Submitted: 10-13-2010 by erodger
After having used many reviews on this site for reference, I thought I should finally give back and write a review of the only kayak I have owned thus far – the Wilderness Systems Pungo 140. I bought my Pungo 140 in May 2005 when an Eastern Mountain Sports store was closing in our area, and the boat was 1/2 off. I had no idea what I was buying, but it was their last kayak left, and I thought at the very least I could buy it and then research it. If it turned out to be a poor boat, I figured I could sell it really cheap and still make a hundred bucks. When I got home, I researched the boat, and found out that it had spectacular reviews and a lot of features for a "recreational" kayak.
Man were they right!
I have definitely paddled this boat more than it was designed for – Georgian Bay, Algonquin, Allagash Wilderness River in Maine, Lake Erie, Acadia NP and Casko Bay in Maine, Outer Banks NC, and recently 107 miles down the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh.
Because it's 14ft long, it tracks well and I'm able to keep up with the rest of our club who are all in 16-18 foot boats. Sure, we have to paddle a little harder, but haven't had a problem keeping up yet. We frequently run Class II rapids, and have stumbled into a couple Class III rapids without incident. We are very comfortable in our Pungos, because they are very stable. But we have also learned to maneuver them very well. I think the Pungo edges very well. I once raced a 16 ft kayak around a small island, and he had a rudder. I didn't win, but I didn't lose by much. I edged it all the way around and kept up stroke for stroke.
The cockpit is huge, but I bought a full-length spray skirt for it. With the skirt I am able to confidently paddle in 3-5 ft swells. This past summer, I even learned how to flip the boat over and stay in it. I can't roll this boat up because of its width, but I can roll it back up with assistance from another paddler using the bow rescue or paddle-bridge rescue. I was truly amazed when I found out that I didn't have to wet exit the Pungo when inverted. Because the Pungo only has a rear bulkhead, I always put floatation or gear in the front of the boat to keep water out. A large floatation bag from NRS is perfect.
This boat fits enough gear for a week, at least. My girlfriend and I both have Pungo 140s, and we are able to pack them pretty liberally with room left over. Keeping in mind we are backpackers and have mostly small, light gear, we are able to pack the dual-burner Coleman stove and propane, full size camp chairs, and soft-shelled coolers which can keep things cool for a day or two. The coolers fit behind the seat perfectly. It's not quite canoe capacity, but people are very surprised when we bring the chairs and stove out.
So I got my boat in 2005 and in April 2008 I ran it past a rock in a small, very cold creek. The Pungo breached in three places along the starboard hull. A two-inch gash, a ten-inch gash, and another two-inch gash. I was so bummed. I didn't hit the rock very hard, and I had certainly scraped the boat worse in the past. I'm not sure if the April cold waters had anything to do with the breach. Anyway, I was able to finish the trip, taking on very little water. Duct tape would have helped, but alas, I had none. I called Wilderness Systems customer service, and after sending pictures of the breaches and the hull, they replaced the boat without any cost to me! They had to build one from scratch, so I chose a different color, and it was built to the 2008 feature specifications which included much more deck rigging and thigh braces – both extremely welcome additions. Unfortunately, a front bulkhead was not yet standard. I think they have changed that recently and starting shipping Pungo 140's with front and rear bulkheads. Anyway, I can't say enough good things about Wilderness Systems' customer support and how they took care of me.
Around the same time I was getting my new Pungo, my girlfriend also bought a used Pungo 140 off of ebay. Her boat is identical to my first one – probably pre-2006, and only had the single piece of deck rigging, and no thigh braces. This makes it impossible to carry a spare paddle on her deck, and she struggles to find room for all the safety gear that you’d like to have handy, like pump, paddle float, throw bag and tow line. But even without the thigh braces, she is also able to stay in the boat when inverted and can do an assisted roll with a bow or paddle-bridge rescue. The newer Pungo 140s are much nicer with the added features. And I'm sure the new ones with the front bulkheads are a dream (except now you can't pack the camp chairs!).
All in all, part of me thinks that we should be featured in Wilderness Systems advertising because of everything we have done in this boat, from Class II-III rapids, to open water crossings on Lake Erie, Georgian Bay, Outer Banks, and Maine, to week-long wilderness river trips down the Allagash, Nemakagon and Allegheny Rivers. The only we can’t do in these boats is portage any significant distances. But then my rational side thinks that WS would be crazy to advertise what we have done, because they probably don't want the average beginner, recreational kayaker attempting anything near what we’ve done in our Pungos. I guess that would be a huge liability!
So let me state that the Pungo isn't designed for class II-III rapids, and is definitely not a sea-worthy vessel. We have used them on the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, but in fairly moderate conditions. I'm very comfortable in my boat, but we paddle a lot, and we practice our safety and rescue skills at least annually. I have also performed two real rescues in Lake Erie. But if we really had to paddle 10 miles back to shore in rough conditions, we would probably be exhausted because our boats are too short to slice through waves and stay on course. So we would burn a lot of energy on correction strokes (particularly in following seas). And someone would inevitably end up being towed, putting others at risk. Because of this, we are now looking for 17-18 foot, truly seaworthy boats so that we can do open water more confidently.
But I still can't say enough about how extremely happy we have been with our Pungos. It is an awesome boat for starting out in and learning how to paddle, edge, and do rescues. And you can take it pretty far before upgrading to a true sea kayak, if that's where you end up – like us.