Buy new canoe: MR Explorer 15 vs 16?

Buy new canoe: MR Explorer 15 vs 16?

OK, I know this is a very specific question, but I came here to ask the help of the experts.

For the last few years, I’ve been borrowing my uncle’s 17’ square-ended aluminum Grumman canoe, but this summer I’d like to buy my own boat. After some research, it seems the Mad River Explorer in Royalex might fit the bill. Now I need to decide if I should buy the Explorer 15 (14’9”) or 16 (15’11”).

The plan will be to use it 50% solo and 50% tandem with my son. Mostly paddling slow rivers (class II or less) and lakes. Usually on day trips, maybe 1 or 2 overnighters per year and sometimes a little fishing. I am a “larger” paddler at 6’1” 250lbs and my 11 year-old is 5’3” 125 lbs.

I’m hoping to get a chance to do some test paddles in each, but was hoping to hear if anyone had experience in both sizes of the Explorer. Is there a big difference in how they handle? Is the 16 too big for soloing? I know that Grumman is. Is the 15 too small for tandem with a “larger” paddler? (I’m open to other suggestions if you think there are better options.)


vote for the 16
Should be more stable I would think.

Me vote.



Lets see in four years your son
will be as tall as you.

There is no reason he can’t paddle a 16 now. A 15 foot gets a little tight. Aside from food there is little difference in an overnighter vs a two week trip.

The 16 is an old design, and if you
need that much capacity, I’d look at some alternative craft. I’ve heard mostly good reports about the much newer 15. It will be a much handier solo boat, and big enough as a tandem for one or two night trips. If you and son want to do a week in BWCA, rent a fast, light Kevlar boat for the task.

A friend used to paddle a classic Explorer on whitewater back in the 70s and early 80s, and he did amazingly well at it. But he didn’t choose that boat for the task. He used it because he didn’t have a decked c-1 to use at the time, and hadn’t yet switched to kayak. People will eternally defend it, but the MR Explorer 16 is not at all well-designed for solo use. It’s a tandem freighter.

After the over-reaction to that statement dies down, perhaps we can nominate alternatives.

I agree
The reason people like the Explorer is because it’s easy. Nothing wrong with that, if it suits your needs.

If it has to be an Explorer, no doubt the 16.

Old Town Penobscot 16
I don’t think any 15 foot boat will work well for you as a tandem. and If I had to have a good tandem and a boat that did well solo I’d choose the Penobscot 16.

16 is a Lot of Boat Solo

– Last Updated: May-28-11 12:19 AM EST –

Wow, don't know what happened with the computer, let's try again. I HAVE OWNED both Explorers, 15 and 16. I have over 5 years experience paddling the 15, decades with the 16. The 15 is a darn fine solo for someone your size. I actually converted mine to a solo. Sold it last year when I bought another boat, but wish I'd kept it instead of the present boat.

As long as your 2nd passenger is not your size, overnighters are fine. TWO 250 pounders and day trips are still fine, you'd have to be judicious packing for overnighters. The 16 is a bear to solo, the 15 is well suited as a solo boat. If I were you, I'd lean toward the 15.

2 weeks ago I was on a river with many 2-3'+ wave trains. My 16' Prospector-type hull with a taller bow routinely took water over the bow. My friend, paddling my old MRC Explorer 15 ran the same lines DRY. I really think highly of this boat.

Some people like that OT Penobscot, but IMHO it's too "Twitchy," for fishing out of. Sure, it's got fine secondary stability, but you need some primary too when fishing. You will find with the Explorer you can "Park" it on either side of that shallow V hull and it will take a LOT to dump it. There are better "Paddling" boats, but on the Ozark rivers where I paddle the Explorers are darn fine boats. Here's a few pics to look at some of my old boat in action. One is before I converted it to solo. BTW, I'm also taller and bigger than you, if that helps! WW

The 16 is a fine solo boat
paddled from the center and slightly heeled over. For the wave trains,up here we just flatten the boat and paddle standing up with a Maine Guide Paddle…or pole.

fine solo boat? Relative to what?

I vote 16 also
I routinely solo a couple of 16 foot tandems. It is not difficult and the 16 footer will give you a bit of margin on your load.


Consider the San Juan or the Dolores
On either river, you have to carry your stuff, run some rapids, and buck headwinds. The 16 won’t turn as well, won’t cruise as fast, will get blown around more. And, if you know how to load, it won’t be any drier. Fact is, the 16 is a tandem. The 15 is both, though not a tandem tripper. AND though they look similar, the 15 is the up-to-date design.

Or, if you’d rather solo on a BWCA or Quetico trip, the 15 will move easier, won’t get blown down the lake as much, and will be easier to portage.

Want to go to NOC this summer and do some solo citizen slalom racing? Take the 15. Leave the 16 behind the garage.

Split decision?
Well, there appears to be supporters of each length. I know there will compromises with either depending on the situtation. I’m leaning toward the 15’, but still hope to test each.

Thanks for the comments


I would go for the 16

I Routinely Paddle a 16’ Canoe Solo
But NOT the Mad River Explorer. If you were just rarely paddling solo, it would be the better choice. If you were talking about the composite version, it would be the better choice. But not royalex IMHO. There are some people in this thread whose opinion I value and respect, but; having owned and paddled both boats extensively I believe the 15 is a better fit for you. I feel strongly enough about that statement that, if you lived within a few hundred miles, I’d offer to buy it off of you if you didn’t like it! WW

If you’re looking for a quality ride…

– Last Updated: May-31-11 11:22 AM EST –

Test the 15' and see what the resistance firms up like...when close to heeled. It's been quite a while since I've paddled an Explorer16 Canadian...has to be better than a 15' tandemed.
We've all done the shorter, less stable tandem-in-a-soloboat at some point in our lives = doesn't make for a relaxing, fun many days have you paddled without wind? As said, there are some other boats to choose, but if price is determing factor..take the safer tandem and strengthen your solo skills...

Never Had to Swim
Compare this to a Penobscot 16 from OT and the primary stability MUCH greater. Don’t take my word for it, try both out!

I am guessing no one solos

– Last Updated: May-31-11 11:29 AM EST –

Canadian Style. Frankly one of the most fun boats to solo that way in quiet waters (no winds) is a Wenonah Minnesota II.

I just solo every tandem boat heeled over kneeling in the bilge. I think you have to buy a canoe for the largest capacity. Combi boats are always a disappointment.

We started out with a fifteen foot Grumman but the speed was not there when we grew to like canoe travel. 100 miles in five days was a b...(we only had five days). We moved up to 16 and eventually to over 18, when we found that with gear there simply was not legroom for the six two sternsperson.

Dont worry about the right boat. Sooner or later you will have several.