Whitewater is rated from class I-V (1 to 5) based on several different factors such as how big and long the rapid is, how easy a rescue would be and how much skill is required to navigate it.

Class I

Beginner rapids with fast moving water and little ripples. It is easy to navigate but there still can be rocks or other hazards to avoid. Flipping is rare but can still happen.

Class II

Intermediate smaller rapids with waves, holes and other features to navigate. These features are straightforward but can flip you over. Most of the time read and run is the way to go but scouting can still a good idea.

 Class III

These are advanced rapids which are bigger and more complex. Usually longer with several big waves, retentive holes or sometimes just one big hit. Flipping is more common on these rapids and can lead to longer swims. Scouting is recommended as well as setting safety.


Class IV

These are expert rapids characterized by big waves, holes, tight passages or other hazards that are hard to avoid. Usually big drops or very long complex rapids. Scouting is highly recommended as well as setting safety or portaging (hiking around).

Class V

These are professional rapids with long complex waves, big holes, huge drops, or other features that are unavoidable. They are usually very long with little or no eddies (resting spots).  Flipping and swimming are very likey to happen to the unprepared paddler and a rescue could be very hard. Portaging these rapids is recommended.


Sometimes the ratings are broken down as class 2/3 or 2+ to help rate the rapids better. River ratings can also change based on water levels. A river could be rated a class 2 at one level, but when the flow rises it could turn it into a class 3. Sometimes at higher flows features get “washed out” and the river will drop down from class 4 to 3. Ratings can vary from region to region as well, a class 3 low flow creek run will be very different from a class 3 big volume river. Rivers can also change day to day from flow levels, to new wood hazards or even rock fall changing a rapid. Some rapids also have sneak lines where you can weave your way around the bigger features making the rapid easier. Scouting a rapid can help your find the line down as well as check for hazards. Be sure to always check conditions for flow levels and local incident reports. American Whitewater is a great resource to check conditions and find rivers nearby. Always paddle within your limits until the time is right to safely push it to the next level.

How we rate our packrafts

We have packrafts rated for lakes to Class 4+ and everything in between. We are conservative with our ratings of our packrafts and want to keep everyone safe out there. For example, our Rogue Lite is rated to class 1. Can you run class 3 in it? We wouldn't recommend it, but it has been done before. If there is a river that is mellow with one easy pool drop class 3 you can probably make it through ok, but without self bailing floor or spraydeck, it will fill up with water and become way harder to control and maneuver. So if you are going to be running class 3 fairly often, it's best to get a packraft like the Nirvana that is designed to run class 3 all the time.  

For bikerafting and paddling with your dog, we recommend staying at class 2 or below. 

Always where your lifejacket/PFD when paddling any water and a helmet for whitewater.

April 26, 2024 — Tristan Burnham