When people say the Perception Essence 17.0 Airalite is a “good looking boat”—as they inevitably do—they’re likely referring to the sexy lines of the long, slender bow. For it’s here that the Essence reveals its designers’ intentions to prolong the transition from bow to midsection to make for the finest possible entry lines.

The Essence is a sharp contrast to rough water designs that carry more volume in the ends for buoyancy in waves. Crafted by longtime Confluence Watersports boat designer Bob McDonough to be a friendly, high-performance tourer, it has a sporty feel and excellent capacity and speed for its length. This is achieved by the tapered bow and the Swede form shape, with the widest point rear of the midsection like a racing kayak.

The stern is stockier than the bow—a nod to packability. In McDonough’s words, “You’ve got to carry the volume somewhere.”

The result is capacity for long trips combined with excellent efficiency that is refreshing to find in a plastic boat. The Airalite we tested is the lighter, thermoformed version but the Essence also comes in more affordable poly, and both options are available in a 16.5 length for smaller paddlers.

A limited rocker plus the tapered bow’s emphasis on knifing the water equals strong tracking and minimal weathercocking. There’s perhaps less need for the skeg than for the optional rudder, which novices might appreciate for easier turning.

The hull under the cockpit is a shallower V than other popular British-style 17-footers like Confluence’s Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 and the NDK Explorer. It’s also about an inch wider and the chine is slightly softer, resulting in greater initial stability and more smooth, predictable edging.

For this new top-end touring boat, Perception has taken a winning British formula and expertly honed it to be a tad more welcoming to a wide range of paddlers and uses. And, dare we say, a little faster and more spacious.

With a distance swimmer’s heart for the straight and narrow, the Essence is perhaps not your first choice for a day in the surf. However, like the touring edition of a high-end sports sedan, this kayak is perfectly capable of dialing up the adrenaline and having some fun if opportunity booms. Which, in our books, is the definition of the perfect tripping kayak.

Screen_Shot_2015-06-26_at_1.26.39_PM.pngRudder ready

In addition to the standard hydrofoil- shaped skeg and easy adjusting SlideLock foot braces, the essence comes rudder-ready with a mounting bracket on the stern and routings for cables.

Handy hatches

The Essence includes a 10-inch bow hatch, 8-inch day hatch and an oversized stern hatch, all with tight- fitting kajak-Sport rubber lids.

Comfort outfitting

Perception touts its Zone eXp Seating System as “expedition grade.” It includes a long, padded seat bottom with adjustable height to promote circulation on extended outings, and adjustable padded thigh braces. a long, spacious cockpit accommodates tall paddlers.


  • Length: 17 ft
  • Width: 23 in
  • Weight: 50 lbs
  • Max. load rating: 350 lbs
  • Price: $2,299 USD / $2,409 CAD

1AKv11i1.jpgThis article first appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine. For more boat reviews, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.


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