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Richardson LakesSit-on-top Touring Kayak Reviews from our
TopKayaker.net Fall Expeditions
Helping sit-on-top kayakers gain confidence in extending their paddling season.

Perception Kayaks touring sit-on-tops, the Illusion and the Napali, were put to the test in our 3rd annual fall wilderness trip to Richardson Lakes of Maine's Northern Wilderness. Also tested was Surf to Summit's Grand Touring Seat (GTS). We also took along the Tarpon by Wilderness Systems.

Please note: There is no perfect kayak out there as every kayaker has different needs and preferences. Do further research on any kayak purchase. However, these reviews are not paid for; so they are honest expressions of the paddler, based on their previous experience. You can meet the reviewers by clicking here. We appreciate those manufacturers who have supported this effort. Links to their websites are unsolicited and provided strictly for the convenience of our visitors.

IllusionILLUSION 14.0 ~ By Perception:
14 feet, 3 inches long
26 inches wide
Weighs 62 pounds
Maximum Capacity: 350 pounds

Fall Trip Reviews:

TOM: The Illusion is the second generation of Perception's Prism, one of the few sit-on-top kayak models to pass the hardest test of all, the test of time. The Illusion lived up to its predecessor's reputation during our review process. The nice large cargo hatches are very easy to load with bulky camping gear, and I would assume diving gear as well. One minor problem, one strap, on each hatch, was a bit hard to tighten because it was not long enough to get a firm grip. For ocean paddling I will add a little loop to the end of the strap. The hatch straps are also equipped with extra straps intended for self-rescue using a paddle float. Most sit-on-top paddlers will never perform such a maneuver. We found these extra straps to be excellent for securing lightweight cargo. A small bungee net behind the seat is perfect for storage of a small dry bag. There is certainly ample room inside the hull for any expedition. The Illusion is also equipped with a five-inch diameter center hatch handy for easy access. A net bag inside the hatch holds your goodies. I am very happy to see this feature; many kayak models lack this convenience. Perception's center hatch is safe and can be used with out flooding, even while the boat is fully loaded. (Not in rough water or surf zone.)

Our Illusion came with a self-sticking seat pad. We opted not to put it on. It seemed to take a bit of trimming and planning, and since we were outfitting it with a Harmony backrest with seat pad we felt we could skip it. While the pad is very thin, I will say that it should provide excellent traction for greater performance in rough waters. Our knee straps mounted to the strap eyes provided eliminating the need to customize.

Over all, the Illusion is a very comfortable kayak. It has a very stable feeling and responds well when bracing and leaning. However water will come over the gunwales when leaned and in a following sea. This was not a problem for us as we were properly attired, as should any paddler, dressed for the water temperature. Water drains out through two suppers in the foot wells. The seat does not have drains, a mixed blessing. While it is nice to have water drain out, it is also nice not to have water percolate up. If water does enter the seat area it will not drain out, making a thick seat pad a comfort. Once again proper water sports clothing made us comfortable and safe. It is easy to close the drains with corks or tape for those who choose that option.

illusionThe Illusion tracks well enough, but on the days with medium strength wind and waves quartering from behind I was wishing for a rudder. Our test kayak was not equipped with one, but this is a feature that can be added. Turning and maneuvering in tight places was easy. The glide was good after a few strokes, and the Illusion was never hard to paddle.

Handles mounted on the very ends of the bow and stern were easy to grip and comfortable. Our Illusion came with a water bottle and it was nice to have there in the cockpit in its cradle at the ready to hydrate thirsty paddlers. The foot braces are easy to adjust and comfortable. (I have medium size feet.) The kayak is outfitted with a drain cork on the stern to drain bilge water while on shore, this came in handy at the end of one day when the water was rough and our boat was heavily loaded. Side mounted handles on the gunwales made this kayak easy to solo load onto our mini van roof racks. Our test kayak came in a bright red color, very handsome and a good safety color too.

All in all the Illusion is a nice ride, not too small, not too big. It should be able to perform well, and I can recommend it for a wide variety of touring and recreational pursuits, including camping, fishing and wild life viewing.

hullATHENA: I can't add much to Tom's thorough review except to say, I loved this kayak. The seat being separated from the footwells by a rise in the cockpit design and the foot peddle rests are features I believe I have missed in my Ocean Kayak Scupper Classic. Unlike the Classic, however, I would definitely outfit the Illusion with the rudder system. We all felt unanimous about that. One of our forum participants paddles this kayak in Class II whitewater. I can see that being a fun ride. The Illusion is very stable and maneuverable but tracking in wind and rough seas is a real challenge without the rudder. The extra strap length with Velcro was very handy. Hatch size is magnificent!...Except I wish it had a gasket on the hatch opening as the Prism was famous for. We took on water in rough seas. My biggest impression about this kayak is that it is outfitted at the factory the way we would normally outfit a kayak after purchase. Very solid construction. Quality looking hardware and thoughtful placement of strap eyes, bungie, water bottle holder, center hatch, handles, etc. Can't wait to try it with a rudder.

TERRIE: The Illusion is very easy to load but my least favorite kayak to paddle. It seemed "Squirrelly"...really fighting to keep straight and I had to paddle hard before getting a glide started. Nice boat once it got moving. Felt very maneuverable. The foot wells and seat were very wet the 2nd day. I sat in the cockpit and did the "hip wiggle" and didn't feel as stable, "tippy," but comfortable; all the kayaks were surprisingly comfortable though. When I looked at the hard plastic seats (being new to kayaking) I thought otherwise. Hatch tie downs: couldn't get a good cinch on the straps in order to secure the hatches. Rudder: a lot of it could have been psychological, but it would have made a difference for me. Cockpit provided improved paddling ergonomically ...a good position...didn't feel I'd lose balance. Had more deck storage than the other boats, and a center hatch that stayed dry. I think if someone got this as a beginner it might be discouraging.

For more reviews of the Illusion submitted by visitors, and as discussed on our forum, click here.

napaliNAPALI 15.5 ~ By Perception:
15 feet, 7 inches long
26 inches wide
Weighs 74 pounds
Maximum Capacity: 375 pounds

Fall Trip Reviews:

TOM: Named after the most popular kayak-touring destination in Hawaii, the Na Pali Coast, (trans: "the cliffs") I believe the Napali 15.5 would do well on its namesake coast as well as others around the world.

There is a good amount of storage space inside the hull accessed by two modestly large cargo hatches. What is special about these hatches is the neoprene covers that make the Napali virtually water tight. While it is a bit hard to stretch the covers over the hatch openings, I did not have any trouble with it being used to such covers on other Perception sit-inside kayaks. Hard hatch lids top off the rubber covers and are strapped down in the standard method. The Straps were easy to use and tighten with plenty of slack to grab a hold of, because this kayak is skinnier than the Illusion. Once again we found the extra straps for self-rescue handy for securing lightweight cargo. The deck rigging on the Napali was also handy for securing other small and light packages like lunch and spare splash tops. The bow is equipped with a bungee net very handy for parking your paddle for free hands.

At first look the back band (standard feature on this kayak) did not impress me. Much to my surprise I found it to be very comfortable and preferable over other back rests. Its low profile does not interfere with the PFD, and it gives great lumbar support. It is easy to adjust, but not while out on the water. Care needs to be taken to make sure that it is firmly seated in the slot. This kayak is installed with strap eyes for alternative backrests and knee straps, both of witch we found mounted well with out modification. Our Napali did not come with a self-adhesive seat pad, but I do understand that this is a standard feature. Considering that the back band is for the back only I would advise fitting and sticking a seat pad into this kayak. I will use the one we did get with the Illusion for this purpose, however I, and our other reviewers, did not feel a clear need for the additional padding.

Initially the Napali feels a little tippy, but has excellent secondary stability, like you would expect in any high performance sea kayak. It responds very well to leans and bracing in kind, however the low gunwales do allow water to enter the cockpit while leaning and paddling in rough water. Drains in the foot wells take care of most of this, but leave the seat a little soggy, and as mentioned above proper water sports clothing makes this a moot point. The drains are "corkable" if desired in calm waters.

The long and sleek hull of the Napali tracks well and has an excellent glide. Over all it is easy to paddle and reasonably maneuverable for 15 ½ feet. On looking at the hull shape and deck lay out it almost appears that the kayak may have been intended to be a bit longer, and maybe as the designation "15.5" implies we can look forward to an even longer sleeker version.

There was one paddling leg during witch I wished for rudder from the prevailing winds and following sea. (I planned the trip to go with the wind from my research into the local weather patterns.) The Napali can be outfitted with a rudder, and I would be more inclined to put a rudder on this kayak than I would the Illusion. In my experiences the Perception rudders have been very good, I think I will look into a rudder installation.

bowThe Napali's handles, bow and stern, are very comfortable, but I prefer them to be mounted closer to the ends. I do understand the reason why the stern handle is located, due to the rudder layout. A water bottle and easy access cradle leaves no excuse for not drinking enough water. The foot braces are easy to use and adjust, and comfortable for my medium sized feet. The kayak is equipped with a drain cork for bilge water, but it hardly necessary due to the really dry inside from the hatch gaskets. Safety grab lines are mounted on the stern and bow decks, not only are they handy for an emergency grab or compass mount, but they reflect the light of a flash light at night, glowing eerily like an animal's eyes. Out test model was a bright yellow, good looking and a great safety color.

The Napali is a kayak I would recommend to those paddlers looking for the performance of a sea-touring kayak. It will excel at longer distance trips with cargo, like one would expect paddling the Na Pali Coast.

bow hullATHENA: As with any kayak that tracks well, this was a monster to turn. For that reason I would outfit this kayak with a rudder to help in that effort. It is a heavy kayak, but as the Illusion, quality constructed and well outfitted from the factory. I was surprised at how comfortable the seat back support was. I don't like this feature at all on the WS Tarpon...but that could be my own body posture problem. On one occasion I had placed the scupper corks too deep in the holes and I believe there was a considerable drag on the hull which might have to do with my not enjoying this kayak as much. Did not like the handle placements on bow & stern; closer to the ends would help, but I imagine the weight of the kayak, as well as the rudder placement, requires the handles to be where they are; Hatch covers...extremely secure...EXTREMELY SECURE...in other words, don't risk trying to get into them while afloat. One of our visitors referred to them as the "hatches from hell"...but for ocean touring this would be excellent security from flooding. The stretch "cap" took two of us to get it on. My general impression is that this is a serious ocean touring kayak: worth some of the inconvenient features for its performance level.

TERRIE: The hatches were a good safety feature keeping the inside dryer, but hard to get the stretchy covers on. Those covers are a good second line of defense. The Napali felt heavier in turning than the other kayaks, less maneuverable than Tarpon or Illusion. Waves lapped over the side, water got in seat area. I was comfortable because I was dressed well for the water. I was concentrating so much on paddle techniques I don't think the boats got to do their best. A rudder would make a difference for me. Never was I uncomfortable or too cold. My feet were my thermostats.

GRAND TOURING SEAT (GTS) by Surf to Summit:

grand touring seatFall Trip Reviews:

TOM: Wow what a good-looking seat! That was my first impression. This seat is very soft, and well constructed. We only used it for only six days, but I would hazard to guess that it is durable as well. I loved the large and removable pocket on the back; it was really handy for safety gear, snacks, a hat, extra clothing, and spare equipment. (Yes, I did get all that in there.) Just add a web strap with buckles and you could make it a fanny pack or shoulder bag.

The GTS seat pad is very thick and provides an excellent barrier from the inevitable puddle in the cockpit. The tall seat back should provide support for any weary or weak paddler's back, however I would suggest that this backrest is too tall for effective surfing and Eskimo rolling.

The GTS mounts much like any other backrest. Twin side straps, (on left & right sides) linked to a single brass clip, are individually adjustable. Rear mounting straps are standard and can be outfitted with plastic buckles for Ocean Kayak boats, and brass clips for all other kayak makes. A little complicated to attach at first, but easy to get the hang of.

I personally found that the GTS backrest did not like my PFD. Yes, I wear a "Sea Tow" towing harness on my vest, and I know that this is the main problem. I did try an alternative life vest and it did remedy this problem to some extent. So I loosened my PFD (does compromise PFD) and slipped it over the backrest to enjoy the full comfort of the GTS, and yes it was nice. I will suggest that this backrest will be perfect for those paddling with a full length (not high cut), or horse collar type of PFD. Or GOD FORBID! those paddling with out wearing their life vests. (Strapped on deck right?) So, the GTS will be perfect for the paddler who insists on being attired in only Speedos or bikini. This seat is so soft they won't be getting the common rash from sun, sand and salt on a plastic kayak seat.

While I will not be using this backrest much, I will suggest it for tropical paddlers who will be lightly clad. (Even in the tropics I wear PFD with tow rig and wet suit shorts;) I will also recommend this backrest to paddlers who need extra comfort and support for whatever reason. Careful consideration of life vest should be made to find a good match. The STS inflatable lumbar support may help "high cut" PFDs fit nicely with the GTS. And finally I recommend this backrest to those who insist on the coolest, biggest, fancy kayak gear that they can get their hands on.

ATHENA: Looked like it would be comfortable, but it was very restricting for paddle strokes; was especially uncomfortable because of the PFD. We tried various PFD's and couldn't find one that was a good match for it. It may have been designed for someone who just floats and fishes or observes nature in very shallow wetlands where a PFD wouldn't be as necessary or who wears an inflatable PFD or harness type with no back..

TERRIE: The Grand touring seat back was restricting. It was noisy & rubbed. I didn't see an advantage over not having it. In the long run would the rubbing wear down the pfd? The pocket was good. The straps for attaching the seat were complicated. I Thought that it was going to be much more comfortable. Poser Item.


ATHENA: Athena is an advanced paddler and kayak camper originally from the west coast and Hawaii. She has logged many ocean miles in Hawaii as well as the waterways of the forests in the North East. Athena is co-founder of TopKayaker.Net and participates in the forum. Height 5'5" Weight 150#

TOM: Tom is an advanced paddler and outdoorsman. He is co-founder of TopKayaker.Net, author of two kayak books and an ACA instructor in New Hampshire. Tom grew up canoeing and kayaking New England and spent ten years in Hawaii paddling most of its remote coastlines. Height: 5'10", Weight: 165#.

TERRIE: Terrie is a watersports & camping enthusiast with a lifetime of motor craft experience. Although she is familiar with canoeing, this is her first kayaking trip. She is an RN from Los Angeles.

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