Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 (courtesy, REI)

What’s the best boat for a beginner, recreational kayaker?

I’m a beginner kayaker and want to buy a boat for recreational purposes such as fishing and camping local lakes, rivers, and creeks. A Wilderness Systems kayak dealer recommended the Pungo 120 or the Tarpon 120. Which would you recommend? Jason Marion, Kentucky

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120

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I think you’re off to a good start with those two Wilderness Systems boats. The Pungo 120 ($700; www.wildernesssystems.com) is a rotomolded “recreational” kayak designed for most of the things you intend to do—paddle on lakes and calm rivers, do some fishing, enjoy yourself. It’s 12 feet long and weighs 49 pounds, manageable for one person. However, it doesn’t have a lot of storage space, so taking camping gear might be problematic. The Tarpon 120 ($700) is the same length but a little heavier. While the Pungo has a shallow cockpit, the Tarpon is a sit-on-top design, which some people find more comfortable and easier to manage. The Tarpon has adequate storage for overnight gear and fishing rods. Look into the Tarpon 140 ($775) for a slightly larger boat that tracks better, has better speed, and can easily handle gear for three or four days out on the water.

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120

I’d also encourage you to look at two other boats. One is the Perception Carolina 13.5 ($800; www.kayaker.com). It’s sort of a miniature touring boat—a very appealing little craft that’s versatile, comfortable, and easy to paddle. It has two hatches for gear and will take an optional Yakima rudder for better directional control. Finally, Dagger’s Blackwater 12 ($700; www.dagger.com) has attributes similar to the Wilderness Systems boats; it’s comfortable and can handle a wide variety of tasks from fishing to photography to camping. Kayaks are kind of like shoes—one size doesn’t fit all—so try several to see what’s best for you.

The votes are in: Check out the winners of Outside‘s 2006 Gear of the Year awards, including the year’s hottest kayak.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: courtesy, REI