Kayak Review: Lifetime Lancer 100, Sundolphin Aruba 10, L.L. Bean Manatee 100

A Lifetime Lancer 100 Kayak and an L.L. Bean Manatee 100 Kayak on the shore of the lake

A Lifetime Lancer 100 Kayak and an L.L. Bean Manatee 100 Kayak on the shore of the lake

Last fall, my hiking group had the fantastic opportunity to test out three different kayaks on a small lake not far from where I live.  We had a great time testing them (or should we call it playing around?) for the week we spent at the lake, taking out the kayaks every day, rain or shine.  We compared notes on the three kayaks, so below is a comparison between three name-brand kayaks you can pick up on Amazon, Walmart, or the L.L. Bean store.

The L.L. Bean Manatee 100 Kayak on the lakeshore

The L.L. Bean Manatee 100 Kayak on the lakeshore

Meet the Kayaks

Lifetime Lancer 100 solo sit-in kayak.  10ft. in length. Orange in the photos.

L.L. Bean Manatee 100 (or 10) solo sit-in kayak.  10ft. in length. Green-blue in the photos.

Sundolphin Aruba 10 solo sit-in kayak.  10ft. in length.  Blue in the photos.

Off to explore the inlet of the lake - nose of the Lifetime and the L.L. Bean Kayaks

Off to explore the inlet of the lake – nose of the Lifetime and the L.L. Bean

Meet the Testers

A total of ten people (4 women, 6 men) tested each of the kayaks over seven days in multiple conditions (windy/calm, rain/sun, etc.)  None of us have done a ton of kayaking, though one has won gold medals in national whitewater canoe racing, and several others are quite adept with a canoe and rowboat in a lake or twisting stream.  The testing was mostly done on the lake, with occasional escapades up and down the inlet/outlet stream.

 

And now, to compare the kayaks!

The three kayak paddles - Lifetime, L.L. Bean, and Sundolphin

The three kayak paddles – Lifetime, L.L. Bean, and Sundolphin

Paddles

All three have different design on paddles.  The Sundolphin Aruba 10 can be used either direction; the Lifetime Lancer and L.L. Bean Manatee paddles must be used so the logo is upright.  I personally liked the design of the L.L. Bean paddle, but it’s really just preference.  The Sundolphin and L.L. Bean paddles come with splash guards (rubber rings that keep the water from dripping down the handle), which are vital if you want your hands to stay dry.  So if you get the Lifetime paddles, you’ll want to purchase some splash guards (about $7 for four guards).

 

The Winner: Toss up.  Get splash guards if you have the Lifetime paddles.

The Lifetime Lancer 100 on the lake

The Lifetime Lancer 100 on the lake

Maneuverability

Lifetime Lancer – Testers found that the Lifetime kayak sat higher in the water – this meant that the kayak was faster and easier to turn, but also more susceptible to wind.  “She’s lightweight, so she gets blown around worse,” said one tester (5’2”).  “But that’s part of the experience.”  Another tester (6’1”) agreed.  “If you’re light, they bob around a lot and it’s harder to keep a straight line, but they do handle waves well.”

L.L. Bean Manatee – The L.L. Bean kayak was fast and maneuverable.  “It’s high so it doesn’t displace as much water,” said one tester (6’0”).  “It’s easier to go faster because the wind doesn’t affect you as much.”  The smallest tester (5’2”) agreed. “For someone short and lightweight, it’s perfect.”  While waves might not affect the maneuverability, it still might not be the best choice for a windy lake: “I got pretty wet in heavy waves,” one kayaker (6’1”) said.

Sundolphin Aruba – Testers found the Sundolphin to be slower and less maneuverable than the other two kayaks (one tester (5’2”) called it a “bathtub”, another (5’6”) described its movement as “plowing through the water”, and a third (5’7”) complimented it as “just a big tank in the ocean”).  That said, it handled waves and wind without a qualm.  “It wasn’t a big deal at all to be in waves,” said one tester (5’6”), and another tester (6’1”) agreed: “It goes steady; it carries a straight course.”

 

The Winner: L.L. Bean.  Maneuverable, fast, and not as affected by wind and waves, it worked great out on a calm or windy lake, and would be fine for a deep creek, too.

The L.L. Bean Manatee 100 out on the lake

The L.L. Bean Manatee 100 out on the lake

Construction

L.L. Bean Manatee – The first thing to notice about the construction of the L.L. Bean kayak is that it’s actually made by Old Town, but sports the L.L. Bean logo.  Whatever the make, testers found it comfortable to paddle.  The seat cushion is removable, so you can dry it out if it gets wet.  Foot rests are simple to adjust and very customizable to various leg lengths (heights ranging from 5’2” to 6’1”).  The kayaker’s legs are more exposed than in the other two kayaks – meaning more airflow – but if it rains, that extra exposure could be a problem.  Testers said that due to the construction of the boat and leg exposure “it’s less likely that a wave will break over the bow, but that if one does, you’re more likely to get wet than in the other two.”  Their biggest complaint was that this kayak has no drain plug “so draining the kayak is basically impossible”, “which is a real pain”.

Lifetime Lancer – Testers generally liked the construction of the Lifetime kayak.  “When waves break over the bow – which they will – they get caught in a trough around the cockpit,” I (5’3”) explained.  I found I had to lift the paddle higher than in the L.L. Bean, but nowhere near as high as in the Sundolphin.  Testers’ main complaints related to the non-removable seat cushions (“If it’s wet, you have no choice but to sit on it and get wet”) and the foot rests.  “It was hard to keep your feet on the foot rests,” said one tester (6’0”), and others complained that there was no perfect setting for their leg length.  A drain hole was a big plus.

Sundolphin Aruba – There was a wide spectrum of liking and disliking the Sundolphin – mostly relating to your height.  “You have to hold the paddle higher,” explained one tester (5’2”).  “It’s a bit wide for my arm span, so I kept knocking my knuckles on the gunnels.  And if you’re not very tall, you feel like you’re kayaking above your head.”  A much taller tester (6’1”) thought it was the best of the lot.  “It rides low, and it goes steady,” he said.  “It carries a straight course.”  No one found the waves coming in, in part because the sides of the kayak are higher than the others.  The seat was fairly comfortable, despite not being cushioned like the others.  The foot rests were also quite adjustable to various leg lengths.  A drain hole was appreciated by all testers.

 

The Winner: If you’re tall, the Sundolphin.  Otherwise, it’s a toss-up between the L.L. Bean (no drain hole, doesn’t handle high waves well) and the Lifetime (less-comfortable foot rests).

The Lifetime Lancer's dry storage compartment (the surface is very wet)

The Lifetime Lancer’s dry storage compartment (the surface is very wet)

Dry Storage

All three kayaks offer a small dry-storage compartment.  This wasn’t a focus of the testing, but it’s available if you want it.  I personally was most impressed with the L.L. Bean dry storage and least impressed with the Sundolphin, but that’s because the Sundolphin’s dry storage was missing one of the elastic cords that hold the cover in place.  The Lifetime’s dry storage was also held in place with elastic cords, while the L.L. Bean’s cover snaps in place.

Four kayaks out on the lake - L to R Sundolphin, Lifetime, Lifetime, and L.L. Bean

Four kayaks out on the lake – L to R Sundolphin, Lifetime, Lifetime, and L.L. Bean

Colors

Lifetime Lancer – comes in solid Orange.

Sundolphin Aruba – your choice of solid Green, Orange, Pink, Blue, “Jade”, and “Ocean Blue”

L.L. Bean Manatee – comes in Berry Fade, Kiwi Fade, and Mango Fade (aka purple-blue, green-blue, and red-yellow-orange)

 

Winner:  For looks, you really can’t beat the L.L. Bean.  For choice in color, Sundolphin is your best bet.

The Sundolphin Aruba 10

The Sundolphin Aruba 10

Price

Sundolphin Aruba – $200-$300 at Walmart.com and Amazon.com ($280 list price)

Lifetime Lancer – $200-$250 on Walmart.com and Amazon.com ($300 list price)

L.L. Bean Manatee – $400 on llbean.com, with $100 shipping charge

 

Winner: Toss up between the Sundolphin and the Lifetime.  “I think you have a great thing for the price,” one of the testers (6’0”) told me about the Lifetime.  Of course, he’d just purchased one at a half-price rollback event.

 

Overall winner: It’s really up to you – the L.L. Bean Manatee is extremely maneuverable and is great eye candy, but it’s expensive and waves breaking over the bow get into the cockpit.  The Lifetime Lancer is more susceptible to wind, but it’s a better choice for a shorter person of the two lower-priced options.  The Sundolphin Aruba may not the best choice for most shorter kayakers and is less maneuverable, but it comes in a wide variety of colors, is less susceptible to waves, and has a fantastic price.

 

Do you own one of these kayaks or another one?  Tell me about what you like or dislike about your kayak in the comments below!