Bell Northwind rx vs. Mad River Explorer

I have Mad River Explorer in royalex version. I’m concidering to buy Bell Northwind royalex due to its better solo paddling capability.

But how about Northwinds river running capability compared to Explorer when used as tandem. Can it handle all rapids Explorer can handle?


I think the Explorer would have an
advantage over the Royalex Northwind in whitewater. The Explorer will be more maneuverable and somewhat dryer.

– Last Updated: Aug-09-06 8:53 PM EST –

A Northwind..imho, is a flatwater tandem boat...period, imho.

imho, what you have here is the stereotypical comparison of apples with oranges:
Bell Northwind.....(a big Apple)
MR Explorer (rx)...(an Orange)

Not quite sure what type of paddling/water you're interested in Pete.. My opinions can Very Often be taken with a grain of salt;-), but they're two distinctly different boats....and in Royalex, I think you'll find one handles "pretty big", and the other..."Huge"!

IMO The Explorer is the standard
by which most other modern tandem canoes are judged. Much like the 30-06 rifle cartridge is to guns. It’s been around for years, it will do whatever you ask it to do and carry a mess of gear. It’s not fast, it’s has a huge volume and it is a favorite of many.

That said…the Northwind in Royalex is very close to the Northstar composite (a great boat) in size and shape and is a very good tripper with a good capacity. It has some very good performance features built into it like length/width ratio and tumblehome, durable too. It’s much faster and will cover more ground than the Explorer given the same weather conditions. On whitewater it won’t turn as fast unless, and here’s the hook, a good paddler with good skill is at the helm. Many times it’s not the boat but the paddler. A good paddler can make any boat do tricks.

I would not want to paddle a loaded explorer solo but the Northwind would be fun to paddle (with kneeling thwart)…to me at least. And I’m not that good of a paddler but I try… at least.

My Thoughts
Hi Pete,

I’ve had a royalex Northwind tandem for a couple of years now. It does paddle solo pretty nicely, but it is still a tandem. I put a kneeling thwart in mine.

I don’t think you are comparing apples to oranges really. These are both general purpose canoes about 16 ft. long. The Northwind tends more toward flat water in design but it handles Class II OK I think and is pretty manueverable.

I haven’t paddled it tandem much in moving water and not at all with tripping gear in moving water. I did paddle a kev Crystal Northwind with a full load up in the boundary waters. Its a foot longer, but stayed pretty manueverable in the waves.

I agree with N.T. about the Explorer. I’ve long wanted one and almost bought one. That said, I’ve only paddled the Explorer solo and only for a test paddle on a little urban pond in Indianapolis. So lots of what I’m thinking about the Explorer is based on reputation.

Bottom line, I certainly don’t think the Northwind is going to be as capable in whitewater as an Explorer is. It probably is a fair bit better for solo paddling, but I thought the Explorer paddled OK solo. So I think if you switch canoes you take a step up in solo paddling ease and a half step forward in speed, but maybe a step and a half or two steps back in tandem whitewater capabilty.

I don’t know your exact uses but, if I already owned an RX Explorer I wouldn’t switch it for the Northwind.

Just my thoughts. I hope you get some additional helpful answers. I think there are some contributors here that have used the Northwind more in whitewater as a tandem.

Good luck.

I use canoe mostly tandem in mixed water
I use canoe mostly tandem in mixed water. I was just concidering whether there is better canoe than Explorer for occasional flat water solo paddling while still handling as tandem all rapids my Explorer handles.

I would like to paddle solo in the evening after setting up camp during multi-day canoe trip. On the other hand I would not like to sacrifice white water behaviour compared to Explorer.

It might just be that I already have right work horse in my stable… :slight_smile:



A little more…($.02…!:wink:

With both boats being Royalex…the shorter Explorer will certainly make its way around easier in tighter quarters…and it also has nice rocker.

Get serious. It was a pretty good boat
in the 70s, but there is no category, not a particular use, and not multi purpose, where the Explorer can stand comparison with better modern designs. Go to the Esquif site and look at the Canyon.

Personally, I prefer the OT Tripper

– Last Updated: Aug-12-06 4:44 PM EST –

for tandem work in rapids, and I prefer the Tripper over the Explorer for solo paddling, whether on easy flat water or in class 2-3 whitewater.

I have a friend who, back in the 70s, did astounding things in his Explorer in technical and heavy whitewater. But I have another friend who was even a bit better in his Tripper, which he later sold to me.

I would certainly not say that the Explorer is a terrible boat. But it is a 70s design based on mistaken assumptions about V-hull performance. The V-hull is the ESSENCE of the Explorer, and its main limiting factor.

The Canyon’s a good river boat to be sure. With much mixed/flat water, I’ll take one of the others!


What does a Tripper weigh compared to these others boats? I’m not sure what the specs will say, but in my mind I don’t want to carry a Tripper very far.


I’ve had a RX Explorer for several years. Last year I thought of replacing it and test paddled a Bell Northwind. I really liked it on the lake. I was also impressed with the workmanship. It was also lighter than my old Explorer. But…for WW the Explorer is for me the better boat. Something I took into consideration was the RX material. I don’t know how MR builds the river running boats now but their RX was very beefy in the past. Especially in those rock knocking areas. More so than the Northwind and others I looked at. So I am still paddling my Explorer and happy I kept it. BR, Bob

But don’t take an Explorer. It won’t be
any better on a lake.

I think a Tripper is about 8 pounds
over the true weight of an Explorer. But put some outfitting in either boat, and they are awful to portage. One advantage of the Explorer is that you can get it in Kevlar, with enough money.

The reason I sold our Tripper and got our Synergy is that at my age, throwing a boat to my head that weighs about 90 pounds outfitted is just too dangerous. Anything under 70 pounds I still find manageable.

I’m not trying to make anyone unhappy
with their Explorer. Owners of Explorers are almost always pretty happy with them, which says a lot for an old design.

I’m just tired of seeing the Explorer touted as the “gold standard” of do-everything canoes. It would be enough to say, “I really like my old Explorer, works great for me on lakes and rivers.” That’s all I would say about the Tripper.

If there is an old design that can lay claim to being good for everything, it is probably the Prospector, though prospector designs come in many variations, some of which are mediocre.