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Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 Review

An extremely versatile kayak that will allow you to experience the best of what both worlds, exceptional maneuverability and long distance tracking.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $829 List | $829.00 at REI
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 ⋅   ⋅  Jan 16, 2019
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80
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 5
  • Glide - 25% 8
  • Maneuverability - 25% 8
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Portability - 20% 8
  • Durability - 10% 8

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 narrow it down to just one kayak. The Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 makes it easy, working well no matter what conditions and environments you encounter. Imagine effortlessly gliding your kayak precisely towards your destination and having the maneuverability to carve and meander in and out of tight little 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 an obvious choice for the Editor's Choice award.


Compare to Similar Products

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


The glide and tracking of the Aspire 105 make long distance paddles a breeze.
The glide and tracking of the Aspire 105 make long distance paddles a breeze.

Glide


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 the less fiction, 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 105s girthy 29" beam, its compact 10'6" length, and its flattened hull, the Wilderness Systems design team was able to help this kayak track and glide with surprising skill. It's glide is the best in the test.


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.

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.
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.

When this pointed bow is accompanied with 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.

Fun times testing out the Aspire 105's maneuverability on our buoy slalom course.
Fun times testing out the Aspire 105's maneuverability on our buoy slalom course.

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.


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 the 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.

The Phase 3 Airpro seating system is not just exceptionally comfortable but also highly functional.
The Phase 3 Airpro seating system is not just exceptionally comfortable but also highly functional.

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.

The Sidelock XL Foot Brace system makes it super easy to adjust your foot peg settings while seated in your boat.
The Sidelock XL Foot Brace system makes it super easy to adjust your foot peg settings while seated in your boat.

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. You don't have to reach all the way into the cockpit to move the foot brace as you do on the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10.

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.

The Editor's Choice Award Winner-Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 graces the shores of Baldwin Beach
The Editor's Choice Award Winner-Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 graces the shores of Baldwin Beach

Portability


At 10'6", the Aspire 105 is still on the smaller size 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.

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.


But have no fear, it's still one of the easier boats to move around. Wilderness Systems, just like with the Perception Tribe 11.5, provides a replaceable stern skid plate to allow you to drag the stern of your kayak on the ground without worrying about scratching the hull. This is handy if you are by yourself without a kayak cart and unable to shoulder your boat.

The Orbix dry storage stern hatch seals water tight to keep your gear dry and out of the way.
The Orbix dry storage stern hatch seals water tight to keep your gear dry and out of the way.

Durability


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 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. Other than that, you will have one long lasting, bomber boat on your hands to enjoy for years to come.


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.

A perfect way to spend the day with an adventure paddle out to Lake Tahoe's Fannette Island.
A perfect way to spend the day with an adventure paddle out to Lake Tahoe's Fannette Island.

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.

One thing that we were not very impressed was the cheap plastic used for the locking levers on top of the hatch cover. On its sister vessel, the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100, the same levers we had on the Orbix hatch locking lever broke off before the boat ever made it to the water, which was pretty disappointing. Good thing the company offers a one year warranty against material or manufacturing defects from the date of purchase along with its five-year warranty on material and manufacturing defects in the hull and deck.

With the spring loaded skeg down in place  the Aspire 105 tracks across the water as well as a longer touring kayak would.
With the spring loaded skeg down in place, the Aspire 105 tracks across the water as well as a longer touring kayak would.

Best Applications


Kayakers looking to paddle in most any body of water and conditions will appreciate this boat the most of any tested. Its intelligent design will allow paddlers the benefits of several different styles of kayaks in an all-in-one boat that will excel in any adventure on the water.

Value


Wilderness Systems boats usually price out a couple of hundred dollars above an entry-level kayak, but it's value and construction stand up to its 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.

Nothing but smiles cruising around Emerald Bay in the Editor's Choice winning (SIK) Wilderness Systems Aspire 105. Life is better on the water.
Nothing but smiles cruising around Emerald Bay in the Editor's Choice winning (SIK) Wilderness Systems Aspire 105. Life is better on the water.

Conclusion


If you have been bobbing back and forth on what style 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.

This boat might come in a little high on the price point for a recreational kayak. Because of its hybrid adaptability, this recreational kayak can mimic some characteristics of a touring kayak. It's like buying two boats for the price of one. The comfortable and well thought out outfitting alone will encourage you to get out in your boat and enjoy time on the water as much as possible. Isn't that what it's all about?


Dan Kramer