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.
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 hull is flat for the most part, but it has a unique 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 similar to the Wilderness Systems Aspire 105, helping this relatively flush bottom to track and glide more efficiently. It glides well; it’s just not the best.
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 120 or 140. To improve tracking, it is also possible to add a rudder to the Tarpon by purchasing 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.
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.
Larger paddlers will easily fit in the Tarpon 105 but may consider a larger version 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.
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, it is easy to re-right after capsizing, 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.
Ease of Transport
One big benefit of having a smaller boat is that it can be loaded onto almost any vehicle. The smaller size of the Tarpon 105 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 still a bit 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 never noticed this weight on the water, but this heavy vessel is awkward to carry. You can’t balance it on your shoulder like some kayaks. The handles on the stern and bow are robust, and Wilderness Systems put soft rubber grips on the bow and stern handles to keep the webbing from digging into your hands while carrying.
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 Tarpon using the bow handle when you don’t have a buddy or kayak dolly.
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 contours beneath your thighs. They also had the foresight to use multi-sized holes in the special perforated foam padding to promote aeration and help the seat padding air out and dry quickly. This, along with the tight mesh covering, keeps your back safe from sweat and water that may splash inside. 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 the seat. The company spared no expense with 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 doesn’t mess around when building their high-density roto-molded linear polyethylene boats. You can tell from your first look at their kayaks that they want to produce crafts 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. 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 Tarpon 105 is 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.
Should You Buy the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105?
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.
What Other Kayaks Should You Consider?
The sit-on-top Tarpon 105 kayak offers great stability, comfort, and accessibility in a kayak that is also very maneuverable. In these respects, it is unmatched in our lineup. If you’d like better maneuverability and tracking in a lighter package, the Eddyline Skylark is another favorite of ours, though it doesn’t come cheap. And if you’d rather have a sit-inside kayak, the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 is one of the best you can get.