Are Mad River Canoe's Now Junk?

My father purchased his royalex Mad River Canoe about 24 years ago from Appomattox River Company in Farmville, Va. This canoe has been used every year since then, almost weekly on the New and James rivers and is still going strong. I am a believer in Mad River Canoe’s. I am now in the market to purchase my own canoe to join in the fun. We are located in Roanoke, Va. I have stopped by several stores in our area to ask about the model of Mad River Canoe I should purchase (Explorer or Freedom was recomended). The response I have gotten about Mad River has been disappointing. Many retailers have stated that there have been many quality control issues and customer support is not what is used to be. Please tell me this isn’t so, and if so what other brands are now making the same quality as old Mad River canoes. If you could, also recommend a model as well. My girlfriend and I are avid anglers. Most of the water we canoe and fish on is upper New River and James. We mainly camp and fish so we really don’t do a lot of white water. I would like to stick with a royalex boat. Any help much appreciated. Thanks!

take a look at Appomattox River Company
they have all the Mad River models there and can show you the build quality. Over the past couple years I’ve owned a Mad River Explorer 15 with IQ, a Mad River Horizon 17 with vinyl rails, a Mad River Freedom Solo, and I currently own a Mad River Guide (the forerunner of the Freedom Solo). I have not seen any differences in the quality on the boats with vinyl rails, but the new boats with the wood trim just aren’t trimmed as nicely as they were back in the day.

I paddle the New and James a lot, usually with the Mad River Guide solo, or an Esquif Vertige whitewater canoe. If I were going to go tandem for fishing and recreation and not too heavy into whitewater I’d go with the Mad River Explorer 15 or the Mad River Horizon 15. They are both light enough to car top easily, they are fast enough and they turn well enough to be fun.

If you want to go more towards heavy duty tripping and white water then I’d go with the Mad River Freedom 16 or the Explorer 16. The Horizon 17 doesn’t turn well enough for active whitewater but it will sure carry a load quickly on flat water. Mad River is now building the Legend series that Dagger had. The Legend is a good whitewater boat but a pig on flatwater and heavy to cartop.

If you want to go outside the Mad River line I’d recommend Nova Craft. Their Pal in Royalite would be a good choice, and the Prospector 15 or 16. Their Bob Special is a good canoe,too. I have a Pal here you’re welcome to try.

If you want to buy a canoe in Salem, BackCountry Sports has the Bell Yellowstone tandem, an excellent canoe in my opinion. My friend Ken has one he’d be glad to let you try. He lives down your way.

Andy in Buena Vista

prefer the vermont made
I guess I just prefer the “classic look” of the vermont mad rivers but the new ones seem to work. I’ve tried to get ahold of their customer service a few years ago and it was nearly impossible. I was constantly refered to “my local dealer”.

If you want a canoe for strictly down river stuff I’ve heard only good things about the Old Town Appalachian, might be worth a look.

Mad River
You’ll have to decide for yourself if Mad River is junk, but listening to the words of dealers is a good move… Here’s my two cents worth – worth every penny. ;^)

The heritage of Mad River was lost when the brand-name was sold to the corporation that also owns and produces the Perception and Dagger brands among others. Production of the Mad River line was moved from Vermont. It’s my understanding that not a single Mad River employee made the move with the molds. These days some truly embarrassing low-end “floating objects” are produced under the Mad River brand-name for the box store market - as well as some of the older John Henry designs that originally made the name for MR.

Is Mad River junk? Not necessarily, but bare in mind that it exists as a “brand name” only. The Mad River brand name & the “Smoking Rabbit” logo are no more than easily recognized marketing tools these days. The current MR has little to do with the original designer or the original people who built the canoes & the company.

As to other brands… Among others there’s Esquif, Hemlock, Merrimack, Mohawk, Nova Craft, We-no-nah – there’s quite a list of quality canoe builders out there – you don’t have to settle for “brand recognition” labels. Personally I look for boats made by small companies – read the reviews here at for more ideas. - Randall

Jim Henry
just to set the record straight.


Some of what is expressed by dealers
is the problem that seems to have taken place with Confluence since purchasing Mad River and some other kayak companies. Its been difficult getting hold of any one to correct problems, and all boat builders have them. Hopefully, that’s a problem of consolidating, not one that is permanent.

Yes indeed
Thanks for the correction - John Henry was that spike driving RR guy… My bad - thanks - Randall

It’s so easy to take potshots
at a company, whether they deserve it or not, and when you know you aren’t going to be rebutted.

Here’s my take on what happened at Mad River.

From a practical standpoint, Jim Henry gave up his interest in Mad River Canoe because he was either tired of running it, burned out, broke, lost interest, too many other business interests,ready to retire, getting divorced from Kay, or whatever. He sold his shares to Kay.

She ran it for a while then put it on the market because she was either tired of running it, burned out, broke, lost interest, too many other business interests, ready to retire, ready to do more traveling and paddling in far flung parts of the world, or whatever.

The company was offered for sale first to the employees, then on the open market. The employees had an opportunity to buy it and they didn’t. If the company hadn’t been purchased then the alternative was to auction off the molds and equipment and discharge all the employees and let the Mad River Canoe Company fade into history as so several other canoe and kayak companies have done. (Read Sawyer, Curtis, CoreCraft, Blackhawk, Moore, Lotus and so forth)

Fortunately for us paddlers, Confluence purchased the Mad River Canoe Company because it had good, well proven designs, molds and equipment, marketing network, and potential for growth. Confluence is located in South Carolina and logistically it makes absolutely no sense to try to manage a complex company long distance. So Mad River moved to South Carolina.

Jim Henry is back designing and building canoes in Vermont. Kay Henry is designing and building water trails ( and continuing her lifelong passion for paddling Far North rivers.

Confluence is running Mad River differently than the Henry’s did, no doubt about it. They are a big company and do not operate as a family owned business, that’s for sure. None of us like big business in general, especially when it comes to our toys. Nonetheless, Confluence is still in business, still producing good designs and good workmanship and still supporting their dealers and we paddlers can still buy a Mad River Canoe any time we want.

Here are four challenge:

Challenge Number One. Name specific instances when Mad River Canoe Company or Confluence has screwed a customer or a dealer. Prove to me and to others on this board that Confluence is evil and doesn’t care a wit about its customers.

Challenge Number Two. Prove to me and others on this board that every other canoe manufacturer hasn’t at one time or another scewed a customer and appeared to be evil and not caring a wit about its customers.

Challenge Number Three. Prove to me and others on this board that Confluence has changed the “classic” lines of the Mad River Canoes or the manufacturing process or the materials to cause the quality of the product to downgrade significantly.

Challenge Number Four. Prove to me and others on this board that Confluence has at any time refused to support a dealer or a customer who has acted in a reasonable and responsible way.

One final thought. I spent last weekend on the river and late on Sunday as I pulled in to the landing there was a young couple paddling a Mad River Adventure plasitc canoe. They were laughing and having a good time with their toddlers. I could have interrupted their pleasure to point out what a piece of crap they were paddling and how they wasted $500 buying such a useless toy. Instead I complimented them and invited them to join my club. They, and their sons, are future paddlers of “good” canoes and kayaks and if they have a good experience with a plastic Mad River then they will most likely trade up for a “good” boat in the future.

Happy Paddling,

Andy in Virginia

…try out a kevlar boat…fwiw
IMHO, your reason for sticking with a plastic(Royalex) boat should be for WW.

If you’re not planning to do WW, give a good composite boat a try, I think you’ll like it.

Thanks to all for you input so far
I spoke with Appomattox River Co. and the gentleman there knew that I had spoken with Back Country in Salem Va about the poor Mad River quality issues. His advice to me was that Mad River as with other canoe companies do not make Royalex, therefore the quality should all be pretty comparable. He seems to think that since Backcountry sells Wenonah canoes that there profit margin might be a bit higher on those so they are pushing them as opposed to the Mad River brand. He offered me to check out many other brands they offered as well. I am going to check them out in the next few weeks. Canoedancing, I may take you up on a demo up on the New or James one weekend if I cannot make up my mind. Thanks again to all who have posted and keep em coming.

I like that . . . .
"They were laughing and having a good time with their toddlers. I could have interrupted their pleasure to point out what a piece of crap they were paddling and how they wasted $500 buying such a useless toy. "

I own one of these pieces of crap, and I don’t disagree with you on that. But $1000 wasn’t in the budget, and we’ve had fun in it. My view is, any day on the water is a good day (not my original, mind you) and any day on the water in just about any boat is still a good day, even if it could have been better.

I appreciate your attitude, Andy. You’re alright in my book.


You said it brother!

I don’t think this was the argument you used with me when you tried to sell me your Mad River Guide! I recall that you told me the Freedom Solo is an inferior product that oil cans, etc. So please jive that with this statement.

are the guy working on a 200 mile paddle in Virginia next year?



Hi Baldpaddler
I’m working on a 400 plus mile trip on the James of Virginia. Next year I hope to do the 340 mile New River from North Carolina, through Virginia, through West Virginia. You’re welcome to join me for all of part of either of these trips, although the James in Virginia is only half done and the water is so low I’m waiting for a hurricane so I can finish.

Hi Gremmie, still jives
I’m comparing a Guide with wood trim to a Freedom Solo with vinyl trim. The Royalex is better in the older boats, too, and this is a concern for all Royalex boat builders. When Royalex was sold by Dupont it would withstand more hits than the present day Royalex.

Then, I’ll take one in Kevlar. Or Twintex. Got any in stock?

I have a MR Kevlar Malecite
from the original shop. I feel special.

mad river canoe
makes good boats still. Confluence is an excellent corparation. I own a pamlico 140 and I have found it to be excellent quallity. I dont think you will have any quallity problems with a MRC.

Mad River is but a shadow of it’s
original self. Shame really but true. It’s today’s cost cutting, poorly trained, poorly paid (not really into boats) workforce. But they are not to blame. To them it’s just a job. It’s the hard headed close minded management teams (not really into boats) who know more about loosing money than anything else.

It’s not just Mad River, it’s creeping in everywhere as our skilled and properly paid workers are dieing off.

It seems like the normal thing to do today is build things that are just good enough to slip past inspection and make it onto the truck. Were it takes a minor miricle to have the product make it to it’s destination undamaged. Then when it is damaged the product is sold for a loss.

Whatever happend to common sence?

Is it normal for one gunwale to be cut lower than the other side? Is forklift damage really that common? Why would anyone put a carry yoke in backwards? Do you expect me to pay for this??? I’ve heard them all.

And don’t even get me started on the kayaks…I’ve seen Blems (marked “Blem” inside) by the Truck Load. Really I did! No bullshit. And every one of those boats is being paddled by some poor sucker.