Monday, 18 May 2015

Equipment Review - Kayak Carrier Systems Expedition Trolley

A trolley is one of the most useful sea kayaking accessories, the ability to move a kayak on a trolley can both reduce strain on the body and extend the flexibility of expeditions, offering additional route options.  There are two broad scenarios in which a trolley may be most useful; moving a kayak from a car to the launch site and to carry inside or on the deck of a kayak during an expedition.

In the first scenario a trolley is really useful if the launch site is any distance from the car, or if the tide goes out any sort of distance at your paddling venue.  If you are paddling solo then the advantage of a trolley should not be underestimated to save the effort of carrying even an empty kayak. 

In the second scenario a trolley can be used to portage the boat across land barriers, past difficult sections of water or canal locks, and of course, on and off ferries.  The ability to get a boat on and off a ferry extends the available route options and allows escape in deteriorating weather.  In my opinion, a trolley is pretty much essential kit if making a solo journey by kayak.

Some years ago I was on the point of purchasing a Kayak Carrier Systems (KCS) trolley from Mike Thomson at Scottish Paddler Supplies.  Following Mike's untimely death in 2008 the KCS trolley (which was designed and manufactured for Mike by Ronnie Weir) ceased production as Ronnie couldn't at that time take on the retail aspect of the business.  I was delighted to hear recently that Ronnie had restarted production and would retail direct via his website at Kayak Carrier Systems.  Even better, following comments from Douglas Wilcox and a couple of other folk, Ronnie had designed a new version of the trolley in which the original version had been widened and lowered, manufactured to an even more rugged standard and now featured an inbuilt stand to aid solo loading.  The redesigned trolley would be marketed as the "Expedition Trolley" to reflect its intended use.

The review below is a first impression report of the KCS Expedition Trolley - I intend to follow up with an extended use review after using it over several expeditions and a range of day paddles.

Conflict of interest statement:  I purchased a KCS Expedition trolley at full retail price.  I have had a small input in providing feedback in order that a couple of small design tweaks could be made but have no connection with KCS other than being a customer/reviewer.

The KCS Expedition Trolley is designed to be strong, light and durable - a difficult set of conflicting qualities to achieve.  It is designed to carry the weight of a fully laden sea kayak (or open canoe) over smooth or rough ground and to be easy to assemble/disassemble in order to transport it inside or on the deck of a kayak.

At present KCS products are sold directly via the website, and trolleys are available to demo at Glenuig Inn on Scotland's west coast and at Seaborne in Devon in the south west of England.


On opening the packaging the quality of the components used is immediately obvious.  The axle is high quality aluminium and fittings are either brass or stainless steel.  The legs are manufactured from the best available grade of polypropylene and have pads of closed cell foam to protect the hull of the kayak.

A real plus point is the spare parts kit supplied with the trolley.  Parts which might be misplaced in use such as T-Grips, a wheel retaining pin and the knurled locking handwheel are supplied as spares.  The spares kit is a thoughtful addition by a designer who is a paddler himself, and ties in with the "expedition ready" design brief.

A set of assembly and maintenance instructions, a securing strap and a strong drybag in which to store and transport the trolley completes the package.

Assembly is very straightforward; the pads (backed with strong polypropylene) secure to the frames with threaded T-Grips.

The axle is pushed through the frames and nylon spacers placed at each end. 

The frames are secured together with the knurled handwheel and the wheels can then be fitted and held in place with stainless steel gate-pins.  The wheels are the tried-and-tested 10 inch (25cm) wheels of the type found on many trollies and have pneumatic tyres fitted with Schraeder valves.  In use I've found it best not to fully inflate the tyres in order to give a balance between flotation and ease of pulling.  The single leg stand folds down from one side of the frame and makes solo loading of a kayak straightforward, the stand folds back up alongside the frame once the kayak is secured.

The trolley fits in an oval rear hatch with ease if the axle is removed.  Breaking it down further means that it can be fitted into a surprisingly small space (see the image on the KCS website which shows just how neatly the parts can fit together for stowage).  The wheels won't fit into a 20cm round kayak hatch, but fit into an oval hatch easily enough.

When journeying with a fully packed kayak the trolley can be broken down into two frames/axle/wheels and stowed in a storage bag strapped to the back deck.  The total weight of 3kg makes no discernable difference to stability on a loaded boat, but rear deck re-entry techniques may need to be adapted to take account of this or any deck cargo.

The optimum position for the trolley underneath the kayak will vary slightly from model to model and will be affected by kayak loading, but in general terms just aft of the cockpit gives a good balance.  Do take some time to practice securing the boat before heading out, it will be time well spent.

To secure a trolley I use the straps from my roof carrying bars which are longer than most.  The strap originally supplied with the Expedition trolley was slightly too short to comfortably secure a boat - when this was fed back to KCS a longer strap was immediately supplied and this is now standard.  A second strap running from the cenre of the frame of the trolley and up around the front of the cockpit rim will prevent any rearward movement of a trolley on soft sand or rough ground.

Following some trips with the Expedition trolley, the only criticism that Douglas and I could find was an occasional instance of the trolley rotating forwards under the boat on extremely rough ground or in very soft sand.  This could be mitigated by careful use of straps, but Douglas suggested a small rear extension for use on really tough terrain.  Ronnie came up with a design solution which has been successfully tested by Douglas on the trolley-eating portage across Jura and found to work very well in preventing any forward rotation.

The keel extension resembles a small aircraft tailplane and is now supplied as standard with the Expedition trolley.  It may not be required on most types of portage but underlines the expedition focused design and the willingness of Ronnie to adapt and improve an already good design.

Image by Douglas Wilcox

My first multi-day trip with the KCS Expedition Trolley included a portage with a heavily loaded kayak from the River Shiel to the sea at Moidart and took in a stretch of tarmac road....

.....and a bumpy estate track with some muddy sections.  It has also been used when day paddling to move a lightly laden boat across a variety of terrain.  In all situations so far it has performed faultlessly and has been easy to assemble and load in the field.

In my opinion the KCS Expedition trolley is a very high quality product and is unrivalled as a trolley for use on kayak (or canoe) expeditions. The quality of materials used make for a product which feels absolutely bombproof in use looks to be very durable.  The lower, wider design and subsequent small improvements make this the perfect trolley,and the addition of a single leg stand makes it particularly suitable for a solo user. In fact it is difficult to think of any way in which it could be further improved.

The current retail price is on the KCS website and is competitive when compared with other high quality trollies; the price also includes free UK delivery.

There will be an update to this review after I've had the opportunity to use the Expedition trolley as intended, on extended journeys which include rough and challenging terrain.  I have little doubt that it will prove as rugged and durable as the Scottish landscape itself!

For now, if you are looking for the best sea kayak trolley available  - look no further than this one.

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