Seems it's the age of the hybrid. Hybrid cars, hybrid vegetables, and from Old Town, their contribution to the hybrid era, the NEXT. A tweener solo boat touted for its ability to fit comfortably in both canoe and kayak realms.
Bob McDonough, of Old Town's design team, highlights the "open feel" of the boat. "It paddles like a kayak, but has the openness and ease of a canoe," he stresses. "We wanted a boat that has the feel of a recreational kayak, a profile for low windage, lower seat level, and a hull that tracks nicely. We also worked for a more cutting bow to add some speed. Bottom line, we wanted a boat that's easy to use."
I took it out and put it through the paces this fall – downriver, flats, some minor turbulence. Honestly, if I closed my eyes, I'd have to say that the hull felt like a kayak. That said, I'm pretty firmly in the canoe camp, so I tend to paddle single-blade, although I gave both their due. In the end, I found the boat more suited to double-bladed travel, despite my bias. For one thing, the low seat and back support is more ergonomic for double-blade strokes and the adjustable foot-brace pegs add to the kayak feel. I found myself hitting my upper arm against the seat back using a canoe paddle. If I were serious about only single-blade travel, I'd take out the removable seat and install a more traditional canoe seat.
Old Town places the NEXT in the recreation class, which feels right. The boat is stable enough to fish from, roomy enough to support a weekend trip. The keel-line keeps the hull on track in a wind and on the flats. One windy day I was in the company of a couple of high-sided solo canoes and the NEXT didn't get pushed around nearly as much as the other boats. More rocker than I first appreciated allowed me to turn when I needed to. I was actually surprised by how maneuverable the boat felt, despite the pronounced keel. I bobbed down some Class II water and stayed dry, but that's as far as I'd push it. At 13' the NEXT fits sweetly into small eddies and probes into tight channels. Oh yeah, and I like the blue color.
The NEXT is the boat I'd pick for flatwater exploring, easy downriver jaunts, poking around in the bayous. An easy boat to throw your stuff in and go.
Intel: 13' long, 29" wide, 53 lbs., 3-layer poly hull layup, $999, www.oldtown.com.