A couple of years ago, I spent an entire day at a well-known kayak shop helping a friend (okay, fine, my mom) demo boats. She wanted her first kayak to feel lively without being a lot of work, and to inspire confidence now without restricting her down the road. We paddled every available style on the racks, but I wasn’t surprised by her final choice: the Wilderness Systems Tempest 165.

Wilderness Systems
Tempest 165 Specs
Length: 16’6”
Width: 21.5”
Weight: 55 lbs
MSRP: $1,599

Go far and wide with the Tempest

The Tempest 165 is the smallest member in Wilderness Systems’ venerable trio of skeg touring kayaks. Adventure Kayak reviewed the Tempest 170 Pro when it was brand new almost a decade ago (Early Summer 2003), and since then the series has earned a reputation as some of the most capable expedition kayaks on the market. Kip Keen and Zac Crouse paddled Tempests 2,400 kilometers around Newfoundland in 2006, and Crouse chose the same boat for his 2011 Paddle to the Ocean expedition beginning on the Ottawa River’s class IV rapids.

[ See also: Paddle To The Ocean Official Trailer With Zac Crouse ]

Classic design, modern comfort

In 10 years the design has remained unchanged save a few minor outfitting updates like Wilderness Systems’ domed, water-shedding hatch covers. Proof that there’s no sense in changing something that works (and damning evidence that Wildy’s R&D team spends more time paddling boats than shaping them).

Cruising speed, tracking and storage capacity are all exactly what you’d expect from a dependable expedition kayak. But even more impressive is the plush, armchair-comfortable cockpit outfitting. I’m typically a minimalist when it comes to outfitting—just give me a piece of foam to shape and I’m set—but my mom was smitten with the Tempest’s cushy seat, tilting leg support, adjustable hip pads and contoured thigh brace pads that install right where you need them. After a long day in the saddle, it’s hard to argue with this level of off-the-rack comfort.

Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 Cockpit

Deep pockets and hard chines

Tripping for two weeks on Lake Superior’s remote Pukaskwa coast alongside Mom in my low volume Brit boat, we both appreciated the generous storage capacity of her deep hatches (well, perhaps I appreciated it more than she).

Wilderness Systems was the first manufacturer to install whitewater-style outfitting in the cockpit of a sea kayak, and it works. Hard chines and a shallow V hull provide superb stability whether floating in a marsh with your SLR camera and birding lens, or carving an edge on a wave.

The past is a prologue for the Tempest 165

With a decade on the water and no signs of showing its age, the Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 has earned a berth among the classics of kayak design. If you’re not convinced by staying power, consider this: we wouldn’t recommend a boat to our moms that we wouldn’t recommend to everyone.

This article was first published in the Summer/Fall 2012 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives. 

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