances on calmer rivers and lakes (class one to two) look for a narrow sit-in kayak with a long keel for good tracking and speed.
For anything above class three, you should be checking out whitewater kayaks – shorter, stubbier craft with rounded or V-shaped hulls that tip easy but are highly maneuverable.
Perhaps I’ll cover those in a future article.
For those looking to do river kayak camping, you’ll most likely be on calmer waters, so simply look out for kayaks with excellent storage.
How Do You Anchor a Kayak in a River?
A good question. Sometimes, especially if you’re fishing, you might need to post up for a while and keep your yak from moving with the current.
There are all kinds of ways you can anchor your kayak on a river.
You can make one yourself if you’re capable at a bit of DIY. If you’re up for trying that I would suggest watching this video below:
Failing that, you should check out this video for more kayak anchoring solutions:
Either way, you should take care when trying to anchor a kayak.
For the most part, they’re not really designed for that purpose – otherwise, they would come with them built-in.
Just use a bit of common sense and caution if you want to attempt this.
Is River Kayaking Dangerous?
Kayaking is one of the safest outdoor activities you can do – providing you adhere to a few vital rules of the river, of course.
The first and most obvious one – is you should ALWAYS wear a PFD. Never leave home without it.
The vast majority of kayak drownings on US waterways was because the victim had a PDF but forgot to bring it that day – and then foolishly went out regardless.
Check out these awesome fishing PDFs which will hopefully encourage you to get a cool looking lifesaver that is as practical as they are essential.
Aside from that, so long as you use that ever-important common sense, don’t extend yourself beyond your skill level and do your research before setting off-river kayaking is a safe and enjoyable pastime.
And make sure you choose a kayak that you’re comfortable in. If you’re a beginner, then go for something with a bit more stability.
At least until you find your feet.
What Length of Kayak Should I Use for River Fishing?
The length doesn’t really matter, so much as the style of the hull and the stability.
For river fishing, however, you’ll generally find that kayaks tend to be shorter, but wider.
This is so they can maximize the stability when you’re casting off or reeling in.
With a long, narrow kayak – such as a touring yak – if you tried this you’d most likely roll it or tip over.
But by all means, if you need extra space (or if you’re partnering up and going in tandem) then opt for a longer yak to fit all your gear in.
If you’re looking for a ball-park figure though, I’d say any yak that’s between 10-12 feet is a good length for a fishing craft. If you’re solo that is.
Can River Kayaks be Used on Lakes?
Yes, most certainly – but some will perform better than others.
Both sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks can be used on lakes, but as previously mentioned they will both offer differing results.
However, the only kayak I will advise against using on a lake is a whitewater kayak. They’re much too tippy for large bodies of calm water.
Have a look at these terrific lake kayaks and see if you can pin-point the similarities with the kayaks I’ve covered in this article.
Do I Need Special Footwear for River Kayaking?
Not particularly river kayaking per se, but you should really have the right footwear for all types of kayaking in general.
Water shoes are the ideal footwear of choice, so have a look at this selection of kayak shoes and pick out a stylish and practical pair.
You’ll look much more like a pro in something like that rather than an old pair of sneakers.
And don’t even think about doing it barefoot – that’s how accidents and injuries can happen. Especially if you need to step out of the yak for whatever reason.
Another mammoth article covering all sorts of kayaking tips tricks advice and above all – reviews.
I hope you’ve managed to find the best kayak for rivers in amongst it all.
Do let me know in the comments section the craft you would choose and why.
I wish you the best of luck getting involved in this amazing hobby.
Happy kayaking, fishing, and camping!