This review is of a 16' MR Explorer in Royalex. I'm fairly confident the year of manufacture was 2004. I paid $800 for it on Craigslist in 2016. It sported ash trim with beautiful walnut decks. It looked new when I bought it. I never had or used a spray skirt with this boat.
I purchased this canoe to paddle the Missouri River System in 2016 from its highest source (Brower's Spring) to the Gulf of Mexico. This is a trip of 3,800 miles. I lived in and out of this boat for 177 days. I paddled some aggressive class II and I soloed the 235 mile long Lake Oahe in South Dakota. I paddled this boat tandem approximately 1/4 of the time and solo the rest. More a kayaker than a canoeist, I consider myself an intermediate canoeist when this trip began. I'm 6' 2" and 175lbs. And I owned this boat for less than a year; I sold it immediately after my trip, which was no fault of the boat's.
I ended up with this canoe because it's what I found on Craigslist. It was a happy sort of accident.
I needed a boat that can handle big water and small creeks; a boat that can be paddled solo as easily as tandem, and handle that weight variation well. I needed a boat that was tough as nails and would require minimal maintenance, and I needed a boat I was comfortable in for back to back to back days, sometimes spending 16 hours or more in my canoe at a time.
Comfort: Immense. I could spend all day in this boat in comfort, largely because it's easy to stand in. I would do squats in the boat to keep my legs in shape. I would put my feet and hands on the gunwales and do pushups from time to time. When solo, I could move around this boat with relative ease. While never comfortable, I did sleep in the bottom of this boat on several occasions. The absence of thwarts on the Royalex version made this a manageable feat in the fetal position, the more pathetic looking the better.
The cane seats struck me as uncomfortable, but I don't think this is a shortcoming of the boat or Mad River. It's a combination of my having little natural cushion, and being in a canoe for long hours. I found the kneel/sit hybrid worked best for me. I usually sat on my PFD. I was almost always barefoot and used a chunk of my foam sleeping mat to cushion the foot tucked under the seat.
The comfort of this canoe has much to do with its stability. I found both initial and secondary to be great. The shallow v-hull might feel odd to someone not used to it, and it certainly felt odd to me if the boat was empty, but it only takes a few hours to settle into this. I never tipped the boat. We came close on two occasions on the lower Mississippi and both times with an inexperienced paddler in the bow; once from a whirlpool and once from a wing dike. Both were scary and in both instances the gunwale was an inch or less from the water. The boat felt miraculous in righting itself. I can't recall with certainty now whether or not I braced on either occasion. The bottom line is that it's a very stable boat.
Durability. This is more a testament to Royalex than to Mad River, but it was truly awesome. I dragged this canoe for miles on the Red Rock River and Beaverhead in Montana as I was making my way out of the Rocky Mountains to the Missouri proper (it was early spring and the ranchers diverted most of the water out of the rivers for flood irrigation). The v-hull does concentrate the abuse along that V, but the Royalex laughed it all off. Portaging a dam in South Dakota on a 110° day, my heavily loaded boat did deform around my portage cart. I did some cursing, emptied the boat, pushed the hull back into shape the best I could with my hands, shrugged my shoulders, and finished the portage. The hull still wears a crease there, but it's fine otherwise.
Speed. The Explorer is a pig of a boat. In one day I soloed this thing 35 miles on the flatwater of Lake Sakakawea and it must have cost me an ungodly number of calories. For the same time and energy, I bet I could have paddled 50-55 miles in my kayak on that day. Maybe I could have had better speed with sit and switch paddling, but it seems more energy-intensive overall. I always j-stroked this boat, even when solo with my *gasp* bent-shaft paddle. Because it has a symmetrical hull, the boat paddles as well with a solo paddler in the bow seat facing the stern. In short, you can solo this boat fully loaded on flatwater reasonably well if you're unreasonable enough.
The Explorer liked mild whitewater. In all of the trip, I don't think any of it was class III, certainly not difficult class III. The Explorer handled all rough water between Montana and the Gulf like a champion. We took water over the bow in 3' standing waves, but that stability really shines here, especially with a competent bow paddler.
On the massive reservoirs of the Dakotas I found myself constantly among headwinds and big waves. I'm not sure I saw the true boundaries of what this boat can handle because I would invariably get spooked and get off the water, but I do know it can handle conditions way beyond what I ever imagined a 16' open canoe was capable of. I suspect breaking waves over 4' could be problematic, but even steep, lake rollers of that height are fine with patience, a moderate load, and a well-trimmed canoe. The boat is voluminous and the full bow and stern pops it over waves easily, the bigger concern on waves of that size is midship, where the waves might kiss the gunwales from time to time. It handles big conditions with more aplomb than me, that's for sure.
In conclusion. If you're only tripping, buy a tripping boat. If you're a whitewater fiend, get a ww boat. If you can only have one boat and you need something really versatile that solos pretty well, I don't think there's a better option than the Explorer, and for that versatility I give it 5/5 stars. It is an amazing amalgamation of many needs. I say this knowing I'll probably never own one again, but I have no reservations opting for its little brother, the Malecite. These hulls serve a definite purpose in the canoe world.
If you wanna take a passenger, this one HAVE TO BE seated on the bottom of the canoe,not on the middle seat because then, it become REALLY UNSTABLE.
Overall good beginners canoe.