Field Tested: 4 Expedition-Worthy Crossover Kayaks

Testing crossover kayaks on Oregon's Wild and Scenic Rogue River

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Words: Joe Jackson
Photos: Aaron Schmidt

The Wild and Scenic stretch of Oregon's Lower Rogue could well be defined as a crossover river. Ambling miles of emerald Class II punctuated with whoop-worthy Class III (and the occasional Class IV drop) make it a perfect place for beginner whitewater boaters to cross into the intermediate range. This heavenly protected stretch made famous by the likes of author Zane Grey and Meryl Streep (a la The River Wild) also toes the line between rugged and luxurious. Deep in the canyon, outfitters such as Rogue Wilderness Adventures serve rib-eye steaks to clients reclining on inflatable couches.

This dichotomous stretch of river was the perfect testing ground for a quiver of four crossover kayaks. Our group of C&K staffers and regular contributors spent three long summer days on the Rogue, evaluating how each of these boats would serve as a do (almost) everything river craft. Over these 34 low-stress miles we sprinted in flatwater, dropped the crossovers' retractable skegs to drift, peeled in and out of every eddy, and left no riffle unsurfed. In the evenings, we compared notes over delicious local craft brew from Ninkasi. After we left the Wild and Scenic section, we kept right on testing, with a few days on other stretches of the Rogue. One boat got an extended test on the Grand Canyon, and another has been getting salty on a regular basis.

Though manufacturers have built kayaks capable of crossing over from the flats for decades, a recent design surge has resulted in more feature-laden kayaks ready to load down and level up. By nature, building a longboat to do many things well will inevitably involve sacrifice: If you want more speed, you have to sacrifice primary stability. Want a better boof? Lose some tracking. Conventional wisdom holds that a boat that does everything adequately rarely does anything well. This generation of crossover boats challenges that notion. And it's not just aspirational boaters who should take notice. Their gnar-boating brethren now have bigger whitewater-ready options for technical wilderness multi-days.

Click through the links below to read our review of each kayak.

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Jackson Karma RG

The “RG” can stand for Rock Gardener—think big-water ocean play—or River Guide


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Pyranha Fusion

A spacious, expedition-ready kayak with Pyranha’s carve-y flat-bottomed lines


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Wave Sport Ethos 10

The ethos of the Ethos is simple: svelte whitewater performance


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Dagger Katana

The roomiest, widest and highest-riding crossover in the fleet.


–Read more about Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Rogue River.

–Check out a video of the Lower Rogue, here.

This Gear Review originally ran in the May 2015 issue.