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ZET Kayaks Raptor

David Spiegel reviews the ZET Raptor, Blister Gear Review.

ZET Raptor

ZET Kayaks Raptor

MSRP: $1199

Manufacturer Specs

  • 80 gallons
  • 42 lbs
  • 8′ by 27′
  • Displacement hull

Blister’s Measured Weight: 46.7 lbs

Reviewer Stats:

  • 5’10”, 165 lbs
  • Inseam: 30’’
  • Shoe: US 9.5

Testing conditions: Steep creeking, river running, big water. Class III-V.

Testing Locations: Robe Canyon, Tye River, White Salmon (Green Truss Section), Ernie’s Canyon, Skykomish River (play run)

Days Tested: 27

The US creek boat market has a newcomer on the block.

While ZET kayaks have been splashing around in Europe for several years now, the boats did not officially hit North America until late 2013.

ZET currently offers three designs: the Veloc, the Raptor, and the Director. ZET is a bit unique in that they do not scale each model into three different sizes. Instead, each model is a different sized boat with a unique hull design.

I decided that the 96-gallon Director, with its aggressive edges, would be a little too much boat for me.

ZET’s smallest boat, the Veloc, has a hull profile that is similar to the Raptor’s, but the Veloc is a bit small for me at just 74 gallons. So I opted to test the mid-sized Raptor.

(Heads up: this review isn’t short. But if you are thinking about dropping $1350 boat, then I assume that you will appreciate going in depth. Buckle up.)

Design

ZET’s designers come from slalom racing, and this background shows in the Raptor’s design, which maximizes both speed and maneuverability.

The boat is relatively short at 8’, which allows for quick turns despite its gradual rocker profile. Most “fast” boats achieve their speed through a long hull profile, but the Raptor achieves its speed because of its relatively low, gradual stern rocker. This keeps the stern from dropping into the water while traveling at speed. If the stern drops into the water and the bow of the boat rises, then you end up pushing water instead of skimming the surface, which increases drag resistance. The Raptor’s rocker profile keeps the boat more or less parallel with the surface of the water, which reduces drag and helps the boat to maintain speed.

At first glance, the Raptor appears to have a flat, planing hull. But upon further inspection, the hull actually has a very gentle displacement profile that makes the boat more forgiving, while maintaining the speed and tracking of a planing hull.

Gentle edges underneath the cockpit provide control and help with tracking when I am carving eddy turns or landing boofs, without being too grabby while paddling downstream through choppy water and boiling seams.

Weight

One of ZET’s claims is that the Raptor is light for its size. Whether this is because of its minimalist outfitting or the plastic of the hull, I can’t say, but it is likely a combination of the two. Each time someone unfamiliar with the boat pulls it off of my roof rack, however, they remark on the lightweight feel. My Raptor weighed in at 46.7 pounds when I brought out the bathroom scale, which is 4.7 pounds heavier than ZET’s 42 pound stated weight. This is not abnormal. In fact, most manufacturers understate the weight of their creek boats, and I’ve found that creek boats often weigh anywhere from 2-6 pounds more than their stated weight.

Overall, the Raptor is still a very light boat for its size. (We have weighed a range of 80-85 gallon creek boats, and the Jackson Karma M is the next lightest at 48.7 pounds.) Combined with its short length, this makes for minimal swing weight. The low weight isn’t just nice when pulling boats off of my car or hiking with my kayak, it also makes the Raptor feel effortless to paddle.

Sizing

Even as big boats have come to dominate the creek boating scene in recent years, I continue to prefer boats right around 80 gallons. Despite my preference for 80-gallon boats, the Raptor feels like it could use a few extra gallons to float my 165 pounds; the edges and semi-planing hull make it feel sportier than its 80-gallon spec would suggest. Compared to the Nomad 8.5 (79 gallons) and the Stomper 80, the Raptor feels smaller.

Despite feeling slightly small, the Raptor paddles well, and I have yet to experience any major issues either with back enders or getting hung up on eddy lines.

I will, however, think twice before loading up the stern for a multiday expedition. The few times that I have paddled with my camera bag in the back of my boat (a mere 6 pounds), I have noticed a decrease in tracking and a distinct “squirrely” feeling.

ZET’s stated size range for the Raptor includes paddlers weighing 120-220lbs, but I would not recommend this boat to someone weighing over 180 pounds. An aggressive 120-pound paddler could potentially handle the Raptor, but would likely be better off in the Veloc.

Big Water

To test the Raptor’s big water capabilities, I took it to my local play run at high water. The Skykomish River at 28,000 cfs high water is somewhat pushy. The run is characterized by big water boofs, crashing wave-holes, big eddy lines, and swirly whirlpools.

I usually dislike having edges on my creek boats because they can get caught in seams of water and throw me off line. When pulling out of my first eddy in the Raptor, however, I noticed that the edges were not nearly as grabby as I had expected. The edges under my seat gave me a nice delayed engagement, allowing me to drive my nose far into the current before engaging a carve. The edges taper off towards the stern, which allows for a clean release from a carving turn.

The same goes for entering an eddy—delayed initiation allows me to maintain a lot of control while driving deep into an eddy without getting prematurely tripped up on my edge. This comes in handy especially when encountering wide/swirly eddy lines on big water.

In big water conditions, I want a boat that can hold a line and carry speed while being knocked around by big waves and cross currents. Once the Raptor gets up to speed, the minimalist stern rocker helps me to carry that speed and keep the boat on line. I’ve had no trouble making big cross-river ferries in the Raptor. In fact, I even overshot my targets a few times during my first days in the boat because I carried more speed than I expected.

Of course, as with every boat design, there are performance tradeoffs. The gradual rocker profile on the nose of the Raptor makes it somewhat challenging to get my bow on top of small, choppy waves and crashing foam piles. I’ve often found my bow punching through waves instead of riding over them. Fortunately, the bow sheds water nicely to hold the line and resurfaces with a lot of control.

I remedy this by approaching seams and foam piles at a slight angle, and using a sweep stroke to keep my bow up. Although it is possible to keep my bow high and dry in big water, the Raptor demands more attention to technique than boats with bigger bow rocker like the Liquid Logic Stomper, Dagger Mamba, or Wavesport Recon. These other boats tend to ride up and over foam piles more easily.

Creeking

Edges, gentle rocker, and low displacement all sound like features that would work better on a river runner than a creek boat. But somehow, the Raptor ends up putting these features together for an amazingly capable creek boat.

Despite its river-runner characteristics, the Raptor’s short length allows me to turn on a dime. This was truly a blessing when navigating tight and technical lines in Ernies Canyon on the Snoqualmie River. The Raptor’s ability to make fast turns at slow speeds rivals boats that I have paddled with bigger rocker and more drastic displacement hulls, features that typically lead to highly turn-able boats.

David Spiegel reviews the ZET Raptor, Blister Gear Review.

David Spiegel in the ZET Raptor, White Salmon River, WA. (photo by Leif Anderson)

Boofing the Raptor required a bit of adjustment for me. The low stern rocker prevents me from always pulling my bow up, and instead requires me to focus on propelling my boat forward. This technique necessitates a slightly later boof stroke than I am used to taking in the Nomad 8.5. I also find that leaning the Raptor on edge in the instant before boofing helps me to release the boat and keep my bow up.

The Raptor excels in the landing zone. When I land a boof, the Raptor’s low stern rocker keeps the bow from popping up. The semi-planing hull helps me to maintain speed away from the hydraulic at the bottom of a drop, while the edges help me to control tracking. Having edges to worry about threw me off my game at first, but now I love the Raptor’s ability to maintain speed and control in the landing zone.

4 Comments

  1. Matt Clark December 6, 2014 Reply

    Agree and disagree, to some extent.

    I live in Austria and have been paddling a Raptor for a few years (including one year on shallow Scottish creeks). The plastic is DEFINITELY stronger than on the 8.0 and 8.5 Nomads I had before. Even a 5-6 foot boof directly onto exposed rock (ouch, and oops) did no more than mild cosmetic scratching.

    In short, it’s the best boat I’ve ever had. I think the 8.5 Nomad is a little better, or at least more at home, on pure steep creeks, as it’s very forgiving – even if you miss the boof that big bow rocker stays on the surface. The Zet is FAR better on big volume though, and once you get used to it it will out-perform the Nomad on the steeps too, though requiring a lot more skill, input and concentration.

    And this is the rub, it’s not a forgiving boat, and it needs to be really driven. If you keep forward momentum through rapids it’ll go through or over everything, but it doesn’t like to just float into something and wait and see what’s there. I would never encourage a beginner or intermediate paddle to buy a Raptor as it punishes mistakes and old school (slow, reactive, defensive) technique quite harshly. If a Nomad is like a big, comfortable, easy to drive Range Rover, the Raptor would be a high-performance rally car. If you’ve got the skills it’ll give you way more performance back, but if you don’t you’ll be upisde down in a tree.

    I love it though – the only other boat on the market that I’d consider is the Tuna.

    • Matt Clark December 12, 2014 Reply

      Oh, forgot to mention the sizing.

      While the Nomad feels wider and ‘floatier,’ the Raptor (to me) feels a lot longer and ‘paddles bigger’ than the Nomad 8.5.

    • David Spiegel January 5, 2015 Reply

      Matt,

      I agree with you for the most part. My only caveat is that I don’t think that all beginners/intermediates should be looking for a forgiving boat. In fact, I think any beginner who is seriously hoping to progress quickly in the sport should start off with a play boat.

      In my experience the Raptor is more forgiving than certain other river runner/big water oriented creek boats (Burn, Zen), but still sporty enough to encourage learning good habits. I think it is a great mix between an all out creek boat and a high performance river runner. If I only had two words to describe the Nomad I would say “dependable and forgiving.” For the Raptor that would be “fun and sporty.” So yeah, it just depends on what someone wants. The Nomad is definitely more stable and is characterized by predictable performance across all conditions. The Raptor, on the other hand, is just a blast and a half to paddle even though sometimes it punishes small mistakes or lapses in technique.

      Your experience with the sizing is quite interesting because the Raptor is actually 5″ shorter than the Nomad in addition to .5″ wider at its widest point. I do agree that the Raptor *feels* narrower, but I think that is partially because of the dramatic taper that occurs towards the bow.

      I am also curious to paddle the Tuna more. I got a few minutes in one and thought that it handled well, but that was just an initial impression and doesn’t count for much.

      David

      • Matt Clark January 6, 2015 Reply

        “If I only had two words to describe the Nomad I would say “dependable and forgiving.” For the Raptor that would be “fun and sporty.”

        Yep, definitenly with you there.

        I guess it feels longer due to the lower rocker, which is what makes it faster and better tracking than the Nomad. Not a a bad thing in my book!

        Learning in a play boat… In general I agree – at least that’s how I started and seems to have worked ok! I did paddle with a lot of people at uni who learned in a play boat, but then never learned to paddle creekers properly – couldn’t hand the speed and momentum, so would paddle really reactively, floating into things then pivoting around with reverse sweep strokes etc rather than driving forwards and maneuvring with bow rudder-to-forward-stroke type moves. To be fair that’s probably more a problem with the coaching than the boat choice, but I think a slower more manoeuvrable creeker like the Nomad (or Habitat, Recon, Stomper, Jefe [even though it’s a big of a boat]) may make that transition a little easier?

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