The Best Whitewater Kayaks of 2020 – Tested & Reviewed

In the beginning, choosing a whitewater kayak was easy—there was usually only a handful of models available, and you simply picked the one you fit into and could afford. Now, there are dozens of models and more introduced every year.

Some are designed for vertical tricks, others for speed or response time. Once you start comparing volume, hull design, soft vs. hard chines, and rocker length, it is easy to drown in information before ever hitting the water.

In the following review we will examine the most popular models, discuss their key features, and share what we liked or did not like about each one. While nothing beats an actual test ride, this review will help you wade through the information overload.

It will set you up for picking out your very own whitewater kayak. Once you see what we have to say, try to borrow a couple of test boats and see if you agree.

Best Whitewater Kayaks - Comparisons 

4 Best Whitewater Kayaks - Reviews 

Pyranha Machno Kayak

By combining two of their previous models, the Shiva and the 9R, Pyranha has developed a craft that feels right at home on a wide range of waters. Whether you are a beginner tooling around your local Class III or an advanced paddler speeding down your favorite Class V, the Machno is able to meet all your needs, making it an ideal choice for those who can own only one kayak.

Its improved design allows for fast response, often making you believe the kayak is doing the work and you are along for the ride. It is obvious that the designers learned from past achievements and failures, and also listened to their customers—the Machno’s attention to detail means you will not be sacrificing comfort to achieve performance.

What we liked

  • Fast, sporty, and responsive
  • Redesigned thigh hooks and softer hip pads for increased comfort and adjustability
  • Light weight 
  • Available in two sizes, regular and large

What we didn't like

  • The seat is not very comfortable
  • Can be difficult to correct
  • Increased volume means you sacrifice control, especially in the tail
Dagger Mamba 8.1 Kayak

Dagger wanted to design an all-around kayak suitable for everyone from the novice to the die-hard paddler, and their answer was the Mamba. With an increased interest in whitewater kayaking, but fewer paddlers willing to forgo all other luxuries while spending every dime on a garage full of specialty kayaks, it is nice to see a design meant for many needs.

Much of the Mamba’s versatility is the result of a near-perfect combination of volume and just the right hull design. Of course, it is almost impossible for one kayak to handle every situation, so the Mamba is available in two models, the regular and creek. The latter includes a heavy-duty seat and center wall for increased durability for those planning on really testing the limits of their craft as well as their own.

What we liked

  • Portable
  • Stable design and rounded stern provides an easy-to-roll craft, perfect for building confidence in beginners

What we didn't like

  • Added volume makes vertical stunts difficult
  • Heavy
Pyranha 9R L Kayak

Are you one of those paddlers who dream of riding a fast creek boat but find that your larger body size makes that uncomfortable? If so, the 9R-L was designed specifically for you. This big brother to the already popular 9R will not only provide the fit you are looking for, but the performance as well.

Even for a bigger boat, and when carrying larger riders, the 9R-L performs better than could be expected. While its size may remind you of a Cadillac, the way it runs will think you are in a sportscar. Although smaller riders may find no advantage to the added size, those of you who have found average kayaks a tight fit will find the 9R-L is just right.

What we liked

  • Size is of course the greatest advantage—this boat is designed for those 190-245 lbs
  • Comfortable—even after long days you will not blame the 9R-L for any aches or pains
  • Regardless of size, this boat is amazingly fast as well as maneuverable

What we didn't like

  • Durability leaves a little to be desired
  • This boat stays on top of the water, which can make transitioning difficult
  • Heavy
Riot Kayaks Magnum 80 Whitewater Creeking Kayak

When you name your product MAGNUM, your customers have big expectations. They want to be able to hit the biggest, steepest waters on their bucket list without failure. Riot has taken on the challenge, and they have delivered.

With a well thought-out design that includes the right combination of length and shape, you get big performance. You will punch through features, maintain momentum, and never lose control. Plus, the extra size allows for all-day comfort even if you are on the plus side.

What we liked

  • Improved seat & cockpit design makes this a comfortable ride, even on long trips
  • Roomy stern compartment offers plenty of storage, a nice feature if overnighting
  • With easily adjustable hip pads, even smaller riders will find it possible to enjoy this boat

What we didn't like

  • It needs more knee padding. Despite improvements to hip padding, the knees were neglected and will take a beating
  • Added size means less top-end speed. Although it will jump out of the hole with the first stroke, it peaks quickly too
  • Stern groove placement means you really need to tilt before getting desired engagement


So there you have it, our review of 4 of the more popular and talked-about whitewater kayaks available. Some are new, others are new takes on the old model. There are those targeting bigger riders and others that allow even small paddlers to enjoy a bigger boat.

In truth, there is a little bit of everything, and we think something for everyone. Hopefully, this includes a model you can call the best whitewater kayak for you too. Now, go forth and paddle!

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David Valle

I started this blog to provide advanced material, guiding you towards a better and more comfortable fishing experience. I deliver more than fishing gear guides, and motivate people to hit the water!

  • Gregor says:

    Any input on the Jackson AntiX? How would you rate it in the above group?

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