In 2012, Jackson Kayak released the newest member of its fleet, the Karma. I’ve been dying ever since to take it for a spin and finally got to do so a few times this spring, once on a release of the Black Canyon of the Bear earlier this year, and most recently on a high water trip to Bitch Creek on the Idaho side of the Tetons. The good folks at Rendezvous River Sports in Jackson Hole hooked me up with a demo boat, and I gotta say, the Jackson Karma is beyond impressive.
Right out of the gate, the first thing I noticed is how easy it is to get gear into the back of the boat. That may sound like a stupid thing to care about, but having easy access to cargo like safety equipment or camera gear cannot be understated, especially when you’re in a hurry. However, the thing that makes this access so easy is the draw-string backband that Jackson has used for years. A lot of folks complain about these strings because they’re subject to break while in use, which could have disastrous consequences if it happens in the wrong place. Personally, my only objection to the draw string is that it sometimes digs into my sides and has rubbed me raw on more than one occasion. But given that they also create the ability to place the backhand however high or low you’d like (key for a tall guy like me), I’ll take a little bit of raw skin for good back support.
The next feature that stood out to me was the sizing. I paddled the Karma Medium. At 86 gallons, it was the perfect size for this tall but skinny guy. It gave me enough leg room without feeling like I was paddling a tank. Not only that, but a lot of the volume is in the stern, which means the bow still feels light and maneuverable while the boat itself stays stable, a far cry from the Jefe Grande I’ve been paddling for the past year.
On the water, the Jackson Karma is a beast. Its edges make whipping out of eddies super clean, easy, and fast. And speaking of speed, this thing likes to cruise. It holds a solid line and punched me through more than one meaty hole that I otherwise would have been worked in. It also has just the right rocker profile, helping you clear obstacles and boot effortlessly while not being so rockered that you get thrown around when slapped by a big wave or hole. And thanks to the high sidewalls, this thing rides right over cross currents and boils without breaking a sweat.
After paddling the Karma it’s no wonder to me why these boats are in such high demand. I had the cleanest line of my life through Boo Boo (Class V) on the Black Canyon. It inspires confidence and is just an all around fun boat to paddle.