I used this boat for thru-paddling the NFCT and as my go to pond fishing boat while I served as an Allagash Ranger. (For lake inspection I used a MR Traveler). The Guide is perhaps the signature boat for the 750-mile route (in Royalex). While this boat drove me nuts on flatwater for its sluggishness, it was reassuringly agile in tight whitewater. The thing I loved about it was that I showed the boat zero respect and nothing happened to it. I dragged it across slash piles, dragged it down carries and rock embankments, and on occasion dragged it over guard rails and across highways. Still, very little wear and tear. It is ugly in vinyl trim, but you don't have to babysit it as you would have to do with wood.
In general I feel that life is too short to look at vinyl gunwales, but there are times when you have to make compromises. Again, I can't stress enough that this boat is a little bathtub on the flats..keep the trip short and you may not feel it that much, but a ten mile lake paddle? Torture.This review is for a 2004 model Guide or "Freedom Solo" as it has been renamed, w/ vinyl trim. A little about me: I'm 30 years old 6'3" tall and 210lbs. I paddle Ozark streams and carry between 30 and 80 lbs. of gear on overnighters and week long river trips.
I've paddled the boat on two, three day trips on class I and II rivers and through a class III rock garden w/ an 80 lb. load. I love the way this boat eddy turns and spins on and off the eddy line. The hull feels so loose on the water compared to my Dagger Legend 15 Solo. The Guide can catch the smallest eddies too. It's a little shakey initially but not bad. Turning completely around while seated took a little getting use too. But standing is no problem. Underway it responds to leans nicely and firms up at the gunwales. I did take on a little more water than expected. It has a sharp entry and punches through standing waves and haystacks with speed but you get a little wet, not a big deal. On flats I
feel like it accelerated quickly but hits it's top speed quickly as well, which isn't very fast. It has OK glide but it can get away from you if your not used to it. On my first day in it, it started to carve a turn on it's own and it was suprisingly difficult to convince it to do otherwise. I learned quickly to use this to my advantage and carve beuatiful smooth turns paddleing on the inside. Which is totally my style. I like to cruz in and out of the vegatation on the flats and this boat is perfect for that.
With that said, as far as build quality goes; I had the boat shipped freight to me. When I got it home the first thing I noticed was the seat was 2 inches off to one side. The seat holes and the holes in the gunwales didn't match up(I like the seat right at the gunwales(no hangers)). I had a new uncut seat so it was a quick fix. The second thing I noticed was the decks are ugly and I kind of wished for the all wood set up. The hull is beautiful. The rivets, gunwales and thwarts look good too.
I will say it does oilcan a little with a 300 lbs. total load and a little bouncing. But, the trade off is the nice, light weight. Overall I could only wish for more speed but I would have to pay in playablility.I agree with everything above, but would add that this is not a boat for a heavier paddler. I've had a guide for two years now and have decided to sell it. I weigh 250, and the guide is just a shade too light to have that much weight above the rails ( I know, "loose weight" but I'm just being realistic here.) Also, the seat seems to be place just a tad too far forward for me. When you kneel, you're really more in the bow of the boat.
I paddled a Mad River Freedom at the local paddle shop's big You-Can-Paddl-Too days and have one on order now. For a bigger paddler who needs a little more "beam," consider this boat.This is a boat that is best enjoyed by a relatively advanced paddler with a good J-stroke. The inherent charateristics that make the Guide one of the best (if not the best) river canoe through class II, makes it track poor relative to a true flatwater boat...rocker and a relatively short keeline. However, the boat responds very well to a vertical stroke, with cross strokes used to pull the boat back on course. The Guide bow surfs like a charm, catches eddies like a dream and has plenty of speed for most attainment moves. Side surfing, the Guide is relatively grabby due to it's hardish chines and length. In addition due to the length, it is difficult to spin on small waves and stay on the wave. The Guide also has the capacity to trip in it, however, like most canoes is quite affected by trim.
The Guide is far from slow, but is propelled at it's greatest speed with a short stroke ending before reaching the hip. An advanced paddler can get up to about 5 strokes on one side before needing a correction following this method.
Overall, if you are looking for a great river canoe and light whitewater canoe or a solo river tripping canoe. This one really is without peer.