See Current Kayaks from Wilderness Systems
in the Buyers' Guide
Select Kayak to View in Buyers' Guide
This boat is 15'8" long and at 22" is narrow, that combined with the keel design makes makes primary stability seem slightly tippy, but secondary stability is excellent - - these features combined provide for good speed. On a few occasions I have looked at upgrading to a more expensive glass boat, but after testing them I realized that my Alto performs just as well.
I'm 6'0" and 185# and find that the cockpit is a perfect fit. The seat is very comfortable and because it is tall it provides good back support. This particular model is no longer available from Wilderness Systems, but if you can pick up a used one for less than $800 or so, you will be pleased with the performance. This kayak is an all-round solid performer.
It really is a great little touring boat. The lack of front bulkhead allows me to store a nice folding chair, my tent and sleeping pad up front. No hassle with undersized openings up front. The rear does have a bulkhead and an adequately sized opening. It's easy to get enough gear in for a multi-day trip. I'm 175 and 6'2" and find the cockpit comfortable and plenty long (even with a chair stuffed in the nose).
My boat tracked fine when it was new. I did end up adding the rudder kit as it helps conserve energy, improves stability and just plain makes it easier. The weight is reasonable and I can lift it to the top of my car alone.
This boat is "tippy." That means you need to get used to it. I could see that beginners would feel a bit uncomfortable. My wife never felt comfortable in it because of this. This is also what makes it fast! You can cover some water and keep up, or pass folks in longer (more expensive) boats .
Overall, it's a great boat.
Seriously, I rent these boats to beginners and take them on 10 mile trips the first outting. Even small women can handle the boat well. The almost 16ft length puts it up there with touring boats in potential speed. And the smaller volume narrower width and lighter weight make it easier to keep up there.
I added a flip up skeg on the back using the suggestions and pictures of the other gentleman that reviewed this boat. It has three different mounting holes, which allows me to set it for different conditions. For long windy crossings I set it lower and this cures the weathercock problem. For areas with tight turns I set it high so when I lean it comes out of the water in the turn. What an idea. Thanks for the help!
In summary, if you are like most kayakers you don't take many week long trips, you occasionally paddle around rocky areas, you don't paddle over 15 miles a day, and you aren't rich. If this is the case you won't find a better boat than the alto, I have tried. If looking cool is you main concern it may be worth the extra $1,000. Oh yea, this boat is so under rated you can find them used also. I bought both of mine for $500. Keep your eyes open because if I find another one I will buy it first.
See you on the water. I will be the one with the biggest smile.
In the interest of simplicity, I paddle rudderless. Alto's maneuverable shape can lead to some frustration, but persistence pays off. I didn't know any better than to work on my skills, so now the compensating strokes are an easy habit. In the size range in polyethylene, 15-16 feet, Alto's shape is unique. The positive reviews here attest to its versatility. It will surf the smallest wave, giving "free speed" to those who know how to take advantage of it.
Loading the aft compartment improves handling, which I find pretty good even without a load. Secure cargo that does not fill the compartment by inflating an air bag in the aft end to hold things snug. Otherwise items may shift when you're trying to roll, making it difficult or impossible to right. But that's not unique to this boat. It's bulkhead 101. To carry more than the aft stowage allows, load the bow through the cockpit in the old-fashioned way. Some reputable experts to this day say that bow hatches are a potential weak point in boisterous water. True or not, it gives you "expert testimony" to make a virtue of the apparent shortcoming of the Alto.
Footbraces could be more substantial, but after-market ones are available. Perimeter deck lines are fashionable, but can be added. Seat back can be cut down flush with rear cockpit rim to make layback recoveries easier. Also interferes less with tight neoprene skirts. When paddling cross wind, I lean slightly to windward and sweep the windward stroke slightly. Lean too far and the stern pops right out of the water. The boat than swings rapidly in the direction you have been trying to prevent it from going. This only happened once, though, when crossing very shallow water with a strong wind, so the waves were small, steep and close together. In the troughs, the boat nearly rested on the bottom. That's shallow. I've seen longer boats with shorter waterlines, but the Alto's bow overhangs enough to help it override obstacles like floating weed. Singer designs all tend to have similar bow rakes, all in keeping with designs that avoid extremes. Reviews of his boats on this board have reflected the versatility that stems from a moderate approach. However, most people like their boats no matter what they are. Natives had their boats built to fit them. We industrial people have to try on production versions until one fits.
The secondary stability when leaning is also very strong because of the flared sides of the boat which are normally above the waterline. They come into play nicely as the boat is leaned, giving excellent feel. Speed seems reasonably good for the size and shape of the boat. Measured over a short distance, but fairly accurately, my leisurely cruising speed was 4.0 mph, steady cruising pace 5.0 mph, and all-out sprint speed 6.1 mph.
The deciding factor in purchasing the boat was its comfort. I like the padded seat with high seatback (though it makes it harder to lay back across the rear deck during sweep rolls.) The pronounced thigh braces provide a very secure fit, but make it harder to squeeze in or out of the cockpit. In fact, if you already have or buy an Alto, be sure to practice your wet exit right away.
The day hatch is really nice (I wish all boats had one) and the rear hatch offers plenty of storage, but doesn't stay completely dry during rolls. There is no front bulkhead or hatch, just a flotation bag. This saves weight, but means more water can get into the boat on a capsize.
The biggest flaw of the Alto is its lack of directional stability, perhaps due to its noticeable rocker. If you plan on using a rudder all the time, it's not a problem. Otherwise, nearly constant attention must be devoted to keeping the boat on course even in still water. In the short time it takes to grab a drink of water, the Alto will usually yaw way off course. The stern, if unloaded, will then swing around, almost skimming across the water, to accentuate the unwanted turn. If you want to work on developing a perfect forward stroke, this would be the boat to practice in.
A second significant problem is pronounced weathercocking. Without a rudder, you can find yourself paddling on only one side of the boat when quartering winds reach 15 mph.
I'd still highly recommend the Alto, but either get it with a rudder, or do as I did, and use the factory-provided rudder attachment screws to mount a small, home-made, shallow-running skeg blade. This simple modification minimized the weathercocking problem, and makes the boat track and glide straight as an arrow. Surprisingly, it enhanced maneuverability because the shallow skeg blade naturally comes mostly out of the water when the boat is leaned on its side to carve a turn. In rotating out of the water, the skeg also acts like a little flipper to impart the initial turning force in the desired direction. Now I can carve perfectly controlled turns of over 90 degrees just by leaning and without ever using the paddle. The key to this performance is the combination of the Alto's directionally unstable hull, and a stabilizer. The stabilizer governs when the boat is upright, and the natural tendency of the hull to yaw governs when the boat is leaned to rotate the stabilizer out of the water. I would have never believed it, but the Alto has become the best handling boat I've ever been in. I'm sure this concept would also work for a lot of other boats which track poorly. Anyone interested in giving this a try should email me for more specifics and a picture.
100,000+ people can't be wrong!
The Paddling.net Newsletter is a must if you like to canoe or kayak! Each week it is packed with great articles, photos, product reviews, and special features. Better yet, we promise not to sell your email address to anyone; that's right ZERO spam! Sign up today and find out what you've been missing!