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Reviews for Alto Expedition Kayak by Wilderness Systems


Rated: 8.77/10 Based On: 26 Reviews

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07-08-2013
Submitted by: Mary BethSend Email
Rating: 8 of 10

     I bought my Alto used. It was my first kayak. I had a hard time with it before I put a rudder on it. Once I added a rudder it was great. It is narrow so a little tippy getting in and out of but once you are on the water it glides beautiful. I was happy to have the speed.
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07-21-2011
Submitted by: DavidSend Email
Rating: 8 of 10

     My first boat and I took it every summer for shoreline paddling in Lake Superior. I really love the little boat but just gave it to my son as his first kayak. It has no rudder and wind-cocking was a problem with tailwinds (Likes to turn sideways to the wind) Headwinds or sidewinds were no problem. Good for learning and kayaking in hard-to-reach places. Good maneuverability. I could go over a wet-washcloth with it, exploring tributaries and sloughs.
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07-19-2011
Submitted by: David RSend Email
Rating: 10 of 10

     I bought this boat used and absolutely love it. It is a "sporty" little boat. Your gear stowed on top might get a little wet...
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12-06-2009
Submitted by: mike
Rating: 10 of 10

     Bought this kayak with paddles/bilge pump for $400. I never really kayaked before but paddling on lake Michigan with rolling waves (no white caps) was very simple. Never felt like tipping. Able to maneuver easy enough.
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07-01-2009
Submitted by: ValdisSend Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     I have owned this kayak for about four years and am extremely happy with it. I paddle mostly in the lower Hudson river and it has handled winds, swells and confused currents with ease. With the rudder deployed tracking is excellent. I find that I can easily keep up with the lighter glass and kevlar boats (I'm a strong paddler).

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.

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01-15-2009
Submitted by: mark cSend Email
Rating: 10 of 10

     I was a kayak guide in St. Simmons Island, GA... I was involved in a kayak expedition where me and another guide paddled Altos from Atlanta to the Atlantic.... this took 21 days and 450 miles of very diverse conditions... I wouldn't pick any other boat if I could do it again. It performed great. Also back home, I ran trips to Cumberland Island in this boat... a true all in one boat!
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05-30-2008
Submitted by: Jeff
Rating: 9 of 10

     I have owned the Alto for 9 years now. It has been in rivers, lakes, creeks, swamps, and oceans. I purchased it as a do it all, in-between boat... and that is what it is. You can paddle rivers and flatwater.

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.

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08-24-2007
Submitted by: sinbadSend Email
Rating: 10 of 10

     I now have 3 Altos. They are the perfect day boat. Very fast. The narrow width and lighter volume make all the difference. A lot of people complain about tracking. Mind you I now have 7 boats and have paddled many others. I have no problems getting the boat to go where I want. Be it in waves, flat water or mangrove tunnels. The rear of the boat is flatter and has less keel. This may explain some of novices experiences in poor tracking. But in fact is designed to allow the boat to plane and turn much faster. The cockpit can be tight for someone of my size 5'10" but once you are in you have very good bracing.

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.

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01-22-2007
Submitted by: Send Email
Rating: 5 of 10

     I bought a used Alto as a spare boat for others to use. Reading these reviews, I knew what to expect regarding its tracking issue. The price was right; I bought it with thoughts that Iíd likely need to put some sort of a skeg on it. My first paddle with the Alto reminded me of the Old Town Adventurer 125 my wife once had. The tracking was worse than mediocre, I knew the skeg would be needed right away. I used a Smarttrack rudder blade and homemade bracket that attached to the optional OEM rudder location. The coil spring on the Smarttrack rudder blade allowed easy deployment and a wedge cleat up near the cockpit kept the rudder (skeg) up when not in use. The boat tracked very well with the Smarttrack blade/skeg, but with the fixed blade position, proved difficult to turn. If I had spent the time and cut the blade length down some, I probably would have come up with a setup that would have provided decent tracking, but still turn well. There are better used boats out there to be had, ones that donít this type of diddling around with.
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10-31-2002
Submitted by: JohnSend Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     I purchased my Alto on Ebay. This is an amazing kayak. The length allows you to move very quickly and easily through the water. The design allows a novice paddler like myself to gain new skills that many beginners can not get from some of the really wide, short kayaks. I have just installed a rudder kit from Wilderness Systems and will be testing this weekend. The rudder or skeg does seem to be a very important option as the kayak takes a bit of control in windy conditions. Look for this kayak used for $500-550 on Ebay and you can't go wrong.
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07-18-2002
Submitted by: View Profile Send Email
Rating: 10 of 10

     This is an update of the alto review I provided a while back. Since my last review I have paddled more coastal areas, made a flip up skeg and paddled almost every boat made at demos. To me it is simply, the best all around boat made. I hesitated to paddle the higher end boats because I was afraid I would no longer like my alto. But it made me like my boat more and took away my longing for one of the beautiful kevlar boats. The difference just isn't worth the price.

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.

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05-28-2002
Submitted by: Send Email
Rating: 8 of 10

     Borrowed an Alto recently, it's a good plastic sea kayak, another one of the top 5 "if I could have only one plastic sea kayak". High seat back is not to my taste but handling, maneuverability, wave handling is good. Rudder is desirable for high winds but not necessary for most paddling. Without rudder would make a good efficient/quick kick around boat.
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04-09-2002
Submitted by: Send Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     Never mind the numerical rating. Time to update impressions on the Alto. The boat is polyethylene, 15'8"X22", rear bulkhead, bow float bag. "Light Touring" is an insulting designation for such a capable boat, especially as described in current WS catalogs and website. They make the whole category sound like it has training wheels. Perhaps they need a new category, "Capable Day Boats," for Alto and Shaman.

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.

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03-22-2002
Submitted by: Send Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     Since purchasing an Alto six months ago, I've paddled in many conditions -- breaking surf, shallow rivers, and winds up to 40 mph. I've been very pleased with the boat (after modifying it as discussed below.) The Alto has a very soft, shallow "V" bottom, making for high initial stability despite its 22 inch width. It's possible to do a "cowboy" reentry by climbing onto the rear deck and working yourself back into the cockpit. I did this once in surf with the boat full of water. The initial stability is strong enough that I use the Alto for most of my fishing. I've anchored in flowing rivers and ocean swells to fish without feeling nervous.

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.

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10-13-2001
Submitted by: Patrick Forrester
Rating: 8 of 10

     I have owned my Alto for 2 years of constant kayking. It has been a great first boat. I have been extremely happy with it in almost all ways. I have no rudder and in some winds it weather cocks to the point I have to paddle on 1 side only to go straight. If I load weight in the rear of the boat it improves. Other than the weather cocking I have no complaints.
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07-10-2001
Submitted by: View Profile Send Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     This is my first higher performance kayak. I have paddled the Old Town 138s and 111s and the Alto was a big step up. I bought one new for $500 and loved it. I then found a used one for about the same price and bought it. My girl and I paddle them on local lakes and coastal areas. They are exactly what we need. I can't imagine a better package. It would be nice to have a forward bulkhead and hatch but for day trips ours are fine. We wanted boats under 23 inches wide and less that 16 feet. The Alto is one of the few that meets these requirements. I also found it easy to roll. I came right up on my first attempt and it was my first try in almost 20 years. We have a rudder on one and it is a nice feature. It allows the paddler to relax a little and gives you some control during a glide. Leaning gives some control but the rudder is a nice feature for the lazy paddler. In short, buy it if you find it for under $800. You will not regret it.
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07-06-2001
Submitted by: ---
Rating: 8 of 10

     I've had this boat for several years now. It's been excellent in all types of water from Class I river to lakes to ocean. It's very durable. It's also pretty stable-never even came close to capsizing. I would say it was a little tight for my frame (5'9" 180 lbs. And I would reccomend the added rudder since I always seemed to have a hard time keeping it straight in any type of current. A great first ocean kayak. Also took it on several overnight camping trips and there was plenty of storage room.
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03-26-2001
Submitted by: LKSend Email
Rating: 10 of 10

     This is my first kayak. I've rented a few, but found them slow and hard to control. The Alto is different; it glides along with very little effort and is easy to control. When I increase effort for more speed the boat accelerates nicely. I am 5'9" and weigh 155 lbs. The size works well for me (I was concerned at first the boat might be too big). I rate the boat 10 because it's the best I've paddled and it surpasses my expectations.
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01-17-2001
Submitted by: BillSend Email
Rating: 8 of 10

     I've tried a half dozen kayaks of comparable abilities to the Alto. If I had to I'm sure I'd rate them all about an 8 also. What I can say about the alto is it's absolutely perfect for my 5'11" 170 lb. size. It's lively. It's fast. It's a handful in a strong wind without a rudder but if you stick with it your paddling skills will develop to compensate for that.. I only use my rudder when i'm completely spent now. I think the thing that sets this boat apart from the rest, and why I bought mine is the price.. well under a thousand with a rudder.
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08-07-2000
Submitted by: TH
Rating: 9 of 10

     Although the Alto is relatively narrow, I have had no problem with stability. It is a quick, affordable boat that fits me (6'-2" -170 lbs) perfectly. Most of the others I tried did not allow enough adjustment for the leg room I need. Alto would even fit someone a few inches taller. I found few boats in this range can do that. This is my first kayak and it's got me hooked. I feel no need to trade up anytime soon.
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06-29-2000
Submitted by: ---
Rating: 9 of 10

     I did a lot of research to find a long, narrow, light plastic touring boat. Very few fit that description without being tugboats. The Alto did and it has not disapointed me. Recently I went to a demo day and paddled many boats - and not one paddled as well as my Alto. To get its performance, had to get into fiberglass high end sea kayaks. I do wish it had a sealed bulkhead in the front as well - but that would sacrifice a couple of pounds. Am now looking for a second boat - and I may just make it another Alto!
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04-24-2000
Submitted by: Send Email
Rating: 9 of 10

     The Alto was my first open-water kayak after ten years paddling all kinds of water in a beat-up 13-foot whitewater relic of the 1970s. I grew up in small sailboats, but have always loved kayaks for their simple versatility. I have to admit, I judged the Alto by eye and just bought it. It is a good size for rivers and inlets, but has a fine shape for rough open water. I've paddled in winds above 30, with a nasty lake chop, steep and close-set, and in saltwater with a stiff seabreeze and waves about 2-3 feet as well. I look forward to more. Any speed lost to shorter length is compensated by maneuverability when the water gets squirrelly.
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02-18-2000
Submitted by: SteveSend Email
Rating: 8 of 10

     A surprising thing about the Alto vs. a Looksha IV: The Alto is faster, at least it is when both boats are lightly loaded. This is true although the Alto is shorter. My buddy and I traded boats because we thought the effect was due to his superior muscle, but nope. Whoever paddled the Alto was having an easier time making way. The Alto has great primary stability and fair secondary stability, but then it gets to a point where it lets go pretty quickly. Alto could be a little stiffer, and the hatches could be a little drier. Same is true for many plastic boats. The price/performance/speed/stability/capacity compromise is very good.
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11-14-1999
Submitted by: JudiSend Email
Rating: 8 of 10

     This is the 2nd boat that I have owned and by far the best at stability and comfort. As an expectant mother at 6 months I was able to fit into the boat as well as maneuver with ease. It has clean lines and a soft chine which provides good tracking with or without the rudder.
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08-01-1999
Submitted by: John VT
Rating: 8 of 10

     This kayak is 15'8" long by 22 1/2". I find initial stability fair with good secondary stability for my size 5'8" 175 lbs. Put it on it's side and it turns nicely. Average tracking and dropping the rudder cancels out the weathercocking. Very good speed, acceleration and responsiveness. More effort is required to roll than my Caribou S. Lot of performance for the dollar here and for plastic it is fairly light.
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01-26-1999
Submitted by: BillSend Email
Rating: 10 of 10

     Sea Touring, Polyethylene, wt. 55 lb. Price $999 without rudder.
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