Seems like the "step up" part is irrelevant to the vote. All these boats will run class V just fine.
A boat that floats is one of the most important ingredients to me. After watching Bear Creek chew up boats over the last few weeks, it reemphasizes to me the importance of boats that don't break. The only ones I'm aware of that address this are all missing from your list: Prijon, Zet, Waka.
I recommend a good creekboat design with a size that fits the paddler well and a forgiving and stable hull design. Different manufacturers have different sizes so depending on your weight, you might be in the sweet spot for one boat, but outside of it for another.
I think the dagger nomad is one of the best creekboats out there, and it fits the 160-170lb paddler perfectly.
I like the L karma, best for the 200+ lb crowd.
I would skip the river running crossover style boats for stepping up as they seem less forgiving to me.
I would also recommend a good warranty program (nod to Jackson) be part of the consideration as well as the more bomber kayaks like prijons.
If you get into creeking, you need to get into plastic welding, but thats another story.
Thank you all for the tips. I have a Karma that has been doing great in the creeks and bigger rivers, but yes, it has multiple repairs. I tried a nomad in a pool but it felt so weird to me. I prefer to use a playboat whenever possible so I think I need a boat with edges.
I suppose it is just a matter of trying many boats and finding which is most comfortable for me and then just getting good with it.
Thanks for the tip on finding boats that are less breakable. I am familiar with Prijon but I don't see them or those other companies in the stores.
there's been a thread about the new Prijon Cali and how to get it IIRC, but it probably doesn't have the edges you're looking for. Also blowmoulded, and thus supposedly vastly more robust than most boats, is the new Ace of Spades. Again, probably not that easy to get stateside, but probably a very very solid choice based on the reviews and comments so far (though it also doesn't have the kind of edges some boats you listed have).
Mind you, I have no business being on Class V yet, or maybe ever.
For a boat that I don't have to stress so much about breaking, it might be worth getting used to soft edges or full displacement. I have a Hero, a Karma and an Allstar that all broke on completely insignificant rocks. I do wish all of the main US kayak companies would work on this.
I hear you on availability to try to before you buy. However, my take, having paddled many different boats, is you really need to paddle a boat for a good week or so to figure out if you like it or not. Almost any boat will feel funny when you first get in it because it's not what your brain and body are used to. I've almost always bought a boat based on written and verbal reviews and specs. Part of that attitude stems from the fact that boats are so disposable anyway. If you don't like it, it'll be broken by the end of the year anyway - and resell on used boats is pretty reasonable imo.
Anyway, Josh D. has a Waka Tuna and being a nice guy I'll bet he'd let you check it out. I ordered a Prijon Cali which I'm hoping to get early June, which you can check out (maybe you can buy it from me if I don't like it ) Zets are a little harder to find right now if you're not in Durango - although I know there's a Raptor around Denver.
Warranties were pretty weak from US manufacturers until Jackson stepped in and did the weighed 3 year thing. My take is if people start voting with their $s and buying boats that are innovative in materials as well as design something might change. Otherwise you're stuck playing warranty roulette.
The good news is, look at your list, they're all awesome boat designs that will fit almost any size and style.
Wavesport diesel is hands down most durable. It has gotten through 4 full beat down CO seasons on the mank. Not a boat that is going to do you any favors if you're trying to work up to class V though. I kept it as a mank boat and went through 2 pyranha burns while it continued to live.
I'm about to pull the trigger on a recon, mainly because I am a wave sport plastic fan.
Everyone on this thread has their own reasons for their purchases, I am down to sacrifice some performance for a boat that will last longer.
Btw, I love my Jackson playboat but have heard too many stories of string failure at the most inopportune times.
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