Old Town Heron 9XT Review (2021)

This is a review of the Old Town Heron 9XT kayak.

The Heron 9XT is a comfortable sit-inside kayak designed for recreational paddlers. It’s affordable, has space for all your gear, and is easy to paddle on calm water.

It’s a great boat for paddling around on lakes and rivers, and the comfort flex seat and stern quick-seal hatch storage make it functional for longer trips. It even has a couple of rod holders in case you want to try your hand at fishing.

In this review, I dig into the features that set this boat apart from others on the market and look at how it performs on the water.

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Old Town Heron 9XT Pros and Cons

  • Handles well and is easy to maneuver
  • Compact design makes it easier to transport inside or on top of your vehicle
  • Padded seat for comfortable paddling
  • Flush mount rod holders for occasional fishing trips
  • Dry storage compartment in the stern
  • No deck rigging – although you could retrofit this if needed
  • As it’s a short boat, the tracking isn’t great, but I’ve given some suggestions on how to address this below

Who Should Buy the Old Town Heron 9XT?

The Heron 9XT combines comfort and performance, and is perfect for recreational paddlers. It’s an excellent kayak for cruising around a lake or down a slow-moving river with little effort. 

Leisurely paddlers will appreciate the Heron’s easy handling and maneuverability. The comfortable seat and rear hatch for gear storage make it suitable for all-day expeditions, and if you fancy a spot of fishing, the rod holders will keep your rods out of the way until you need them.

It’s also a great kayak for kids as it’s sturdy, easy to carry to the water’s edge and retails at an affordable price. If you want a boat that the whole family can use, this is it!

Features of the Old Town Heron 9XT

Let’s take a closer look at some of the features that make the Old Town Heron 9XT a kayak worth your consideration.

Sit-Inside Design

The Old Town Heron 9XT is a compact sit-inside kayak. Sit-inside kayaks have an enclosed cockpit that protects your lower body from the elements. This makes them a good choice for cold-weather kayaking.

The Heron 9XT is easy to get in and out of due to the large cockpit, and it feels less enclosed than other sit-in kayaks. The kayak doesn’t come with a spray skirt, but you can buy one separately to fit around the cockpit rim. This will prevent your legs from getting sunburned and stop cold water splashing into the cockpit.

Unlike a sit-on-top kayak, there are no drainage holes in the Heron 9XT. Instead, a bulkhead at the stern creates a large pocket of air that will help keep the kayak afloat even if water enters the cockpit. That said, as there’s no front bulkhead, if you do get swamped, you’ll need to swim to the shore to empty the water out.

a. Size and Weight

The Heron 9XT’s size and weight make it easy to transport inside, or on top of, a car or truck. At 9 foot 6 inches, it’s short enough that you can fit it in a large SUV (with the passenger seat down) or a full-size truck.

The kayak weighs just 39 pounds, so even solo kayakers should have no problem lifting it in and out of a vehicle. However, you may want to purchase a trolley if you have to carry it any distance to the water.

b. Capacity

The compact size of the Heron 9XT means there’s limited room for taller paddlers. The 260-pound weight capacity is also at the lower end for a sit-in kayak. If you’re over 6 feet or worried that you may be a little heavy for this kayak, then check out the Heron 11 XT which is an 11-foot version of the boat.

Performance

a. Stability

If you’re used to paddling a sit-on-top kayak, you may find that the Heron 9XT feels a bit unstable to begin with. However, once you get used to it, you may actually find it feels more stable when paddling.

With a sit-inside kayak, your center of gravity is lower, which improves the secondary stability. This means it’s more stable when the kayak is leaning over to one side (up to its capsize point), making it easier to paddle.

b. Maneuverability

The shorter length of the Heron 9XT makes it quick and easy to turn. I find sit-in kayaks much easier to maneuver than sit-on-tops of the same length because of the lower center of gravity. You can also brace your legs against the inside of the cockpit which makes it easier to use your whole body to execute twisty turns.

c. Tracking

Generally speaking, the shorter a kayak is, the harder it is to track straight. The compact size of the Heron 9XT makes it easy to carry, but it’ll take more paddling skill to keep it in a straight line than longer boats.

If you’re struggling with tracking, get someone to record a video of you kayaking to check your weight is balanced correctly. Also, be aware that you may naturally pull harder with your dominant arm (i.e. your right arm if you’re right-handed) which could push you to one side.

It’s also worth flipping the kayak over to double-check the keel line is straight, particularly if you’re using a second-hand boat.

d. Speed

It’s a no-brainer that short, stumpy boats are slower than long, sleek ones. The Heron 9XT has many great selling points, but speed isn’t one of them. That said, if you’re just messing around on the lake with your fellow paddlers, this isn’t going to be a big issue.

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Comfort

a. Padded Comfort Flex Seat

The Heron 9XT features an adjustable comfort flex seat with a padded back and base. It’s much more comfortable than the standard seats on similarly priced sit-on-top kayaks. Even better, your butt is guaranteed to stay dry!

b. Thigh Pads

Thigh pads provide padding but also help lock your legs into the boat, giving you more control when paddling.

c. Support Track Foot Brace System

Having your feet in the right position in a kayak helps improve your stability and gives you maximum control when paddling. The adjustable foot braces on the Old Town Heron 9XT allow for a precise fit according to your leg length.

When setting up the foot braces, you want to have your knees slightly bent and your knees braced against the side of the cockpit. The contoured rubber on the foot braces gives excellent grip and is comfortable when paddling with bare feet.

Storage

One of the best features of the Old Town Heron 9XT is the rear hatch which leads to a large watertight compartment in the stern. It’s a handy place to stash dry clothes, food, water and anything else you might need for a day’s paddling.

The click-seal hatch is easy to open and close, though reaching behind you to grab a drink or a sweater may take a little getting used to.

There’s no above-deck storage on the Heron XT, but it’s easy enough to fit some deck rigging if you need to secure lots of gear. Alternatively, you could pop a dry bag in the front part of the cockpit, between your legs.

Two Flush Mount Rod Holders

Although it’s not marketed as a fishing kayak, two rod holders are located behind the seat for easy transportation of fishing rods. The Heron 9XT is a perfect choice if you only fish occasionally and don’t want to weigh down your boat with features you may not need.

Other Features

As well as the features listed above, the Heron 9XT also has a cup holder, carry handles at each end for easy transportation and paddle keepers to secure your paddles when you’re not using them.

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What Users Are Saying

I scoured the internet to find out what kayakers really think of the Old Town Heron 9XT. The reviews I found were largely positive for an entry-level kayak.

One Redditor compared it to the Old Town Vapour 10XT, which has a larger cockpit opening. Here’s what they had to say:

On another thread, BluefaceBlues states that if you’re looking for a lightweight kayak with a good range of features, the price of the Heron 9XT is hard to beat.

The Heron also gets good reviews on Paddling.com, with users praising its comfort and handling.

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Alternative Beginner Sit-In Kayaks

If you wish the Heron 9XT was just a bit longer, Old Town makes an 11-foot version of the boat that has a higher capacity for larger paddlers. However, if you want to check out something similar, we’ve done a quick comparison with a similar boat below.

Heron 9XT vs Dagger Zydeco 9.0

The Dagger Zydeco 9.0 is a highly-rated recreational kayak that retails for a similar price to the Heron 9XT.

It’s even shorter than the Heron 9XT, measuring just over 9 feet. This gives it a slight advantage over the Heron when transporting it to and from the water. If you’re concerned about weight, the Zydeco is also a few pounds lighter.

On the water, it handles a little better than the Heron, though as with any short kayak, it can be a struggle to paddle straight in windy conditions.

One downside of the Zydeco 9.0 is that it lacks the dry storage compartment in the stern that’s a handy feature of the Heron 9XT. It does have bungee cords on the deck, but as these are easy to retrofit, the Heron wins out on gear storage.

Both kayaks have useful features. The Dagger Zydeco 9.0 takes the edge in terms of performance, but the Heron is a more versatile boat, with better storage options for fishing rods and other gear.

Conclusion

The Old Town Heron 9XT is a recreational kayak that’s popular with beginners, for good reason. It offers a good balance between portability, performance, and gear storage, and the extra bells and whistles set it a notch above its competitors.

If you’re looking for a versatile kayak at an affordable price, the Old Town Heron 9XT should be on your shortlist.

Happy paddling!

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