Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 v. Tsunami 165

Tempest 170 v. Tsunami 165

So yesterday I got a great deal on a Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 (plastic) in great condition. I took it for a 4-mile paddle last night and thought I’d share my first impressions.

I’ve owned and paddled a Tsunami 165 for more than a decade. I’ve paddled hundreds of miles in the Tsunami so am intimately familiar with it. It’s been a great boat and I’ve been happy with it. I wanted a second boat and was curious to get something a bit more high-performance.

The difference between these two boats is IMO marginal. Anyone who thinks they are night and day is grossly exaggerating. I’ve often heard people disparage the Tsunamis as being a “pig” of a boat, which is just flat-out wrong. I can easily paddle 4.5mph in the Tsunami even when loaded with 35lbs of gear.

The width of these boats is not that different: 22" for the Tempest, 23.75" for the Tsunami. I’m 5’10" and weigh 215lbs, and the fit for me in the Tempest is snug but comfortable. I definitely have more room in the Tsunami (both around the hips and for my legs), but I didn’t feel cramped in the Tempest and still had plenty of foot room.

The Tempest is tippier—I noticed this when I first got into the boat. Lower initial stability…but the secondary stability is excellent: once leaned over, the Tempest just sits there comfortably (and doesn’t keep going til you’re upside-down). The Tsunami’s initial stability is much better. Once I started paddling, I quickly got comfortable with the Tempest and didn’t feel its tippiness at all.

The other obvious difference for me with the Tempest was the lack of a rudder. (The Tsunami has a rudder.) As with so many other things, there are a lot of knee-jerk opinions about rudders versus skegs. Yes, there are some good arguments against rudders (the wind catches them, it’s hard to do a cowboy-style re-entry from the stern, etc.)…but there is one HUGE benefit to a rudder: you can focus 100% of your energy into paddling forward and not expend calories with leaning and steering strokes.

I’m a former whitewater slalom racer so leaning and turning strokes are a non-issue for me…but I can say without hesitation: on the same 4-mile loop I’ve done hundreds of times in my Tsunami, I expended more energy in the Tempest just steering—energy that would have been used exclusively for moving forward in my Tsunami. IMO this additional energy expense tends to reduce any speed advantage the Tempest has over the Tsunami. My average speed on this loop in the Tsunami is 4.6mph…and in the tempest it was 4.8mph. Faster, but not hugely faster. (And that included paddling upwind into 2-3 foot waves for half the loop.) Also, at 215lbs I’m a bit “heavier” in the Tempest (max capacity of 325lbs) than I am in the Tsunami (max capacity of 350lbs). So again, this may reduce the Tempest’s speed advantage a bit.

I experimented with paddling with the skeg up and down, and it definitely helps! The Tempest tracks pretty well without the skeg…but I quickly decided I wanted the skeg deployed all the time (because it reduced the need for steering strokes and leans). Many paddlers seem to think that there is something superior to doing steering strokes and leans; I disagree—all they do is detract from your forward speed and endurance. Yes, it’s important to know how to do steering strokes and leans…but that doesn’t mean you should do them all the time.

None of this is to knock the Tempest; I really enjoyed paddling it! And overall, just paddling forward, it felt very similar to (if not identical) to paddling my Tsunami. And yes, I’m sure the more I paddle it, the more the steering strokes and leans will become second-nature (but they’ll still use more energy than only paddling forward with a rudder for steering).

Bottom line is that the Tempest 170 and Tsunami 165 are both very good, highly-capable kayaks. I don’t think anyone could go wrong with either of them. And if your goal is to do long-distance, expedition-style kayaking, it would be a mistake to think the Tsunami isn’t capable of that. It absolutely is! (On a side note, I’d love to paddle a Tsunami 175, but I rarely see or hear about those—it seems like not many were made?) Yes the Tsunami is higher volume and a bit wider, but it’s not a pig at all. Its width and volume are assets.


@Onski326 will be pleased to hear your report. It’s essentially what he has been asking. For the past few years, I’ve picked my 145 Tsunami, because it’s lighter to transport, and I can track a straight line with it by just edging. I started using the 175 Tsunami this season after a few trips with uncharacteristic wind gusts that gutted my speed to around 3.8 mph. I pulled the 175 out of mothballs because it bridges waves better.

I can now say that 145 works well from flat conditions through winds under 10-15 mph, gusting up to 20 mph. Above that and the speed drops radically by close to .7 mph due to the bow flying and plunging between wave peaks. That’s with 350 lb max cap and my weight of 235 lbs, no spray skirt. Working harder with a spray skirt could mitigate some speed loss, but mostly, the 145 walllows in thevtrough of the passimg wave, mych like the effect of hitting hull speed. The longer 175 will experience the a speed drop from the same effect with wind sustained speeds above 15 mph, gusting to 30 mph, without a spray skirt. Craig and I had no problem sustaining between 4.9 and 5.8 mph for extended periods, and the conditions were mild enough to have little influence on performance.

Your comment about the skeg vs rudder is good info. Although the 145 Tsunami is controllable by edging alone under the favorable conditions mentioned above, it becomes tiresome as conditions worsen. The 175 can tract straight under mild conditions, but the greater rocker makes it fairly unmanageable as conditions increase intensity. As you pointed out, I also reach a cutoff where the rudder is deployed because its easier than fighting for control, whether going with, against, or perpendicular to conditions. @E.T was seeking similar information as @Onski326 about the 170 Tempest. Both manage fairly well, but I believe haven’t hit the potential of the boat.

Agree that the Tsunsmi is no pig. It’s an extremely capable boat and rock stable in most open water. I’ve never used a spray skirt, felt uneasy in waves, or felt the least bit tippy. The only problem with roto-molded plastic is the weight, but they’re nearly indestructible. The seats are excellent, but I had to attach a surgical clamp to the seat strap to keep the seat back from slipping (might retrofit a backband style backrest).

Thanks for the detailed explanation.

I have used zip ties in my feel free Aventura to keep the seat from slipping. Not elegant, but effective.

I plan to stitch it but the stainless steel clamp works and I’m too lazy to get the needle and thread. Good tip for others who have a problem.