News and Events

Ask the Expert: Explorer Why the Explorer 16?

Mar 05, 2013

If you take a look at the specifications for the Explorer 16, you'll notice that the length of the composite Explorers and the Royalex Explorer don't match up with the composite editions being about 5” longer and a couple of inches narrower to boot. Why is this?

The answer comes when one considers the most likely use and most likely waters these hulls will be used in. Royalex provides a carefree durability which lends itself to whitewater use and paddling on narrow, rock infested rivers. Composite materials allow the realization of the most subtle curves and hull shapes and the finer stems, all of which contribute to paddling efficiency, something highly prized on open water. Though durable, composite laminates don't rival Royalex in terms of its ability to rebound from impact. On the other hand, Royalex will always be more flexible than a proper composite hull. Flexibility is an advantage in a “river” canoe as it speaks to resilience and durability, not so much in a flat water situation when the flex in the hull reduces the hull's efficiency.

Royalex shrugs off glancing bumps and blows just as paddlers of Royalex canoe also often shrug off such encounters. So let's see, what are the desirable attributes of a canoe for these conditions? Durability – check; compact to fit and maneuver in tight spaces – check (hence the shorter Royalex version); a bit full in the ends to provide lift over drops and dryness – check (the Royalex Explorer is a bit “cheekier” than the composite edition).


Now, what do the composite Explorers have to offer? Longer length to enhance tracking and glide, sharper stems and narrower fore and aft to part the water more efficiently and provide a gentler “wedge” to move easier, faster, and further , lighter weight for maximum efficiency and portaging ease.

Just as Jim Henry balanced and blended design attributes to enhance the Explorer's versatility, he also tweaked the hulls to best suit the materials of which they were built and the expectations of the paddlers who would be using them. It made no sense to simply duplicate the same hull in different materials, thereby not taking full advantage of each materials' best points. Better to exploit those strengths by tweaking the designs to harmonize design, material, and intention.

So if you're anticipating paddling rivers that tend to be rocky and bony, a Royalex Explorer is probably a better fit. The “rubber” Explorer actually paddles pretty well on the flats so no reason to fear those flat stretches of trips. The full ends and flare of the Royalex Explorer are designed to keep boat, paddlers, and gear dry as befits a river tripping hull but those amenities translate very well to casual paddlers. This is one of those rare canoes that are tolerant of a learning curve and not easy to outgrow at the same time. If you anticipate that you're one of those paddlers whose attention is on paddling and not wanting to be consumed with dodging every possible obstacle, the carefree nature of the Royalex Explorer should speak volumes.


On the other hand if most of your paddling will be on mild or open waters, a composite Explorer will get you where you're going faster and with less expenditure of energy. The Kevlar Explorer is no wilting flower, it can handle lots of abrasion and is pretty resistant to impact, but its' threshold for “pain” does not match its Royalex sibling.

The  Kevlar Explorer laminate is designed to meet the demands of an open water expeditionary hull. It has a high cloth to resin ratio which translates into impressive strength and very good durability. It's an ideal choice for Borderland tripping in places such as the Adirondacks, Algonquin, Quetico, BWCA, etc. It has the necessary toughness to stand up to mixed water, ie, river/lake paddling and is forgiving of those moments of inattention that befall us all. At 20 lbs lighter than its' Royalex counterpart, it has a significant advantage in responsiveness, accelerating faster, gliding further, etc. Just as its' weight may suggest, it's kind of like the middle ground between the Royalex and Ultralight Explorers. It has all the efficiency of a composite design with a healthy dose of toughness thrown in. A good choice for that one canoe with no (or very few) boundaries.

The Ultralight Explorer is the epitome of efficiency on the water. Weighing in the low 40s, this hull is extremely responsive and accelerates in a heartbeat. The hull is very stiff and rigid for maximum efficiency and this Explorer will go further and faster per stroke than any of its' siblings. What it gives up for this sterling performance is durability in the sense of impact or abrasion. With the hull materials thinned down for efficiency, this hull does not have the “meat” to stand up to rock banging paddling. It's plenty durable for everyday use on open water for many years and will reward the committed paddler with high expectations.


The Explorer 16 (regardless of flavor) can be paddled solo but makes a better tandem and will easily accommodate multiple passengers and/ or pets. (TIP: when paddling alone or with a small passenger, spin the hull around and sit in what was the bow seat, facing the yoke. This puts you closer to center and results in better trim than if you plant yourself way back in the stern. Means not only more efficient paddling but safer as well as stability is less compromised with more hull in the water.)

So if your budget allows for only one canoe and you want to keep your paddling options as open as possible, it's hard to find a better choice than one of the Explorer 16s. They won't limit your paddling and can open doors you didn't expect to walk through. They're all great boats for families, sportsmen and women, campers, trippers, etc., it's a long list. It's hard to go wrong with an Icon.