Mad River Expedition 176
- Street cred: One of our trip members promptly bought it at the take-out.
- It weighs just 60 lbs. (with aluminum gunwales), meaning you can make miles with smiles.
- Very aesthetically pleasing...make you feel like a true canoeist.
- A bit delicate looking, creating a phobia of all things igneous.
- Comfortable and breathable cane seats, but one tester found that the black gunwales burned her legs when heated up in the hot desert sun.
- Our test model was white, leaving it with a muddy bathtub ring from the silt-carrying Green River at every camp.
If you have the money and are serious about your canoe tripping, buy this baby—you’ll be hard pressed to find a better expedition canoes. Matching its crisp aesthetics is the feeling you get from every stroke. Well-sized for handling and maneuverability, it turns when you need it to, yet straight-out hauls on the flats. The smaller details are also spot-on, including a sliding, contoured cane bow seat (and cane bucket stern seat), contoured portage yoke, tripping thwart, adjustable stern ash footbrace, shaped ash carry handles, and thermoformed polyethylene decks. Stable and balanced for open water, but nimble enough to maneuver in tighter quarters (or for retrieving that poorly tossed Frisbee). Its uber-light-weight composite construction might make you feel a bit guilty about packing along those Fosters oilcans, but at the same time it frees up weight for such luxuries.
Mad River has been building Kevlar/aramid fiber canoes as long as anyone, and it shows in the Expedition 176. For those not privy to such materials, Kevlar has a tensile strength five times stronger than steel and great impact absorption and tear resistance, making it the perfect choice for high-end canoes. And Mad River ups the ante by combining its Kevlar weave with a hybrid composite combo of fiberglass and graphite, all capped with a gel coat for abrasion resistance, to build one of the most durable canoes per pound in the business.
In an informal, makeshift score sheet tallied at the end of the trip, the Expedition 176 scored 10s in the tracking and hull speed categories – perhaps the two most important attributes in any long-distance journey. It was also frequently the first canoe “dibbed” each morning before the gear-loading began. One paddler commented, “It has lots of leg room and its contoured cane seat reminded me of my Laz-y- boy back home. It was the Bentley of our trip—a floating work of art—that effortlessly stayed out front of the group when scrambling for a late-evening campsite before the kids melted down. A good combination of light weight with durability. My wife said that paddling it made me look 10 years younger.”
How We Tested It
We took the Expedition 76 on a six-day, 52-mile flatwater trip down Stillwater Canyon of the Green River through the heart of Canyonlands National Park. In all we had 20 people—including 11 kids and nine adults—and 10 canoes, unloading and loading them every night (a true test of their “expedition” accolades) at different camps. While we didn’t get it into lake chop common on big crossings in locations like Quetico and the Boundary Waters, we did punch it across the occasional eddy line, dealt with a few afternoon whitecaps whipped up by August thunderstorms, and had a ripple or two to negotiate. As well as it handled on the water, it also did so at the confluence with the Colorado, where Tex’s Shuttle Service met us with a jet boat for the two-hour ride back up the Colorado to Moab. Loading 10 boats atop our lone jet boat, the drivers commented fondly on its light weight when shouldering it onto the rack.
The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.
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