Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120
Original Review: April 3, 2019
One of the best balanced "all around" kayaks available.
* See my review of the 2020 updated Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 below. *
- Tracks well
- Turns easily
- Hatches leak
The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 is not marketed as a lightweight boat, so I'm not going to deduct points because it's heavy, but know that it is. The hatch covers look super cool, but I've yet to know one that doesn't leak. So now you know the bad. Now let's talk about the good.
The seat is adjustable three different ways while you're sitting in it and offers one of the driest rides in the business. No sitting in a puddle. These attributes help make long days on the water even more enjoyable. Most people find the seat very comfortable, myself included.
While there are five pre-molded locations to mount things like fish finders, a compass, rod holders, camera mounts, etc; there is simply no need to cut and drill the hull to do so because of the Slide Trax Accessary Rails which allow countless mounting options for pretty much anything. So it's quite adaptable for photography, fishing, videography, sails, etc.
It's stable, tracks extremely well, and turns easily; with just a little practice if you're new to the sport. It fares pretty decently in the wind. These attributes make it great for traversing distances. It's also pre-equipped to accept lots of different rudder kits which can be handy in the wind, floating on rivers, and for photography...but a rudder is certainly not necessary.
It has ample storage compartments sides and center and they're located perfectly within reach for snacks, gear, water bottle; you name it. A large rear tank well and front hatch offer more than enough stowage for multi-day camping adventures...just remember to put anything you don't want getting wet in dry bags.
Finally it's a roto-molded, plastic boat, which though heavy, is virtually indestructible. The plastic used is top quality and you can expect it to last a lifetime with minimal care. Wilderness Systems markets it as a well rounded, do anything play boat, and that's how I'm reviewing it. It's not the "best" fishing boat, most "efficient", or lightest boat. What it is, is a fantastic and well balanced "do it all" boat with a great feature set. While the hatches do leak, I feel the pros are too strong to let that one con drag the score down. Dry bags are cheap, that's what they're made for, and Wilderness Systems does not market the storage as water tight.
To me and compared to other like boats, this is a five-star offering; 4.8 if I'm being picky.
I've been kayaking for many years. Kayaks are one of the most specialized water craft on the planet. I own and have owned all kinds of roto-molded, thermo-molded, and composite kayaks. I currently and probably always will own a Tarpon 120 and a Tarpon 140 among the other kayaks in my fleet. For camping and trashing about on the rocks they can't be beat. My Tarpon 120 is about 10 years old (three so far with me) and despite the previous owner leaving it to bake in direct sunlight when not in use, it's still in great condition. In fact it looks almost as good as my 10 year old Tarpon 140, which I purchased new and have always stored out of the sunlight.
Update: July 16, 2020
*Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 2020 Version*
Marketed as an improvement over the original, this boat is anything but...
- Comfortable Seat
- Tracks Straight
- Easy to Turn
- Looks Cool
- Limited Storage
- No Center Hatch
- Leaky Front Hatch
- No Rear Bungee Cords
- Side Cubbies Not Covered
It is with great sadness I write this review. The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 and Tarpon 140 kayaks used to be the best all around roto-molded polyethylene kayaks on the planet. They were extremely functional tools that struck a fine balance between fishing and touring, stability and glide. Read my reviews on those to see just how highly I regard them.
Wilderness systems was once a great company. They had a great parts department and wonderful customer support. Since they've been bought out, that's gone. Not only will their website direct you to look elsewhere if you need parts for your Wilderness Systems products, they have also stopped manufacturing spare parts all together. So existing inventories at third party retailers are all that is left; and they're both quickly disappearing and overpriced.
So what's the problem with the new 2020 model you ask? Lets start up front with the newly designed Orbix hatch. It's flimsy compared to the original, more difficult to open and close, and leaks just as bad. I wouldn't expect the hinges to last very long if you indeed use the thing. These were actually implemented prior to the 2020 model, and are easily identified by the "pierced ears" that butt up against the likewise pierced latches. I guess you're supposed to be able to put a lock through there to secure the hatch but a thief would simply twist and break it off, so it's basically a useless feature and also gets in the way of operation. In fact, the overall quality of workmanship of the entire boat declined at the same time those hatches were introduced, but I digress...
Moving on to the center hatch. Wait, there isn't one. Gone is the roomy center hatch in favor of their "DryTec Case" integrated dry box. This thing is a total joke. You can purchase better ones at Walmart for $12, and you could have easily fit half a dozen of them in that deleted center hatch. You will no longer be able to take this kayak on extended camping adventures due to the lost storage midship. Instead you get a box big enough for your wallet, keys, and a phone.
Also gone are the webbed covers over the side cubbies. These kept your sunblock, snacks, etc. from going into the river if you capsized. Now should you go over, you're just going to have to make it the rest of the way without them.
Speaking of losing everything, the adjustable rear bungees have also been stricken from the new model. What's replaced them is basically useless at keeping an actual load, like gear filled dry bags, secure in a tip over... but hey, they have given you a "MagnaTec" magnetic water bottle holder, so at least you'll still have that plastic water bottle after you loose all of your gear. Sadly, you no longer have versatile and adjustable mounting options behind the seat for things like your GoPro and rod holders, as the slide trax have been taken away. Now you'll have to just pick a permanent spot and drill to mount those.
Finally the soft rubber handles have been replaced with hard ones. I find the hard handles painful to use compared to the old rubber ones, but maybe that's just me. They did add a sacrificial skid plate for dragging your boat out of the water, which was about the only improvement they could have made. It still has a comfortable seat and paddles well. For these reasons I gave it two and a half stars, though I did struggle with that half a star quite a bit.
The previous model (see my review above) was an incredibly useful tool. It had lots of secure storage for extended camping trips and lots of mounting options for fishing accessories, cameras, etc. The new model isn't much more than a glorified pool toy at a very high price point. Because of all those aforementioned features that have been stripped away, the original was worth what it cost. In my opinion, this one is not. If you're looking for the best all around sit on top kayak to actually use for adventures, get yourself a used Tarpon 120 or 140... just remember to avoid the ones with the crummy "pierced ear" hatches and avoid this one altogether. Note: Just to clarify, the purchase price listed is what I paid for my older T120 in the original review. I borrowed the 2020 model just to check it out.
I am an avid kayaker who loves paddling, camping, restoring used boats, and introducing others to the sport. I own an older Tarpon 120 and 140 among other kayaks, and probably always will. I have personally refurbished 15 or more Tarpon 120 and 140 kayaks of all ages in addition to many others.
Source: borrowed it
Price Paid: $650
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Current Retail: $1,189.00-$1,299.00
Historic Range: $703.20-$1,299.00