Retro-sensible or reprehensible—the swirling colorful markings of our demo Dagger Stratos 14.5 kayaks aren’t to everyone’s taste, but they’re an apropos homage to the brand’s illustrious history, and to the last time Dagger registered on the radar of many sea kayakers.
Dagger Stratos 14.5 Specs
(S / L)
Length: 14’6” / 14’6”
Width: 23” / 24.5”
Cockpit: 36” × 18” / 35” × 19”
Weight: 54.5 / 53 lbs
Max Capacity: 275 / 300 lbs
MSRP: $1,359 USD or $1,829 CAD
The Dagger Stratos 14.5 is a return to form
Since the heady heyday of the neon nineties and early aughts—when the brand’s boats were chosen for momentous expeditions to Cape Horn and Antarctica, and company catalogs proudly claimed “Dagger builds the most technologically advanced touring kayaks in the world”—Dagger has coasted on a small handful of unmemorable designs. For the past seven years, they’ve produced only a solitary touring offering, the Alchemy.
Where the Alchemy offered a capable but largely invisible entry into the crowded light touring market, the polychromatic Dagger Stratos 14.5 is a head-turning performer in the exciting and still-emerging realm of ocean play kayaks. More than that, at 14-and-a-half feet long with muscular lines and decisive hard chines, it’s as fun in flatwater as it is fearless in the rough stuff.
The Stratos is at home in the surf
On my first tour in the Stratos out to a string of whalesback granite islands, the forecasted blow never arrives and only a gentle zephyr ripples the channel. Unlike highly specialized ocean play kayaks, think P&H’s Hammer or Jackson’s Karma RG, the Dagger Stratos 14.5 retains a shallow-V displacement hull, which is faster when touring than surf-specific planing hulls. I have no trouble keeping pace with the 16- and 17-foot sea kayaks in our group, or hauling my weight on a quick overnight.
For the rest of the week, my eyes wander from the computer screen to the trees outside my office windows. When I notice heavy gusts scattering the last leaves of autumn like rusty embers from a dying fire, I toss the Stratos on my roof rack and head for the nearest exposed waters. Rollers crash against the rocky shore, but the Stratos’ rugged polyethylene hull slides off the cobbles and into the surf without complaint.
It’s clear before I catch my first wave that the Dagger Stratos 14.5 is at home in dynamic water. The upswept, flared bow launches over incoming waves and deflects spray out of my eyes. Just the right amount of rocker means I can spot a promising set and crank the boat around with two well-timed sweep strokes.
The waves are steep, densely arranged and fast moving. While I do miss a few sets that a lighter composite hull could have caught, the Stratos has adequate get-up-and-go, and it’s remarkably nimble on a wave face. Chalk it up to those hard chines for carving, direction changes and cutbacks, and a low-volume stern that doesn’t pin in the wave like traditional touring designs.
Even if you’re not into surfing (yet), the Stratos’ stable, confident edges benefit new paddlers and all those who may find themselves in rough waters.
Dagger has helped define modern kayaking
Sitting down to write this review, I pour over PDFs of archived Dagger catalogs dating back to 1988—an edifying and entertaining flashback to kayak touring’s boom years. In fact, it leaves me more than a little nostalgic for the excitement and breathless innovation of that all-too-brief era. “No other manufacturer has come up with so many profound advancements year to year,” boasts a 1999 design statement.
Some of those—like form-fitting rubber hatches, computer modeling, and vacuum-assisted composite molding—remain hallmarks of today’s performance kayaks. Others, like electronically welded plastic bulkheads, have regrettably become a part of kayaking history.
Hit the surf with the Dagger Stratos 14.5
The Dagger Stratos 14.5 kayak channels those glory days and unleashes a thoroughly modern design with just the right dash of retro steeze. Cool, dude.
This article originally appeared in Adventure Kayak Spring 2016 issue.
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