Old Town NEXT
(L: 12'9"; W: 29"; 59 LBS., $999, OldTownCanoe.com)
The NEXT is the next (see what they did there?) evolution of canoes that are propelled with a double-bladed paddle. Actually, it could just as well been called the Throwback, back to the 1880s and the voyages of Nessmuk. The NEXT adds a super-comfortable seat with an aluminum frame and cloth slings. Think of it as a really high-tech, super-adjustable well-designed lawn chair. As one of our reviewers said, "I can see myself doing nothing all day in this boat." High praise indeed.
The glide is excellent, but you will hit the hull speed quickly if you try to push it. If you're in a hurry, and you're in a NEXT, examine your attitude. You might want to slow it down a bit, ditch the watch and the GPS and just enjoy the water moving under you.
With a reassuringly stable hull and propelled with a long double-bladed paddle, the NEXT combines the appeal of a recreational kayak with many of the virtues of a canoe. The open hull is easy to get in and out of, and makes quick work of loading and unloading. While designed primarily as a day- tourer, the NEXT has ample space for overnight gear. Enough water dripped in my lap to make me long for a cover, so I had one made up (see sidebar). Adding a custom nylon deck from Cooke Custom Sewing made this little canoe a great weekend tripper.
The three-layer polyethylene construction is certainly durable. While I wasn't trying to abuse the hull, I didn't shy away from running up and over partially- submerged logs. The hull flexed a little as predicted but there was no damage at all, just a slight scuffing.
Faults? It's the heaviest of the boats reviewed, but at 53 pounds it's not unwieldy. I feel that the decks are unnecessarily large, probably repurposed from a larger canoe. I bet the next generation could be ten pounds lighter. There's a challenge for you, Old Town.
The NEXT is a really pretty canoe. The colors are bright and vibrant, which some traditional canoeist will eschew, but it's about time someone made a canoe that wasn't green or red. Beyond the cheerful Skittles- like colors, the canoe has a pleasing shape and looks pretty on the water. The bright colors also increase the visibility, which is a benefit for those who paddle around motorized traffic.