I’ve had a fair share of kayaking and am now looking to purchase my first kayak. I am looking for something that would mostly be used on calm lakes and rivers, but could withstand the occasional class 2 - 3 rapids. I am leaning towards a Dirigo 106. Any other suggestions? I am 5’ 10" at 160 lbs. and looking to spend about $800.00. Thanks for the help in advance.
A lot of people use crossover kayaks in rapids, including Class III, or at least Class III drops, but I can’t understand how anyone can even tolerate paddling them flat water, where they are absolute slugs. I can hear the splashing of a crossover kayak when it’s 75 yards behind me, even at lillydipping speeds. So yeah, in spite of the fact that they are intended to be a compromise between whitewater and flatwater use, they fail miserably at being good for both, in my opinion (but then, I like boats that don’t advertise “here I come” to every person and every critter around). Still, I know plenty of people who love them, and you might too, and they are probably the best compromise you can find.
What you are asking for is like wanting a motorcycle that is a comfortable highway cruiser but can hill climb off road. NO such animal. Decide what you plan to do MOST and get a boat that will function well for that. If you choose to do a little class 2 or 3 on occasion, pick up a separate used whitewater kayak and paddle for that (you use a shorter and usually offset paddle for whitewater than you do for flatwater.)
For your size, a 14 or 15 foot touring kayak would be the best handling for flatwater – you could take a boat like that through short open class 1 or 2 rapids (by “open” I mean not a lot of rock gardens or drops that require tight turns in a short boat. )
Rec boats like the Dirigo have no place on whitewater owing to the sluggish hull design and gaping oversized cockpits that won’t support a sprayskirt. Worst of all, they don’t have sealed bulkheads and will sink when swamped unless fully fitted out with inflatable flotation bags in the bow and stern. A 10’ boat is a lily dipper, especially for an average sized guy. Good for piddling around along the shore but not for any speed of travel or good handling in fast water. Short rec boats like that are kind of the golf carts of the kayak world.
Best choice for a beginner is to invest in a used boat, not a new one. You will get more for your budget AND if you find it is not exactly what you want in performance you can sell it for about what you paid for it and invest in something more dialed in to what you want.
When you check out used boats, just look to see that the bottom of the hull is not badly deformed or flattened out (oil-canning, caused by leaving plastic boats sitting on a rack or the ground in hot weather, difficult to fix and impossible in some cases.) Looks for cracks and dry brittle looking plastic (sign it has been stored in the sun.) Sit in it and see how it fits. You are a good size to fit in most kayak models so you have a lot of choices.
If you want to go any distance or speed on the lakes and calm rivers, you likely won’t be very satisfied with a 10’ recreational style kayak. I would look for a 12’ to 15’ kayak. I use a Dagger Alchemy (14’) on lakes and rivers. It does fine with navigating class 2 rapids if the section of river that I am doing has one or two. It is not my choose for playing in class 2, but it will handle it. For class 3 rapids I would suggest a true whitewater kayak (and the proper training). Different conditions require different boats. Purchase a boat that will meet at least 80% of your needs. You can always save up for another boat… A 10’ rec boat is fine for easy, lazy paddles on ponds, staying near shore on some lakes and calm rivers. They are a poor, and potentially dangerous, choice for larger bodies of water and any rivers that are not calm.
I second the Alchemy suggestion. I don’t know nuthin’ 'bout class 3 rapids but my Alchemy has been a good “do-a-lot-of-things-pretty-good” boat. Buy the smaller one; used; and feel free to move the seat back and pull out all that stiffening hardware that just gets in the way.
The Perception Sonoma 135 is a fine kayak for someone you’re size (I’m 5’6” and 165 lbs). Quite efficient and quite maneuverable. Good for flat water and moving water, but wouldn’t try it or any other kayak or solo Canoe in class 3 whitewater, because I don’t have the requisite skills or shoulder health for that.
The Swift Caspian Sea is a go straight kayak and a beast to turn. I’ve owned the QCC version, 400X for 10 years. I’d be hesitant to try it in class 2. I don’t even use my 400X on local shallow and twisty streams, because of it’s sluggish maneuvering and not wanting to scuff up it’s still smooth finish. It is, however, quite efficient and easy to keep moving at a decent pace, handles quite well in wind and chop with the rudder and has plenty of leg room. I had to pad out the cockpit in mine, so I wouldn’t flop around from side to side when trying to edge the boat to turn faster. I have a very difficult time trying to put the 400X on edge. I think it would really suck as a whitewater boat.
Some Caspian Seas didn’t have bulkheads or hatches, so watch for that.
The Sonoma 135 only has a rear bulkhead, so you’d need a front float bag for whitewater. It’s a fun little boat.