2016 Large Jackson Kayak Zen Review - A Class IV Perspective
By Joshua MacNaughton 6’4” height, 205 lbs, 35” inseam, Size 12 shoe I had been wishing for a new planning hull creek boat for some time. For many years my trusty Wavesport Diesel 80 had helped me progress from Class III to IV whitewater. As I started chasing harder rivers, I knew I wanted a boat that could boof better than the Diesel, such as the Jackson Kayak Zen. My obvious choices for an improved Diesel were the Dagger Mamba, Pyranha Burn, and Jackson Kayak Zen. In June 2015 I headed to Buena Vista to paddle with friends and demo the latest designs. Thanks to CKS I was able to test a bunch of boats on high-water laps on the Numbers and Browns Canyon. I paddled a Mamba, Burn, Zen, and even tracked down a Flying Squirrel. I could learn to like any of these great boats except for the Jackson Kayak Zen. I fell in LOVE with the Zen right away. Jackson’s super simple, super light outfitting is very fast to adjust and instantly made me feel like the boat was an old friend. After my first test paddle, Browns Canyon at 5k cfs, I knew I really wanted to own one.
2016_Jackson_Zen_Review Middle Fork of The Smith
This January I pulled the trigger and bought the new Large 2016 Jackson Zen. I was lucky this year and chased runoff from AZ in February and NM in March, to CA and OR in April and May, and back to CO in time for peak flows in June. We paddled classic Class III and IV runs and even a few easier V rapids. The Jackson Kayak Zen handled low volume creeks as well as pushy rivers with ease.
2016_Jackson_Zen_Review_Photo Lower Taos Box
The rocker profile of the new Zen helps keep the bow on top of the water amazingly well. Because of this improved design, the Zen is easy to boof. It’s not Nomad easy, but lightyears better than my old Diesel. The Zen is also super fast, and very stable. It ferries quickly and smoothly, and catches eddies effortlessly.
2016_Jackson_Zen_Review_Photo_2. Upper Sacramento Box
I’m at the top end of the weight range with wet gear, so when fully loaded for overnight trips the edges are much less forgiving for me than when the boat is empty. For lighter paddlers this won’t be an issue, and you’ll enjoy how confidence inspiring the Zen can be for how fast it is.
2016_Jackson_Zen_Review_Photo NF American
All you have to do is look at the results from this year’s pro creek races like the NFC to see that the top paddlers are loving the new Zen. I say for mortal kayakers like me, the Zen is just as sweet. I might start looking for an expedition creek boat like the Karma, but for 90% of the paddling I do the Zen is a great fit for me and I’m stoked to own one!
2016_jackson_zen_review_photo_3 Green Wall Rapid on the Illinois.
2016_Jackson_Zen_Review_Photo_6 Another shot of Green Wall rapid on the Illinois.

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