Ten years ago, most cutting-edge boat designs were focused at the high end of the price spectrum. This year’s crop is proof of a paradigm shift, with an array of canoes, kayaks, and inflatables that are impressively user-friendly, for angling, whitewater, and everything in between.
Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 12 Kayak with 360 Drive ($4,599)
The new Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 12 Kayak with 360 Drive features one of the venerable brand’s coolest innovations: 360 MirageDrive, a pedal system that now moves the boat in any direction, not just forward and back. You can parallel-park the Pro Angler 12 with 360 Drive in dock spots and back out of tight mangroves. Joints at the bases of the redesigned fins allow them to rest flat against the hull if they encounter major resistance, so you don’t have to worry about ruining them when entering and exiting the water.
Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman Canoe ($1,000)
Old Town’s iconic Discovery series delivers one of the company’s shortest, lightest vessels yet in the Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman canoe. Its 11-foot-9-inch length and subtly arched hull allowed testers to crank turns when leaning out on an edge. The result is downright playful in Class II whitewater and tracks well in the flats. At 32.5 inches wide and 56 pounds, it was stable enough to stand up in with confidence, and light enough for testers to hoist from the roof themselves and carry an eighth of a mile to the water’s edge. It weathered dozens of rough launches and landings.
Star Viper XL Inflatable Kayak ($1,095)
Where the Old Town sized down to make its Sportsman more accessible, Star went bigger with the Viper XL Inflatable kayak. The goal: to help larger paddlers access serious whitewater. Traditionally, large inflatable kayaks have been sluggish and prone to getting caught in holes. But despite eight inches of length over the standard Viper, the XL is exceptionally whitewater capable, thanks to an aggressive rocker profile. That, coupled with an absolutely rock-hard drop-stitched floor, allowed testers to punch through holes that would have gobbled up flatter-bottomed or less-rigid inflatables on the Class IV Nugget-Powerhouse stretch of Oregon’s Rogue River.