There are a lot of boats on the market today that fit into the “creek boat” category. My aim with this creek boat review is to give you a a good overview of the market today and a personal experience comparison that is as unbiased a review as you can get in the paddle sports market. I currently have no direct ties to any boat manufacturer or retailer, and make no money from writing this review. The review is written from my experience, body type and paddling style. I have tried to note where a boat might perform better under different circumstances.
Bryon Dorr/6’3”/170 lbs/32” inseam/US 13 Shoe
I started whitewater paddling in ’99 with the Towson University Kayak Club and completely caught the WW bug while studying at the University of Tasmania where I met a great group of boaters and explored many remote rivers all over the island. Upon returning to the US I was certified to teach through the ACA and taught for Tom McEwan, my river mentor, for many years in the DC area. After college I became the North American distributor for Fluid Kayaks and a product rep for H2O Paddles and Rock Hedz helmets. This allowed me to travel and boat all over the world with super strong paddlers. That business didn’t work out and I took a 7 month break from paddling in HI. The lure of road trips and WW quickly brought me back to the mainland and I spent a long summer living out of my Volvo wagon kayaking all across the country. Ending up in OR I took the job of running Next Adventure‘s paddle sports program. A few years ago I also became an investor in Core Paddles, as I wanted to be a part of true materials advancement in this industry. After a few good years at Next I decided to move on to a new adventure and started Exploring Elements, which will hopefully allow me to travel the world through kayaking. I’m an aggressive paddler that likes to steer a boat from the bow/knee and enjoy all types of paddling: freestyle, creek, surf, river running, C-1 freestyle, wildwater, slalom, sea, etc…
The following graphs provide an overview and detailed info on every boat in this test, all of which I have personally paddled. Each criteria is rated on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being the best. The EE Weight represents the weight of a new boat on the showroom floor as weighted by me on a digital postal scale. The EE Paddler Weight Range is the suggested realistic weight range for each boat as determined by my experiences with these boats and through discussions with other boat owners.
If you’d like to see these charts larger click on the following links:
Big Dog Kayaks is one of the new guys on the block and are part of the Valley Kayaks family. The build quality seems quite good, but the functionality, comfort and performance of the outfitting has a long way to go. The Drop Zone is the company’s full on creeker and is a confidence inspiring boat. It is a little sluggish off the line, but has good top end speed. The edges are a bit mushy, but very forgiving. The boat boofs well, but does require effort.
This boat is the big water river/creek boat in the Big Dog lineup. It is quite fast and accelerates quickly. It takes a bit of effort to boof due to the lower stern rocker and longer waterline. Great boat overall as a one boat quiver type of machine, but the outfitting will require a lot of custom work to perform well.
This boat is designed for aggressive paddlers that like a hard rail on their creekboat. It boofs easily and carves hard. The boat is slow overall and the low knee position and high sidewalls don’t make for very good ergonomics. Someone with a long torso and short legs would be well suited for this boat. Outfitting is quite solid and comfortable, except for the low thigh hooks.
This has become the modern long boat racer of choice. Very well suited for fast creeking and big water with its highly rockered hull. It has surprising stability for such a narrow boat. If you want to buy a boat off the shelf and go fast this is really one of your only options. With Dagger’s solid comfortable outfitting and a little experience in longer boats you really can just hop in this thing and race, as I’ve done exactly that a few times now.
Probably the most predictable boat on the market. It has also been on rivers around the world longer than any other boat in this test. It is known to be a quick boat and is still winning creek races today, even with the switch to a 9′ length rule for short boats in most races. The boat inspires confidence in all level of paddler with its rock solid stability and super forgiving hull. The boat holds a line really well, but this can cause issues sometimes as it is quite difficult to get the boat off a bad line once you have it locked in. The outfitting is comfortable, functional and durable.
This is a newer take on an old standard in the creeking world. The boat is very good at climbing up and over everything in its path and auto boofs on command, due to its huge stern rocker and upturned nose. This boat does like to back ender into holes due to its relatively low volume stern. The boat doesn’t stay on line well and is slow all the way around, but reacts well to being driven hard. Outfitting is a DIY situation and there isn’t much in the way of thigh hooks to speak of. Get out your mini cell and H2O Glue because its old school boat outfitting time:)
This is a BIG person boat! This boat requires someone over 200lbs with a long torso and good paddling form to really get all its performance benefits. The boat has a huge amount of primary stability, due to its massive planning surface, but lacks much secondary stability. With lots of effort the boat boofs well and lands very flat, be mindful of your back! The boat carves well with its quite pronounced edges and punches through WW well, but does not go up and over WW easily. The outfitting needs some major work as some of the fittings are a bit odd and the hip pad system just doesn’t work well. Thigh hooks do not work in the back two positions, as the forward adjustment screw would be directly above your kneecap. The cockpit also does not work well with a randed skirt, as the bolt heads for the seat outfitting are too close to the cockpit rim, making it extremely hard to get the rand between the rim and bolt head. Also a super heavy boat!
This boat is an evolution of the Solo series and has many of the same characteristics. It is a big fast boat, but takes some work to get up to speed. The boat is well suited for big overnight trips in big water that isn’t too technical. The boat boofs well, but takes a good amount of effort due to the low stern rocker that is located way back on the boat.
M: Very sporty creek/river runner style boat that excels at big water. This boat was designed with a very high performance hull, based off the Nemesis playboat. This thing boofs, jet ferries and surfs like a dream. The downside to all this is that there are a lot of edges, both on the hull and deck, to catch you off guard and turn you upside down. Fun boat, just not what I’d recommend for everyday creeking, especially in low volume stuff. The M is quite small and suited for a smaller paddler than advertised.
L: The L is very similar to the M, but has more speed, carries more weight and is a bit more forgiving. At 170 lbs I’d paddle the L, as the M was very small for my legs/feet and quite tippy.
S: THE boat for low water, steep and technical creeking! It’s amazing the huge paddler weight and size range that this tiny boat can accommodate. Boofs super easy, very maneuverable and accelerates quickly, but has very poor top end speed. Not a boat for big pushy water.
M: This boat was introduced later than the rest of the Solo series and was modeled off the existing boats with little testing. It has quality characteristics from both the S and L boats, but doesn’t seem to put them together in a package that really works well. With the huge weight ranges that the other sizes accommodate I think you could find a better boat for your needs in one of those sizes.
L/Exp: The L and Exp Solo are the same boat, except the Exp has a different deck on it with another drain plug and a rear hatch. The boat is quick for its length and is quick edge to edge. It carves quite well and handles slide style rapids in control, due to its raised rails. It almost auto boofs, is quite maneuverable and holds a line well when weight is kept over the bow. There are many versions of outfitting in this boat, with varying degrees of successful execution. The outfitting works, but you buy this boat for the hull performance, not the outfitting.
(I am biased on the Solo because I helped in its development and have been paddling one since 2004.)
The boat is easy to hop into and feel super comfortable. The boat is predictable, easy to paddle and has solid stability. It resurfaces in complete control, but could use more stern volume to help propel it away from drops. Very much a go over waves and holes boat versus a punch through style boat. Not a fast boat, but top speed is faster than you’d expect from such a highly rockered hull. It holds a line well, but carving is a bit mushy. It does carve well if you get your weight back a bit and carve off the stern. Probably the best outfitting in a creek boat I’ve seen. Super comfortable and the easy access to the stern is convenient. Only outfitting improvement could be more aggressive thigh hooks.
Probably the fastest under 9′ boat on the market today. It handles like an old school long boat and requires you to drive it to be fast. The boat stays at top speed easily, surfs well and has super solid stability. Not a good low water boat, as its long water line and displacement hull tend to catch on rocks. The boat wants to punch through everything and is tough to get the bow over WW features. It boofs and accelerates okay, but requires effort. The comfortable outfitting, predictable handling and stability make this a great choice for beginner river runners and expert racers alike. Not a great “creek boat,” but works in the hands of a skilled paddler.
M: Known for its durability Prijon’s, blow molded, plastic is well suited for creeking. This boat looks to have some odd proportions, but in the end it all just works. The boat is quick for its length, but takes some effort to accelerate. It carves well in big water and is quite maneuverable. The outfitting seems to be a love it or hate it scenario, but I’m on the love it side and really can’t find anything that’s not to like. The HTP plastic and sturdy outfitting do make for a relatively heavy boat.
XL: Very similar boat to the M Pure. The boat feels narrower than it is and is very fast for its length. I was amazed at how responsive such a large boat was at my weight. Great boat for big guys, expeditions and creek racing.
Such an easy boat to hop in and feel comfortable with. Stability all the way around is really good, except when WAY on edge. Boofs, ferries, etc are all relatively easy and predictable for such a large boat. It goes over and through holes and waves with ease, with body position and amount of edge applied completely determining what the boat will do. This boat is quite fast, but takes a bit of effort to accelerate. I really appreciated that you can drive the boat from a forward aggressive position with draws from the knee. Outfitting was quite comfortable, but made up of way too many parts that tend to break, loosen and get lost.
M: Very sporty and performance oriented boat. A bit narrow and twitchy, but secondary stability once on edge is super solid. Resurfaces a bit out of control, I think due to its deck lines. Boat wants to punch through versus going up and over waves and holes and boofs well on edge but does not auto boof. It accelerates quickly, but isn’t all that fast at top speed. It carves well, but is only okay at holding a line. Lateral waves easily push it around the river. I think due to the large side profile created by the stern volume of the boat. Stern volume seems a bit much, but effectively squirts you out of each drop. Outfitting is very comfortable. The boat is quite heavy for its size, but the added thickness of the hull might add to the life of the boat.
L: Much the same as the M, but much faster overall speed. Primary stability is a bit better at my weight and at 170lbs I prefer the L to the M, although both sizes would work well at my weight.
76: Very aggressive style boat that steers from the hip and carves off the stern rail. It boofs easily and accelerates quickly, but doesn’t really have a fast top speed. Resurfaces well and is quite maneuverable if you remember to turn it from the hip. Outfitting is overall pretty good, but the thigh hooks are quite pathetic.
80: Same as 76, but faster and has a much higher weight capacity. Boats now coming out of China are quite thick plastic and heavy.
I have not been able to get in every boat out there, but look forward to getting into other boats soon. The following boats are currently on the market, but not tested by me at the time of this review: Bliss-Stick Tuna, Dagger Mamba 8.1 & 8.6, Exo Demon, Exo XT-260 & XT-300, Fluid Bazooka M, Jakson Hero & Super Hero, Jackson Villain S & L, Liquid Logic Stinger, Liquid Logic Stomper 90, Pyranha Burn M & L, Wavesport Diesel 70 & 80, Wavesport Habitat 74 & 80, Zet Raptor, Zet Veloce and Titan Exile.
The totals for each model in the comparison chart really don’t mean a whole lot. On the other hand, the number each boat received for each criteria is valuable in how it compares to the other boats. I purposefully left volume off the chart, as it is rarely accurate and as a number should have little to no effect on your boat choice.
In the end it really comes down to paddling style, body type and where you paddle. For someone under 180 lbs that paddles tight, steep and technical creeks there isn’t a better boat than the S Solo. For someone who exclusively paddles big water and races the Remix 79 is the ticket. For the over 200 lb guy that is just getting into creeking the Pure XL or Everest are sure to fit the bill. For the new creeker that weights 150-180 and wants a boat that will be easy to keep upright it would be hard not to recommend the Nomad 8.5 or Stomper 80. As you can see there really is a boat, or boats, for everyone.
I paddled a S Solo when I lived on the East coast and paddled mostly in WV. I moved west and paddled that boat on the NF Payette and scared the crap out of myself, quickly selling off the boat and getting a L Solo. I’ve been happy with my L Solo, but have had to fix many outfitting issues. I’ve also needed to borrow faster boats for creek racing and haven’t done a self contained overnighter yet, which I’m sure I’d rather have a bigger boat for. My L Solo is seeing the end of its days and I’m in the market for a new creekboat, but I want everything! I race, want to do overnighters, love steep low volume stuff and find myself on large volume West coast creeks/rivers quite often. As always, I guess I need a few more boats;)
Please leave comments below or use the contact form to convey your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Also let me know if there is any way that I could improve this and/or future product reviews.
See you on the water,
–Canoe & Kayak Magazine recently did a big creekboat review and I was asked to come along to document the happenings and try out some boats. We had a great time paddling some NW classics and enjoyed some high octane bowling:) For the full review check out the latest C&K WW annual or the just published full article on their blog, “The 2012 Creekboat Review: Bombing Seattle.” Each boat review has a photo that I took.