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Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 Review

An extremely versatile kayak that will allow you to experience the best of both worlds, exceptional maneuverability, and long-distance tracking
Wilderness Systems Aspire 105
Credit: Wilderness Systems
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Price:  $1,029 List | $1,029.00 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Extremely versatile, great stability, exceptionally maneuverable, comfortable, highly functional out-fitting
Cons:  Difficult to drain, heavy, cumbersome to shoulder carry, cheap plastic used on hatch levers
Manufacturer:   Wilderness Systems
By Dan Kramer ⋅   ⋅  Sep 9, 2022
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75
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 11
  • Glide and Tracking - 30% 7.0
  • Maneuverability - 20% 8.0
  • Stability - 20% 8.0
  • Comfort - 10% 8.0
  • Construction Quality - 10% 8.0
  • Portability - 10% 6.0

Our Verdict

With so many different types of waterways to paddle and so many different boat designs on the market, it can be hard to decide which is the best kayak for you. The Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 makes it easy, working well no matter what conditions and environments you encounter. Imagine effortlessly gliding along precisely towards your destination and having the maneuverability to carve and meander in and out of tight rocky coves or islands as you leisurely explore. That is the comfort, adaptivity, and all-around flexibility awarded to you when paddling the Aspire 105. One of the key attributes that stand out from the other boats we tested is the Aspire 105's spring-loaded, drop-down skeg. Dropping this skeg allows you to convert your very maneuverable and functional kayak into a long-distance touring style boat. With plenty of room to store gear, a cozy form-fitting seating system, and top-of-the-line outfitting, this kayak is a top all-around performer.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $1,029 at Backcountry
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$1,079 at REI
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$750 List
$749.99 at Amazon
$479.99 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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69
Star Rating
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Pros Extremely versatile, great stability, exceptionally maneuverable, comfortable, highly functional out-fittingVery stable, great glide, comfortable outfitting, roomy, lots of storageComfortable, easy to paddle, easy to climb in and out, great storageExtremely stable, great tracking, very durable, comfortable, stackableVery large cockpit, stable, easy-to-adjust seat, includes storage compartment
Cons Difficult to drain, heavy, cumbersome to shoulder carry, cheap plastic used on hatch leversHeavy, hard to drain, removable deck pod a bit flimsyHeavy to carry, rudder for tracking has to be purchased as extraHeavy to carry, no internal dry storageSluggish, difficult to load, drink holder is far away from seat, no cover for storage
Bottom Line An extremely versatile kayak that will allow you to experience the best of both worlds, exceptional maneuverability, and long-distance trackingAn overall high-quality sit-in kayak that is comfortable, maneuverable, and accessible thanks to a wide-open cockpitThis well-outfitted kayak allows for many different paddling applications, all in one super comfortable sit-on-top modelA super solid and stable all-around kayak great for any age or ability level at a modestly affordable priceA comfortable and stable kayak ideal for casual days paddling on calm water that comes at a reasonable price
Rating Categories Wilderness Systems... Wilderness Systems... Wilderness Systems... Ocean Kayak Malibu... Old Town Vapor 10
Glide and Tracking (30%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
Maneuverability (20%)
8.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
6.0
Stability (20%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Comfort (10%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
7.0
Construction Quality (10%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Portability (10%)
6.0
6.0
5.0
4.0
7.0
Specs Wilderness Systems... Wilderness Systems... Wilderness Systems... Ocean Kayak Malibu... Old Town Vapor 10
Length 10'-6" 12'-2" 10'-6" 11'-5" 10'-0"
Width 29" 29" 32" 32" 28.5"
Weight 48 lbs 49 lbs 57 lbs 59 lbs 47 lbs
Height 15.5" 14" 15.3" 12" 16.8"
Weight Capacity 400 lbs 325 lbs 325 lbs 360 lbs 325 lbs
Material/Construction High-density roto-molded linear polyethylene Polyethylene Polyethylene Singler layer polyethylene Single Layer Polyethylene
Features Phase 3 Air Pro seat with mesh streched over contoured foam perferated pad, leg lifters and adjustable seat back angles, thigh and knee pads, adjustable slide locking foot braces, rear bulkhead compartment with Orbix stern hatch, shock cord bow and stern rigging for extra storage, rugged bow and stern handles, molded dashboard with gear tray and drink holder, replaceable skid plate and retractable drop down skeg. Rigid handles, Replaceable skid plate, Orbix hatch with sealed bulkhead, thigh pads, XL foot braces, SlideTrax and 2 mounting platforms, removable dry box, 2 cup holders, lithium battery recess (battery not included), Phase 3 AirPro seating system Quick-park paddle holder, Rigid carry handles, SlideTrax accessory rails, magnetic water-bottle strap system, removable DryTec dry box, sectioned storage tray, Phase 3 AirPro seating system, Dog-friendly deck Tri-form hull with an integral keel and sponsons, AirGo molded in seat and seat pad with adjustable AirComfort backrest, molded-in foot wells and calf rest, paddle holders, side/stern/bow carrying handles, molded-in oversized bow and stern tank wells with bungees, Splash resistent QuickStash dry hatch, 2 molded in fishing rod holders, 3 water bottle holder, replaceable skid plate. Adjustable Comfort Flex seat, Glide Track foot brace system ,Stern day well, Molded-in cockpit tray with cup holder, Molded-in paddle rest, Built in carry handles, Thigh pads, Drain plug, Skid plate

Our Analysis and Test Results

It's hard to blend glide and maneuverability seamlessly in one boat. Wilderness Systems does it here in the high-quality, feature-rich Aspire 105.

Performance Comparison


Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak - the wilderness systems aspire 105 graces the shores of lake tahoe's...
The Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 graces the shores of Lake Tahoe's Baldwin Beach.
Credit: Dan Kramer

Glide and Tracking


Kayaks are designed to glide smoothly and continuously along the water without much effort or resistance, allowing you to pass through your surroundings quietly and stealthily. In most cases, slender, lighter boats, with exaggerated V-shaped hulls will slice through water and waves with less friction, making for easy and flowing movement. That said, with today's technology and ingenuity, boat manufacturers have found new ways to transfer some of the attributes of long and narrow designs to help smaller and wider kayaks glide. Even with the Aspire 105's girthy 29-inch beam, its compact 10-foot, 6-inch length, and its flattened hull, the Wilderness Systems design team was able to help this kayak track and glide with surprising skill. Its glide is among the best in the test.

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak - the glide and tracking of the aspire 105 make long distance paddles...
The glide and tracking of the Aspire 105 make long distance paddles a breeze.
Credit: Dan Kramer

The drop-down skeg and dual inverted keel lines help the kayak track and glide, making up for what it lost when they gave it a flatter hull with little to no integrated keel at all. (A flat hull promotes stability.) The boat's relatively hard chines bolster tracking, which allows for a smoother, more uninterrupted paddle and ride. Additionally, the bow's pronounced V-shaped nose and upswept hull cut through the water, keeping the boat straight.

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak - a simple tug on the pull cord attached to the side of the aspire 105...
A simple tug on the pull cord attached to the side of the Aspire 105 releases the spring loaded skeg to assist with tracking on long touring adventures and windy days on the water.
Credit: Dan Kramer

When this pointed bow is accompanied by the drop-down skeg, which is controlled by a pull cord, paddlers get the sense they are gliding along in a much more proficient touring style kayak. The upswept bow and pointed nose help it slice through the water and track with less effort. This kayak will ride up and over waves easier than most boats of its size. Still, even with all these features promoting straight tracking and glide, this kayak could never keep up with an actual touring kayak, which is designed strictly for speed and efficiency over longer distances. But that's what makes this kayak such a great choice, you receive a little bit of everything, from very reliable tracking and glide to excellent stability and maneuverability.

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak - with the spring loaded skeg down in place, the aspire 105 tracks...
With the spring loaded skeg down in place, the Aspire 105 tracks across the water as well as a longer touring kayak would.
Credit: Dan Kramer

Maneuverability


Typically, shorter and wider kayaks are much easier to turn and maneuver around in tight spaces. That's one of the benefits of having a smaller recreational boat compared to a much longer and less maneuverable touring boat. Wider, more maneuverable vessels will have a flat bottom and a much less exaggerated keel from bow to stern. The Aspire 105 has both of these design features, and is very easy to move around as a result. This boat's size and hull design make it incredibly simple to turn around 180 degrees with just a couple of sweep strokes. At times this kayak almost felt and handled like a whitewater kayak and is a fun and playful boat to paddle. It's the easiest to maneuver in the test.

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak - fun times testing out the aspire 105's maneuverability on our buoy...
Fun times testing out the Aspire 105's maneuverability on our buoy slalom course.
Credit: Dan Kramer

To make up for the boat's shortness and wider berth, Wilderness Systems added those dual inverted keel lines and a spring-loaded drop-down skeg. There is a trade-off when using the skeg, however. Dropping it down will keep your boat from veering off course in windy and choppy conditions. It will also significantly diminish your ability to make a short radius turn. But that's the nice thing about being able to raise or lower it — you can choose the amount of glide or maneuverability you'd like at any given time.

Comfort


Wilderness Systems offers state-of-the-art design and attention to detail when it comes to comfort. The Phase 3 Airpro seating system is not only highly functional it's also extremely comfortable and can contour to any size paddler. This ensures a snug contact point for more control and efficient paddling.

Ergonomic elements are abundant in this seating system, starting with the comfortably contoured seat and backrest. Specialized foam padding with vent holes varies in its density to provide extra cushioning under your legs and around your spine while also comfortably supporting your sit bones. The flexible backrest provides a cutaway for spinal support and moves with your back. The well-thought-out leg lifter area has a softer edge and is contoured under your thighs, cupping your bottom securely in the seat.

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak - the phase 3 airpro seating system is not just exceptionally...
The Phase 3 Airpro seating system is not just exceptionally comfortable but also highly functional.
Credit: Dan Kramer

The Airpro system also features a tough, durable mesh cushion covering that promotes ventilation, keeping your back, and the padding in your seat, dry. Easily accessible controls are thoughtfully situated to eliminate strain while adjusting the seat. Wilderness Systems also used simple, highly visible icons on each strap to identify their adjustment points and functions.

Padded thigh and knee bolsters or braces along the inner coaming of the cockpit not only provide a little cushion and protection from the hard, narrow plastic but also help you lock into a more stable paddling posture.

The WS Aspire 105 leads the industry with its Sidelock XL Foot Brace system. It places the foot brace adjustment beside your thighs, allowing you to adjust them in the seated position.

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak - the sidelock xl foot brace system makes it super easy to adjust your...
The Sidelock XL Foot Brace system makes it super easy to adjust your foot peg settings while seated in your boat.
Credit: Dan Kramer

The generously-sized cockpit makes for easy access in and out of the boat, even for the largest of paddlers. But on windy and wavy days you might want to consider investing in a spray skirt to stretch around this large cockpit. This will keep waves from breaching the cockpit and swamping your boat with water.

Wilderness System's attention to detail is evident from their seating system all the way down to the soft rubber grip coverings on the bow and stern handles, confirming that the company had the paddler's comfort in mind when designing this kayak.

Construction Quality


At first glance, this kayak looks incredibly strong, sturdy, well-designed and seaworthy. The high-density roto-molded linear polyethylene used will withstand years of use. With just a minimal amount of care in transporting and storing your kayak, you can keep it like new for years to come.

Keep in mind — polyethylene can soften and become flexible in hot, sunny conditions, so it is best to keep your kayak covered and out of the sun. To protect it from long-term UV damage, you may want to use an ultraviolet protectant such as 303. Additionally, be careful not to strap your boat too tightly to your roof rack when it's hot. It can deform at the weight-bearing points. Whenever possible, use a padded rigid bar sports rack and a kayak cradle or saddles to help disperse the weight.

Now let's take a moment to talk about the durability of the features and outfitting, starting with the seat. The Phase 3 Airpro 3 might as well be a high-end camping chair. Its seat is constructed with very strong, durable plastic that makes up the seat cup, the leg lifters, and the seat back. Firm supportive foam cushions feel and look like they can withstand whatever mother nature may send their way, and the tightly woven mesh covers are resilient and difficult to tear.

The webbing for the seat back and leg lifter adjusters and for the bow and stern grips are sufficiently reliable for their applications. The bungees used in the seating system and on the bow and aft of the cockpit are high-quality and thick enough and quality to stand up to frequent use over many seasons. The Sidelock XL Foot Brace system is well designed and the foot braces and bracket, which lock into different setting slots on the rail built into the sides of the kayak, seem durable. Though the adjustment bar that slides the foot braces up and down on the attached rail might need some extra-gentle use because the plastic feels a little bit flimsy.

As for the Orbix dry storage stern hatch, it is well built and watertight. We filled the cockpit with water and left it overnight to see if it would seep through the silicone-glued sealed foam barrier. Not a drop came through, but we still aren't 100% convinced that this water-tight seal will last the life of the boat without a little do-it-yourself maintenance down the road.

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak - the orbix dry storage stern hatch seals water tight to keep your...
The Orbix dry storage stern hatch seals water tight to keep your gear dry and out of the way.
Credit: Dan Kramer

Portability


At 10 feet, 6 inches long the Aspire 105 is still on the smaller end for a recreational kayak, despite possessing some touring kayak features. It's heavy, but even at 48 pounds, it's still light enough to wrangle onto a car's roof rack and small enough to fit into a van or in the back of a pickup truck.

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak - a perfect way to spend the day with an adventure paddle out to lake...
A perfect way to spend the day with an adventure paddle out to Lake Tahoe's Fannette Island.
Credit: Rebekah Butler

The durable, grippy, soft rubber that covers the carrying straps on the bow and stern prevents the polypropylene webbing from cutting into your hands while portaging your boat to your vehicle or around obstacles. If you do choose to shoulder this boat by yourself, be aware that it can be difficult. The seat's hardware connects to the kayak right around the perfect balance point for carrying this kayak on your shoulder. It can be done but feels a little awkward and unbalanced at first. It may take some getting used to before trying to walk long distances.

Value


Wilderness Systems boats usually price out a couple of hundred dollars above an entry-level kayak, but their value and construction stand up to their price tag. The quality of its outrigging, the comfort in its seat and cockpit, and the durability of its construction alone will outlast any of its cheaper rivals and make up for the added cost of this boat. Add in the boat's exceptional versatility and all the extra features, and you will see why the Aspire 105 is well worth a little extra cash.

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 kayak - nothing but smiles cruising around emerald bay in the editor's...
Nothing but smiles cruising around Emerald Bay in the Editor's Choice winning (SIK) Wilderness Systems Aspire 105. Life is better on the water.
Credit: Dan Kramer

Conclusion


If you have been bobbing back and forth on what style of kayaking you want to get into, you won't have to make any difficult choices when purchasing the Aspire 105. Wilderness Systems has taken all the decision-making stress and sent it floating downstream by creating this exceedingly versatile kayak that is sure to meet most of your paddling needs. With this vessel's resourceful flexibility, you will not be too limited in the places you can go or conditions you can handle.

Dan Kramer
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