Gear Review

Dagger Katana 9.7

Dagger Katana 9.7Like a lot of crushes, my Katana happened by chance. And not unlike a certain kind of liaison, I wasn’t looking for another at the time. It just happened; life’s like that sometimes. Honestly, when I think about it now, I don’t at all remember how I came across the Katana, but I know it was earlier in the year, still winter. Somewhere online I came across a picture of the Katana in the “Blaze” design, and my heart skipped a beat. (Which is a little funny, because I really don’t like the color orange. Along with maroon, mustard yellow, and purple, I personally find these tones just a little repellant.) But I was distracted by my attraction to its other features: notably the blue-and-white swirl like a silk scarf draped over the orange; the bungee rigging; the ergonomic seat; and that one irresistible fetish, a deck console with zippers, buckles, clips, and loops, my goodness! I was smitten, fork-tender and done for.

OK, some basics. The Katana is a crossover kayak made by Dagger. It comes in two sizes: 9.7 and 10.4 (with max. capacities at 210 and 285 lbs, respectively). Like all crossover kayaks, the Katana is designed with a twofold purpose: a whitewater boat up to Class III rapids with a drop-down skeg to provide for quietwater tracking. I often think that crossover boats are like Subarus: the AWD and high ground clearance allow for some off-road rugged conditions, but they’re still not 4WD trucks. I’m no more a whitewater paddler than a pickup truck kind of guy, but I do love me some “light”-water rapids (Class I-III), so a crossover kayak suits me to a t. (I am, however, a white liberal Northerner with a beard and a lot of plaid shirts, so of course I own a Subaru.)

True with other crossover models out there, the Katana has a whole lot of “rocker” – meaning the curvature of the boat’s bottom from bow to stern, if seen sideways, looks a little like a smile. Similarly, it has a soft or rounded “chine,” which basically is the angle design for the sides of the kayak and the hull, aka the bottom of the boat. Soft chine is like a wide letter U, if seen from behind.

Rocker, chine – fine, but why do those things matter? Well, again, it’s like why a Subaru is designed differently than your standard compact car with front-wheel drive. The more rocker a boat has, the more maneuverable it’ll be in the water – any type of water. Simply put, with the front and back ends raised upward, there’s just less boat material in the water, meaning less resistance. In other words, the boat turns on a dime. This is a particularly keen desire when paddling rapids and needing to be as deft and spry as possible. And your center of gravity is concentrated solely beneath your seat. As for the soft/rounded chine, that’s a matter of stability. Here, there’s more boat beneath your own bottom – or, to borrow a line from a friend, “cush for your tush” – meaning a more solid base. Whereas a V-shaped hull tracks better in water but is tippier, a U-shaped hull is slower but more stable.

That’s the generic blueprint for all crossover kayaks. Let’s delve into the Katana specifically.

What We Like:
With all this tech talk about rocker, chines, and hulls, it’s easy to overlook one of the most important parts of a boat: the seat. After all, kayaking is a totally sedentary activity. (Canoeing at least allows for you to kneel on your knees or even stand up sometimes.) Whether you’re on the water for an hour or half a day, the seat matters. And while it’s true that for whitewater paddling, there’s less focus on the seat because, ahem, “you’ll only need the edge!” Whitewater paddling is all about the rapids, drops, and lines. There’s an adrenaline rush, a feat of maneuverability, a test of reading the water well. How cozy your own butt is, is, well, kind of secondary to not dying.

That said, the folks at Dagger took a stab (sorry) at making an actually comfortable seat and backrest for the Katana, and they did it right. Called the “contour ergo” design, which is hip shorthand for a curved, roto-molded seat with several adjustable straps and ratchets ingeniously engineered so that you’re locked in, snug as a bug. There’s a ratchet called the “Leg Lifter” that does just that (well, your thighs), which in turn provides better back posture. The Katana comes with umpteen multiple adjustable hip pads and thigh braces to dial in your individual body to the boat like getting a suit personally tailored. Crossover kayaks are not really known for being comfortable, but the Katana is an admirable exception to this.

Also, the seat itself has this cool topographical design on it. Nothing essential, of course, purely aesthetic, but it’s cute and thoughtful.

In front of that throne of a seat is the beloved, coveted cockpit console deck pod. Let’s break that down since that’s a lot of words. The console itself is not unlike what you have in a car between the front seats, except here it’s in between your legs. No, there’s no cup holder or loose change compartment, but it is recessed so as to place small contents inside it. Furthermore, it comes with two adjustable snap buckle straps to fasten down your some’um-some’um securely. What’s nice about this is you can keep something inside the boat safely but without it touching the floor of the cockpit, which may well be wet and/or muddy. Something, oh I don’t know, like a weather radio or water bottle.

At the end of the console is a vertical gear bag that extends upward to the top lip of the cockpit. It’s a soft shell storage compartment, not hard plastic, with a zipper. When unzipped, one side comes down, the other still upright – think of an alligator opening its jaws really wide.  Inside are two storage compartments, each with mesh netting. For those of us whose kayaks lack cup holders, voila! Here’s a place to securely stow a beverage. Hang on, it just gets better. Since that’s only one half, there’s still the second compartment begging to be filled with something. So, in one half you can have your choice beverage, while in the other you can slip a small ice pack to keep your beverage like it oughta be: chilled.

The soft case gear bag itself isn’t waterproof, but you easily could place a camera or phone or whatever inside a small dry bag and then zip that up inside the gear bag with the same effect. The gear bag is connected to the deck pod by four additional adjustable snap buckle straps, so it can be removed in seconds if it’s in the way. Moreover, the whole console deck pod can be easily removed via an allen wrench-like tool provided if A) you don’t like it or it feels too confining, or B) you love it to pieces but are doing an overnight trip and need to stow gear behind the foot pegs and bulkhead.)

While we’re still on the subject of storage, the Katana comes with bungee rigging on the top deck both in front of and behind the cockpit. It’s not uncommon to have bungee in front of you, which is great to strap something down, but having an additional area behind you is just wonderful! Considering that I paddle with a set of landscaping loppers, a cooler (at least in the warm season), and often a battery operated sawzall in a dry bag, that’s a fair amount of gear I’d just as soon not have against my legs inside the boat. So, I typically lash these items down with the bungee rigging. I don’t know if the Katana is the only crossover kayak to feature bungee behind the cockpit, but it’s the only one I’ve seen.

The Katana comes with a rear bulkhead storage compartment that’s quite ample and easily accessible by way of a rubber dry hatch that’s water-tight yet not a pain in the tuchus to take off or seal back on (which is the case with other crossover kayaks).

If there’s a defining feature that sets the crossover kayak apart from most recreational and all whitewater boats, it’s the drop-down skeg – a kind of inverse dorsal fin below the stern that helps track the boat. The Katana’s skeg is deployed via a drawstring that is supremely easy to use. Unlike our experiences with the Pyranha Fusion kayak, which also uses a drawstring mechanism but does not always stay in place – meaning the whole skeg or a skeg smidgeon is still drawn down even though you want it fully pulled up – the Katana’s is rock solid. Furthermore, at least to me the Katana’s skeg seems to actually keep the kayak more streamlined than the Fusion’s. The Katana’s skeg is more like a solid meat cleaver that comes down only so far, whereas the Fusion’s skeg is more like a long knife. Does that account for the tracking differences? Probably. What’s particularly notable about this is the Katana 9′ 7″ is a shorter boat than the Fusion 10′ 2″ (presumably seven inches shorter), yet tracks as well if not better.

The Katana comes with a drain plug on the left wall of the cockpit behind the seat. Totally a luxury feature that’s not at all necessary, it’s still nice to have.

Finally, like other crossovers, the Katana has a security bar behind the cockpit that you can thread a cable lock under to secure the boat when not used, although its intended use really is to be attached to a carabineer and rope in case of emergency rescue operations.

And then there are some things I feel like could be improved upon…

You’ll either dig the color options, or find yourself cringing. We often find ourselves deep in the grips of first-world gripes when it comes to kayak colors. They’re just so mundane. (By contrast, the canoe got it right generations ago with that classic lumberjack red or pine tree green. More impressive still, modern day canoe manufacturers like Northstar or Swift just kill it in design. Seriously, they’re as much works of art as they are recreational vessels.)

For the Katana 9.7, there are four main models: solid Red, solid neon Lime, a disaster of a spilt inkwell that is the Aurora (which is fuchsia with a gray and blue swirly stripe), or the Blaze, which is orange with a blue and white swirly stripe (the combined effect of which unequivocally evokes the Miami Dolphins uniform/insignia). Interestingly though puzzling, the 10.4 model comes in an additional fifth color, which actually looks pretty cool online – I’ve never seen it in person – called the Aqua-Fresh, which is turquoise with a red and white swirly stripe. OK, so maybe like toothpaste. Why this color is optioned only for the 10.4 and not the 9.7 is a furrowed brow bordering on frustration. 10-4, over and out?

But whatever. Kayak color aesthetics are pretty inessential. (Well, unless you buy a red boat that, after years of UV rays in the sun, turns pink, but that’s not another matter altogether…)

The Katana features a paddle holder clip and bungee cord that is directly in front of the upper rim of the cockpit. Most boats we’ve seen this feature on has the clip on either the left or right side of the cockpit, which allows for the paddle to be fastened down parallel to the boat. Strangely, here on the Katana the clip is in the middle, directly in front of the cockpit, meaning the paddle will fasten down perpendicular to the boat. Think of a sleek, skinny cat with cartoonishly long whiskers extending 4’ from each side of its cheeks.

I don’t know when or where most folks clip their paddles down, so maybe I’m missing something. But the only time I find myself using this nifty feature is when I’m surrounded by a thicket of tree debris that I’m clearing out. With a pair of loppers or battery-operated sawzall in hand, I’m looking for the best place to cut, trying to avoid getting thwacked by said cuts, all while fighting a current and being extra-mindful of not losing my loppers or sawzall (which has happened). The last thing I need to worry about is my paddle going rogue and astray. But a perpendicular paddle extending 3-4’ from both port and starboard doesn’t permit me much forward momentum when strainers need to be cleared out; I get stuck on something on one side at least, if not both. So in the end I typically take my paddle apart and stow it inside the cockpit, which is fine but pretty much defeats the whole purpose of having a little clip and bungee cord to fasten down an unused paddle to begin with. Granted, that above scenario may be particular to me and where I go paddling. But wherever one is on the water, if you’re paddling into the wind, wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense for the paddle clip and bungee to be on either side of the boat, so as to face the least amount of resistance? I just don’t get the rationale for a perpendicular design.

The Final Word:
Katana, boat of my soul, lit within my bones. My twin, my goal. Ka-ta-na: the bottom rung of the tongue springing a percussive trip of three steps down and then up the palate to tap, at two, then three, on the teeth. Ka. Ta. Na.

My apologies for devoted Nabokov fans and Lolitareaders for the above parody.

It was love at first sight, it was kismet. It’s like someone finally read my mind and answered my prayers in crossover kayak design! I love the thoughtful touches for storage. More important, the Katana feels stable and secure in a way I haven’t experienced before; I truly feel locked down and in synch with this boat, as opposed to there’s me, the paddler, and there’s the kayak I’m paddling. Here, we’re at one, not atwain. Part of that feeling is the contour design that’s actually comfortable and thoughtfully engineered. Crossover kayaks are not known for their comfort, whether that’s for your butt or your back. The Katana, however, is pretty cush (as the kids say). Plus it handles well and nimbly turns on a dime. It is a touch wide in the hips and is a wee bit heavy at 50 lbs, but the benefit of that at least is increased stability and storage space.

I have to say this: while I mean no disrespect whatsoever to other crossover boats, the Katana for me personally represents a departure from my beleaguered Pyranha Fusion (who today is in another’s good hands who’s giving the Uff Da a good home – thanks again Greg!) Also, the good folks at Rutabaga gave me a ridiculously generous, discounted price on a brand new Katana as a way of thanks for what Miles Paddled tries to do. It was an extraordinary gesture, which means a hell of a lot to us. Thank you, Dan!

(Editor’s note: No word on whether Miles Paddled readers can/will receive a discount on said boat, but damn that’s be a benefit of reading this site if there ever was one… hint hint…)

So, for all you Packers fans out there, here is your Dagger!

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Photo Gallery:

Key Info:

Manufacturer: Dagger
Model: Katana
Length (M): 9′ 7′
Width (M): 25.75″
Max Capacity (M): 210 lbs.
Weight (M): 50 lbs.
Cockpit Length (M): 35.5″
Cockpit Width (M): 20″
Deck Height (M): 13.5″

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