Aluminum or vinyl gunwales???

I’ll be getting a Mad River Reflection 15 soon and I have the option of a vinyl or aluminum gunwale. What are the pros and cons? I’m in Louisiana and this canoe will only be used on slow bayous and lakes, very laid back…no whitewater or anything like that. I’m thinking of going with the aluminum to save a little weight and I think it would give it a little more rigidity when on the roof rack. Opinions?

I’m selling my Adventure 16, which I’ve had for a year, to switch to the Reflection. The Adventure was a great, stable, family canoe…but the weight was just getting to be an issue and I need a 2-3 person canoe that I can handle by myself when I want to.

So, aluminum or vinyl?


Louisiana sun and alu gunwales make me wince…They can get hot to handle.

Most likely the vinyl gunwales have an inner stiffener of aluminum . But I am not sure.

In either case I would not worry about having enough rigidity.

I was just about to say the opposite

– Last Updated: Dec-28-12 6:17 PM EST –

My black vinyl gunwales get terribly hot under a strong summer sun, but I've never noticed any such thing with my aluminum gunwales, which have a light gray-brown color.

Hot aluminum will feel hotter, and cold aluminum will feel colder, than will be the case with many other materials at the same temperature due to the fact it's an excellent heat conductor. In the case of my aluminum gunwales, it seems that they do not get all that much hotter than the air, so they don't feel terribly hot either.

Actually, even when my black vinyl gunwales get "terribly hot", it's not unbearable. It's something that'll make you wince if accidentally resting your forearm flush on that black surface, but it's not something that would affect my overall happiness with a boat all that much. When they are hot like that I also think it's a lot worse for the sudden "friction heat" when rubbing a hand along the gunwale than at other times, but I think simply grabbing the gunwale is still okay to do. It's certainly okay if your hands are a little bit wet.

So now that we have
made the heat absorption issue a non issue? I can’t see sun hitting the gunwales an issue when getting the boat off the car.

So the priority goes back to weight.

This post reminds me of a funny thing that happened. We had to take 50 lobsters to an island for a clambake. What better place to leave them than in a Grumman for the four hours before dinner.

We buried them in seaweed. Someone from NYC remarked that they were awfully red.

We had cooked them …a bit ahead of the dinner hour.

Have to admit…
I never thought of the heat issue.I was more worried about the aluminum gunwale bending. I don’t think the heat issue would be a concern, being aluminum is a light color and the vinyl is black. I think I’ll go with the aluminum.


Nah…neither will bend
but remember that the alu is going to feel hot when you forget that it is hot…

In ww circles, vinyl tends to crack
rather than bend permanently. The aluminum insert is not so much for stiffening as it is there to prevent the gunwale from being torn in two if it cracks. The vinyl gunwales on my OT Tripper had no aluminum inserts, and cracked in one place, but the boat held shape.

Weight savings is the main reason for aluminum. Ash gunwales are also likely to be lighter than vinyl, but a little heavier than aluminum.

No one should get aluminum for whitewater, but I’ve paddled in LA and MS, and you should be OK with aluminum.

The aluminum gunwales on our Bluewater tandem saved over five pounds compared to hardwood gunwales, but that large a difference isn’t always to be expected. Bluewater could shave their ash gunwales a bit and lose a couple of pounds.

I haven’t noticed a problem with aluminum gunwales being hot, or cold, in weather extremes, but don’t lick them in winter.

Vinyl Would Be My Pick

– Last Updated: Dec-29-12 5:08 AM EST –

Well, the heat issue's already been discussed. Never had a vinyl gunwale crack or break. I DID have a bolt get "Stripped" and had to cut it out, creating a huge hole in a vinyl gunwale of my Esquif Mistral. I easily fixed it with fiberglass and it's ugly, but good as new, maybe even stronger. Couldn't have done that with aluminum.

I think you'll love the Reflection. I had the Dagger version of the Reflection 15. If it turned a hair quicker, I would have kept it. But I paddle mostly twisty, Ozark streams. It will be perfect for what you're looking for IMHO.

For what it is worth:
I have canoes with wood, vinyl, aluminum and carbon gunnels.

The wood is beautiful but requires yearly maintenance, the carbon is very delicate but is the lightest.

The aluminum and the vinyl can both take a beating and both are tough.

I find that on sliding them on the roof racks, they both go on easy but the vinyl is more slippery. Some times the vinyl ones slip around too much until I get them between the gunnel brackets, and if the vehicle is parked on an angle I definately prefer the aluminum.

I picked aluminum for our old seventeen foot Jensen kevlar canoe primarily for it’s lightness and toughness since we bought the canoe for racing stock.

If I were buying a new canoe and the choice was either aluminum or vinyl, I would pick aluminum.

Jack L

Thanks for the input.