Abenaki Algonquin Canoe (Betula Papyrifera);

This boat as a replacement for Royalex? Granted, that's a bit of a stretch. These days it would take a lot of convincing to get me to take a birchbark boat on moving water, mostly due to the scarcity of suitable bark and skilled craftsmen to work it. There's also the matter of cost: At $500 a foot, you don't want to go barreling down a rapid.

But that's exactly what native paddlers did. They didn't have the luxury of Kevlar skid plates (they would have loved them), but some of the builders did create a version of skid plates to tie around the belly of the canoe when running rapids or in shallow water. Voyageurs ran whitewater in birchbark canoes that were more than 30 feet long. When they damaged their canoes they simply repaired them with materials gathered along the river. Birch bark can be easily repaired and patched, and the whole canoe is biodegradable. That makes it, in some ways, superior to Royalex.

But leave that for a moment. How does it paddle? The canoe we paddled is 16 feet and 34 inches wide. It paddles beautifully. It's quiet and feels natural under your knees. The traditional bark boat has no seats, so you're sitting on your heels—not terribly comfortable if you didn't grow up doing it. But you can't quibble with the performance of this canoe.

Nova Craft Prospector 16

Material: Tuff Stuff

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