After extensively testing this boat on the water, I must say I was quite impressed.
In this Old Town Topwater 120 PDL review, I’ll break down what I liked with this cheap but reliable pedal kayak, and what I think could be improved.
[Spoiler Alert: The Topwater 120 PDL is a beast of a kayak. It’s amazingly stable so that even big guys couldn’t fall overboard if they tried. And for the price, it’s much better than all its competitors. That said, the Topwater is out of stock everywhere, but you can get the newer, better Sportsman PDL 120 at the same price.]
Things to Consider Before Buying a Pedal Kayak
Before getting a Topwater 120 PDL, you should know that although it’s lighter and shorter than most pedal kayaks, it’s still heavy enough that I wouldn’t try loading it on top of a car or SUV alone.
Also, while it’s much more transportable than my Autopilot, you’ll probably have to invest in a trailer or landing gear to carry this kayak to and from the water.
Keep in mind that while pedal kayaks are extremely durable, you always want to store them away from direct sunlight. The plastic can warp if it receives too much heat.
Also, the Old Town Topwater 120 PDL is out of stock everywhere, so I’d recommend the new, improved Sportsman 120 PDL instead.
Length: 12 ft
Width: 36 in
Weight: 106 lb
Weight Capacity: 500 lb
Like most fishing kayaks out there, the Topwater 120 PDL is made of a tough and rigid plastic called polyethylene.
Tough as nails and almost impossible to damage, it’ll require significantly less maintenance than a hard-sided boat made out of fiberglass. Expect your Topwater 120 PDL to last a long time.
The Topwater 120 has an average keel length for a fishing kayak, measuring 12-feet in length. This coupled with the 36-inch beam gives the boat a solid top speed for a pedal kayak.
It’s not as fast as lighter, narrower boats like the Predator PDL, but I can still coax out 5.2 mph out of it. Granted, I wouldn’t be able to sustain that speed for more than 20 minutes, but still.
Overall if you plan on covering less than 15 miles then I think you’ll find it fast enough. For longer trips, it might be worth looking into the Predator PDL instead (but it won’t be nearly as stable!)
Keel length also correlates to how maneuverable a kayak is. So it’s no surprise that the Topwater 120 PDL has a pretty good turn radius.
It’s responsive enough to handle narrow rivers. More practiced kayakers should have no issue squeezing in or out of tight areas and little fishing holes.
I’d recommend bringing along a paddle even if you don’t plan on using it. Using a paddle instead of the pedal system can make those short-area turns much easier.
Old Town takes their kayak seats seriously, knowing it’s hard to have fun if your back hurts. The seat is adjustable as well as breathable, making it great for those hot summer days.
The seat can even be raised or lowered depending on whether you’re traveling or fishing. The deck is big and open, making it great for paddlers of all shapes and sizes.
Even for big guys, the seat is wide enough to be comfortable for hours on the water.
Stability & Tracking
Here’s where the Topwater 120 shines. The boat has a tunnel hull design with what looks like two inverted U’s. This pontoon-style gives the boat excellent stability, capable of handling sudden rocking or shifts in body weight.
It’s so stable that anglers can stand and cast without fear of capsizing. This is a tremendous advantage since you can get better distance and accuracy on your casts while standing. It’s also easier to spot passing schools of fish.
Unlike the Predator/Bigwater PDL, there’s very little risk of going overboard with this boat, even for big and tall guys.
I’ve even tried standing on the nose as an experiment, and it didn’t feel as tippy as I’d have thought. I could have never have done that on my Bigwater PDL as I’d have gone swimming long before I could ever reach the nose.
Regarding tracking, The Top Water 120 PDL comes with a rudder that can be easily deployed from the seat.
This gives the boat excellent tracking, responsiveness, and maneuverability. It allows you to handle more adverse conditions such as wind, waves, or tides while still maintaining your course.
The only thing I would have liked to see on the rudder is the little knob on the hand control that’s on the Bigwater. It helps lock down the rudder in strong currents, which can really make a difference.
If you punch a hole in a polyethylene kayak I’ll be amazed. The tough plastic will absorb any accidental drops, or on-water collisions and keep on going. It’s no wonder the hull literally has a lifetime warranty.
I do wish they’d added a skid plate to the bottom of the hull in case you have to drag it.This is one area where I’d exercise some caution. Prolonged drags can cause the plastic to scratch and peel which will lower your boat’s efficiency. The same precautions should be applied for landing on rocky beaches or in high surf.
Regarding the pedal drive, it’s covered by a 5-year warranty. Overall, I’ve heard zero complaints about it, unlike on Pelican boats which tend to have quality issues.
Little known fact: If you hit a rock at full speed, the pedal drive won’t break. It will automatically kick up and you’ll only have to replace the lock which costs a few bucks.
Fishing kayaks tend to be on the heavy side because of all the extra features and the weight of the polyethylene hulls.
The Topwater 120 PDL is no different, checking in at 106 pounds when empty. This will make it tough for most paddlers to move on their own, but is actually a reasonable weight for a pedal kayak.
If you’ll be fishing solo a lot of the time, it may be worth buying a small hand trailer to help you get it from the car to the water’s edge.
For tandem carries, the boat comes with a couple of handles, one on the bow and another on the stern. I prefer the ergonomic “T-handles” that are also popular, but two people should have no issue moving a Topwater 120 over reasonable distances.
There are two more handles near the center of the boat to help you load/unload it in the bed of a truck.
Features & Accessories
Like most kayaks in this price range, the Topwater 120 doesn’t come with much in the way of extra goodies to entice buyers. This is more common in entry-level, recreational kayaks or inflatable boats. A lot of these come with a cheap paddle or something similar.
I do wish the boat had come with a paddle holder though. I’m a big proponent of bringing one along even if you don’t plan on using it for safety and redundancy. Not having one built into the hull makes it much more challenging to store one when not in use.
No fishing boat would be complete if it didn’t come packed to the gills (no pun intended) with fishing options.
The Topwater 120 PDL comes with three flush-mounted rod holders, allowing you plenty of diversity on the water. A large scupper hole in the front of the boat doubles as a transducer mount. This enables you to install a fishfinder without drilling a hole in your boat.
Additional rod and tackle storage areas mean that you’re able to keep everything at arm’s reach and find the perfect lure to bring dinner home.
But my favorite fishing feature is the boat itself. In addition to providing excellent stability, the U-shape hull design makes it one of the quietest boats as it moves over the water. If you’re in shallow water or your target species is near the surface, this can be a serious game-changer, allowing you to sneak up on an unsuspecting school without spooking them.
For storage, the Topwater 120 has a big stern storage tank. Bungee cords stretched across the stern secure your gear and is a great spot for oversize items like a tackle box, black pack, cooler, or camping gear in dry bags.
A dry hatch can be found in the bow and should be large enough to accommodate any water-sensitive camping gear you want to bring along. With a 600-pound load capacity, there should be plenty of room for you, your gear, and any fish you’re lucky enough to bring home.
While the Topwater 120 doesn’t have quite as many custom features as other pedal kayak designs, it’s also noticeably cheaper. Especially when you factor in the included transducer mount which isn’t even included in some more expensive boats.
If you’re on a budget or are new to the sport and just looking to get started, this is a great model to try out and see how much you like the pedal kayak designs.
Even if you consider yourself a more serious angler or have the funds to go up in price, it the Topwater 120 PDL is worth it for its amazing stability and good speed.
It’s personally my favorite pedal kayak under $2500.
[Update 2022: The Topwater 120 PDL has now been replaced by the Sportsman 120 PDL. It’s the exact same boat, with a few improvements]
The Sportsman 120 PDL is actually the newer, upgraded version of the Topman 120 PDL.
It comes with a better seat, slightly bigger front tankwell storage, a few improvements here and there, and… that’s about it.
Given the Topwater 120 PDL is really hard to find these days, I’d get my hands on the Sportsman 120 PDL if you can.
Unless you can find a Really good deal on the older Topman, then of course it’d be worth it.
The Predator PDL is narrower and faster than the Topwater 120 PDL.
Unfortunately, this also means it’s way less stable. If you’re a big guy, you’ll have to be extra careful when standing up if you don’t want to go swimming.
Apart from that, it has the same weight capacity and weight as the Topwater 120.
It steers pretty well just like the Topwater, and tracks better in strong currents thanks to the little knob on the rudder control.
The big difference comes in the fishing loadout. You’ll find more custom features in this model including six mounting plates for a GPS and similar items.
It does come at a higher price point though. Unless you really need those custom options, I’d pick the Topwater (or newer Sportsman PDL) over the Predator.
- Faster but less stable than the Topwater
- More custom features
- More expensive
The Outback from Hobie shares a lot of similarities with the Predator PDL. It’s a little longer, measuring almost 13-feet long, and when you factor in the slightly narrower keel, you can expect a better top speed making it better for longer trips.
The H-rail custom system means outfitting your Outback to your precise specifications is a breeze and there’s also a spot for a fish finder. Handy little pockets near the seat are great for keeping your spare lures and other things you want access to on the water.
The load capacity is just 425 pounds though, so despite the long keel, it’s not as good for longer trips than the options from Old Town.
- Smaller load capacity
- Easy to use custom features
- Great stability for ocean fishing
As one of the lightest and cheapest pedal fishing kayaks out there, the Topwater 120 PDL really stands out as a great fishing boat.
It’s missing a few of the flashier features like a gear track system or a paddle holder, but getting the transducer mount is a huge value.
If you’re looking for a beast of a kayak, with unmatched stability to stand and cast, and good top speed, then the Topwater 120 PDL is hard to beat.
[Update: The Topwater 120 PDL is out of stock everywhere. I’d recommend getting the new Sportsman PDL 120 instead]