Thoughts on the Jackson Karma

Jackson Karma KayakJackson Karma KayakWhile waiting for my shiny new Zet Veloc to arrive (nearly two months and counting!) my lovely lady decided to buy a small Jackson Karma, which I duly picked up for her on my last trip the the Cardiff White Water centre.

I had not tried a Karma previously because the weight specs on the Jackson website suggested that I would have my usual issue of being at the far upper end of the small and the very low end of the medium. Lets just say that I quickly learnt that web specifications don’t mean much!

This cannot be a comprehensive review since I have not been able to try the boat in any really pushy water. However I was impressed to say the least. The Karma small is roughly the same size as the Veloc, although it is half an inch narrower. Immediately I felt the comfort of the Jackson outfitting. I do love the way that the fit is spot on every time due to the rope adjusted unishock bulkhead and backrest. This system gives infinite adjustment so that you are not at the whim of set screw holes on a traditional footplate.

Even better is the way that the footrest can be quickly unclipped to allow airbags or gear to be easily stowed at the front of the boat. This is made faff free because you just pull a rope to bring the footplate right to the cockpit for easy reach. The Unishock bulkhead is renowned for safety, giving an effective shock zone for hard pitons. Something not to be underestimated as I know a few people who have had badly damaged ankles from such mistakes.

Of course the other advantage of the Jackson outfitting is that there are no holes in the boat hull at all. This is a very dry boat indeed.

To pick up and carry the Karma feels very light indeed. There is a usefully placed carry handle at the top of the front bulkhead, too, which makes things easy. I am presuming that the lightness of the Karma is due to their new variable thickness technology. Similar to the system that Zet uses, this allows the boat plastic to be ticker where it is needed, and thinner in less critical areas. The two boats are, on paper at least, the same weight. Although the Karma definitely feels lighter on the shoulder.

 

Jackson Karma vs Zet Veloc

Jackson Karma vs Zet Veloc

Side by side the differences between the Karma and Veloc are stark once you start to look at the detail. The Karma has noticeably more rocker at the front with a higher nose. The rocker profile is also much more continuous than the Veloc, which explains the boofing performance of the boat. Sitting in the boat and I found the Karma to be better ergonomically and comfort wise than the Veloc. There is also more foot room in the Karma allowing for a more comfortable foot position.

When I first got onto the water I found that the Karma had a much faster edge to edge transition than the Veloc. Secondary stability is very similar with both boats having the uncanny ability to sit almost 80 (maybe even 90 with good balance!) degrees on edge with absolute solidity. The Karmas fast edge to edge performance will be down to the relatively narrow hull. Half an inch doesn’t sound a lot of difference, but it is surprising how much effect small figures like this make. Both boats have a similar parting line height with some minor differences, which may account for the similar secondary stability. A high parting line allows a higher side wall, and hence the boat will be more stable on an extreme edge, something that is common to both boats.

Despite being technically at the upper end of the Karma small weight range, I found that the boat was floating very high. Jackson account for gear too, so this may explain things. The Karma has a flat hull with some defined rails, softening off towards the front as well as chamfered side walls, which “V” the hull in looking at the cross section profile. This helps to direct water under the hull instead of loading up on the side wall creating instability. In comparison the Veloc still has a flattish hull and only very subtle defined rails, which are enough to give surprisingly good carving performance.

Nose rocker comparison. Karma is noticeably higher.

Nose rocker comparison. Karma is noticeably higher.

There were a few things that struck me about the Karma once I was on the white water. The first was how well it cuts through features when boofs were missed. This is a fast boat and it carries speed very well. Boofs really were made easy. I don’t like the often used cliched phrase “boofs like a dream” because skill and timing are still needed. However having said that, the Karma does make boofing easy when you time things right.

Despite only being grade 2-3, the Cardiff courses features do have some bite in places, and the rapids and the eddies can be boily. The Karma holds a line more easily than the Veloc when you are lazy. The Veloc in comparison likes you to boss it around and it definitely needs to be driven more if you are to avoid being punished. The Karma certainly responds to being driven, but it won’t punish you if you are having an off day and are lazily drifting more.

I found that the Karmas hull was less grabby in the boils than the Veloc. A strange finding given it’s slightly more edgy nature.

Regarding the plastic, the Karmas is most certainly softer than the Veloc. Zet plastic is renowned for being bomber, and a look at the two hulls confirms this. The demo Veloc at the centre has been used there for a while now, and has also been absolutely hammered on Grade 5’s in Norway and the Alps. Yet there isn’t so much as a dent in it. Even the scratches on the hull are indistinct and shallow, taking on more of the appearance of being sandpapered with course sandpaper than rock bashing. The Karma in comparison is fairly new and has only been used at the whitewater centre, yet the scratches and shallow gouges are more apparent and different in character from the Veloc.

Overall I was very surprised by the Karma. I was even more surprised to find out that the small version is ideally suited to me. So the big question is, do I regret ordering a Veloc?

Yes and no is the answer! I loved the performance of the Karma, and it was also more comfortable than the Zet. Both boats feel very sporty to paddle, and perhaps the Karma feels slightly more crisp. Both boats are fast, too, with fast acceleration and the ability to carry speed well. I really like both boats, but what initially appears to be slightly tougher plastic means that I am still happy with my Zet purchase. Although I should point out that I do not have any thorough empirical evidence to establish that for certain either way. The Karma is used throughout the world in very tough conditions! I do also love the idea of the safety of the Karmas unishock bulkhead.

Here is my quick summary chart for those who may wish to know a comparison. Of course much of this is subjective and is only based on a days paddling on an artificial whitewater course. However this does mean that I got to compare the boats on exactly the same water and conditions throughout the day.

Karma Veloc
Continuous rocker for great boofing. Less continuous rocker, but still good boof performance.
Defined rails and flat hull for good carving performance. Flattish hull with very soft edges, and a subtle rail. Still good at carving.
Accelerates quickly. Accelerates quickly.
Carries speed. Carries speed.
Faster edge to edge performance. Slower edge to edge (less tippy).
Flies over boils very well. Bit more influenced by boils.
Will look after you if you are being a bit lazy. Veloc rewards a positive driving style of paddling and doesn’t like it if you are a lazy drifter!
Professional and comfortable outfitting. Outfitting is basic and a bit agricultural, but is bomber and works very well.
Solid step out pillar. Solid step out pillar.
Highly safe and well designed Unishock Bulkhead for absorbing hard shocks. Traditional fixed footplate, though a pure foam option is available.
No holes in the hull. Veloc has holes for bolts for the footplate, but has no holes anywhere else. The foam footplate version has no holes in the hull at all.
Two gear fixing points up front, and two clip points in the rear. Two gear fixing points up front, and two clip points in the rear.
Seat position can be adjusted while sitting in the boat making adjustment of trim on the water easy. Seat needs unbolting at the sides to move.
Plastic is definitely softer than the Veloc. Renowned resilient plastic from Zelezny.
Hull reinforced along length. Hull reinforced by diamond shaped structure within the outfitting.
Very light, 18 kg. Very light, 18 kg.
More readily available from shop stock due to reliable importer (Squarerock). Could be a wait for shipments as the boats all come direct from Zet UK via the Zet factory.

Conclusions

Both boats are very good. I’m not just saying that for the feel good factor, they really are. They will suit different people. The Veloc rewards an aggressive paddling style, and can be a very “slalomy” style boat to paddle. It doesn’t like drifters, and will reward you if you boss it around. The Karma on the other hand will be more forgiving to those with less confidence, but it will still come alive with an aggressive style.

There are a few more bits to break on the Karma outfitting. That’s not to say that it isn’t strong, just that the more agricultural outfitting of the Zet might be more suited to people who seriously abuse their boats. That said the simplicity of adjustment of the Jackson outfitting is superb. You really can adjust everything, and I mean everything, while you are sat in it, and without any tools. Those who do lots of steep manky drops with a lot of piton potential may well want the Unishock bulkhead as a matter of course. In fact it’s so good that other manufacturers really should be looking at making something similar rather than the traditional hard fixed footplate that has no give in the event of a hard piton.

Both boats are very light and accelerate well. The biggest difference and choice will depend on whether you prefer the crisper carvy feel of the Karma compared to the softer Zet. I’m not going to call the Zet a displacement hulled boat because it is still fairly flat. People who come from a playboating background may well prefer the Karma, while those who are used to paddling boats like the Nomad may prefer the Zet.

If I had the money I would have both because it is really a very close call between them. A lot will depend on your paddling style and the type of rivers you do.

Jackson Karma vs Zet Veloc

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Jackson Karma

  1. Hi Peter: Have you tried the Karma medium by chance? I am almost the same exact weight as you but have read on some blogs that going up to a medium might be a better choice for me. I use my playboat when I feel confident so I am wanting this boat to make me feel more secure in harder runs (class 4 runs are the top end of my abilities). Thanks, Chris

    • Hey, No I haven’t sorry. Just got myself a medium Burn III and loving it !! Was going to get a Zet Veloc but wait time was like 6 months (I live in NZ)

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