Saranac 14.6 vs WS Zephyr or Tempest

I presently have a Swift Saranac 14.6 in Trylon with no thigh braces and no skeg/rudder…I dont miss the skeg or rudder…seem to manage withgout it so far. I’ve been paddling for one summer (June to September) 4 to 5 times a week, on small lakes, large lakes, and large lakes on fairly rough days…I actually like the rough stuff every so often ( most of the small lake stuff is easy paddling with my better half) so I find the rough stuff, usually by myself, a blast, a whole new level of concentration.

Im looking to buy a 3rd kayak in Poly for my friends and ddaughter to use ( will usually be the same 4 to 5 people using it off and on), mostly for day trips and 1 hour to 2 hour lake paddles…or perhaps buy a kayak a bit better than the Saranac and I’ll use it while the guest uses the Saranac. Ideally it will be fairly equal or a bit better for cruising speed.

So far, I have test paddled a CD Sirocco, CD Storm, WS Tsunami 145 and WS Zephyr 160. Out of those, the comfort of the Zephyr was amazing. It also had a much nicer “fit” than my Saranac or the CDs I tried. Now it might just be my imagination, but the Zephyr seemed slower than my Saranac…maybe because it was a different lake with differetnt reference points…I dont know. It did not track nearly as well either, but thats expected considering the rocker diff…it sure turns a LOT better than my Saranac though. Saranac. I will be trying a WS tempest,the Zephyr 155 in a week or 2.

My Question is…

Does anyone have any experience in a Saranac AND a Zephyr or Tempest. Im just wondering how they compare in speed and handling and if the two WS kayaks mentioned above are a good match or a total mismatch with a Saranac 14.6. I found the seat in the Zephyr SO comfortable and the whole fit better, that I am leaning towards the Wilderness Systems Kayaks. ( The seat in the Tsuanmi was also very comfy but the Zephyr fit much better and had a more ooomph and when paddling.

Any thoughts or comments wouild be appreciated.

Starts with you
The Zephyr is intended to be easily maneuverable therefore has more rocker than the Saranac 14.6. The Tempest is an all around do-everything boat - moderate in all respects. These are three fairly different critters to start with.

But it comes down to your choice of how you are going to paddle with family and friends who you would put into these other boats. If you want to go straight fast in the Saranac and expect someone who is newer to paddling to keep up, you don’t want them in the Zephyr because they’ll likely have trouble keeping straight. But you could run into the same issue in the Tempest, albeit less of it. In that case you should put them in the Saranac, which has the best combination of tracking and relatively comfortable primary stability for a new paddler, and take one of the other boats.

But if paddling does not have to be about speed and keeping up, either the Zephyr or the Tempest (which one? The 17 is likely to be pretty huge on a smaller person) would work and, in the case of the Zephyr, give you an easier boat to learn skills in than the Saranac and give you a quick check on how good your own paddling form is.

size range?
Does your group of users include smaller folks who may benefit from a smaller boat? Putting a small person in a too-large boat almost ensures that they won’t be able to keep up.


Yes, I did find that the Zephyr required more “involvement” to keep straight…I guess I was spoiled with the Saranac…still, the Zephyr was way more responsive…than the Saranac…then again, maybe it was lack of skill.

I do want something that I can learn and advance skills in. I intend on going to a few kayak “boot camps” and also taking lessons over the summer, just so I can learn proper technique, and not develop bad habits that are hard to break, etc…

So you figure that if anything, the Zephyr would be better/easier for learning skills and taking lessons than the Saranac? Is this because the Zephyr is better/tighter fit than the saranac, more reponsive to user input, or is the saranac more on the rec side than the Zephyr?


All of the users with the exception of one, ( who is 5"9" or 5’10" and 160-185 lbs) will be at least 6’ and 170 to 200 lbs

Fit will be unique in each Wilderness
Systems model, so don’t assume that because the Zephyr fit you well, that all other W. S. sea/touring kayaks will fit you just as well. The cockpit fit of the the different models can vary greatly.

Zephyr 16 probably has 2’ more skin
friction (longer waterline, but width pretty similar), which may account for your impression that it didn’t feel as fast as the Saranac 14.

More skin friction usually means more work to keep it going as slower speeds.

With higher effort, the Zephyr 160 would seem faster and the Saranac would seem to hit a “wall” sooner, where more effort would not yield more speed.

I love my Zephyr.

– Last Updated: May-07-12 7:02 PM EST –

But given your size and weight I wonder if you might prefer, and fit better, in the 15.5. I have paddled the 15.5 and it did not have enough volume for me - but I am 5'10" 245Lbs. The 16.0 works better for me. But surprisingly I was able to fit in the 15.5 - it was a little snug but not too bad. If I was down to 200Lbs I think I would probably select the 15.5. The 16.0 fits me well - with room to spare - at 245. I am a new kayak paddler but I have a lifetime of paddling experience in open tripping boats and I found the Tsunami boring. The Zephyr will last me a good long while - maybe forever. If I was going to paddle long trips in a Kayak I would get a bigger boat - but for day paddling and weekends - the Zephyr is absolutely wonderful.

As far as speed goes, while my Zephyr is 16 feet it has more rocker than many other boats which might slow is down a bit I suppose compared to other 16 foot touring boats. I think it moves along just fine but I have not compared it to other boats.

Yes, im trying out the 15.5 Zephyr in a week or two…I sat in one but still have to test paddle…it felt like a good fit. I’m also going to try out a few Boreals.

I just found out that i have been invited on a 3 day trip in June and another in August with some old acquaintances. One has a CD Solstice, and the other a 170 Tempest. They are not aggressive paddlers, if I get the Zephyr, will I be able to keep up with them without going full out for hours ?

Saranac 14.5 RIP

– Last Updated: May-08-12 12:12 PM EST –

The Saranac 14.5 has been replaced with the Saranac 15, a new Yost design which is a little less boxier, a little "hotter" hull. Consequently, we're comparing apples to oranges to some other fruit that no longer exists.

Saranac 14.6 RIP

– Last Updated: May-08-12 12:30 PM EST –

Good Thing cause I owned one and found it to be a dog with not much glide. Patiently waiting for a Saranac 14 which I tested last Summer. A couple weeks ago I took a little paddle in Zephyr 15.5 pro. The boat tracked nice but it was a bear to turn similar to the QCC 400 I had without using the rudder.

re the zephyr

– Last Updated: May-08-12 12:35 PM EST –

All of the above. You need a less loose fit and lower deck to make skills easier to learn, the zephyr is hugely better on both than the saranac. The tempest can also be good if it not too big a volume, but you haven' t said which one it is. The zephyr is the most maneuverable, which can make it easier for turning technique.

Which one

As far as which one, Im not sure yet. I am going back to the kayak shop in a week or so ( 2 hrs away ) and am going to try both the Tempest 165 and 170 (along with the Z 155). On paper the 165 seems like a tight fit, but ya never know till you try it.

not my experience
I’ve only demoed the smaller Zephyr, but had no trouble turning it with a bit of an edge.

The Poly 160 I demoed last Saturday I found pretty easy to turn…

Seems slow — misperception
Often a faster boat will seem slow because it is quieter and has less of a wake. Without a GPS can you tell if you are going 3.5 vs 4 mph? I’d borrow a GPS before I decided for sure that one boat was slower than another. To make it really the same you would be better off to use a GPS and a heart rate monitor, but not very many compare boats that way.

I’d say you’ll not outgrow the Zephyr’s capabilities and you already like the comfort so go for it!

For me boat comfort is very very important, and as you spend longer days on the water or do multi-day trips you may feel that way too.

Think about the Swift Kiwassa
The 14.6 is the largest of the Saranacs; I don’t know what size your friends or daughter are, but if the boat’s too big for them they’ll get blown around more because they’ll have too much freeboard (I have the same problem with my Boreal Ellesmere, I’m just too light for it). Also, if a kayak is too deep, you have to keep your arms more elevated for the paddle to clear the coaming, which is extremely tiring, especially for smaller paddlers.

You might be better off keeping the Saranac for yourself. You might consider the Swift Kiwassa, which comes in three lengths and accomodates a huge range of body sizes. When we closed our shop, I kept three 12.6 Kiwassas specifically as guest boats because they’re so easy to paddle and so versatile. They track well, turn easily, have bow & stern bulkheads & perimeter lines for safety, and are fun for beginners and experienced paddlers. I intend to use one of mine for surfing this summer.

My son (6’2") and I (5’4") took two of them on a tidal river Sunday, with a fairly stiff breeze, and they’re really a joy to paddle. You’re in Swift territory, so you could probably find one to demo pretty easily. Anyway, just a suggestion.

Tempest 165
When you demo it remember that the seat can be moved back a couple of inches. Aaaahhhh… perfect.

Holy Cow this

– Last Updated: May-08-12 6:51 PM EST –

is exactly opposite of my experience. I find the Zephyr extremely easy to turn - tracking ok. Maybe you had the skeg down and didn't realize it?


Yes, one of my biggest criteria is comfort…I find the seats in the Saranac a little plain …that and the loose fit seem give me a stiff back and legs after a while

Trilliumlake, Waterbird…

Yes, I am in the heart of Swift country…a few hours from one of the factories actually. The only problem with getting another Swift is that the old thermoformed plastic (called Trylon) is not available anymore…the bottom of the line material now used in Swift kayaks is called Hybrid Fusion. The Kiwassa starts at $2400 new in this material. the smaller 14 saranac starts at $2700.

The odd used or demo trylon comes up every now and then… usually $1600 and up, even a few years old. We have an Adirondack that beginners can use for now…but will upgrade it to a used small 14’ saranac or whatever is light when I see the right deal come up…I still want a couple of light kayaks ( my Saranac and another light 14’ ) for doing a couple of rivers we have nearby with lots of portages ( portages with boulders and obstacles…light is nice)

As far as the extra kayak, I want to get something more advanced, with more comfort, better fit, more challenge etc. and lend the saranac out…and probably next year get one more advanced kayak ( if I get lots of overtime at work )

As I mentioned before, most of my friends are at at least 6’ 170-200 lbs…daughter is 5’10" 160. They are all athletic.

I dont know what the Kiwassa is like, but I find the Saranac handles pretty good overall. I’ve had it out on some pretty rough stuff on a big lake and lived to tell about it. It handled pretty good, even without a skeg or rudder and i didnt get pushed or blown around too much (maybe its the protein shakes and coffee I have before i go).

The Eddylines look nice…no dealers in Canada I dont think

I know all about raising the skeg as I have had skeg boats before. When I mentioned it was difficult to turn to the owner he confirmed my appraisal.