We’ve learned over seventeen years of boat testing that testers are biased by first impressions, comparing all boats to their own personal boat or the first new boat they paddled that day. That is why it is so important as a tester to rotate through the boats and get back in them. The boat I kept coming back to was Dagger’s Katana kayak.

Dagger Katana 9.7 / 10.4 Specs
Length: 9’7” / 10’4”
Width: 25.75” / 27.25”
Cockpit length: 35.5” / 37”
Cockpit width: 20” / 20.5”
Deck height: 13.5” / 15”
Volume: 79 / 104 gal
Weight: 46 / 56 lbs
Paddler weight: 100-210 / 155‑285 lbs
Max capacity: 225 / 300 lbs
MSRP:  $1,105 USD / $1,165 CAD

Unsheathing the Dagger Katana

Borrowing features from both touring and whitewater design, the Katana enters Dagger’s lineup as a crossover boat—it can be used in any conditions from flatwater to Class III+ whitewater. “We like to refer to the Katana as the lifestyle boat,” says Chris Gragtmans, Team Dagger’s manager. “It can be enjoyed by advanced to expert paddlers who want to do the Grand Canyon, the middle Salmon or any local run you want to turn into an overnighter.” He adds that beginner-intermediate paddlers like for its confidence inspiring stability in both flatwater and whitewater.

The Katana is tops in stability

The Katana, available in 9.7 and 10.4 models, is without question the most stable kayak in Dagger’s line up. On a stability scale it would be damn near the end that is unflippable. I was shocked at the specification charts; on the water I was sure the Katana was way wider than the rest, but it’s not—only the thickness of a pen wider than the Ethos and Fusion and narrower than the Rogue. How do they make it so stable? The secret is more volume and lots of flare and depth. As you keep tilting it over there keeps being more and more boat to roll on to.

The Katana provides a refined and comfortable ride

The Katana 10.4 had the longest cockpit, which meant I could sit down in the seat and still fold my 36-inch beanpole legs inside. In the flats, I could pull my knees up for a stretch. The most difficult part of my whole day was stretching my dry, rubber-randed skirt to fit. I should have rounded up some larger crossover skirts for this review.

Inside, the outfitting is all whitewater business featuring Dagger’s Contour Ergo outfitting with Leg Lifter seat adjust, ratcheting back band and contoured hip pads. The Katana ships with a bag of extra foamy bits and pieces that are still riding around in the back of truck, we didn’t need so much as a wafer-thin shim.

Like WaveSport and Pyranha, Dagger uses a full foot bulkhead on rails like in a creek boat. What’s the big deal about this? You can push anywhere on it and your feet won’t slip off and potentially get trapped behind like they can with rec boat style foot pegs. Even better, the foot brace assembly can be removed in seconds, allowing more gear to be stored up in bow.

Instead of a foam pillar running the full length of the bow, Dagger uses a short plastic brace that holds the front of the seat. In front of that there is nothing except plenty of room for your feet.

Dagger and WaveSport do such a nice job with the finishing touches. Things like drain plugs behind the cockpit and recessed skeg cleats are subtle but appreciated touches. I filled the cute zippered glove box compartment with sunscreen, bug dope and Snickers bars. And, the Katana hatch was the easiest on and off and didn’t take on a drop of water.

We can’t stay away from the Dagger Katana

I had to keep coming back to the Katana because I liked it so much. I’d switch into the Ethos or the Fusion and be excited for a while about their more playful whitewater performance. Then I’d come back to my happy place in the Katana. For me, as soon as I start packing gear it’s less about paddling and more about the adventure. Maybe it’s because I’m 44, maybe it’s because I’d otherwise be doing this trip in a canoe, or maybe it’s because I already have a barn full of boats that boof, bounce and carve. Sometimes it’s nice to just pack a hammock and enjoy the river.

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