As we all know, canoes have been around for a long time. In fact, scientists have discovered canoes that were dated as far back as 8000 B.C. Early canoes were made out of hollowed out tree trunks, tree bark, wood and even animal pelt. As time went on, “modern” materials were introduced including canvas and aluminum. Today, most of the commercially produced and more popular canoes are made a few different ways: Roto-Molded/Polyethylene, wood strips, Royalex layup, Kevlar layup, Carbon layup and paired with a versatile canoe paddle. While many still cherish the traditional design materials, and for good reasons, these new materials provide a whole new meaning to portability and durability. You can easily write a book about the differences in materials but the focus of this blog is to offer a quick high-level overview of Roto-Molded/Polyethylene, Royalex, Kevlar and Carbon canoe materials.
These are the most common type of canoes on the market today. They are great for general recreational because they are the most affordable and are extremely durable. Many outfitters and rental facilities use these due their high-level of abuse tolerance. The downside is that they tend to be the heaviest of the bunch. Due to their weight they are not recommended for those who will need to do any portaging such as overnight or lengthy paddling trips. Since canoes are layered polyethylene, they are not as easy to repair.
Royalex canoes are also extremely durable and very popular with paddlers looking for a lighter alternative to polyethylene that won’t break the bank. Traditionally Royalex is the choice material for whitewater paddlers because of its buoyancy. This buoyancy comes from the way Royalex is constructed. In its simplest form it is a multi-layer material comprised on a layer of vinyl, a layer of ABS foam, and a layer of ABS plastic. Royalex is also less sensitive to U.V. damage than it polyethylene counterparts. It also has a slicker surface, which helps it glide faster through the water than other plastic canoes, and due to the layered makeup of Royalex it is also quieter on the water. Several repair kits are available and with some guidance, many can easily do it themselves. So if you are looking for a durable canoe that is lighter and more affordable than the more expensive Kevlar and Carbon canoes, Royalex is a great option.
Lightweight with extreme performance capabilities would some up the benefits of a Kevlar Canoe. A tandem Kevlar canoe may weigh up to 30 lbs. lighter than the same canoe made of Royalex. When you hear Kevlar you automatically think bulletproof vest. It provides the same quality of strength that makes Kevlar such a desirable material to build a canoe out of but will have less hull flex or oil canning than its plastic counterparts. Whether you get a gel-coated or skin coat Kevlar canoe it will be slicker with tighter lines that all factor in to a canoes overall performance. Building a canoe out of Kevlar is a similar process to using fiberglass. It all starts with Kevlar cloth which is then covered with an epoxy resin, after this is done it is shaped into a canoe hull. Kevlar canoes can easily be repaired with simple epoxy/resin fills or by using Kevlar fabric soaked in epoxy resin to repair larger areas or punctures. Kevlar canoes can take an impact, but the consequence of that impact could result in cracked gel coat or exposed Kevlar on a skin coated canoe. These canoes are not inexpensive, but performance comes at a premium.
These canoes share all the qualities of a Kevlar skin coated canoe with a few small exceptions. Graphite Canoes weigh slightly less than Kevlar skin coated canoes and a graphite is the stiffness of the materials. This stiffness provides faster acceleration and a very maneuverable hull. Although graphite and carbon fiber canoes can be made to be as tough as steel they are mostly designed to limit weight and add stiffness. The downside is that this stiffness causes the kayaks to be more vulnerable to tears and cracks compared to a Kevlar canoe.
These are only a few examples as many canoe manufacturers still use other materials such as wood and aluminum but hopefully it gives you an idea of what to look for when shopping for a canoe.