Kayak Review: Lifetime Lancer vs. Lifetime Zenith

L to R: Lancer, Zenith, Zenith, and Lancer Lifetime kayaks
L to R: Lancer, Zenith, Zenith, and Lancer Lifetime kayaks

We currently own four kayaks: Two orange Lancer 10ft. kayaks by Lifetime and two teal Zenith 10ft. kayaks, also by Lifetime.  While they’re made by the same company and have some similarities, they’re very different boats.  So I’d like to review both kayaks with their similarities and differences, and which I feel is the better kayak.

In all of the pictures, the Lancer kayaks are orange, and the Zenith kayaks are teal.

The Zenith (left) and Lancer (right) kayaks in use on the Genesee River, Rochester, New York
The Zenith (left) and Lancer (right) kayaks in use on the Genesee River

Lancer vs. Zenith: History/Testing Conditions

We purchased the Lancer models on a half-price end-of-season sale at Walmart.com.  We used them for a few weeks before it got too cold to be out on the water (we’re talking snowstorms and icebergs here).  In the spring, we purchased the Zenith models at Dick’s Sporting Goods annual boat sale.

Since then, we’ve used all four kayaks on Lake Ontario, a nearby large bay, and in major rivers; the Lancers have also seen a local canal and quite a bit of use on narrow, winding streams.

A Lancer model paddling up Black Creek, Rochester, New York
A Lancer model paddling up Black Creek

Four women and six men have tested the kayaks in conditions ranging from cold and windy to calm and blistering hot.  A couple of us have even jumped out of them to go swimming.  I’m happy to report that 1) they’re super stable and it’s unlikely you’ll flip one even when climbing back into them after swimming, and 2) they handle waves better than you’d expect a small boat to – but you’ll still get wet if it’s windy.

Lancer vs. Zenith: Overall

Overall, the Lancer wins 6 categories to the Zenith’s 4 categories.

So I’d recommend the Lancer on the basis of coming with a paddle, extra accessories, better durability, a more comfortable seat, and the pads on the edge of the cockpit.  It’s also preferred by 8 out of 10 testers.

But the Zenith is a great deal, too, with a lower price tag if you’re just trying to get started with kayaking without a large investment.  It’s also easier to cut a straight line across a lake in the Zenith.

Keep reading for a more detailed review of the two kayaks.

Lancer (left) and Zenith models on the Intracoastal Waterway, Holden Beach, North Carolina
Lancer (left) and Zenith models on the Intracoastal Waterway

Lancer vs. Zenith: Price

Lancer: $500 on Lifetime.com

Zenith: $450 on Lifetime.com

I have seen both of these for considerably less at other retailers (Walmart used to sell the Lancers at full price for $300, and Dick’s often had the Zenith at about $250).

Winner for Price: Zenith

Lancer vs. Zenith: Weight

Lancer: 47lb.

Zenith: 46lb.

Note that while the Lifetime website says that there is only a 1lb. difference between the two kayaks, my experience says it’s closer to 5lb.  The Zenith is noticeably lighter than the Lancer.

Winner for Weight: Zenith

Lowering a kayak into the Genesee River, Charlotte, New York
In case you ever wondered just how long 10ft. is…

Lancer vs. Zenith: Size

Both models are 10ft. kayaks and about 30in. wide.  So while the Lancer may be just a hair bit longer, and the Zenith a hair bit wider, it’s not enough to note.

The Zenith is about 2” less in height than the Lancer.

Winner for Size: Possibly the Zenith

Lancer vs. Zenith: Color

It appears that the Lancer comes in one color: Orange.

Meanwhile, the Zenith comes in two colors: Orange or Teal.

Winner for Color: Zenith

The Zenith model on the Genesee River, Charlotte, New York
The Zenith model on a very wide river

Lancer vs. Zenith: Durability

The Lancer feels like it is made of thicker plastic.  So I’d guess that it’s more durable.  I haven’t owned either model long enough to say which is more durable in the long run.  I have dropped both kayaks from about 3ft. above the ground, scraped them over rocky bottoms of streams/lakes, and rammed them into rocks, and they’ve handled it just fine.

But the Lancer definitely feels like it’s made of better stuff.

Winner for Durability: Possibly the Lancer

Lancer vs. Zenith: Design

Probably the biggest difference between the two kayaks is the design.

Keel: The Zenith has a flatter keel overall, but the stern has a more pronounced keel than the Lancer (which has a more v-shaped keel overall).  This means that the Zenith does a better job at going in a straight line across a lake.

Cockpit of the Lifetime Zenith kayak
Cockpit of the Lifetime Zenith kayak

Cockpit: The Zenith’s cockpit is bigger than the Lancer’s cockpit.  The cockpit of the Zenith is more oblong, while the cockpit of the Lancer is more oval.  This means that you’re more likely to take on water through the cockpit in the Zenith, especially in windy conditions (which is not to say that you’ll stay dry in the Lancer, just that you won’t be quite so wet). The Lancer has padding on the rim of the cockpit (more on that later).

Cockpit of the Lifetime Lancer kayak
Cockpit of the Lifetime Lancer kayak

Drain Hole: Both kayaks have a drain hole on the top of the stern.  The Zenith uses a pop-off bit of rubber that is firmly attached to the kayak (you won’t lose it easily).  The Lancer has a hard plastic cork that is unscrewed to allow the water out (the part of the cork that stays inside of the kayak is wider than the drain hole to keep it from falling out).  The Zenith drain system is much easier to use, but occasionally it will pop up while I’m kayaking and water could come onboard if the water was rough.  The cork stays in the Lancer very well unless you unstop it – so while it won’t come uncorked by its own while you’re kayaking, you’re more likely to lose it while emptying the water out of the kayak (and good luck getting it uncorked with wet fingers).  But the truth is that neither one is easy to use, which is a pity since I find myself emptying out water almost every time I use the kayaks.

Backrest Latch: The Lancer has two clips that allow the seat backrests to be clipped into the upright position.  This is a problem if you try to turn one upside down, but for general purpose it’s really nice.  The Zenith does not have this clip.

Paddle Holder:  The Lancer has a piece of elastic and a peg for attaching the paddle to the kayak.  It’s only useful if you want to set down your paddle while you’re out on the water, or maybe while carrying the kayak from the parking area to the launch – it’s not safe for transport.  I find it useful, but I don’t use it enough to make it a must-have.  The Zenith does not have a paddle holder.

Cup Holder:  The Lancer model comes with a cup holder in front of the seat.  It’s too shallow and wide to be really useful for water bottles, but a can of soda would probably be fine.  The Zenith does not have a cup holder.

Winner for Design: Lancer because it has more features, though the Zenith is easier to paddle in a straight line

Top of the storage compartment in the stern of the Lifetime Lancer kayak - the Zenith has a similar setup
Top of the storage compartment in the stern of the Lancer kayak – the Zenith has a similar setup

Lancer vs. Zenith: Storage space

The storage space in the Lancer and Zenith are about the same.  Both have a space in the stern of the kayak that is accessed through an oval hole that is covered with a rubber-ish lid that is strapped down with elastic.  Both kayaks will allow water into the storage space if said water comes into the kayak through the cockpit (which, unless you have a perfectly calm day, is a foregone conclusion).  These are not dry-storage bins.  I personally wish that the hole was bigger – there’s plenty of space back there, but I can’t get big items through the hole.

The peg-and-elastic system on the bow of the Lifetime Lancer kayak
The peg-and-elastic system on the bow of the Lancer

Both the Zenith and the Lancer models come with two strings of elastic that cross across the bow of the kayak for storage.  (I have yet to find a use for these, but maybe I will someday.)  However, the Lancer model allows you to unhook the elastic from around pegs so you can place something on the bow and then stretch the elastic over it.  In the Zenith model, the elastic is tied down so you must slip whatever it is you want to store under the elastic.

Winner for Storage: Toss-up.  The Lancer might be slightly better.

Front elastic-storage on the Lifetime Zenith kayak
Front elastic-storage on the Zenith

Lancer vs. Zenith: Accessories

Both kayaks come with removable backrests/seat backs that are adjustable to your comfort.  The design appears to be identical, so I won’t detail it.

The Lancer kayak comes with a paddle.  At least one of the testers preferred this paddle to the more expensive paddles we purchased at Dick’s, while others preferred the Dick’s versions.  The Zenith does not come with a paddle, so add about $50 to your cost to get a paddle.

Winner for Accessories: Lancer because it comes with a paddle.  If you’re planning to get a paddle anyway, it’s a toss-up.

Lancer kayak and paddle below Lower Falls, Rochester, New York
Lancer model with its included paddle

Lancer vs. Zenith: Maneuverability

I’ve used both kayaks in rivers and on lakes.  I personally found the Lancer to be more maneuverable overall, but other testers did not necessarily agree with me on this.  Out of ten testers, seven preferred the Lancer for maneuverability, two preferred the Zenith, and one liked them both.

I personally found the Zenith to be more maneuverable on a lake (it paddles a straighter line) but I preferred the feel of maneuverability of the Lancer, especially in streams.

Winner for Maneuverability: Toss-up.  It depends on your personal preference.

Kayaking by the McKeil Spirit, a laker delivering material to a cement factory, Genesee River, Charlotte, New York
Kayaking by the McKeil Spirit, a laker delivering material to a cement factory

Lancer vs. Zenith: Comfort

Let’s just say that neither the Lancer nor the Zenith win contests for being comfortable to sit in for hours on end.  You might want to sit on a cushion.

That said, the Lancer’s seat pad is a bit squishier and it’s definitely higher quality.  The Lancer also has pads along the rim of the cockpit – this is much more comfortable for carrying (the raw plastic is sharp!) as well as more comfortable for your knees if you’re one of those people who likes to fidget their feet while kayaking (I wouldn’t be one of those, now would I?)

The Lancer also won in our tests for the most comfortable foot rests.  This was especially true for the shorter testers – one of whom said the Lancer’s foot rests were very comfortable for bare feet.

Speaking of height, the Lancer won for those of us who are short or short-waisted.  The Zenith sits lower in the water (as one tester put it, “I’m too close to the water in the teal ones”), and thus you need to lift your paddles higher.  The second-to-shortest tester (5’ 2”) said that she was constantly banging the paddle against the sides of the cockpit.  Meanwhile, the taller testers (including 6’ 0”) gave the Zeniths a higher rating.

Winner for comfort: Lancer for sure

Lancer label on the Lifetime Lancer kayak
Lancer label

Lancer vs. Zenith: Weight Capacity

Lancer: 275lb. weight capacity

Zenith: 275lb. weight capacity

Both are single-person capacity kayaks.

Winner for Weight Capacity: Toss-up

Lancer vs. Zenith: Warranty

Lancer: 5 year limited warranty on the hull

Zenith: 5 year limited warranty

Winner for Warranty: Toss-up.  I’d guess it’s the same for both kayaks since it’s the same company.

Label on the Lifetime Zenith kayak
Zenith label

Lancer vs. Zenith: What Other Say

Paddling.com gives the Lifetime Lancer 100 kayak a 4.2/5 rating.

Lifetime.com gives the Lifetime Lancer 100 kayak a 4.8/5 rating.

Lifetime.com gives the Lifetime Zenith 100 kayak a 3.0/5 rating.

Winner for What Others Say: Lancer

Buy the Lancer on Amazon

Buy the Lancer on Lifetime.com

Buy the Zenith on Lifetime.com

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