Dagger Mamba 8.6

Dagger Mamba, Blister Gear Review.
Dagger Mamba 8.6

Dagger Mamba 8.6 Creeker

Manufacturer’s Stats

  • Length: 8’6″
  • Width: 27.5″
  • Depth: 15.5”
  • Weight: 48 lbs.
  • Volume: 89 gal

Blister Verified Stats

  • Length:  8′ 8.5″ 
  • Width: 27″
  • Depth: 15.25″

Recommended Weight Range: 175-260 lbs.

MSRP: $1099

Reviewer Info: 6’2″, 200 lbs.

  • Inseam: 34”
  • Shoe Size: 11.5 US

Days Tested: 25

Locations Tested: Quebec, Vermont, New York, Maine

Test Environments: Fully loaded multi-day expedition, big water, steep technical creeks, river running

[Editor’s Note: Our test was conducted on the 2012 Dagger Mamba 8.6, which, other than the outfitting, is unchanged for 2013.]

The Mamba 8.6 is Dagger’s high-volume planing hull big water and creek boat. The largest of the three Mamba sizes, it’s offered in both a “creeker” and a “river-runner” model. The only difference between the two is the outfitting—the creeker has a roto-molded seat that’s more resistant to collapse in the event of a pin.

If you’re going to paddle on whitewater over class III, there’s no reason to get the “river-runner” version. Really, the creeker outfitting is the best option for most paddlers, with the exception of school fleets that need to quickly and easily adjust seat position.

The entire Mamba series was revamped for the 2012 season, with designers adding volume, tweaking the rocker profile, updating the edge profile, and making a few other minor changes to each of the three models.

That makes the 2012 Mamba a completely different boat than its predecessors. The 2013 line-up has Dagger’s new contour outfitting, but is otherwise unchanged from the 2012 model. I tested the 2012 boat, so I won’t address the contour outfitting in any depth here.

Enough with the new lineup details, let’s get to the juicy stuff…

Dagger Mamba, Blister Gear Review.
Thomas Neilson in the Mamba 8.6, Toaster Falls, New Haven River, VT. (photo by Nicholas Gottlieb)

Big Water

Shortly after getting my hands on this boat at the end of July 2013, I took it up to northeastern Quebec for some big water testing on the West Magpie and the Lower Magpie rivers. (Check out our facebook page for photos of the trip.)

Even with the Mamba loaded down with six days worth of food, camping gear, and safety equipment—the boat weighed about 80 lbs.—I found that there was still enough volume to keep me up above funky currents and maintain good steering. The few boof lines that I found on that trip were a little awkward, but that’s something to be expected with any fully-loaded creek or river-running boat.

What really struck me as exceptional was that, even when the Mamba was heavily loaded with gear and a 200-lbs. paddler, I could still drive the boat aggressively in large rapids with big crashing waves and curlers trying to push me off line. I didn’t have to work as hard as I’d expected to keep the boat on-line, and even when I did get blown off line, I could easily transition to defense and make the necessary changes. I attribute this primarily to the edge and rocker profiles on the Mamba.


The Mamba has moderate, recessed edges that extend from the bow back to the paddler’s butt, where they smooth out into a softer chine. The soft stern edge combined with the very high volume stern allows this boat to make quick, last-minute adjustments in a rapid, similar to what you’d expect from a dedicated creeker such as the Dagger Nomad or Liquidlogic Stomper, boats that have soft edges or a displacement hull. The rounded edge prevents water from catching it in a hastily initiated turn, and the volume keeps the stern up out of the water even when you’re paddling from the backseat.

The hard edge up front and its defined planing hull give the Mamba a sporty feel and the ability to drive from a center or forward body position through big water, similar to what you might expect from a boat like the Pyranha Burn. These edges up front also make the Mamba surf really well. Of the smattering of boats paddled during my Magpie trip (Jackson Karma and Villain, Liquidlogic Jefe and Stomper 90, Wavesport Habitat 80) the Mamba 8.6 was by far the best surfer.

This was extremely noticeable when we dropped into wave trains full of glassy overhead waves. Continuously rockered boats (Jefe and Stomper) went skittering off the wave as soon as they caught it, and even the planing hull Karmas struggled to stay loose on the face. In the Mamba, however, I could carve big, confident  arcs across the waves. Even compared to boats like the Remix (which fits the Mamba’s genre more closely), I think the Mamba is still superior on a wave, mostly owing to the edges on the forward two-thirds of the boat.

Dagger Mamba, Blister Gear Review,
Thomas in the Dagger Mamba 8.6, Eagle section of the Beaver River, NY. (photo by Ben Roberts-Pierel)

Rocker Profile 

The Mamba 8.6 has what I would classify as progressive kick-rocker in the bow, and a more linear profile in the stern (for more on types of rocker and other design features check out Boats 101), but some of the rocker does carry in toward the center of the boat. This is especially evident when you compare the redesigned 2012/2013 models to their predecessorsThe progressive bow rocker helps keep the bow riding up and over waves, and makes it easier to get the bow up when dropping into a hole or off ledges. I’ll write more on boofing in a bit…

Dagger Mamba 8.6, Blister Gear Review.
Dagger Mamba 8.6


Dagger Mamba 8.6, Blister Gear Review
Dagger Mamba 8.5

The linear stern rocker creates a longer waterline, which makes the boat faster and helps with tracking at speed when more of the stern drops into the water. In my opinion, the best thing about the rocker profile is the ever so slight creep of the rocker line toward the center, which is what allows the Mamba to pivot more easily that I would have expected from a boat like this. The Mamba is not as maneuverable as its continuously rockered brethren, but it pivots much more easily than the Remix 79.

NEXT PAGE: Dimensions

14 comments on “Dagger Mamba 8.6”

  1. thank you very much for the in depth review, it has really helped me make a decision on my first boat to buy (diving in head first). Being the same size except with smaller feet is also a plus because i know that the mamba 8.6 will fit me, has also helped a ton. This review is permanently book marked because i refer to it so often,
    thank you

    • Hey Layne,

      Glad the review helped you navigate buying your first boat! Did you end up going with the Mamba 8.6? Hopefully whatever it is that you went with is treating you well and your having fun on the river. We’re still getting hammered with snow in New England, but all that snow means more water, and ice-out is just around the corner!

      Enjoy your boat, and check back in for more paddling reviews as the spring season gets rolling!


  2. Thanks for the great review. I’m just beginning to paddle and plan on buying a boat in the next 2 weeks. There’s a large convention in NJ the weekend of March 30 (www.jerseypaddler.com/paddlesport-2014). Reps from Dagger, Pyranha, LL and more will be there. What is your opinion of the shorter Mamba’s. I’m 6’1″ and 185 lbs so I need the leg space but not necessarily the volume. Also, if you were to recommend the Mamba vs Pyranha Burn which would you choose. Thanks! Joe

    • Hi Joe,

      I have paddled the Mamba 8.1 a bit, and found it to feel very cramped for somebody my size (6′ 2″ and 200lbs), and a bit twitchy because of the lower volume. This is to be expected, however, given that the Mamba 8.1 was not made for somebody my size. My hunch is that you are close enough to my size that downsizing from the 8.6 to the 8.1 would not be ideal for you either. The 8.6 would be the way to go in the Mamba lineup. There are other options, however, if you would like something that feels a bit more streamlined.

      As far as the comparison between the Burn and the Mamba, I can only say a little about, since I haven’t spent enough time in the Burn to really know its ins and outs. You should know that the burn has gone through 3 generations now. The first (what I call the “old” burn) was replaced by another boat simply called the Burn. This happened a few years ago (maybe 2010 or 2011?), and now there is the newest Burn, called the Burn III which should be hitting showrooms relatively soon (if it hasn’t already). I have paddled the Large “old” Burn and the medium Burn, both of which I thought were fine boats, but didn’t enjoy quite as much as the Mamba. I haven’t even seen a Burn III in person yet. The planing hull on the Burn has pretty aggressive edges, so it feels a little sportier than the Mamba. For me personally, it fit awkwardly between a true river-runner and a hardcore creek boat. But that doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t love it… I just don’t know it well enough to place is outside of my personal paddling style.

      If you are thinking about boats like the Mamba and Burn, however, it is also worth checking out the Jackson Zen 75. I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent in this boat, and I think it would be a really fun boat to learn to paddle in but not feel held back later. In some ways the Zen is like the Mamba (relatively friendly edges, planing hull, progressive rocker) but it is lower volume and won’t feel quite so cumbersome as the Mamba 8.6. Where the Mamba 8.6 gives you a little more of the benefits of a full-on creek boat, the Zen gives you a little more of the benefits of a play boat (a little more agile, surfs well, tends to move through more features instead of over them). You should be ok as far as leg room goes though, too.

      There are other boats out there that fit in this category, but the Mamba and the Zen would probably be my top two suggestions for folks looking to get into the sport and buy a river-runner that they can learn in and grow in to. If they offer any sort of on-water demo at the Jersey Paddler show, I would definitely recommend getting in these boats (and others!) and paddling them around a bit.

      Hope this helped a bit, and a good luck in the search for a boat!


  3. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the informative review. I’m coming back to boating after a decade plus hiatus and trying to decide between the Mamba Creeker 8.1 or the 8.6. I still have my old Perception Phat, but am much more in tune with the advancements in hull design and outfitting. I’ll primarily boat New Mexico and Colorado. Just did a relatively low water run on Pine Creek and the Numbers in my All Star which was fun, but would like to dial in a creeker for spring ’17 levels. I’d appreciate your feedback on sizing.


  4. Oops, my query on sizing between the Mamba 8.1 or 8.6 was for you Thomas. I’m 5’10” and 165 lbs. Also your size reco on the Zen would be much appreciated.


    • Hey Dave,

      At 5’10” 165 I’d probably recommend against both Mamba sizes. The 8.6 will likely feel and paddle a little too big, and in my limited experience and conversations with those who have paddled the 8.1, I it is better suited to those in the 140lb range.

      I have only paddled the older generation of zens, so I don’t have a lot of experience with sizing on the new ones beyond sitting in them on land. The good news is your size/weight puts you into most medium sized creek boats without issue.

      Everything I’ve heard about the performance of the new zens has been positive, so between the mambas and zen, I would go for the medium zen as the best option.

      Good luck in the boat search,

  5. Hey Tom,

    I’ve been paddling the Dagger Mamba 8.6 now for 3 years. Really love the boat. I’ve had it on class III to V and it has served me well.

    Quick question for you, if you were to make one or two improvements on the boat design what would they be?

    I would so love if Dagger relaunched a new Mamba with a bit more rocker and a little lighter.

    What’s your thoughts?

    Cheers bro

  6. Great review! Well done! I paddle a Mamba 8.6 and I can say is that it is the most stable, roll friendly boat that I have ever paddled. It loves the big, munchy stuff and plays well for its size. I have been told by several “big water” paddlers that the Mamba is the go-to boat for big water, overnight trips. Thanks.

    • Hi dave
      Please can you help, I’m 5’10” 187lbs
      Can you please recommend which would be a best fit for me a mamba 8.1 or 8.6 btw great review.

      Thanks Gary

  7. Hi Gary,

    Without question I’d recommend the 8.6 Mamba for you height/weight. In the past 8 years since writing this review a number of other options have come on the scene too that may also be worth considering, but the Mamba remains a solid performing boat even all these years later.


  8. Hi Tom, appreciate the review of the 8.6. I was just curious if this boat would do alright on slower-moving rivers and inland lakes, too? Please forgive my ignorance, but the truth is I won’t be able to hit whitewater nearly as much as I’d like, and with trying to get back into the sport, I’d sure like to be able to spend some time in it on some local rivers (SW Michigan). Thoughts?

  9. Hi Tom,

    Great review! I’m 6’2” and 155 lbs. Would you recommend the Mamba 8.1 or 8.6? Or am I similar to Dave and in between sizes, such that neither will benefit me? Looking for a stable, rollable, yet maneuverable creek boat as an intermediate kayaker.


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