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Review: Karnali

Chan in the Karnali L vs Mike Tyson's Knockout on the Raven Fork
Running Mike Tyson’s on the Raven Fork in the Karnali L. Photo by Clayton Gaar.

After a little over a month in the Karnali, I decided to put together a few thoughts about the boat. First off, I picked mine up from the warehouse in Asheville the day before the Green Race, raced it, and have been hopping in and out of it and my Burn to compare since then.

Fast…but maybe not quite as fast as the Burn in certain situations. The Karnali L has plenty of speed to make tough moves but in my opinion, this boat is ideal for paddlers who prefer to float most of the time and take a few strokes when they need to. Nothing wrong with that style of paddling, but with my background racing on the USA Canoe/Kayak Team, I have developed my style of paddling to one that drives the boat rather than float into things. I’ve paddled the Burn and Everest for a while and because of their edges, these boats lend themselves to that style. With that said, I’m liking the Karnali a lot for cruising in a chill, post-Green Race fashion. This boat’s forgiving nature really makes kayaking fun.

At first, the Karnali seems to have a funny feeling bow sitting in the water. From the cockpit, it looks like the bow is almost pointing into the water but it certainly doesn’t paddle like that. The Karnali’s bow profile allows it to pierce and carry speed better through certain features like holes with a big pile rather than over them. The Karnali still has plenty of rocker to get the bow up and over things easily, though. In my race run, I remember skipping when I hit the pool below one of the low-angle slides after Gorilla.

Dropping into Anaconda on the Raven Fork. Photo by Mac McGee.

Ah, the Pyranha edge. First on the H:2, tweaked on the H:3, and refined on the Burn. Compared to these boats, the Karnali’s edge has undergone an evolution and has emerged fairly tame. It’s an excellent balance of forgiveness and performance for a creeker, in my opinion. The edge is there enough that you feel it and can use it easily but not so much that you have to take time to learn the boat’s edge and adapt. Edge transitions are also very easy despite the boat’s outstanding stability.

At 5’9″, 160lbs, I’m way down on the light end of the weight range for the Karnali L. At my height, this boat is very comfortable though. I had to add significant outfitting to the boat to keep from flopping around on the inside of this beast. It’s big but it didn’t feel huge out of the box. Now that it fits me, it’s like paddling a more forgiving Burn L.

On the water, I was impressed with how the boat was so easy to get in and paddle. The first time I paddled the boat was in this year’s Green Race where I ended up sixth in the short boat class. In the Burn, you learn to be aware of your edges in boils, eddylines, and cross currents. The first thing I noticed about the Karnali was how forgiving it was when it reacted with these same features. It just planed up and cruised through without any sharp feeling edges but with enough crisp feeling for control. Next I noticed the boat is very easy to turn! It seems to sit on the surface of the water and just spin so easily when you need it to but getting the boat up to speed and tracking is no big deal. I have to wonder how these characteristics were brought together so well. It rides high in rapids and is very rock-friendly for a chined, flat-bottomed creeker. Boofing is as easy as in the Burn and resurfacing is similar.

Wayne Dickert in the Karnali M on the Cullasaja. Photo by Casey Jones

The Karnali is great! If you’re looking for a forgiving creeker or river-runner with a flat hull and a touch of performance, give this boat a shot. It should be a good fit for everyone from new paddlers to class V creekers. I look forward to paddling this boat more and continuing to put it through its paces.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with some shots to compare the size of the Karnali M to the Burn M.