Mad River has been building canoes for almost 50 years. The company was born shortly after the founder, Jim Henry, won the 1971 U.S. National Open Canoe Championship in his hand-built canoe. Throughout Mad River’s history, they’ve experimented with canoe designs and materials. They were early adopters of Kevlar and Royalex materials, switching to T-Formex when it was developed.
Many models have been phased in and out through the years, and recently they’ve focused on three canoe models: the Adventure, Explorer and Journey. These Mad River canoes are designed for recreational paddling and touring, and different material options land at different prices.
In 2022, Confluence Outdoor, Mad River’s parent company, announced they were pausing canoe production. They are focusing resources on two of their other brands, Perception and Wilderness Systems, to meet the surging demand for kayaks. A company representative reports that they hope to start making canoes again in 2023. You may still find some of last year’s models in shops, and decades worth of canoes on the used market.
A Mad River is a good option if you’re looking for a no-nonsense, high-quality canoe. The different materials match various price brackets, and their designs have lasted years because they work. These are reliable canoes for beginner and intermediate paddlers.
If you’re considering a Mad River canoe, this article will help you decide which one is right for you. We’ve included advice for buying new and used canoes, as well as links to the canoes currently on the market, as listed in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide.
Top picks: Best Mad River canoes for 2024
Shop Mad River canoes
If you’re ready to start shopping, follow the links below to view Mad River canoes in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide. Here, you’ll find all the Mad River canoes on the market, as well as canoes built by other companies.
Essential information like specifications, prices and places to buy them is displayed in a standard format, so you don’t need to jump from one website to another. Use the filters below to view the canoes by type, material, size or store.
Shop by type
Shop by store
Shopping for a used Mad River canoe?
Finding a Mad River Canoe
Finding used canoes requires frequent searching. Paddlesports participation is booming, driving the demand for outdoor equipment, whether it’s new or used. Canoes from companies that have been around for decades, like Mad River, will periodically make their way onto used listings. They have a broad appeal, so you’ll find Mad River canoes on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji or other local classifieds pages.
You can also target your search in specialized pages, like MEC Gearswap or a local paddling club’s used boat listings. Unless you’re prepared for a hefty shipping fee, be wary of buying large items like Mad River canoes off eBay or other international auction sites.
If you find a Mad River canoe not currently listed on its website, you can get more information about the model by looking through the company’s archived catalogs.
What to look for
Not all canoes are built equal. There are some design aspects that you might overlook in a photo that can drastically affect your paddling experience. The best way to know if a canoe is right for you is to give it a try. This may not always be possible, especially when buying a used one.
At a minimum, pick the canoe up, and see how it feels to portage it. Try (carefully) sitting in it while the canoe is resting on grass. If you prefer kneeling when you paddle, make sure that your feet fit comfortably underneath the bench seats.
Canoes finished with wooden gunwales look great and are lighter than typical aluminum or vinyl combinations. Improper care can cause them to warp or break. When looking at a used canoe, check the wooden gunwales for any signs of cracking or rot.
Check with the owner and ask how they stored the canoe. It’s best if the canoe has been kept inside, or at the very least, away from direct sunlight. Prolonged UV exposure can cause canoes to warp or deform (that’s not a reason to not paddle them on sunny days, however).
What’s a fair price?
Canoes hold their value exceptionally well. It’s rare to find a canoe selling for less than half of its original price, but when those are listed, they often sell quickly. People upgrading or cleaning out a garage may just be trying to get rid of the boat rather than recoup much money. Spring and fall are the best times to find those deals.
If the present era of supply chain delays and booming interest in paddlesports has taught us anything, it’s that used canoes are nearly impossible to find in the summer. People recognize this and increase the price of used boats when demand is high.
If you’re eager to get on the water, then prepare to pay a bit more in the summertime. The upside is that a canoe will last a long time and lead you on adventures for years to come.
For more tips on what to look for when selecting a used canoe, read our article How To Buy A Used Canoe.
Mad River canoe buying advice
There are three models most recently produced by Mad River: The Adventure, Journey and Explorer.
Mad River’s Adventure is their recreational canoe, and it’s available in two sizes, 14 and 16 feet. Recreational canoes are a great choice for new paddlers or those who value stability over speed. There is little worry about capsizing in calm conditions with the Adventure’s wide, flat hull.
These canoes are ideal for anglers or families who are just beginning to dip their paddles.
The Journey and Explorer qualify as versatile touring canoes. These canoes are a step beyond recreational canoes. They are not as wide, meaning they won’t have the same initial stability. Their hulls have a rounder, “shallow-arch” shape, in contrast to the flatter bottom of the Adventure.
This gives the Journey and Explorer more secondary stability, which helps the canoe recover if it’s on its edge in more dynamic water.
The Journey has a minimal rocker, making it track (move straight) much better than the Explorer. The tradeoff is that it does not maneuver as readily. Like the Adventure, the Journey is made with three-layer polyethylene.
The 16-foot Explorer is the flagship model, and Mad River’s bestselling canoe. It’s an all-around canoe, suited for most uses. You can take it for a week-long backcountry adventure or a float down a local river with your family. Different materials match different needs, and Mad River makes the Explorer in T-Formex, Kevlar Fusion or Carbon. T-Formex is the most rugged material.
It was conceived as a replacement for Royalex, long considered the gold standard for bombproof canoes. Quebec-based canoe manufacturer Esquif produces T-Formex and builds this iteration of the Explorer.
T-Formex is a stiff, durable material. It consists of three distinct layers. In the centre is a closed-cell foam which gives the canoe buoyancy. ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic layers encase both sides of the foam to protect it and add stiffness to the shape. Beyond the ABS is a proprietary abrasion-resistant outer layer. The exterior of the canoe is reinforced for resistance against impacts. A UV-resistant coating provides additional sun protection.
Kevlar Fusion and carbon are composite renditions of the Explorer. Swift Canoes made these for Mad River at their factory in South River, Ontario. These are lightweight options well suited for portaging trips, as they are easier to carry. The Kevlar Fusion weighs 44 pounds.
It’s a beautiful canoe with graceful lines, Swift’s classic two-tone color scheme and features like cherry seats and yokes. The equally attractive carbon fiber version is an airy 40 pounds.
Want to know more? View our answers to common questions below.
Mad River canoe models
Throughout the company’s history, Mad River has introduced and phased out different canoe models. Most recently, three models have been built: the recreational Adventure and the touring/all-around Journey and Explorer. You can find some information about discontinued Mad River canoe models on their website.
Mad River canoe weight
Mad River’s canoes range in weight depending on the materials used to build them. Using 16-foot canoes as a baseline to compare, you can see the weight differences. Their heaviest boats are made from polyethylene, like the 85-pound Adventure 16.
The T-Formex Explorer is a bit lighter at 77 pounds. The composite editions of the Explorer are much lighter, at 44 pounds for the Kevlar Fusion and 40 for the carbon version.
Mad River canoe prices
Mad River’s prices range depending on the material used for the canoe and the model. They are comparable to other popular canoe companies, like Nova Craft or Esquif. You’ll find that Mad River canoes are more expensive than canoes found at big-box stores. There’s a significant jump in quality between $600 canoes and ones from dedicated canoe builders.
Mad River canoe location
Mad River canoe’s manufacturing location depends on the material. The polyethylene canoes are built in Greenville, South Carolina, in a factory managed by Mad River’s parent company, Confluence Outdoors.
Swift Canoe and Kayak builds the composite Explorer canoes in South River, Ontario, and the T-Formex Explorer is made at the Esquif factory in Framption, Quebec.
Mad River canoe dealers
Mad River canoes are sold at independent outdoors stores and chains like REI. You can find nearby dealers by using their dealer locator tool.
Compare Mad River canoes
Old Town vs Mad River canoes
Maine-based Old Town is one of America’s original canoe manufacturers. They’ve been in business for more than 100 years, and today they tailor their canoes to recreational paddlers. Old Town makes wide, stable polyethylene canoes for solo and tandem paddling. Like Mad River, they are extremely affordable. Old Town’s solo pack boats like the NEXT or Discovery Sportsman 118 are unparalleled in Mad River’s lineup.
If you’re keen on a solo canoe shorter than 12 feet or a canoe for less than $1,500, consider an Old Town. Conversely, if you are looking for an all-around canoe with added durability, Mad River’s T-Formex Explorer 16 is the better choice. Mad River’s Explorer in Kevlar Fusion or carbon are both good choices for paddlers who want a lightweight composite canoe.
Mad River canoe reviews
Reading reviews provides the insight you wouldn’t get otherwise. Simply looking at canoe specifications and descriptions doesn’t provide insight into the small details of how it feels on the water. While firsthand experience is the best way to fully realize a canoe’s performance, expert reviews are the next best way. Learn more about Mad River canoes by checking out the reviews below.
- Boat Review: Mad River Caption Canoe
- Review: Mad River Canoe Explorer 16
- Boat Review: Mad River Legend 16 Canoe
- Solo Canoe Review: Mad River Serenade
- Tripping Canoe Review: Mad River Expedition 176
- Mad River Malecite Ultralite Canoe Review