Submitted: 12-23-2010 by Stratified_nomad
I was looking for a kayak primarily for recreation and exercise, but I also wanted a boat versatile and spacious enough for trips of up to a few days. I also wanted a boat durable and stable enough for a variety of conditions: Everything from calm inland bodies, to moderately turbulent coastal waters (no whitewater rivers or heavy surf). Since I don't have (nor want) a car and have limited storage space a folder seemed like the best option. I considered all the manufacturers I could find. Since overall value and price were also important considerations, the Folbot Cooper seemed like the best choice. I received my Cooper in late 2009, and have paddled it probably about 30-40 times as of this writing.
Assembly and design:
I practiced assembly/dissassembly about 3-4 times before paddling my Cooper. Plan to spend about an hour the first few times the boat is assembled. This gives you a better understanding of how the Cooper fits together. Assembly now typically takes me about 30 min, but I'm sort of meticulous; with practice it will take most paddlers about 20-25 min. Overall, the Cooper is designed with the 'simple-smart' aesthetic in mind: I love that it isn't any more complicated than it needs to be; assembly is fairly easy, but the boat is reasonably durable.
The first minor complaint I have relates to the half-moon clips: As others have mentioned, during assembly (and often during paddling) the longer ones tend to dislodge from them. Fortunately Folbot has attached Velcro fasteners on the clips at the more critical frame-points, but they should just attach them to all the half-moon clips; this would make the frame more secure for a negligible cost. The cockpit also seems unnecessarily large, though it does make for easy entry/exit.
I ordered my Cooper with the airfom seat upgrade, and a nylon-neoprene spray skirt. The airfom seat provides a more precise fit (esp for larger paddlers). I'm 5'9", 155#, and paddle with little or no air in the seat bladder, but the lower-lumbar bladder provides some nice back support. Overall, the airfom seat is probably a good idea for larger paddlers (6'+), but for others it's more of a luxury than a necessity. So far a rudder hasn't seemed at all necessary, though it might be for those paddling in high winds.
I've paddled my Cooper in a variety of conditions, from the calm inland waters of Lake Washington, to 3' waves off the coast of Kauai. It's proven to be a nice balance of speed and stability, and so far it hasn't suffered any damage other than blemishes and normal wear. This is my first experience with a folder and it's paddling characteristics are more similar to a hard-shell than I expected. The frame is highly flexible, but this doesn't seem to effect the overall performance much. As other have noted the flexible frame and skin improves stability significantly. I'd trust the Cooper in just about anything except heavy surf, and open ocean crossings (though the latter is probably doable).
At a comfortable pace the Cooper easily maintains a speed of about 2.5 mph, and at a brisk pace the speed increases to about 3-3.5 mph. The practical top speed seems to be about 5.5 mph, or at least that's about as fast as I've been able to paddle (at that point greater effort didn't seem to yield more speed).
So far I haven't used my Cooper for any overnight trips, but there is certainly enough cargo space for at least 3-4 days worth of supplies (depending on how light one travels). I've paddled with about 50 pounds of gear, which improves stability (provided the weight is balanced), but causes it to sit noticeably lower in the water.
While the craftsmanship isn't comparable to high-end manufacturers like Feathercraft, and the Cooper does have a couple fairly minor design/engineering issues (to make assembly simple and keep costs reasonable), it's plenty durable enough for the conditions most recreational and fitness paddlers will encounter. Overall the Cooper is an exceptional value for a quality folding kayak.