See Current Kayaks from Wilderness Systems
in the Buyers' Guide
Select Kayak to View in Buyers' Guide
As far as it goes the boat does everything well. If a button could be pressed and it folded up for transport I'd give it an 11, since it can't... 10/10
Things we like: the Northstar easily slices through the water, and weighing in at 93 lbs, with two people, is able to maintain a comfortable momentum (once up to speed) with minimal effort. We found that bent-shaft carbon fiber paddles greatly reduce fatigue and really compliments this boat. The hatches have remained dry on all trips we have gone out on thus far; it has excellent stability in rough waves; plenty of attach points & webbing to tie stuff on the top when heading out for a long trip; the rudder provides excellent response & control and is easily raised or lowered from the rear cockpit (I would recommend lubricating the pedal controls with a light grease on the slide mechanism for smoother operations); The Phase-3 seat is “awesome” you can adjust that puppy for a very comfortable seat and it breathes quite nicely even on the hottest days; being of polyethylene construction it is virtually indestructible for most river hazards (we can run over rocks, branches, and whatever is just below the water without fear of cracks or tears); bottom line... this kayak is joy to own and has provided hours of kayaking pleasure.
Things we didn’t like: Face it... this is a heavy boat at 93 lbs.... once in the water it is great.... getting it there can be a challenge. After our initial struggles....we purchased a Thule 897XT Hullvator which effortlessly loads the boat on top of my 3-dr Geo Metro and a NRS boat cart....thus problem solved !!! We have not experienced any heat related warping of the plastic hull, and based on other reviewer’s comments have taken great care to ensure our Northstar is well supported in transit & storage. We also periodically polish it with Formula 303 to provide UV protection of the polyethylene and make it shine.
To get a 10 out of 10, it would weigh 50 lbs, still be as strong as an ox, and load itself onto our car on command.... but in the real world.... this is an excellent value and a great tandem kayak choice for novice or expert alike.
While another reviewer has dubbed tandems 'divorce boats', my wife and I have found them very copasetic. They enable us to paddle together, without the otherwise inevitable widening of a gap that would occur if we were each paddling our own single-person boat.
We have put a bit of effort into our teamwork, and can now paddle synchronously without much attention, and for long distances. The relative long inter-cockpit space on the Northstar means that a mis-stroke by the stern paddler (usually me) does not lead to the forward paddler being struck (which would not be good for marital relations).
As other reviewers have pointd out, 94 pounds is way too heavy for a kayak, especially if one plans to transport it car-top. I have a very well-practiced ritual for getting it atop my van, which uses some custom-made guide ropes, but still the process is never easy. I also use a standard two-wheeled kayak dolly for moving it to the water. Note, however, that the weight of the Northstar is not exceptional, even compared to some of the composite boats made by the major manufacturers. The only truly light-weight tandem that I'm aware of is the Bullitt by West Side Boat Shop, which at 45 poulds is less than half the price of the Northstar (but its quite a bit more expensive).
Once in the water, the Northstar handles exceptionally well. Its quite fast: my wife and I, using wing paddles can maintain a speed of 6.2 m.p.h. more-or-less indefinitely. It's extremely stable: we've never even come close to capsizing, even in the rough chop that one encounters off the coast of Maine. It ride pretty high in the water. A big wave will, of course, break over the deck (we always wear skirts), but the boat never submarines. And, compared to a single, it's incredibly spacious, with ample room for both seating and gear. We mostly do day paddles, but once took a three-day trip with it. It was, with camping gear, pretty heavily-laden, but still performed well.
Other than the weight, the only other gripe that I have is that I would really prefer front-paddler steering over the rear-paddler steering used by the Northstar and most comparable tandems. I couldn't count the number of lobster bouys that I collided with, because I couldn't see past the brim of my wife's hat!
Overall, I'm rating the Northstar a 7. It VERY GOOD, but rather too heavy.
The NorthStar is a very big, heavy boat. Car topping requires a certain regimented skill set, especially in brisk winds. Once in the water, however, the kayak really comes into its own. Ours has handled everything from relatively tight rivers and streams to very aggressive open water with equal success, comfort and confidence. Fit and finish are good. The Phase3™ seat is probably the Gold Standard for comfort and adjustability. Our boat's rotomolded plastic construction can get pretty soft while being transported in the hot sun. Wrapping the boat in two white bed sheets sewn end to end looks a little strange, but it sure solves the problem.
We were surprised at how fast this particular design is. An adult paddler and an enthusiastic child can keep up with most solo boats. My wife and I are often the fastest boat in our group, especially on long legs where staggered hydration breaks give any double a strong advantage. With two aggressive, full size paddlers looking to show off, we routinely leave even elite solo paddlers gasping after an hour or so.
The drawbacks we have found are three. One is the position of the rudder lowering mechanism. This fouled my right hand when paddling. I moved it aft of the cockpit and also removed the deck lines by the cockpit, which also occasionally rubbed my hands.
A second drawback is the heavy spray my wife receives in the front seat when punching into chop. However, this is preferable to the solid water that we have experienced in other designs. She now wears UV protection goggles under these conditions.
The third drawback is, as previously mentioned in a review, the manner in which the plastic softens when on land in direct sunlight approaching 90 degrees. The flip side of this is that the kayak will always return to its correct shape when it cools down! We work round this problem by storing the kayak out of direct sun, and, when on the top of our pickup, supporting it at three points along its length. If this kayak were produced in the triple layer poly, as used in my P&H Capella, it would rate 9 in my review. It is available, slightly lengthened, as the Northstar Pro in composite, so those with deeper pockets have another way to avoid the softening issue.
The Northstar is an excellent kayak for our purpose, i.e. solo day trips up to 20 miles in potentially demanding circumstances, in a kayak robust enough to cope with being grounded on beaches and hauled single-handed onto a pickup. Oh yes, and it's a great value.
So, why the 6 out of 10? Being a plastic tandem this boat is a nightmare if you need to transport it during warm weather. The hull doesn't have enough rigidity so it will collapse where the racks contact the boat. I use Thule racks and pads. We drove cross country and this problem really got worse when the air temperature rose above 80 degrees F. The hull collapsing caused numerous problems because once the hull sags the boat is no longer snug on the rack allowing it to move across the racks in cross winds and when semis pass on the interstate. During one of these episodes the Northstar slammed into my other kayak so hard it broke the rudder off my other boat. The boat also sagged so much that it was bouncing off the roof of my new truck.
The bottom line is that this is good boat until you need to transport it during warm weather. I am sure that all plastic boats are the same in order to keep the weight down. Hope this helps you.
120,000+ people can't be wrong!
The Paddling.net Newsletter is a must if you like to canoe or kayak! Each week it is packed with great articles, photos, product reviews, and special features. Better yet, we promise not to sell your email address to anyone; that's right ZERO spam! Sign up today and find out what you've been missing!