Titon Lagota Review
A fundamental challenge to the young and poor kayaker, is that kayaking is not a cheap sport. Firstly, it is a kit intensive hobby and expensive kit at that even if you shop around and pick things up second hand. Secondly, the kit is bulky and often the best locations to use it in are not that accessible. This means that owning or having regular access to a vehicle capable of taking a 14+ foot boat on its roof with ample space in the boot for clothing, food, paddles and other safety equipment is also necessary. Up until now I’ve managed to get away with exploiting the generosity of the paddlers of my local Kayak club: Bideford Canoe Club. I’m very lucky that my club, and the members who run it have a lot of kit which they are nearly always willing to lend out. More than extra kit, they have the generosity to often make sure that I can use it; picking me up, collecting kit, and generally going out of their way to share the sport they love with someone less financially able to access it.
However, generosity of spirit only gets you so far, and when you plan on paddling from the outer reaches of Alaska for a couple of thousand kilometres over multiple months you’d be hard pressed to find someone willing or even able to lend to help out with something as major as a boat! I knew when setting out on the Paddling the Margins project, that I need to bite the bullet and at last actually buy myself a kayak.
So, I needed a boat and set about drawing up my ideal kayak wish list. Firstly, it needed to be an oceangoing vessel. I love sea kayaking and I love pushing myself to take on the bumpiest conditions. I wasn’t going to buy a kayak which wasn’t going to allow me to do this. Secondly, I want to explore the world in my kayak, so the boat needed to be easily transported and preferably able to be taken on a plane. Thirdly, I’m a firm believer in the mantra that an adventure shared is an adventure doubled, therefore I wanted to be able to bring other people along with me. However, it’s a very different proposition saying “hey if you can get a boat to this random arse location you can meet me for a couple of weeks of glorious paddling and then sort your own way back” to saying “hey turn up at this random arse location with a sleeping bag, don’t worry about anything else, and you’ll be able to join me for a couple of weeks of glorious paddling”... I had ended up with quite a restrictive wish list.
Fast forward two months of trawling the Internet, magazines and the brains of every supplier and paddler I knew and I found the Triton advanced Ladoga 2. This boat is a fully collapsible skin on frame sea kayak with closed cockpit/s capable of packing down into one (bloody big) rucksack.
Uniquely, as far as I can tell, it also can convert from a double, with two closed cockpits, to a single with one closed cockpit. This makes it in my opinion the most versatile seagoing kayak on the market. After much agonising I bought the boat and two years of rigorous testing later am ready to review it.
I bought this boat directly from the manufacturers Faltboot a German company. Unfortunately, the company is a small outfit and not set up for international exports. An instruction manual in English was not provided and took a long email chain to source. Even then, this manual was not particularly helpful with poor visual prompts. A construction video was provided on YouTube where an expert quickly and easily constructs the boat in about 15 minutes, the manufacturers suggesting that a skilled assembler could build the kayak 30… The first time I built the kayak it took me and my dad 2 ½ hours. Admittedly, this was not helped by the lack of instructions and we did made many errors along the way. Also, it is worth noting that the hardest build of the boat is the first build. The skin hasn’t stretched and flexed yet and with use I have found that there is a lot more give in the boat (without loss of function so far!).
One of the crucial lessons I’ve learnt through over 30 assemblies and disassemblies of the boat is that if you’re having to use a lot of physical force to complete a step, you're doing it wrong! Knowing this and being in the correct mindset from the start saved a lot of time. Now I can reliably build the boat solo in 45 minutes and disassemble in 15.
This can be made quicker or slower by a helper depending on experience! Still a build time of 30 minutes is a long way off and a completely unrealistic claim from the manufactures.
I first paddled the boat as a single and found it to live up to its reputation for speed. Incredibly light, with a 6 m waterline I could easily hold the boats to 3 ½ or 4 kn, and left other sea kayaks for dead (as long as turning was not required). Despite its length however I actually found that I could edge the boat and didn’t need the rudder system to turn it. Admittedly, I paddled it without the rudder system as I had yet to work out how to install it, however in mellow conditions I think this boat handles perfectly well without one. The next big observation is how stable it is. At its widest point the boat is approaching a metre in width but it is its sponsons, (inflatable tubes along waterline on each side) which really add the stability.
Nevertheless, its width does have clear limitations, I have found that I need a paddle adjustable to 220cm and that the fit is poor particularly for a paddler of slight build. The large ocean cockpit and width combine to mean that the paddler has very few points of contact with the boat. An inflatable (and admittedly very comfortable) seat also elevates the paddler within the boat reducing knee room. This combined with the lack of built-in footrests make it almost impossible to sit in the ‘correct’ and most stable position of knees up under the cockpit rim. The paddler often feels more like a passenger in rather than an active partner of the boat. In bigger conditions, this can leave the paddler feeling quite unstable, even though a capsize is very unlikely.
Having tried multiple solutions to this problem what I have found works best is having airbags custom-made to fit to the left and right of the paddler. Being inflatable allows the fit to be adjusted to the size of paddler while also maintaining the boats portability in a way that bulky foam blocks would not. It also adds increased buoyancy and is a solution which does not require stitching or breaching the skin of the boat in another way (I used adhesive backed Velcro to secure the bags to the skin). I would suggest that the manufacturer investigates including these options as standard.
Another issue with the boat is it must be paddled with the sea sock. Though I would take it out without a sock in mellow conditions, were there to be any risk of capsize I would always use one as the capacity of the boat is huge with no inbuilt bulkheads and in a capsize the resultant water ingress is too great to allow self-rescue. Sea socks however are not particularly comfortable to paddle in being often hot and prone to tangle. The solution that myself and my kit sponsor Chillcheater have devised is to create our own bulkheads by stitching custom-made dry bags for the front, rear and middle of the boat. Apart from providing an extra layer of security for my possessions, these dry bags have an airtight construction and valve which allows them to be inflated once packed. This along with Velcro attachments makes for a very snug fit within the boat, minimising the volume of water that could be taken on in a capsize event. Using Velcro as the attachment system also allows the middle dry bag to be moved depending on whether the kayak is being used as a single or double. I have backed the front dry bag with thick foam to create an improvised footrest for the front paddler when the dry bags are used fully inflated. This also helps with the fit and resultant stability problem mentioned earlier. Again, I would suggest that the manufacturer add these as an option.
As a double, the boat is perfect for paddling with a novice. The front cockpit is roomy and comfortable and as previously mentioned the whole boat is very stable and exceptionally fast. With a complete novice I was able to average 3.5 kn and with a skilled second paddler 4 ½ kn. When paddled as an expedition boat the massive storage spaces come into their own. The boats volume combined with its removable top make packing and unpacking easy.
However, reaching the very front or back of the boat when packing is more difficult particularly as the internal ribs narrow the space substantially. Furthermore, though the front hatch does help packing, the fact that one of the main struts of the frame runs through the middle of the hatch opening means it cannot be used for loading bags wider than a mug. This is a clear design flaw, and I’d suggest that faltboot reengineer the bar in question to split around the hatch aperture.
Lastly, it is worth reminding potential buyers that this is a skin on frame boat. As such it cannot be used in rocky environments as I found out when paddling down the Wye! Direct impacts with rocks will puncture the skin. However, the one time this happened I found the boat very easy to patch with the spare fabric provided and some gorilla glue. The material also does not tear easily and is very abrasion resistant – though keel tape or armour is definitely a worthwhile investment.
All in all, faltboot have designed an exceptionally versatile boat, whose speed, capacity and transportability make for, quite frankly, the best expedition boat for the budget international expedition kayaker (perhaps a niche category but you get my point!).
However, it does have the feeling of a boat that has yet to be rigorously tested. It’s like the manufacturers got all the macro things right while skimping or failing in other small areas in ways that you’d have thought would have been picked up in product testing. Apart from the more major issues which I’ve mentioned already, the manufacturers have cut corners on some of the little things. For example, the rudder system is rudimentary and uncomfortable to use for more than a couple of hours. I would claim that 99% of kayakers would have preferred to spend a little more money and get a better rudder system with integrated footrests then the narrow metal bar on the end of a string which is provided. Similarly, the deck elastic provided which is actually pretty important to keeping the top piece of the boat in place, was of terrible quality. The elastic was only 3 mm with poorly fitting plastic clips. These clips snapped on the first usage and in many cases the elastic also broke within a couple of hours of use. The manufacturers should immediately move to supplying the boat with 6 or 8 mm high quality elastic attached with carabiners.
I would also suggest that the splash guard which folds over the Velcro attachment of the top piece at the front of the boat be extended all the way around the rim as it simply and effectively improves the security of the top piece. Lastly the moving elements of the poles WILL fuse shut if not moved every couple of months and treated with penetrating oil lubricant, after 3 months of storage over winter 3 poles were irrevocably fused. I have found that I need to wash the poles with clean water and then spray them with a silicone-based water displacer with the moving parts being sprayed with penetrating oil after every disassembly to keep in good condition.
having said all of that though its still the best two grand I’ve spent and has given me the freedom to share my passion for paddling with friends in beautiful places across the UK and Europe. I still fully intend to use it for my Paddling the Margins expedition in 2022.