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Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 Review

This well-outfitted kayak allows for many different paddling applications, all in one super comfortable sit-on-top model
wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review
Credit: Wilderness Systems
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $1,079 List | $1,079.00 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Comfortable, easy to paddle, easy to climb in and out, great storage
Cons:  Heavy to carry, rudder for tracking has to be purchased as extra
Manufacturer:   Wilderness Systems
By Sara James ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Sep 9, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 11
  • Glide and Tracking - 30% 7.0
  • Maneuverability - 20% 6.0
  • Stability - 20% 9.0
  • Comfort - 10% 9.0
  • Construction Quality - 10% 8.0
  • Portability - 10% 5.0

Our Verdict

An updated version of a time-tested classic, the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 scores well in all our testing metrics and holds a clear place at the winner’s table. It is an incredibly stable kayak that is well-outfitted, comfortable, and a pleasure to paddle in most conditions. Wilderness Systems has produced a high-quality kayak that transcends the many applications and styles that the best recreational kayaks offer in today's market. Whether 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 kayak means you will never get bored of it. It's easy to enjoy all the extra features and functionality it offers.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $1,079 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$1,189 List
Check Price at REI
$750 List$430 List
Check Price at REI
$600 List
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Comfortable, easy to paddle, easy to climb in and out, great storageVery stable, great glide, comfortable outfitting, roomy, lots of storageExtremely stable, great tracking, very durable, comfortable, stackableVery lightweight, easy to paddle, comes with paddle, inexpensive as they comeVery large cockpit, stable, easy-to-adjust seat, includes storage compartment
Cons Heavy to carry, rudder for tracking has to be purchased as extraHeavy, hard to drain, removable deck pod a bit flimsyHeavy to carry, no internal dry storageThin plastic, harder to drain, not enough leg room for tall paddlersSluggish, difficult to load, drink holder is far away from seat, no cover for storage
Bottom Line This well-outfitted kayak allows for many different paddling applications, all in one super comfortable sit-on-top modelAn overall high-quality sit-in kayak that is comfortable, maneuverable, and accessible thanks to a wide-open cockpitA super solid and stable all-around kayak great for any age or ability level at a modestly affordable priceThis highly economical package will get you on the water having fun in calm waters, without breaking your bank to buy or breaking your back to carryA comfortable and stable kayak ideal for casual days paddling on calm water that comes at a reasonable price
Rating Categories Wilderness Systems... Wilderness Systems... Ocean Kayak Malibu... Pelican Brume 100XP Old Town Vapor 10
Glide and Tracking (30%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
7.0
Maneuverability (20%)
6.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
6.0
Stability (20%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Comfort (10%)
9.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
7.0
Construction Quality (10%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
4.0
8.0
Portability (10%)
5.0
6.0
4.0
8.0
7.0
Specs Wilderness Systems... Wilderness Systems... Ocean Kayak Malibu... Pelican Brume 100XP Old Town Vapor 10
Length 10'-6" 12'-2" 11'-5" 10'-0" 10'-0"
Width 32" 29" 32" 28" 28.5"
Weight 57 lbs 49 lbs 59 lbs 40 lbs 47 lbs
Height 15.3" 14" 12" 14" 16.8"
Weight Capacity 325 lbs 325 lbs 360 lbs 275 lbs 325 lbs
Material/Construction Polyethylene Polyethylene Singler layer polyethylene RAM-X Premium polyethylene plastic Single Layer Polyethylene
Features 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 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 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. 2-piece Poseidon paddle, paddle tie-down, Twin-arched multi-chine hull with drain plug, cockpit table with a bungee cord, bottle holder, Molded footrests, knee pads and an adjustable ERGOLOUNGE padded backrest with ERGOFORM seat cushion. 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

Wilderness Systems has been refining the Tarpon sit-on-top kayak design for over 20 years. The current version is available in three sizes: 105, 120, and 140. For this review, we tested the Tarpon 105 which is 10 feet, 6 inches long, and 32 inches wide. It has a large rear storage well and a dry hatch on the bow. There are self-draining holes in the foot well of the Tarpon, which you can choose to seal with scupper plugs if you so choose.

wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review - the tarpon is a versatile sit-on-top kayak, suitable for a variety...
The Tarpon is a versatile sit-on-top kayak, suitable for a variety of environments.
Credit: Sara James

Glide and Tracking


At 10.5 feet long, this kayak isn'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 meandering rivers rather than long-distance journeys. This was one of the Tarpon’s lower scores, although it still performed better than the average kayak we tested.


The Tarpon 105'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 Wilderness Systems Aspire 105, helping this relatively flush-bottomed hull to track and glide more efficiently. It glides well, it's just not the best.

wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review - due to its shorter length and wider hull, the tarpon won't be...
Due to its shorter length and wider hull, the Tarpon won't be winning any speed awards, but it is comfortable to paddle as it glides smoothly and tracks easily.
Credit: Sara James

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 larger and heavier models in the Tarpon fleet such as the Tarpon 120, or 140. In order to improve tracking, it is also possible to add a rudder to the Tarpon kayak with the purchase of the XL Rudder kit. An expensive accessory, it may well be worth your expense for those looking to improve tracking for comfort, fishing, or photography.

wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review - adding the rudder onto the tarpon is an expensive addition, however...
Adding the rudder onto the Tarpon is an expensive addition, however, the foot-brace controlled system is very enjoyable to use if you want to keep your hands ready for bird watching, fishing, or photography.
Credit: Sara James

Maneuverability


What the Tarpon 105 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.


If you do happen to fall off this kayak, its open access makes it easy to climb back on board. In addition, if it was to fully capsize it is easy to re-right, as it will self-drain. Not having to empty a capsized kayak saves the user time and energy compared to other sit-in-style kayaks.

wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review - the drain holes in the floor of the tarpon help to avoid water...
The drain holes in the floor of the Tarpon help to avoid water pooling in the bottom of your kayak. This means that if you do capsize it, it will be relatively easy to self-rescue and drain this kayak compared to the sit inside kayaks we tested.
Credit: Sara James

Stability


The Tarpon 105 is a podium placer when it comes to stability, thanks to its generous width, relatively flat bottom, and moderate overall length. The seat position is slightly lifted off the floor which raises the center of gravity an inch, but overall, it is an incredibly steady craft that is suitable for gentle currents.


Large paddlers will easily fit in the Tarpon 105 but may consider a larger version if they want to maintain the best advantage of stability. If well distributed, loading this kayak with extra weight will actually make it more stable up to its maximum load capacity of 325 pounds. That will give you plenty of space to bring a lot of fishing tackle or camping gear.

wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review - the tarpon's stability makes it an easy option to hope and off your...
The Tarpon's stability makes it an easy option to hope and off your kayak so you can make the most out of your paddling adventure.
Credit: Sara James

Comfort


The Tarpon 105 delivers outstanding all-around comfort. Wilderness Systems put a lot of thought and effort into their ergonomic seating system, from 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 promote aeration and help the seat padding air and 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 pegs to the desired slot along the rail, and 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.

wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review - the keep xl foot braces are easy to adjust and plenty stable to...
The Keep XL foot braces are easy to adjust and plenty stable to provide comfort and support.
Credit: Sara James

Construction Quality


Wilderness Systems doesn't mess around when it comes to building their high-density roto-molded linear polyethylene boats. You can tell from your first look at their kayaks that they want to produce boats that stand the test of time and withstand the normal knocks and scrapes that come with transporting and pulling their vessels on and offshore.


The Tarpon 105 has a large open rear storage well with a mesh cover that is great for stashing dry bags or gear. On the front of the kayak, a 9-inch by 6-inch sealable dry hatch opens up volumes of storage space within the kayak. Not all of this space is easily accessible and you could definitely lose a small item in its depths. Keeping your gear in sealed bags will help to avoid this.

wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review - a sealed dry compartment at the front of the tarpon completes this...
A sealed dry compartment at the front of the Tarpon completes this adventure-ready setup.
Credit: Sara James

The storage latch on the dry box has a simple and secure twist and latch closure system. We much preferred this to the more flimsy levers used on the Orbix hatch covers on other Tarpon models.

An excellent feature only offered on the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 are the accessory rails built into the gunnels at the front 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.

wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review - with attention to the quality of construction, you can expect this...
With attention to the quality of construction, you can expect this durable Tarpon kayak to last you.
Credit: Sara James

Portability


One big benefit of having a smaller boat is that it can be loaded onto almost any vehicle. The Tarpon 105's smaller size 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.


The Tarpon 105 is considerably heavier than a lot of the other kayaks we tested and some were only a few inches shorter. We don’t notice this weight on the water but they are pretty heavy and awkward to carry. You can’t balance them on your shoulder like some kayaks. The handles on the stern and bow are robust and comfortable. But Wilderness Systems did put soft rubber grips on the bow and stern handles that keep the webbing from digging into your hands while carrying.

wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review - the robust handles on either side of the tarpon help with lifting...
The robust handles on either side of the Tarpon help with lifting and transporting this heavy kayak.
Credit: Sara James

Like a few of the other kayaks we tested, 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 tarpon 105 kayak review - the skid plate on the tarpon ( picture in the centre), can be...
The skid plate on the Tarpon ( picture in the centre), can be removed if it gets worn through. This can help extend the life of your kayak hull if you intend to drag this kayak place.
Credit: Sara James

Value


Though a bit more expensive than its nearest competitor, the Tarpon 105 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 likely pay off in the long term, as the quality manufacturing should add to the life of the boat.

Conclusion


The sit-on-top Tarpon 105 kayak offers great stability, comfort, and accessibility in a kayak that is also very maneuverable. Wilderness Systems offers excellent attention to detail, versatility, durable construction, and extra added features. With lots of storage space available on the kayak and inside the kayak, this craft is ready to take you on some long adventures.

wilderness systems tarpon 105 kayak review - kayakers looking for a little more comfort and legroom will...
Kayakers looking for a little more comfort and legroom will appreciate the roomy option of Wilderness System's sit-on-top kayak.
Credit: Sara James

Sara James
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