Jackson Journey Review by Joe Keck

Ahhh, yes, spring is just around the corner and with spring comes my favorite type of kayaking – creekboating! However, most serious paddlers will agree that even in the dead of winter when creeks are not running, it is mandatory to get out and enjoy the river anyway. This winter, I managed to avoid many other obligations and sneak away for a weeklong trip into the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande. Very few people are familiar with this desolate area, so I’ll help you get your bearings. The Lower Canyons are located just outside Big Bend National Park on the Texas-Mexico boarder, approximately 250 miles southeast of El Paso.

The beauty of this place is that no one else has heard of it either. The Lower Canyons area is one of the largest wilderness areas south of the Canadian border. It is desolate Chihuahuan desert country. I put on solo with my Jackson Kayak Journey and never saw another person for a solid week.

Speaking of the Journey, I must say it is really well considered. With two dry hatches, I was able to bring all of my creature comforts and extra food. I didn’t travel light and the boat easily contained food for 9 days, a Crazy Creek chair, a backpacking stove with 3 extra fuel containers, a large 0 degree sleeping bag, extra hiking shoes, three 24-ounce six packs of Budweiser American Ale, an aluminum fire pan and four gallons of water in addition to lots of extra emergency winter clothes! Countless class II-III rapids with the occasional class IV only minimally infiltrated the dry hatches with some moisture.

In fact the dry storage was so good, I only put my sleeping bag and emergency clothes into a dry bag. Everything else including food, stove and sleeping pad remained plenty dry under the hatches without the protection of a dry bag. The mesh on top kept my necessities at hand, which allowed me to make long distances without breaking. The insulated beverage holder was the perfect size to keep my Nalgene with hot cocoa warm and a quick snack accessible.

Having never been in a touring boat, I couldn’t believe how fast the Journey ate flat water. The Journey I had didn’t include the optional Smart Track Rudder, but the hull design had no problems staying straight and speedy. I was also impressed with the ability of the Journey to navigate whitewater. The boat amazingly boofed tight class IV slots and sailed smooth through mandatory low-water, mid-rapid ferries. After paddling a creek boat for hundreds of days in the last few years, the edge turning naturally felt slow, but was good enough to comfortably run technical class III whitewater. The Journey has exceptional primary stability and I never once had to brace in the whitewater. After paddling for a week, it was clear that the plastic would live up to Jackson’s high expectations for durability. Every evening, I would pull the loaded boat up onto my usually rocky campsite and after six days the plastic still looked new. I even challenged the Journey with low water boulder gardens, but I have no doubt Jackson Kayak will find it easy to stand behind the lifetime warranty because it will be near impossible to break a Journey. After all, it has the same plastic as the whitewater kayak lineup!

Even though I measure in at 6‘2” with size 11 feet, the Journey kept me comfortable enough to paddle 6-8 hours per day for a week! I added two shims to both hip pads to keep me in solid contact with the boat. One recommendation that I would have for future Journey’ers is to add a Jackson Kayak Sweet Cheeks seat pad. The included seat is plenty comfortable for a couple days, but after a week I was definitely regretting that I forgot my Sweet Cheeks at home. The cockpit fits a standard XL whitewater spray skirt rand, yet provided plenty of room to stretch my legs even while keeping a dry bag with a camera, hat, sunglasses, map and GPS between my legs. I was also able to store hiking shoes and two water bottles in front of the foot pegs. The Journey kept me smiling for 84 solid flat-water miles!

In summary:

Pros:

  • Excellent tracking even without the optional Smart Track Rudder! The boat just ate up flat water with excellent speed.
  • Enormous amount of dry storage space that remained dry. If you cannot comfortably fit everything you need into this boat, you should take up rafting!
  • The plastic is as tough as the whitewater line-up and will take a beating far exceeding what most flat-water or ocean trips can dish. After I brought the boat back, my friend commented that it looked like I hadn’t even paddled it.


Cons:

  • For long trips like mine, the optional Sweet Cheeks is a necessity. For one or two day trips, paddlers will be fine.


The Verdict:
Stellar. This was my first time in a boat this fast and it was a fantastic experience. Having a fast boat with a lot of storage opens up a lot of new opportunities to paddle remote self-support rivers and larger bodies of water. This boat is a must have for all of those long trips where you couldn’t imagine paddling a raft or whitewater kayak!

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