Help decide between two similarly spec'd plastic SOT kayaks

I’m in the market for my first kayak and am trying to figure out what differentiates the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 from the Pelican Bandit NXT 100. The specs are the same, except that the cheaper Pelican is 2" narrower and a full 15 pounds lighter. Both seem to be made of the same HDPE.

The fact that I haven’t been able to identify anything glaring yet that would explain the $850 price difference makes me think I’m probably missing something important. I appreciate your advice.

My guess is that the Tarpon is a much stouter boat. I’ve had 4 Tarpons and they are built to take a beating.
If you can, sit in them and push on the hulls. You have to determine how much punishment you think it will get.
And how comfortable the seats are.


Not the same plastics. Pelican uses a thermoformed process with two sheets of combo recycled/virgin plastic and fuses them together at the seam (which is why deck and hull are different colors). Anything from Wilderness Systems or Dagger or Perception will be one piece rotationally molded polyethylene with no recycled content, which makes them noticeably stiffer and significantly more rugged, if a bit heavier.

Outfitting on the Pelican is also very basic - thinly padded seat with no adjustability in the base, and no footpegs, just molded in heel wells. No internal storage in the Pelican.

In the end, Pelican actually owns Wilderness Systems, so they probably don’t care which you buy, but if you go to a shop where you can see the Tarpon and then find anyone who stocks the Pelican, the differences will be pretty obvious even to an inexperienced paddler.


Thanks for your feedback. Makes sense about the quality of the plastic and different manufacturing processes. Looking closer at the pictures, the outfitting does look a lot nicer. I hadn’t given much thought to the seat, but can see that being pretty important for overall enjoyment.

I’ll take a look at both of them this weekend, but now I’m leaning toward the Tarpon. I don’t plan to beat it up much, but would rather have something that can stand up to an accidental knock or two and that’s comfortable for multiple hours.

I’ll be starting out in the southern part of the SF Bay where the water is shallow and calm, but as my skill improves I imagine I’ll start venturing further north where the currents pick up and some surf starts making its way in. It’d be good to have something I can take into a more challenging environment when the time comes.


I vote Wilderness System sTrapon


A quick glance at Craigslist shows at least 12 of these in different sizes for sale in the SF area. I’d definitely go give any of them that look good to you a try. It’s a good time to buy a used kayak and save some money for a paddle and PFD.

Those are just two I randomly selected.

Also I am not a SOT paddler but I wonder how suitable that would be in rougher water… a longer one would likely be better if you can store it, but there were also 12 and 10 feet ones for sale in the $500-$600 range.


Agree with above comments. I’m not famililiar with the San Francisco Bay, but suggest caution using either boat. That style of boat will catch wind and could be hard to make headway in strong currents. Both the rotomolded and thermofoil will probably hold up to the rigors of the intended desigh and purpose of the kayak. My first kayak was a very stable sit inside Perception Swifty. I bought it to augment two canoes for my family in the event we has an odd number going out. Then I started using it by myself for solo trips. Once learning the limitations, it didn’t last the season, because I began upgrading. 7 boats later, I realize my money could have been invested the more wisely.

For that level of boat, you may want to go for price and convenient weight. Epecially since you won’t use it for long if you enjoy kayaking.

For example, I was afaid a closed cockpit boats would be too tippy, but that wasn’t true. You’ll find by comparing the Taron 105 to the 125 Tsunami that the Tsunami is far more versatile, yet only a few hundred dollars more. It’s comfortable, sea worthy, equally nible, and incredibly stable. It tracks and turns easily, has a front and rear sealed bulheads. Adjudtable thigh braces and foot begs to lock you into position give you better control of the boat.

I’m not suggesting you buy the Tsunami, but being in the same price range as the Tarpon, it’s a true starter boat. For me, it was the last of many steps to the boat I use mostly, which is the 145 Tsunami. I found no difference in stability from the 10 foot Swifty, the 140 Pungo, 125 Tsunami, up through the 175 Tsunami. It depends on your needs.

The Eddyline equivalent in 12 foot is, either the sit on or closed cockpit is at least $1,800. I wouldn’t suggest buying any boat without knowing about your weight and height to recommend fitment. I’m merely suggesting to consider looking at other styles that offer better value. Based on current information, I might recommend going for price and weight. You won’t feel so bad relegating it to your kayak storage rack. Strongly recommend you find a place that allows test paddling. When I tested a 12 ft kayak on the water where I mostly paddle, I decided on the 14 ft version in anticipating of the conditions and was glad. Before that, I bought a my boats of the showroom, untested. There’s nothing wrong with a 10 ft boat, as long as you understand the limitations.

In general, I’d go Wilderness Systems over Pelican. Brand is just known as being better in many ways.

For SF Bay, I’d also go for a longer boat to better put up with the conditions you likely are going to see. A least 12 feet, and 14 would be better. Don’t think 16 feet would be that much improvement, so maybe not that much of a jump.

And for first boat, I always recommend getting a used boat over new. You’ll pay about half as much as new, but the damage (scratches) that are common in used don’t really impact the way it paddles. But stick to a boat that is less than 10 years old (less than 5 even better). Kayaks have improved over the years, so the old ones often are older designs that aren’t as good, and older boats also might have more sun aging.

Given this, assuming you can store and transport a 14’ kayak, I’d go for that Tarpon 140 for sale that @Doggy_Paddler mentioned, or something like it.

If you haven’t paddled much, you may want to take a class before buying. There is a lot that you will learn in the class, along with chances to ask the instructor questions, that would help guide you toward what boat to buy. I know Sea Trek in Sausalito does have an Intro to Sit On Tops class. Closer to the south bay are California Canoe and Kayak (Redwood City) or Kayak Connection (Santa Cruz), but I don’t know if they have sit on top specific classes. REI in South Bay does also have some classes, but once again I don’t know if they are sit in top specific.


I am a long time Tarpon 160 paddler. It can handle anything you can. I have the 160 because of my weight, 240 when I got it. I’ve done mild white water but where it shines is on bays with some white caps.
It is barely affected by the wind because of the low profile.
An elevated seat area keeps you from sitting in a puddle.


If I was going to buy a SOT, I would jump on either the Tarpon 14 or 16 that are posted on craigslist. I can vouch that the 16 is very seaworthy but heavy. The 14 should be able to deal with rough conditions too and is lighter in weight. Tarpons are well built and heavy. The 14 weight is listed as 68 pounds.

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The 16 , which is no longer made, is 85.

Ouch! 85???

I really appreciate all of your advice. A used one definitely seems like the way to go, and I’ll probably aim for either a 12- or 14-footer. As I learn more about kayaking, I’m starting to question whether I should go for a sit-in instead of a SOT, as my main purpose for it is touring/camping.

The SOT decision was based almost entirely on ease of recovery. I’m 6’2 and about 245lbs, so fairly top-heavy, and I need to assume that I’ll be rolling it fairly often when I start out. Having something I know I can reliably hoist myself back up into would give a lot of peace of mind. That said, I should take some classes ahead of time regardless of which type I pick, and it looks like sit-in recovery is a skill that can be learned.

To start I think I’ll sign up for a few weekends of classes and try to get a better feel for it. I’m really looking forward to getting out there, but putting in some effort up front on the fundamentals before jumping into a purchase seems like a better plan.


I’m sure you realize you don’t roll a SOT. You roll off. But, Tarpons are very stable. I’ve had a wave roll over me chest deep. Exciting, but not a problem. I use thigh straps in the rough stuff.

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I’m 100% behind your decision! It is best to learn the right way to paddle so as not to have to struggle breaking bad technique, and so much more to learn about kayaking. The process of learning is fun too.

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Agree with @castoff. After a few hours of good learning, you’ll know which (SOT or SInK) best suits your needs and intended use.

Hi Rutkowst
At your height and weight, I think a SIT-IN would give you a lower center of gravity and your bottom would be at the bottom of the boat, not half-way up. I have owned several SIT ON TOPS, and have kept one for beginners who are afraid of being confined. My current boat is a Current Design Kestrel 120 with a large enough cockpit to be easy to enter and exit (I am 84 years old - getting harder to exit the boat) This may be my last boat and I love it. Good luck to you.

Don’t call it a SINK!!!

You may want to heck out an article in California Kayaker Magazine, still available in PDF form online at California Kayaker Magazine - South West's source for paddlesports information, on basic types of kayaks. Issue #10. In that same issue is an article on the standard 2-person reentry for sit inside kayaks, the T-rescue.

Issue #7 has an article on the scramble, which is a 1-person reentry. Most people here probably think of scrambles as something for sit insides, but this article also talks about how to do it for sit on tops, which is the standard way to get back on one of those.

Better than a SOT (a habitual drunkard, according to Oxford).
Gotta love the jargon, acronyms and other abbreviations interest groups develop.