Perception Carolina 14 Review [2021] − A Great, Fast Touring Kayak

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It can be hard to find affordable and reliable touring kayaks as it’s easy for the price to quickly get out of control. 

Luckily for us, there’s a handful of reasonably priced mid-range kayaks perfect for beginner and intermediate paddlers. In our Perception Carolina 14 review, we’ll break down one of these boats from the South Carolina-based company.

Featuring all the necessary safety features and boasting an impressive top speed all in a lightweight package, the Carolina may be the perfect boat for you to begin your kayaking career.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and easy to carry
  • Safety lines and extra buoyancy
  • Great primary and secondary stability

Cons:

  • Smallish load capacity
  • No rudder included
  • Not meant for rough open water

Things to Consider Before Buying

Pic of Perception Carolina 14 review kayak

Like most touring kayaks, the Carolina 14 is a sit-in kayak. This design has a defined cockpit that’s situated beneath the top deck with your legs and lower torso covered. In most cases the cockpit’s opening is covered with a spray skirt, providing extra protection from the elements.

Since you’re seated lower to the water, sit-in kayaks can afford to be narrower without sacrificing their stability. This gives them a better top speed and are easier to paddle when compared with their bigger and wider rivals, the sit-on-top kayaks. Storage space with watertight hatches is plentiful, allowing you to pack for outings that last multiple days.

The Carolina 14 does come with a couple of shortcomings. The load capacity is a little on the light side, so those that are planning on doing longer (more than four days) trips will have to pack light or organize a gear drop along the way.

The other quibble I have is that, while you can install a rudder yourself, there isn’t one included in the base package. If these are breaking points for you, it may be time to level up to one of the bigger, fiberglass kayaks like Northwest Kayak’s Cadence model. 

Specifications

Length: 14-feet

Width: 24.5-inches

Weight: 53 pounds

Load Capacity: 300 pounds

Cockpit Dimensions: 21.5” x 39.5”

Design

Material

Model of Perception Carolina 14

The Carolina 14 is made of a tough and durable type of plastic called polyethylene. While there’s plenty of touring kayaks made of lighter materials like fiberglass, polyethylene is substantially more durable and requires much less maintenance. With minimal upkeep, you can expect your Carolina 14 to last a long time.

Speed

At 14-feet long, the Carolina 14 is an average length for a touring kayak. Keel length is often correlated with its speed. But as a sit-in kayak, the Carolina 14 can afford to be slimmer without sacrificing stability.

With less water resistance, the Carolina 14 is pretty swift when compared to sit-on-top kayaks of similar length. If your goal is to do long touring trips, you’ll probably want something even longer, but for weekend trips or outings even a little longer, the Carolina 14 moves along at a pretty good pace.

Maneuverability

Longer boats generally don’t turn as well as their smaller counterparts. It’s just harder to swing the bow around with the extra resistance from the long keel. If you’re trying to do a lot of pinpoint maneuvering, you’ll want to invest in a rudder (sold separately) to give you more control in these situations. 

Comfort

If you plan on being in your kayak all day, you’ll want a comfortable seat. Nothing will ruin your day on the water faster than a cheap plastic seat digging into your back. 

The “Zone DLX” seat is cushy and ergonomically designed, giving paddlers pristine comfort no matter their build. The seatback adjusts easily up and down or back and forth, giving you plenty of ways to get comfortable.

Thigh braces are also built into the boat, giving your legs something to rest against. These are great not just for comfort, but allow you to lean into your turns without risking a capsize as well as taking the strain off your lower back.

For your feet, there are adjustable footpegs. If you install a rudder, these pegs can be retro-fitted to help you steer. Regardless, it’s best to adjust these footpegs before you leave shore as they can be challenging to reset while on the water unless you’re quite flexible. 

Stability & Tracking

Don’t let the Carolina 14’s svelte profile fool you, both the primary and secondary stability are above average, giving newcomers the confidence to push off from shore without fear of tipping over. 

More experienced paddlers will appreciate how well the boat edges. Combine this with the thigh braces and more practiced kayakers will find it easy to steer with their hips whether they have a rudder installed or not.

In calm situations, the long keel enhances the Carolina 14’s tracking and keeps it on a straight course. If you’re planning a more ambitious trip that will involve wide crossings with the potential for dynamic weather where tide and winds could be a factor, I’d strongly recommend spending the extra money on a rudder.

This will allow you to handle crosswinds or waves hitting you from the side which can quickly tire you as you constantly battle to keep yourself on course.

Durability

Don’t take this as a challenge, but I’ll be amazed if you find a way to punch a hole in this boat. The tough plastic hull will scratch and peel over time, but as far as serious damage, the odds of that happening during normal use feel unlikely.

I’d still suggest some caution when landing on rocky beaches or if there’s a lot of surf, but accidentally hitting a rock or going over a reef shouldn’t be a big deal. 

When possible, carry your kayak to the water instead of dragging it. While you may not see any damage at first, consistent drags can cause the hull to peel and scratch which can harm your boat’s paddling efficiency and slow you down.

For storage, keep your kayak out of direct sunlight if possible. Prolonged UV exposure can cause the plastic to warp and weaken over time. 

Portability

For a boat this size, the Carolina 14 weighs a reasonable 53 pounds. Some paddlers may find they can carry it on their own by using the cockpit as a handhold which keeps the weight centered. If you’re going to be on your own a lot, it may be worth investing in a little kayak hand cart to help you get from the parking lot to the water. 

For tandem carries, there’s an ergonomic “T-handle” on the bow and stern that makes longer portages manageable. 

The Carolina 14 is probably too long to fit into the back of most trucks, so plan on investing in a kayak rack to safely transport it to the water. 

Features & Accessories

The Carolina 14 is well outfitted for your next overnight adventure. Storage capacity has the classic touring kayak layout with watertight compartments in the bow and stern. The bow hatch opening is a little smaller than I prefer, but it’s a minor nitpick and can still hold plenty of gear.

Speaking of holding gear, the load capacity of the Carolina feels a little light at 300 pounds. Depending on the size of the paddler, you may need to be careful with how much gear you bring so you don’t overload it. 

If you need more space than the watertight hatches, Perception has strung bungee cords in front of and behind the cockpit. Accessible on the water, they’re great for oversize items as well as things you want access to while on the water. 

Reflective safety lines run along the sides of the hull. These boost your kayak’s visibility, especially in low light conditions, and make you easily illuminated by artificial lights. They’re also handy if you do happen to capsize. Use them to keep your boat from floating away and maximize your stability as you crawl back in.

Another nice safety feature is the additional bulkhead floatation provided. This extra foam helps keep you afloat should you take on water and further enhances the Carolina 14’s stability. 

One final addition to the Carolina 14 is a “paddle park” on the left-hand side. These should be a mandatory feature on all kayaks in my opinion and I’m glad Perception seems to agree. At some point, you’ll want your hands free for one thing or another and having a secure spot to stow your paddle is an invaluable tool.

Value

For everything you get including some innovative designs like the extra foam for buoyancy and the extra safety lines, the Carolina 14 seems reasonably priced to me. 

If you’re new to kayaking, there may be a bit of sticker shock, but this is just the going rate for reliable touring kayaks that can handle multi-day trips. When you factor in the lightweight design as well, my only real quibble is the smaller load capacity that may make longer trips difficult. 

But as long as you’re not trying to do really challenging crossings in big water, the Carolina 14 should be more than enough kayak for most paddlers. 

Alternatives

Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140

Pic of Wilderness Ssytems Tsunami 140 kayak model

Another mid-size, 14-foot long touring kayak, this design from Wilderness Systems shares a lot of similarities with the Carolina 14.

It’s a little wider which may slow it down a little, but on-water performance should be similar, the rudder is sold separately with this model too. 

The nicest touch is that the load capacity is just a little bit bigger than the Carolina 14, checking in at 325 pounds. I don’t know if it’s big enough to be a huge difference-maker, but you could use it as the tie-breaker if need be.

  • Similar speed and performance to the Carolina 14
  • Rudder not included
  • Storage hatch openings feel a little small

Perception Carolina 12

Pic of Perception Carolina 12 kayak model

Similar in many ways to its slightly longer brother, the Carolina 12 provides a nice combination of stability with an easy entrance and exit cockpit. It makes for an excellent touring kayak for beginners of all ages. 

At 12 feet in length, the Carolina 12 is shorter than a lot of touring kayaks which makes it easier to transport and store.

In most cases, shorter boats are slower. But the Carolina 12 compensates for this with a long and narrow keel to help maintain your speed.

Despite the narrower design, it remains a stable kayak. The one drawback to the speed and stability is maneuverability. Paddlers will probably find tight turns and some more technical paddling conditions challenging.

Storage space is taken care of with watertight bow and stern hatches to go along with bungee cord webbing stretched across the hull.

  • Top-notch stability keeps you centered in most conditions
  • Plenty of storage space
  • The adjustable seat keeps you paddling in comfort all day long

Wilderness Systems Pungo 120

Pic of Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 kayak model

You won’t find many recreational kayaks that can handle as much as the Pungo 12.

Wilderness Systems builds a range of boats from recreational to touring boats able to handle open ocean, and they’ve managed to pack a lot into this model.

With a blend of speed, stability, and a comfortable seat, you can take the Pungo 12 on lakes, rivers, and protected ocean environments.

With a load capacity and storage space to allow for quick overnight trips, it’s a boat that can wear many hats for a cost-efficient price.

  • Versatile boat with the ability for quick overnight trips
  • Padded knee braces and adjustable footpegs
  • Large watertight stern hatch

Conclusion

For beginner and intermediate paddlers in the market for a solid and reliable overnight kayak, the Carolina 14 is a solid choice. Some nice safety features along with the efficient, low-lying design should be able to handle lakes, rivers, and most protected saltwater environments, especially if you install a rudder.

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