Kayak Comparison – Dirigo vs Pungo

New Kayaks

I’ll admit it – I have a yard full of kayaks. I’ve got three Perception Torrent sit-on-top whitewater boats that I’ve had for over ten years now. In the past year I’ve bought two decked recreational kayaks, and have been storing my nephew, Chip’s boats, as well. I’ve been paddling the Old Town Dirigo 120 and the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 for about a year now, and have come to some conclusions about them. Ultimately, I think I like the Dirigo better, and here’s why…

The Dirigo has one of the most comfortable seats I’ve ever sat in. It’s great for all-day paddling. That being said, if I had never sat in a Dirigo seat I probably would have said that the Pungo’s seat was the best I’ve ever sat in. They are both comfortable, but the Dirigo wins out slightly.

The Pungo has more storage options. With the addition of a deck console and plenty of storage behind the seat, I’ve got lots of places to tuck water bottles, cameras and GPS units. However, adding the console adds to the weight of the boat. The Dirigo also has excellent storage. It’s just not as convenient to reach as the Pungo. It has a built-in deck console, so weight isn’t an issue, but the console doesn’t hold as much as the Pungo.

The Dirigo is overall lighter, faster, and seems to cut through rough water better than the Pungo. On the Tugaloo River when we hit some rough open water, I was worried that the Pungo would swamp. This past weekend I was in the Dirigo taking on1 – 2 ft. seas with no problem. Something about the elevated bow lines let it cut through the water just a bit better. You can see the difference in hull design in the first image above and in the two images below. The Dirigo is the blue boat on top:

Old Town Dirigo XT 120 Kayak at REI.com.png by RndConnections on Aviary

Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 Kayak with Dashboard at REI.com.png by RndConnections on Aviary

The Dirigo does much better in open water than the Pungo. However, the Pungo does fine on rivers.

I like both boats. They are both fine craft. It seems I’ve been paddling the Pungo more than the Dirigo. Since it’s stable and forgiving, I let friends paddle the Dirigo when we head out. On those rare times when I have taken the Dirigo for myself, the thought runs through my head, “Ah, yes! This is why I bought this boat!” I may have to start being a bit more selfish when we paddle. ;-)

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Comments (23)

  1. Kate

    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. Tom (Post author)

      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. Kate

    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. Andy Bailey

    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. Tom (Post author)

      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. Andy Bailey

    That is what I am wondering. Anyway Tom…this is a great write up and I appreciate your efforts!

  5. SG

    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!

  6. Nancy

    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.

  7. Matt

    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.

  8. James Robert Smith

    Thanks for the review. My wife and I have just about decided to buy a couple of Pungo kayaks. Sounds like the boats for us.

  9. Tom (Post author)

    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.

  10. Colleen

    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!

    1. Tom (Post author)

      Colleen, the 12 ft is a good, manageable size.

  11. Paul


    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. Tom (Post author)

      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. CJ

        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?


  12. Captain Hemo

    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.

  13. Captain Hemo

    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.

  14. ocs12

    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.

  15. Pamela

    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

  16. Gerry

    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. Tom (Post author)

      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.

  17. Paul

    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?


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