Research fatigue. Help! Old vs new Explorer, Old Dagger or New Esquif

I’m new here, and recently joined so I could better navigate the forums in search of canoe knowledge.

I am out of steam on my data gathering stage. I am a crazy person and go very hard into researching stuff. I am pretty book smart on specs and history spending weeks reading reviews and forum posts, etc. However, I have very little real paddling experience to go off of.

Now I’ve narrowed down some options and would like community input from experienced paddlers. Please, and thank you.

Part 1

I am recently married we set up a canoe fund in our gift registry and amassed about $4000 to put toward a 1st canoe/paddles/gear. However, spending less is A-OK.

We live in rural eastern California, south of Reno, NV. The nearest places to buy new canoes are Portland, OR (13hrs), and Denver CO (16hrs). We have a trip to Portland planned and the available options I like there are:

Esquif Prospecteur 16 T-Formex ($2000)
Esquif Avalon T-Formex ($2070)
Mad RIver Explorer 16 T-Formex ($1900)
Northwind B16 IXP ($3165)!!!

In Denver they have the Esquif Prospecteur 17 and the Nova Craft Prospector 16 or 17 in Tuff Stuff or Tuff Stuff Exped…but Denver is…far.

Now, on craigslist, I’ve found a Dagger Reflection 16 (in R84?) for $600. Owner says it’s in very good condition, but he hasn’t returned any further texts.

Also found a Mad River Explorer, Vermont made, 1994, royalex, wood gunwales, never been in the water, stored indoors. Lots of pictures. Mint condition. Its a beauty. Only 4.5 hours from my house and selling for $1400.

I’ve found some Old Town Royalex Penobscot 16s as well here and there, in various states of repair.

Any advice on these options? There are pros to the new canoes, but also to the used (see part 2).

Here is our paddling style:

This will be our 1st personally owned canoe and as such will start out on local lakes and the Owens River to practice strokes and such, however we have 2 river trips already planned for 2022 on mild wide rivers (like the Green River, UT) that take about 5 days each. Will be progressing to more interesting rivers for 1-5 day trips as the years move on, while loaded. I also intend to solo the boat on occasion, mostly in lakes or shallow meandering creeks nearby, especially to practice strokes or set up for duck hunting. So, an all-around canoe is preferred, however we will ask the most out of it while carrying a week of supplies for 2 people on rivers, of increasing difficulty. So, That would be it’s MAIN purpose, even though it will only do that 1-2 times a year, with many hours paddling on lakes and creeks in between. We are in our 30’s and very athletic and adventurous.

I only intend to buy ONE canoe for the foreseeable future. We have kids planned and both have other expensive hobbies and jobs. I’d rather grow into the canoe, than grow out of it so having a bit more performance than we need is probably ok. That said, I don’t want it to be TOO maneuverable, if that makes sense.

Part 2

If I choose the Explorer, I have to choose between a new one 13hrs away in T-Formex for $1900, or a 1994 one 4.5 hours away with wood gunwales for $1400…

Wood gunwales! Kinda turns me off even though they look great. I’ve read everything everywhere about cold cracking and it seems random. Where I live is Desert and very dry. Average temps for winter are in the 20-30’s at night and 40-60F in the day depending. Storage of the canoe will be outside, under an eve, on the north side of a building. Still, wood gunwales seems like a risk no matter what. Also a bit of a pain. Backing screws out wont work because we will use it year round. Not to mention wood is just more work in general.

My wife is from Vermont, and skiied Mad River Glen growing up. Its cool to find a Vermont made boat from the same region. However it’s 30 years old. Any longevity issues if we start using it hard? Any real differences between the old soulful Explorers vs the current corporate ones?

Hard use. We don’t want a canoe to baby. We want to be fine with scraping or dragging it. Vinyl gunwales seem better in this regard. Also, this is why we are looking at t-formex and royalex.

Speaking of T-Formex, MRC lists the TFormex Explorer at 77lbs! I believe the VT made Royalex boats are 70#? The Esquif t-formex options say 65lbs, but I read they weigh more in reality? The 77lbs of a new Explorer is a real turn-off…but, will I even notice the difference?

In short,

New Explorer has Vinyl gunwales, is red, may be stiffer and less prone to oil can, and it’s new, but disadvantages are the weight and overall price and quality.

Old Explorer has soul, is cheaper, lighter and less expensive. But I’m worried about the wood and age of materials.

And what if the Esquif Prospectur or Avalon fits the bill better? Howabout that Dagger Reflection? The asymmetry bugs me, but again, I have little experience.

And what about the NORTHSTAR B16 IXP?


If you’ve made it this far, you’re already my hero. Any and all advice or thoughts would be appreciated. On anything. Ha.

I’m not familiar with any of the Esquif models or the Dagger. The Explorer is an excellent boat and very versatile, although personally I prefer the OT Penobscot 16 (I’ve owned one for over 20 years) for paddling solo. It does have less capacity than the Explorer, but unless you travel really heavy the Penobscot should work. The RX Penobscot only weighs about 60lbs, so there’s that advantage.

A couple of other notes, if you want to paddle a large tandem solo I’d stay away from asymmetric hulls or longer than 16ft. Larger can be done, but above 16 makes it more difficult. I know you only want one canoe and it’ll work, but eventually there’ll be more. I don’t know too many canoeists that have been at it for awhile who only have one canoe.

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I have never heard of any owners of Royalex Mad River Explorers complaining about oil canning. Oil canning is something that occurs on the hull bottom. A shallow V hull tends to eliminate or mitigate that. The gunwales won’t have any significant effect on oil-canning one way or the other. The Royalex tandem that I have paddled that oil-canned the worst was a Wenonah Rogue with vinyl gunwales.

I agree that the MRC Explorer is a quite good jack of all trades canoe with a very good carrying capacity for tripping. A shallow V hull is intended to improve tracking but in truth I have not found that it makes much difference in that regard compared to a shallow arch hull. A shallow V hull sometimes feels a bit unstable to those not used to that type of hull contour. The Explorer is actually very stable when moving but when sitting still the boat has a tendency to want to “tip” to the flat on one side of the hull. Once you are used to it it’s not a problem.

Canoes turn more easily when heeled. The shallow V hull will want to be heeled at least until it is on the flat of one side of the hull than the other. That doesn’t take much edging and will become second nature. The Explorer will often turn more easily heeled toward the outside of the turn which might seem and feel counterintuitive at times.

Canoes with differential rocker (more in the front) are intended to make tracking easier. For river paddling I prefer symmetrical rocker in general but differential rocker is not a deal-breaker IMO. You just need to heel (edge) the boat a bit. But if you decided on the Reflection and wanted to paddle it solo I would plan to install a kneeling thwart between the center yoke and the aft seat.

It sounds as if you are drawn to the Explorer which is not bad at all. If it were a choice between an old but like-new Waitsfield Royalex Explorer 16 with pristine wood gunwales or a new T-formex Explorer 16 with synthetic rails I would go for the older boat without a second thought so long as you are prepared to keep up with gunwale maintenance. The price for the used Explorer seems high but the market value for high quality Royalex canoes has just about doubled since Royalex production ceased. The lighter weight of the Royalex canoe is only 7 lbs but that is more significant than you might think and will become more significant the older you get.

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The 1994 MR would be tempting, and if stored indoors, the Royalex should still possess the characteristics that made it worth owning (a good balance between flex under duress and relative stiffness). Wood trim on a RX boat was a maintenance concern in the northeast and midwest due to our winter temperatures (you had to back out the wood screws in winter to allow for expansion/contraction), but shouldn’t be a concern for Cali.

T-Formex is a bit stiffer (and a bit heavier) than Royalex was (those weights are accurate) but is otherwise comparable from a performance standpoint. Have the seller get you detailed pics on the boat in question, since MR’s build quality the last few years before they went on hiatus was a little hit/miss.

The B-16 in IXP is a rockstar if you’re going to be using it as a moving water tripping boat, and I wouldn’t worry about durability at all when placed next to T-Formex. More money up front, but you get what you pay for, and at 60 lbs, definitely an easier package to pick up and lug around.

Personally, I’d spend on the Northstar and thank those whose gifts made it possible, but I wouldn’t worry about either of the two Mad River options, if you’d rather bank the left overs or need it to spend on a roof rack system.

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These discussions remind me of a sign in a former boss’s office.
“There comes a time in the life of every project when you need to fire the engineer and Just Do It”.


Buy used and save the money for a solo boat, which you will want eventually. You say now that you want one boat, but if you are like the rest of us you will need more.

$1,400 for a 28-year old Royalex Explorer seems a little steep, but is a great boat. Everyone who has them loves them. Of the options you list I’d do that one. Penobscot is also a good boat.

I have boats with wood gunwales, and haven’t found the maintenance to be an issue.

Just go for it - nothing has to last forever.

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Crickey, just go get the MR Explorer and be done with it.

Analysis paralysis.


My vote is for the Royalex Explorer, especially if it truly is in like new condition. I have 2 early 90’s Explorers (one in royalex and one in kevlar) and they both have wooden gunwales. I also live in what is essentially a desert, as we only get 6-8" of precipitation a year. There is very little maintenance required on the gunwale, no more than a couple of hours once or twice a year. I did get some cold cracks on the royalex explorer, but our winter lows can get to -15 or -20 routinely. I left the boat in the care of a friend while I was away from town for a couple year stretch and they didn’t know about backing out the screws (which only takes about 15 minutes, if that).

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Stop thinking, start paddling?

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Haha, thanks everyone. I definitely like to learn and fiddle around with the details. I’m well aware nothing beats real world use though. Just hard when you have to take vacation time just to go touch a canoe, let alone paddle one.

Heading up to Portland, OR tomorrow. A lovely sales lady at a shop north of the city said she’d give me 10% off a new Explorer T formex. That brings it to $1710 (no sales tax in Oregon.) It’s the extra weight over ROyalex and the feel of the shallow V that are the unknowns moving forward.

Still going to look at the Esquif avalon and prospecteur 16 too.

I’m pretty drawn to vinyl gunwales. I’m a more practical “use your s@*t” kind of guy.

That northstar B16 is tempting tho…I almost don’t want to go look at it. My wife doesn’t like the “denim” look of the IXP but I love it.

Also, our budget has to include a roof rack, paddles, dry bags, barrels, d-rings, adhesive, and one PFD!

Any further thoughts are welcome, on canoes or accessories! Thanks.

Make that 2 PFD. Just get a cheap one that fits. And please let us know which boat you come home with.

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Don’t cheap out on the paddles. IMO, paddles are every bit as important as the boat. An uncomfortable and/or inefficient paddle will make any paddle trip miserable. More analysis!!! :laughing:

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I already have one!

We’re looking at bending branches explorer plus straight shaft for me and the Java straight shaft for the Mrs. as our main tripping and river paddles.

We already have an old BB Special (shorter for her) that is splitting that my friend is going to fix up.

Then I hope to get a BB Beavertail for me later.

So, those 4 paddles in our quiver seems like a good all around setup!

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dealer sent me this photo. Any issues with the canoe hanging like this while on display?

yes, it’s not in the water where it belongs.


Reflection or Penobscot.

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Nah, should be fine.

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Well…did the thing.

I will prob post the whys and the how’s later…but for now, the decision’s made!


I own a Kevlar MR Explorer 16 and paddle it a lot. One of my favorites. Picked up and paddled an Esquif Avalon in Royalite for my daughter and son-in-law. l like the ability to trim the weight of the bow paddler in front with the sliding seat. I like the weight of both which is about 52 pounds. I think you made a very good choice.

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