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Wilderness Systems Focus 145 Review

Posted by on November 15, 2013

Overview:

“The Focus delivers high performance versatility, blending the stability and predictability of the Tsunami with the speed and efficiency of the Tempest. Designed for “assertive” intermediate level paddlers looking to take their paddling skills—and their touring adventures—to the next level.” – Wilderness Systems

WS Focus 145

Wilderness Systems Focus 145 (Image Courtesy of Confluence)

The Deets:

Material: Polyethylene

Class: Light-Touring/ Fitness

Length: 14’6”

Width: 22.5’’

Deck Height: 14.25”

Cockpit Size: 19.5”x35”

Capacity: 275lbs

Weight: 48lbs

Hatches/Bulkheads: Bow and Stern

Rudder/Skeg: Optional Rudder

MSRP: $1419 standard, $1639 with rudder

 

The Review:

The Wilderness System Focus 145 represents a modern take on light-touring with this affordable, performance-oriented kayak. This racer-inspired design appeases those smaller, advanced-beginner paddlers “looking to take their paddling skills and touring adventures to the next level.” Its extended waterline, assertive stability profile, and optional rudder combine to deliver the tracking and speed necessary for fitness training. Moreover, its ability to handle multiple water conditions from flat water to light chop put those ambitious near-coastal day and over-night trips within reach! The Focus is available in 3 sizes (145, 150 and 155) to cover paddlers of all shapes and sizes.

WS Focus 145 Full

Alex and I first caught wind of the new-for-2014 Focus Series by Wilderness Systems in the weeks leading up to the annual EORA conference in Vermont. We were so excited to try this fitness-inspired kayak that we moved it all the way to the top of our demo list! As it turned out, Wilderness Systems was in a rush to get these prototypes to the dealers’ shows and had yet to dial in their manufacturing process. This resulted in the prototype Focus having far too much rocker and the terrible straight-line tracking performance that many of us experienced during these initial demos. It was a major bummer because we really wanted to like this kayak so that we could bring some into the shop in 2014…

WS Focus 145 Alex1

Thankfully, Wilderness Systems has since corrected the issues with their manufacturing process to produce a production Focus 145 that is all of the hype and more! The Focus 145 not only tracks well but it’s surprisingly quick for a polyethylene kayak and has confidence-inducing secondary stability to boot! I found that the Focus 145 tracked very well even without the rudder deployed in light-to-moderate winds (~8-10mph) and quartering seas. Deploying the over-stern rudder gains the fine directional control that one looks for in a fitness kayak. The racer-inspired, shallow-V hull also performed well in terms of speed and stability. It didn’t take much effort to get the Focus 145 up to and maintain a comfortable (and faster than average) cruising speed.

WS Focus 145 Alex2

Like most fitness kayaks, the Focus 145 sacrifices some primary stability for its speed. The secondary stability of the Focus 145, however, is quite impressive and should prove confidence-inducing for entry-level fitness paddlers assuming some prior paddling experience. I was a bit surprised by how well the Focus 145 maneuvers on edge and its quick response to brace turns. This makes me believe that the Focus 145 would also be a great choice for near-coastal day trippers looking for a kayak that can tuck into the coves and cover some ground in between!

WS Focus 145 Cockpit

I was equally impressed with the comfortable and functional cockpit outfitting included with the Focus 145. Generally, my marked inflexibility causes me to gravitate toward mid-sized kayaks thus sacrificing proper hull displacement for the comforts of a slighter larger (deeper) cockpit. I fully anticipated that I would feel shoe-horned into the smaller Focus 145 but this was not the case at all. The deck and adjustable thigh braces are positioned high enough to allow for solid leg-drive while fitness paddling but are never too far away to catch that all-important brace while touring. The keyhole entry is a little too narrow to allow for a “knees-up” fitness paddling position but I don’t feel like this is a bad thing considering the versatility of this kayak. Finally, I can’t say enough about the comfort of the Phase 3 AirPro XP seating system. Personally, I’m really happy that Wilderness went with a back band on the Focus series but folks will be happy to hear that it can easily retrofitted with an aftermarket Harmony Phase 3 AirPro seat-back kit.

WS Focus 145 Deck Pod

My biggest gripe with the Focus 145 is centered on the rudder control mechanism. The designers decided to go with the classic push-pedal-on-sliding-rails system over a gas-pedal system and I feel as though this was the wrong choice for this kayak. After all, the Focus 145 is a fitness-inspired kayak and one would expect that it would be ergonomically-designed to support a proper forward stroke with solid leg drive. This is not possible with a pedal-on-rails system as every time you drive against the pedals they will displace slightly which leads to over-steering. A gas-pedal system would allow the paddler to drive off of the static lower part of the pedals while providing fine control of the rudder with their toes. Rumor has it that Wilderness Systems is in the process of developing a gas-pedal system to compete with the Smart-trak Rudder System currently on the market. They expect this system to be released at OR2014 and plan to include it as the standard rudder control system in their 2015 Focus line.

Wilderness System Focus 145 (green) and Focus 150 (red)

Wilderness System Focus 145 (green) and Focus 150 (red)

Overall, I’m very happy with the way that the Focus 145 turned out! In my mind, the Focus family is well suited for advanced-beginner or fitness oriented paddlers looking to take their paddling skills to a new level at a price point that doesn’t break the bank. The speed and tracking of this kayak turned out to be exactly what I expected but what really blew me away was it’s amazing secondary stability and ability to maneuver on edge! The Focus’s ability to handle multiple water conditions to flat to light chop coupled with its speed make it an exciting option for those interested in taking longer, near-coastal day trips and short overnights too. All-in-all a great kayak that should get even better when Wilderness Systems releases their new performance rudder design in 2014!
Happy Paddling!

-Kayak Dave

 

Pros: Tracks well, Quick and efficient, Excellent secondary stability, Comfortable cockpit outfitting.

Cons: Rudder system is far from optimized, especially for fitness paddling.

Demo Notes: The Focus 145 was demoed on an inland lake with 8-10mph winds and 1ft waves. This review does not necessarily reflect how the larger models (Focus 150 and Focus 155) perform as the test-paddlers size made him a best fit for the 145.

Kayak Dave Rating:

4 paddles

3 Responses to Wilderness Systems Focus 145 Review

  1. Bryan Sarauer

    I was happy to read this review before ordering the Focus 145 for my family.

    I recently received our new Focus 145. Purchased for my daughter to use during family trips and for teenagers or petite women to use during the lessons I teach. It was intended to be a step up in size from the Tsunami SP the daughter had used in previous seasons. However, this kayak is more like 2 steps up in size from the Tsunami SP (a kid-sized kayak). I’m 6’3 and can fit my long legs into the cockpit with tons of room to spare. The bulkhead is well past the end of the footbraces., and in the stern the rear bulkhead is a rather large distance behind the seat, larger than I would like to see as the position of both bulkheads gives up valuable storage space and maximizes flooded cockpit volume. In fact, I am already considering moving the bulkheads, though in reality I will likely add some d-rings in front of the footbraces so a 15-20 L drybag can be securely stowed there. I could do likewise behind the seat.

    So far the kayak has only been used in the pool and only by my daughter (she was happy with her new kayak!). I am happy with it overall, in terms of finish. I just may be doing some outfitting mods to better suit my needs.

    Cheers,
    Bryan

  2. Doug

    I just used my Focus 155. Great kayak! I am 6′ 185 pounds. In pretty good shape. Cock pit is roomy. I use it mostly on the lake I live on. No day trips or long weekends. I like to work out. Skip the gym hit the kayak. I have been out three times since the ice went off the lake. Only problem I have had is the cable broke. They want me to bring it back to the store. I put a small clamp on it. All good. Have fun!!!

  3. Bryan Sarauer

    Having used the kayak for 2 seasons now for my family and lessons, I can update my perspective on the Wilderness Systems Focus 145. Contrary to Doug’s comments on the 155 version of the Focus, the Focus 145 (no rudder installed) is the worst kayak I have owned and one of the worst that I have paddled. I use many different kayaks for the lessons I teach so I do have some perspective. My comments here apply specifically to the Focus 145, I have had no major problems when students were paddling the Focus 155 though I suspect it is subject to the same issues but to a much lesser degree.

    At first I blamed the problems with the Focus 145 on my students, then I blamed it on my kids, my wife, my friends, and anyone who paddled. After all, it’s a poor craftsman who blames the tool, right?

    The bow is so sharp (part of the design to help it track a straight line) that it knifes into the bow wave and, combined with bad trim, causes it to respond to any unequal force by wanting to pivot around the bow. It WILL travel in a straight line as long as all forces are equal (no side wind, no waves, etc.) and as long as the paddler has perfect technique that nips variations from course in the bud. However, it’s rare that those conditions can be met and tiresome to require such vigilance in technique. When paddling the bow wave becomes slightly larger on one side than the other if there is a slight turn or variation in course – that slightly larger bow wave pushes on the large flat surface of the bow on that side and starts to push the kayak around into a turn. Since the bow has such a knife edge, it requires a LOT of force to bring the bow back to straight. Other kayaks also have a straight bow, but this would be balanced by having a fairly straight skeg-like stern, which this kayak doesn’t have. It needs a rudder to counter the straightness of the bow. By putting 10 to 20 pounds of weight (a lot!) in the stern these tendencies to pivot around the bow can be controlled since it sinks the stern and raises the bow.

    Also, this kayak doesn’t tow worth a darn. Under tow, it veers off to one side and will keep going until it is almost straight out to the side and the sideways forces on the tow are huge. Once way out to the side, the force finally overcomes the kayak’s tendency to head in that direction, then it veers completely to the other side. It’s quite the wild and frustrating ride. I’ve never experienced anything like it before.

    If the paddler relies on the rudder to control the direction of the Focus 145 and keep it on track, then I think it would negate the direction issues. However, a design that relies so strongly on the rudder is simply bad design. As Doug points out, equipment can malfunction.

    I really wanted to like this kayak but now I think I’ll try to sell it off at the end of summer and advise the buyer to buy a rudder. The rudder option is not a great one for me because we don’t use them during lessons and I am opposed to rudder-dependant designs (though I am not opposed to the use of rudders when warranted, of course).

    Regards,
    Bryan

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