Wilderness Systems Fires Shot Across Native Bow

| March 17, 2010 | 0 Comments


Look familiar? The Wilderness Commander looks a bit like the Native Ultimate at first glance.

It looks like the battle has been joined by Wilderness Systems, with their answer to the acclaimed Native Ultimate.

Native Watercraft, a company owned by one of the former owners of Wilderness, has had a commanding presence in the kayak world, with their highly innovative kayaks that, in the case of the Ultimate, combine character traits of both kayaks and canoes.

However, there are some quirks in the Native Ultimate that revolve around the seat – a seat that is as comfortable as a lawn chair, and near the top of the list of features that sell the Ultimate. Along with the seat comes a molded ABS plastic mount that holds the seat. It appears to the uneducated eye that the unique ABS plastic form is a stopgap measure, something of a half-baked solution to problems that must have come along during the design phase. Besides the comfort, the seat adjusts from sitting flat on the deck to being wedge-able under and against the gunnels. HOWEVER, in order to configure the higher seating, the only solution so far* is a six inch sandwich of minicell enclosed in a neat nylon wrapper – called a “Seat Riser”. Sold by Austin Canoe & Kayak at 69.00, I can only imagine the profit margins.

And there’s the rub when it comes to Native; they have some very cool accessories that utilize the tracks for mounting, and they are quite pricey for what you actually get. (*I may develop a new ABS seat mount that leaves that space below the seat open, but distributes the weight as well as minicell.) The accessories are well made, use unique fabrics and are functional, but … pricey.


Seat mechanism in the Wilderness Systems Commander 120.

Enter Wilderness’ Commander 120 Angler. I spotted this model last weekend at the Texas Fly Fishing event in Athens, and it did make me stop and take a closer look. At first glance, the boat looks to have taller sides, and the seat mechanism (probably the main “weakness” in Native Ultimate) has been attacked with engineering zeal. The seat is suspended midline of the hull, along two pipe rails, making the seat movement adjustable, the height a more practical fixed height, and voila – leaves room for storage below the seat! It may still look like a kayak seat (instead of a lawn chair), but some companies evolve while others start revolutions.

The biggest upside could be the biggest downside though. This twelve foot boat weighs in at a prohibitive 78-pounds. That’s twenty pounds more than the Native of the same length. That is significant, and something I am sure Native will capitalize on in one way or another. Setting weight aside, the Commander borrows a lot from the Native including the hull design, and although I haven’t seen a side-by-side comparison, I think they are extremely similar except at first look the Commander seems to have a deeper concave design. The Commander also has the metal rails that will most certainly be exploited for all kinds of accessories you can’t live without. I wonder just how durable those rails on both boats are in the long term. Price-wise, there is little difference in pricing, with the Commander priced at 995. and the Native Ultimate 12 at 969. – based on Austin Canoe & Kayak online pricing.


Have a look at the height of the curves in the bottom of the Commander – a new balancing act?

Regardless of which boat ends up under your rear, it’s competition like this that is a win-win for consumers. This kind of progress means that other serious manufacturers will sit up and take note, and get in the game.

Information about kayak weights, and the history of ownership of Wilderness and Native, was gathered from conversations with people in the kayak business. If someone wants to correct this information, feel free to verify for the benefit of all TFC readers. If you are interested in seeing detail images of the Native seat system, feel free to make a request. In the “ultimate” interest of fairness, I left out the Native Volt and Propel from these comparisons, as it would certainly be apples and oranges.

— Next Week – We take a look at the Diablo Paddlesports Kayak —

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Category: Equipment, Kayak, TECHNICAL

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I write. I photograph. I fish, and I live.

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