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TuffStuff: A Preliminary Review

By now, you've no doubt seen the Nova Craft Canoe Drop video on YouTube, and if you haven't, what are you waiting for?! As a recap, the folks at Nova Craft thought a great way to test the durability of their new TuffStuff material would be to heave a brand new TuffStuff Expedition Prospector 100' off the roof of their warehouse. Spoiler: the canoe survives to be paddled immediately after. This was followed by the MEC destruction testing, where paddlers subjected a TuffStuff Expedition canoe to all manner of destruction not limited to dragging, dropping, smashing and wrapping. Remarkably, the boat survived such a brutal beating proving once again its strength and durability. Warning: it's painful to watch a canoe being purposefully subjected to such destructive testing but it's all in the name of progress! Ever since, there's been a call for 'real world' or 'long term' testing.

Nova Craft Canoe Drop video

In February of 2015, we were to embark on a week long journey down the mighty Rio Grande River through Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas. Creating the international border with the United States on one shore and Mexico on the other, this remote river takes the paddler through a spectacular desert landscape capped by distant mountains and numerous canyons whose walls stretch 1,800ft overhead. During the wet season, this section of the Rio Grande can be a fast and treacherous stretch of water, run almost exclusively in inflatable rafts that easily bounce and bump off boulders and canyon walls, negotiating rapids up to C IV. However, during the dry season, a sturdy canoe is the only way to navigate the tight turns, narrow passages, rock gardens and C I-III rapids. In selecting a canoe to accompany us downriver, the new Nova Craft Canoe TuffStuff Expedition Prospector was the obvious choice. Constructed of a strong, lite-weight cloth weave made up of Basalt and Innegra, and covered in a durable gel coat with skid plates affixed to bow and stern, we were seemingly ready for whatever the river would throw our way and eager to subject to boat to some lengthy real world field testing. Outfitted in an olive green paint job and wooden gunnels, our 16' Prospector weighed in at a mere 59lbs, a far cry from the heavier Royalex boats of yesteryear.

Among the rockslide in Santa Elena Canyon

Over the next 7 days, this boat would prove its’ worth. A joy to paddle and steer (even with a heavy load), we easily covered a distance of 170km, negotiating at least a dozen rapids daily – most easy C I and II, with a few technical C II and III thrown in for a little excitement! The high raked 2.5" bow and stern rockers central to the Prospector design not only look great, but were very useful at keeping most of the standing waves out of the boat. We encountered lots of tight wall shots, many hidden boulders, a few undiscovered jagged ledges and a half-dozen “walks” dragging the boat across shallow rock gardens. The TuffStuff Expedition layup handled and responded impeccably. Having previously paddled a Royalex Prospector, the TuffStuff Expedition layup seemed to exhibit a faster response time, especially to corrective strokes in quick flowing water. We attributed this to cleaner and shaper entry lines compared to the more rounded nature of Royalex. While these conclusions aren't embedded in fact and may potentially hold little truth, nevertheless we were certainly impressed with the manoeuvrability and handling of the canoe in moving water.

The enterence to Santa Elena Canyon. The TuffStuff lies in wait

We had one minor scare only a few kilometers into our expedition. As the boat rolled and bounced over rocks, it created a sound akin to a truck running over rumble strips on the side of the highway. Those who have paddled a Kevlar canoe down rapids would potentially know the sound we're describing. Having done so ourselves many a time, we were shocked at how amplified it was with the TuffStuff Expedition layup. After rumbling along our first set of major rapids, we anxiously pulled ashore and turned over the hull to inspect what sort of damage certainly arose from such an awful sound. We were shocked to discover a perfectly intact hull with no signs damage or wear! Over the remainder of the trip we became accustomed to the rumble strip sound, feeling assured the hull was holding up. As our journey down the Rio Grande came to a close, the time arrived for one final inspection of the hull. Oh sure, we scratched her up real good, but to our amazement the hull sustained no deep scratches, instead it took on more of a ‘scuffed’ appearance. These 'scuffs' were limited to the gelcoat and appeared as if they had been created by fine sandpaper and not jagged rocks, boulders or ledges! We did notice a slight rippling effect in the hull, but this appeared to have zero effect on the boats' integrity. Having since paddled a cummulative 300km with no further expansion of the rippling, only long term testing will show how these ripples may affect the canoe.

Spring Paddling on the Ausable

Following the conclusion of our Rio Grande Expedition, we've since paddled the TuffStuff Expedition Prospector on several Ontario Rivers. First up was a spring run on Southern Ontario's Ausable River, where we subjected the canoe to CI-III whitewater and fast flowing currents. More recently, we embarked upon the second ever recorded descent down the Upper Hollow River. In both instances our Prospector performed remarkably well, showing little signs of wear and tear, especially after a boney 'bump-and-grind' ride down the shallow stretches of the Upper Hollow. All that being said, TuffStuff looks to change the way you paddle whitewater, and in a good way. While the hull is certainly proven 'Tuff', you're going to want to avoid smashing into rocks and debris unlike you may have in a Royalex canoe. As TuffStuff is coated in a strong and durable gel coat, it still is a gel coat and repairs to the exterior will need to be made after some serious usage. Flaking, cracking and spidering are all common minor gel coat damages and we noticed a few small (<5mm) spider cracks forming around high impact areas of the hull after 300km of heavy use. Usually, a clear coat of marine sealant or a gel coat repair kit can quickly and easily solve this problem. These can be bought on the cheap from many hardware or marine specialty stores and total repair time is usually clocked in the minutes. However, to avoid repairs you'll want to avoid bashing into unnecessary obstacles and as a result, the canoeist's proficiency in whitewater manoeuvrability and technique may face a necessary improvement. Long term, while minor gel coat repairs are inevitable, the Basalt and Innegra weave should hold strong and stay impermeable to water, leaving the paddler with a durable and reliable vessel to paddle for the years to come.

Jamie guarding the canoes. Center boat: the TuffStuff Expedition after 300km of wear.

For future updates on the continued field testing of TuffStuff Expedition, keep checking in with Explore the Backcountry over the course of the year, as we subject the canoe to a full season of whitewater, portages and exploratory adventures.

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