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Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 

The Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 was my first expedition Kayak.  I bought it second hand from a Craig's List ad. The photos looked pretty, and so I drove up to Melbourne Florida to see it. The man selling it lived in a mobile home park, I don't remember his name, but he had a short diamond white beard, silvery gray hair, and his face was wrinkled like a pug, from what must have been many years of direct exposure to the sun; he either paddled a lot of miles in his youth, or had a rough life. It's probable  it was the later.  His living room was a dirty mess, there were fruit juice cans on the floor, the TV playing Fox News was propped up with magazines, and the futon looked like it hadn't been dusted in years. The air had a strong smell of cigarettes which I soon discovered originated from the man's wife, who seemed excited I was there. "You're gonna buy it, right?" she said in between puffs. 

I had a feeling the old man wasn't selling the kayak because he wanted to; this was probably one of his few distractions from an unpleasant existence, but money problems only scream louder the longer you ignore them. I paid his asking price of $900 and gave him an extra $50 for gas so he would drive it down to Miami for me. His wife was thrilled.

Wilderness Systems Tempest 170

First Impressions

At 17 feet, the Tempest 170 is a long kayak. It's torpedo shaped with a round hull and a low deck.  It is made to go fast, but also carry a of of gear for a long camping trip.  If you are entering the sport, this the boat to get. It is stable and forgiving to beginners, but also edges well, rolls easily, is maneuverable, and will catch the waves in the surf. You will grow with this kayak. It gave me many fond memories. I learned to roll with it, I learned to surf with it, and I went on my first multiday expedition with it.


I would say this boat is like your first girlfriend you actually liked. As you go through life you will remember the first time you paddled it, and how different and better it felt from everything else that had come before. 

Cargo Capacity

The Tempest 170 has a lot of cargo space in the 3 hatches. The back hatch is oval shaped so it will be the best place to store bulkier items such as the tent and a dolly. It will also be easier to store the tent poles towards the back, as they can fit in between the spaces around the skegg box. The area behind the seat is also a very usable space for a water bag which is heavy, but will be near the lowest point in the boat, and will increase stability. 


Speed and Tracking

As I noted, the torpedo shape of the boat means that it is designed to go fast, and you should notice a considerable improvement if you are upgrading from a sit on top kayak. The boat tracks well and is responsive to edging, however, you will need to use the skegg in strong cross winds to avoid weather cocking. 


Maneuverability and Surfing

As with most boats designed for speed, there is some tradeoff at the expense of maneuverability. The Tempest does edge well and you can do all of the main edge turns, with it, but it won't be quite as agile as a Delphin or a Sterling Reflection. When surfing  I found that it is somewhat difficult to hold a course down the wave in part because the boat does not have much chine in the hull to carve into the wave, and any deviation from  perpendicular will quickly be amplified if you don't correct it quickly. It's possible to surf well with this kayak, and on small waves, you wont have issues,  but if you get into 6 to 10 foot breaking waves, be prepared with a solid brace for the broach, and to roll a lot.  If you learn to surf diagonally down a wave with this boat, you will be able to do it on any boat.



The round hull and low back deck make this kayak very ideal to learn how to roll. Some kayaks with sharp chines can be  difficult to roll because they have a tipping point which must be crossed to have the kayak complete the roll. However, with a round hull, the roll is a smooth and continuous movement. 


As with most most rotomolded boats, you will find that the hull may become soft, if you leave the boat in, strong sunlight, or under compressive stress such as on a car rack for a prolonged stretch. This however, is not a permanent issue, as the material has a natural memory for its shape, and will immediately return to it once cooled. The rotomolded plastic also has the great benefit that you will likely never bang this boat so badly that it will ever need repairs. You could throw it out of a window from a high rise and it would be perfectly usable, if but a little scratched. If you drop this boat on the ground when you take it off your car rack, it will forgive you. If you bang a boulder when you're rock gardening, it will forgive you. If a barrel wave dumps you hard on a pebbled beach, it will forgive you. If you get rammed by another kayak in the surf, it will forgive you. The same cannot be said for a fiberglass or carbon composite boat. Learn how to handle your boat with this boat before you invest some serious money on a top of the line model.

Kayak Sailing

I added a Falcon Sail to my Tempest 170. While it does work well I would note that because the boat is made of rotomolded plastic, you may find that on very strong winds the base mount will cause the deck to deform (and this may occur even if you added an adapter block to spread the load). This is especially the case when you are on a beam reach or sailing somewhat upwind . If that is happening, then I'd put down the sail. It's not worth risking the thing break on you. I have not noticed this happening when I am sailing downwind, even in very strong 20 knot winds. I would not use the sail on any conditions with winds stronger than 20 knots.


The seat is arguably the best feature of the Tempest 170. The knee pads are soft, the back band is easily adjustable, and the front of the seat can be raised so that your legs are supported and won't tire from being in the same position. My personal record is 14 hours in this boat without ever getting out on an all day run from Miami to Key Largo. Neither my back legs, or feet ever felt strained. I wish that other kayak builders would understand that comfort in a kayak is the defining aspect of the paddling experience. If that isn't good, then nothing else will matter. The Brits are really bad about this. Their seats are so bad, you could add razor blades to make them more comfortable.

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