Of all the kayaks I have paddled and owned, portable or not, the TRAK kayak stands out in ways that put it way ahead of the curve. The fact that it changes it's shape puts it in a unique category. No other kayak can make that claim so in my review, I compare it not just against folders, but also hard shell kayaks.
First of all the kayak is incredibly tough. I dragged mine loaded up on river banks, have surfed it into beaches with shells, have bounced it off rocks in rivers and oceans and have certainly had my share of underwater stumps and logs I have either run into or had to extricate myself from. No composite hard shell boat would have come out of it unscathed like my TRAK did. I saw on the TRAK website that they took it down the Grand Canyon and I am not surprised. I think Paddler magazine or somebody did a story of the kayak being run over by a truck too.
The frames come together in minutes since they are all shock corded and the ribs snap into the frame with ball studs pushed through a rubber seal firmly locking them into place. The tubes themselves have this neat ribbed end to them that doesn’t allow the tubes to fuse together if you leave it with salt or sand. I know three friends who have fused kayaks that would require a hacksaw and a costly replacement.
There are 10 pieces: a cockpit coaming, a seat, 2 gear flotation bags, 2 frames, a skin and three jacks. The bow frame has Yakima foot braces already built in and a resin "pillar" which supports the cockpit coaming on the sides while the ribs support it fore and aft. These pillars have a slot for the seat to slide into as well as a post which fit into the chine frames. (hard to describe) All tubes are shock corded. This is very similar to a tent scenario where you pick up the frame and shake it into shape with the tubes slotting in. The three jacks form the connection for the gunwales and the keel and these three are the real heart of the kayak.
These three jacks can supply pressure independently to either raise and lower the bow and stern or twist the bow and stern laterally to adjust for wind or current. I can remember paddling with some buddies in the mangroves in Florida and them muttering that I cheated because I could increase the rocker and twist and turn through the tunnels with ease. Then when we made a crossing in the sound with a crosswind, they were amazed when I "bent" the boat like a banana on its side and immediately corrected for the crosswind without needing a skeg or a rudder. True story.
And here is where all other kayaks pretty much come to a halt. With what I described above you would need three boats. One highly rockered, one with a long waterline, and a third that was portable. And these would be fixed shapes. With the TRAK you can adjust to a little rocker or a lot. With the other boats you would have to make compromises. Hard shell boats are made in a mold and have specific hull shapes that determine performance and rocker. Other folding kayak design their boats so that they will accommodate the majority of the paddlers out there and when assembled do not change shape. Except for the TRAK.
This kayak is by far the easiest and quickest to assemble and disassemble. I can do it comfortably in 11 minutes and if I rush in under 10. there is another that takes about 15 minutes but it is not very rigid. The other ones are minimum 40 minutes. Look, I know someone that can put a TRAK together in 6 minutes and a Feathercraft in 30 but I am talking real world here.
The other thing is that everything you touch is hard. The seat is hard. The coaming is hard, the footpegs are solid. Every contact point you have with this kayak is hard allowing you to precisely control it. No other folding kayak I have been in has this feature. Not one.
This review actually spans a few years now. I never miss an opportunity to try out another folding kayak and am continually surprised at how well the TRAK does against others in just about every category.
I own 7 TRAK kayaks now and I use them almost daily as my personal kayak and for the tours I do down the Amazon and in the south of Brazil. I hold a level three coastal kayaking instructors certification with endorsements in traditional skills and rolling from the ACA. My hardshell fleet has been up to 20 kayaks. My experience with folding kayaks include a homemade folder, TRAK kayaks, Feathercraft, Nortik, Folbot, Oru and many others from around the world. I have also built 7 skin on frame traditional kayaks as well as two strip built kayaks. As I travel so much, I had been looking for the perfect folder for a long time. TRAK in my opinion is the best one out there.
I liked the screw type tightening system at the rear to keep the skin nice and tight along with the two air bladders. I was able to significantly increase the overall stiffness of the boat with a couple of stainless steel pipe clamps on the tightening attachment which by default when you turn the screw would have some play inherent to it. I also got Folbot to add two more D rings at the bow and stern so I could run perimeter lines (a big plus in my opinion)
The cockpit is very large as compared to other boats and the spray skirt is not standard size. But I had no trouble rolling it, or locking myself in. Paddling was a very pleasant surprise as I had expected significant changes from a hard shell boat and while it was different, I don’t feel that it detracted significantly or made paddling any more onerous. It handled very well in waves and chop; you definitely feel the water under you as the frame flexes more than a standard skin on frame. Turns were pretty crisp and I can balance brace it easily. I was able to get up to 5mph pretty quickly and could sustain 4 easily so it is not a sluggish boat by any means.
I know that they had replaced the skin with a more robust Hypalon skin, as well as introducing the tightening system to add rigidity to the boat and, while I never paddled an older Cooper, I can’t imagine having a Cooper without them. You have the option to add more strips to the keel and chines but this does add more weight. (I might do that if I ever choose to sell it after I have beaten the heck out of it. I weigh 205 (today) I loaded it up to 275 lbs and while it settled a bit more in the water, I did not see any reduction in performance. (I was told privately that the 250 lb limit advertised was pretty conservative.) I doubt I even have 70 lbs worth of camping gear since I have gone as ultra light as possible.
One big criticism that I have heard is the C clips that are screwed into the frame that makes up each “rib” are not as robust as some other ways of making the frames. Comments have been made that these can break off or get loose and that they are just not as robust as the HDPE or wood version in some other folders. Perhaps, but I wonder if this is a half full to half empty glass sort of thing. I think an equal argument could be made that you can easily replace one item that you can carry with you instead of trying to replace an entire HDPE or wooden frame? Don’t know. Ask me in a couple of years.
Another negative I have heard about is the seat. The stock seat comes with a flat back attached that flops down onto the seat if you are not leaning against it (It is a hard panel that rests against the rear of the coaming and sticks out above the cockpit). I ordered mine without the back panel altogether. What I have been able to do is use a paddle float as a back rest which works surprisingly well. This is a minor issue though and can easily be modified (the seat) with any number of options.
Once again I would like to reiterate that this boat is a great choice for me given the paddling conditions for which I intend to use it. Just like any other boat, it will not handle everything well. Will some of the other manufacturers folding boats over the years with the same usage last longer? Again I don’t know even though you would think so due to heavier or more robust construction.
If I really concentrate now I can put it together in about 20 minutes. It is all color coded and shock corded so pretty much idiot proof (Unless you pull a bonehead move and put the stern end of the frame into the front end of the skin...don’t ask me how I know this).
Something I should mention is that I took off the foam tubing that they put around the coaming. This was totally unnecessary in my book and served to allow the skirt to slide off much easier than not. Now the skirt really grabs and I feel much more confident it will stay put while rolling. The foam tubing is just like the foam tubing you get at home depot to wrap around pipes anyway so it can always be replaced.
The big improvements for me were the extra D rings at the bow and stern so I can run perimeter lines for safety, taking that seat back off so all I really have is a block that sits on the keel and chines and easily replaced and or modified, and oh yeah, one other thing I had them do: At the stern, there is a piece of industrial Velcro on the deck (both the hook and loop) that sits about two or three feet from the stern on the zipper flap. Since I did not have a chance to paddle the boat more than a few minutes prior to purchasing it, I wanted to be able to attach that skeg that Feathercraft sells that wraps around the boat with straps. There was no place to attach the straps so a foot long piece of Velcro was sewn on to hold those straps in place. I haven't needed it or even tried it out yet as I have felt no extra work in a beam wind or waves (so far) but it is there if I ever feel I need it. Small easy modifications but in my opinion, elevated it to a more seaworthy craft.
Folbot has a forum for each of their products as well as general topics. There is a lot of good information to be gleaned from it to tweak your boat like the stops for the tightening system that I mentioned earlier.
Not going to insult your intelligence but just a reminder that the use of float bags and or a sea sock is highly recommended as there is no inherent flotation.
Sorry if this isn’t a glowing 10 out of 10 review, even though I am giving the boat a 10 for my purposes and an 8 – 9 if I have to try and judge what others may use it for. I love my Folbot Cooper and plan to have it around for a good long time. Nothing beats having a boat in the back of the car that can be put together in less than 20 minutes, is surprisingly agile and fast for its stability, and is very comfortable all around. To me it looks like it is very well put together and the customer service from Folbot is legendary even though I haven’t needed it due to there being nothing wrong with my boat at all. I don’t think you could go wrong choosing this boat.
Turning and handling: The boat turns just fine. You just have to initiate the turn is all. You will not be able to turn the boat quickly without a solid lean and some paddle control but with a little practice you will turn it very quickly and it is amazing what this will do for your skill level in a more rockered boat.
Every boat is a compromise. This boat for me just presents less compromises than benefits, and I would strongly recommend it to paddlers with moderate skill levels.