Reviews

Big Dog Force Whitewater River Running Kayak Review

Semi-Displacement or Semi-Planing, call it what you will but the Force will speak for itself on the river. The Force is a “Full-On” river runner with a semi-displacement hull, excellent volume distribution, raised rails, rigid deck pillar and plenty of rocker. The Force can charge, boof, flare, carve, slide and re-surface with the best of them. In fact, the only limiting factor to the Force’s performance is the paddler sitting inside! Fast, safe and responsive, the Force is everything you’ll need from a ‘proper’ River Runner.

“While the volume distribution and rocker profile of the Big Dog Force whitewater kayak lends themselves well to bouncing down volume runs and steeper water with bigger drops thrown in, the high waterline and manoeuvrability really come into their own on more technical stretches and low water runs. Time and time again it’s proved to be a pleasure to have out on the water, responding intuitively to good handling, and politely looking the other way for short episodes of sloppy technique”

RRP: £849
More Info: 
www.bigdogkayaks.com

Specification

Force 7.7

Length: 231cm
Width: 65cm
Weight: 18.5kg
Volume: 232L
Paddler weight: 40 – 90kg

Force 8.0

Length: 244cm
Width: 65cm
Weight: 19kg
Volume: 253L
Paddler weight: 80 – 125kg

Features

  • Rotomoulded adjustable tank seat, with integrated hull stiffener.
  • Twin Ratchet Backband.
  • Vacuum formed adjustable thigh grips.
  • Full Plate Footrest
  • Built in rotomoulded one step pillar.
  • 5 Big Dog Grab points

Paddler Verdict

The Big Dog Force is one of those kayaks that wherever you take it within the UK you feel like you’ve made the right choice in a boat for that trip. It can handle all the steep that this country can muster, all the volume as well as the technical.

In short, it does exactly what it says on the tin: it runs rivers! Time and time again it’s proved to be a pleasure to have out on the water, responding intuitively to good handling, and politely looking the other way for short episodes of sloppy technique, so that the consequences of a slip-up are rarely too embarrassing. When we say it’s the ideal UK boat, we don’t mean to discount it from trips further a field, we’re sure it would serve you admirably on your summer Alpine adventures and so on, it’s just always refreshing to paddle a boat that really lends itself to our domestic waters. Its attractive price tag only adds to our feeling that among whitewater river runners this kayak from Big Dog is a force to be reckoned with.

The Ride

The Storm sits in Big Dog’s range of whitewater kayaks between the river play kayak the Flux, and the DropZone designed for dropping down steep creeks, as its name suggests. The Force is the pedigree river runner of the family, but don’t mistake this for meaning that it’s not up to the task when that horizon line signals a drop off at vertical or near-vertical angles, there is enough rocker on this thing that you can nail a textbook boof every time the occasion requires.

The semi-displacement hull provides a really comfortable and functional blend of stability with nippy manoeuvrability: while there is plenty of forgiving play in the primary stability, once you get your weight over an edge and engage those raised rails and you’ll snap straight into that eddy, or carve smoothly around that hole. Edge-to-edge transitions are really very smooth, thanks to the hull shape, but to make the most of this boat’s potential for sharp, snappy turns you have to move your body to engage those raised rails.

Also, a product of this particular hull shape is the fact that the Force is willing to benignly overlook the odd bit of sloppy paddling, and there is no overly-zealous tendency for edges to catch if you miss a beat.
We had no problem with the speed of the Force, which it retains through big water, and allows you to charge drops and punch through holes with ease.

We’ve been paddling the medium-sized 8.0 Force, for which all of our testers fell within the generously recommended paddler weight range. The overall volume was ample for those paddling and the type of water we had it on, and distribution was excellent. Even laden with rescue gear and other kit for a day’s paddle the waterline was sufficiently high that we’d ride over most things, and we were pleased with how quickly and under control we’d resurface from drops.

While the volume distribution and rocker profile lend themselves well to bouncing down volume runs and steeper water with bigger drops thrown in, the high waterline and manoeuvrability really come into their own on more technical stretches and low water runs. It made an excellent Upper Dart boat, for example, even in desperate levels, but still handles well on the likes of the Etive in Scotland.

We did stick it on a few waves as we progressed down-river, and the carving nature of the semi-planning hull meant that it actually surfed surprisingly well for a kayak that is so decidedly in form and function a river runner. Just an extra added bonus there!

Fixtures & Fittings

Paddler’s test boats’ outfitting always gets put through its paces on and off the river: the boat gets swapped round, sometimes mid-run, so if there is any inefficiency in the effective adjustment of footrests and back bands then it is quickly highlighted. The Force never showed itself up, though, in this department. Moving the bulkhead footrests backwards and forwards even on-the-fly is quick and easy, and then you’re good to go, feeling snug, with a quick cranking up of the ratchets. We didn’t feel the need to adjust the position of the seat for the sake of our paddling position – the boat is good and roomy so no need to go too far back – although if you want to move it forward or back it’s straightforward to do so.

We’ve paddled boats that are perhaps a touch more comfortable to spend longer days on the water in; despite being adjustable, the thermo-moulded thigh grips seemed reluctant to form to our thighs properly. This wasn’t so much of a problem that we felt the outfitting wasn’t doing its job, though: the body/ boat contact is in fact, excellent and affords a lot of the all important control for the assertive edging you need to get the most out of the Force. You’re just not too sorry to get out for a stretch of your legs after a while, is all; something that is true of most whitewater kayaks, to varying degrees.

The Force has a full compliment of inbuilt safety features that fully qualify it for running even the pushier stuff. Bulkhead footrests, five metal grab points and a built-in ‘onestep’ pillar combine to mean that this is a boat that you wouldn’t think twice about taking on any level of water that you yourself can match in ability, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be looked after it all goes a bit wrong.

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