Upgrading Kayaks

Hello all,

Im new(er) to kayaking this year, have about 12 trips under my belt with a Pelican Mission 100 from Costco and I’m looking to upgrade. Most of my paddling has been done in creeks both small and large, I have dabbled a bit in the lake at my trailer (Buckhorn Lake in Ontario, Can). I don’t really plan on hitting the great lakes much but if I do it will be Lake Ontario and maybe around Toronto Island.

I am 5’11, 250lbs (plan on dropping during winter to 200-220 hopefully), 40 wasit and i believe 32" inseam.

Im looking at Wilderness Systems and I’ve been looking at the used market. I plan on going to the local outfitters that I believe have most of these models in stock to test in water.

Here are the models I’ve found used in my price range and reading reviews may be suit for me or borderline.

-Tsunami 140 (tested one on land, fit well but definitely harder to get in the cockpit but once in it seems good maybe a little tight)

-Tsunami 145 (seems it may be a little bigger cockpit which may suit me a little better than the 140)

-Tsunami 175 (this model seems interesting but also the information and threads on this model are not in as much abundance as the previously listed models. But the ones I’ve read it seems like a good model for those who like stability and to take pictures)

-Tempest 170 (this seems to be the cherry on the top that everyone wants and suggest. Less stability for primary so how well does it do in creeks? I wouldn’t have to upgrade from it but I also feel the T175 is a huge upgrade as is) I don’t know if I’d fit in the cockpit. No 180 models around. I can get this in poly or fibreglaas as sellers have both.

All other models are poly. All models except the T170 fiberglass have rudders while the T170 has a skeg.

Weight isn’t a huge issue as I have a Hullavator to help with that.

Is a 17.5ft kayak really needed for someone who is new and doing smaller lakes (that can get rough) or would the 14ft and 4.5ft models be sufficent?

I’ll be taking a course with KayakOntario level 1, any kayak with 2 bulkheads will work for this. Level 2 however requires a boat lenght of 16ft or more so you keep up with the group. Apparently anything smaller will not keep up to pace, but they do rent then.

Any advice would be appreciated, I research and will continue to do so. Hopefully one of these used models near me will fit the bill.


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I had dabbled in whitewater kayaking in college…20 years later my friend moved on the Rum River in MN and bought a Pungo 140, a Carolina, and a kayak that I referred to as the turtle due to it’s short wide body 9ft long 33in beam. It was as fast as a turtle and spun 30 degrees with each paddle stroke. My friend says “you should get a kayak”.

I had been salivating over long sleek sea kayaks prior to his suggestion and saw his nudge as the reason to pull the trigger. I spent a couple weeks trying different sea kayaks and placed my order. A month later my 18ft Carbon Necky Tahsis arrived from the factory in British Columbia.

I never told my friend what i was buying and when he saw me pull up with it his words were “holy @#%!”. We spent several weeks paddling the entire Rum River section by section. In between sections I was sneaking up to Superior and Lake Michigan riding the rollers. I still have this kayak and will never part with it.

So in answer to your question about paddling smaller waters and creeks…is it really needed?..of course if you want to eventually do bigger water especially.

Fyi they are fun and fast. I will caution you on the ruddered models and on deck lines in creeks with a lot of strainers. There’s a lot to get hooked on so bring a paddle buddy on creeks with lots of strainers that you can’t avoid. Wider rivers are not a problem.

November Paddle on the St Croix River Danbury WI


Without a doubt get in and test paddle any boat, if at all possible. What we say about how they should fit may not match with how your body wants to fit in a boat.

A shorter boat will generally turn easier. Longer boats generally go straight easier and are faster (particularly if narrower). For the smaller creeks, a shorter boat often is preferred so that you can maneuver in the smaller space. For group paddles, you need to roughly match what the others are using so you have the best chance of maintaining the group pace.

Sounds like these two facts may be in conflict for you.

Why only Wilderness Systems? If the 16’ minimum (and faster pace group paddling) isn’t a requirement, a sister company to Wilderness Systems is Dagger, and they make the Dagger Stratos 14.5L which you may find a decent option. I have and love. I am 230 lbs with 32" inseam. For longer boat, I do like the Tempest 170. Not that familiar with the Tsunamis.

Tempest 170 is not at all unstable for a sea kayak. That said, I am not sure what you mean by creeks. If you are talking moving water a sea kayak is not your friend. I suspect though that it is just newness to sea kayaks, The course will take care of that.

The problem with kayaks under 16 ft and change is that those boats hull designs and overall features are generally less effective in difficult open water conditions than the shorter ones. For lots of reasons whcih the course should be more help with than reading here. Like Lake Ontario can get.

If you are considering a course, rent a boat that they suggest for you.

The challenges of a Sea Kayak in a small creek. We hit a small dam and beyond that multiple downed trees and decided to turn back. For the record the rec kayaks didn’t get any further. I had to go backwards because the creek was narrower than the length of my kayak.

@KayakMac, we’re similar in size, weight and share an interest in the same boats. I started kayaking in rec boats. I’m 6 ft tall and approaching 72 yrs old this month. When I first started kayaking around 2000, I was around 255 lbs. The 140 Pungo was my first long boat. It served me well on the Upper Chesapeake Bay, but I needed an enclosed cockpit for open water trips.

The 125 Tsunami seemed like a good compromise with it 26 inch width. It proved as stable as the 28 inch wide Pungo but was more seaworthy. However, the short length made it climb and plunge when paddling into higher waves. At 255 lbs, I was overloading the 300 lb max capacity (the point where the boat is on the verge of flotation). A better estimate is using 60 to 66% of the maximum capacity for safe load calculation (180 lbs to 198 lbs total). With the 125 Tsunami riding deeper in the water, high waves from the rear quarters would slap occasionally on my kidneys.

I stepped up to the 145 Tsunami. The 24.5 inch width gave plenty of room in the cockpit, and it still felt as stable as the the Pungo. Although the 350 lb maximum capacity increased the safe load to between 210 - 231 lbs, I still overloaded the boat. The ability to handle conditions improved significantly when I dropped from 255 lbs to around 230 lbs.

By reducing my body weight, the 145 Tsunami now performs similar to the 175 Tsunami. I bought the 175 for harsher conditions - the 24 inch beam offers ample width without any change in stability; the cockpit is drier in heavy waves because it bridges the peaks; the 400 maximum capacity also increases the safe load to 240 - 265 lb; the increased waterline length give it about a .4 mph speed advantage on similar trips compared to the 145. However, the advantages of a longer waterline comes with a handicap - the extra weight of the longer boat displaces more water adding a slight drag penalty. Although the length helps with tracking in flat water, high winds and cross currents exert greater forces on the 3 feet of additional length. In the past, I resorted to using the rudder during about 20% of the trip. The drawback is that the rudder reduces speed by about .4 mph.

My preferred boat remains the 145, especially now that I’m 25 lbs lighter. I want to take the 175 out of mothballs but haven’t had a need, because the 145 now offers several advantages - the load waterline is now where it should be, consequently, it doesn’t take on water as easily as it did when I was heavier (equivalent to 3 gallons of water). That makes edging more effective, which negates the need for a rudder. The weight difference between the 145 (56 lbs) and 175 (68 lbs) is 12 lbs, so I’d rather not transport the additional weight with my worn out knees.

A word about rudders. My grand daughter is using a 12 ft x 21 inch SP Tsunami with rudder and has not deployed it. My other grand daughter uses a 140 Tsunami with rudder and hasn’t used it. My older sister has used her 140 Tsunami with rudder and has never used it. I’ve included these pictures in previous posts, but it shows typical conditions I encounter in 10 to 15 mph winds on the Bay. The wave picture is my 12 yr old grand daughter in a 12 ft SP Tsunami with her mother following in a 140 Pungo. The attached tracks for my 145 Tsunami were recorded under similar conditions. The red track shows the effectiveness of edging to stay on course, while the blue track relied only on straight paddling, with corrections using paddle strokes only.


These last two shots are tracks in a 145 Tsunami with rudder. I moved the seat back by 42mm, because I didn’t have enough room to put my feet on the footpegs and get my legs under the thigh braces; the moveable footpegs needed additional room to operate the rudder swing. Moving the balance point rearward made the boat uncontrollable without a rudder, causing it to veer radically off line when waves from behind pushed the boat to between 6.0 and 6.4 mph. The 145 has no need of a rudder if you learn edging.

Although I feel both the 145 and 175 Tsunami can handle open water, performance is far better if you’re in the 220 to 230 lb weight range. Although I have a spray skirt, I’ve never felt the need to use it.

Use caution when venturing into open water. It’s important that you know your abilities and limitations. Learn as much as you can about local conditions, and don’t paddle anywhere alone when you’re unfamiliar with the body of water or weather trends. When you venture into open water, away from safe points of landing, you must know how long it will take to reach safety if conditions turn unfavorable. Be aware that tide, wind, current or sudden storms will impact your known capabilities. Although the Upper Bay is only around 10 miles across at the widest point, winds from the Southeast to Southwest are radically different than from any other directions, especially when blowing overnight, and the current drives water over shoals, which can double wave heights locally.

You metioned Lake Ontario. Consult local kayakers who have experience on that waterway to better understand if the Tsunami is suited for area.

@KayakMac the 175 is too long for small feeder streams. However, the 145 is not a problem in streams of around 20 feet that narrow to as small as 3 ft, as long as you have enough draft. Hairpin turns can be managed with edging and sweep strokes by holding the paddle tip. At least the small salt marsh streams that I encounter at moderate to high tide have points that widen slightly. The surrounding wetland is usually just overgrown reeds (if you don’t mind spiders) which gives at least 6 feet additional turning room to back into. Around here, most rivers are tidal for several miles until they hit the fall line. Aside from the current outflow, that makes thrm navigable for several miles.

I wanted to buy a 170 Tempest years ago. With a 38 inch waist, I needed a boat that came with hip grease and a shoe horn, or at least 24 inch width. I bought the 175 Tsunami instead.


All very good information and I appreciate the time you took for the detailed information. I will take this all into consideration.

The Skeg vs Rudder debate is real, I’ve seen pro skeg, pro rudder and pro nothing. I guess in my eyes the rudder is a tool that is their IF you need it but if you dont have it and need it your SOL. I may never need one but I’m fixated on it and fear I’ll regret not getting one.

The Tsunami 175 feels like its the right boat from a specs stand point. 400lbs max load limit and with the 70% rule I’ve seen that gives a 280lbs performance weight.

I’m really torn between a 17ft vs 14/15ft and now after reading information I know the water line lenght is equally or more important.

Again thank you.

This is what I would be worried about, it would be nice to have a true sea kayak over the touring Tsunami 170 but the picks seem to be limited for bigger guys.

I’ve been suggested other Kayaks like Dagger or Perception but I’m more narrowed to Wilderness Systems.

This is all good information that will be helpful to take with me when I head to the shop to test some Kayaks out.

I don’t typically deploy my rudder. I like paddling without it for many reasons. But there are times when it’s been very handy. For instance the video I posted it was helpful to use the rudder to back down the small creek. It’s not a situation where leaning or sweep strokes would have been helpful.

Many times I’ve rounded a bend to find 40 mph winds pushing my kayak to weather cock. In big rollers I find it adds some stability and predictability. But 95% of the time I choose not to use it. Better to have that option when it’s needed.

I have two Tempest 170s, one in plastic and one older Kevlar one. I weigh about 170 lbs, so I can’t give good guidance about the fit for someone larger. But some things to note are that the Tempest comes with contoured hip pads that I found to be much too thick. The pads are held in with Velcro and a strap, and after removing them I have some extra hip room. I’ve seen pictures of used Tempest 170s for sale with missing hip pads, so perhaps many other uses remove them for extra room. The seat in the 170 is very configurable. With a strap system, you can lift or lower the seat pan under the thighs to get a more snug or roomier fit. The back band location can be adjusted with straps as well. But I’ve seen pictures of 170s with some of those straps misconfigured or missing, which of course ruins the great adjustability. So watch out for that if you try out a Tempest 170.

Another observation is that my Kevlar 170 has more rocker than the plastic one. The Kevlar boat “turns on a dime” and I’ve found it works well on creeks (of course, U-turns don’t work if the creek is less than 17 feet wide). The plastic boat doesn’t turn as well. I don’t know if the lack of rocker in the plastic boat is designed in, or just from the plastic boat sagging and flattening out in storage. My plastic boat was a freight damaged new boat that may have spent the first 1+ years of its existence stored on warehouse floors.

Overall, I find the Tempest 170 to be a comfortable paddling kayak. It’s quite stable and doesn’t really have any flaws. It does feel rather big for me at 170 lbs. I didn’t actively choose to get these 170s over something else. They were both just irresistible bargains that I thought I could have some fun with.

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I was 85 lbs heavier than 170 lbs. It felt like sitting in a spackle bucket. The now discontinued Zephyr was 23 inches. I didn’t fit in that either and didn’t see any removable parts. The sales clerk didn’t offer any suggestions.

I upgraded from an Elle 120xe to a Kestrel 140 Arialite.43# All the kayak I need for doing 10- 14 miles on rivers. For what you are paddling you dont need a 17’ kayak.
Stay in the used market & dont be affraid to drive 6 hrs to get what you want at your price point.