In October 2020, Canadian boatbuilder Swift Canoe and Kayaks will take over manufacturing Mad River Canoe’s bestselling design, the Explorer 16, in two composite layups.

Mad River Canoe’s  Explorer 16
Length: 16 ft 3 in
Width:  35 in
Depth: 15 in
Weight:  44 lbs
Capacity: 1,100 lbs
MSRP: $3,399 USD / $4,349 CAD
The announcement of the partnership was made at industry tradeshow Paddlesports Retailer last August in Oklahoma City. The Paddling Magazine crew was there to get a first-hand look at the sleek new Kevlar and carbon prototypes in the Swift Canoe and Kayak booth. The eye-catching designs were the talk of the show. The Explorer 16 in a carbon layup even won the Best New Canoe award at the 2019 Paddling Magazine Industry Awards, which recognizes new product innovation in the industry (

“We’ve been making boats in-house for a long time, and we wanted to expand capabilities in terms of construction. We’ve done ultralight layups in the past, but Swift is the best in the business at building boats right now,” says Adam Ott, project manager at Confluence Outdoors, Mad River’s parent company.

“I have always been a big fan of Mad River, and I’m very fond of the original owners, Jim and Kay Henry. When Mad River asked us to build the boats, it was an honor,” adds Bill Swift, owner of Swift Canoe and Kayak.

Mad River Canoe Explorer 16 reviewed by Paddling Magazine
A canoe for all occasions. Even Fancy ones. | Photo: Alex Traynor

Starting in October, Swift will be building all of Mad River’s composite Explorer and Serenade models and delivering them across North America. Production at Swift’s South River, Ontario factory will expand to include 500 to 1,000 composite Mad River builds a year. This means the Swift operation will need more manufacturing help and warehouse space, which will be sorted out as restrictions around the pandemic lift, says Swift. The boats will be Mad River canoes in every way, except each will have a Swift serial number.

Back at Paddling Magazine headquarters, we picked up a prototype of the Explorer last fall. Thanks to its two-tone look—a distinctive feature of many Swift canoes—the Explorer has never looked better. In a ruby-red-and-white finish, it’s a real head-turner.

Our tester Explorer paddles like the other Mad River Explorers we’ve reviewed. Its symmetrical, shallow-V hull has smooth, predictable handling and excellent stability. With two inches of rocker in the bow and stern, we might not win races, but the easy-paddling Explorer makes up for it with an ideal balance between tracking and maneuverability. It’s a boat we could take almost anywhere. Mad River is right when they deem it a “canoe for all occasions.”

Canoe seat close up
Contoured cherry webbed seats also come standard. The carbon Kevlar trim fuses canoe hull and gunwales into one. | Photo: Michael Hewis

Part of the Mad River lineup for 45 years, the Explorer is Mad River’s bestselling design by far. The key to its success is its versatility, says Ott. “People often ask about the best choice if they want to buy one boat to do everything—it’s always the Explorer,” he says.

Mad River debuted the Explorer in 1975 in fiberglass. It was the second design released by Mad River founder, Jim Henry, coming four years after the company’s very first canoe , the Malecite. Over the past four decades, Mad River has manufactured it in 17 different layups. The Explorer earned its whitewater cred in the ‘70s when it was the first open canoe to run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon successfully. Yet, it’s equally at home loaded to the gunwales with gear and kids on flatwater family camping adventures.

In addition to the Kevlar and carbon Explorers Swift is manufacturing, the Explorer is also available in a T-Formex layup. The Esquif factory in Frampton, Quebec, is manufacturing the T-Formex model. (Mad River will continue to make the Journey and Adventure in polyethylene at their Greenville, South Carolina factory.)

Mad River Canoe Explorer 16 bow
Swift’s Kevlar Fusion layup is built with urethane acrylate resin that does not incorporate exterior gel coat. Swift claims this infusion process produces the highest strength to weight ratio and inter-laminate shear strength of any composite hull in the industry. | Photo: Michael Hewis

The three Explorer layups represent multiple uses, says Ott. “Because of its versatility, we looked at the three main ways to use it. The T-Formex version is the rocky river runner, which will stand up to the punishment of running rivers. With the AR, we were looking for an in-between version, a truly versatile layup that could do rivers but be lighter for lakes and portaging—one boat to do it all. And the carbon version is a heavy hauler but very lightweight.”

Our loaner is the Explorer AR, manufactured by Swift in Kevlar Fusion. This is Swift’s most popular canoe laminate, with the highest strength-to-weight ratio. Kevlar Fusion canoes are built with an outside layer of a clear marine-grade gel coat with polyester, S-glass and Kevlar cloth layers sandwiching a durable foam core and rib system. The laminate is fused with a high impact, flexible epoxy vinylester resin system.

Canoe yoke close up
Contoured cherry yoke comes standard. | Photo: Michael Hewis

Special to Swift’s composites are the snazzy integrated gunwales. This process fuses canoe hull and gunwales into one, creating a bond between the hull and trim. They’re lightweight, attractive and maintenance-free. Composite Explorers come standard with cherry yoke, handles and bench seats.

Our 44-pound tester retails for $3,399 USD. For $300 more, you can get the sleek and sexy carbon model and save four pounds. Regardless of your choice, don’t let all the fancy accouterments and elegant look of the new composite Explorers fool you. This discerning explorer has 45 years of adventures behind its lines. And it’s only gotten better with age.

This article was first published inPaddling MagazineIssue 62. Subscribe toPaddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here , or browse the archives here.

A canoe for all occasions. Even Fancy ones. | Photo: Alex Traynor

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