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Jackson Karma (Large)

Short version: In paddling, I'm a big fan of having a boat to make hard stuff easier, and a boat to make easy stuff harder. Between the two boats, you will always be challenge. The karma is my boat to make hard stuff easier. It's also my girlfriends, and the majority of our crews favorite boat.

The Full Review:

The Jackson Karma. It's a great boat, paddled by many people. It's Jacksons best selling boat, and for good reason I would say. In our good little crew of bad paddlers, the Karma is the most common boat amongst everyone. I've now owned three over the course of the past year and paddled it on a notable amount of class IV rivers. I feel that I can now give it a pretty solid review. The short version is I liked the boat so much when a paddler was selling a brand new one he'd bought and never wound up using, I pounced on it without second thought and came to own TWO of these boats. Then when I broke one, I just went right out and got another. I expect to be paddling this boat for a long time.

The Karma in a large is a BIG boat. At 103 gallons and 9 feet in length, it's a unique beast. Few boats rival it in size until you get into the crossover category, and even then only the Katana compares for displacement, but is a foot and a half longer to acheive this. You gain a lot though and give only a little when it comes to the size of the Karma. The boat has insane primary stability, and the secondary stability is the most ridiculous I've ever experienced in a boat. The stern is quite large with a fair bit of volume back there, making it so you rarely get bit. Overall, this is the boat I go to for when I think I might be pushing my comfort level or need to provide a guaranteed success for the group around me. I'm the most likely to remain dry and upright in this boat, with the least amount of effort to do so. That said, the boat isn't a gimme either. It rewards you for driving it hard, and I find it easier to drive hard than most other creekers out there.

The boat isn't the fastest, nor is it the slowest. While paddling June Creek I mostly noticed that accelerating the boat took a lot of energy. The constant boofs, rocks, and various stoppers followed by ledges required constant hard driven acceleration. This energy however was rewarded by driving over and through nearly anything I tackled. Maintaining and controlling speed on this boat is also great, and excells compared to other boats. Sure I could get my Zen going faster, but keeping it compliant and exactly where you want it? Definitely nowhere near as easily as the Karma! My Burn wasn't any faster nor better for driving either. I've since paddled the Newmad (new Nomad) and the Mamba. They simply don't compare in my opinion.

Manueverability is pretty good, but that's a relative statement. People coming from playboats will hate any creeker. I know when I transition from my summertime playboating to my Karma I struggle for a bit. People coming from undersized boats will also struggle notable. I know a few good paddlers who've been making it work in smaller than nescessary boats, and they find the Karma to handle poorly. I also know paddlers who are just right for the Karma who moved into being at the top of the weight range (or over) in other boats and cited improved mobility. It's true, you gain mobility, but you give up a fair bit getting there.

Overall, I'd say the best way to compare the manueverability of the Karma is to compare it to similiar boats. I find it to be more manueverable than the 9r, the Newmad (New Nomad) and the Mamba. I find it easier to adjust, more friendly when working with different aspects of water, and in general I don't find myself pushed off line struggling to recover as much.

The only aspect of the Karma I personally struggle with is if I charge a drop and need to do a quick manuever shortly thereafter. The speed you gain is tough to bleed in a boat this big (think: inertia). I haven't paddled other boats enough to compare on this topic, so take my complaint for what it is. It might just be par for the course on a boat such as this.

Edges. The boat is a hybrid of displacement and planing. The bottom is more planing than most other creekers, but slowly transitions to displacement at the edges. There are however three notable chine lines along the relatively rounded edges. This gives it more than enough bite to stay on line, bite when on edge, and the ability to rip in and out of eddies. I've paddled many boats, some being the most edgy river runners of this decade (Pyranha Burn Gen 2). I never found myself wishing I had more edge in the Burn. On the flipside, the softened edges in combination with the large volume make the boat forgiving, which when you're in over your head and perhaps pushing your luck is a nice feeling to have. This boat is also an excellent tool for those progressing skills. The beginners in our group learning to peel out in faster water demonstrated to me that with bad form the Karma would more politely remind a paddler that they were doing something wrong, rather than bite them and flip them over harshly like many other boats. As a more advanced paddler in rowdier class IV waters, I found the boat was forgiving enough that I didn't suffer when I made slight mistakes running water, but compliant enough to reward me when I was driving it and under control.

Rolling. The boat is pretty damn easy to roll, and has carried myself and much of our newer paddlers through some pretty succesfull combat rolls. The boats length and generous volume making getting the boat back up a pretty reasonable process to accomplish. However, there are easier boats, and some aspects of it that do knock it down a bit as far as ease of rolling.The large deck height makes reaching over it to roll a bit tough. My girlfriend can do every roll in the book in her playboats, and even other river runners as well, but she can't offside roll her karma as she just can't reach far enough to clear over the boat. I personally have experienced that difficulty when I first tried the boat out and struggled to roll. I've since adopted my style to accoodate for it, and it's now just as thoughtless and easy as any other boat.

Outfitting. 95% of what can be said about this boats outfitting is that it's a Jackson. They have unique outfitting. There are no holes with bolts through the shell like other companies have, so it stays almost entirely dry with a good skirt. The ease of adjustability for this boat is excellent as well. While other boats bulkhead adjustments jump a 1/2" at a time , this is infinitely adjustable via a pull string. You can also adjust the tension with which it is pulling your knees up into the knee braces. Ontop of that it has other benefits besides adjustabiity and comfort. Getting in and out is easier with the backband release, and you can also put your skirt on easier by first getting the back of the skirt sorted, then adjusting the back band, followed by pulling the skirt on. Getting out of the boat is easy as well as releasing the backband entirely is a breeze, unlike with ratchet systems where if you release it too far the adjuster will pop out and create quite the headache to put back into place.

I don't think Jackson outfitting can be beat. They're outfitting these boats so good it's almost a bummer. How is that possible? Well after paddling Jackson and then finding out that so many other brands aren't as good that you will quickly find yourself limited to Jackson.

It goes without saying this boat isn't a downriver play and surf boat. It will surf, and I've surely carved around Cavewave on this boat... but the soft edges don't really let you rip like you'd want to, and the length and speed will quickly cause the boat to run off the wave. As I said though, this all goes without saying. It's a Creeker that can river run. There's a reason there are all these different varities of boats out there, and while this touches down on so many aspects of kayaking, it just can't cover them all.

Overall: This is a boat I recommend to anyone and everyone. It'll quickly become your goto boat for when there are unknowns, or want to stay dry, or you just want to have one boat to run all water with and have fun. Beginners can learn in it without exposing themselves to unnnescessary additional stress. Solid boaters can push themselves and their luck with great results. It's a solid boat, with solid construction, and surely one of the best boats to come out of Jackson Kayaks.

UPDATE:

As demonstrated by this picture, 5/5 boaters on our recent Wilson trip (the stray IK being a friends sister we put in one of my IK's) were in Karmas. It's that good of a boat!

End of 2016 Further Update:

The Karma remains my goto boat for more challenging water. I've taken it over waterfalls about 35 times this season and the Karma keeps treating me well! I've been getting out on more and more class IV rapids, and the boat continues to remind me why I dig it so much.

I recently noticed while out on a class III paddle with the girlfriend, that when I was trying to carry a ton of speed I'd have to crunch forward a bit to keep the boat compliant. Shrotly thereafter, we grabbed aquick snack break, and I decided to move my seat forward one position (note: Going back holes from center actually moves the seat forward, so I am one hole back from center, which is actually moving the seat forward). I was instantly reward with a far more compliant boat. I've yet to try this configuration over waterfalls  and in other situations to know what i may have given up... but thus far, the boat continues to treat me well.

I've since damaged my second Karma, and was able to get a warranty on it and pick up a brand new 2016 Karma. The minor updates to outfitting made the boat even better, and I'm that much happier to be in it. This boat is simply the best creeker that is out there.