ZET Kayaks Raptor

For Beginners and Intermediate Paddlers

Advanced boaters will love the Raptor, but I think this can work as a great beginner and intermediate boat, too.

Most river runners that are marketed specifically to beginners feature planing hulls and edges that are quite aggressive and hard to control. Gentle edges and a semi-planing hull give the Raptor a sporty feel that will allow beginners to feel the river and learn good technique, without being too aggressive and difficult to control. The short hull length enables quick turning and course corrections that beginners often need to make. And this kayak will allow intermediate paddlers to surf all over the place.


Obviously, surfing is not the priority for a dedicated creeker, but it is a huge bonus for those of us who want to run big water class III-IV in creek boats. The Raptor is an absolute surfing machine. Its short length and gentle edges give me a lot of control on the wave, and the gentle rocker profile helps to keep speed on green waves. I can easily catch glassy waves that other creek boats with big rocker or rounded displacement hulls do not have the speed for. The gentle edges behind my butt give me great control over my surf without being too grabby.

Overall, this is the most fun creek boat I have surfed to date.

Comfort, Outfitting and safety features

One thing that I love about the ZET is the simplicity of the outfitting. Simple outfitting is hard to break and easy to fix. Despite its simplicity (or perhaps because of it), the seat is comfortable and functional. The outfitting is simple to adjust, and the adjustable bulkhead comes with foam already glued in place.

There are two sets of criss-crossed bungee cording in the cockpit–one between my legs and one on the front center pillar. These are more secure and easy to use than other cockpit stowage systems I have used. The bungee straps are useful for storing sponges, water bottles, and other small items. I like to keep a throw rope and a sponge here. The back band lifts up easily so that I don’t have to struggle too much when I want to slide a large item into my stern. There is plenty of space back there, but it does seem to overload easily due to weight.

David Spiegel reviews the ZET Raptor, Blister Gear Review.
David Spiegel in the ZET Raptor, White Salmon River, WA.

Important: Make sure to tighten all of the screws on the boat before you take it out. This includes the external bulkhead screws, grab loops, thigh hooks and seat. The screws to lock the seat position are located underneath the hip pads. I did not do this, and it caused me some consternation during my first days on the water.

The Raptor has a full array of heavy-duty grab loops that I would expect on any modern creek boat: two on the front and three on the back. All the grab loops are metal. Consider adding Loctite to keep the grab loop screws tight and avoid losing them. They are not so easy to replace.

Compared to the complicated outfitting systems that are currently in fashion with other manufacturers, the simple yet effective ZET outfitting is a breath of fresh air.

Durability / Construction

This company from the Czech Republic is making bold claims about the durability of their designs. ZET claims that their kayaks are lighter and more durable than other creek boats because of their unique molding process called “Zelezny Technology.” This process is said to allow ZET to concentrate additional plastic in high-wear areas like the bow and the underside of the hull, while keeping the top of the boat lightweight. ZET then leaves the boats to cool slowly in the mold instead of the open air, which they claim strengthens the plastic.

ZET boats have quickly developed a reputation for excellent durability in Europe. I personally know paddlers who have not been able to crack their ZET kayaks during three seasons of hard use. In the US, we get a two-year warranty on ZET’s hulls and outfitting. That is pretty good considering that it is notoriously difficult even to get a new hull under warranty from most US manufacturers. Heck, oftentimes you might even have to pay shipping and 20% of retail price for the privilege of trying to jam your old outfitting into a new shell.

So if ZET is really serious about standing behind their boats, then that is a very good thing for this market.

I only have 27 days in the boat, not enough to make definitive pronouncements about durability. But I can say that the boat is holding up well so far. The plastic is rigid under the seat, and has taken some hard hits without breaking. The outfitting is holding up well, and I do not have any abnormal durability concerns thus far.

Price and How to Buy

ZET’s boats started out costing $1349 for a hull in 2013/14, which easily made them the most expensive creek boats on the market. ZET USA has reduced prices this year to $1199 per boat. If the ZET’s reputation for durability proves to be true, and they really do last two or three seasons of hard use, then it now makes a ton of sense to make the purchase. That is assuming, of course, that the boat’s performance characteristics appeal to you.

Because of the current lack of local ZET dealers around the country, it is hard to get your hands on a Raptor to demo. ZET USA has told us that they are working on signing up new dealers. Demos are currently available to test at California Canoe and Kayak, as well as Sierra South (also in California). ZET USA also has a complete demo fleet on the Payette River in Idaho if you are near that location. They are working on setting up demos with team members in Colorado.

Try contacting ZET USA through their website to find a boat to demo.

It’s also worth noting that ZET can sometimes save you money on shipping by finding a “free ride” for your boat. My own boat ended up in the back of another paddler’s pick up truck, and made its way from Idaho to Seattle, free of charge.

Bottom Line

The ZET Raptor is an excellent, lightweight creek boat that expertly blends speed and tracking with maneuverability and control. These characteristics combine to make it one of the most fun and versatile creek boats I have paddled to date.

That being said, its sporty style will take some getting used to compared to ultra-forgiving creek boats like the Nomad or the Stomper.

Medium-sized kayakers will find it to be an excellent choice for creek boating and river-running day trips, but if you are my size or larger and intend to do a lot of multi-day expedition kayaking with gear in the stern, consider buying a larger boat.

UPDATE (1/31/2015): An earlier version of this article included included and in-depth of the boat’s $1349 price tag. The price has been reduced for 2015, and that discussion has been removed.

4 comments on “ZET Kayaks Raptor”

  1. Agree and disagree, to some extent.

    I live in Austria and have been paddling a Raptor for a few years (including one year on shallow Scottish creeks). The plastic is DEFINITELY stronger than on the 8.0 and 8.5 Nomads I had before. Even a 5-6 foot boof directly onto exposed rock (ouch, and oops) did no more than mild cosmetic scratching.

    In short, it’s the best boat I’ve ever had. I think the 8.5 Nomad is a little better, or at least more at home, on pure steep creeks, as it’s very forgiving – even if you miss the boof that big bow rocker stays on the surface. The Zet is FAR better on big volume though, and once you get used to it it will out-perform the Nomad on the steeps too, though requiring a lot more skill, input and concentration.

    And this is the rub, it’s not a forgiving boat, and it needs to be really driven. If you keep forward momentum through rapids it’ll go through or over everything, but it doesn’t like to just float into something and wait and see what’s there. I would never encourage a beginner or intermediate paddle to buy a Raptor as it punishes mistakes and old school (slow, reactive, defensive) technique quite harshly. If a Nomad is like a big, comfortable, easy to drive Range Rover, the Raptor would be a high-performance rally car. If you’ve got the skills it’ll give you way more performance back, but if you don’t you’ll be upisde down in a tree.

    I love it though – the only other boat on the market that I’d consider is the Tuna.

    • Oh, forgot to mention the sizing.

      While the Nomad feels wider and ‘floatier,’ the Raptor (to me) feels a lot longer and ‘paddles bigger’ than the Nomad 8.5.

    • Matt,

      I agree with you for the most part. My only caveat is that I don’t think that all beginners/intermediates should be looking for a forgiving boat. In fact, I think any beginner who is seriously hoping to progress quickly in the sport should start off with a play boat.

      In my experience the Raptor is more forgiving than certain other river runner/big water oriented creek boats (Burn, Zen), but still sporty enough to encourage learning good habits. I think it is a great mix between an all out creek boat and a high performance river runner. If I only had two words to describe the Nomad I would say “dependable and forgiving.” For the Raptor that would be “fun and sporty.” So yeah, it just depends on what someone wants. The Nomad is definitely more stable and is characterized by predictable performance across all conditions. The Raptor, on the other hand, is just a blast and a half to paddle even though sometimes it punishes small mistakes or lapses in technique.

      Your experience with the sizing is quite interesting because the Raptor is actually 5″ shorter than the Nomad in addition to .5″ wider at its widest point. I do agree that the Raptor *feels* narrower, but I think that is partially because of the dramatic taper that occurs towards the bow.

      I am also curious to paddle the Tuna more. I got a few minutes in one and thought that it handled well, but that was just an initial impression and doesn’t count for much.


      • “If I only had two words to describe the Nomad I would say “dependable and forgiving.” For the Raptor that would be “fun and sporty.”

        Yep, definitenly with you there.

        I guess it feels longer due to the lower rocker, which is what makes it faster and better tracking than the Nomad. Not a a bad thing in my book!

        Learning in a play boat… In general I agree – at least that’s how I started and seems to have worked ok! I did paddle with a lot of people at uni who learned in a play boat, but then never learned to paddle creekers properly – couldn’t hand the speed and momentum, so would paddle really reactively, floating into things then pivoting around with reverse sweep strokes etc rather than driving forwards and maneuvring with bow rudder-to-forward-stroke type moves. To be fair that’s probably more a problem with the coaching than the boat choice, but I think a slower more manoeuvrable creeker like the Nomad (or Habitat, Recon, Stomper, Jefe [even though it’s a big of a boat]) may make that transition a little easier?

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