MR Explorer vs. OT Penobscot comparison?

Could someone who knows both of these canoes compare their characteristics for me? Both Royalex. MRX 16ft vs. OT Penobscot 17ft. Paddling locations are mostly Adirondack lake tripping with some fishing in small ponds and some slow river tripping or evening paddles. Load is two large adults. Any wisdom on these two?

Penobscot should be faster, easier
paddling. For any equivalent load, the Explorer will be a bit more maneuverable, but for your uses, I’d take the speed. You could even go down to a 16 ft Penobscot to save some weight, because it is enough tandem boat for your uses unless you throw in several day’s gear.

I think of the Explorer as mainly a big load carrier for river trips. It’s OK on lakes but kind of a slug.

Both are good choices in the 16’ range. If I ended up with the Mad River Ex. I would add thwarts to it, one is not enough.

I’ll compare the 16 to the 16 so it’s apples to apples. The Explorer is slow, plodding and has high initial and secondary stability – makes a good poling boat. Its vee-shaped bottom gives it that solid feel initially. The Penobscot 16 is significantly faster (by comparison), more maneuverable, feels “rolly” initially but has good secondary – makes a nervous poling boat due to its more elliptical bottom.

Unless you plan to pole it I’d definitely recommend the Penobscot 16 over the Explorer, just my personal preference.

The 17 foot version of the Penobscot is less maneuverable compared to the 16’ version (due to longer length). It’s better suited for use with a third paddling station for 3 people. We own one, makes a good family barge (we seldom use it any more since we went over to solo canoes years ago).

I’ve long held that the Penobscot 16 is one of the best (perhaps THE best) Old Town designs. This is an old tried and true design that remained in production long after that company that was sold out to a large corporation decades ago. The glory days of positive innovation at OT are a distant memory at this point as is almost always the case after the sell out to the suits.

The Explorer is one of the Mad River brand name’s stalwart designs, tried and true, but always dawdling. The brand name was also sold out to another corporation, but more recently. The name remains as a brand, but the factory was move, no workers moved with production, its heritage lost - Sad. This design and a very few other older MR designs survived the sell out – for now. These days the Explorer is one of that brand’s less embarrassing offerings – you should see the junk they crank out now for the box-store trade. Some should come with cutesy smiley face decals… Geez…

That’s the scoop as I see it – your mileage may vary. - Randall

16 to 16

– Last Updated: May-04-07 8:02 AM EST –

They are both tough royalex boats. Take a licking and keep on ticking.
The Explorer is super steady and reasonably dry. It's a good poling boat that you can easily stand up and walk around in. Solo lightly loaded it suffers in the wind but with a tripping load it's a good rough water boat. Mine handled quite nicely paddling into the wind and 2' waves on Penobscot bay last summer. IMO the Explorer is more manuverable and a bit dryer than the Penobscot 16.
The Penobscot 16 is faster and less manuverable with noticably less initial stability. It's often used as a whitewater down river race boat but you had best be able to pick your lines before you get to them.
For mostly lake travel I'd prefer the Penobscot. For river travel I'd go with the Explorer unless I was in a hurry.
Sorry I can't comment on the Penobscot 17. Never been in one. From looking I'd expect it to be similar to the 16 but the proof is in the paddle.


Vermont brand? Any MR heritage.

I wondered if the MR’s old labor, facilities or molds were producing the Vermont brand. They sell something called an Explorer that looks much like an MR Explorer. Do you happen to know if there is any connection?


Hi Chip,

I don’t know much about the new Vermont canoe company or their models. I only very recently became aware of this new brand. I’m very curious about this start-up outfit. I wish them great success. - Randall