Field Tested: Dagger Stratos

A high-performance, versatile polyethylene touring kayak with its roots in whitewater designs

(L: 14’6″; W: 25″; 56 LBS; Rotomolded polythylene. $1,199 dagger.com)

This was the only kayak I reviewed when there was snow on the ground. The staff at Dagger want their molds perfect, and as a result the re-did the Stratos forms three times until they were satisfied. Instead of a September delivery, it came in December. But nil desperandum, readers. In Wisconsin we don’t stop paddling until the water is hard and it was worth the wait.

The Stratos is a lovely kayak. The colors were bright and appealing, the outfitting was clean and the cockpit clearly showed its whitewater roots. It was well appointed and comfortable, with outfitting straight out of a downriver kayak, with a back band instead of a seat back. I flipped the kayak over and actually laughed out loud when I saw the hull. The center section of the hull looked remarkably (well, exactly) like a whitewater kayak with a planing hull and a distinctive, hard chine, while the bow and stern sections looked like a sea kayak that was slightly rounded to remove some of the hard edges that would inhibit maneuverability. My hat is off to the exceedingly clever designer.

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It’s one of two polyethylene kayaks in the review. “Serious” paddlers often discount polyethylene as unworthy of “serious” consideration. I suggest you ignore “serious” kayakers. The Stratos is a high-performance sea kayak that just happens to be shorter than most. The fact that it is constructed with polyethylene is not relevant except for weight. That said, if Dagger made one in composite construction, I’d be OK with that. Very okay with that.

The hull has a lot of rocker, making the Stratos incredibly maneuverable, even without edging. But when I lifted an inside knee and added a sweep stroke, the Stratos skidded into a turn so quickly I nearly go whiplash. This is a whitewater boat disguised as a small sea kayak. With that said, no one will accuse the Stratos of being a speed demon. I wasn’t looking for speed from this kayak, I was looking for playfulness. Your Stellar would be a pair of downhill speed skis; the Stratos, a pair of slalom skis.

The Stratos will go anywhere. It has less volume than the rest of the fleet, but will carry everything you need if you pack with care. I can imagine the fun I could have with a Stratos in a sea caver or some big surf. I would love to take it on a multi-day trip down a big Western river like the San Juan or the Green. Or, if the stars aligned, the Colorado, through the Grand Canyon. That sounds like a perfect use for this kayak.

 

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