Living in the Pacific Northwest, I’m surrounded by beautiful waterways just begging to be explored. Until recently, I left that exploration to others for fear of getting cold. Seeing my son’s reaction to paddling a rental kayak for the first time inspired me to throw those concerns by the wayside and reconnect with the great outdoors. And specifically, the water. The only problem was figuring out where to begin. Eventually I settled upon the Pamlico 135t tandem kayak, an entry-level decision that couldn’t have been better.
I tend to obsess over product research. That’s been particularly true as I begin breaking out of the tech space and into outdoor gear. My research led me to a host of recreational kayaks, a term that flew in the face of this preconceived notion that kayaking was just for extreme whitewater athletes. In actuality, while the number of total kayak sales in the U.S. has declined as stand-up paddling has increased, more and more people seem to be going the recreational route. It’s always relieving to know you’re not alone.
After kicking the proverbial tires of several recreational models (thanks, NextAdventure!), I settled upon the Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135t tandem kayak. Just 13.5 feet long, the Pamlico 135t offers a manageable length for transportation along with all of the “out with friends” functionality of a tandem. The Pamlico 135t also has a great balance of stability and maneuverability, both of which are critical for going out with the kids.
That said, note that it’s a bit on the heavy side (72 pounds), so “going out with the kids” definitely requires another adult or a rolling kayak cart. The weight can also make it challenging to hoist onto a rooftop mount like the Yakima JayLow. For instance, if the 135t’s double-grooved hull catches on the mount, you have to do some extra lifting/pushing above your head to get it to settle into place.
In spite of its 13.5-foot length, the Pamlico 135t tandem kayak supports up to three people (two adults and a child) plus a dog. That sort of setup is cozy, but it’s feasible. Technically the adjustable seats allow you to configure the 135t for a single paddler, though it’s really intended to be a two-person ride. The Pamlico’s large cockpit is wonderful in some respects. For instance, there’s plenty of space to store day-tripping supplies, and there’s definitely room to wiggle the old legs after extended time on the water.
However, the cockpit measures 90″ long by 24″ wide, a large size that puts your food, gear and maybe even you at risk of getting wet. Not from tipping, mind you — the Pamlico 135t tandem kayak is incredibly stable — but from normal paddle splash. And where there’s risk of getting wet, there’s risk of getting cold. Complicating matters for would-be Autumn paddling is the lack of a good splash skirt for the 135t. Without that sort of guard, I can’t recommend taking this kayak out in the rain for fear of the cockpit filling like a cup. And with all that open cockpit space, unless there are two of you paddling, there’s a lot of open air hitting your lower half from all sides and putting your legs on chill alert.
With that said, presuming you go out during warmer times of the year, the Pamlico 135t tandem kayak is perfect for a couple just venturing into the sport or, like me, into a range of outdoor activities. The kayak tracks in a straight line and does a good job maintaining speed. This is an important factor for a recreational kayak, because the last thing beginners or casual paddlers want is to feel hopelessly floating or meandering in the water. Fortunately, the Pamlico 135t is so effective at cutting through the water that my wife and I repeatedly cover more miles on the lake than we anticipate. That’s a good thing!
Comfortable seating is always important too, and the 135t has comfort in spades with its Phase 3 AirPro seats. Most major kayak improvements year-over-year come in the seating department, and many manufacturers keep a seat style only for a couple of seasons. So, if you find yourself looking to buy a used recreational kayak, you’ll want to pay special attention to the model year you’re purchasing. One thing that’s particularly nice, though not unique to the Pamlico 135t tandem kayak, is the use of adjustable seating. Using two easy pull tabs, both the angle of the seat and the height of the lumbar support can be adjusted while you’re sitting in the kayak. Again, this is a feature in multiple other Wilderness Systems kayaks and the Necky Manitou Sport (among others), but it’s a nice feature to have, and it’s certainly not going to be removed in future years.
For my first ownership venture with a kayak, I couldn’t be any happier with the Pamlico 135t tandem kayak. It’s comfortable, stable, tracks well and has enough storage capacity to support just about any lake- or bay-based day trip. It’s a bit on the heavy side, and its large cockpit does present some risks of getting cold. But taken as a whole, the Pamlico 135t has impressed me enough to look seriously at Wilderness Systems for our next single-kayak purchase. And yes, a single kayak is in our future. Our increasingly independent son wouldn’t have it any other way.
Pamlico 135t Tandem Kayak
- Incredibly stable for beginners
- Goes straight and fast
- Supports two adults and a kid or dog
- Very comfortable and adjustable seats
- Seats adjust to support a single paddler
- 72 pounds is pretty heavy
- No good splash skirts for the large cockpit
- Grooved bottom catches on rooftop mounts