Read reviews for the Explorer FGX by Mad River as submitted by your fellow paddlers. All of the reviews are created and written by paddlers like you, so be sure to submit your own review and be part of the community!
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.
In 2016 I purchased this canoe to paddle from Montana to the Gulf of Mexico on the Missouri/Mississippi. 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 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 Explorer for less than a year; I sold it immediately after my trip, which was no fault of the hers.
I needed a boat that can handle big water and small creeks; one 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 canoe 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 the Explorer with relative ease. While never comfortable, I did sleep in the bottom of this canoe 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 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 crests might kiss the gunwales from time to time.
Weight capacity. MR's stated capacity of 1100 lbs is a misleading lie. I would never consider loading 1100lbs into this boat and setting off into the wilderness. At maximum I had 750lbs in the boat, and I would be reluctant to exceed that by much if you're on anything more than a swimming pool with a light breeze.
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. 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.
It has a lot of scratches on the bottom from rocks but is as sound today as it was when I bought it. I have stored it inside since I bought it and the wood and seats are still perfectly fine as is the Royalex. I am nearly 70 now and have not used it in a while but will likely keep it and give it to my grandson when he is old enough!
It's a great tripping boat that handles Class III rapids with a full load. Yes, it's heavy, but that's the price you pay for not worrying about bouncing off rocks, and I added a Teal yoke which greatly eases the carrying and looks terrific. The wood trim does require regular maintenance with teak oil but in 20 years I've only had to replace half of an outwale. And yes, the cane seats do break down, but I discovered a permanent and aesthetically pleasing fix: there is a family snowshoe maker in Williamstown, Vt. called Boutin Snowshoes that will take the seat frames and re-string them with snowshoe gut webbing. They look great and are indestructible.
All in all this is a great canoe and if taken care of will give great service for decades while drawing many admiring comments. It's like driving an SUV with Porsche performance.
The canoe is not only indestructible but is stable and beginner friendly. Haven't even flipped it once despite some nasty waves on some big lakes. It's not the lightest canoe but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a beginner like me.
I highly recommend this canoe for those with adventure in your spirit. It is easily loaded and unloaded even from rooftop. I can't say enough good about this canoe.
We have wood gunnels and the Royalex material.... Make sure you LOSEN or even remove the gunnel screws in the winter as the cold temps WILL cause the royalex to shrink...but the gunnels DON"T...these you could end up with a cracked hull. We also have the cane seats which one of them eventually weakened and we went through it. It was an easy fix with webbing replacement and a staple gun. I like the webbing better. We also bought a spray cover for it which helps with rain and rough water.
The boat is not the best straight line tracker....such as lakes but it does ok. Its great for day trips or extended trips. I would take this easily on a two month trip in N. Canada for sure. A great boat!!!!
The handling characteristics are excellent with good secondary stability. When lightly loaded there is a little rock blip from side to side when paddling. The paddlers should just rock there hips with it. Although no boat is ideal in all conditions, this design is the best all around design still available. It tracks well and is fast, takes whitewater or large lakes with heavy seas, bounces off rocks, and its light. It will haul over 1/2 a ton, that is about 20 times its own weight.
As I enter geezerhood a light canoe is a real helper when out in the sticks. I also have a seat/yoke mid thwart from Spring Creek so it is easier to solo and can be set up to row like a scull. In large lakes with lots of wind (i.e. BWCA) this is a good way to go as well as use for sculling for exercise.
When selecting a model just pick how much you want to carry. If you choose wood bright work be advised the hull with outlast the wood by several times and you can switch to aluminum.
Oil-canning is a bit of a problem when paddling empty in swells, but a stick wedged under the center thwart cures it. The only real gripe I have is the weight. At age 62, I'm about to change to a Kevlar boat, just to make life a bit easier on the carries.
One last thing - somewhere along the line, MRC decided to make the seats an inch or two narrower (bow to stern), so when the time came to replace the caned seats, I could not just buy off the shelf replacement seats without re-drilling the rails. The original seat wood was still good, so I ended up re-seating with nylon webbing.
All in all, a great boat I will be sad to part ways with it (although I won't be sad on the portage trail).
This boat was purchased with the intention of introducing my wife and two kids to paddling smaller streams. The boat performs very well on flat water and ate up the class 1 1/2 I took my 13 year old through. I've practiced various strokes solo on moving water and find the boat to be responsive. My wife, kids and I have paddled the boat on the same water in various configurations and all like the manner it handles. I'm comfortable with my kids in the boat and a fisherman can stand in it.
The canoe I am reviewing is 20 years old and going strong, however wood gunnels have to be maintained (this one had some rot in one end). If you only want one canoe for multiple purposes, get an Explorer.
This isn't the fastest boat out there and it's definitely heavy, but it inspires confidence with its 15 inch depth and nimble maneuverability. It's the boat I most often lend because it is so forgiving and durable.
Carry? My pickup guy carried it downstairs to the water himself. He only has 1 leg. He also owns a livery of them and it is the most reliable durable boat he has used.
Loved the MR malecite but chose RavenWorks (sorry closed up) 17' R84. Same form as Malecite but 1' longer. R84 is royalex minus 1 layer with skin of glass for sharper entry.
My 5 yo daughter walks back and forth the length of Daddy's boat. No fear. Generally I teach kids in Mohawk glass Mohawk Royalex or tin cans. (Mohawk folded two years ago.)
Go rent borrow and talk to every canoeist on the river. Go to dealer/ distributor and rent a demo.
Watch craigslist for used boat at half new price.
Bell 17.6' kevlar was the easiest fastest boat I ever paddled.
Before you buy graphite or kevlar think about the emotional toll for spouse and kids when it gets dinged scratched or busted in the garage.
While heavier than many, we still managed to complete all portages in Canada's Provincial Park. It is no Wenonah or Bell, but it was within my price range and is bomb proof (kid proof too). It is an extremely stable boat and is home on both big water and rivers, loaded down or otherwise. It has handled 3 footers across some of Canada's big lakes, some Michigan rivers swollen a few feet higher than normal, scraped across Florida oyster beds and backwater sandbars, and even several miles of the Gulf of Mexico. I would feel confident to journey with this boat anywhere I would care to travel.
The person who said the Explorer 16 is unstable may not fully understand canoe design. Some canoes, especially "family" and lake canoes, have high initial stability -- they feel firm and non-tippy. But once they lean beyond a certain point, they go over in a flash because they have no secondary stability.
The Mad River Explorer is designed for secondary stability because it is a down-river canoe, not really recommended for lake use (although experienced paddlers can handle it just fine on lakes). Secondary stability means it feels tippy, it leans a lot, but you'll find that it's harder to lean it so far that you tip over. It leans a ways, then resists going any farther, because of the way the hull is curved (it's a shallow arch with a soft chine, to be technical).
If you want a river boat that won't tip easily, this is a great boat. I found it to be maneuverable and just tons o' fun. It is family friendly, too...on a river. If you're looking for a boat to fish on the lake, especially if you like to stand up to cast, this won't be your boat.
I give it a 9 instead of 10 because it's heavier than I'd like, and I have to portage too often. But lighter in its Royalex layup than it's TT form.
I feel this boat is best suited for two man down river trips. It can be paddled solo with minimal skill, but you do have to work. Don’t listen to stability or hard to control complaints, those paddlers just need to learn how to paddle. If any one thinks a boat that is almost 3' wide is unstable, I might suggest they take the ferry. As for the width being so wide, it does make the Explorer sluggish.
Then you hear the complaints it is tipsy while paddling solo. Yes it is, this is a 2 man plus gear boat to reach the manufactures recommended displacement. If you want a solo boat, buy one. You want a boat to handle 2 adults, gear, kids and the dog this is the boat. Sure, there are a lot of new models around that are perfect for a particular type of water, but none will handle the large array the Explorer can. The briefest description is they are the Jack-Of-All-Trades and the Master of none. They are simply a rugged workhouse that gets you home.
Winds 20 knots, broke through 2-3 foot waves at the beach. Class 2 rapids and maybe a few yards of class 3, calm ponds, tight twisty creeks, log jam ridden rivers, wind swept lakes and acted on occasion as the ice bin for the back yard barbeque.
Gave a 9 since nothing is perfect.
When I'm in it by myself, or with my 4 year old, it is rock solid. I think it's because the weighting on the canoe is so lopsided, it rides lower in the water and is more stable.
However, when riding with 2 adults, this canoe is very unstable. We didn't dump, but we were on very calm water and still felt uneasy. This is being sold as a "family friendly" canoe, which I disagree with. This is about the exact opposite I want in a family canoe.
It has a lot of good ideas with the integrated seats, cup holders, etc, and is a very attractive canoe. However, stability rules for family, at least it does with my 2 young children.
So far I enjoy the IQ2 system very much. I use to outfit OT, MR, and Wenonah boats back in the day. I have to say... the IQ2 system is just as strong for what I will need to lash in! Besides Mad River won me over with the 2 complimentary cup holders! They work great too!
I am giving this boat an overall 8 for now as I it is handling exactly like advertised. If it was advertised as a fast ride I would give it a 7. If Mad River would have been more careful in pulling the mold I would give it a 9. If Mad River would have taken their time building the boat I would give it a 10. Regardless of blems I love the ride and expect to keep this one around for a long long time!
This has been a great family canoe, for relatively calm waters. It has held up great, despite a particularly tough float on he Vermillion when the water level was too low (we did more walking than floating that day).
Firstly, the boat is extremely slow on flat water. With a heavier bow partner, the boat feels more like a snow plow. My friend compained that he can probably paddle a house faster than my boat. There is a reason why some call this boat, "The Madriver Cow!"
Secondly, I found the hull of this boat flexes too much. Especially for a stern paddler. Every time you make a stroke, it make a squeek sound and the seat moves side to side. My friends and I found this very annoying not to mention lost forward energy. If you get this boat, I would recommend getting rear thwart installed to make the hull more rigid.
Thirdly, I do not recomment the IQ2 gunwale. The reason is they are prone to more damages than the traditional vinyl gunwales. I had the plastic tie downs for the IQ2 but they ended up being pulled out from the gunwale and stretched out the IQ2 channels making them unsightly. Unfortunately IQ2 now comes standard for all vinyl gunwales.
Lastly, I would not recommend this boat for running technical rapids. The shallow V hull make this boat stable and allows it to track well, but it does not turn as well as it should on fast rapids.
My findings for this boat are from 10 day river excursion in northern Ontario and large lake paddling in southern Ontario in both quite and rough waters.
If you are an intermediate paddler and not concerned about primary stability, skip this boat and try a prospector design.
This canoe is also not the cheapest, but you cannot put a price on safety, the feeling of safety, and the knowledge that it will get you home.
If you are looking fo a conoe that is a safe do it all ( within reason ) leave in mirror calm water, and come back in 3 footers, then stop looking and check this one out.
As a side note, I got mine with wood gunwales, which I like the looks of. If you live in a cold climate, make sure you losten the gunwale screws and that will keep the RX from having a tendency to crack when expanding and contracting. I have never had a problem with this, ever.
Well, the recreation is turning into a long-term love and I have been very pleased overall with the MR 14 - at 69 lbs, it is 'manageable' loading, un-loading, portaging, etc. I know there are much lighter canoes out there but not in the $400-$500 range.
However, it does not handle that great in the open lakes, especially when the wind/waves pick up... I have to roll up my sleeves and really bear down on the paddling!!!
I give it a 8-9 rating, and a great choice for the beginner!!!
I didn't test paddle the new boat either figuring what are the chances of getting struck by lightning twice? Since the exchange I have used the new boat and it is everything I expected. Great handling from the rear seat. Nice glide for a heavy boat and very stable. For anyone considering any Royalex boat I recommend that you test paddle the boat before you go home with it. My understanding is that what happened with my boat could happen to any Royalex boat. In my case both the manufacturer and the dealer stepped to the plate and solved the problem quickly. I am a happy customer and user of this canoe.
I paddle solo quite frequently, and paddling from the bow seat (facing the stern), it handles very well in the classic "northwoods" heeled over style. Soloing the Explorer with a load of gear is even better. Paddling tandem the Explorer is much faster than one would expect, and it is a perfect set up for tripping, day paddling or messing about in rapids.
Mad River does a great job in trimming their canoes. The ash woodwork on the Explorer is flawless, and MRC's use and knowledge of canoe construction is great. This canoe is tough as nails. The weight of seventy pounds isn't too bad for your average portage.
Overall the Explorer is an excellent choice for both newcomers and experts wanting a versatile, all around wilderness tripping boat. I won't hesitate to recommend it to any paddler!