I am reviewing the Focus 150 by Wilderness Systems. The manufacture description says, “a sleek, modern touring design for the mid-sized paddler. It caters to the assertive intermediate paddler looking to take their skills–and their adventures–to the next level.”
I bought my boat new late winter 2014 from a local vendor. I did a test paddle on site on a flowing river with snow on the shore and ice chunks in the river. I learned how do paddle in the 1970’s in a Kevlar Savage by Phoenix. What I like about this boat was that it reminded me of a throwback to those early “long” white water boats. The model I tested did not have a rudder. Even with the keel, the secondary stability was good enough that I could cut into and out of eddies. These were not micro eddies, just medium to large with good clean eddy lines. Unlike many flat water boats of the time that I experienced as sluggish, this one for the price point was agile and crisp.
Over the years, I use it to cruise lakes and rivers. I like leaving the rudder up and turning the boat by lifting the knees. On large open water with wind, I use the rudder. At 62, I can still roll it with ease. My only aggravation with the boat is its dry weight of 55 pounds.
My two other main boats are a Jackson 4Fun and a 15’ Mad River w Royalex haul.
Focus 150 in SAFFRON. Specifications:
LENGTH: 15' / 457 CM WIDTH: 23" / 58 CM BOAT WEIGHT: 55 LBS. / 25 KG DECK HEIGHT: 13.75" / 35 CM COCKPIT LENGTH: 35" / 89 CM COCKPIT WIDTH: 19" / 48 CM MAX CAPACITY: 325 LBS. / 175 KG
Pardon the new review, but I couldn't find a place to edit an existing review, so I'm re-reviewing it.
It's been a year since I bought it. Initially I was optimistic that as I improved as a kayaker, my experience with the Wilderness Systems Focus 15 would improve. Not so. This boat is a wallowing pig. In any current or wind, if you don't paddle with the rudder down, you will spend a lot of energy edging to keep it straight.
It is a fast boat and it holds a lot of camping gear. Both good things. But the way the rear of the centerline of the kayak is designed, it grabs ahold of the water when the current is slightly off to on side or the other. This creates a lot of drag, forcing the boat to turn even if you're edging. So in order to keep it straight, you have to REALLY edge.
If you're in the mood for a good workout and plan on edging, paddling and pushing, definitely consider this boat. But being forced to workout isn't my thing. So 2 stars.
I've now owned this kayak for one year after getting what I thought was a pretty good deal for about $700 new without a rudder. Being a small boat designer and builder myself I was somewhat critical of this boat from the very beginning. I could immediately see that this craft out on a windy lake without a rudder would be challenging, even for an advanced paddler. In my opinion this craft lacks directional stability for two reasons. The smooth hull design has an inherited weak keel line effect and the seat is positioned 3 to 4 inches too far forward, which sacrifices stability for more speed. To make this craft the best it can be it took a rudder and a modification of the seat position. I also designed a higher backrest that worked beautifully, although WS offers one as an option on this model. In short, after those 3 modifications , I've grown to like this thing. The 23" beam and 15 foot length gives it just the right tradeoff between speed and stability for my taste, but I would not recommend this boat for beginners.
The Wilderness Systems Focus 150 is a difficult kayak to review. It's a great kayak. But it's hard to manage. It's fast. But it feels tippy. Some people say it's easy to roll, others say it's too tall. Once it turns, it's hard to get it to get it to change directions. It holds lots of stuff for long trips, but has no recess for a compass. It's a bundle of contradictions. As if Wilderness Systems tried to put their favorite things about their favorite kayaks into one boat. But instead of creating über boot, they created more of a Frankenstein, a boat with unconventional lines and bad manners that will kick you in the teeth as soon as give you an awesome ride. They advertised the Focus as an intermediate kayak that would help you test your skills and push your limits. What they didn't say is that you have no choice but to improve, improve or perish.
It was through ignorance, a desire to save money, and a poor recommendation from a dealer who, in retrospect, obviously wanted to get rid of old stock, that I ended up with an unused, 2 year old, bright red 15' Focus and little paddling experience. The price was just too good. I'd been out a few times on 10' recreational kayaks on flat water, and fancied myself an experienced seaman. So when I read "test your skills and push your limits", I thought, great! Just what I need to put myself right up there with Paul Caffyn!
I don't recommend buying a kayak that's better than you are and immediately setting out on the Hudson river in winter for solo day trips, but that's what I did. And boy did I struggle! The Focus is fast and tracks straight until it catches a little side wind or cross current, then it's like a big, dumb dog who decides he wants to drag you off into the bushes by his leash to sniff out a varmint. Without good (and I mean do mean good, not mediocre) edging skills, balance and strong paddling, the Focus basically goes where it wants. A beginner kayak it is not, and after carefully reading all the reviews, it seems only experienced paddlers give it good marks. Guys like me, fools who over-estimate their ability and experience, not surprisingly, don't like it. The Focus tells you what kind of kayaker you are, not what kind of kayaker you wish you were.
Since my first frustrating trips, I've taken a few clinics and gone on some group paddles into rough water with experienced paddlers who have been kind enough to work with me, and I'm really starting to appreciate my Focus. But she's not a timid beginner boat. She responds well to being manhandled, and the more I push her around, the more fun she is. She's like the school yard bully, if you don't punch her first, she's going to take your lunch money for the rest of the year.
So I can't give her the obligatory, new-guy rating of 2 or 3 stars. She's not perfect but she's better than that. She's a lot of fun and a real challenge to paddle, and she's forced me to really (no pun intended here) focus on my skills and grow. Occasionally, I come away from a paddle frustrated and wishing for a kayak that is easy to putt around on, but the frustration is more accurately placed on myself and my ability than on my kayak. More and more, as I gain experience and ability, when I get in from a paddle I feel refreshed and confident, excited for the next trip.
The Wilderness Systems Focus is not for everybody. It isn't easy. It wants to go through waves, not over them. It will push you around if you're not assertive. But it's quick, it holds a lot of stuff, and once you key into the fact that you have consciously manage it, it pays you back with a great, responsive ride that can handle anything you can throw at a 15' kayak. It's a great boat with a few obvious flaws, and I really wish, instead of discontinuing the model, Wilderness Systems had chosen to refine and expand it, because it really could be great. Just not in it's current form.
An experienced paddler will have a great time with the handling of this boat. The rudder is a great accessory to this kayak as it will keep you in a straight course in open water with less effort to correct steering direction especially if you begin to tire out. Materials, rigging, hardware, bulkheads, seat system and hatches are high quality so in the event of rollover you can be confident that things won't break, dislodge or swamp when it's needed.
My review on the following:
- Tracking: Tracking in any kind of wind and current requires a LOT of effort an attention, current correction, edging are required to keep it going straight, unless you deploy the rudder, which of course will impact a lot of other things. So with this in mind, I was very disappointed at the boat. Kind of defeats the purpose for me.
- Maneuverability: I had no problem turning the kayak, playing around in it, sharp turns on edge are not hard to do at all. Pretty good in this respect
- Stability: Great secondary stability. Initial stability is not as great but expected with the design of the boat.
All in all, I would not recommend the boat. There are better boats in this price range and I'm not convinced the design is good at all, I'll be very surprised to see this kayak take off without some serious modifications.