Royalex vs. kevlar

I apologize ahead of time as I’m a newb here, but certainly not to canoeing, and I’m sure Royalex vs. Kevlar has been debated ad nauseum. My take is that it always boils down to one’s specific needs and expectations. I’m not getting any younger and I need a lighter canoe, tandem 16-17’. I do 90% rivers but no serious white-water. My idea of paddling is keeping the boat straight and letting the current do all the work…that’s why God made rivers! Portages would be rare, man-made, and short. My desire for lighter weight stems from mostly solo loading/unloading (my grandson isn’t quite old enough to help lug, but he’s getting there). Everybody tells me rivers=Royalex, flat water=Kevlar. Impacts with a full head of steam are not a concern, I can read water! I’m more concerned with abrasion from low water scraping and squeezing through bottlenecks. Should I disregard Kevlar? Oh, and I may be able to winter it under my crawl space depending on dimesions. If not it may be outside and tarped. Let’s hear it, thanks.

You’re right
the topic has been covered frequently and in depth. You should probably search the archives and see what you come up with. In the meanwhile I offer this summary:

  1. Skin coat kevlar is not good for abrasion - it gets fuzzy. You want a layer of some other material as the outer layer, fiberglass and/or gelcoat are common.

  2. If you’re gonna store outside you do not want wood gunwales.

  3. If you store under a tarp, it needs airspace between the tarp and the hull.

  4. A composite boat that meets your needs will not be the lightest composite you can find. Probably need to figure close to 50 pounds.


New vs used
If you’re looking new, and looking at Royalex, you have a rapidly closing window, since the material stopped being produced earlier this year, and most manufacturers have limited numbers of sheets left in stock.

If you’re looking used Royalex, have any Rx hull looked at by someone who knows the material, since the condition and life expectancy will be affected by how it was stored.

I’d submit that if you want light weight but repairability , Wenonah’s Tufweave material is a good compromise. Less expensive than Kevlar, but with weights that are still in the 50-60 pound range. And unlike Rx, it’s readily available, in a wider series of hull designs.

Rx replacements are avaiable
from Esquif and Old Town… A canoe cart might help in your circumstance. Then you don’t have to worry about weight.

It would help again if we knew where you were. When rivers get low here they are rock gardens. I think its no accident that canoe companies that are in bony river territory have come out with Rx replacements.

go composite
The advice given above by Peter and mobrien is very good in my opinion.

I would definitely go with a quality composite boat for your intended use. It may or may not have aramid (Kevlar) in the layup although the lighter composite tandems likely will because aramid has a higher strength to weight ratio than fiberglass and polyester.

Those who insist that Royalex or polyethylene is the only appropriate material for a river canoe underestimate the strength of a good composite layup.

I would not go with an ultralight composite layup, and you might want to avoid a foam core simply because in the unlikely event you cracked the hull bottom, foam-cored hulls are problematical to repair.

Ideally, I would look for an all cloth layup with a aramid interior layers, fiberglass (preferably S 'glass) exterior layers, and an exterior gel coat for abrasion resistance. Exterior layers of carbon fiber would be an option as well, will be lighter and stiffer, but more expensive. A boat constructed in this way can withstand some pretty wicked hits without sustaining significant damage apart from some scratches and perhaps a few cracks or chips in the gel coat.

Either composite or Royalex boats can crack with a sufficient impact and I have experienced both first hand. Composite boats are perhaps somewhat more likely to crack on sudden impact with an immovable object, but a cracked, all cloth composite boat is actually somewhat easier to repair than a cracked Royalex boat.

A gel coated composite boat is actually more resistant to abrasion than a Royalex boat. You will scratch the the gel coat and may eventually wear into the cloth at the stem(s,) but that is also relatively easily dealt with. Royalex boats tend to erode into the foam core at the stems or under the seat(s) if they are run through shallow streams with gravel bottoms, or over rocky ledges a lot, and that damage is more difficult to repair.

pblanc observations

This is probably a dumb question but is your recommended layup commonly found in any manufacturer’s current line offerings or would that be a custom?

not any but some
Hemlock offers it.

Colden offers it.

Millbrook Boats offer it.

My Colden DragonFly is decidedly a river runner and not Royalex. It does have carbon fiber in it and that makes it more expensive.

Swift has several durable layups all seeming with foam core… The above I listed do not stiffen the floor with foam core. I have damaged foam core boats on rivers and they are wicked hard to fix. In both cases the foam cracked as well as the interior fabric. The hull was intact… But soft as a result of interior damage.

A good discussion. One item in the original post bothers me. The idea that one can “keep the boat straight and let the current do the work” is a dangerous strategy for moving water. First you need to go either faster or slower than the current to control your boat. And second staying in the current can often take you right into obstructions, cliffs and undercuts.

With that sort of strategy you are bound to take some swims and beat up some boats. Try Royalex or there won’t be any pieces big enough to put back together.

We have three royalex canoes and
four ultralight clear coat Kevlar canoes, and here is my take:

If you think you might be going to slam into rocks or go over cascades onto them on a steady basis go with royalex.

If you think you will just be scraping them on rare occasions go with a light weight (what you are looking for) kevlar one.

I haven’t a clue how to repair roylax, but repairing or touching up a clear coat kevlar one is a piece of cake.

I have a 16 year old kevlar one that I am constantly touching up scratches and patching due to rocky rivers and it keeps on ticking.

I have repaired the foam core ribs several time when I have cracked them on rocks.

I wouldn’t go with a kevlar boat with a gel coat finish. You are just adding unnecessary weight and adding more work to repairing it.

If I had to get rid of all my boats except one: I would keep a ultralight kevlar with clear coat one.

Jack L


Allow me to elaborate. I’ve been in canoes for approx. 45 of my 58 years. I’m quite capable of reacting when the water dictates it and picking the path of least resistance way before it’s too late. My preference is purely minimalist and I choose to work no harder than I need to. The waters that I primarily run, i.e. upper sections of the New (N.C.side), the Dan (what Duke Energy didn’t ruin), and the Yadkin compliment my “lazy man’s” paddling philosophy nicely. None will ever appear in print comparing how the stack up against the Gauley in September. This approach also allows me time for truly important endeavors, like scoping out likely smallmouth holes so you can lose the elitist attitude, it’s truly wasted on this old redneck!

I understand
Hey olddogrib, I caught the hint that you were not some newbie paddler in your original post. I live down in SC and paddle many similar rivers as you but probably a little more whitewater but onky on occasion. I am a big fan of royalex but considering your intended uses, I would also suggest a strong composite canoe,…just not an ultra lite model. Tuff weave by Wenonah is hard to beat. I have owned tuff weave Adirondack, Sundowner, Rendezvous and Fisherman models and there were great boats


If the rivers you run allow for your technique to be successful, the material that is used in your boat is not that important.

When it comes to safety, I am willing to be direct with people. I am in no way an elitist. I apologize if I offended you, but your philosophy of how to paddle moving water is dangerous once you get to even Class II water.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt
To simply make a brief statement about letting the river do all the work could easily be, and most probably was, a gross oversimplification of what actually happens when this guy goes paddling. Clearly his intent was not to explain what he knows, but to ask about boats.

For example, I’m no expert but I get by pretty well in the usual squirrely situations you might find in the sort of river likely to have smallmouth bass, and if I’m drifting dead-still with the current I can apply just three or four properly controlled reverse strokes to move the canoe at a right angle to the current flow a distance of about 30 feet, and it only takes a few seconds to do that. The transition from dead-drifting to high-power reverse and a rapid ferrying action can be accomplished really quickly. You know that and I know that, and from my perspective, there’s no reason to expect that a person who’s been paddling as long as this guy has wouldn’t know it too. And that’s just one example of how a boat that’s drifting dead in the water can spring into action if the paddler knows what he’s doing. In short, I figured he probably knows what he needs to know for his rivers if he doesn’t habitually run into things!

I race the New River race in Jefferson
every year, the Dan river race in Madison, and the Yadkin in Salisbury.

Most years we use our ultralight Kevlar boats, and only use royalex on low water years

I’ll pick up a few scratches in the New, and Dan, and never in the Yadkin

Jack L

Crabby, too!
No problem, did I mention my old age makes me crabby, too? And I did fudge it, I was in canoes not long after I was in diapers, I’m assuming cloth was available, but on our budget it might have been an intertwined leaf creation. And as several have observed, my “philosophy” was a feeble attempt at humor and in no way meant to downplay the importance of knowing what you’re doing when on moving water! I do plead guilty to being entirely ignorant of the vast materials available today and that’s where I intended to test the water. I “cut my teeth” on a wonderful old drab green Grumman 17’ aluminum that might have landed at Normandy! It was square-sterned with a keel, hence the inception of my uncle’s teachings…always look downriver, adjust early, adjust small. That boat did nothing quickly. I raise my kids in a 70’s OT Tripper owned by a veterinarian who was a white-water junkie. I think it was Rx, but there was so much fiberglass cloth and epoxy at both ends it was hard to tell. It also came with a boat full of flotation and an Iliad paddle I wish I had back. It was a fine and well-behaved craft, though…should have never sold it. I should have mentioned I will be buying second hand and obviously that will severely limit my options. I’m thinking Jan.-Feb., angry ex seeking revenge, lol. Canoe popularity seems to be depressingly regional, I assume due to shipping, although I did see a Souris River listed recently. That’s why I narrowed it down and I’ll be lucky if I can find second-hand composite/kevlar, although the Nantahala isn’t that far. (P.S. I have done the Gauley in Sept., but it sure as h**l wasn’t in a canoe!)

I’m a 45 year Volvo owner.

Bought a Royalex Rendezvous for $1000

Amazing. Utube at the bridge videos are dead on.

I once slammed dead center into Roebling’s bridge work: broooong !

However, if not planning level 3 rapids down the canyon with loaded camping then Kevlar. Or worser.

Sort thru the info here. Check the inventory. Piragis offers adequate explanations

There’s an ultralight Voyager.

Need translation
Really,… just slowly read and attempt to comprehend this last post if you were the original poster wanting to receive constructive feedback! I don’t know what to make of it.

yak que

if you are not up to reading try Utube

kevlar DIY repair

– Last Updated: Jul-26-14 9:05 PM EST –

having a solid repair background following river crunching gives a different perspective on royalex no fault paddling but how many times does an experienced paddler crunch the Kevlar ?

Experience lessens crunching while DIY assures long life...for the boat.

With far less experience, royalex is uh unbeatable.

Level with us ? have you lost a Kevlar boat with a good crunch ? Is canyon running more risky with Kevlar than royalex ?

With Royalex when I bash a rock no handwringing. Excess handwringing spoils the trip.

Tuffweave continues with good reviews. Have not read a bad Tuffweave review yet well maybe too heavy ...didn't you pick it up first ?

Disregard Kevlar. You’d have to find
JackL for any repairs, and you’d have to listen to his lecture on why Kevlar hardly ever breaks.

I own several Kevlar canoes. They don’t break as often because the outer layers are S-glass.