Life After Royalex: Mad River Explorer 16 (FGX)

Mad River Explorer 16 (FGX);

L: 16'3; W: 34.5"; 64 lbs. with wood trim, 61 lbs with aluminum; 1,100-lb. capacity.
($2,255 wood trim, $1,905 aluminum, madrivercanoe.com)

The Explorer was the second canoe founder Jim Henry designed for Mad River. It's comparable to the Prospector in terms of carrying capacity, and while it has a less traditional aesthetic, it's a very pretty canoe. I won't apologize for that. In my world, if a canoe isn't pretty, it probably doesn't paddle well either.

The Explorer I tested had wood gunwales, which was the only way Mad River Explorers were available for much of its history. They're beefy gunwales, not a few small strips of wood screwed to the hull. There are structural advantages to wood. It will ex before kinking as aluminum does, and once aluminum has a weak spot, it is a weak spot forever. Unless you store your boat outside 24/7, consider wood gunwales.

Being about 40 years old, you might think the Explorer design is out-of-date. Not at all true. At 16'3" and 14.5" deep at the center, its capacity is over 1,100 pounds, a weight you can't come close to exceeding unless you're carrying sacks of gold dust or lead shot. It's surprisingly close to the dimensions of the Prospector, except it is a few inches narrower at the waterline. Unless the wind is blowing hard, The Explorer is a competent solo paddling canoe.

A following sea from either side is a great way to test a canoe's seaworthiness, and the Explorer excels with wind and waves at the stern. The Explorer had no bad habits. It will not break any speed records, but it's not supposed to. The construction of the Explorer, as expected, is solid. The FGX layup performed admirably. Again, we bounced off a few rocks and logs (mostly) on purpose on easy whitewater, and there was no damage except superficial, cosmetic scratches. Bottom line: If you can only own one tandem canoe, this is an excellent candidate. The FGX construction easily stands in for Royalex.

Life After Royalex: Canoe Materials 101

A rundown of five post-Royalex canoe materials


Wenonah Argosy

Material: Kevlar Flex-Core


Northstar Phoenix

Material: White Gold


Abenaki Algonquin Canoe

Material: Betula Papyrifera


Nova Craft Prospector 16

Material: Tuff Stuff