What sold me on this kayak initially was the comfort. Coming from a sit on top with a molded seat the phase 3 seat felt like pure luxury. The foot braces and seat are easy to adjust and the knee braces are in just the right place for a smaller paddler (5"3').
What really made me fall in love, though, was getting it out on the water. Compared to my previous kayak it is fast and easy to paddle. The maneuverability and stability are excellent and even without the skeg down it tracks pretty straight. The cockpit opening is large enough that you can catch a breeze and not feel like you are in an oven in the direct sunlight.
Overall, the Aspire 100 is a great choice for a beginner to intermediate paddler and will fit a smaller paddler very well.
The Good: The small size, the Phase Three seating, Ample Aft Cargo hold, Retractable Skeg large internal volume.
The Bad: No paddle holder, weight.
Usually in a short boat of this type (10 Foot) they'll have a tendency to want to pivot L/R while being paddled. Surprisingly this boat does not It tracks straight, while being paddled, yet it still retains the high maneuverability that all short boats have. Paddle it a bit and then rest, and the boat still continues straight. Most boats Ive been in up to 14 ft, tend to hook either left or right depending on which side the last stroke was on. But if you are in wind, or a bit inexperienced with paddling and are having some trouble staying straight as an arrow simply drop the Skeg, and this thing tracks as well as my Tsunami 175.
It has a carrying capacity of 300 Lbs, making this ideal for day trips, and can hold most everything you would want to haul for a day out on the lake or river. Although the Skeg will eat up some of your cargo volume there is still ample room on either side if the Skeg to place something the size of a light weight sleeping bag and a solo tent, making this a good boat if you wanted to also do an overnight camping trip as the remainder of the storage area has enough room food pots and other camping essentials. There is also some additional room behind the seat in front of the bulkhead for some additional storage perhaps about a 20l dry bag.
The cargo area is bulk headed and the hatch locking and waterproof, giving you built in flotation should you get dumped. However I found the locking hatch levers were a bit tight to operate, necessitating pushing down on the hatch to operate the levers so as not to cause damage. This is perhaps done to insure the waterproof seal of the hatch, but it sort of left me feeling as if i Might break something perhaps this will wear in over time. Due to this tightness it is probably impossible to get into the hatch while out on the water.
Other appointments it has a bungee, water bottle holder, that can either hold a bottle upright, or lying down on it's side. It also has rear and forward bungee, however the rear one seems to be more of an ascetic as opposed to functional, the forward one is large enough to hold your life vest, should you not be wearing it or a waterproof bag.
The foot rests are the standard Wilderness systems adjustable rests and are quite functional and adjustable combined with the Phase three seating this makes for a boat that is quite comfortable to paddle all day.
Performance wise, the hull design appears to be based on a updated design for the venerable Pungo, even though this boat is shorter than the Pungo's it tracks just as well if not better (With the Skeg deployed.) and as for speed, the boat seems to be just about as fast belying it's short stature. Weight wise it comes in at about 45 LBS, which for a boat of this length is a bit on the heavy side, however this mostly seems to be duet to the added thickness of the roto-molding used, so good and bad. Bad that its a bit heavy, but good in that due to the extra thickness it'll take years of abuse and bouncing off or scraping over rocks. This may lend it to being a new favorite of outfitters.
In transporting this boat is quite easy to transport, if you hoist it onto a shoulder by the cockpit, it's balanced making it quite easy for single carry or solo portage. If you have two people the handles Fore and Aft make it a breeze to carry, so much so that I have carried two (One left hand and one right) with two people. For tying down to a car or SUV the handles fore and aft make great attachment points for tying down your boat, either in a "V" rack or with using "J" hooks.
My only complaint with this boat is a lack of a paddle holder that seems to be standard on recreational boats of this nature. This is easily addressed with aftermarket bits, either by your outfitter, or done by yourself as there is plenty of room to find a place.
So to wrap up, this was a surprising little boat, that punches well above it's weight performing in the class of the the 12 to 14 foot Pungo's making this a great choice for a for a day tripper class of boat, or a single night, maybe two (if you have a R/O filter.) for kayak camping. and if you keep the Skeg up, it would make for a great river boat, either flat water or up to class 1, it would also serve well for fishing too with adding on options for that.
All in all it's a great all around boat, the jack of all trades, and masters a few too.
I had the Wilderness Systems Aspire 100 it was a great kayak for all ages! It was very sturdy and reliable on rough water and also in calm waters. I loved that it was so light compared to other kayaks I have had. I highly recommend this kayak to anyone looking to purchase a kayak!
The Aspire is very stable. Initial stability is really all I'm talking about because there is no edging the Aspire. It is too wide for its 10 foot length to put over on edge. This doesn't matter much because it is really easy to turn using just sweep strokes. My 9 yr. old had no problem maneuvering around. It doesn't track as good as the Pungo but the drop down skeg improves the tracking a lot. The skeg uses a cord that catches in a wedge to lower and raise it. That was a bit awkward to work and I think it would fray over time.
For my girl the boat was a little wide. At 27.5" wide, she had some trouble hitting the paddle on the side of the boat. For an adult this may not be a problem. The Aspire was at its best in the Congaree National Park in South Carolina. It was easy to maneuver around the cypress trees in the swamp. We sold the Aspire and Pungo because we wanted kayaks that we learn more skills in and use for bigger trips.
If you want a small, comfortable kayak for short excursions, then this is a fine one.
It is perfect for a first time kayaker of smaller frame. Extremely stable. I've never had a problem getting in and out with the 44" cockpit. Probably fall out of it the next time out, now that I mentioned that. The Phrase 3 seat is comfortable for almost any length trip. It adjusts 3 ways to add to your comfort, right from the seat.
I really like the Sidelock footbrace system, especially soon after I got the boat and was trying to find the optimal settings for me. One of the BEST features is the unique drywell hatch. Two latches and it's open, in or out of the kayak. The skeg is easy to deploy and allows the boat to track straight and true. Loading is easy at 44lbs. I use a Thule Loader bar.
I gave the boat a '9' only because now I want a 12' or 13' kayak. I'm sure I'll buy another kayak this winter (good wife willing), but I will keep the Aspire100 and continue to paddle it or perhaps use it as a loaner for a person new to kayaking. This kayak will give you all the enjoyment this sport offers, no matter the weather.