First Time Buying - Need Selection Help!

Hi Everyone!

The quick story…I’m in the market for my first kayak to own. I’ve been out several times over the years, taken classes, rented boats, etc. I would consider myself an intermediate. I live in coastal South Carolina so a lot of my time will be spent in coastal waters (NOT ocean surf) but tidal areas with currents. I travel a good bit so lakes and slow-moving rivers will also be in the mix. An avid backpacker, I’m looking forward to taking my gear out in my kayak for some overnight trips as well.

Unfortunately, I’m looking for a unicorn. I want a boat that will be adaptable to the conditions I listed above. While I would love a portfolio of boats, that’s not realistic and I need to work with one! I am always solo so need a boat that I can manage on my own (cartopping, getting to/from launch sites etc). I would like to keep the length to 12’-6" max for that reason and that’s also about the max that I can fit in my garage. I’m late 30s, decently fit (5’-6" and 145lbs). I have a Showboat to help load the kayak onto my Outback, but I would still like to keep the weight in the 50lb range. I want bow and stern bulkheads (possible overnight trips). Also, need something sturdy as our creeks are FILLED with oyster beds. I am lucky enough to have a dock on a creek, so I will be dock launching as well as shore launching. I’d like to keep the price under $1600, but if I’m really wowed by something, that could be flexible.

I’ve so far found four options, but none of them are perfect (oh the sorrow! haha). I’d love to hear your thoughts on these as well as any other suggestions…I’d REALLY love to hear if one of you have found my unicorn!

Here’s what I’ve found:
Perception Carolina 12 - This one seems pretty great except for one big detail… it doesn’t have a skeg. It’s rudder capable but I’m just not a fan of rudder systems (I know, I know, call me crazy, but I don’t like them).
Dagger Stratos 12.5S - This one seems pretty great as well, but I have read several reviews that it is INCREDIBLY tippy. Again, intermediate paddler with decent balance, but I don’t want to be falling into the water every time I try to edge. Would love to hear thoughts from an owner!
Boreal Baltic 120 - Don’t know much about this one, but saw it on REI’s website. My main concern with this one is that it says “flatwater” and I’m not sure how it would handle in the coastal waters where I spend a lot of time.
Riot Eduro 12 - Similar to the Baltic, I don’t know much about this one, but saw it at REI. It seems maybe a bit more entry-level and the 59lb weight is definitely a turn off. But I wanted to include just in case.

I think I’ve covered most of what will be relevant without turning this into too much of a novel. I’m happy to answer any questions that may be helpful in your offering suggestions. And like I said, I’m open to other ideas and have a thick skin…I won’t be offended if you tell me these are all terrible and I’m crazy…but please offer an alternate if you do! :slightly_smiling_face:

Thank you!

If you are a competent paddler you don’t need a skeg on a 12’ boat. And, along the coast you understand how to use the tides to your advantage.


For the criteria you list, I’d actually suggest looking at a 14.5 footer, especially if you’re looking to overnight camp with it. There are a number of kayaks of that length within your desired weight limit that have a skeg, and they won’t break the bank, and are even more affordable of you shop for a used boat. Just food for thought.

For what it’s worth, I’m only an inch taller than you, I’m definitely more fat than athletic, plus I have back problems, and I car top a WS Tsunami 165 on top of my minivan without issue. To load it, I just lift the rear into the J cradle first, then the front, so I’m not trying to lift and balance the whole kayak at once. To get it to and from the water, for a short walk I just put it on my shoulder and carry it, and for longer walks I have one of those two wheel kayak trolleys.


Length- 387 cm / 13 ft
Width- 61 cm / 24 in
Weight- 22 kg / 49 lb
Paddlers Weight- 50 -70 kg / 110 – 154 pds
Tracking 7/10, Agility 7/10, Stability 7/10, Speed 4/10

@NHTrucker Thanks for reaching out! I would love to go to a 14’er but unfortunately 12’-6" is about the max I can fit in my garage and where I live exterior storage isn’t permitted. :confused:

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Since you are in coastal SC, there are lots of kayak shops to visit to get better information where you can view, touch, and maybe even do a demo paddle in a kayak. Charleston, Savannah, or Wilmington have kayak shops - at least one of those cities is probably within an hour or two drive.

As you are a self designated intermediate paddler, the Dagger Stratos (whether 12.5 or 14.5) will not be tippy to you. The only person who could consider a Stratos to be tippy is someone who has never before paddled. The Stratos is a super kayak for the beginner to very advanced paddler who likes to rock garden. I have one that I use myself, teach in, and allow brand new paddler (students) to use because it is so stable. I like the Carolina, but I love the Statos. And, as others noted, you will really prefer the 14 ft version over the 12.

Because of your oyster beds, highly suggest you stick with a “plastic” hull. My area has the same issue and plastic is the most forgiving for easy repairs (if even needed) when you accidentally find the oysters.

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I just took down my other post, it appears the Stratos does have two bulkheads in the 12.5 length as well as perimeter line. At least in the photos I saw. So I was wrong there.

It is also 24.5" or 25" wide depending on which size. Not sure which you are - but boats at that width are not by any measure tippy. Unless someone way oversized for the boat tried to squeeze into it.

The extra 2 feet to get to the 14 ft really can pay off. But if you can’t fit it… unless you can place it at an angle? This a hypotenuse.

I believe you desire a boat under 12 ft, you know you load limit and your preference is stability. It’s not completely clear to me what your paddling environment will be, but seems like sounds and tidal marshes.

The 125 Tsunami may fit the parameters. The primary feature is incredible stability and capacity. Being 5’6" at 145 lbs, it may be a little roomy for you, but if you plan to carry a load, a boat in that length can use some beam to improve safe load capacity. By my calculations, a 44 lb load would be within range. I’m 6’ 1" and was 255 lbs at the time I paddled it in the open Chesapeake Bay. My 13 yr old, under 100 lb grand daughter used it two year ago when she outgrew her Perception Prodigy. She liked it and felt totally at ease venturing into the edge of the Upper Chesapeake Bay.

I recently reviewed my notes and confidently concluded that nder similar conditions, it’s about .5 mph slower than my 145 model. I re0alize there are many variables, but that’s my experience with it. Based on my size and weight, I would not hesitate to take the boat out in 18" wave, approaching up to 24" waves. The short length causes it to plunge, and the front deck would be awash after that. A spray skirt would eliminate getting wet. In that size, no need for a skeg, and for me, the rudder would be a hindrance. My sister uses a 140 with rudder and never deploys it. I switched up to the 145, and a longer model for bigger wave days. I never had a feeling that I’d need a spray shirt to handle conditions that I mentioned. Recommend renting or find a shop that let’s you demo one before buying.


Take a look at these:

I don’t own one but we have a paddler in our group who does and the kayak is very competent. No storage problems and no need to lift it onto a roof.

Here it is in action: Lake Michigan Surf Session - LOAPC 11/07/2020 - YouTube


If you want instruction before or after purchase, here are a couple of great options.

KS Kayaks is in the Mt Pleasant area of SC. Kendra does instruction, leads tours and has a nice rental fleet. She maybe able to help you with selection and instruction, if needed.

Oceans 22 is a Coastal symposium in SC. It will be at Huntington Beach State Park, this year. It will have world class instructors, teaching many different topics. You can pick your desired course whether it be coastal marshes, ocean paddling to playing in the surf. The event is organized by Chris Rezac aka Cape Fear on this site.

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Definitely agree with the suggestion to stay away from composite boats (fiberglass, Kevlar, carbon fiber) for the areas you describe. Plastic hulls are nearly indestructible unless severely abused, They are far less expensive, although heavier. A little slower as far as acceleration, but once moving they handle about the same as a lighter boat. For a boat of about 12"6", weight should not be a critical factor. For camping and safety, two bulkheads and perimeter lines. Perimeter lines can easily be added if not present.

A skeg should not be necessary in that length of boat, especially in relatively protected waters, and will take up a lot of storage room in a short boat.

As you will be unlikely to be spending a small fortune on cold water gear to begin with, you have time before your paddling season starts. Spend some time looking at used boats. A new boat generally offers few advantages, and a used boat can often be found for about half the cost of a new one. Few people stay with their first boat and you can often resell a used boat for about what you paid for it.

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I own a Dagger Stratos 12.5 S. It’s a great little kayak that is very capable in rough water. It does have a noticeably V-ed bottom that does give it less initial stability than most 12’ kayaks, but most 12’ kayaks aren’t safe or capable in true open water. I don’t think you’ll have a problem. The skeg is nice to have on this kayak as it has a lot of rocker and is very maneuverable. I will often put the skeg down partway just so that I don’t have to spend as much time keeping the kayak going straight.

It’s not a big boat - you’ll have to pack very light, but would be doable for a weekend. The S is quite a tight fit - I’m an inch taller than you and “wear” the boat - if you’re not comfortable with tight fitting boats you might want to try an L.

About the only thing I don’t like about it is that it is awkward to carry solo. It isn’t light and is bow heavy. Mine lives at the marina where I live so I rarely take it anywhere but when I do I quickly remember how annoying it is to carry. Not enough reason to rule out the kayak though as there really aren’t any other 12’ kayaks as capable on the market.


@kayakhank thank you! I am really happy to hear from someone that HAS the Dagger (and experience with other boats, and teaching beginners). I was a little skeptical on the couple of reviews that I had read, but prefer to err on the side of caution! And for sure, sticking with “plastic”!

I have visited every outfitter in the Charleston area (multiple times over the past year or so) and unfortunately what they have on the shelves isn’t what I’m looking for. Demand is so high right now that everything “good” is spoken for before it arrives at the shop. So, most of what they have had for the past while are sit-on-tops, kids kayaks, or really beginner boats. :frowning:

@Brodie thank you! It’s so nice to hear from someone that owns the boat–and thank you for including the photos for reference. I do prefer to wear the kayak, which was one of the reasons I liked this boat, so that is also good to hear from someone of similar size.
Also appreciate the feedback on carrying the boat. I find pretty much all of them to be a bit awkward to carry solo, but here I am! haha
thank you again for your insights! :slight_smile:


It does take practice to carry a kayak solo, but the Stratos is definitely more awkward than some. My Valley Gemini is super easy as it balances perfectly and has a nice flat spot on the coaming where it sits on your shoulder.

Since several other people have already mentioned a longer kayak, I have to ask - is your garage actually only 12 feet long? Most cars are at least 14’, so if you’re not sure, measure it. Or is what you are calling a garage more of a storage unit? For everything you want to do, a 14-15’ kayak would be a much better choice, and there are several great kayaks that would fit your needs - the Dagger Stratos 14.5S (or a used Alchemy 14S), Valley Gemini SP RM, and the P&H Virgo LV, among others. I have paddled or owned all of those kayaks so have a pretty good idea of their capabilities.


Appomattox River Company in Farmville Va, has 12s & 14s in stock. They ship all over the country. The store is owned by a paddler and run by paddlers.

I also have a Dagger Alchemy S for sale. I am located in eastern NC. I bought it new, and have used it ~7-10 times.


Delta Kayaks has several 12ish models on their website:

Delta Kayaks – Manufacturers of high quality, light-weight thermoform kayaks proudly built in North America.

I like the looks of them but have to confess that I have never been in any of them. Perhaps someone else has and could enlighten us.

They occasionally will show up on Craigslist, etc. About a week ago someone in Alabama listed one for $1099 OBO. No idea if it is still available, but the listing is still up:

2020 Delta 12.10 Kayak OBO - boats - by owner - marine sale (

Pretty boat, no rudder or skeg.

Hi RuziGirl.

It’s so much fun getting your first kayak. Having a dock on a creek in coastal SC, it sounds like you’ve got a piece of paddling paradise.
I think your length restriction restricts your choices down pretty good. Given where you will be paddling, you can paddle any kayak. For instance, yesterday morning I walked my 18’10" fiberglass kayak to a launch onto Clark Sound, paddled the deeper channels between all the oyster beds, wound through Lighthouse Creek, out of Lighthouse Inlet, and ran downwind the length of Folly Beach to Folly Beach County Park. I could have done it in a 12’ 6" kayak because I was paddling through and out of the sound on an ebb current, and I was paddling downwind along the beach. It just would have taken longer. The biggest limitations the 12’ length will have is your ability to travel against currents, wind, and chop. But you can have a lot of fun discovering your capabilities in the kayak, and learning to carefully plan around tidal currents and wind.
You can learn pretty quickly to avoid oyster beds. It’s like a bed of knives. If you run up into them, and put you hand down, you can easily slice your hand open. If you step out into them. you can easily cut your feet and ankles. They slice up plastic boats readily. So it’s just something coastal paddlers quickly learn to avoid. Lots of folks enjoy their plastic and composite boats in the salt marsh creeks.
But yes, your size limitation is what it is. That Dagger Stratos is probably as well as you can do at that length. But I’m sure you can still have a lot of fun with it. Hopefully I’ll see you on the water sometime.


I have a Dagger Stratos 12.5L. It is def not “tippy”. I think it or a Tsunami are a good consideration for your needs. I’ve paddled both and found the Stratos to feel more zippy/responsive…can’t quite find the right word. The Tsunami felt a bit more like my rec kayaks. But it was solid and would be a great gear hauler. The skeg on the Stratos is nice but it eats up storage space. Wilderness systems seats are the most comfy I’ve paddled on.


KT, agree with your Tsunami assessment. It is an able boat, even overloaded. Plenty of room.