Kevlar on the rivers

How does a Kevlar boat hold up for Class 1-2 wilderness tripping? I am not talking about when the rivers are low, but just at normal levels.

Reading the below posts - I have long wanted to do the Buffalo and Missouri rivers but only have a Kevlar boat. I have only used rental aluminum boats for my river trips, and aluminum and Kevlar for the BWCA and local lakes.

I want a Royalex boat for river trips but can’t afford one right now.

On river trips I have of course bounced off my share of rocks, and though I tend to baby my gear and hear that Kevlar is “tough” - I would not want to find myself up a creek WITH a paddle - but with a gashed out Kevlar canoe…

I usually shoot for 5-9 day US trips

and I am way overdue for one. So, I would love to hear your Kevlar “tripping” experiences!

Not sure
I have a souris river prospector that I paddled down the Bloodvein River.

It is light, at 43 lbs, but I treated it as such, and portaged more than I would have with a plastic tub. On the other hand, I wasn’t worried about it. For one thing, they are pretty easy to fix.

Construction does matter a bit, though. I wouldn’t take a foam-core ultralight wenonah in rapids, for instance (but would happily take their heavier lay-ups). Western Canoeing makes a kevlar duraflex which is very tough, as is Hellman’s duratuff, and Souris River’s new model, I expect.

Kevlar is tough, but most kevlar boats are designed to be light (and usually stiff, fine ends, fast, not for whitewater). The boats design matters more than the material, I suspect.

Mad River
I have a Mad River Explorer in Kevlar. I picked up an old one that was made in 1990. It is my “beater” now so I was wondering how it would hold up on extended river trips. I always check water levels beforehand and only care about up to Class 2 - I’m not “into whitewater”. I’m into being out there. I just don’t want to get STUCK ‘out there’! : )

Buffalo and Kevlar

– Last Updated: Feb-17-09 12:55 PM EST –

no issues.

Sure at low levels the area below Steel Creek to Erbie is going to be a thrill.. with all those rocks.

Our boat (Wenonah Odysses) did fine.

Sure at high levels the same river is going to be a thrill..Grey Rocks standing haystacks and my fine ended Kevlar solo was a moving bathtub.. but just had to stop and empty.

I dont look at the Buffalo as requiring Royalex. If you have it, its is nice. If not make do.

Not all Kevlar is equal.. my skin coat Kevlar does not have as much abrasion resistance as my gel coated one.

And a flat foam panel bottom is no match for a head on collision with a rock. I did that with the Wenonah Odyssey which resulted in lots of fractures.

The Souris River Wilderness(also Kevlar) we replaced it with is designed to run into some things with less damage as it has foam ribs..and the Kevlar in between ribs ought to flex.

That said we portage some rapids in Wabakimi that we would run given Royalex.

So construction counts. If yours is an UL layup just be careful. I now avoid anything Ultralite unless I know how and where whatever fabric was laid. Just does not fit my style.

At Tyler Bend on the Buffalo
I camped near a group of canoeists all in very nice kevlar and fiberglass canoes. In talking with them I learned they had paddled the Buffalo several times and never had a problem. From limited conversation I would say they were pretty experienced.

I paddled from Wollum back to Tyler bend in my Roylex Argosy. With my limited skills I managed to get stuck in several shallow areas, but I think I would not have really damaged a Kevalr canoe. Probably would have scratched it up a little.

If in doubt you might want to consider the lower Buffalo which is generally deeper and has less rapids than the middle and lots less than the upper.

Good luck.


Depends on the boat, and …
… the type of impact. There are always those who say “no problem” or those who say it works fine because a good paddler doesn’t hit rocks. As to the type of hit, that definitely makes a difference. My guide-boat has 4 layers of alternating fiberglass and Kevlar, and should be tougher than a lot of Kevlar canoes, but accidently drifting directly stern-first into a bridge pier at a speed of less than one foot per second (that’s slow) resulted in a minor crumple that needed fixing. I believe that a solid hit on the “average” Kevlar boat will do damage, while glancing blows are more likely to be survivable. I think part of the issue with deciding whether to run whitewater or not will depend on your attitude toward the boat, how skilled you are at not running into things, and the amount of faith you have in your repair skills.

"a good paddler doesn’t hit rocks."
hmmm that lets me out.

Maybe I am a slow learner…

I tore up a Kevlar UL on basalt last year at low water…geez it was actually a waterfall.

Probably depends on rock orientation and type and how much loaded your boat is.

I’m not one of those “good paddlers”…
…because my boats have rock marks on them. I even hit the same rock twice in two days last summer. It’s a rock that is known for catching people off guard and knocking them over, the nature of the flow makes surface evidence for the rock pretty iffy (it looks like it must be deeper than it is, if you see any definition to the wave at all) and you can’t see the rock itself it until it’s “right there”. So after hitting it once, I approached that rapid on the following day vowing that I wasn’t going to hit that rock again. As I entered the chute I was thinking “okay where is that sucker”, and then “Yikes, it’s right (bump) there!”. At least I stayed dry both times.

Okay, this summer I’m gonna get through that chute cleanly. Just watch me. :slight_smile:

If you had a Millbrook canoe with
two layers of S-glass outside and two or more Kevlar layers inside, you would have a very light boat that would stand up very well to punishment.

I know because I own two of them. The builder sometimes uses Spheretex in the bottom and sides for stiffness, but Speretex, a mixture of glass cloth and little bubbles, is much sturdier than foam cores.

Ideally, Kevlar should be used only for inside layers, while the outside layers should be E-glass or S-glass. S-glass is excellent at resisting abrasion.

I think that all but the super light Kevlar canoes from Wenonah and Bell will stand up adequately to class 1-2 in Georgia, but my own 30 years of paddling here in “glass” boats indicates that occasional repairs are to be expected.

big differnence between a head-on
dead-stop impact (as you mentioned happened to you) on a moving object and the same moving object hitting and gliding over an obstruction, for starters. I’ve got thousands of miles on a Kevlar/ultra lite foamcore Odyssey and it has taken impacts on submerged rocks fully loaded while tripping that stopped the hull. It has hit and gone over more rocks loaded/unloaded than I can remember. It is in pretty good shape regardless, a bit fuzzy on the bow and stern and maybe gone through a layer, but never so much as a crack. Maybe I’ve been lucky paddling composites for the last 20+ years, but most of my fiberglass or Kevlar kayaks and canoes have gone through the same scenario unscathed beyond scratches for the most part. The only time I’ve ever had a cracked hull was when a Silver Maple dropped its crown butt first onto the stern of my Vivianne, and that was surprisingly only a 2-3" crack on the side of the impact and a 3-5" split along the seam tape on the opposite side.

You have to figure that IF the stuff was as fragile and prone to failure as you imply, you would NOT see Kevlar ultra lite core canoes in so much abundance in B.W.C.A, Quetico, Wabakimi and the like. You certainly would not see liveries renting them for use in such rocky areas as those mentioned if it was not a strong lay-up.

Composite Layers
I probably should not have said four layers of alternative fiberglass and Kevlar. I “think” I remember there being two layers of each, but I have “no” recollection that they alternate, and could be totally wrong about that part.

Intersting! Foam core is still okay.
There has been a lot of talk here about foam-core hulls being extremely prone to “puncture-type” damage, since the hull layers enclosing the foam are so thin and the foam is too soft to reinforce the outer layer against a sharp contact pushing in from the outside. Based on your experience, maybe that type of construction is not as delicate as they say, though I DO remember someone saying that they messed up their hull pretty badly just dragging over a submerged log, which is something any other construction type would be certain to survive unscathed. Of course, repairing the back side of a damaged foam-core hull wouldn’t be so easy, so for now I think I’ll play it safe with that sort of thing.

In the old Walbridge Boatbuilders
Manual, they tested SS/KK versus S/K/S/K. They were pretty close in stiffness, impact resistance. I think the SS/KK had a small edge, plus maybe that combo might be easier to lay up by hand.

I dont buy that
BWCA , Quetico and Wabakimi are alike.

Light is preferred for those that are going to portage. For those that cannot portage (because of blowdown UL is a real hassle…You have to be quite cognizant of lining and abrasion…it took several days to descent a remote part of the Ogoki river off the outfitters route.

Liveries rent UL because customers want them. In Wabakimi the clients usually follow the outfitters route…

I dont and would not use a UL boat… Its got to have some extra layers of carbon and glass built in.

to each his own

– Last Updated: Mar-02-09 10:37 AM EST –

Maybe you could expand on what you might think isn't the same in the 3 places I mentioned, they all appear to be the same kind of terrain to me, disregarding frequency of use.

I've also pushed a Kevlar UL/core Odyssey down, as well as up, remote sections of the Ogoki myself, as did the folks accompanying us. Scuffed and scratched, but 16 years old and still no cracks or punctures in a couple thousand miles of use. And referring to blow down, in places we could NOT run, I sure was GLAD I had an U/L lay-up! It would have been a total bitch trying to get my Royalex Cascade through the same nightmare blow down non-existent portage sections of remote Wabakimi areas... and we saw quite a bit of that, as well as impassable tree filled sections of river. I have far to many customers and friends who have done a lot of the same in Kevlar U/L lay-up canoes with the same reliability. I've never seen any Kevlar 'relics' abandoned in Wabakimi, but we found a few shredded aluminum canoes. When in doubt we portage, and with the normal amount of portages in those areas anyway, I'll gladly stick to my old reliable Kevlar U/L lay-up Odyssey.

The only time I've taken the Royalex Cascade instead of the Kevlar Odyssey was on 'heavier' continual river use such as on the Waterfound and Fon-Du-Lac rivers in Saskatchewan or the Pipestone in Ontario, rivers were we might regularly encounter above the class 1-2 action the poster was inquiring about. I have also seen quite a lot of my customers take their Kevlar U/L boats down the Buffalo River the poster mentioned he wants to run, and have never heard of any resulting damage. When in doubt in normal tripping scenarios encountering only class 1-2, I can portage as I mentioned above, and IF blow down IS encountered, I'm gonna feel blessed to be carrying the U/L. Knowing the limits of your chosen material is key, as is knowing when to portage.

Maybe the problem can be pushing
for that last 8 or 10 pounds of lightness. We have a Bluewater Chippewa, 16’ 10", 34.5" wide, 16 inches deep, very shallow arch, glass/Nylon/Kevlar with some sort of foam bottom, and it weighs 48 pounds. So, it wouldn’t be classed as an ultralight. But the layup was done by an expert in making whitewater slalom boats, and so the boat is tough enough.

I’m sure that a boat weighing 40 rather than 48 pounds would be wonderful on portages, instead of just very good. The trade off is less ability to sustain damage from mistakes.

My foam panel bottom experience
with a Kevlite Merlin II was not good.

Of course it was caused by operator error.

The boat folded around a rock or several and was ripped and several folds ensued. (Kevlar and basalt do not mix. Kevlar and knives do not mix). The aluminum gunwales bent…(weight savings in the gunwales too).

The boat emerged in a rather battered pattern. Fortunately its below waterline shape was not affected and duct tape applied to any potential leaks.

Good thing, as I was in true wilderness, not like most paddling in the US. (I was north of North Bay Ontario)

The sidewalls of the boat are quite thin and flexible and prone to folding. The foam panel leads the bottom to be more rigid…guess what gives.

Other construction methods of lightweight (like carbon fiber and the ejection of the use of the foam panel) would seem to give better results in boat longevity in case of accident.

Two parts
To the OP - I am confident your Mad river Kevlar is a solid boat that will take many years of normal use in class 1-2 rapids. If you happen to wrap it, it will sustain serious damage that can nevertheless be fixed.

As to my segue - Light canoes are good, but I agree that getting the last few pounds might be a fools bargain for most of us. When canoe camping and tripping, the canoe is one load, but the food packs, kitchen pack, and personal bags usually get lumped together anyway. As such, a 60lb canoe is quite reasonable, and the difference between a 42lb canoe and a 55lb canoe is almost insignificant (i.e. if I carried a canoe that light, it would be in addition to a full pack).

I have read reports that
Bluewater’s foam core is vulnerable along the edges, where there is a transition from the stiffish foam core section to the thinner hull along the chines.

I don’t know whether use of carbon will help. Use of S-glass in the outer layers of the sides will result in more toughness than carbon, and not much less stiffness.

Millbrook and some other whitewater manufacturers use a different kind of core, a thinner core of Spheretex. This is a glass weave filled with microballoons, and when wet out with resin, it is thicker and stiffer than if the glass had been laid without the balloons. The degree of stiffness is very impressive, with a broad, flattish hull not showing any oil canning. The boats are very light, but in order to achieve that lightness, the Spheretex is not put everywhere. There are places in the sides of the boat where, if I can guess the layup, there may be as few as 4 layers of S-glass and Kevlar, perhaps just 3.

Another way to stiffen the bottom of a light canoe is to put some sort of flexible strut between the thwarts and the bottom. Back in the 70s, marathon racing canoes sometimes had telescoping struts with automobile valve springs inside. This allowed the bottom to flex up a little if the boat hit an obstacle, but kept the hull true to form. Minicell pillars make good support struts also. Maybe such strategies might allow builders to avoid foam core hulls.

Currently I have a Souris River in Duralite(49lbs) and a aluminum(58lbs) beater. I traded my kevlar boat cause it didnt hold up and always paranoid of hiting something.Personnally I think kevlar is overated and aluminum doesnt get the respect it deserves,nothing is more durable.But many dont want there image tainted by the metal boat on top of the RangeRover…