The Hull Truth

The shape of a canoe hull defines its performance characteristics, and each hull is a subtle blending of individual design elements. The hull design begins as a concept, and each of those design elements is carefully evaluated and then artistically blended back into the whole, becoming a wood-strip prototype that can be paddled and tested. Although each design is different, our goal remains the same: to ensure that each of our designs, regardless of its final use, is the most versatile it can be.

Elements of Hull Design

The overall performance of a canoe is most affected by the length and width of its hull. The length is the primary factor in determining potential speed. Given two canoes of different lengths but otherwise identical specifications, the longer canoe will be faster (and easier to paddle over distance), while the shorter canoe will be easier to turn. Width is a primary factor in determining stability: a wider canoe will be more stable. Here are the other major design factors:

Cross-Section Shapes

These cross-section views are outlines of a hull as if the canoe were sliced in two at its widest point. It provides a sense of how the canoe will handle in terms of stability by giving the best look at what’s going on below the waterline.

[ Shallow V ]

The shallow-V is a Mad River Canoe trademark. It offers an outstanding combination of tracking, maneuverability, and seaworthiness—ideal in an all-around canoe. The concept is simple: Canoes that are underway on two opposing planes are more stable. It’s like the wings of a soaring bird. The V-shape is not at its most stable when at rest, but in moving water or heavy waves, it settles into its slot. The old Viking ships were V-hulled. This is the most versatile canoe design, and one of the most emulated. We use the Shallow-V in such classic designs as the Explorer, Revelation, and Destiny.

[ Broad Shallow Arch ]

The almost flat bottom of a broad shallow-arch offers exceptional stability, maneuverability, and reasonable forward speed. This is the most stable shape and we use it in beginner-friendly boats such as the Tahoe and Tahoe 16.

Broad Shallow Arch Picture

[ Round V ]

In this design, the V-shaped ends blend into an arch in the center. This allows the hull to sideslip quickly and spin on a dime, while still providing the tracking required for "must make" ferries. This is the best shape for whitewater and you’ll see it in the Guide and our Outrages.

Above the Waterline

[ Flare and Tumblehome ]

The "side" of a canoe can curve in toward the center as it rises from the waterline, or it can curve out. Flare curves out, and it can be very helpful at the bow and stern, where it makes for a drier ride. Tumblehome curves in, allowing a more vertical and efficient paddle stroke. Many Mad River canoes use flare in the bow and stern for a dry ride and tumblehome in the center for efficient paddling.


When viewed from the side, "rocker" is the amount of curve in the hull, much like the rocker in a rocking chair. Rocker plays a key role in a canoe’s maneuverability, determining in large part how it will turn.

[ No Rocker ]

A canoe with no rocker, is built for covering long distances in a straight line. The full length of the hull is in the water, so it tracks well and has good speed. The Horizon is a good example of that.

[ Slight and Moderate Rocker ]

As the rocker increases, so does the ease of turning. The trick is to design a boat that turns and tracks. The Explorer and Malecite, for example, have slight rocker, which (when combined with their Shallow-V hulls) provides the balance of tracking and turning. A longer hull with moderate rocker, like the Revelation, also has that balance.

[ Pronounced Rocker ]

Pronounced rocker is the realm of whitewater boats, where turning rules. That’s why the Outrage and Outrage X pivot with ease and spin on a dime.


Hull Symmetry

[ Symmetrical Hull ]

When viewed from above, a symmetrical hull has its widest point at the center of the hull and basically identical forward and aft sections. Symmetrical hulls are predictable, seaworthy, and versatile—it’s a classic practice for solo paddlers to paddle tandem canoes backwards, sitting in the bow seat facing "backwards." It’s another reason the Explorer is one of the most versatile canoes you can own.

[ Asymmetrical Hull ]

These designs feature different forward and aft sections: Swede-form has the widest section aft of centerline, creating a longer bow and producing enhanced forward speed and tracking. It is often used on touring canoes, such as the Horizon.

Fish-form has the widest section forward of the centerline, producing a buoyant bow, ideal for paddling upstream and rising over large waves. It is common in whitewater canoes, such as the Outrage.

The Hidden Features

We pride ourselves on building exceptional canoes but many of the features we incorporate in each canoe are hidden…


Since these form the frame that supports the hull, they must be stiff, strong and weather resistant. We use three different gunwale systems, and most canoes are available in two gunwale trims:

[ Northern Vermont White Ash Gunwales ]

Each pair of inwales and outwales is grain-matched, numbered, dipped in Gunwale Guard (our specially-formulated, deep-penetrating, anti-fungal wood finish), and air-dried. Every gunwale is cut by hand to use the best grain–no knots, swirls, or short grain across the gunwales—increasing flexibility for top performance and long life. This is our strongest gunwale system, and is the easiest to repair in the field. Wood gunwales require more maintenance and special storage in cold climates when mounted to Royalex canoes.

[ Vinyl Gunwales ]

An extruded vinyl sheath with 6063-T5 aluminum inserts, these gunwales rival wood for strength and require no special care or maintenance. They are very durable but are not as easy to repair in the field as wood.

[ Powder-coated Aluminum Gunwales ]

Lightweight and low maintenance, these are intended for lighter weight, quiet water canoes.


All hardware used by Mad River Canoe–bolts, machine screws, and gunwale screws—is stainless steel, which offers superior strength and corrosion resistance. (On vinyl and aluminum gunwales, we use anodized aluminum rivets, colored to match the gunwales.)

[ Seats, Thwarts and Yokes ]

Hardwood seat trusses complement the canoe’s good looks while providing structural rigidity. Native New England butternut is used in the two-piece hardwood decks with a finger joint that is stronger than the wood itself—without using rain forest products. Standard hand-crafted ash-framed seats with cane inserts are cool, quick drying, comfortable and quite handsome; contoured cane seats are optional. (Optional web seats provide maintenance-free durability and unsurpassed strength.) Every canoe is hand-balanced prior to the installation of our standard ash yoke to enhance portaging comfort.


All of our boats, regardless of construction technique, feature extra reinforcing in critical areas. In our Royalex® canoes, the bow, stern, center section, and keel line are reinforced for unmatched durability and stiffness. In our composite canoes, specially engineered resins maximize durability and stiffness, while extra layers of fabric and graphite reinforce critical wear and impact areas. Optional integral Kevlar® skid plates with graphite filled resin increase durability without compromising paddling efficiency or appearance.


Every Mad River Canoe undergoes an exhaustive multi-step quality assurance process during manufacturing; only after passing this test does the completed boat receive its Confident Rabbit logo, Mad River Canoe name, and signed Quality Assurance card. And, of course, there’s our Lifetime Warranty. We proudly stand behind our products.

Although many of these components are hidden from your view, they all reflect our commitment to building the best canoes with the best materials. When combined with our innovative designs and state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques, it’s easy to see why we say that excellence by design is no accident. It’s our way of life.

Hull Materials

No other manufacturer can match Mad River’s ability to craft high-tech materials into timeless designs with outstanding performance. Each of our construction techniques has unique advantages, and the simplest way to approach the complex question of selecting the right material is to determine where or how you will paddle. There are other factors to consider, such as weight and price, but being honest with yourself about where and how you paddle is the best place to start. Rest assured that whichever Mad River Canoe you buy, you’re buying the best.

Roto-molded Polyethylene (R Series)

Mad River introduced this new level of quality and affordability to canoeing in 2000. In our TripleTough™ construction, polyethylene powders are precisely loaded into computer controlled rotational-molding ovens. The powders are melted within the mold and oven rotations are timed and measured by sophisticated computer-driven programs to place just the right amount of materials and reinforcement where they are needed. The result is a three-layered skin-foam-skin hull that’s tough, recyclable and impact-resistant.

Usage: Day cruising, sporting, quiet water touring, river touring.

Advantages: Affordable, stiff, strong, impact resistant.

Bottom Line: True canoe performance, most affordable Mad River Canoe material.


A three layer rotomolded construction consisting of:

  • Inner and outer layers of high density linear polyethylene for durability and impact resistance.
  • Sealed closed-cell foam inner core layer for stiffness and flotation.
  • Variations in mold surface temperature increase hull thickness in high impact areas.


  • Perfect entry level recreation boat - inexpensive, safe and stable with lots of flotation.
  • Very durable and long lasting.
  • Very low maintenance.
  • Less expensive than Royalex®.
  • Quieter to paddle than aluminum.

Mad River versus the Competition

  • Advanced molding techniques put more material in the high impact areas and less in the low impact areas, resulting in a lighter and stiffer hull.
  • Shallow V hull design enhances hull stiffness for improved paddling performance - it paddles like a Mad River, not a barge!
  • Full length aluminum insert in gunwales for added torsional rigidity.
  • Molded-in graphics won't peel or scratch off like decals.
  • Webbed seats in solid ash frames are lighter and more attractive than rotomolded bucket seats.
  • Environmentally friendlier manufacturing process than crosslinked polyethylene - no harmful formaldehyde gas emitted during molding.

Royalex® (RX)

The gold standard for rugged all-around canoes. Royalex® sheets are custom-made in a process that combines sheets of vinyl, ABS, and foam and then vulcanizes them together. The Royalex® sheet is then thermo-formed (with heat and vacuum) in a mold to create a hull with outstanding strength, internal flotation and a tough and slippery vinyl skin. It’s lighter than roto-molded polyethylene, far quieter and "warmer" than aluminum, and virtually maintenance free. Each canoe’s sheet construction is different; the exact placement of reinforcing ABS and foam reflects the requirements of that model. Certain models intended for quiet-water use a lighter weight sheet for easier portaging. Note: Our Royalex® is not the same as other canoe manufacturers’. You may notice that our canoes tend to be a little heavier than the competition, because we elect to place more reinforcing material into our Royalex® for a more durable canoe. That’s one of the reasons we are able to offer our lifetime warranty to original purchasers.

Usage: All categories (may depend on construction--see model descriptions).

Advantages: Durable, quiet, comfortable, low maintenance, extremely tough, great value.

Bottom Line: For whitewater and demanding conditions, this is the material of choice. The lighter version is just as abrasion-resistant, quiet, and comfortable, but not as tough over time when used hard.


A vulcanized sandwich construction consisting of:

  • Pigmented vinyl inner and outer skin for UV protection and abrasion resistance
  • ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) substrate layers for impact resistance and stiffness
  • ABS foam inner core for structural rigidity and flotation


  • More durable and less maintenance than Kevlar® and fiberglass
  • Lighter than polyethylene
  • Quieter to paddle than aluminum
  • Less expensive than Kevlar

Mad River versus the Competition

  • New state-of-the-art molding facility ensures consistent high quality — no weak spots from overheating or overstretching sheet during forming.
  • Thicker substrate layers and more foam core increase durability and stiffness with little additional weight (see the difference by looking at hull thickness between wood gunwales).

K-Glass (KG)

K-Glass is a hybrid laminate combining the tensile strength of Kevlar® and the rigidity of fiberglass: durable, extremely efficient and more affordable than all-Kevlar® construction. We modeled this on our proven Kevlar® Expedition lay-up and substituted select fiberglass internal layers to reduce cost without sacrificing performance. Features include Kevlar® and fiberglass keel line patches, a custom-formulated vinylester resin, full inner and outer layers of Kevlar® and Kevlar® reinforcing in critical wear areas. There is more Kevlar® in a Mad River Canoe KG construction than most of our competitors "all" Kevlar® canoes.

Usage: Quiet Water Touring, Day Cruising, Sporting, and Moving Water (mild).

Advantages: Finer entry and exit lines than Royalex®, much more durable and lighter than all-fiberglass construction; produces fast, rigid canoes with great response, stiffness and speed.

Bottom Line: Great construction and good value for canoes used mainly in quiet water.


A handcrafted wet laminate consisting of:

  • Outer surface of durable gel coat resin for abrasion resistance and UV protection.
  • Two full inner and outer layers of Kevlar cloth
  • Multiple layers of Kevlar reinforcing end patches in critical wear areas.
  • Kevlar and fiberglass keel line patches for added stiffness and durability.


  • Lighter and more efficient to paddle than Royalex® or polyethylene.
  • Lighter and more durable than fiberglass
  • Less expensive than Kevlar with similar performance.
  • Intermediate price point between Royalex and Kevlar.

Mad River versus the Competition

  • More Kevlar® than any other hybrid construction.
  • Full inner and outer layers of Kevlar provide greater tensile strength than fiberglass.
  • Additional Kevlar reinforcing patches in all critical wear areas.
  • Custom formulated vinylester resin provides better balance of stiffness and flexibility than polyester resin.
  • Graphite tape and wound Kevlar fiber “rope” are laminated into the bow and stern of hull for greatest impact resistance on the market.
  • Available with optional molded-in integral skid plate of carbon-impregnated Kevlar felt for enhanced durability and abrasion resistance.

Kevlar® Expedition (KE)

All Cloth

Our most durable composite. Using layers of Kevlar® we get a light, extraordinarily tough hull. We specify the weave and surface finish of our Kevlar® fabric and carefully match it to a proprietary vinylester resin for added resistance to impacts. Up to 11 layers of Kevlar® are used in our lay-ups. The gel coat outer surface adds protection and beauty.


In our large Kevlar® expedition canoes, we use an Airex™ foam core and ribs with the Kevlar®. This allows us to make an expedition-caliber canoe that is much lighter and stiffer than all-cloth construction. Airex™ has significantly better shear strength and impact resistance than other foam-core materials.

Usage: Day Cruising, Quiet Water Touring, River Touring, and Sporting

Advantages: Like K-Glass, Kevlar® Expedition produces much finer entry and exit lines than Royalex®, and it’s far lighter than Royalex® and lighter and tougher than K-Glass, resulting in light, fast boats with great response and good stiffness.

Bottom Line: This is the perfect material—light and strong—for a canoe-touring hull.

Constructionhandcrafted wet laminate consisting of:

  • Outer surface of durable gel coat resin for abrasion resistance and UV protection.
  • Three full layers of Kevlar cloth.
  • Multiple layers of Kevlar reinforcing end patches in critical wear areas.
  • Multiple Kevlar keel line patches for added stiffness and durability.
  • Multiple internal Kevlar belly layers for stiffness.
  • Low elongation vinylester resin provides stiffness to balance Kevlar's flexibility.


  • Much lighter and more efficient to paddle than Royalex® or polyethylene
  • Lighter, more flexible, and more durable than fiberglass
  • Best strength to weight ratio of all available materials
  • The choice for expeditions!

Mad River versus the Competition

  • More Kevlar than any other all-Kevlar construction — up to 11 layers in high wear and impact areas!
  • Additional Kevlar reinforcing patches in all critical wear areas.
  • Custom formulated vinylester resin provides better balance of stiffness and flexibility than polyester resin.
  • Graphite tape and wound Kevlar fiber “rope” are laminated into the bow and stern of hull for greatest impact resistance of any lightweight on the market.
  • Available with optional molded-in integral skid plate of carbon-impregnated Kevlar felt for enhanced durability and abrasion resistance.

Kevlar® Lite (KL)

This extremely lightweight construction features Airex™ foam reinforcement and a skin coat of pigmented resin, reducing hull weight by up to 20 percent when compared to Kevlar® Expedition. By using Airex™ and an S-glass outer layer, we are able to offer a superior construction, with better abrasion resistance and better impact tolerance than any other lightweight on the market.

Advantages: Our lightest hulls – extremely efficient and very stiff.

Bottom Line: The only choice if light weight matters above all else; best suited to deep water.


A handcrafted vacuum-assisted laminate consisting of:

  • Outer layer of S-glass fiberglass for better abrasion resistance.
  • Two full layers and one belly layer of Kevlar® cloth.
  • Multiple layers of Kevlar reinforcing patches in critical wear areas.
  • Internal fiberglass layer for stiffness.
  • Airex closed cell linear crosslinked foam core (and side ribs in longer models).
  • High elongation vinylester resin.


  • Stiffer and lighter than all — Kevlar® constructions
  • Lighter and more durable than fiberglass
  • Best strength to weight ratio of all available materials
  • Easy to car-top and portage
  • The ultimate in lightweight performance!

Mad River versus the Competition

  • S-glass outer layer is more abrasion resistant than Kevlar® outer layer in competitors lightweight fabrications.
  • Airex foam core is more flexible than Divinicell or Clegicell linear cores used by other manufacturers — greater impact resistance.
  • Additional Kevlar reinforcing patches in all critical wear areas.
  • High elongation vinylester resin provides more flexibility to balance stiffness of foam core.
  • Graphite tape and wound Kevlar fiber “rope” are laminated into the bow and stern of hull for greatest impact resistance of any lightweight on the market.
  • Optional pigmented resin skin coat offers better UV resistance than clear coats.
  • Available with optional molded-in integral skid plate of carbon-impregnated Kevlar felt for enhanced durability and abrasion resistance.


Mountain Sports
Texas On-the-Water Center
Heart of the Texas Hill Country
Guadalupe River: Hunt, Texas