MAD RIVER EXPEDITION 176
($2,599 in Kevlar/Aramid weave w/aluminum gunwale / $2,799 w/wood gunwale, madrivercanoe.com)
L: 17′ 6″; W: 35.5″; D: 15.25″; 60-63 lbs.
You'll be hard pressed to find a better expedition canoe, both in aesthetics and performance. With minimal rocker and an asymmetrical hull, it blends cruising with cargo space and is built to track true.
This canoe turns when you need it to, and hauls on the flats. The smaller details are also spot-on, including a sliding, contoured cane bow seat, contoured portage yoke, tripping thwart, adjustable stern ash footbrace, and shaped ash carry handles. "The Bentley of our trip – a floating work of art," said one tester.
Perhaps its best attribute, however, is its lightweight construction, which makes you feel guilty about packing that extra Fosters oilcan. Its Kevlar base gives it a tensile strength five times stronger than steel, while a fiberglass/graphite weave, capped with a gel coat, makes it pound-for-pound one of the most durable canoes available. These attributes, combined with its easy-on-the-eyes shape, made the Mad River the first canoe "dibbed" each morning.
The only knocks: The hot-from-the-sun black gunwales burned one tester's thighs. Our demo model was white, which is perhaps not the best color for tripping on a silty Southwest river. The sleek new hull had a fresh bathtub ring at every camp (one of which showed how out of trim it was with my daughter in the bow).
THE RANKINGS (1-10):
Hull Speed: 9.5
Eddy Turns: 7
Initial and Secondary Stability: 8
Overall Comfort: 8.5
Loading/Carrying Ease: 10
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