Royalex is back.
Back in the late ’90’s and early 2000’s I worked for Rutabaga, a big canoe and kayak store in Madison, Wisconsin. It was an exciting time to be a part of the paddlesports industry. Sea kayaking had exploded onto the outdoor industry scene and was rapidly becoming mainstream. Whitewater kayak designs were evolving so fast it seemed like there was a new design launched every week. Recreational kayaks were flying off the racks. Canoe sales were booming.
Back then, the most popular canoes we sold were made from a material called Royalex.
Royalex was a foam-core ABS plastic material with a vinyl outer skin. It could be molded into efficient canoe shapes and had a well-earned reputation for durability.
Fiberglass and Kevlar canoes were stiffer, lighter and more efficient, but when it came to toughness, nothing compared to Royalex. That toughness made Royalex THE choice for whitewater canoes, but also made it a favorite among recreational paddlers. Especially families looking for an affordable, low maintenance canoe.
In fact, Royalex canoes were so popular the staff often had trouble selling anything else. We sold ultralight Kevlar canoes for Boundary Waters trips and a handful of heavier Kevlar and fiberglass models for everyday paddling, but Royalex outsold these designs by three to one.
Royalex had a unique set of characteristics that set it apart from any other canoe material.
Royalex was tough. You could bang a Royalex canoe down a shallow rocky river and come away with nothing worse than a few scratches and a dent or two. There were loads of stories of people who had wrapped their canoes around rocks in whitewater and later stomped them back into shape and paddled home. Compared to even the strongest composite canoes Royalex was far more durable and impact resistant. It wasn’t even close.
The proof of this is how completely Royalex dominated whitewater canoe design. Early whitewater kayaks and canoes were made of composites. Then came plastic. Today, fiberglass and Kevlar whitewater kayaks have been almost entirely replaced by designs molded from highly impact-resistant polyethylene. In canoes, Royalex was the choice. It had all the impact resistance of rotomolded plastic but was lighter and stiffer.
The lighter weight of Royalex helped it gain traction as a good material for recreational canoes. Back then a typical plastic canoe cost about $700 and weighed close to 90 pounds. A similar design in Royalex might cost $500 more, but it weighed twenty pounds less. Seventy pounds was light enough for a young couple to get on top the car. 85 or 90 pounds wasn’t.
And then there was the scratching thing.
When you scratched a Royalex boat, the scratch was the same color as the hull (at least until you wore through the outer skin). The gel coat on the outside of composite canoes scratched white. This meant that even a well used Royalex canoe tended to look better than a composite canoe after a few years. It’s a small thing, but it was surprising how often it came up when we talked to people about canoes back then.
The scratching thing was part of what you might call the “worry free” aspect of Royalex. If you bought a Royalex canoe odds were that you would never have to do anything in the way of upkeep beyond replacing a seat from time to time. If you really beat the hell out of in in whitewater you might need to put some skid plates on the ends. That’s it. No gel coat repair. No fiberglass patching. Virtually maintenance free.
These factors added together to give Royalex a unique position in the canoe market. Royalex canoes were affordable, tough and worry free.
They were a great value.
Then they went away.
Royalex is Dead
Royalex was developed in the 1970s by the Uniroyal Corporation. Since then it’s been used by dozens of canoe manufacturers to produce thousands of durable performance canoes. In 2000 the Royalex division was sold by Uniroyal to Spartech, which continued to produce Royalex sheets for canoe production. In 2013 Spartech sold to plastics company PolyOne, which took a hard look at Royalex sales numbers. The company determined that Royalex was unprofitable and took steps to shutter the operation. PolyOne closed down Royalex production in 2014. Canoe manufacturers ordered up their last sheets, built their final Royalex canoes and turned the page on a historic chapter in paddlesports history. Royalex was dead.
The remaining Royalex canoes made their way through the retail pipeline. Prices crept upward as demand for a finite number of canoes rose. The value of used Royalex canoes increased. By the time all the remaining stock was gone, the price of a Royalex canoe rose above $1700. Even at those prices they sold out. There simply wasn’t an alternative to fill the Royalex niche in the paddlesports world.
What happened next depends on which canoe company you’re talking about. With Royalex gone, some companies shifted their Royalex production into rotomolded canoes. For example, Old Town Canoe had previously produced the iconic Penobscot 16 and 17 canoes in Royalex. With Royalex gone, these models shifted over into polyethylene. Other companies worked to replace Royalex with composite constructions. Wenonah Canoe, where I work now, had long produced durable canoes from a polyester/fiberglass material called Tuf-Weave. Wenonah promoted Tuf-Weave as a Royalex alternative. Nova Craft Canoe developed an impact resistant composite construction that they called Tuff-Stuff to fill the Royalex niche. Both companies produced rotomolded plastic canoes as well. Many canoe companies were learning to do without Royalex.
But not all companies.
Several prominent canoe brands produced boats almost exclusively from Royalex. For these companies, the loss of Royalex was a crisis. Without Royalex they would go out of business entirely. Esquif Canoe was one of these brands.
Esquif owner and founder Jacques Chasse came up with a novel solution for the Royalex crisis–he would make his own. Chasse set out on a four-year quest to develop a Royalex replacement. The end result was T-Formex, a material that perfectly mimics the performance profile of Royalex.
T-Formex is a sandwich of ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadine Styrene) plastic, expanding foam core and a proprietary outer skin. It shares Royalex’s extreme impact resistance and durability. The outer skin slides smoothly over rocks and doesn’t show scratches as much as composite canoes. Weight is very similar to Royalex. Stiffness and paddling performance is excellent.
T-Formex canoes cost more than Royalex canoes did. By their nature they must. Royalex was eliminated by PolyOne because it wasn’t profitable. For any replacement to be sustainable, it must pay its own way. So pricing has to reflect cost of materials and manufacturing. That said, T-Formex canoes are still quite affordable. They cost around $2000–at least $1000 less than a comparable composite canoe and about a third more than a heavier polyethylene canoe.
Like Royalex, T-Formex offers exceptional value. T-Formex canoes are modestly priced, light enough to cartop and tough as nails. No composite canoe material can match the impact resistance and worry free maintenance of T-Formex. Rotomolded plastic canoes are tough and affordable, but they’re much heavier.
T-Formex hits the sweet spot.
So, there you go, job done, right? Now that we have a true Royalex replacement things should go back to the way they used to be. T-Formex will come to dominate canoe construction the way that Royalex did back in the 1990s.
In 2017 Esquif and Wenonah launched T-Formex on the North American canoe market. That’s three years ago. Sales have been good, but they haven’t come close to the numbers that were being produced in the heyday of Royalex. So far, T-Formex hasn’t taken off as quickly as we had hoped.
Part of my job at Wenonah is to think about why this is.
One reason may simply have to do with market penetration and volume of production. Back at the height of it’s popularity, Royalex was used by all the major canoe manufacturers in North America. There were some heavy hitters out there slinging Royalex hulls. Old Town was almost certainly the biggest, but the combined impact of Royalex canoes from Wenonah, Esquif, Dagger, Mad River, Nova Craft and others can’t be underestimated. Royalex was ubiquitous. The material was well known by the paddling public.
Today, T-Formex is only being used by a small group of manufacturers, the largest of which are Esquif and Wenonah. Compared to Royalex it isn’t as well understood or widely promoted. T-Formex is less visible.
Visibility is certainly a factor, but I think the marketing environment is nearly as important. When Royalex disappeared, all the manufacturers had to make do with different materials that weren’t as good for the job. Heavier plastic canoes that paddled like tanks. Less durable composite canoes that required more upkeep. Neither of these constructions were an adequate replacement for Royalex, but they were all the industry had to work with.
The forced change in materials came with a major change in marketing. Composites companies pushed composites. Rotomolders worked hard to convince the public that poly canoes were as good a value as Royalex. All the stories changed. All the sales pitches. The ads. The narratives. Those narratives are still out there, driving the conversation in the paddlesports world.
On top of this, most canoe manufacturers aren’t using T-Formex yet. Maybe that will change in the future, but for now, the majority of the canoe industry has a vested interest in downplaying the advantages of this new material and keeping the narrative focused on poly and composite. As long as this the case, those companies who are working with T-Formex will be going against the dominant stream of the paddlesports industry.
Obviously Wenonah and Esquif have a vested interest in promoting T-Formex. It works both ways. We all have our own unique perspectives and biases. People tend to do what they are paid to do.
I’m paid to sell Wenonah canoes, so I’m far from an impartial observer. On the other hand, I’m in a unique position to make a comparison between materials. Wenonah makes canoes from composites and rotomolded polyethylene as well as T-Formex. We make durable composite canoes from Tuf-Weave and aramid fabrics, and we build heavy, impact resistant canoes from poly. Since we manufacture canoes using all three processes we aren’t locked in to promoting one of them. This makes it easier to consider the advantages of T-Formex in an unbiased way.
The more I’ve learned about T-Formex and it’s current place in the paddlesports market the more I’ve realized that there are some persistent myths about T-Formex that need dispelling. A big part of why I wrote this post is to correct some of the misconceptions that people have about the material. Even people with years of experience in the industry.
Here are my top four.
Myth #1: T-Formex is too heavy
Too heavy compared to what? Rotomolded poly canoes are much heavier than T-Formex canoes. There’s a big difference between picking up a 70 pound canoe and a 90 pound canoe. Most people can get a 70 pound canoe onto the roof rack and carry it from the car to the water. Cartopping a heavier poly canoe is a real challenge. Compared to poly, T-Formex canoes are light.
Of course, T-Formex canoes are heavier than composite canoes, and if weight savings is the primary concern composites are a better choice. That said, composite constructions don’t have the same kind of durability that T-Formex canoes have. Even the toughest composites are more fragile and require more maintenance than a T-Formex canoe. On top of this they cost much more.
What about comparing T-Formex to Royalex? Weren’t Royalex canoes lighter? Yes. They were. At the height of Royalex construction it got to the point that practically every canoe design had a specific sheet of Royalex that was spec’ed just for that hull. This, combined with some fine tuning in the thickness of the ABS substrate and foam core allowed weights to come down a little bit, especially in recreational designs. It’s safe to say that Royalex canoes were a little lighter than T-Formex canoes are today.
How much lighter? Not much. Our records show that Wenonah’s T-Formex canoes come in at about 5 percent heavier than similar models built from Royalex. In most models the difference is a few pounds.
Myth #2: T-Formex is too expensive
I hear this one a fair bit from retailers and sales reps. A lot of us have been working in the paddlesports industry for a long time. We remember $1200 Royalex boats, and compared to that price, $2000 for a T-Formex canoe seems expensive.
Again, you have to ask, compared to what?
Comparing the price of a T-Formex canoe today to what Royalex cost back in the 90’s doesn’t make much sense. Today, $1200 will buy you a rotomolded poly canoe. Back then, that same plastic canoe would have cost $700. Like just about everything in this world, the price of canoes has gone up. But the relative cost of T-Formex and polyethylene canoes has remained fairly constant.
Like Royalex canoes before them, T-Formex canoes represent the best value in the canoe market. They’re much tougher than composite canoes, much lighter than poly canoes and priced in between the two. Right in the sweet spot.
Myth #3: Other materials are just as good, or better than T-Formex
This one is just plain wrong. There are a lot of good materials out there for canoebuilding, but none of them matches the performance characteristics of T-Formex.
Burly composite constructions will do in a pinch to run down a rocky river, but they’ll get pretty beat up in the process. None of them can be wrapped around a boulder in whitewater, Z-dragged to the bank and pounded back into serviceable shape. None of them are a good choice for a family canoe the might get left Up North at the cabin for the kids to use. All of them are more expensive than T-Formex.
Poly canoes are heavy, don’t paddle as well as T-Formex canoes and don’t hold their shape as well over time. They’re a decent option if price is the single most important factor, but they’re not in the same class as T-Formex canoes.
Like Royalex, T-Formex has a unique set of qualities that set it apart in the marketplace.
Proof of this comes from discussions I’ve had with outfitters and summer camps across northern Minnesota. Liveries up on the Gunflint Trail that outfit trips on the Granite River in the Boundary Waters have been nursing along their aging Royalex fleets because nothing else held up to the abuse the same way. Camps that run wilderness trips have experimented with different materials but found that the poly canoes were too heavy for campers and the composite canoes couldn’t take a beating like Royalex. T-Formex is the only real solution for situations like these. Nothing else comes close.
Myth #4: There isn’t enough demand for T-Formex
This one I hear once in a while from retailers. T-Formex is a relatively new material and some shops are unsure about stocking it. Wenonah dealers have done very well with our composite canoes over the past few years and trying something new always comes with a risk. Is there really a demand for T-Formex out there?
I believe there is.
We’re coming to the end of one of the most extraordinary years in the history of paddlesports. It’s hard to overstate the impact that COVID-19 has had on the canoe and kayak industry. Factories were shuttered during lockdowns. Demand for canoes and kayaks exploded as people spent more time outdoors. Warehouses went empty. Shops sold through their inventory. Orders went through the roof.
Demand for canoes is at all-time high levels and there is no way to meet that demand with composite canoes.
Right now at Wenonah we have orders for composite canoes on the books that will fill our production capacity well into spring. All the other major composite canoe manufacturers are in the same boat. Some builders are so backed up that a canoe ordered today won’t be delivered until July of next year.
The shortage of composite canoes means that more people will find themselves faced with the choice of a heavy poly canoe or no canoe at all. T-Formex is a much better option.
In the current marketplace there is definitely a demand for quality canoes at an affordable price. That means there’s plenty of demand for T-Formex.
The Future of T-Formex
Where will T-Formex go from here? I see a couple potential paths.
First, T-Formex could carve out a small niche in the canoe market for whitewater and expedition trippers who need a seriously tough canoe. A specialty niche within a specialty market. Small numbers of technical canoes for true paddling enthusiasts. Never breaking out into the mainstream.
More likely, I think, is that T-Formex will being to make inroads into the recreational canoe market much in the same way that Royalex did back in the 1990’s and 2000’s. One of the reasons that Royalex canoes were so popular with dealers and paddlers back then is that you could get them. Yes, they were quality canoes that outperformed other materials, but they were also available in greater quantities than composite canoes were.
Like Royalex canoes before them, T-Formex canoes are faster to build than composites and can be produced in greater volume. Hulls are quicker to mold. Assembly is more standardized. The whole process is streamlined in a way that composite construction is not. This means that T-Formex production can be ramped up to meet demand in a way that composites construction can’t.
In the end this may mean that T-Formex will break into the mainstream canoe market because it is the only material that is capable of meeting current demand for quality canoes. The material has a unique performance profile, but its also uniquely suited to rapid production. There’s no other material that can be used to build as many quality canoes and offer them at an affordable price. Once again, T-Formex is in a class of its own.
There are a whole lot of paddlers out there right now looking for canoes. T-Formex canoes are affordable, tough, worry free and…available.
Hasta Luego, Royalex Canoe
T-Formex is Real
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42 thoughts on “T-Formex Canoes”
Well said, Brian. I worked in an outdoors shop back in 1975 and we sold Old Town, Sawyer, Phoenix and Perception. I remember a photo in Old Town’s catalog of them throwing a royalex (Oltonar) canoe off a 5 story building at the factory to show how tough it was. And it was tough stuff.
I’m glad to see that material back in the main stream, so to speak. I paddled a lot in a royalex boat and loved the performance and the bullet proof durability.
Brian, Great information. However I don’t think you will see the surge in sales of T-Formex Wenonah Canoes until more models are offered. Solo Plus? Heron? Fisherman? Kingfisher? Argosy, Fusion (come on, only one solo?) And the Backwater; to my knowledge one of the few (if not only) Royalex square sterns available other than Esquif. These are all boats we (Blue Mountain Outfitters in PA) sold and would really like to see available in T-Formex. Thanks for listening.
Thanks Mary. We look forward to bringing back as many models in T-Formex as we can. I personally would love to see the models you mentioned back in the lineup. In time that may be possible. For starters we’ve reintroduced the best selling models from our Royalex lineup. We’ll take a hard look at the remaining models to determine if and when they can be reintroduced in T-Formex. Not something that is guaranteed and definitely not something that can happen overnight. For now we’ll work on getting the word out on T-Formex with Prospectors, Spirits and Auroras. And of course, the Wilderness.
They need to get the old Ocoee plug. and look at the new WW canoe designs. People still want the best RX designs but WW canoe design has come a long way in the last 20 yrs. Gotta stay relevant.
I think our friends at Esquif are really innovating in this area. Whitewater open boat is something they do extremely well.
A large factor in the Ozarks and plains states is that paddlers have gone to kayaks and away from canoes to a large extent. Many new paddlers have come on the scene the last two years especially and virtually all newbys want kayaks for several reasons but the primary ones are cost and ease of portability. They can get on the water cheaply and haul it easily. Here that will continue to eat into potential canoe sales. I have canoes for over 50 years and have had boats of nearly every material, Royalex being far and away my favorite for ozark rivers. I hope T- Formic makes it and stays in production. I feel it and composites will be of limited appeal because of cost with most sales going to die hard canoeists that know those are the boats they want and are willing to pay the price. Good luck T- Formic builders. Thank goodness this material option is available!
Brian, I worked at Rutabaga Paddlesports during the period between Royalex and T-Formex. It was a tough time as manufacturers searched for a new product to fill the void. New materials and processes were developed and the industry moved beyond aramid, rediscovered glass, combined innegra and other fabrics, used space age technologies, and developed a new Royalex. There are so many products out there that need to reach a ROI for many of their developers. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, I purchased my first T-Formex P16– shortly thereafter I added a Zephyr 2.0. Eventually I will own an IXP Whitewater solo for river expeditions. Thàt will round out my layup collection. I will have to look you up next time I get to Winona. There’s a lot going on in the canoe world as I see it and I’d find it fascinating to know how Wenonah sees the future. Bob Plewa, WI
I missed the last years of Royalex because I was outside the canoe world working for Pyranha/P&H kayaks. Had to dig into a little of the history to put this post together. Must have been an interesting time to be working at Rutabaga selling canoes.
Glad to hear that T-Formex is filling the Royalex much in your fleet. Once the situation improves with COVID you should stop by for a quick tour.
The Wilderness 15′ 4″ by Wenonah . Were any ever made of POLY like during the time Royalex was gone and TFormex had not yet arrived?
Hi Ben, nope, the Wilderness was never offered in poly. Only RX and TX.
When was the last Wilderness made in Royalex? When did Tformex begin in the Wilderness? Is the Tformex version still made today?
Hi Ben, I anticipate the last RX Wilderness was built around 2017. We would have started in on TX around 2020 or so. Approximate dates. We do currently produce the Wilderness in TX.
I have a “royalite” workhorse Scott Legacy 15 that is approaching 20 years old and has many battlescars from the rigours of Nova Scotia’s dark granite-strewn waters. My navigator in the bow likes to look up at the rugged scenery, as one should, more than keeping watch for rocks, so we leave red plastic “zest” behind us as we go. The deepest of those wounds (when I can see yellow) are filled occasionally with JB-weld and we keep on our long and happy journey together. There is no obvious end in sight, and that’s OK with me. I also have a lovely little Old Town Pack – which I snapped up as soon as I heard that Royalex was going the way of the Dodo. Also a wonderful boat for my solo adventures. So I’m familiar with the Royalex products. I now also have a two-year-old Esquif Heron square-stern. If there is a functional difference between it and my Royalex boats (in terms of material) I can’t detect it. I’ve been giving it the same indelicate treatment that I give my other canoes (and everything else that I own for that matter) and it’s still going strong. Check back in in 2033 and Ill be able to provide a comparison of longevity, but so far, so good!
Your article certainly captures the challenges of building durable, cost effective canoes in todays competitive boat manufacturing market. Unfortunately your effort to dispel some of the ‘Myths’ that you believe have caused the slow acceptance of T-Formex does not really do justice to the advances in materials and processes that at least partly explain Uniroyal’s decision regarding Royalex in the first place.
You are correct that the earliest rotomolded polyethelene canoes and kayaks were heavy with very basic hull designs that often warped. But you don’t acknowledge that the initial advantage of rotomolded polyethelene over Royalex was the lower material handling, processing and raw material costs. Nor does your review discuss the current foam core rotomolded boats that have managed to incorporate superior hull designs with the cost effectiveness of rotomolding polyethelene. The result of the recent advances in rotmolding materials and technologies has been a number of less expensive foam core, rotomolded canoes and kayaks that are every bit as durable and light as the current T- Formex and previous Royalex boats.
My company, Paluski Boats of Lakefield, Ontario, Canada is but one of a number of state of the art rotomolding boat builders that have increased their share of the high quality, ‘plastic canoe’ market because we are making really good boats that provide the consumer and rental market with a cost effective alternative to T-Formex.
One of the most exciting things about the paddlesports industry is the innovation that comes from each company doing it’s utmost to create the best possible products. When I was with Pyranha Kayaks we produced and sold PE canoes using high density plastics that were stiffer and lighter than conventional poly canoes. Here at Wenonah we’re proud of the progress we’ve made in maximizing the performance and durability of our poly canoes.
This said, I do believe that Royalex had a unique set of attributes that made it a standout as a canoe material. T-Formex shares those attributes and we’re very happy to have the opportunity to work with it.
Nice article! I think there are 2 reasons T-formex will not be as popular as Royalex. As noted many manufacturers were forced to create alternatives that they spent tons of time developing and tons of money promoting. Secondarily, some manufacturers may not be comfortable building product with a competitors proprietary material.
Thanks Scot, agreed.
Great article and encouraged in the broader use of T-formex. Royalex canoes in certain models are getting difficult to find. Is Wenonah considering manufacturing the Sundowner in T-Formex? That model is of course extremely popular in the downriver canoe racing circuit and are highly desired in Royalex.
Hi Lucas, I don’t expect to see the Sundowner make a return to the lineup. It has been phased out in all other constructions and even though there is a demand for downriver racing it’s unlikely we would sell enough to justify putting work into developing a T-Formex version.
Interesting article think that one way forward is to follow Landrovers approach many years ago where they had factories assembling landrovers around the world from knock down kits
Maybe wenonah should establish relationships with say Pyranna or Palm in the uk ( who make dagger boats )
And just export the T formex sheets to the uk
Hi Mark, the investment in infrastructure to produce the boats is the biggest barrier to this sort of thing. There’s a significant capital outlay required to get up and running with oven and molds.
Excellent piece. Some history:
1) Early on, Uniroyal supplied molded hulls rather than Royalex sheet to manufacturers who tricked them out. This first generation of Royalex canoes was known as Warsaw Rockets for the factory in Warsaw, Ind.
2) Old Town wanted to give the impression of using a proprietary material so they always called it Oltonar (as in Old Town). In response, Roy Guinn at Blue Hole mused about claiming his whitewater canoes were made from Blueholium.
3) Sawyer made one of the strangest Royalex canoes which I don’t recall ever having a model name. Being as molding a foam sheet couldn’t approximate a hand laminate for fine water entry, the company attached a rubberesque plug to the bow foe a finer line. In order to keep the flat hull from flexing while under way, the hull was molded with a prominent tunnel arch running the length of the boat.
4) Another strange Royalex canoe came when whitewater canoe specialist Blue Hole briefly built the high volume MGA & MGB (same boat tricked in wood) designed my freestyle paddling legend Mike Galt.
Love the canoe history esoterica Gordy. Thanks for chiming in.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the R-Light canoes (Dagger Passage) that were produced in small numbers in the 90’s.I consider it the best I’ve ever used for canoe camping on rock-bottomed rivers that can be pretty hard on a canoe’s hull, and I appreciate its light weight (compared to Royalex), but it’s approaching its 30th year and sadly is due for replacement soon. Thanks for the information which I think will be quite useful when the time comes.
Good article. I’m down in southeast Texas. I ordered a Minnesota 3 last year, but when covid hit and production was delayed I ended up buying an Old Town Penobscot 174 poly canoe from REI for a trip I had planned in March. I finally received my M3 in July. I just did a 40 mile trip on the upper Brazos with the Penobscot because I didn’t want to tear up my M3. My buddy had an old Royalex Penobscot that he took. There is a big difference in weight. I would loved to have had a T-Formex Spirit II for that trip. I literally left strips of red polyurethane behind on the rocks. I am excited about T-Formex and I hope it takes off. My goal is to get rid of the Penobscot and buy a Spirit II in T-Formex as soon as I can save up $2G for it.
Today I learned of Royalex’s demise, and the emergence of T-Formex. I have a 1996 Wenonah Adirondack in near-perfect condition, which I moved from KS to NH last summer, after storing it the past twenty years on a specially built rack in my garage. Selling it today, as we plan yet another move, and we don’t know what storage space we’ll have. It’s not been used for years, sad to say. Once we get stable in our new setting, if the canoeing bug once again bites, the plan is to pony up the 2G for a new one just like the old one, if a few pounds heavier. Keep up the good work!
I have a lot of time in an Old Town Discovery 119 and a NEXT. The Element Seat in the NEXT is the best seat ever. However, it only allows one position – meaning, I really don’t kneel in that boat at all. The Next is more narrow than the Discovery (29″ compared to 31″) and its faster (its 13′ compared to 11’9″ and narrow).
The Discovery seat was making my legs numb. At first I thought it was a lack of fitness, until other adults reported the same problem. I removed the seat, cut a 4″ thick piece of foam and sit on that on the floor – problem solved. I paddle that boat with a Kayak paddle and/or a single bade canoe paddle. Sitting on the floor unlocked the beauty of the Discovery 119 hull. Its super stable. I deliberately paddle into the wake of motor boats to get some thrills. I took it into Oyster Bay in Chincoteague in high winds with white caps, its dry and stable. On paper the Adirondack and the 119 are very similar. It makes me realize what I really want. A US Made T-Formex 13′ long 29″ wide, shallow arch, with 1″ rocker on a 38# boat. It doesn’t exist. So its up to you Wenonah. I am available as a product tester. Ive only been out a little over 20 times this season so far and have been canoeing for over 40 years. Please make it happen!
Excellent article on Royalex and T Formex. Thanks
It has been mentioned previously, more models in T-formex will broaden and then deepen market growth. Personally, I will be selling one of my touring kayaks to buy a pack canoe for tripping. For me, the $2.5k-3.5k price of pack canoes are not smart on a per paddle cost basis. If I were retired and needed a 20 lb boat, I’d have the time and weaker legs for that price point.
Anyways, arguing the value of T-formex against other materials is just one angle. Another Angie is buried in my remarks above. Kayaks were quite the rage but an open top canoe with a seat set like a kayak with the right amount of tumblehome to accommodate a double paddle? Throw in the backpack, the kid, or the dog… Enter and exit easily… Tie the boat upside down on the vehicle roof rack… And you have a kayak to pack boat convert. If I worked for Wenonah, that’s what I’d be pitching to retailers. (I have a Spirit II in kevlar, love it, and will be noted in my will)
Good article. T-Formex needs to be promoted more as a comparable material to royalex. Lot of folks think it is “Just another attempt”…so more education for the public…”get the word out.” Maybe remind folks that the 15 cent hamburger is no more……What does a burger cost now?? “Newer” folks have never heard of a “Warsaw Rocket” like my Mohawk from the ’70’s.
Thanks Brian for your informative and stimulating article. I’ve loved my Royalex canoes – Dagger (yes, it pre-dated the Mad River rebrand) Legend 15, the boat of choice for many for shallow, narrow British WW rivers and my trusty Penobscot 16, so light, so reliable for touring on our British waterways – but I’ll happily look at T-Formex replacements with a little more knowledge now than previously.
Thanks Andy. From what I can tell our Prospector 15 and 16 in T-Formex have been very popular over your way.
That was a great article. We moved out of the mountains in 2008 and I sold all of my royalex whitewater canoes. I have my trusty old MR Explorer 16 in RX hanging up in the garage still and we make a trip up to the river with it once or twice a summer. But I recently started looking at paddle crafts again because I want a competent solo boat for slower rivers and lake fishing trips. I can tell you, I was shocked about two things when I first got into this project: 1. What a T-Formex boat costs compared to the same royalex boat back in the day and 2. Back then you could casually scroll craigslist and find a plethora of RX boats in great shape at a steep discount, not much out there now.
I had heard that royalex died but it wasn’t really on my radar until I got back into the market. I went out on a rotomoded fishing kayak with friends a while back and the weight is honestly ridiculous, Not to mention the cost approaches or far exceeds what I used to get RX boats for and the one I was on was a tub to paddle. So being a canoe guy from way back in my scouting days, I started thinking about a T-Formex canoe. I had read that Esquif (my preferred OC1 manufacturer) had come up with something a few years ago but I expected that by now it would be pervasive throughout the canoe industry. I remember thinking at the time; “oh wow! all of the great boats will be available again!” I was really surprised to see that only Esquif and a few other limited models are available in TFX.
My thoughts right now, they evolve daily as I learn more, are whether it is a better idea to drop $2k or so on a TFX boat that is not really the model I want or spend a couple thousand more and get a basswood solo in ultralite? I would love another Esquif but I want a boat that is geared more towards tracking and covering water. I feel like most of their designs favor the river which is why I don’t use the Explorer much; it is a beautiful piece of performance equipment on a class I-II even III river but it is a pig on the lake. So I guess, for my needs, do I spend a few more bucks on a lighter construction and get the exact hull I want given that it won’t see many rocks or do I buy a hull that will probably be pretty good, in TFX but that I know I can abuse a bit and run down an occasional rocky river and will still last? For me, as a 260#, 47 year old dude looking to buy a boat that should last the rest of my fishing/paddling career weight is a consideration. I am leaning toward the Widerness in RX but the BassWood Solo in ultralite with the gear track gunwales is hard to look past. A Basswood Solo in TFX with the gear track gunwale would probably already be in my garage if it were a thing.
I can say that your article has provided an uncomfortable dose of reality in that this is the new “normal”. I truly respect what the guys at Esquif did, they didn’t fall back on old designs or inferior materials to build quality whitewater boats, they made a new material and once again started to push the sport forward. I have loved their boats and I have been looking for an excuse to buy a Wenonah since I started looking at boats back in the day. I am glad both of your companies made it through those dark days. Some of my other favorites (Bell, Mohawk, arguably Mad River) didn’t…sad. As you inferred though, the canoe market is not even close to what it once was, I hope there is a renaissance in the near future for you guys. I will be out there with my buddies singing the praises of the open canoe in the kayak fishing community!
Thanks for the thoughtful comment. For us here at Wenonah, the choice of what’s the right canoe material usually comes down to whether we need something super tough, like T-Formex, or not. An ultralight Basswood Solo will hold up to just about anything short of banging down shallow rocky rivers. If you’re going to be fishing someplace ledgy and rocky, a TX Wilderness will be a better choice. But if you can miss most of the rocks and don’t mind taking a little more care with the canoe, ultralight aramid is a great choice.
It took us years to develop the Versigunwale for composite canoes. At the moment, we don’t have plans to develop a similar product for TX gunwales. That could change at some point in the future as T-Formex takes hold and secures it’s proper spot in the marketplace.
To my way of thinking, an ultralight solo canoe like a Basswood or a Fusion equipped with Versigunwale is the perfect alternative to a heavy, plastic fishing kayak. For everything outside of coastal fishing in waves and tide this would be my preferred choice.
Thanks man. I live in North Georgia about 3 minutes away from Lake Lanier. It is fed by the Chattahoochee and the Chestatee rivers. Both class I & II rivers. In the spring the striped bass move up river to where there are also shoal bass. We have a 17 foot center console skiff that we use to fish the lake in the 3 off seasons. In the summer the jet skis and huge yachts rule the lake and make it uncomfortable to be out in our boat for pleasure so we grab the paddle boards at that time of year. Also, we got an RV a couple of years ago and inevitably we get someplace and there is an incredible fishing opportunity that cannot be taken advantage of without the hassle of setting up and breaking down the boards. Last, when we got the RV my plan was to bring the MR Explorer with us until it got replaced. I bought a set of racks for the truck and muscled it up there only to find that the ends curve up (or down in this case) just enough that they sit on the roof of the tuck. So the boat is supported by the rear rack and the roof of the truck. That was a surprise because we were planning the longest stints of our trip on a lake in Arkansas and then a spring fed river in north Florida. That year we rented and the next year we grabbed the ISUPs because they were cheap and packable for traveling. I put a kayak seat on mine and it brought me back to my solo canoeing days almost immediately. The ISUPs are great and they have found a permanent place in the recreational arsenal but they are a bit of a chore to get set up and break down every time so I have just taken to leaving mine inflated. With that in mind now I am taking up real estate with the perpetually inflated ISUP while I am driving and in between.
So what I am looking for:
Something I can fish out of or explore the back waters of the lake with when boat traffic is thick in the main lake. Something I can take down a slow river with the occasional class I and possibly one or two nontechnical class II drops. Anything technical would be walked or lined to keep from spilling gear all over the river. Another consideration is single access points on the river so good attainment capability and upstream eddy hopping is going to be key. It also needs to car-top and travel well, going 70 on top of a ladder rack for 1000 miles. I don’t think I would ever try to go offshore or near-shore with it but I would be in the ICW and various tidal inshore locations looking for snook, tarpon, and redfish. Over time I will add electronics, trolling motor, rod holders, anchor, and a pin-style anchor. So the gear track is very attractive. I have seen how to install long tracks just below the gunwales with adhesive mounting points and I also saw another canoe that had the thwarts changed out for aluminum bars with track channels which looked like it could be even more functional than having them run down the sides. Also, I am 6’ and 260 -270 depending on the time of year and will carry 50-100# of gear with me routinely.
I guess what I am saying is that I am leaning toward the Wilderness TX. I have extensive experience with RX and it actually sounds like TX might be better (probably since it was developed specifically for the purpose and not just a happy accident). It is going to come down to value, as usual, and the TFX boats have the most value on the current market. I think you were right about the price-point too the more I think about it. As soon as all of the barn-find RX designs are gone people will quickly realize that the higher cost is the new norm and the alternatives are either a really expensive boat that you “feel” like you have to baby or a shitty, heavy boat that is affordable. I think I’ll stay in the sweet spot and compromise a little stability and speed. Can it be special ordered in a color other than red, yellow, or green? Also, if ordered, can it come without the seats and thwarts installed or pre-drilled? The first thing I am going to do is reinforce the seat and mount a fishing kayak style seat on it. We have that in our MR and we love it! So it will basically be a bigger Fusion with a taller seating station. (I haven’t stood in front of a Fusion so I am estimating based on pictures)
Thanks again for getting back to me. I tried, awkwardly, starting this conversation with an email to Wenonah and got a standard no-reply email. So I do appreciate your time.
From: Kitchi-Gami email@example.com Sent: Monday, September 12, 2022 10:13 AM To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: [New comment] T-Formex Canoes
Brian Day commented: “Hi Andy, Thanks for the thoughtful comment. For us here at Wenonah, the choice of what’s the right canoe material usually comes down to whether we need something super tough, like T-Formex, or not. An ultralight Basswood Solo will hold up to just about “
I would point you more toward the Fusion than the Wilderness. It is more stable and really is a better fishing platform.
T-Formex canoes are going to have limited availability in the coming year as Esquif comes back up to speed with production after a crippling fire at their factory. This means you may have a hard time finding a Wilderness to buy in the coming year in TX.
T-Formex canoes are currently available in red, yellow and green only, and availability of those colors may be spotty due to ongoing shortages.
At this time we’re unable to take special orders for T-Formex canoes and we only sell them in the standard specification. Our seats are installed using extruded aluminum brackets, not hangers, so they are VERY strong.
Based on your application, the best thing to do is to try to find a Fusion or Wilderness to paddle. That way you’ll be sure that you’re happy with the stability and performance. You can use the Wenonah dealer finder to search for dealers in your area.
Regarding your canoe transport challenges, you might try looking for a single cross bar to fit your truck cab. Thule or Yakima probably have a fit. This will let you run the canoe from the ladder racks in the back onto the crossbar over the cab, eliminating contact with the roof of the cab.
Hope this helps!
Well, I love the idea of the cross bar on the cab. I was looking at an extension for the rack that the company sells that sort of cantilevers over the cab. That gives me another option.
Dude ! Those poor guys! It’s always something. Based on the timeline that would have been right when the outdoor recreation industry went into COVID crazy town mode. That really sucks for the guys at Esquif.
This may be more of a journey than I thought with no TX available but that is really not an issue at this moment. The paddling season is coming to an end (for me) and the skiff is lonely. You really only get so much free time to mess around in boats when you have a family and, other than my wife, no one else wants to paddle and she won’t even fish in fresh water. She is more of salt type of girl. I guess I will research (drool) this winter, be ready to demo and/or purchase in Spring so I am ready for Summer next year, hopefully.
I actually drove by our local dealer yesterday, the shop where I used to get my boats. We were up in the mountains hiking and just happened by and it was shuttered! The Outside World is gone! Anyway, the next closest retailer is Alabama about 3 hours away or North Carolina about the same distance. So the purchase will have to be remote with a pick up unfortunately. This is how it went before when I wanted something those guys didn’t carry. So I am leaning strongly on reviews and opinions trying to get a picture by looking for all of the similar facts rather than “this is the best boat ever!” kind of stuff. I know, about, what my perfect boat specs are and I hate it but if I have to go with a glass boat I will have to give a strong look to a Clipper Solitude or Caribou S. Again, due to value (even if it is only perceived), I have now had the $3500 conversation with my wife. It took me a year to get the $500 – $1000 budget I thought it would take to snag something used quickly and I could probably get the $2000 budget out of her in another 6-8 months. The $3500 conversation went horribly and no mistake. I was even patient and waited for the perfect moment. It could easily end up being another 2 years of perfect behavior to get her to $3500 based on her reception…lol. Then there is the odd chance that a gently used and acceptable boat will come up for sale around here during that time. Pickings are slim right now though.
After that I can start working on her to get a square stern with a small outboard for those coastal inshore trips! I love the blog and thanks again for your time and input. Collaboration always makes a project go better!
From: Kitchi-Gami email@example.com Sent: Monday, September 12, 2022 12:16 PM To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: [New comment] T-Formex Canoes
Brian Day commented: “Hi Andy, I would point you more toward the Fusion than the Wilderness. It is more stable and really is a better fishing platform. T-Formex canoes are going to have limited availability in the coming year as Esquif comes back up to speed with production”
Good luck in the search!
OK. I have a line on a prism. I am 270# and on the way down (right now anyway), I paddle pretty well, but I’ve never owned a flatwater solo cruiser like that. Since you are Wenonah guy I was hoping you could give feed back. Intended uses: there is a 700 mile canoe route around the lake that is 10 minutes from the house, I want to section paddle that with stops for fishing. Also, it may come along to the coast for fishing and exploring occasionally. That type of thing. Thanks Again,AndySent from my Galaxy
I would try to paddle the Prism before you commit. I find the boat very stable at 220 pounds, but can’t be certain for you. A test paddle would go a long way toward knowing for sure.
Thanks man. That is the plan.
Good luck! Hope you like the boat!