Research Kayaks in the Buyers' Guide!
Select Kayak to View in Buyers' Guide
First off, I probably broke the cardinal rule on buying a kayak. I bought this kayak sight unseen and never had even taken a test paddle in it much less even had seen a Current Design kayak. I based my purchase on the other reviews on the Kestrel and hoped these reviews were fairly accurate and also by looking over CD‘s catalog to gain some information. Also, I was able to purchase this kayak brand new for $629.00! Had to drive 250 miles to pick it up, but I figured if I didn’t like it I could resale it and make a little money on it.
So, after this long review, I give the Kestrel an overall rating of 8. If I had more room for my big feet I would give it a 9. Very good kayak for the money.
This is a GREAT boat and has performed well.Easy to paddle, stable, nimble, sturdy and durable. Wind, sliding over logs, open water, twisting streams, spring fed run currents (up and down stream) are no problem at all. I even stayed upright when a manatee surfaced underneath my boat lifting it out of the water! Scared us both, but I stayed upright.
I would highly recommend this boat to anyone. Plenty of storage, cockpit is large and I can move around reaching the rear hatch without a problem. I use a half skirt on the cockpit most of the time because of the Florida sun, also have a full spray skirt that I have used in poorer weather.
Hardy and feisty this boat lives up to its namesake.
My first kayak was a Wilderness Systems Pamlico Excel. This is a large, stable boat that I thought my whole family would enjoy. I was wrong, and I was left with a 17' behemoth that weighed in at almost 80 pounds! This boat was too big for me to handle alone and I quickly realized that if I was going to do any serious paddling, I would have to get a different boat.
After doing all the usual research, I settled on the hybrid version of the CD Kestrel 140. Initially, I was sold on its great looks and light weight (under 45#). This made it easy for me to load and unload it from the top of my van myself. Also portaging around dams in the Des Plaines River can be tiresome in a heavier boat, but the Kestrel can be picked up with one hand and carried over your shoulder with ease.
On the water, the boat performs very well. It felt a little "tippy" when I got in it for the first time, but once you paddle it for a little while, you realize what a stable craft it actually is and the "tippy" feeling goes away. It is quick to accelerate, very responsive and tracks very straight, even with a pretty strong cross-wind. The version I bought came with a rudder, but I have never used it.
The inside of the boat is very roomy. The cockpit is very large, making entry and exit very easy. The bulkheads are fiber-glassed in place and provide structural stability as well as watertight storage. The hatch covers fit well and keep things dry, but can only be accessed when you are outside the boat. This boat would have benefited from a small access hatch that is accessible while seated in the boat.
I primarily use the boat for exercise and touring, but I also have used it for nature photography and fishing. The boat has lots of room for gear and equipment, but most paddlers probably use theirs for day trips. I have used mine for weekend camping trips and I have had plenty of room for a small tent, sleeping bag, food and other gear (within reason). I have always had enough space as long as the turkey frier stays at home.
My 12 year old son loves this boat and learned how to paddle this summer. In fact, we like this boat so much, we just bought another Kestrel 120 HV (poly) for him. We plan on taking the boats to Florida this winter for some coastal cruising and fishing on the Inter Coastal Waterway.
In summary, what is the best kayak to buy? The answer is the one you will use the most. I have found the Kestrel to be a boat that one person can easily load and unload and use in a variety of water and weather making more usable than my behemoth that sat unused in my garage for several years. I have not been disappointed with its performance yet.
I liked the ease of getting in and out thanks to the larger cockpit. The boat accelerated easily. It was stable but was easy to edge slightly for steering. The rotomold has a narrower bow than the composite. The ten-minute paddle on the lake was enjoyable but I wasn't completely sold. Yesterday, a local outfitter allowed me to paddle a rotomold Kestral 140 in a 4 mile Arkansas River canoe and kayak race in the Little Rock area. (This kind of service is why I highly recommend purchasing from a local outfitter!) Paddling that distance with an attempt at speed showed me that, while the Kestral 140 has nice stability and easy in/out, the cockpit is too open for me. The cockpit's XL size and low-cut profile leaves nothing for knees to brace against. The narrow/flat bow also tended to plow. In white caps, I would have been taking on water. When I stopped paddling briefly to take a photo, the Kestal immediately lost momentum and began to veer off.
If you are wanting a large cockpit for fishing/photography on flat water and aren't concerned about speed or distance - the Kestral would be a fine boat - although I prefer my original kayak, an Old Town Loon 138 - now 8 years old, for that sort of outing. For long distances and competing in the fun divisions of canoe & kayak races, I chose a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 instead. It gives me just a little more room to wiggle in and out and for comfort over the long stretch than the Tsunami 140 my nephew 5'6", 165 lbs. is happily competing in now.
I purchased the TCS composite version and greatly appreciate the weight savings -- only 46 lbs. with rudder. At the end of a long day on the water it's nice to not have to hoist a lot of weight onto the Jeep. Not sure over the long run how durable the TCS will be, so I'm being careful to not abuse the hull.
I'm very pleased with this kayak as it's stable, performs well with or without the rudder, responds to my input with the paddle and while leaning, and is visually a knockout (white hull, red deck). This is one sweet kayak, definitely a 10!!
In general we have been pretty happy with it. The pegs easily adjust for whoever is using it. The seat is comfortable. It paddles smoothly with good speed and isn't phased by the hoards of inconsiderate speedboaters we are often exposed to.
The reason I give it only an 8 is that both storage compartments leak. Not while paddling, though we haven't had it out in rough seas yet. The leaks have only occured during capsizes (not all were on purpose... :-) . The rear leaks through it's cover and the front through the bulkhead. The rear compartment probably never collected more than a gallon, but the front section usually ended up between 1/2 and 3/4 full.
I called the dealer about the bulkhead and they called Current Designs. The word I got back is that improperly tying the kayak on my roof could break the factory seal. I suppose it is possible, though I haven't damaged my Wenonah foam core canoe in more than 10 years. The dealer suggested I just get some silicon caulk and re-seal the bulkhead myself....
In summary, a nice boat that we have all had fun with, but we are disappointed in both the dealer and Wenonah.
My biggest concerns as a novice paddler were stability and afforability. The Kestrel 140's stability had me feeling like a pro in the first 100 yards from shore. Once I found my center of gravity, I picked up speed and even tried some sharp, leaning turns. And the price was right (around $800, no rudder, at REI).
As a guy who weighs in at 270 pounds, I also wanted a boat ample enough to fit my big ol' butt. I'm happy to report that large cockpit is easy to enter and exit and fits my butt just fine. I was also concerned with weight capacity, but my heft is no match for this boat's carrying capacity. And it doesn't look like a total beginner's boat. Style points count, right?
Other boats I looked at had much more elaborate seating systems, with air bladders and four-way adjustable seatbacks. This boat's simple molded seat and adjustable backrest are bare bones, but I have yet to be uncomfortable even after long hours of paddling.
I'm anxious to take it out on some overnight trips. I don't know how the carrying capacity in the hatches compares with other boats in this class, but as an ultralight bike and backpacker, everything I would possibly need would fit just fine.
The calm lakes and reservoirs north of Denver, Colorado are my playground. I primarily explore every inch of the shoreline as I relax before work, but I also get in some interval training and sprints when I can. Even though the boat is wide and stable, it glides fairly quickly through the water. Probably not as quick as those super narrow boats, but that brings us back to my big ol' butt.
I have to give this boat a 9 out of 10. As my first kayak, I have nothing to compare it to, however, I was instantly comfortable and pleased. Highly recommended for beginners like myself who want an atractive, stable, manueverable kayak that will provide years of enjoyment.
I bought the boat at Florida Bay Outfitters, Key Largo, Florida. They are great folks to deal with, they have a good selection of boats, and are located in the most beautiful kayaking waters in the US. If you're in the area, stop by and check them out.
They let me paddle a bunch of boats before I settled on the Kestrel 140. This boat just felt right. It was stable, light, responsive, well-made, comfortable to get in and out of, roomy (I'm 6'2", 190 lbs., with size 13 shoes), and it was just about the prettiest boat in this size range I had ever seen.
Every place I paddle it I get compliments on the Kestrel. The TCS material has a very nice, glossy finish and the lines look wonderful; it's much more attractive than the plastic boats, yet not as expensive as Kevlar.
Durability seems quite good; I've beached it on lots of rocky and shell-covered shores and the bottom looks pretty good after a year of use. It's very light, easy to carry and I can lift it onto my vehicle with ease.
I do mostly day paddles for fitness, and also like to fish and photograph wildlife. I use it mostly in the waters around Key Biscayne, the upper Keys, and many of the spring-fed rivers and coastal areas of North Florida. So far, it has met all my needs and expectations, and the Kestrel has allowed me to progress from a beginner to a confident paddler with ease. I'd highly recommend this boat as a first kayak to anyone with similar interests and needs. I've taken several friends out paddling, letting them use my boat while I rent and try out other models, and everyone has commented on how easy and comforting the Kestrel is to paddle.
The only trouble I had at first was when paddling open stretches on Biscayne Bay, with moderate to heavy winds and following or quartering seas in choppy waters. The Kestrel 140 would tend to weathercock and it was a chore to keep it tracking straight in such conditions.
Having rented other boats with either a rudder or skeg, I decided to add the Kestrel's rudder package several months after I got it, hoping it would help the situation. I ordered the kit and installed it myself without too much fuss.
The addition of the rudder system really made this kayak a pleasure to paddle in the open waters around Biscayne Bay. Had it not been for this addition I likely would have rated the Kestrel at an 8 or 9; as it is now I would have to give it a 10 since it handles all conditions with ease.
I cannot say much about the hatches since I do not really use them. The front hatch is very unobtrusive and follows the deck contours smoothly. The rear, rubber hatch is well-positioned when I carry fishing or photo gear. Both seem reasonably water-tight. The deck rigging also seems adequate from my limited experience. The cockpit is plenty large, probably larger than I need, and I found I had to add a half-skirt to keep annoying paddle drips to a minimum. The seat/backrest is OK for my build; I find I can paddle for hours without getting sore or tired. My only complaint about the seat is that it tends to creak at times when I shift my weight around.
These days I'm looking for a racier boat, something slimmer and longer and more challenging. I'd also like to try multi-day touring and camping. So I'm looking at some 17' kayaks in kevlar, though I'll definitely keep the Kestrel.
But for a quiet afternoon spent paddling on the Santa Fe or Wakulla rivers, poking around the mangroves in the upper Keys or Biscayne Bay, or cruising the tidal flats of the Big Bend area, the kestrel 140 cannot be beat. I spent one magical day ghosting along the Wakulla River, paddling among and playing with a group of about twelve manatees for several miles. It was an experience I'll never forget.
Do yourself a favor and try out a Kestrel. It's really a great boat.
Speed is good for a 14-footer. You'd swear the boat isn't over 24 inches wide, the way it goes (it's 26 inches wide). Primary stability is quite comforting, and secondary is very strong, even for people with a high center of gravity. I'm a T7/8 complete paraplegic, so I'm top-heavy, but this boat gives me confidence even in choppy water. I made an extension for the factory backrest and I brace it up against the inside of the rear coaming.
Maneuverability is decent, and tracking is excellent for the most part, though some winds cause weathercocking. Still, I don't recommend bothering with a rudder.
In my opinion, a 37-inch cockpit rather than 39 would be ideal for this boat, but either way, it's fine for its intended light touring purpose. Easy butt-first entry. For me, this is a multi-purpose boat, usable on Lake Superior, inland lakes, flat rivers, and even up to easy Class II. I can't recommend the TCS material for heavy-duty rivers though. I bought a Kestrel 120 in the fall and ran a solid Class III rapids with it. My stern spanked a rock hard and cracked. A fiberglass patch on the inside made it good as new, but a boat that can crack just isn't a good application for Class III's.
Other than that, I can't imagine anyone not liking the TCS Kestrels. Anyone who paddles them is favorably impressed. My hat is off to the Current Designs hull designer on these boats. I don't like to give out 10's, but this boat is much more than a 9, so I had to round up.
120,000+ people can't be wrong!
The Paddling.net Newsletter is a must if you like to canoe or kayak! Each week it is packed with great articles, photos, product reviews, and special features. Better yet, we promise not to sell your email address to anyone; that's right ZERO spam! Sign up today and find out what you've been missing!