3 canoes to choose from, help please

Hello all,

Canoed for years when I was a kid, now that I have a family we are looking for our first canoe.

This canoe would be used on small lakes and ponds, and very easy rivers with the occasional small rapids in them. My wife, myself our son and a cooler would be the occupants, son is currently 5. We are looking to do some fishing out of it as well as explore said small lakes at our state parks and general recreation. I have a fair bit of experience in a canoe, but the wife has very little. Local deals have narrowed down to 3 contenders right now:

1st one is an Old Town Camper, 16’ and about 20 years old. Seller claims it weighs about 60 lbs.

2nd one is a Mad River Explorer, 17’ and was built in 1988. listed as 70 lbs.

3rd one is a Old Town Penobscot 17’, 2005 and weighs in at 65lbs.

They are all within $150 of each other, the Penobscot is the most expensive at $625, The Explorer at $600, and the Camper is $500.

What are everyone’s thoughts on these 3 canoes? Will I miss or want that extra foot that the 17’ Explorer or the penobscot has over the 16’ Camper?

You didn’t mention how much you plus your wife weigh and you didn’t mention whether you think 70 pounds is easy to manage as far as loading by yourself. If you and your wife together are under 350 I’d say go for the Camper. Campers work great on ponds and small lakes (easy to paddle and stable) and are great for fishing all because of the flat bottom. 60 pounds feels light compared to 70. The flat bottom on the Camper works against it in big waves or fast rivers but based on your description of your planned use it’s a great fit. There’s nothing wrong with choosing the Explorer or Penibscot if you can easily lift and load it and the extra room is nice if you have an extra person in the boat. They are all good choices.

people (3) and cooler figure 500 lbs. I am not too concerned about loading the canoe, other than not wanting to get overly heavy like some of the much cheaper aluminum canoes that are available locally.

That’s a healthy load and I’d scratch the Camper off your list. I thought the Mad River Explorer was more like 16 feet but deep with big capacity. In any case you can’t go wrong with the Penobscot 17. I had a Penobscot 16 and it was a fine boat and everyone seems to love both the 16 and 17. With the 17 you can be sure it will handle your load and easily handle everything you plan to do plus have room for fishing gear. You can read reviews in the Reviews section on this site. It’s 17 years newer than the Mad River and you’ll never get another chance to save five pounds for $25. :wink:

Based on your described use, so long as the moving waters are gently moving, the Camper is perfect for everything else you described. It’s a great small lake, general recreation, fishing, and young children canoe. I’ve had a couple of them over the years and my loads have been much bigger than what you listed. Specs show max capacity at 1200 pounds., so you should be plenty good there.

This is my wife’s favorite boat for those days when we are lazing about on the lake, feeding the ducks, taking photos, and just hanging out. She likes it because of the great initial stability. She’s not a fan of the “tippy” sensation of a shallow arched hull at rest. Keep in mind with the Camper that it’s not fast and I wouldn’t want to go far. Nor would I want to take it on a fast moving river. But short relaxing day excursions on the lake are right in it’s wheelhouse.

The Explorer and Penobscot are great recreational models too. More traditional Vee and arched hulls. Better suited for going farther, faster, tracking straighter, and handling fast moving water than the Camper. I’ve had the 16ft versions of both and they are both good models.

Well, any of them would probably suit your needs.

Mad River Canoe did mold a 17’ Royalex Explorer in addition to the more common 16’ Royalex Explorer for a number of years, but it had disappeared from their catalog by 1992. The listed its weight at 72lbs and MRC, like nearly all canoe manufacturers, tended to be a little optimistic with their weight specs so it could run a few pounds heavier still. The Explorer design is a good jack of all trades canoe, offering reasonable (not stellar) flat water efficiency, with enough maneuverability for river use.

Of the three, the Camper would probably feel the most user-friendly, but it would be my last choice because it is definitely lower performance than either of the other two.

Personally, I would go with the Penobscot without giving it a second thought. The weight difference between it and the Explorer, while it might not sound like a lot, is significant and will become more significant as you get older. The 17’ Royalex Penobscot was about the fastest production Royalex tandem canoe made and won a number of downriver races in its class. It was also one of the lightest 17’ Royalex tandems made. Of the three, it is definitely the highest performance boat, yet still reasonably forgiving to paddle. If it is in good condition, you would have no difficulty reselling it.

Explorer or Penobscot…three people will be more comfortable in a 17’ canoe. P is a more efficient hull and will reward you as your paddling skills advance.

They all seem pretty similar in dimensions and weight but if all are made of plastic/PVC then I would probably suggest the newest one as the best buy. Plastic dries up over time and becomes more brittle even if stored perfectly. All else being equal you can safely assume the newest canoe will be in the best shape especially since the other two are 30+ years old. Not to say they aren’t any good any more but roll the dice, take your chances and newer has many more years left all else being equal.

Also if you don’t like the secondary market is more likely to want to buy a newer craft. One dealer I know keeps some plastic boats for a few years but then resells them as they tell me that once they get past a certain age due to this drying process they tend to lose value and be harder to re-sell but this is a dealer. Maybe if you just slap an ad on Craigslist with your desired price and eliminate the middle man you’ll be fine.

Thank you everyone for the advice!

Just as I was contacting the seller of the Penobscot, it got marked as sold. Lucked out and found another one on Facebook for $400, and while talking to him he said he would take $350! So I am now the proud owner of a Penobscot 17.

I am a little concerned about the initial stability, but feel confident that the family unit will figure it out.

Thanks again!

You will get used to it. When paddling a tandem, everyone in the boat needs to learn to avoid making quick, unannounced movements that affect the balance. It often takes a little while for a tandem team to get used to each other. If it feels a bit shaky at first, try kneeling if you can.