Dagger Nomad 8.5

Boat: Dagger Nomad 8.5

Dagger Nomad 8.5, Blister Gear Review

Classification: Creek Boat

Hull Shape: Displacement Hull

Volume: 78 gallons

Length / Width / Height: 8’5” / 26.5” / 13”

Weight: 49 lbs.

Suggested Weight Range: 150-240 lbs.

Reviewer: 5’10’’, 170 lbs.

Test Locations: Colorado, Washington State, Norway; runs ranging from low-volume creeking to big-volume rivers, and everything in between.

Days Paddled: 80+

Overview and Design

First designed in 2003, the Nomad is a classic design from Dagger Kayaks that has so far stood the test of time, with only a few minor adjustments in design and outfitting year to year.

I’ve been paddling the Nomad on and off for several years now, but lately I’ve been curious about newer designs and how they compare to the Nomad. After many demos and trial runs with other boats (Pyranha Shiva, Liquidlogic Remix, Jackson Villain, Liquidlogic Jefe Grande), the Nomad continues to hold its own against the competition, and still provides a stable, consistent, and forgiving ride through all levels of whitewater. Although it is primarily designed as a creek boat, the Nomad offers excellent performance in all areas.

Low-Volume Creeking

Creeking is where the Nomad shines brightest. Its rounded displacement hull and big, continous rocker profile make it maneuverable on tight, low-volume creeks. Since I spent the last five years in Colorado, this was a major plus for me. On classic runs such as Bailey and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the Nomad has no trouble making quick turns in tight slots and manky channels.

Dagger Nomad 8.5, Blister Gear Review
David Spiegel in the Dagger Nomad 8.5, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. (Photo: Will Stauffer-Norris)

Another advantage of the Nomad’s displacement hull when it comes to creeking is its ability to slide off rocks in a predictable manner. Oftentimes, running up on rocks is an unavoidable part of these low-water runs, and such sections can make for some of the most fun lines (as long as you don’t think too hard about the plastic you are leaving behind). The Nomad’s round hull allows it to slide off rocks while maintaining its initial direction, instead of being turned off its line.

Finally, the large bow rocker profile of the Nomad is ideal for runs where keeping your bow up is crucial. Even if you are just a little bit off your boof stroke, the Nomad’s bow likes to stay above water. This was a blessing on lines like Tunnel Rapid on Gore Canyon, where letting your nose dive will result in some impromptu freestyle moves (like the underwater cartwheel to swimming combo).

Big Water

Big water isn’t really what the Nomad is meant for, so if that’s what you’re primarily interested in, you would probably be better off in a longer, faster boat like the Liquidlogic Remix 79. But that doesn’t mean that the Nomad can’t do big water.

While the long hull profile of a boat like the Remix 79 lets the paddler charge through stopper holes without worrying about being redirected or losing speed, that same speed also makes boats like that less forgiving, as it’s hard to put them back on line when you do get knocked around.

Where the Nomad excels in big water is in its stability. I can paddle across the largest of eddy lines, seams, and reactionary waves without feeling like I will catch an unwanted edge and end up with my head unexpectedly underwater.

After paddling the Nomad and another similar boat, the Pyranha Shiva, on consecutive high-water runs of Robe Canyon in Washington (by “high-water” I mean 8 feet, roughly 3-4x the maximum recommended flow), I found the Nomad to be more stable in squirrelly water. The Shiva seemed more prone to have water start piling up on its edge right behind the cockpit.

What the Nomad lacks, however, is the speed, tracking, and “punchability” of boats with less rocker and longer, flatter hulls. While the Nomad consistently stays upright in tricky situations, I definitely notice that my bow doesn’t always end up pointing the same direction after I come through a reactionary wave. This “looseness” takes a bit of getting used to, but is easy to correct with occasional sweep strokes once you are able to anticipate the boat’s movements through chaotic haystacks.

Dagger Nomad 8.5, Blister Gear Review
David Spiegel, Eagle Falls. (Photo: Will Stauffer-Norris)

Another important fact to remember for big water is that the Nomad just isn’t that large of a boat anymore. Although 78 gallons was considered a tank back in the early days of the Nomad, we now have 90-gallon behemoths like the Liquidlogic Stomper and Jackson Villain. At this point, this boat is an ideal size for medium-sized paddlers such as myself (5’10’’, 170 lbs). For bigger paddlers, the Nomad might feel a bit “squirrely” in big, boiling eddy lines.

So, depending on your paddling style, the Nomad’s big-water weaknesses can actually be strengths: what it lacks in speed, it makes up for in stability and forgiveness.


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