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Dagger Stratos 12.5 S Review

Standing out for its superb performance in a variety of environments, this spray-skirt-optional, sit-inside kayak is ready for river rapids, ocean currents, and languid lake days
Dagger Stratos 12.5 S
Credit: Dagger
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $1,499 List
Pros:  Excellent glide, maneuverable, compatible with a spray skirt, includes central pillar and bulkheads for added safety
Cons:  Easy to tip, small cockpit entrance can feel claustrophobic, heavier weight
Manufacturer:   Dagger
By Sara James ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Sep 9, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 11
  • Glide and Tracking - 30% 9.0
  • Maneuverability - 20% 6.0
  • Stability - 20% 5.0
  • Comfort - 10% 7.0
  • Construction Quality - 10% 9.0
  • Portability - 10% 6.0

Our Verdict

The Dagger Stratos 12.5 S is a high-performance kayak that is suitable for a variety of lake, ocean, or river conditions. The length and hull design of the Stratos make it a smooth and fast option for covering longer distances with ease. Constructed with a central pillar and made from the same roto-molded plastic polymers as Dagger’s whitewater kayaks, experienced kayakers will appreciate this boat for its additional structural integrity if they are paddling in rugged environments. Sea kayakers who like rock gardening will enjoy the playfulness of this kayak, and those looking for less extreme adventures will also appreciate the agility and comfort. If looking for a more stable or roomy kayak, users may prefer some of the wider or more stable kayaks that we tested.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Dagger Stratos 12.5 S
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $1,499 ListCheck Price at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$1,079 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$750 List
$749.99 at Amazon
$479.99 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Excellent glide, maneuverable, compatible with a spray skirt, includes central pillar and bulkheads for added safetyVery stable, great glide, comfortable outfitting, roomy, lots of storageComfortable, easy to paddle, easy to climb in and out, great storageExtremely stable, great tracking, very durable, comfortable, stackableVery large cockpit, stable, easy-to-adjust seat, includes storage compartment
Cons Easy to tip, small cockpit entrance can feel claustrophobic, heavier weightHeavy, hard to drain, removable deck pod a bit flimsyHeavy to carry, rudder for tracking has to be purchased as extraHeavy to carry, no internal dry storageSluggish, difficult to load, drink holder is far away from seat, no cover for storage
Bottom Line Standing out for its superb performance in a variety of environments, this spray-skirt-optional, sit-inside kayak is ready for river rapids, ocean currents, and languid lake daysAn overall high-quality sit-in kayak that is comfortable, maneuverable, and accessible thanks to a wide-open cockpitThis well-outfitted kayak allows for many different paddling applications, all in one super comfortable sit-on-top modelA super solid and stable all-around kayak great for any age or ability level at a modestly affordable priceA comfortable and stable kayak ideal for casual days paddling on calm water that comes at a reasonable price
Rating Categories Dagger Stratos 12.5 S Wilderness Systems... Wilderness Systems... Ocean Kayak Malibu... Old Town Vapor 10
Glide and Tracking (30%)
9.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
Maneuverability (20%)
6.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
6.0
Stability (20%)
5.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Comfort (10%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
7.0
Construction Quality (10%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Portability (10%)
6.0
6.0
5.0
4.0
7.0
Specs Dagger Stratos 12.5 S Wilderness Systems... Wilderness Systems... Ocean Kayak Malibu... Old Town Vapor 10
Length 12'-7" 12'-2" 10'-6" 11'-5" 10'-0"
Width 23.5" 29" 32" 32" 28.5"
Weight 54 lbs 49 lbs 57 lbs 59 lbs 47 lbs
Height 13.5" 14" 15.3" 12" 16.8"
Weight Capacity 250 lbs 325 lbs 325 lbs 360 lbs 325 lbs
Material/Construction Rotomolded polyethylene Polyethylene Polyethylene Singler layer polyethylene Single Layer Polyethylene
Features Adjustable skeg system, soft-touch carry handles at the bow and stern, built-in security bar, Bow and stern bulkheads with hatches, Dagger Contour CFS seating system and adjustable, padded thigh braces, Touring Bulkhead foot-brace system, Touring center safety pillar with integrated portage handle, Shockcord deck rigging Rigid handles, Replaceable skid plate, Orbix hatch with sealed bulkhead, thigh pads, XL foot braces, SlideTrax and 2 mounting platforms, removable dry box, 2 cup holders, lithium battery recess (battery not included), Phase 3 AirPro seating system Quick-park paddle holder, Rigid carry handles, SlideTrax accessory rails, magnetic water-bottle strap system, removable DryTec dry box, sectioned storage tray, Phase 3 AirPro seating system, Dog-friendly deck Tri-form hull with an integral keel and sponsons, AirGo molded in seat and seat pad with adjustable AirComfort backrest, molded-in foot wells and calf rest, paddle holders, side/stern/bow carrying handles, molded-in oversized bow and stern tank wells with bungees, Splash resistent QuickStash dry hatch, 2 molded in fishing rod holders, 3 water bottle holder, replaceable skid plate. Adjustable Comfort Flex seat, Glide Track foot brace system ,Stern day well, Molded-in cockpit tray with cup holder, Molded-in paddle rest, Built in carry handles, Thigh pads, Drain plug, Skid plate

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Dagger Stratos 12.5 S is a 12.6-foot long, 24.5-inch wide, sit-inside touring kayak designed for higher performance than your average recreational kayak. It has a semi-displacement hull and a 35-inch-long cockpit that is compatible with an extra large spray skirt. It has two sealable storage hatches, bulkhead dividers, and a drop-down skeg.

Performance Comparison


Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the stratos is ready for choppy water, remaining maneuverable in...
The Stratos is ready for choppy water, remaining maneuverable in dynamic conditions with an experienced paddler at the helm.
Credit: Eric Gillespie

Glide and Tracking


The Stratos excelled in all metrics, but it really stood out in this aspect in comparison to other recreational touring kayaks we tested. The tip and tail of the Stratos are V-shaped, increasing its ability to cut through the water efficiently. However, the central third of the hull is flat. This planning hull allows the kayak to move across the water with more agility and ease, a more common design feature in whitewater kayaks. The Stratos was one of the longest kayaks we tested and the narrowest, giving creating excellent paddling efficiency. This is our favorite kayak to travel long distances in, and, given glassy waves and the right skills, is a ton of fun to surf.


There are certainly faster kayaks on the market; however, these are usually much longer (harder to store), less agile (less playful), and typically cost a lot more as they are made from lighter carbon composites. As far as plastic kayaks go, the Stratos is a fast kayak for being under 14 feet long.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - if we had some distances to cover, the dagger stratos was our...
If we had some distances to cover, the Dagger Stratos was our favorite kayak to paddle.
Credit: Scott Blankenfeld

The skeg on the Stratos can be dropped down to help the kayak maintain the direction of its glide and reduce the need for human correction. When paddling flat waters, paddlers appreciated having this tool to make straight-line paddling more effortless.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the stratos has a skeg at the rear of the kayak that can easily be...
The Stratos has a skeg at the rear of the kayak that can easily be dropped while out on the water to support the kayaks' tracking.
Credit: Sara James

Maneuverability


Being two feet longer than the shortest kayak we tested, the Dagger Stratos 12.5 S takes longer to turn on the flat water than some of the other options. However, by pulling up the skeg, you can significantly improve its maneuverability. In addition, thanks to the narrow and hybrid hull design incorporating a planning hull, advanced paddlers will be able to edge this kayak and will find that it is surprisingly agile for its length, particularly in dynamic moving water environments.


Experienced sea kayakers may find this option a playful choice for exploring rock gardens and ocean surfing. This kayak excels in dynamic ocean environments.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - despite being one of the longest kayaks we tested, the hull design...
Despite being one of the longest kayaks we tested, the hull design of the Stratos allows incredible maneuverability for paddlers that know how to edge and control their kayak.
Credit: Eric Gillespie

If navigating moving rivers is really your jam, there are more dynamic, shorter, and more stable (forgiving) whitewater-focused kayaks that would better suit the task. However, for those with advanced whitewater skills and gear (including a helmet, sprayskirt, rescue throwline, etc.), it is possible and really quite entertaining to paddle this kayak in up to class III whitewater. The speed is incredibly fun to play with and the hull can be edged to carve across the river. A solid white water roll and some sea kayaking skills open up the world of rock gardening in which the Stratos excels for its length and maneuverability. But do not be fooled if you are a novice to whitewater, this is not the kayak in which to first learn your white water skills.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - due to its length, it does take an extra second to turn the stratos...
Due to its length, it does take an extra second to turn the Stratos, thanks to its flat central hull and edges if you lean into your turn you can improve its efficiency.
Credit: Sara James

If you were to find yourself upside down, technically the Stratos is the easiest to re-right if you've been taught a solid kayaker roll. This is the only kayak we tested that is designed and outfitted to make rolling a real possibility (if you have learned this skill). It is compatible with a spray skirt, which is one of the requisite steps for conducting this Inuit-inspired roll. Not a skill that many learn from youtube alone, if you haven't yet mastered this maneuver, lessons and practice help. Ultimately, we recommend that you purchase float bags and a bilge pump, as this kayak is designed to be self rescuable out in deep waters. Just like the kayakers roll, the self-rescue takes instruction and practice — so don't reserve your first experience for an emergency. For those who aren’t ready to learn these skills but are likely to tip over regularly, a sit-on-top option would make life safer, easier, and a lot more fun.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - if you have developed a reliable quick roll, this can be performed...
If you have developed a reliable quick roll, this can be performed without even wearing a spray skirt, however you will have a lot of water in your kayak at the end and a bilge pump can help you bail this out.
Credit: Sara James

Once you do drag this kayak to shore, there isn’t a drain plug to help empty it. A friend, some strategy, some patience, and a sponge will also do the same job. [Pro tip: having float bags in your kayak will help avoid your kayak taking on as much water, therefore, speeding up this whole self-rescue process if you do tip over].

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the stratos kayak is suitable for beginner paddlers beginners but...
The Stratos kayak is suitable for beginner paddlers beginners but its advanced performance suits paddlers with experience controlling the edges of their kayak.
Credit: Sara James

Stability


Just like your road bike, the Stratos is most stable when moving at speed. When sitting in the flatwater, this kayak will 'feel' more tippy than your usual barge-wide rent-a-kayak option. With loose primary stability, paddlers may experience a gentle wobble even when sitting in flat water. Those who are not familiar with this feeling may overcompensate and actually tip themselves into the water.


In reality, the secondary stability of the Stratos makes it much more stable than you initially feel. By leaning forward, relaxing with any wobbles, and just paddling the boat forward like it was designed to, you will find the stability sweet spot of this kayak. An experienced kayaker won't be bothered by its narrowness, which helps it cut through waves and rapids, and makes it more stable in dynamic environments. Out of all the kayaks tested, this was one we wouldn't recommend for a nervous first-time kayaker, especially if we were going to put them in moving waters. In sheltered environments, this kayak is fun for all, and for those with experience, dynamic environments will feel like fun playgrounds.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the daggers stratos is most stable when moving.
The Daggers Stratos is most stable when moving.
Credit: Cheyenne Summer

Comfort


The Dagger Stratos 12.5 S stands out for its high-quality outfitting, similar to that used in their full-spec whitewater kayaks. The outfitting is a superior standard to the average recreational kayak, and you can expect it to last much longer than the cheap one you saw at the grocery store.


With a padded, adjustable back band, thigh pads, adjustable seat, and, adjustable food plates, you can easily position yourself in the most paddle-efficient AND comfortable position.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the backrest, hip padding and adjustable footrest make it possible...
The backrest, hip padding and adjustable footrest make it possible to adjust the Stratos kayak for maximum comfort and efficiency.
Credit: Sara James

The Stratos is also available in a 12.5 L version that offers more cockpit volume, and the 14.5 version with even more leg room. Consider your agility and ability to get in and out of a sit-in kayak. Although manufacturers label this a “large" cockpit. it is still only 31.5 inches long, the smallest out of any we tested by 10 inches. Those with limited mobility or very long legs may find the cockpit size limiting. If that is the case for you, a more open-style kayak, or even a sit-on-top kayak may be more comfortable and therefore enjoyable.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - paddlers with longer legs or who are just wanting more volume in...
Paddlers with longer legs or who are just wanting more volume in their kayak may consider the 12.5 L or the 14.5 series Dagger Stratos kayaks.
Credit: Cheyenne Summers

Construction Quality


Dagger makes kayaks and that's it. Not paddles, coolers, pens, or really much else. They also specialize in kayaks dedicated to whitewater, where the kayaks are put under significant pressure and often hit against rocks. Dagger has dialed in this specialty and knows how to make strong kayaks. Their team paddlers push the boundaries, allowing the Stratos to be designed with advanced features for advanced paddlers in advanced conditions. That being said, any sensible long-term kayaker will personalize their outfitting over time. For example, some will pad out the adjustable foot block with foam or even remove it altogether and make their own foam bulkhead, particularly if you have long legs.


The Stratos was the only kayak tested that had a structural pillar designed to provide additional structural integrity to your kayak. In addition to this feature, Dagger utilizes a plastic that is superior to that used in many of the cheaper models. Our only construction warning is making sure you tighten your own bolts (especially connecting the seat and the sides of the kayak), as these have a tendency to rattle themselves a bit loose over many long car journeys. It’s always worth going around and checking your bolts when you purchase any new kayak.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the bolts on the side of your kayak, close to your knees, may...
The bolts on the side of your kayak, close to your knees, may benefit from some extra attention especially if you travel long distances on bouncy roads. These bolts have a tendency to shake themselves loose over time.
Credit: Sara James

The Stratos has not one, but two covered storage hatches that are completely sealed off from the cockpit of the kayak. This means that if you get water into one section, all parts of the kayak will not flood automatically. The back hatch is the largest and is oblongly shaped, measuring 5.5 inches by 10 inches. The rear hatch is circular with a 9-inch radius. Combined, the two hatches give the Stratos more sealed and accessible storage than any of the other kayaks tested. The hatch size does limit somewhat what you can fit in there, however, if you are sensible with what you bring and how you pack, you will be able to load quite a few days of gear within this kayak.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the front and rear storage hatches were useful, although it is worth...
The front and rear storage hatches were useful, although it is worth experimenting with packing your gear through these keyhole latches before you embark on an overnight adventure.
Credit: Scott Blankenfeld

Those planning multi-day trips in their kayak found it possible to pack the Stratos with a full set of camping essentials. In addition, there is space behind the seat where you can secure small dry bags or rescue equipment for quick access. Finally, the deck webbing secures key items such as spare paddles and also enables you to keep some things secure but close on hand.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - with plenty of internal storage and multiple places to secure gear...
With plenty of internal storage and multiple places to secure gear onto your deck, its possible to pack lots of gear on your Stratos assisted adventure.
Credit: Sara James

We were cautious when strapping some of the kayaks tested onto the roof of our cars, not wanting to overly flex the bendy plastics. This was not the case with the Dagger Stratos. Its solid overall construction gives the clear impression that this kayak is ready for much more than the other kayaks we tested.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the plastic on the stratos was some of the most robust we tested.
The plastic on the Stratos was some of the most robust we tested.
Credit: Sara James

With time, sand, and sun exposure, the flexible plastic latch covers can become difficult to put on. Keeping your kayak clean from sea salt and stored away from sun exposure will help to prevent this. We tried pre-treating one hatch cover with aerospace lubricant 303d and found it helpful to prevent and treat this deterioration.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - if you don't take the time to secure the latch covers properly you...
If you don't take the time to secure the latch covers properly you may get water inside your dry storage hatches.
Credit: Sara James

Portability


Durable plastic and comfortable outfitting come at a cost in terms of weight. Unsurprisingly, this longer kayak made of higher-quality plastic is not the lightest kayak we tested. The Stratos falls in the upper range for weight in comparison to the 'average' kayak we tested.


The padded T-bar carrying handles positioned at the narrow ends of the kayak made carrying this craft easier than some other kayaks of similar weight. Alternatively, if you are solo, it is possible to put it on one shoulder. However, ultimately whichever way you carry it, there is no denying the Stratos is not an ultralight kayak.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the handles of the stratos have a softer more foamy plastic on the...
The handles of the Stratos have a softer more foamy plastic on the underside to make carrying less painful on the fingers. There are multiple hardware points where you could securely attach a lock if leaving your kayak on the roof overnight.
Credit: Sara James

For stronger paddlers, the narrow cockpit design makes it possible to lift this kayak above your head and load it onto a car rooftop without additional people or equipment for assistance. However, we have definitely lost a few car mirrors after attempting to solo load kayaks with tired arms, so best to ask for a helping hand or invest in one of the nifty kayak assisting loaders. There are kayaks half the weight of the Stratos if portability is your main focus, though these are typically less high-performance or much more expensive than the Stratos.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the stratos is not the lightest kayak we tested and it does take a...
The Stratos is not the lightest kayak we tested and it does take a bit of arm strength to load it on the roof of your car.
Credit: Scott Blankenfeld

Value


Offering superior performance, premium comfort outfittings, and versatility of use, this Dagger Stratos understandably costs more than many of the other options we tested. That being said, the Stratos will not disappoint you on the water. Furthermore, quality kayaks like this maintain their value for years to come, so this kayak can be seen as a worthy investment for those that love to paddle.

Conclusion


The Dagger Stratos 12.5 S is an all-around high-performance kayak that you can enjoy on a lake, river, or out at sea. It’s designed to deliver maximum adjustability to ensure your comfort. With additional safety features, and plenty of on-deck and dry hatch storage, this kayak is ready for whatever adventure you choose to take it on.

Dagger Stratos 12.5 S kayak - the overall performance of the  dagger stratos was not matched by...
The overall performance of the Dagger Stratos was not matched by any other kayaks we tested in our lineup.
Credit: Scott Blankenfeld

Sara James
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