The logistics of transporting a hard-shell kayak from one spot to another can be beyond impractical – even more so when you don’t have a 4×4 truck or a trailer at your disposal.
If only kayaks were a bit more portable, right?
Wait; what? What do rubber duckies have to do with anything?
Yeah, it’s a silly name, but duckies couldn’t be further from – well, rubber duckies. Instead, I’ll introduce you to the best ducky kayak – inflatable ‘yaks capable of giving whitewater hard-shells a run for their money.
Keep reading and see for yourself!
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At a Glace: Our Top Picks for Best Ducky Kayak
- Overall Winner: Driftsun Rover 120
- Runner-Up: NRS Star Viper Inflatable Ducky
- Budget Pick: ADVANCED ELEMENTS Attack Pro Inflatable Kayak
- Top Cross-Over Duckie Boat: Aquaglide McKenzie 105
- Best Tandem Ducky: Aquaglide McKenzie 125
- Best Duckie for Anglers: ADVANCED ELEMENTS StraitEdge Angler
- Most Versatile Ducky Boat: ADVANCED ELEMENTS StraitEdge 2-Person
- Best Value For Money: AIRE Tributary Tomcat Solo Inflatable Kayak
In A Rush? The Winner After 38 Hours Of Research:
Driftsun Rover 120
Why is it better?
- Heavy-duty 1000D reinforced PVC construction for puncture-resistance
- Three separate air chambers for added safety
- An aggressive rocker profile and rigid drop-stitch floor designed for stability, maneuverability, and control
- Five self-bailing ports
- Ultra-lightweight, travel-friendly design for paddlers on the go
- Suitable for up to class IV whitewater rapids
- Features a removable tracking fin for improved flat-water handling
- Tie-down points for onboard storage space and an action camera mount
- Comes with a padded seat, paddle, pump, and a travel bag
What Is A Ducky Kayak, Anyway?
Referring to inflatable kayaks as “duckies” doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. If I’m honest, it doesn’t inspire any confidence at all. The fact that it takes you back to your childhood days of playing with rubber duckies or one of those Shamu Whale pool toys doesn’t help, either – it might leave you thinking are these inflatable kayaks safe?
I wouldn’t blame you for wondering how a ducky could ever compare to a traditional hard-shell kayak – let alone come out on top. But as you’re about to see, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Let’s start with the basics:
What is a duckie kayak?
You’ve already figured out that they’re some type of inflatable kayaks; I made that part clear. But I’m not talking about the cheap, vinyl-made stuff found at large retail outlets; these are much tougher than your average inflatable kayaks built for recreational fun.
Duckies are inflatable sit-on-top kayaks that fall somewhere between a raft and a traditional kayak in terms of maneuverability, combining the best of both worlds. These stable, forgiving, easy-to-paddle, high-tech specialized ‘yaks can rival hard-shells in any of your on-the-water adventures. They gained their name from the curved rocker profile which makes them look ‘duck-like’. And just like a duck, they move effortlessly through the water.
It might come as a surprise, but they are a highly popular choice for whitewater kayaking. So to simply things; duckies are super tough whitewater inflatable kayaks – and are one of the four distinct types of whitewater boats, the others being; playboats, creek boats and river runners (half slices) .
Also be aware, depending on where in the world you are, they go by many other names; duckie raft, rubber ducky kayak, rubber ducky raft, river duckies are just a few of the ones I’ve heard – I am sure there are many more. Let me know in the comments section.
Yup, that’s right:
Ducky Inflatable Kayaks are perfectly capable of conquering the extreme conditions of raging rivers and whitewater rapids.
Who knew, huh?
Oh, and while we’re at it, here are a few more reasons why duckies are worth considering:
- They’re space-efficient and can be deflated and folded for storage
- They’re lightweight and highly portable
- Compact, easy-to-carry duckies are a perfect choice for travelers
- The air-filled chambers make them more stable and harder to capsize
- They typically cost way less than their hard-shell counterparts
Buying Guide: Things To Look For In The Best Duckie Kayak
Conquering whitewater rapids in a kayak is pure adrenaline-boosting, mind-blowing fun – but it’s not something to be taken lightly.
If you have no previous experience with whitewater paddling, know that having a reliable kayak capable of withstanding the abuse of the wild rapids is crucial. You don’t want to find yourself ducky rafting in not-so-gentle waters with an inappropriate kayak, ever.
It goes beyond investing hard-earned money into a watercraft that can’t rise to the occasion; your safety and well-being are on the line, too.
Many different factors can make one inflatable duckies kayaks perform better than the other, though, which makes the decision-making process a bit tricky.
So, to help you, I rounded up the key features to look for when buying a whitewater duckies kayak!
Size & Weight: Short & Wide For The Win
Fast-moving rivers, streams, and relentless whitewater rapids are specific surroundings that call for a responsive, maneuverable, and stable kayak.
I mean, you’ll have a much better time if you’re not constantly getting tossed around and fighting to stay right-side-up.
That’s why short and wide with an emphasized rocker profile is generally the way to go when it comes to the best duckie kayak:
The shorter design makes navigating fast-moving waters and avoiding any potential obstacles easier, while the added width provides some much-needed stability in such an environment.
On that note, most whitewater duckies will be suitable for whitewater class II and III rapids, but few can tackle whitewater class IV rapids with ease.
Also, inflatable duckie kayaks tend to be lighter than your average hard-shell – a lot lighter, might I add. But since getting an inflatable is about portability more than anything else, it doesn’t hurt to check the kayak’s base weight.
On average, a duckie kayak will weigh somewhere between 20 to 40 pounds – but anything you’re willing to “tolerate” when transporting the ‘yak is fine.
Don’t Forget To Check The Kayak’s Capacity
You likely won’t be carrying as much additional gear when going whitewater kayaking as you would on a kayak fishing trip. A paddle, a helmet, a PFD, and a dry bag or two is probably all you’ll need.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t factor in the duckie kayak’s maximum load capacity when making your choice, though.
Nimble whitewater duckies tend to be short; that’s what makes them so quick and easy to maneuver in fast-moving waters. The issue is that smaller kayaks – inflatable or not – usually can’t support heavier loads that well.
So, here’s my advice:
Be realistic about the weight you’ll be carrying on average. Will you be paddling solo or with a partner? How much gear will you need? You know, stuff like that.
Most ducky inflatable kayaks will have a weight limit somewhere in the range of 300 to 600 pounds. Take inventory, crunch the numbers, and aim to find a balance between the kayak’s carrying capacity and maneuverability.
Materials & Durability: It Shouldn’t Pop At The Sight Of A Rock
Sure, we can all agree that inflatable kayaks can’t offer the same durability level as hard-shell ones – but to think that they’ll pop at first sight of a rock?
Fat chance, as they say.
Duckies are a whole different breed from those cheap, pool-toy-looking inflatables you might’ve seen back in the day.
Any durability issues inflatables might’ve had in the past have long been resolved. New technologies paved the way for the inflatable kayaks as we know them today – tough, made of heavy-duty materials, and far more puncture-resistant than ever.
You’ll generally have three options in terms of materials – Hypalon, Nitrylon, or, the most common of all, PVC.
Regardless of which one you choose, the following features will be excellent indicators of construction quality:
- Higher denier rating
- Exterior material coating and reinforcements
- Drop-stitch construction
- Three to five separate air chambers
Scupper Holes & Self-Bailing: Preventing Excess Water From Sinking Your Duckie
Navigating slow-moving rivers isn’t likely to cause a lot of water to accumulate on the kayak’s deck – but in whitewater rapids, taking on water is pretty much a given.
That’s where self-bailing duckies come to play:
Inflatable kayaks that feature scupper holes – small openings located at the bottom of the kayak – are designed to drain the excess water without requiring manual bailing.
Scupper holes don’t sound like a big deal and are easy to overlook, but they can prevent the water weight from impacting the kayak’s buoyancy and causing it to sink.
So, to sum it up:
If you plan on running rapids in your new duckie, be sure to look for scupper holes; self-bailing is a must in these somewhat extreme conditions!
Best Ducky Inflatable Kayak – Top 8 Duckies Reviewed & Rated
Best Cross-Over Ducky Kayak
Aquaglide McKenzie 105 Ducky Inflatable Kayak
This kayak, named after the McKenzie River’s relentless rapids, it’s part of a new breed of inflatables that are a cross between a whitewater and recreational kayak – a hybrid if you will. So, the versatility and technical features shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Aquaglide does not officially state its whitewater rating but I would say you are ok up to moderate class iii rapid conditions
Duratex hull, EvoBeam floor construction, and three inflation chambers add durability without bulk, with the 10.2-foot kayak weighing a mere 24 pounds. Still, it’s spacious enough given its overall size and has a solid 300-pound capacity.
McKenzie 105 boasts a self-bailing design with four mesh drains and additional features, including Posi-Track fin and Aquaglide’s Core 2 seat. It’s a shame a paddle and pump – two crucial pieces of equipment for inflatables – aren’t included.
- Duratex fabric-reinforced PVC construction
- Measures 10.2 x 2.8 feet
- Weighs 24 pounds
- 300-pound capacity
- A hybrid of whitewater and a recreational kayak
- Lightweight, compact, easy-to-carry design
- Uses a Halkey-Roberts valve for quick inflation
- Features four self-bailing drains
- Padded and adjustable seat
- It doesn’t include vital equipment, like the paddle or the pump
- Doesn’t have any onboard storage space other than a few tie-down spots
Aquaglide kayaks enjoy the reputation of being lightweight, tough, portable, performance-oriented inflatables. McKenzie 105 – a highly recommended option for solo paddlers – is no different.
Overall Best Ducky Kayak
Driftsun Rover 120
Agile, stable, tough-as-nails, and adventure-ready – need I say more?
Rover 120’s heavy-duty, three-chamber construction combines the 1000D reinforced PVC, a PVC Tarpaulin bottom cover, and a rigid drop-stitch floor. Add the large bow and stern curvature, for an aggressive rocker profile, and five self-bailing ports, and you get a high-performance inflatable kayak ducky that will tackle whitewater up to class IV rapids with exceptional control and stability.
It weighs as little as 22 pounds, which only makes the 300-pound capacity sound more impressive.
Plus, it features a removable tracking fin for navigating flat-water – although not as successfully – along with an adjustable seat, paddle, pump, and an action camera mount. There’s no onboard storage, though; you’ll have to share the on-deck space with your equipment.
- 1000D reinforced PVC construction
- Measures 8.5 x 3 feet
- Weighs 22 pounds
- 300-pound capacity
- Ultra-lightweight but rigid and durable construction
- Rated for up to class IV whitewater rapids
- Features five self-bailing drains
- Comes with essential kayaking accessories, including a travel bag and repair kit
- Cargo space is limited to tie-downs
- Speed and tracking aren’t as great in flat-water conditions
- Larger paddlers might find it relatively short
If you want the ultimate performer whitewater kayak with premium quality and top-level materials in every aspect of its construction, the Driftsun Rover 120 is it, period.
Best Tandem Cross-Over Ducky
Aquaglide McKenzie 125 Ducky Inflatable Kayak
Is this Aquaglide whitewater inflatable kayak looking strangely familiar? Don’t worry; you’re not imagining things. My next pick, the McKenzie 125, is McKenzie 105’s bigger brother, and the two look almost identical – save for the differences in overall dimensions, that is.
It has the same whitewater/recreational hybrid design, Duratex fabric-reinforced PVC construction with three air chambers, four mesh drains, and a Halkey-Roberts valve. And much like the McKenzie 105, this one doesn’t come with a pump or paddle, either.
What sets the McKenzie 125 apart is that it’s a slightly longer, 12.2-foot two-person kayak. It’s gained some weight, clocking in at 30 pounds, and doubled its capacity to a staggering 600 pounds.
- Duratex fabric-reinforced PVC construction
- Measures 12.2 x 2.9 feet
- Weighs 30 pounds
- 600-pound capacity
- Tandem kayak; hybrid of whitewater kayak and a recreational ‘yak
- Impressive weight to load capacity ratio
- Easy to inflate and deflate
- Four self-bailing drains
- Doesn’t include the basics such as a pump and a paddle
- Onboard storage space is limited to tie-downs
- Some might find it pricey
McKenzie 125 is built to perform, with versatility at its core – and a capacity for two. If you’re not big on paddling solo, give it a go!
Best Ducky Kayak For Anglers
ADVANCED ELEMENTS StraitEdge Ducky Inflatable Kayak
Advanced Elements first introduced built-in aluminum ribs in sit-on-top self-bailing inflatables. That’s how StraitEdge – the furthest possible thing from your “average” inflatable – came to be:
The 9.7-foot StraitEdge Angler boasts heavy-duty, multi-layer PVC material construction with abrasion pads and five air chambers for maximum durability and puncture-resistance, even in aggressive conditions. Better yet, this whitewater kayak is rated for class III rapids!
It’s fitted with an accessory frame for your fishing gear, rod holders, front and rear bungee lacing, and a 300-pound load limit to boot – but no pump or paddle.
Also, at 41 pounds, it’s heavier than the previous options. Then again, none of them had an aluminum frame capable of taking tracking to the hard-shell-kayak level.
- Heavy-duty PVC Tarpaulin construction with aluminum ribs
- Measures 9.7 x 2.9 feet
- Weighs 41 pounds
- 300-pound capacity
- Extreme puncture-resistance and abrasion pads in high-use areas
- Five air chambers
- Aluminum rib frame improves tracking
- Rated for Class III whitewater rapids
- Customizable accessory-mounting frame
- It’s heavier than the previous few duckie kayaks
- Doesn’t come with a pump or paddle
- It takes a long time to dry
StraitEdge Angler is extremely tough, stable, and highly customizable, packing cool features you won’t find in comparable inflatable kayaks. It’s an angler’s dream-come-true.
Best Convertible Ducky Kayak
ADVANCED ELEMENTS StraitEdge 2-Person Ducky Kayak
If the StraitEdge Angler is an angler’s dream-come-true, then the StraitEdge2 must be every paddling duo’s ultimate fantasy – and then some.
The wide-beam duckie kayak passes the durability test with flying colors, featuring multi-layered PVC, five separate air chambers, and abrasion pads on high-contact points.
To top it off, it has the same self-bailing design with aluminum frame reinforcements, which improves tracking on open waters and contributes to StraitEdge2’s ability to conquer class III whitewater rapids.
It’s a 13-foot tandem, so the 47-pound weight and 500-pound capacity aren’t surprising. Plus, you can rearrange the seats and paddle solo, too!
- 2 person inflatable kayak
- Heavy-duty PVC tubes with a Tarpaulin bottom construction with aluminum ribs
- Measures 13 x 2.9 feet
- Weighs 47 pounds
- 500-pound capacity
- Heavy-duty and high quality construction, extra abrasion pads, and five air chambers
- Can be paddled solo or in tandem
- Aluminum ribs improve open-water tracking
- Rated as a Class III whitewater kayak
- It’s not exactly easy on the wallet
- Pump and paddle are sold separately
- Feels a bit slow compared to other similarly-sized duckies
Sometimes you prefer conquering whitewater rapids solo – and sometimes you want to share the excitement. A convertible duckie kayak, like the StraitEdge2, is perfect for the job!
Best Budget-Friendly Ducky Kayak
ADVANCED ELEMENTS Attack Pro Inflatable Kayak
Okay, one more, and I’m done with Advance Elements. And no, I won’t be talking about aluminum frame ribs this time around:
One of Attack Pro’s biggest selling points is the drop-stitch technology – which promises high pressure and extreme rigidity – incorporated in its design.
Beyond the rock-solid drop-stitch floor, this 9.7-foot duckie boasts durable PVC and Tarpaulin bottom construction with three separate air chambers, hull abrasion rails, and self-bailing plugs. Plus, a 12-inch rocker profile for increased maneuverability.
It’s built for cutting through whitewater rapids without compromising control, stability – or comfort, for that matter.
Also, I love how featherlight it feels at 25 pounds, but the 225-pound weight limit is – well, pretty limiting. If you’re a big guy like me, look elsewhere.
- Heavy-duty PVC material and Tarpaulin construction
- Measures 9.7 x 2.9 feet
- Weighs 25.5 pounds
- 225-pound capacity
- Drop-stitch floor and 12-inch rocker for maneuverability
- Wide and stable beginner-friendly whitewater kayak platform
- Self-bailing design
- Three air chambers
- Rear on-deck covered cargo bay
- Limited 225-pound capacity won’t work for bigger paddlers
- Bow and stern is quite flat for a whitewater kayak, slightly more rocker profile might make for a smoother ride
- Doesn’t include a pump or paddle
Attack Pro combines the stability and price tag of a beginner-friendly ducky inflatable kayak with enough playfulness and agility to make experienced adrenaline junkies smile. Talk about balance!
Best Ducky Kayak For Rolls
NRS Star Viper Inflatable Ducky Kayak
Star Viper aims to combine the performance of a hard-shell with the convenience of an inflatable ducky kayak – and surprisingly enough, this bright-green 9.5-footer pulls it off:
This high-performance self-bailing design boasts 1000D PVC construction with five separate chambers and a drop-stitch floor insert for rigidity. It can handle Class III whitewater rapids, ride over waves, punch through holes – and still weigh only 33 pounds.
Bow and stern displacement chambers boost Viper’s flotation and create a top-deck profile that makes performing safety rolls possible – especially with thigh straps for a secure, locked-in fit.
The 200-pound maximum capacity was a bit of a disappointment; a guy like me couldn’t even fit in the Viper.
- 1000D PVC construction
- Measures 9.5 x 3 feet
- Weighs 33 pounds
- 200-pound capacity
- A top-deck profile makes rolling possible
- Displacement chambers add flotation for easier resurfacing
- Wide beam and drop-stitch floor for stability
- Five air chambers
- Includes a pump
- Not the most budget-friendly duckie kayak
- Has a very low weight limit
- The floor insert is kept in place by a cheap nylon strap
If you want the best ducky inflatable kayak for rolls, eddy turns, and surfing – things your average inflatable’ yak couldn’t handle – Star Viper’s worth considering!
Best Value-For-Money River Duckie Kayak
AIRE Tributary Tomcat Solo Inflatable Kayak
Another option worth considering – especially if you’re after a mid-range value-for-money ducky inflatable – is AIRE Tributary Tomcat Solo.
Its construction combines 1000D outer PVC floor, 500D outer PVC tubes, and the AireCell system – an internal vinyl bladder system – with three air chambers for added safety. What’s more, it has a self-bailing design with mesh drains along the bottom.
It’s great for class II – and even Class III – whitewater rapids, but doesn’t “behave” that well in flat-water.
The AIRE Tomcat weighs 34 pounds, which isn’t too much considering that it’s nearly 11 feet long, but it does fall on the heavier side. The 375-pound capacity is a plus, though.
- 1000D PVC construction
- Measures 10.8 x 3 feet
- Weighs 34 pounds
- 375-pound capacity
- High quality with a tough outer shell, internal vinyl bladders, three air chambers and PVC floor
- Mesh drainage system for self-bailing
- Can be paddled in class II and III whitewater rapids
- You’ll have to purchase a pump and paddle separately
- It’s on the heavier side for an inflatable
- Doesn’t handle that well in flat-water
AIRE Tomcat Solo is a river duckie that built to last, stable, and priced right – and that’s all you need to explore the world of whitewater kayaking and improve your skills.
Final Thoughts & Verdict: The Best Ducky Kayak Is?
I covered quite a lot in this article. It’s understandable if you’re feeling a bit confused – or even overwhelmed – trying to figure out which of these is the best ducky kayak for you. But hopefully you now know they are far more than just an inflatable kayak – and just as capable or better than the hard-shell equivalent!
I promised to help you pick out the right ducky inflatable kayak, though – and I plan on keeping my word.
So, before I wrap things up, I’d like to recommend the Driftsun Rover 120 as one of my personal favorites.
It’s lightweight enough to take with you no matter where your thrill-seeking adventures take you, but at the same time, it’s tough as nails. The rugged outer shell, heavily bow and stern curvature resulting in an aggressive rocker profile, rigid drop-stitch floor, self-bailing drains; it has everything you need for tackling up to class IV rapids – a true king of the whitewater inflatable kayaks.