Field Report: Testing the Jackson Karma RG Self-support on the Grand


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A couple months ago I received an invitation to join some buddies on a Grand Canyon Trip. As it was the Grand, I gave an immediate thumbs up without any details on trip length or date. Because two of the paddlers were engineering students at the CU Boulder, I assumed (incorrectly) the trip would be this summer.

Wrong. Instead, it was a cancellation and we had a December 2 launch. With finals starting on the 11th the plan was to run the whole thing in five days and then make it back just in time for my scholarly boater pals to cram a couple days of studying in before polishing off the semester.

We knew we were going to need some fast boats and with a much harder deadline than most river trips, the TL also gave us a minimum length requirement of 12 feet. The plan was to do it self support so we also needed boats that could accommodate the necessary supplies for five days of winter paddling and handle the rapids.

With that, we all began our search for the proper boat. After a couple weeks of searching, a case of beer and some help from our great friend Eugene Buchanan and the nice folks at Jackson, especially VP of sales Marty Cronin, who recently moved to my hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colo., my buddy Luke and I landed ourselves a pair of Jackson Karma RGs to demo.

With the RG meaning Rock Garden, River Guide, Rookies on the Grand, or whatever else you deem fit, it looked perfect for the job. It was only a little shy of our 12-foot requirement and had deck straps and a hatch but a whitewater-inspired hull. Pumped on the new boats we threw them on the roof and took off toward Arizona.

We barely got the boats in time for the trip, so the first time I really checked it out was at the put in. It has the same outfitting as their other creek boats and was very easy to fit. By that, I mean I pretty much did nothing; just pull a cord here and there and boom! I was nice and snug. The larger volume was also comfortable, which turned out to be important with the longer days on the water.

Loading the boat was a snap, and with all the space it was easy to take more than we needed. The stern is blocked off with a bulkhead and while it is not watertight it is nice for containing all of your stuff in the rear. The hatch in the back is a little smaller so as not to create a weak spot, but still big enough to fit smaller dry bags.

I had no issues aside from the unfortunate and squat dimensions of my sleeping bag stuff sack. I remedied this problem easily with a Watershed drybag strapped onto the stern fanny-pack style. The only thing that limited us was weight, and even so we ended up putting some pretty heavy boats in the water. While there was plenty of room in the back for everything, at lunch the first day we elected to move some items into the bow to even out the weight and trim.

In doing so I became a big fan of Jackson’s Uni-Shock bulkhead. It was initially designed as an ankle saver for piton situations. I found it to work great for accessing the front of the boat. It’s basically a center pillar with a sliding foot peg on each side operated by a cord and cleat system similar to the Jackson back bands. These pegs were difficult to get out initially but after some practice I found my own technique, which worked fine for the rest of the trip. Once the pegs and foam are removed you have full access to the front compartment on either side of the pillar.

I was a little worried about rolling the boat as my shoulder is a little iffy on my good side, but the first try was very easy and the boat flipped right back up, fully loaded, in weeble wobble-esque fashion. The boat was stable and easy to paddle. The first trial roll was the only time I was upside down the entire trip.

And it really shined in the rapids. It held a line but was still fairly easy to maneuver. The most difficulty I had was navigating flat water with lots of boils and whirl pools. But with any fully loaded, longer boat, keeping it straight through the swirlies without losing speed is difficult.

Another handy feature is its drop-down skeg, a little fin that folds up or down using a little cord on the side of the boat designed to increase efficiency and ease on the flats. I used it and it did help a little, but with such a loaded down craft and the relatively small size of the skeg it was not a deal breaker. I would’ve liked to paddle the boat empty to see how it worked; I have hunch it would have had a bigger effect.

We spent most of our time hammering out miles, eating and sleeping but we did find time to go on a couple hikes and even goof around on some of the better surfing waves. The Jackson RGs were by far the most fun craft on the river. Catching a wave was sometimes difficult due to the boat’s weight, but once on the wave they were parked. I could easily steer using the edges and once the boat gained some speed it popped out of the water and became much more maneuverable and playful. One wave I caught was a relatively wide glass beauty and I felt I could have readily sat there and eaten lunch, relaxed and possibly have taken a long overdue nap. In short it is a surfing machine.

Overall I was very happy with the boat and it was perfect for the five day Grand Canyon quickie. With its hull shape from the whitewater world and other features from the realm of flat-water, it’s the one boat that truly does it all.

L: 11’10”
W: 25”
Vol.: 94 gal.
Wt.: 58 lbs.
MSRP: $1,299

Staff Post
Staff Post
Paddlers writing about all things paddling.


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