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Wilderness Systems Piccolo Review (Best Kids Kayak)

Posted by on June 13, 2012

The Deets:

Material: Roto-molded Polyethylene

Length: 13’6”

Width: 20.5”

Weight: 45lbs

Cockpit Size: 31 x 15 inches

Capacity: 175lbs

Optional Rudder

MSRP: $300-$500 Used


The Review:

Finding the right sized kayak for your child can be a challenging endeavor. One option is to simply stick them in an adult-sized kayak but this is ill-advised because the child will be swimming in all of the excess volume and will need to work too hard to keep up. Another option is to investigate the myriad of “toy” kayaks on the market that provide the proper fit for a season or two before that inevitable growth spurt kicks into high gear. Aside from being quickly outgrown, these small kayaks offer little in the way of performance and features for your child’s paddling skills to grow on. Yes, they may fit with respect to your child’s height and weight but their short relative length inhibits tracking and standard outfitting packages of these kayaks often leave out key features like thigh braces thus preventing the development of a solid lean and bracing skills.

Don’t be discouraged because there are some good kids-sized kayaks on the market (the Perception Acadia Scout comes to mind) but it’s clear that great kids-sized sea kayaks are few and far between. However, when I dip into my mental rolodex of “boats of yore”, one particular model jumps to the front of the class: the Wilderness Systems Piccolo. When I was working as an instructor at Coastal Kayak Educators we had a fleet of Piccolos and I’ve seen 100s of kids learn to paddle and fall in love with kayaking in this craft. I took my first paddle dippings in a Piccolo some 15 years ago too!

At 13ft 6in long and 20.5in wide this kid’s sea kayak sits firmly in the light touring class and boasts all of the key features of a standard sea kayak. These include integrated thigh braces, fore and aft bungees, a small “day hatch”, and an optional rudder (although it is hardly needed). Also, the molded cockpit rim easily accepts and tightly holds a spray skirt. The real beauty of the Piccolo is in its appropriately down-sized volume which provides the perfect fit for a pre-teen while maintaining desired performance. The Piccolo tracks as well as most light touring class boats and offers great primary and secondary stability. The roto-molded plastic is the “no-brainer” material choice as its supreme durability will take all of the abuse that a kid can throw at it (you should have seen the abuse these things took at CKE)! One thing to keep in mind is that the Piccolo has no bulkheads and little floatation so you must install bow and stern float bags to displace volume. The great features and handling characteristics of the Piccolo will provide the opportunity for your child to grow as a paddler.

The Piccolo is also a nice fit for smaller adults. I’m 5’6” and 130lbs and still barely fit in the Piccolo (although I over-power it quite a bit). My one gripe is that the front deck is very low thus pushing my inflexible legs down into a flat and rather uncomfortable position. If you can touch your toes then this shouldn’t be an issue for you. Considering that my height is at the upper reaches I’m not too surprised to experience a slight decrease in stability from what I experienced when paddling this craft as a child. If you’re any taller than me then you should check out the Wilderness Systems Alto which is the big cousin to the Piccolo and would offer a better fit with similar handling characteristics and outfitting.

Unfortunately, Wilderness Systems discontinued production of the Piccolo some time ago (Why must all great things come to an end??) but they do come up used for sale quite often. If you’re in the market for a kid’s sea kayak then you’d be smart to gobble up a used Piccolo if one becomes available in your area. Prices are typically in the $400-$500range which is totally worth every penny. I’m hoping to accumulate a small fleet of these puppies one day!

Final Verdict:

Stats: 13’6” long, 20.5” wide, 42lbs (roto-molded)

Pros: Excellent kid’s kayak, Appropriately scaled-down volume

Cons: Discontinued (available used), No flotation (use float bags)

Kayak Dave Rating:

9 Responses to Wilderness Systems Piccolo Review (Best Kids Kayak)

  1. Gregorio

    Dave – good post. I just found one for sale in the next town over from me. Seems WS replaced this with the Tsunami SP, which is 18 inches shorter. Do you have an opinion on the comparison as a kids boat? Does piccolo have the adjustable thigh braces found in the tsunami?
    thanks for thoughts –

    • arrudad

      Hi Gregorio:

      It’s true that Wilderness Systems now offers the Tsunami SP in their light touring lineup to cover the paddler weight range that was once in the realm of the Piccolo. Unfortunately there has not been a kid’s kayak comparable to the Piccolo (in terms of performance) ever since it was discontinued, by WS or other manufacturers. The Piccolo has a great hull-shape (stability, tracking and speed) and a form-fitting cockpit for kids. Otherwise it’s pretty bare-bones. It has molded thigh braces that are not adjustable and does not have hatches or bulkheads (float bags are necessary). The used Piccolo would be a great buy for you as it’s an excellent kids boat and should save you some money on a kayak that will eventually be outgrown anyway. Hope this helps and good luck with the kayak shopping!

      -Kayak Dave

  2. Berticus

    I picked up one of these on craigslist for $220 with rudder and I love it. It is a little small for me (5’9, 140 lb) and I have to take off my shoes in order to squeeze myself in it. Also I have to remove the foot pegs since their longest position is about 6 inches too close for me. I paddled 3 hours on the local river the past two days and had a blast. It is really light for carrying down to the water and easy to lift onto the top of my car rack. As Arrudad mentioned, it is not as stable for an adult but i’ve never rolled it. I recommend this boat highly if you can find one for sale in the classifieds. My other boat is a 17 ft which is faster, but also heavier. When i’m going for a short trip by myself, i go for the piccolo.

    • arrudad

      Hi Berticus:

      I’m very glad that you were able to locate a used Piccolo and are enjoying it. It’s a great boat! Others who are taller than us (or with larger feet) should consider the Wilderness Systems Alto. It’s the bigger brother to the Piccolo and offers a bit more room for taller folks. They’re also discontinued but will come up used every once in a while.

      -Kayak Dave

  3. Sigrid

    I couldnt agree more. I have found two used Piccolos and I they are perfect for kids to learn to paddle in. we have paddled in various conditions and my 9yo daughters had a good time. I was amazed how quickly and effortlessly they balanced an turned the boats. Sometimes I squeeze in them for short trips.
    Now my youngest daughter wants one too but I can’t seem to find any use ones in my area. I wish they would still make those instead of the “bathtubs” out there…
    Sigrid

  4. Nancy

    Hi Dave, I read your article (this one) and tried after on, for a week now, to fine one, and there is not one for sale in Canada (only in New Bedford… I called!!) I wonder if you could think of any other ones that would compare? My kid is 10 now, but small boy (57 lbs only)… He still fits in between my legs (in my Current Design Squall GTS)… but I would like him to paddle his own boat. My Oracle is too wide as well for him alone in it… any idea besides the so wanted Piccolo? I’m ready to drive 1000km to get a good boat… for him of course.
    Thanks,
    Nancy

    • arrudad

      Hi Nancy!

      It’s a bummer that there are no Piccolos available in Canada…However, you may have better luck finding a Wilderness Systems Tsunami SP which is probably the closest thing out there to a Piccolo. You can find more info on other great kids kayaks in my “Best Kayaks for Kids” article :)

      Good luck and Happy paddling!

      -Kayak Dave

  5. Nancy

    Thank you Dave, I did buy a WS Tsunami SP. Picking it up just before the snow season (next weekend) :) And thank you for the article, it was convincing.
    Nancy

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