The 7 Best Boats of Summer 2012

Sterling Reflection

Whitewater pioneer and sea-kayak designer Reg Lake had expert paddlers in mind when he shaped the stern of this surf-specific sea kayak in the mirror image of its bow. The result is the most innovative boat to come out in a decade. Not only can it drop into waves backward, but it’s also the lightest sea kayak we’ve ever tested. To create the hull on the lightest version of the boat (it’s available in a range of materials), Sterling created its own composite, fusing military-grade epoxy resin with carbon fiber from Boeing. The boat weighs just 36 pounds—20 pounds less than its nearest competitor. The kicker here is that it also tours amazingly well. Lake included roomy hatches for overnight gear and increased control by moving the drop-down skeg from the stern, where it usually sits, to six inches behind the seat. A recessed back deck makes for easier rolling, and a titanium or carbon bar (your choice) keeps it safely locked to your roof rack. 16'; 36 lbs

STABILITY: 3
MANEUVERABILITY: 5 (OUT OF 5)

Perception Prodigy 135

BEST FOR: Bringing friends along. THE TEST: The Prodigy 135 blends the spaciousness of a canoe with the weight-at-the-waterline stability of a kayak that seats an adult plus a child, a dog, or (as long as neither is too big) both. The secret is variable seating: the kids’ jump seat (just large enough for a small adult) is removable, and the main seat can be moved forward or back to accommodate your number and type of passengers. It’s not the fastest boat, but once at speed it’s no slacker, either. And though it has limited dry storage, the wide cockpit can hold coolers, a grill, drybags, and anything else you want to jam in there. THE VERDICT: Built for comfort, not for speed. 13.6'; 62 lbs

STABILITY: 5
MANEUVERABILITY: 3

Have a little kayaking budy? Just move the Prodigy's main seat back and clip in the removable kid-size jump seat in the extra-long cockpit.

Prijon Dayliner S

BEST FOR: Easy-moving water. THE TEST: The Dayliner S looks like an ordinary plastic boat with standard features: a spacious cockpit, decent deck outfitting, and ample hatches. Put your paddle to the water, however, and you’ll discover its superpowers. With a few strong strokes, the boat rockets forward, tracking straight. The secret is twofold: First, the Dayliner is made from the same stiff and sturdy thermoformed polyethylene used in snowboard bases. Second, the hull has a narrow, flat center with sides hollowed out from underneath—a concave pattern that reduces resistance but also makes turning a bit sluggish. THE VERDICT: A do-everything boat. 12'6"; 48.5 lbs

STABILITY: 4
MANEUVERABILITY: 4

Old Town Stillwater 14

BEST FOR: Families. THE TEST: Recreational canoes usually come in three flavors: heavy, sluggish, and both at once. The Stillwater breaks the mold. The moderately flared fiberglass hull helps keep the weight down and cuts through the water efficiently. The flat bottom and broad midsection (39 inches at the beam) make for a stable ride, even with squirmy kids and wiggling dogs, while its keel will keep newbies going straight. As the name suggests, it performs best on lakes and open water, but there’s just enough rocker for to maneuver bendy rivers and narrow creeks. Nice touch: the ash-and-webbing seats are as comfy as they are classy. THE VERDICT: The Cadillac of recreational canoes. 14'; 63 lbs

STABILITY: 4
MANEUVERABILITY: 3

Eddyline Caribbean

BEST FOR: Fishing, sunbathing. THE TEST: Most sit-on-tops are barges—impossible to lift and heavy in the water. The Caribbean sets a new standard. The boat’s lightweight hull is a slippery blend of acrylic and ABS plastic with a nearly indestructible acrylic cap. The hard glossy finish won’t break down from UV, so you can store it outside. The hull is shaped like a powerboat’s for added stability and reduced drag. The result: it paddles like a decked kayak with a solid, wide platform that beginners, anglers, and photographers all appreciated. Accessories mount via suction cups and include everything from a hatch cover to cup holders. THE VERDICT: Versatile, light, fun. 12'; 45 lbs

STABILITY: 5
MANEUVERABILITY: 4

Fluid Do It Now

  Photo: Courtesy of Fluid

BEST FOR: Learning to whitewater kayak. THE TEST: It’s been a while since the release of a convincing whitewater sit-on-top. The Do It Now might be the best one yet. Like all sit-on-tops, it obviates the claustrophobia many beginners experience being strapped into a kayak and flipped upside down. But unlike earlier attempts, the Do It Now paddles more like a true closed-deck kayak, with thigh straps that allow for rolling and raised knee braces for control. Most important, the hull is designed like a modern river-running creekboat—which makes the paddling experience much closer to what’s in store once you have your confidence. THE VERDICT: Buy it now. 8'10"; 42 lbs

STABILITY: 4
MANEUVERABILITY: 3

Always wanted to learn how to whitewater kayak, but been intimidated by claustrophobic decked boats? The Do It Now is the most fun sit-on-top we've ever tested.

LiquidLogic Stomper 80

BEST FOR: Experts. THE TEST: Liquidlogic’s last creekboat was the 2006 Jefe, which became an instant classic. The Stomper is even better. Designer Shane Benedict kept what worked—the Jefe’s length, volume, and deck design—but added a flat, continuously rockered hull, like a powder ski with multi-chined edges. The result is a fast boat that snaps into micro-eddies, bounces to the surface after plugging waterfalls, and punches through holes. Liquidlogic also made simple tweaks to the outfitting, such as an articulated backband so you can stow overnight gear in the stern. THE VERDICT: Performance creeker with few concessions. 8'2"; 46 lbs

STABILITY: 3
MANEUVERABILITY: 5

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