Advice for Newbie

Hi there! I am a fairly new paddler and was hoping someone could help me figure out my needs. I have been paddling a few times, the first of which was when I was about 14. I went whitewater rafting with my family on a small river in Wyoming, only class 1 and 2 rapids, but loved it! I’ve gone a couple more times since then, once in AZ on a little bigger river (Class III rapids) and most recently when I was 16 on the Upper portion of the Pigeon River with some class IV’s! Now all of these times were in a raft instead of a kayak, but after we did the upper portion in a raft we switched to what they called “duckies” and did the lower portion in the inflatable kayaks. It was only Class I and II rapids again but I loved that too! So much so that I am now looking into kayaks for a road trip that my friend and I are planning for next summer and this brings me to requesting your help.

My friend will be 19 and I 20. Basically I am looking for the best combination quality and safety for the cheapest price possible. Don’t get me wrong I am definitely willing to pay more for better quality and something that will be safer, but would still like to do it as economically as possible.

My ideal boat is one that we would be able to do a variety of things with.

  • Something that we can safely take out on rapids! This may be the thing we are looking forward to most, but we understand there can some dangers that come along with this. Safety is the single biggest concern especially for this activity.
  • Something we can float down a calm river or stream with or also take out on a lake. For this something that tracks well would be ideal, but in the grand scheme of things this is not that big of a factor as I assume that anything that can handle white water will have no problem with flat water whether it be a lake or river.
  • Something that we can fish out of. This is an activity we both enjoy and I could definitely see us doing whether it be lake or river. For this and other reasons something that has the ability to strap luggage, camping supplies, or what have you would also be very useful. This also raises the question of how to keep these items dry and also secure. Recommendations for products to help with this would be appreciated.

    I have considered both hard kayaks and inflatable ones. Both have certain benefits, but I also have reservations regarding each. I like how hard kayaks are stable and sturdy and many have straps to take items with you, but I question how they would handle white water. I feel like they would be tougher to maneuver when being tossed around and I feel like I would be in the water more. Also they would be harder to transport with the sedan we would be taking.

    I am attracted to inflatable kayaks because they would be easier for us to transport as they can be deflated. I feel that they allow you to sit higher and be in the water a little less, they are self bailing, and it seems to me they would handle a little better and be less likely to flip when navigating rapids. I would be worried about their durability though. I would be afraid of it popping whether it be from rocks on whitewater or something as simple as a fishing hook while we fish. If it were to pop how could I deal with it in either scenario? Also I haven’t seen any inflatable kayaks with the ability to strap down luggage.

    So there you have it. As I mentioned earlier I am young and new to the kayaking world so if you’ve made it this far your help would be greatly appreciated! If you have an idea of whether I should go with an inflatable or hard kayak, additional things/supplies I will need for what I intend to do, and any addition concerns I should take into consideration before undergoing this trip. If you know of something that you think fits all my needs please let me know and tell me why! (Links to the product would be great! Or all products you may have in mind for me for that matter but especially the boat!) Also if I was wrong about anything I wrote feel free to let me know! Thank you!

You need to find a local group that runs
the sort of rivers you are interested in.

I sense a possible confusion in your picture of “hard” kayaks. Those that are load carriers with hatches and straps are sea or touring kayaks, and not for whitewater.

And there are whitewater kayaks, most of which don’t carry much. Such kayaks are for the more difficult whitewater, and for the most fun therein.

For either kind of kayak, you need training and practice.

As for inflatables, there are inflatables for whitewater, and there are inflatables for calm rivers, lakes, maybe some ocean surf.

But first, get clear on what you want to do.

The ideal boat does all those things.
Also, the ideal boat does not exist.

You can, and will, get plenty of good advice here. In the meantime, this non-kayaker will avoid the real details, and say a few things to help you focus on what you really “need” the most.

Safely doing rapids:

Lots of different designs can do well in rapids. It will depend on the type of rapids, and that includes several factors, like overall flow volume, size of waves, how complex the flow is and therefore how abrupt the maneuvering must be, and what are the consequences of missed maneuvers or capsizes. In short, you need to figure out which type of water your most immediate and likely trips will include.


It’s true that any boat that can do rapids can do flatwater, but in general, the more specialized the boat is for extreme whitewater, the slower it will be on the flats, and the more energy you must exert and attention to detail you must supply simply to go a straight line. Good paddlers can do this well, while beginners will suck at doing anything at all in an extreme whitewater boat. But even really good paddlers generally hate a boat that slowly plows along on the flats. This is why most people have boats that compromise between contrasting needs, and/or have more than one boat (often many boats, but you are young and probably need to pick one boat for the time being). There are boats commonly called “cross-overs” that are pretty capable in mild whitewater (easily including any Class II, and usually performing decently in Class III, even if not qualifying for “play-boat” status), yet nowhere nearly as slow as true whitewater kayaks on the flats (though they tend to be noisy (splashy at the bow)).


You don’t want to fish out of a whitewater boat. Of that I’m certain. You won’t optimize your fishing in a touring boat. You won’t want to do rapids in a good fishing boat. I’m guessing the best compromise between a good fishing boat and one having some respectable capability of SOME kind, would be a “wide touring boat”, or “semi-rec boat”. Some boats in this category will actually perform reasonably well in up to Class-II whitewater AND have pretty good efficiency and speed on the flats (my girlfriend paddles such a boat). The greatest “suffering” would be in whitewater, as you might need to resort to some traditional canoe maneuvers a lot of the time to compensate for the mediocre turning ability of this sort of boat, something I’ve never yet met a kayaker who’s willing to do (not saying it has to be that way).

Hard-Shell vs Inflatables in Whitewater:

You need to research this more, as your initial gut expectations are wrong. Hard-shell kayaks can be very capable in whitewater. What matters more than hull material is hull shape. The most extreme whitewater junkies “usually” paddle hard-shells. There are a few folks here who paddle inflatables in whitewater, and they can give you good advice on that style of boat. In general, inflatables (good ones, anyway) are more forgiving in wild water. If you learn to roll, etc., that’s likely not as big a deal. Inflatables range from poor to mediocre on the flats, and tend to be badly affected by wind, but again, I’m told that the better designs will minimize the degree of these handicaps. I’ve never seen an inflatable that can remotely keep pace with a hard-shell on flatwater though.


Inflatable kayaks are not easier to transport in all ways. Sure, you don’t need a roof rack, but the process of inflating and deflating is much slower than simply getting hard-shell boat off the roof and later putting it back. Also, inflatable boats must eventually be dried. Putting them away wet leads to deterioration, or so I keep hearing. Roof racks can be gotten which will fit virtually any car. They may seem expensive, but for day-to-day paddling, a rack and a hard-shell boat is likely to increase your opportunities to hit the water, and if the car is small, don’t forget that a folded-up inflatable isn’t exactly tiny, something that may matter a lot on a gear-laden road trip.

Get some lessons - anywhere
Seriously - what you want in a single boat is too wide ranging, and seat time is the only thing that will get you good answers.

Then spend money on a boat.

scaling down a bit
I would suggest deciding which is more to your liking, and concentrating on that. If your main preference is whitewater, gear up for that this trip, or if lakes/rivers/fishing, gear up for that. Maybe you won’t have such a wide variety on this excursion, but sometimes that’s life.

On future trips maybe you can travel equipped with both

To beat the dead horse

– Last Updated: May-30-14 4:05 PM EST –

A true whitewater (class 3+) boat does other things poorly in general.

As others have said, if you limit it to class 1-2 WW you can find a decent compromise boat that will do flat water ok as well.

Eventually, you'll probably end up with a small fleet like many of us on here, but as others have said, your first boat will have to be more constrained in purpose.

Let us know which water you want to pursue most and some good advice will follow

For white water
My suggestion would be to look for an outfitter in the area you want to do white water, and reserve a trip with HIS boats. You will also gain a minimal instruction benefit for that stretch of water. Then if you wish, you can buy boats for the other uses, but again for one trip rental may be the lowest cost option.

your wish list is very similiar to mine,

– Last Updated: Jun-01-14 5:34 PM EST –

I'm preparing for a 39 day van camping trip out west at the end of the month . I'm looking to do predominately class II and III ww and some very short flatwater paddling trips as well. I'm taking a creekboat- a high volume hardshell plastic kayak called a Pyranha Shiva. I do have prior experience in it and own one. Originally I thought I'd take my crossover kayaker but the shiva fits better inside the camper van so its more about transporting it than using the most versatile river craft. I'm also taking a couple of duckies- a saturn double duck and a tomcat. and am planning on either borrowing or renting additional boats that are better suited for specific locations. I've bought a folding bike to help with some of the shuttles. That's something you need to think about as well. How will you get back to your vehicle?

When I'm using the duckies- I am looking for rivers with constant current- what I call float streams- Niobrara in Nebraska, Shoshone and Buffalo Fork in Wyoming etc.

When the whitewater gets on the upper end of class III and my wife is involved I will rent a raft (Deschutes OR), for flatter stretches I'll probably rent or borrow a canoe.

I like your adventuresome spirit but hooking up with some others between now and then could be helpful. I'd suggest finding a local paddling club to expand your knowledge since some aspects of paddling ww is not necessarily intuitive.

So no one boat does it all. I'd be thinking ww duckies- you're familiar with them already, easier to transport- don't need to learn to roll but you do need to learn to reenter the boat with your feet not touching the bottom. I'd avoid paddling true flatwater in them because you'll find they're very slow- translation- a lot of work to move on the flats- but they are a good entry level boat into ww and I think your looking for that excitement but more on your own. Check out the American Whitewater River Info page and check out a few states just to get a sense of what is out there.