Canoe materials explained.

-- Last Updated: Feb-08-04 10:59 AM EST --

I've been reading my tail off the past few hours and just want some clarification on the types of material that canoes are made of.
I've read about Kevlar,wood,aluminum,Polylink3 (polyethylene),fiderglass,and Royalex. Not counting wood or aluminum (because I'm not interested in them). What is the strongest most durable,longest lasting material for a canoe to be made of? I don't care about weight, I'm not looking to race or cover huge amounts of miles quickly.

Toughest Regardless of Weitght
is probably Royalex, in my opinion.

sorta complicated

Basically, in order of strength per pound they go (lowest to highest) like this: fiberglas, polylink & similar plastics, royalex, Kevlar and carbon (which you didn’t mention but which I throw in for completeness). Coincidentally, their prices follow that same order.

HOWEVER, couple complicating factors. Royalex & plastics can bend then go back to their original shape with little damage, like when you stay in the boat while pushing over a log, or if you back into a wall with the canoe tied on. Fiberglas and Kevlar, being layers, suffer damage in these circumstances.

Polylink I believe is an Old Town proprietary material. It has the incredible disadvantage that it’s very hard to repair because nothing bonds good to it. If this is true I wouldn’t touch it for that reason. OT’s polylink boats are significantly heavier than their royalex equivalents, but the extra material probably makes the resulting boats equally strong and durable.

Kevlar is stronger per pound than royalex, but most manufacturers use this feature to make lighter rather than stronger boats, with the end result that Kevlar boats have a rep for being less strong than royalex. If you made them the same weight, Kevlar is stronger and could stand more wear.

Carbon is the strongest of the group. It has a disadvantage in that it is brittle. It will take a lot of punishment without giving way, but when it gives it breaks, there ain’t no bounce back.

All of the above is my understanding but I could be wrong on a point or two. I know that usually people on this board refrain from pointing out one another’s errors :slight_smile: but in this case I’d ask everybody to make an exception, and correct me on anything I got wrong.

I saw an add a few months ago for a kevlar/spectra canoe, not sure what attributes spectra has for a canoe, I am familiar with its use as cord and for backpacks though.

it SOUNDS like it would make a canoe thats very abrasion resistant however if I remember correctly the surface was like the spectra going one way in the weave and the kevlar going the other. As kevlar becomes fuzzy when abraided it sounds like a full spectra skin would make the most sense over perhaps a kevlar/carbon blend for the internal wall.

I’ve heard that Spectra is to
polypropelene as Kevlar is to Nylon. If this is true, I would expect Spectra to not absorb water, just as polypropelene does not absorb water. But this is a minor point. I would expect Spectra to fuzz under wear LESS than Kevlar, but still to fuzz.

The real issue is that most builders (except Novacraft) have not found a way to keep Spectra composite laminates from DE-laminating. Kevlar in composites stays together pretty well.

I notice that Novacraft is using a mixed weave Kevlar/carbon cloth on the outside of their canoes, which also include Spectra.

As already noted, each material has different attributes that make it more desireable in different applications. It’s somewhat easier to approach your question by first determining the type of water you’ll be paddling (this would also dictate the hull design and may limit your choice of materials). Next decide what your budget will allow and then settle for the best balance between attributes, cost and weight.

To gain a basic understanding of the differences between hull materials it’s usually easiest to simply divide them into two families, composite & plastic.

Composites tend to be stiffer and the hulls often possess sharper lines. There are many proprietary cloths but materials generally progress in weight & cost from glass (stiff but heavy) to Kevlar polymer (durable and lighter - although light layup can sometimes compromise the hull) to Carbon fiber (very light and stiff but subject to cracking and catastrophic failure). Composite hulls tend to be fast & light, favor tripping over clean water (they can stand mild river running but they will readily accumulate battle scars) and tend to be readily repairable.

Plastics tend to compromise stiffness and cruising efficiency in favor of durability and shape memory (the ability to deflect/deform and resume its shape). Plastics tend to be forgiving of paddler error & to be less costly and so are popular in recreational and sport hulls. As you move up in price you should expect an increase in efficiency due to the stiffer nature of the slick Roylex materials. For many Royalex is a nice compromise between the composites and the entry line plastics.

One additional word of caution, the best material poorly executed will still create a poor boat. Manufactures differ in their demonstrated skills with creating hulls from these varied materials and quality control failures between identical hulls has been noted on other posts (apparently due to the nature of the manufacturing process, this can be particularly acute for plastic hulls).

Which material is best?? It all depends on what you’re looking for…but I’d tend to focus more upon the hull design and the manufacturer’s skill to produce a quality product.

Taking the simple view…
… you probably want to go with Royalex. The better-quality boats that are made to take a beating are made of Royalex. But depending on what you mean by ‘durable and long-lasting’ (can’t remember your exact words), fiberglass or Kevlar might work too. It just depends on how much impact and abrasion the boat will be subjected to. Composites will certainly last a long time, but running into obstacles is not usually what they are best at.

Simply said,
Spectra is an improved kind of polyethylene,

where Kevlar is an improved kind of polyamide

(Nylon is a brand name for a polyamide).

Whether Spectra works well enough to be worth

the high price, I just don’t know, yet, but like g2d, I have

my doubts based on the difficulties he already mentioned.

The problem, however, also lies in the question of lyons42 that

states that he doesn’t care about weight. And I doubt that.

No one wants a canoe (or even a kayak) that is too heavy to

even be carried to the water. So weight is always important.

If it wasn’t, a 16 feet long 220 lb. (100 kg) polyethylene canoe

would perhaps be the strongest of all and also be stiff enough for

good performance. But even German companies don’t make

polyethylene canoes that heavy :wink:

It is all about the compromise between price, weight, strength,

stiffness and durability. If only it was available, and if it wouldn’t

cost too much, I would always favor a heavy duty kevlar lay-up

with a weight comparable to that of Royalex instead of a boat

made from Royalex.

heavy canoes
It seems to me a shame that there aren’t more heavy, extra-durable canoes available marketed for strength and durability. While nobody wants a 200-pound canoe, there may well be people who will take an increase from 50 to 70 pounds to gain more durability, and you could gain quite a bit with that 20 pounds.

Blue Hole, I think, used to make royalex canoes with a sheet 1/3-1/2 thicker than other makers, and boats that came out correspondingly heavier. Blue hole went out of business but is back in production now, but I don’t know what they sell now and their very limited web site doesn’t list their products.

I think there’s also a market for heavier, tougher kevlar canoes, as Dirk alludes to. This market may be somewhat taken care of by custom orders - I’ve talked to a couple mid-size makers about beefing up a swamp boat and they’ve been willing to do it for reasonable cost. It’s easier with kevlar because, unlike royalex, you don’t have to set up a long production line to do it, you can do a single boat that way.

the big question
is what are you gonna do w/ the boat? Slide over logs,gravel& rock bottoms .Hit heavy rocks at 5 mph? Shoot small rapids , run Niagra Falls? You need to figure how you are gonna use the boat , then what material will stand up to that kind of use. Personally have used a alum. canoe for years running streams and rivers. Hitting rocks and gravel bottom among other things.

What I want the canoe for.
Thanks for all your replys guys. Here’s what I plan on using the canoe for. small lakes, streams,rivers. The rivers around my area tend to run shallow in the summer and can be rocky in areas. There are aslo rapids but I don’t know how to class them. I know they aren’t that bad because I’ve gone through them before and lived. I’m not looking for something built for speed. The canoe will be more of a “lazy time” thing for me. Takiing pictures, exploring, smelling the roses type of thing.

seems like any
would do the trick. Most boats built today (should) give you years of dependable service. Unless you are going to get fairly rough w/ it in the future save some money and get a cheaper boat. heck had a alum . canoe since I was a kid and we got it used.

What about R84?
I found a guy that has a few Raven Works Adventure 17’s for sale in the classified section. Says the boats been used two summers (rentals)and are in good condition with normal wear. He’s asking $550 which includes paddles and pfd’s. I can have my pick of colors. I see new these boats go for almost $1100. Would this canoe be too big to paddle solo? Should I stay away from used rentals?

R-84 is a similar to Royalex but lighter. The ABS layers are not as thick. You don’t see alot of R-84 boats around much these days. (Mohawk builds a few and gives a decent comparison on their website) because the material was pretty soft. But for a recreational user it will be fine. I wouldn’t drag the boat loaded over rocks, but normal usage should be fine.

ONe clarification on Memphis’ original posting on materials. Fiberglass can be very strong if the correct fiberglass is used. There are several grades of fiberglass that get used in canoes, and theire are several methods of construction. The chop gun boats are weak and heavy… fortunately very few decent hull shapes were ever built by this method. The rest are all laid up as kevlar and carbon boats are. The best glass is called structural fiberglass (S-Glass) and this approaches the performance of kevlar. Infact it’s better then kevlar at absorbing compressional forces. As such you will often find S-glass on the exterior of the durable heavy kevlar boats that get used for expeditions or whitewater.