Kayak Comparison – Dirigo vs Pungo

25 thoughts on “Kayak Comparison – Dirigo vs Pungo”

  1. I’m so glad I found this…have been toiling over which kayak to buy for some time. I’m a small person, 5’5″ 120lb, but I need something with a large cockpit for photo gear. The pungo just seemed “huge” when I sat in it and I had trouble maneuvering because of the bulk feel to it…I’ve sat in (but haven’t paddled) a dirigo 106 and liked the cockpit a lot (same width as the 120 and 140). I’ll be paddling along the coastal marshes and some large rivers, tidally influenced, occassionally a large harbor on a calm morning…do you think the dirigo 120 or 140 would suit me?

    1. Kate – If you’re doing mostly coastal paddling, you may find the 140 to be better. The 120 is great for exploring rivers, but a longer boat will have more speed and probably more stability.

  2. Thanks…that’s what I figured. And the 140 comes with an optional child seat…will be great for my 2 yr old in a few more years…when I can trust that he won’t launch out of the thing!
    Your info here has been a great help.

  3. One thing I’ve found sitting in them is that the Dirigo’s cockpit is too small…with my knees hitting the front of it. I’m only 5’6″ so am I bending my knees too much or what? (my experience was with both the 105 and 12 foot.)

    1. Not sure, Andy. The only think I could suggest would be to move the foot pegs forward a bit. That would keep you from having to bend your knees quite so much.

  4. Thanks for a great report and informative comparison. I too have been trying to choose between the Dirigo 120 and the Pungo 120. Now I just need to find the Dirigo in the old Polylink 3 material!

  5. Hey Tom, I am looking for a rec kayak that would be suitable for lakes, moving flatwater and maybe class 1 & 2 rivers like the Tuckaseegee in NC. Do you think the Dirigo would be suitable for all three? Thanks for this writeup and I am really enjoying your photos.

  6. I’m looking for the something similar to what Nancy wants. I want a recreational Kayak with able to handle up to a class 2, stable, fast, and good for inter coastal waters. I would like to have a storage compartment was well.

  7. Nancy & Matt – I’m not sure how the Dirigo would respond on the Tuck. It might do OK. I’m sure it would be fine on the Lower Green.

    As someone else commented, since I’ve written this post Old Town has changed the materials used in the Dirigo and no longer use the Polylink 3. That product provided a rigidity to the boat that made it perform as good as some longer touring boats. I’ve heard that the newer boats don’t do as well. Mine’s a 2005 model.

    James – hard to go wrong with the Pungo. Those are also great all-around boats and perfect for casual exploring.

  8. I am wanting to purchase a new or used kayak and my first time out I was in a dirigio. It was easy to maneauver and was a lot of fun. (I want one just for crusing down the river not so much for speed. Which Dirigio do you suggest. (I am 5’7″ 175 lbs woman) thanks and great post!

  9. Tom,

    Great write up.
    We are currently looking at both of these boats.
    One question I have before deciding on the Dirigo (like my wife has) is the cockpit length. I’m 6″ 210#
    With the shorter cockpit opening how much affect does that have on getting in and out? Knee and Shin room are my concern.


    1. I think you would be fine in either boat. The deck console on the Pungo takes up even more space than the Dirigo, but it’s removable.

      On our last trip I had a 6’5″, 275lb marine borrow a Pungo. He got in and out fine, but the boat looked like it was riding low in the water. The Dirigo seemed to have a higher profile.

      1. Tom
        This information is really helpful. I love kayaks, too. Have a Kestrel 120 OTC, Dirigo 106, Pungo 120. Been trying to decide between a Pungo 120 and Dirigo 120 primarily to accommodate my bro-in-law 6’3″ 285. – Pungo 120 seemed to ride a little low. Do you think the 2011 or 2012 Dirigo will ride a little higher?

        My favorite boat is the Kestrel, but initial stability for first time kayak visitors seems a bit un-nerving to them. I’m a bit disappointed with the Dirigo 106 because of backwash, but have paddled the 120 before, just not in any waves. Is it likely that I’ll notice that less in the Dirigo 120?

        Which boat would be best at accommodating a 6’3″ 285, and a 5’4″ 130 paddler on a small flowage lake which often has 10-15 mph southern winds, i.e. wave action?


  10. I too have both the 12′ Pungo and the 12′ Dirigo. I also have the 10’6″ Dirigo and the older style Pungo. My favorite is the Old Style Pungo. It does not have the water over bow issues the newer Pungo sometimes has. The Dirigo is definately better in rougher water whether open water chop or river rapids. I, however, find the Phase III seating of the Pungo more comfortable than the Dirigo. Initially the Dirigo’s comfort is fine for me, but after a few hours it feels as if there is no padding and butt support regardless of where it is adjusted. The Pungo’s Phase III seating is comfortable all weekend. I also like the roominess and storage capabilitie of the Pungo better. That said, I think the water handling characteristics of the Dirigo is better. I find the 10.6 Dirigo handles every bit as good as the 120 and may even provide more fun on rivers as it can be manuevered just a bit more easily. I use the Dirigo 106 for paddling less than two hours. I use the Pungo 120 for all day or weekend river trips. The Dirigo 120 is a great boat, but I bought it simply to see if it was better than the 106. It wasn’t. It was basically the same except for weight capacity. For most flowing rivers a 12 footer will do. If you plaqn to be mostly open water it is best to look into longer boats. The main deciding factor on length bween a 10′ and 12′ boat will be your body weight nd gear weight combined.

  11. By the way Tom, good article and spot on! Comfort is in the butt of the beholder though I guess. I agree about bow height. The older Pungo had the elevated bow which is why it was not effected by bow wash like the newer Pungo can be. It was probably changed in the newer models to save weight, but I think that was a mistake on their part because I find the Dirigo dryer too. Both boats make excellent all around use kayaks. Comfort and handling should be high priorities when selecting a boat. The Pungo and the Dirigo each fits the bill. Just plant your glutes in each and try them out to determine which might be best for you.

  12. The Dirgo is a great sit-in kayak that is easy to use and great for all levels of paddlers. It is both quick and maneuverable and isn’t too heavy to carry alone. I bought mine from oceankayaksales.com and have used it nearly every day since.

  13. Tom,
    Have you ever seen a neon green dirigo? I was paddling all over in what I was told was a old town dirigo, I loved it, and it was neon green. I know color is a silly thing to get hung up on, but, we all have our quirks. Was I dreaming? I can’t seem to find a green one anywhere. Thanksd

  14. Hi Tom,

    I have been trying to decide between the Dirigo 120 and the Pungo 120. Apparently Pungo has some changes since you wrote this review. First, the seat in the Pungo is way more comfortable than the Dirigo. The Pungo has a lot more adjustability than the Dirigo. The Dirigo only allows the seat back to be adjusted forward or back. The Pungo has that adjustment as well as up and down back adjustment, thigh support adjustment and the seat is more padded. The dashboard on the Pungo doesn’t make the kayak heavier as they both weigh the same….not to mention the dashboard weighs less than a pound. There are only 2 issues I am hoping you can help me with, since the hull design is a bit different than the Dirigo is the Pungo harder to turn? Also is the Dirigo better than the Pungo in lakes? I am thinking waves may be an issue with the Pungo since it has a lower bow but according to sales brochures the design of the bow makes the Pungo go up and over the wave. Thoughts?

    1. Gerry – Good questions. I think Wilderness Systems has improved their seat adjustment. However, I haven’t tried one out for comfort, so I couldn’t tell if it’s better than the Dirigo. I do know that the Dirigo is no longer made with the Polylink III material. That provided the stiffness that let the boat cut through the water so well. I think they are using a poly plastic more akin to the Pungo now. I do like it’s elevated bow line, though.

      As for bow wash, I just remember that I was in a Pungo on rough lake waters watching with a worried look as the waves kept sweeping over the bow. A buddy was in my Dirigo, and seemed to be cutting through them with no problem. Again, since my boats are now several years old, things may have changed.

  15. I am looking to purchase a Old Town kayak. Is the Polylink 3 that was installed in earlier manufactured boats better than the Polylink 3 in boats manufactured today? If so why?

  16. Hello. I just bought a Pelican Premium 100XR Kayak for $ 560. I took it out today & find that it tends to wonder sideways a lot. Won’t stay in a straight line very well. Also the Bow is quit low & even small waves come over top. I’m 5ft.10″ & 155 lbs. I’ve been looking at the Old Town Models & they seem to have a better looking Hull design. Does anyone know if they are better or is there another brand that is? Don’t mind spending up to $1000, but want something good. I live in Kelowna BC. Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Dave

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