“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
Class: Light-Touring/ Fitness
Deck Height: 14.25”
Cockpit Size: 19.5”x35”
Hatches/Bulkheads: Bow and Stern
Rudder/Skeg: Optional Rudder
MSRP: $1419 standard, $1639 with rudder
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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: