building on the successes of the past nine years, in 2012 Jackson Kayak released “a pure river runner,” the Zen. Jackson wanted a design that brought back the old school spirit of river running using modern ideas. The Jackson Zen kayak comes equipped with new features including updated grab handles, a newly designed welded hull support track and a snazzy water bottle holder. Are they just dressing it up or does its beauty come from within?

Jackson’s Zen kayak is easy to like

This was an easy boat to hop in and get comfortable. The nice, high back­band and quick-to-adjust, piton absorbing bulkhead were instant turn-ons. One tester did have a slight mishap when a cord on the Jackson Sure-Lock backband system came untied on the water. Luckily the outfitting is simple and quick to fix.

The Zen has a moderate rocker, sits quite low in the water and feels nar­row. All this adds up to, as one tester put it, “a racing machine.” Setting a ferry angle, you zip speedily across the current and attainments take less effort. It gets up to speed within two strokes and holds a line with laser-like precision.

The Jackson Zen’s speed also makes it easy to catch even the smallest green waves. A huge bonus if there are lots of catch-on-the-fly waves on your favorite river.

Throwing the Zen on edge, the rails bite hard and won’t let go until you tell them to. Coupled with its impressive speed, it rips deep into eddies and flies across funky currents in a hurry.

Man kayaking down a river in a Jackson Zen kayak
Don’t let the calm and relaxed name fool you, the Jackson Zen kayak is a racing machine. | Feature Photo: Michael Mechan

Make sure you try the Zen on for size

Our lighter testers were able to spin and change direction mid-rapid with ease, while testers near the upper limit of the weight range found that, with the edges riding lower in the water, more muscle was required to change course. If you like a boat that is highly maneuver­able, choose the size that places your weight on the low end of the recom­mended range.

The moderate rocker doesn’t lend well to riding up and over waves and holes, especially steeper ones. That wasn’t much of a worry, though, since the Jackson Zen’s speed and the shape of the bow allow it to knife through features with authority. Just don’t expect a dry ride.

[ Plan your next river running kayak adventure with the Paddling Trip Guide ]

Go for thrills with the Jackson Zen kayak

Searching for a ride with easy-to-adjust outfitting, supersonic speed and hard carving, hole plugging, catch-waves-on-the-fly ability? Then be at one with the Jackson Zen kayak and live happily ever after.

This article was first published in the Summer/Fall 2012 issue of Rapid Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.


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