What material is my kayak made of

3 Types of Materials Used To Make Kayaks, Their Pros & Cons

Looking for the best kayak that money can buy? Well, with so many options available to choose from, it can be challenging to know which is the best one.

The good news? If you know what features to consider, then finding the right kayak should be easy. One of these features is the type of material the kayak is made from.

So, what are kayaks made of? And how do you decide on the right kayak material for your needs? In this article, we will go over the three types of materials used to make kayaks, including their pros and cons. Let’s get to it!

Kayak Material Varieties To Choose From

Different kayaks are built from a combination of different elements for enhanced durability and performance. Ideally, the material a kayak is made of also affects its weight, storage, and ease of transportation.

So, knowing the pros and cons of each material will help you choose the right kayak for your needs. Generally,  the types of materials used to make kayaks can be divided into three major categories. These include:

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Wood

With this type of kayak, the hull and deck are both made of wood. They are then covered with resin, fiberglass, and coated with varnish to protect the wood from general wear or tear caused by changes in weather.

In most cases, wooden kayaks are made using the strip-built method which is commonly used for making boats. The method is also known as cold-molding.

It involves binding strips of wood together. This is typically done around temporary former.

Kayak building DIY picture
Inspired by: Instructables

One advantage of wooden yaks is that they are quite flexible in design. Besides that, they are reputed for being highly durable.

And obviously, their vintage looks make them well worth investing in especially if good looks really matter to you. Some of the pros and cons of this material include:

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Pros
  • Fiberglass and varnish finish enhance the durability of the kayak material
  • Offered at a lower price
  • More lighter and easy to carry
  • The stitch and glue kits and videos make building easier
Cons
  • Doesn’t work well in strong currents or rocky waterways
  • A little expensive compared to a composite kayak

Polyethylene

Polyethylene

Commonly known as plastic, polyethylene is heated to very high temperatures and molded into a tough well-textured material. This material is more flexible and resistant to impact than wood.

As such, it is highly recommended for use in rocky terrains or areas with high water currents.

But even then, plastic boats still need to be reinforced with protective finishes to guard against extreme exposure to UV rays.

Apart from making the hull of boats, polyethylene kayak material is used to make flotation devices, bulkheads, seats of boats and paddles.

Pros
  • Requires little maintenance once molded
  • Lightweight thus easy to carry
  • Possesses great rebound strength
  • Floats well on the water
  • Durable
Cons
  • Improper storage can distort the shape of the boat
  • Poor quality polyethylene can really frustrate you
  • Tends to “oil can” due to heat exposure

Composite

Composite kayaks are typically built from multiple layers of Aramid/Kevlar, fiberglass or carbon/Graphite fiber and sometimes a combination of all three.

Hulls of boats made from composite substances are strong and stiffer than those molded from polyethylene.

Here are extra details about each one of these composite laminates.

Fiberglass composites

Kayak fiber glass material layout structure

Fiberglass is majorly used to make commercial and touring vessels. To build the vessels; polymer glass strands are strengthened with epoxy resin and then hardened with a catalyst.

Generally, this material is known to be extremely tough. As such, it is commonly found in high-end yaks.

Aramid (Kevlar) composites

Don’t get confused, Kevlar is the trademark name of Aramid, so they are just the same.

Being the strongest of all the three composites, Aramid is the most popular choice in constructing high-end kayaks.

This composite is used in its mat form together with a binding agent just like the carbon and glass fibers. Aramid is light, strong and is not affected by prolonged exposure to sunlight.

Kayaks made from Aramid are expensive and require more skill to make than those made from wood or polyethylene.

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Kayak Material: Graphite/Carbon composites

Although named differently, graphite works in the same manner as carbon since it has a high percentage of carbon.

Just like the Kevlar and fiberglass composites, carbon or graphite unfastened fibers and mats are reinforced with a hardening catalyst for increased durability.

Carbon makes lightweight and strong kayaks with good resistance to heat. To add on that, the kayaks made using this material have a large carrying capacity and are good for the seas or oceans.

Pros of composite kayaks
  • Incorporation of Aramid and carbon makes the kayaks lighter
  • Fast and more responsive on any water body
  • Great resistance to heat and abrasion wear
  • Can be enhanced to look more shiner and beautiful than wood or plastic
  • Boosts of high strength to weight ratio than the polyethylene ones
Cons
  • Some are more expensive in comparison to kayaks made from polyethylene or wood
  • Stiff composite materials have a reduced impact-resistance

Wood Vs. Polyethylene Vs. Composite – Which One is Right for You?

Overall, there are several things to keep in mind when trying to determine which is the right kayak material for you. These include:

  • Your budget
  • Do you intend to use the yak several times during the year?
  • How important is quality to you?
  • Are you interested in kayaking for leisure or as a sport?

But generally, composite and polyethylene kayaks are mostly preferred by many kayak lovers despite being a little costly. This is because they are lightweight and more responsive to different water surfaces.

But if you’re on a tight budget or simply looking for a beginner-friendly kayak material, the polyethylene material should be just enough to get the job done.

Frequently Asked Questions About Different Kayak Materials

Still not sure which kayak material to choose? Well, you might want to check out these commonly asked questions on this topic.

Q: Are fiberglass kayaks better than plastic?

A: Well, it depends on where you will be kayaking. For instance, if you plan to be sea kayaking, fiberglass is the best option. However, a plastic kayak is more durable and affordable than fiberglass.

Q: What are cheap kayaks constructed from?

A: Rotomolded polyethylene kayaks are the most affordable option. As such, they are widely used and are best suited for beginners.

Q: How long do fiberglass kayaks last?

A: Fiberglass is a very durable material. Therefore, with proper care and maintenance, they can last up to 50 years or even more.

Q: Is fiberglass material stronger than Kevlar?

A: Generally, Kevlar is stronger than fiberglass per layer of material. As such, Kevlar kayaks may be more expensive than their fiberglass counterparts.

Bottom Line on Kayak Materials

Overall, there is no such thing as the best as the best kayak material. This is because each material has its own weaknesses and strengths. Not to mention, different kayak materials are best suited for different kayaking conditions. Therefore, choosing the right material is a very important decision to make when buying a kayak. That said, we hope the information above helps you make an informed purchase decision.

Editor’s Note: Article Last Updated 27 June 2021

Erick Thompson

Hi, I'm a fishing & kayaking enthusiast who enjoys sharing tips and tidbits with newbies, intermediates, and experienced anglers alike.

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