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Canoe Materials and You

Posted by Darren Bush on 2/1/2013 to Canoe Materials

Many canoe models come in a variety of materials, and each is best suited for a particular set of circumstances. It can be difficult to decide which is best for you, so use this guide to help you understand your needs and how each material might help address them. To help you understand your needs, consider the following attributes: Toughness, Cost, Weight, and Performance. Sort them into three categories, labeled “important”, “somewhat important”, and “not important”. Keep your list handy as you read through the descriptions in this list.


Toughness: Very tough. Still the material of choice for demanding whitewater applications. Repairs are possible but may be unsightly.

Cost: Moderate. Full-size tandems generally cost $900-$1300 depending on options.

Weight: Moderate. 16 foot models are generally in the 55-70 lb. range.

Performance: Good. Advancing technology has produced more streamlined designs with better flatwater performance. Some oil-canning may be present.

Choose Royalex if cost and toughness are both important.

Kevlar (Ultralight)

Toughness: Low. While they can take some impact and abrasion, they are best for deep-water use. Severe blunt impact can crack the foam core. Repairs are possible, but will often be visible due to the clear finish.

Cost: Very high. These canoes employ the most expensive materials and are assembled by hand.

Weight: Very light. 18 foot models in the 40-45 lb. range are possible. Easy to portage, easy to load on the car.

Performance: Excellent. These canoes are stiff and responsive, and the composite materials can take on any shape the designer wishes.

Choose Kevlar Ultralight if weight is more important than anything else.

Kevlar (Flex-Core or Expedition)

Toughness: Very good. Extra Kevlar and moderately flexible construction create canoes with good impact resistance. Repairs can be structurally and cosmetically perfect.

Cost: High to very high. More Kevlar means more cost, and all are assembled by hand.

Weight: Light to moderate. Weights vary depending on specifics of construction, but 16-foot models will generally weight in the 45-55 lb. range.

Performance: Very good. Nearly as stiff and responsive as Ultralight Kevlar. Composite material can take on any shape the designer wishes.

Choose Kevlar if toughness, weight, and performance are all important. If these canoes were less expensive, almost everyone would buy them.

Polyethylene (PolyLink3, SuperLink3)

Toughness: Excellent. Far stronger than aluminum at a similar price.

Cost: Low. These canoes are machine-made. Cosmetic seconds are often available at additional savings.

Weight: Heavy. A 17-foot canoe will be approximately 80-85 lbs.

Performance: Acceptable to good. Blunt ends hamper paddling performance, but stiffness is good. In some cases, engineering considerations have outweighed design considerations.

Choose SuperLink3 if cost is the most important consideration.

Fiberglass (and Tuf-weave)

Toughness: Moderate. Able to stand up to some impact and abrasion. Repairs are possible and may be cosmetically perfect.

Cost: Moderate. Comparable in cost to Royalex.

Weight: Moderate. Comparable in weight to Royalex.

Performance: Very good. Similar in performance to Kevlar.

Choose Fiberglass if cost and performance are top considerations.

Carbon Ultralight (or Graphite Ultralight)

Toughness: Low. Structure has been sacrificed to conserve weight.

Cost: Very high. Even more costly than Kevlar Ultralight.

Weight: Very light. Slightly lighter than Kevlar Ultralight.

Performance: Excellent. Carbon fiber is light and stiff, producing performance even better than Kevlar Ultralight.

Choose Carbon Ultralight if light weight is all that matters, or if your buddy has a Kevlar Ultralight and you want something even cooler.


Toughness: Moderate to low. Impact and abrasion can be damaging, but complete repair or restoration is possible in nearly all cases except total destruction.

Cost: Very high. Hand built from select materials by master craftspeople.

Weight: Moderate to heavy. A 16 foot model will normally weigh in the 65-75 lb. range.

Performance: Very good. Wood canoes are stiff and the material can be adapted to a wide variety of designs.

Choose Wood if you are willing to pay top dollar for a canoe that is not very light but is stunningly beautiful and offers very good performance. Note that Wood/Epoxy (also called Wood/Glass) canoes are more similar to Fiberglass.

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