Guide On Kayaking VS White Water Rafting: Which Is Better?

by Jason | Last Updated:   April 16th, 2022
Guide On Kayaking VS White Water Rafting: Which Is Better?


Have you been wondering what’s the difference between white water kayaking VS white water rafting? 

And it’s a good question!

From the beginner’s eye, you’ll probably think there isn’t much difference; after all, both styles allow you to go down white water. So, in this article, I wanted to explain everything you need to know about the two water sports.

By the time you get to the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what white water kayaking is and how it compares to rafting.

Sound good?

Great, let’s get into it:

Kayaking Vs White Water Rafting: What Are The Differences?

As a beginner, you might find it challenging to pick out too many differences between kayaking and whitewater rafting.

The most noticeable difference is the boat used for the two sports (one is an inflatable boat, the other is a hard shell). But in this section, I’m going to break down white water kayaking and whitewater rafting.

Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of which style you want to try: 

White Water Kayaking 

Kayaking Vs White Water Rafting

Have you ever heard of paddlers throwing themselves down waterfalls? Well, that’s usually kayakers, and for a good reason. 

Whitewater kayaks have a few unique features that rafts don’t have, one of the biggest things being that they have a closed cockpit.

The closed cockpit on the kayak stops the boat from flying away from under you as you paddle down the river.

Another great thing about kayaks is you shouldn’t have any problems navigating narrow passageways or changing direction quickly. And this is due to kayaks being far more nimble than rafts.

In fact, kayaks are so elegant you can watch kayakers flipping their boat around on white water waves.

While talking about flipping kayaks, we should probably mention that you can roll your kayak reasonably quickly if you know the technique. And this is generally thanks to the closed cockpit, which prevents the kayak from filling with water when you flip.

Another difference with kayaks is that they use a double-bladed paddle instead of a single blade. This allows you to make adjustments to either side of the kayak quickly so you don’t tip into the water.

The final difference I want to point out is that a single person manages the kayak when you’re white water kayaking. And this is a huge difference when you compare it to the 8+ people on a white water raft. 

White Water Rafting

Kayaking Vs White Water Rafting

One of the best things about whitewater rafting is that you can experience the power of big whitewater waves without needing the necessary experience. And this is one of the main reasons tourists tend to lean toward rafting.

Rafting takes place in an inflatable raft, which can easily navigate bodies of white water. And they’re big enough to hold multiple people inside.

When you go whitewater rafting, you’ll be with several people and a raft guide. The guide will have exceptional technical ability and knowledge of the river. And that’s a huge difference when compared to kayaking.

A white water kayaker needs to have the exceptional technical ability to stop them from falling in the water. But with whitewater rafting, the only person that needs to be gifted is the tour guide.

And this is why rafting is an excellent introduction to white water. You get to experience the thrill of navigating water white without having to develop your skills.

Another big difference between kayaking and rafting is if the raft tips into the water body, you’re going to get very wet and come out of the raft.

And for many people, this can be a terrifying experience. Luckily, guides are usually very experienced in dealing with this and will get you back in the raft reasonably quickly (even if it feels like a lifetime at the moment).

The final difference I want to talk about is you’ll use single-bladed paddles. You’ll be providing the forward movements for the raft while the guide directs you through the rapids.

Rafting VS Kayaking: Which Is Better?

People always want me to tell them which one is better, and if I’m honest, I can’t. Both activities provide a fun environment, so it doesn’t matter which one you choose!

That being said, I could mention a few things to help point you in the right direction so you can find the recreational activity that suits you the best.

The first thing you should think about is, do you want to experience white water with your friends and family?

If you do, whitewater rafting is an excellent option; everyone can get into the raft, and you can experience it together.

On the other hand, kayaking tends to be a little bit more lonely. You’re in the kayak by yourself, so you don’t get to laugh with your friends until you’ve finished the run.

Another thing you should think about is the safety aspect. If you need the feeling of safety, you’ll have a better time rafting.

You have an experienced guide with you at all times; if anything happens, they know exactly what to do.

When you’re kayaking, you run a lot more risk of getting into trouble, so you should never go alone. But even with people, if they don’t notice you’ve tipped and can’t get back up, it could cost you your life.

As you can see, there are certain preferences that match the sports. It’s your job to find out which tastes you’re looking for.

If you’re looking to spend time with your family or team build in safety, rafting is an excellent option. If you want to truly test your whitewater paddling abilities and feel the true nature of white water, then kayaking is the one for you.

Do You Need Different Clothes Or Gear For WhiteWater Rafting VS Kayaking?

If you’re wondering if there are any differences between the clothes you should wear and the gear you need for the trips, you’ll be happy to know that there aren’t too many differences, especially regarding clothing. 

The most important thing to remember is to dress for the water temperature and not the air temperature when it comes to clothes.

One of the most important things to remember is not to wear cotton when you’re paddling. It absorbs a lot of water and can get very cold when wet. 

If you want to check out a more in-depth guide on what to wear kayaking in the summer or winter, click the link.

One of the good things about rafting is the company that you go with will provide you with all the equipment you need to get out there. This usually includes:

  • Helmets 
  • Wetsuits
  • PFDs 
  • Paddles
  • Raft
  • Instructor

When it comes to white water kayaking, you’ll need a few more things, making it more expensive unless you can rent the equipment for the day. 

For a white water kayaking trip, you’ll need:

  • Helmets 
  • Wetsuits
  • PFDs 
  • Paddle
  • Skull cap (Optional)
  • Drysuit/Half dry suit
  • Kayak
  • Spraydeck

And because these pieces of equipment are more specialist, they usually cost a lot more. And this is why you need to ask yourself how committed to white water kayaking you are.

The time you need to spend to get competent at paddling and the money you need to spend on equipment is nowhere near what you need for rafting.

Which Is More Expensive: Kayaking Or Whitewater Rafting?

Unless you want to own your own raft, then kayaking is a lot more expensive. Rafting is a day rate with a group and could cost between $30 and $150 per person. And that depends on where you’re doing it and what company you are going with.

Whitewater kayaking is a little bit different. You can’t really go out on a day trip kayaking with a tour company, so you need to buy all the equipment yourself. 

You can take some courses, which is an excellent place to start, but these could cost $1000+. And this is a perfect place to start; at least you learn the skills you need with a professional.

If you’ve already got the skills you need to paddle white waters, you’ll need to buy some of the equipment. And as you can see, it’s not cheap:

  • Helmets: $40+ 
  • Wetsuits: $50+
  • PFDs: $50+
  • Paddle: $150+
  • Skull cap (Optional): $20+
  • Water boots: $30+
  • Drysuit/Half dry suit: $120+
  • Kayak: Second-hand – $500 New – $1,000+ 
  • Spraydeck: $50

All of this equipment can quickly come to $1,000, and that’s if you go for second-hand equipment or budget items.

Whitewater Inflatable kayaks will drop the price slightly, but I’m yet to find an exceptional whitewater kayak that I trust 100%.

Essential Tips For Kayaking And Rafting 

Okay, before I leave you, I want to leave you with some essential tips for kayaking and rafting. It will help to guarantee you’ve made adequate preparations for your trip. 

  • If you’re looking for a bonding experience as part of a team, you should go rafting.
  • If you’re going somewhere extreme, make sure you have the right guide with you to avoid any injuries.
  • Try planning for calmer sessions if you’re kayaking and haven’t got much experience.
  • Make sure you’re dressing for the water temperature and not the air temperature.
  • Make sure you use the correct seating positions and safety considerations.
  • Listen to your instructor, even if you’ve been rafting before. They might use different terms, and they want you to get down the run safely.
  • Never drink alcohol before your river adventure; you need to be entirely focused.
  • Always wear your life jacket when you’re on or near the water.
  • Your decisions will determine how safe your kayaking adventure is going to be.
  • If you’re kayaking near a stopper, have some with a throw rope ready to get you.

Following these simple tips will make your journey more enjoyable and prevent you from injuring yourself.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways 

To the untrained eye, the only major difference between kayaking and whitewater rafting is the shape and style of the boat.

But as I’ve mentioned throughout this article, there are a few differences you should be aware of. If you’re planning to experience white water with more than one person, you should try rafting.

You don’t need any previous experience to get involved, which makes it perfect for people new to the glory of white water.

If you’re looking for a challenge and want to experience white water in all its glory, then getting out there on a kayak is an excellent option.

The problem most people have with white water kayaking is how expensive water sports are. Even if you buy budget equipment, you’re looking at $1000. For this reason, you need to be sure it’s something you want to stick with.

And the best way to do this is to book some kayaking tours and courses.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Rafting Easier Than Kayaking?

Whitewater rafting takes a lot less experience than kayaking, so for that reason, I’d say rafting is easier. You’ll have a qualified guide with you on the boat, so it’s a case of following their instructions and trying to stay on.

Should I Get A Kayak Or Raft?

That all comes down to what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for something you can do in a large group, then getting a raft is a great option. But if you’re looking to go extreme, you should head for a whitewater kayak.

Is White Water Kayaking Hard?

Whitewater rafting is a pretty intense sport, and it’s the adrenaline rush that keeps you coming back for more. The thing that makes white water kayaking so tricky is the technical knowledge you need to stay afloat. You definitely need a good amount of experience before jumping onto white water. 

What Are The Chances Of Dying While White Water Rafting?

When you’re dealing with whitewater, there’s always a chance of death, which can put many people off. On average, there has been a recorded 0.86 deaths per 100,000 episodes, which is lower than whitewater kayaking, 2.9 deaths.

Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.