With all the positive attributes and scoring in our test metrics, it's no wonder the Tarpon 100 found its way to the winner's circle. It is a super stable boat that is well outfitted, comfortable and a pleasure to paddle in most any conditions. Once again Wilderness Systems has produced a high-quality kayak that transcends the many applications and styles that recreational kayaks offer up in today's market. Fishing, bird watching, exploring coves, creeks, and islands, surfing waves, having fun with the kids or just taking it out to the middle of the lake to hop off it for a quick dip — the versatility of this boat rivals the other Editors' Choice-winning Aspire 105. But it comes in the form of a sit on top kayak. You'll never get bored when paddling this boat. It's easy to enjoy all the extra features and functionality it offers.
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Review
Cons: Cheap plastic used on hatch levers, heavy, slow
Manufacturer: Wilderness Systems
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Wilderness Systems seem to always pay attention to detail and take into consideration every element that can make their kayaks the most functional and versatile. It shines through once again in this fun, sporty, high-performance boat. No matter what your favorite activity is on the water or what kind of conditions you like to paddle, this kayak will not disappoint.
An excellent feature only offered on the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 are the four accessory rails built into the gunnels at the front and back of the boat. This allows you to rig fishing pole holders, GPS or fish finder screens, cameras or anything else you might want to attach to your boat without having to drill holes.
At 10 feet long, this kayak wasn't necessarily built for speed, tracking, and gliding for extended distances. It's short compared to longer, more touring style boats. It's more of a short-range kayak that was designed for maneuverability in tight coves and small creeks rather than long distance journeys. It receives a lower score in this area as a result.
The Tarpon 100's hull is flat for the most part, but it has a unique hull flare at the bow to boost its ability to cut through waves and a pointed stern to assist it in tracking and gliding through the water. The hull has a dual inverted keel design that is very similar to the Aspire 105, helping this relatively flush bottomed hull to track and glide more efficiently. It glides well, it's just not the best.
If you are looking for an identical kayak built for a little more speed — with better tracking, increased glide, and more storage — we suggest some of the large and heavier models in the fleet such as the Tarpon 120, 140 or 160.
What the Tarpon 100 lacks in glide, tracking, and speed, it makes up for in maneuverability. The lack of a pronounced V-shaped hull or rigid-defined keel allows the boat to turn easily and quickly. The flared hull and ever so subtle rocker at the front and back of the boat promote efficient turning with minimal effort, earning it a top score.
Just like with the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10, this 10-foot kayak slips in and out of constricted shorelines and narrow creeks better than most kayaks. This makes it an easy paddle for even the most novice kayakers.
The Tarpon 100 offers outstanding all-around comfort. Just like with the Aspire 105, Wilderness Systems put a lot of thought and effort into their Phase 3 AirPro seating system. Ergonomic elements have been added to all aspects of their seating system from the contoured seats and backrests to the soft edges of the leg lifter that contour beneath your thighs. They also had the foresight to use multi-sized holes in the special perforated foam padding that promotes aeration and helps the seat padding dry quickly. This, along with the tight mesh covering keeps your back safe from sweat and water that may splash into the boat. This is one of the most comfortable boats in the test.
The Keeper XL foot braces are sturdy and easily adjustable. You just reach down and squeeze the lever behind the foot pedal, slide the foot peg to the desired slot along the rail, and then release it to lock it into the most comfortable position. There are also two handy paddle holders attached to each side of the gunnels by your seat. The company spares no expense with its comfort, and this is evident from the first time you sit in one of their boats and take it out for a paddle.
One big benefit of having a smaller boat is that it's easy to find a vehicle to load it into for transport. It also makes it easier to get your boat to and from your launch location and around rocks or other obstacles when portaging. Wilderness Systems gives you plenty of handles to haul this boat around, but several boats were easier to move.
Although the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 and the Tarpon 100 share the same length, the Tarpon weighs in at about 15 pounds heavier and is a sit on top boat. It is noticeably heavier to carry and you can't just balance it on your shoulder like the Aruba. But Wilderness Systems did put soft rubber grips on the bow and stern handles. These keep the webbing from digging into your hands while carrying.
There are also two identical grips on either side of the seat. Just like the Ocean Kayak Malibu 11.5 and the Perception Tribe 11.5, there is a replaceable skid plate on the stern of the hull so you can drag the boat using the bow handle when you are without a buddy or kayak dolly.
Wilderness Systems doesn't mess around when it comes to building their high-density roto-molded linear polyethylene boats. You can tell when you first look at their kayaks that they want to produce boats that stand up to the test of time and take the normal knocks and scrapes that come with transporting and pulling their vessels on and offshore.
Quality and durability don't stop there. You see the same attention to detail and sturdiness in their outfitting as well. From the kind of material they use for their straps and padding, to the rugged handles and foot bracing system, you see that same level of quality everywhere on the kayak.
Except, unfortunately, for the levers that open and lock down the Orbix hatch covers. Thankfully, they offer a one-year warranty against materials and manufacturing defects. After making everything else on the kayak so solid, we are perplexed as to why the lever lacks the same level of quality.
Kayakers looking for a little more comfort and leg room will appreciate the roomy option of Wilderness System's sit on top kayak. The Tarpon 100's four accessory rails give you a lot of options for customizing your boat for fishing, photography or even adding GPS. Another great advantage of this boat is the freedom that a sit on top kayak offers. You can hop off in the middle of a lake to take a dip and then enjoy the stability to pull yourself back in without worrying about swamping the boat or capsizing.
Costing about $100 dollars more than its nearest competitor, the Tarpon 100 more than justifies the additional cost with all the cool extra features and dry storage options. Its well-designed hull and high-density roto-molded linear polyethylene plastic will pay for itself in the long term as the quality manufacturing will add to the life of the boat.
We decided to split the Editor's Choice award into two categories — best sit-on-top and sit-in recreational kayaks. We have a winner for each category. If we hadn't separated them into two categories, we would have a much more difficult decision with the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 standing right next to the Aspire 105 on top of the podium. At first glance, you can tell right away that these boats were designed and manufactured by the same company. Wilderness Systems offers excellent attention to detail, versatility, durable construction, and extra added features. The Tarpon 100 is the happy result of their skills being put to use to create a killer all-around sit-on-top kayak.
— Dan Kramer