I originally reviewed the Northwind 16 in 2010, giving it a 9. I've changed my opinion after five years of heavy use.
The canoe is one of my favorites and I also own a Mad River Explorer,and a Wenonah Prism.
Rather than repeat much of what has been said about stability and toughness, I will add a bit on capability. I just paddled 200 miles of the Yukon River in the canoe that was certainly overloaded. (I love to over pack on week long trips)
The boat performed perfectly, albeit with less free board than I would have preferred on thirty-two mile long Lake Leberge. My spray deck made that possible.
The Northwind is back in production by Northstar Canoes, which is owned by Ted Bell. I would recommend the Northwind as a great family canoe. The current versions are composite canoes that are much lighter than my Royalex version, making a good flat water canoe even better.
I was worried about the Northwind's performance when I asked on some class II-III rapids, but I decided to take it anyway (between plastic and glass, plastic made more sense). This boat handled beautifully! It took some water on the big waves (I had about an inch in the stern) but I was glad for the ability to turn on a dime. My family now calls it "the Sportscar".
So my initial review of the Northwind would be a hands down 10/10. It was dry! Also faster and handled much better then my old flat bottomed no rockered orange canoe. I'm tall and strong and have been solo canoeing my old canoe all my life, so switching to the Northwind was an amazing improvement. It sits on its side so comfortably that it is no longer a circus act, like before. I put a foam pedestal and knee pads in it and tackled the locally famous three snye rapids In low level conditions. And failed miserably... my fault not the canoes! I then took the Northwind down a small local creek during a major flood and came to the obvious conclusion that the Northwind is not in fact a 9 and not a 10.
For a canoe that fits somewhere between a tripping canoe and a river canoe, having the key features of both types, the Northwind is perfect. Definitely worth every penny. Without having tried one, however, I would assume the perfect canoe for me, would have maybe been the 15 foot tandem Yellowstone, outfitted for solo canoeing.
Bood stability and tracking in slow to medium rivers depending on rising or falling tide and wind. Recently took her on a 4 day camp/canoe/hunt excursion in Georgia...put in at landing...paddled solo almost 8 miles against the wind but at least I had a slow following tide. Boat was loaded completely with cooler, water, camping gear and my recurve, arrows, etc...plus clothing in waterproof bags. Boat was a little uneven with front up about 8 inches even with water and cooler of food in front which caused the wind to catch it on the paddle to camp. I was able to learn the boats nuances and paddle fairly predictable by playing the wind and current and staying to edges and cutting corners. During the stay it worked great for going from island to island chasing feral hogs. On final day it was loaded for the paddle back to landing just above freezing. The falling tide was much swifter and with the lower water it exposed a lot of sweepers and water obstructions... even a fairly fast exit into a diversion canal to save time that was blocked by a sand bar and a sweeper with a strong wind to my port side trying to push me into the obstructions I was able to dig with the paddle and keep it moving without dumping on me. Some good chop and with a boat fully loaded I was very pleased with the handling of the boat even in a precarious situation.
It is not the fastest though with two people on flat water it flies in my book...not most manueuverable but is able to make good turns even in small tight lowcountry tidal creeks and swamps...stability is good especially secondary. This is not the best canoe I have ever seen or paddled but is a good, solid, reliable and stable canoe that will cover a multitude of situations in a GOOD to VERY GOOD response. It excels on flat slow water with two paddlers but is up to the task for an occasional solo paddle or in faster moving water if needed. To me this is the epitome of a expedition/trapper styled canoe that can handle it all well...but really showing its worth on flat water when loaded.
Now I have more skills and can avoid swamping in Class III and I can dig deep to harangue it to maneuver with a big load, but it isn't ideal for either of those tasks, as Bell freely admits when they say "favorite for flatwater tripping." The differential rocker and asymmetry mean that it will never be able to spin like a top, and isn't the best for Bill Mason style back ferry.
Working as a guide for a livery, I regularly paddle this boat solo down a mellow, shallow, Class I river and it is perfect for that. It withstands years of abuse from clients and still looks awesome. I've seen clients zigzag backwards hitting everything imaginable all the way downriver and still not go for a swim. At the takeout, it lifts easily onto my back to portage 1/4 mile up a scree slope to trailer and it can then be lifted up onto higher trailer racks, i.e. it is well-balanced and has a nice yoke. I've had more trouble with lighter canoes (like badly designed Wenonah Rendezvous, see review).
I'm still searching, but right now if I had to commit to only one canoe for life, this would probably be it. An excellent boat.
I stand by my initial score of 9. Once I got to know the canoe, I was completely satisfied with its performance. For a Royalex boat, it has a great glide. I haven't found it unstable at all. I've only manage to tip is once when a "sweeper" got the best of me running a class II river. That was chalked up to tactics, and not the canoe.
I am sad to hear that Bell Canoes are going out of production, because I would love to pick one up in Kevlar layup. I've seen by these reviews that people are finding used ones at good prices. Consider yourself fortunate. I've posted some videos on YouTube that could certainly be found with a search for Bell Canoe if you want to see a NorthWind in action.
The Northwind royalex is not the lightest canoe available but is a good compromise between weight and price, since budget was an issue. We have been paddling flatwater in canoes and kayaks for over 20 years and, although not experts,we have acquired decent skills and knowledge. The Northwind purchase is working out great and we are impressed with the design.
Some have said initially it feels a little tippy--we did not find that to be the case. Yes there is movement which is normal for a quality canoe and the secondary stability seems to kick in fairly early which makes for a very secure feel. We have encountered power boat wakes and are impressed with these handling characteristics as well--it seems to cut through the wakes more than riding over them, which makes for a smoother transition. The differential rocker seems to transform into a good tracking canoe that also turns with ease. While my wife gently controls our path from the bow I have casted for bass from the stern with great comfort and security--a great fishing platform.
The only complaint and reason for a 9 rating is the seats. Although the quality is decent the comfort is not great. The cane seat surface is only 11" wide and not enough for my 240 lb back side. My wife is a fairly small person but she was not happy with the seats as well. Those will definitely be replaced by Ed's contour seats in the near future.
Once we get the seats replaced this will probably be the perfect canoe for our needs.
It is wet in CIIs, however, I still love this boat...It has better tracking and glide than any royalex boat I have paddled (mostly MR and OT). The quality is the best among those as well. I solo more than tandem with this, and on a wide river, I get along quickly and easily. the kneeling thwart works great and the tumblehome is your friend if your a loner. I did taking it fishing a few times, and my buddy raved over the increased leg room in the bow over my other two 16 footers. Stability is great too.
Overall, for what most people do (lakes and calm rivers) I think this is the best family all-rounder. If you truly paddle (not just intend to) II+s this is not quite the right boat.
Got her in and settled and then I pushed off and settled in my seat. A little tippy at first as it was empty save for my large frame in rear and her much lighter in front. Good 15knot wind started across from us and front wanted to turn with wind but got the feel for boat and was able to side slip until the turn to get it as a headwind.
The canoe paddled very nicely...my own rustiness and lack of familiarity with this particular canoe was more of an issue than the boat itself. After 30 minutes she was settling down and I was able to more precisely paddle her where intended. The tumblehome I had always heard about from a DY canoe was all I had been told...I was able to maintain posture while paddling in near vertical position without impacting canoe....and the Bending Branch Traveler paddle propelled us forward quite efficiently...with limited disturbance at completion of each stroke. The rx material was solid and the only time I felt any movement in skin was when going over a submerged log with only 3-5 inches of water....so at that time I was thankful we were sitting high in water. LOL
With another 75-100 lbs in the boat with 75%of it towards the bow for balancing the load I could see this as being a very stable craft. Even empty save for us paddlers and its tippiness...it really wasn't bad. Once I got settled it was very stable...
There is good secondary stability as well though at my size I felt like I could easily dump it if I gave more than a little effort...think I will try Canadian paddling style solo when the water warms a bit. :)
I look forward to my next trip and for a full year of paddling this fine craft....so far it is all I expected and look forward to many hundreds of hours of pleasure this year.
I like the canoe a lot. It's proved to be very stable, and durable. It's not the fastest canoe around with a hull speed of about 4mph with a moderate load. If I wanted something faster, I would have got a longer, narrower canoe. The speed and glide are fine for a 16 and half foot canoe. The tumble home sides are a rarity for a Royalex hull. They give the canoe a nice profile, and make paddling a bit easier, especially for smaller paddlers.
The only dislike I have is the design and placement of the forward thwart. It is right behind the front seat and it prevents solo paddling the canoe backwards from the front. This is the only thing that prevented a rating of 10. It has a point on it that will hit the front person in the back if they lean back. It's kind of a minor issue really, but something my wife discovered while attempting to lounge a bit.
I haven't paddled the canoe solo yet, but I surely it could be done from the kneeling thwart in the rear.
Think I may have found as close to a 'Perfect' canoe as reasonably possible. The stability on this canoe is absolutely unprecedented. As an experienced canoeist, I can appreciate a boat that bespeaks stability at every wave. Secondly, even though we were using a beaver-tail paddle instead of the faster, larger poly-paddles, you could tell this was an excellent boat - the genius of David Yost really is something!
One of the previous reviews spoke about how fast the Northwind was, once you've got it up to speed-I know now what he was talking about! This boat isn't quite as fast as the Sundowner by Wenonah, but it's got the stability and maneuverability you want when heavy-laden in the Adirondacks with tons of camping gear and your novice buddy... and your son. The only thing I feel it is negative is the fact that the Rx version doesn't have sliding bow seat.
For what you pay vs. what you get, I think I've finally found the perfect match for canoe-camping and lake water tripping: Bell Northwind in Royalex. One thing I feel confident in, make it two: this boat IS what others say it is on this excellent website and you will not regret investing in a Bell Northwind in Royalex. Found a winner, finally!
Once again Dave Yost has done it right. We were easily the fastest canoe out there yet even heavily loaded, we were able to maneuver through the big water without incident. Winds didn't push the boat around at all. It's stable, aside from a slight wiggle on center, and confidence-inspiring.
All things considered, this is a great tripper, and should work just fine on day trips as well.
There are many canoes built to "do it all" and they all aim at that goal from a slightly different angle. The Royalex Northwind is relatively light for a royalex boat, making it much more manageable. If you look around, there are several high quality 16'6" fiberglass or kevlar boats that approach this royalex boat in weight. I have found the make-up relatively stiff, never noticing any oil canning, unless I'm rolling over a big rock!
I have used this boat on 5-10 day prairie streams and found it a bit tight for glutinous touring (this includes carrying 10 days of water, musical instruments, dutch ovens, etc) just give a slight nod to traveling light, and it'll go fine for up to ten days tandem. On one semi-gluttonous trip, I paddled it with a buddy, the pair weighing in @ around 450, on a river with several class II rapids and days worth of technical rock gardens. I found it easy enough to maneuver buts found it takes on water fairly easily, you'd want it w/ at least 8" inches of freeboard in waves, we probably had 6".
I frequently use it to paddle upstream solo on a fairly swift river outside my front door as a way of avoiding getting air conditioning during the summer and getting a little exercise. I have found it is more efficient to paddle solo than tandem in this way. I'd say it performs admirably at this task, tracking well and moving upstream as fast as you'd expect.
I've also paddled this boat loaded, solo, down a river with about 40 mile an hour headwinds and standing wind waves three feet tall. I could do it, but I'd occasionally get pushed sideways. I was surprised how well it handled in these horrible conditions. As an aside, I've recently learned if you are in a stiff headwind and having a hard time keeping the boat straight, get in the front of the boat and keep paddling, you'll act as the flag pole and the boat will fall out in line behind you like a flag in the wind. Looks a little funny, but keeps you moving in the right direction.
I've recently outfitted this boat with float bags (end and center) for doing up to class III whitewater. Also, I changed to kneeling seat drops and a full yoke for portaging. This boat is outfitted to handle an incredibly wide range of conditions in both solo and tandem. I look around and only think of getting a dedicated solo whitewater tripping boat to broaden my ability on the water. If I did it again though, I'd get a black gold version, just for the ease of portage and the pure beauty.
My Northwind is the 16'6" Royalex version, with wood trim. It doesn't feel as light as the Old Town Charles River I briefly owned, but it also doesn't oil can the way that beast did. The Northwind is much faster, easier to paddle due to the tumblehome gunwales, and glides forever. The cane seats are hung from walnut boards, and the ash is much more substantial than the Old Town's seats (which drooped quite a bit).
The amazing thing is that the Royalex Northwind is very affordable when compared to other manufacturer's canoes in the same material! The Northwind has tracked great solo and tandem, and doesn't rely on a keel to help stiffen the bottom. My wife and I flyfish from our canoes, and the Northwind is the most quiet boat we've owned. Maybe it has something to do with the wood gunwales.
An excellent boat at a great price!
Everyone will have different needs and preferences, but here's my situation: I'm 6'1", 260 lbs., and I like to do long-trip (1-4 weeks) paddling, but locally will be using mostly as a solo day-paddler. I chose the Northwind in Royalex because it proved to be an excellent solo craft for a guy my size and still gives plenty of capacity for decent tripping with a fellow paddler. It turns like a dream, and the glide on the hull is like a Stradavarius--I was blown away! Also, with the single exception of a gorgeous wood and canvas original Seliga I used to paddle, it is defintely the most stable canoe I've ever been in. This was important to me because my wife, and neophite friends, are not so comfortable in a canoe without the stability. The secondary stability is awesome, but even the initial stability feels reassuring--it's simply amazing!
The Royalex is supposedly 60 lbs., but actually feels lighter, to my astonishment (I opted away from composites, because my local water is shallow and rocky, and 'up nort' I like to do whitewater, I am much more comfortable seeing my buddies portage my Royalex hull and not Kevlar, plus the Royalex costs about 1/2 as much!). It's a breeze for me to put on and take off the car top and to portage. I have added clamp-on portage yoke pads, which I'm very pleased with. They're super light, easy to put on and take off, and with the canoe being so light, they are barely necessary except for the longest portages. I also mounted a Bell kneeling thwart--wow. It's a dream to solo with the kneeling thwart--places me in the optimal position, very comfortable, and I get a great, powerful stroke. I very much noticed the difference w/the kneeling thwart vs. simply kneeling in front of the stern thwart. I do not recommend soloing this canoe from the bow seat backwards--it's just unwieldly compared to the kneeling thwart.
In short--this canoe exceeds my (well researched and obsessive) expectations of a boat that can meet my needs: great manueverability, terrific speed/efficiency, great stability, nimble enough for a 'big guy' to solo, and a dream for two adults to tandem--and even better with gear; sturdy enough for whitewater use and novices alike, and light enough even for the longest of portages. I LOVE this canoe--can't believe all these points are addressed so well with one boat, an EXCEPTIONAL value for the money. Thank you, Bell!
The boat is gorgeous and paddles like a dream. When solo I paddle Canadian style and use a Turtle Paddleworks Ottertail. With about a 70# Load and my 195# the boat handles beautifully. I have paddled it on Lake Mead with 2 ft waves and on the Colorado River with a light current. The boat steers effortlessly and glides well with each stroke. Fit and finish is excellent and a kneeling thwart was a great addition. Anyone who has trouble paddling this boat straight needs serious work on their J.
It's a great boat. I bought mine from Mr. Canoe's Paddlesports in Forestville, CA. They met me at a nearby lake for a demo and I was smitten by this fine boat within the first 10 minutes of paddling. Shane and Tom were great people to deal with and they absolutely know their stuff when it comes to canoeing. Go by and see them and while you are there have them treat you to the Bell Experience!
The Northwind Royalex is more nicely appointed than the competitors. The gunwales are full and nice to handle, with the rivets hidden, and the thrusts are all stained hardwood. The location of the yoke on my boat makes the stern heavy when portaging, but with paddles strapped in the front, it rides level.
Although Royalex boats in general do not have as fine an entry as Kevlar boats, this seems more pronounced with the Northwind Royalex. Bell says the blunt entry and exit is a design feature (a la Dagger, whom they acquired, and who specialized in river canoes and kayaks), and that unless you are paddling very hard, you won't notice that the entry isn't as narrow. I agree somewhat, but kevlar boats with a fine entry paddle much more smoothly and provide more glide.
The flip side of the blunt entry is that the canoe excels when you are doing anything but going fast in a straight line on calm water. And if you run into something hard, the blunt end is less apt to crack, which is why many Royalex canoes have blunt reinforcement on the ends anyways.
The hull has a rounder tumblehome than many other Royalex boats (some Mad River boats I've seen are very flat) and is VERY stable on large (30 mph wind building over an 8 mile lake) chop and waves. For example, to avoid taking water from large waves when paddling crosswind, I can lean the boat (loaded with kid, gear and dog) nearly to the downwind rail - and feel very stable doing so.
The day I dropped it 6 feet onto concrete while putting it away in my garage, I knew I'd made the right choice choosing Royalex over Kevlar. After paddling it on calm lakes, rocky rivers and large windblown lakes in the boundary waters, I knew I'd found the perfect all around boat. At a price under $1000 on sale, I don't get all freaked out when it gets hung up on a rock or bangs into something. $2000+ for a Kevlar boat would have taken some of the fun out of canoeing for me, because I would have been too worried about damaging it.
I guess that's the most important thing when choosing your boat - don't spend so much that you'll miss out on fun because you're fretting about the hull. If that means a banged up aluminum canoe for a couple hundred bucks, then that's the best boat for you.
Having read all the other reviews here and comparing my experiences, I think the Northwind is a good investment. The only advice I can offer is to try several other canoes (ie. Souris River, Mad River, Clipper, Wenonah etc.) with similar characteristics, weigh each with similar variables and you may find that Bell still leads the way. If you're looking for "bang for the buck"; I've banged at least $4000.00 worth of rocks and my Northwind still runs strong and true.
We had concerns about how “tippy” the boat was before we bought it. It seemed to turn very easily, almost too easily. So, I called Bell Canoe in MN and talked to a guy named “Bear.” He told me that weight distribution may not be equal since my wife sits by the bow and I the stern. He told me to balance out the weight discrepancy, to carry a large jug with us and fill it with river water every time we went out to balance out the weight. I may be new to canoeing, but I thought this was the strangest/most ridiculous suggestion I have ever gotten in my life. Well, we worked out the weight/balance issue with some self taught lessons.
However, we noticed that if we got anything over a three+ inch wave, we were rocked like we were in a hurricane. On the Bell web site it reads that it’s a “joy in currents and choppy conditions”. I don’t know if a three inch wave is a “choppy condition”, but I can tell you that it wasn’t a joy. It almost seems too flimsy, but it hasn’t really affected us ...yet.
Other than these issues, it’s been a good boating experience. It looks great and I do, for the most part, enjoy paddling it. There are some days that I’d tie some boards together just to be out on the water.
Also, I don’t know if spending two times the money on a Kevlar boat would change the experiences that we have or not. If you're looking at one, take the Kevlar out for a test drive too.
The beautiful design and the fine woodwork undoubtedly helped me with my choice. I tried a number of other canoes before, especially Wenonah’s. In the end, I preferred the Bell Northwind over the Wenonah Escape because the latter was in my feeling by far less stable and family friendly.
I think I would have preferred the Kevlar ultralight version for portability (therefore the 9 rather than the 10), but that one was not available used in my area.
Why did I go for a used boat? Because high performance canoes such as Bell and Wenonah are ridiculously expensive here in Austria and Germany - about twice the price of the US (both new and used). I think this has to change before canoeing becomes as widespread a leisure sport in Europe as in North America!
I have tested the stability of the Northwind this summer by using it as a bass fishing boat. No problems landing fish or casting. Nothing like the quietness of a well designed canoe to sneak into small coves. It also handled larger lake waves (wakes) with poise. Overall, we have been very satisfied with the Northwind. We look forward to taking this boat on longer trips. All boats have strong and weak points. I have listed strengths. Areas to consider would be: Kevcrystal would be more easily damaged by rocks; wood trim requires maintenance, higher cost. It is noteworthy that this boat is also available in Royalex w/o wood trim. That being said, I feel that this Northwind has been a good balance of low weight, quality and performance.
As to layup, I wanted Black Gold (who doesn't) but the boats at hand all had wood trim, which I didn't want. To pay $250 bucks for an option I didn't want made no sense, so I saved $500 bucks and went with KevCrystal...could have gotten White Gold and kicked myself a bit for not saving a few more bucks and getting a more rugged boat but the 47 pounds of the KevCrystal was a powerful attraction and the boat is GEORGEOUS!!!
My two cents on Bell and its dealers; It is impossible to overstate my appreciation of Bell. Not only do they do the best job with design, fit and finish but they have both patience and a sense of humor in dealing with pesky customers. They really want to see you in the best boat for you...not just the most expensive boat they sell (thanks Craig). And they don't hang up on you once they have your cash. But if you are buying in the Adirondacks, go see Ike at Lake George kayak Co, in Bolton Landing. He is a great match for the best canoe co around. Again, I can't praise him enough. DON'T go to Mountainman in Inlet or Old Forge. I found them to be rude, unhelpful and entirely unwilling to work with their customers.
I've paddled the boat for two weeks now, in Lewey Lake and the Fulton Chain. This boat paddles like no other tandem I've ever found in 50 years of paddling. Every good thing you read in the rest of the reviews here is absolutely true.
I have had only 2 problems...the gelcoat shows every bump and scrape. This is a minor disappointment, given the beauty of the boat, but if you don't mark 'em you ain't using 'em... The other problem is that I have to carry a rag around with me to wipe the boat down after other paddlers drool all over it!
Also, we found it not suitable in the wind. On our quetico trips we had to try major weight shifting to get it to handle better. The only thing that improved it (only improved it some) was loading it extremely stern heavy. We had to jam a full food pack behind the stern seat and the stern paddler had about 30 pounds on the bow paddler.
Everyone else posting liked this canoe. I think it's overengineered. Anyone else out there had problems? Anyone know of a good tripping canoe without differential rocker? I like the canoes looks and no wind paddling but add wind or try to speed it up some - this canoe doesn't cut it.
The boat handles like a dream empty or with a full load. Plenty of glide and stability. During heavy winds the boat stayed dry. This is a purchase that exceeded our expectations. Meeting up with 2 other couples for a week trip in Canada this year, low and behold, one of the other couples had purchased a Northwind in Royalex. We were both pleased with the Bell product.
There are major differences in models. The canoes must be tested on water to see these differences. If you can not demo a canoe, do not buy it. Bell and Mad River had several demo days that we were able to attend. We also did demos at the different dealers. The dealer’s recommendations were a start, but I often liked a different canoe better. After the demos, we decided on a Kevlar canoe over Royalex for performance and weight. The Wenonah dealers recommended the Spirit II. I liked the Wenonah Escape the best of the Wenonahs. The Escape was fast, but it could have turned easier. It had good load capacity and handled rough water. The fit and finish of the Wenonahs did not compare to the Mad River and Bell. Wenonah’s weight advantage vanished when a gel coat and wood gunnels were added. The aluminum gunnels were hot to touch and noisy.
The Mad River Explorer was the Mad River model recommended by the dealers. I did not like its performance. I felt like it was a Volvo station wagon. Getting into a Malecite was a night and day difference. The Malecite was fast but stable. Its down side was its limited load capacity, and it did not handle rough water as well as the Escape. The fit and finish of the Mad River canoes was very good.
The dealers recommended the Bell Northstar. The Northstar was very fast and turned well, but was very unstable. It was the only canoe the I paddled that had a stability problem. I always felt that any wrong movement would put us in the water. We then tried the Northwind. The Northwind had it all. It had the speed of the Escape and Northstar. It turned much better than the Escape. The Escape has no rocker whereas all of the other canoes have some rocker. The Northwind had the stability that the Northstar did not have. The Northwind had the load capacity and could handle rough water that the Malecite could not handle. The Bells had the best fit and finish of all of the canoes we looked at although the Mad Rivers were almost as good.
We purchased the Bell Northwind in the Black Gold Kevlar Graphite material, wood gunnels, sliding front seat, foot brace, and removable center seat. We chose the almond color as it does not show scratches like darker colors. It weighs 52 ponds without the center seat. Our testing was fun and essential in finding the best canoe for our needs. We are very please with the canoe and feel that we made the best choice.