Kayak Materials: What are the best Materials for Kayaks?
The kayak maps range from all-rounders, which are good kayaks for beginners, to ultra-rugged white-water kayaks and real high-speed boats. The wide range of materials used to build kayaks and the many modern sounding production processes make it difficult to get an overview. The specifications, the kayak materials used and the information about the technologies used in the product descriptions now read more like the textbook “Introduction to Chemical Engineering” than like a crisp introduction to the product itself.
The different kayaks can be classified according to the materials used. Instead of using only one material, several different materials are often used in the construction of kayaks. Wood, polyethylene, composites such as glass fibre, graphite and aramid are typical of kayaks. Inflatable kayaks and folding boats are also becoming increasingly popular.
All materials have advantages and disadvantages that have to be considered when choosing a kayak. The intended use determines which material the kayak should be made of. After all, the kayak material has an enormous influence on the characteristics of the boat. Below you will find an overview of the individual materials with the respective pros and cons.
Wooden kayaks are mostly built “Do-It-Yourself”. In the “Stitch and Glue” method even inexperienced kayakers can build their own kayak. Of course there are also ready-made wooden kayaks for sale. Wooden canoes are typically coated with glass fibre, resin or varnish to protect the wood. This makes wooden kayaks as stable and durable as boats made of synthetic materials. Compared to these, wooden kayaks are also pleasantly light.
Wooden kayaks are beautiful and the DIY approach offers a number of design options that are left up to you. The lacquer and fibreglass coating reinforces the wood and makes it as durable as other solid kayaks. The big advantages are the low weight and the low cost (at least for the craftsman). Some experienced kayakers prefer wooden kayaks to graphite or kevlar kayaks.
Whoever wants to build a wooden kayak needs time, patience and some skill. Alternatively, you can hire a craftsman or a company to build the kayak or buy a finished model. But in the end this would also cost a lot of money.
With the “Stitch and Glue” method, however, building a wooden kayak is not that difficult. The rewarding feeling when you make the lakes and canals unsafe with your self-made wooden kayak is certainly worth the effort.
Wooden kayaks are not the best choice for seas and turbulent waters. If you find this a major limitation, it is better to refrain from using wooden kayaks.
Kayaks made of GRP and similar materials
GRP kayaks (GRP = glass fibre reinforced plastic) are similar in construction to kayaks made of graphite and aramid (known under the brand name Kevlar). The fibres are applied layer by layer and joined together. Some material blends with different fibres are used. With GRP kayaks, a coloured gel coating is used for the outer layer of the boat. On some models, foam panels are used to reinforce the hull and stern.
The good driving characteristics and the robustness of the hull are the biggest advantages of kayaks made of these composites. GRP kayaks are considered durable, fast and manoeuvrable. The stable shell usually withstands collisions and scratches. The combination of several fibres (such as glass fibre with graphite) provides additional stability and can also reduce weight. In general, GRP kayaks are lighter than other types of kayaks.
Kayaks made of GFK, graphite and aramid / kevlar are priced above other kayak species. Furthermore, these kayaks are robust, but still vulnerable to sharp objects (such as rocks). Just like wooden kayaks, GRP kayaks are easy to repair.
For the production of PE kayaks, polyethylene granulate is filled into a mould and then heated. The result is a perfectly formed one-piece kayak.
Polyethylene kayaks are a cheap alternative to other solid kayaks. The cost of the boat is essentially influenced by the quality of the plastic used. The robustness of PE kayaks is their biggest advantage. The extremely stable and durable boats are the right choice for rock-fringed white water areas. Smaller collisions with rocks don’t make the kayaks much difference. In the form of scratches, this also leaves badges on the outer hull, but overall the kayaks are considered indestructible.
PE kayaks are the heaviest. The wide, robust boats, for example, weigh considerably more than GRP kayaks of comparable size. Due to this higher weight the transport of the kayak on the car roof is quite complex. The kayaks are also sensitive to UV radiation, which is why an additional protective layer is applied to the boat.
Inflatables are made of PVC or polyurethane. The drop-stitch manufacturing process gives the cover additional stability. The empty shell of the inflatable kayaks can be transported in a backpack and is simply inflated at the water using an air pump. Inflatable kayaks are often sold in a set that includes a paddle.
Inflatable kayaks throw the concept of kayaking upside down, so to speak. The empty shell of the kayak can simply be rolled up and stored in a backpack. With a weight of only 7.5 to 15 kilograms, these boats are also very light. The transport and storage is therefore very uncomplicated. Another advantage of inflatable kayaks is their low price, which is sometimes only 100€.
Major advances in production have made the Inflatables more robust and durable. It has been observed that inflatable kayaks are increasingly catching up with solid kayaks. However, the inflatable kayaks are still somewhat limited in their driving characteristics. The boats are not designed for top speeds. Robustness and seaworthiness also vary greatly from model to model.
-> View the best inflatable kayaks
Folding boats are boats that consist of a flexible outer skin and a collapsible scaffold. The outer shell is often made of PVC or rubber. Aluminium or wood is usually used for the boat frame. For transport, the folding boat can be dismantled into scaffolding and outer hull.
Folding boats enjoy great popularity. Folding kayaks combine the advantages of inflatables (easy transport and storage) with the better performance of fixed kayaks. Especially the aluminium frames make the kayaks robust and lightweight, which together with the small packing size makes storage and transport extremely easy.
Folding kayaks often cost more than GFK kayaks or other fixed kayaks. Modern folding kayaks are robust, but tend to be more prone to sharp objects. The boats are more expensive to maintain because there are more free moving parts.
-> View the best folding boats
Every kayak material and construction influences the driving characteristics. Choosing the right material is therefore an important decision when buying a kayak. The planned area of use plays a major role. There is a big difference between comfortable tours in calm waters and adventures in white water. The popularity of kayaking is to the benefit of all kayakers, because there is now a range of suitable kayaks for every application.
The cost factor is always one of the decisive factors. A cheap inflatable kayak or a PE kayak is sufficient for leisurely tours across the neighbouring lake. If you are already an advanced paddler, it is better to choose a GFK kayak or a folding kayak. For advanced paddlers, weighing costs, weight, durability and performance is more important. For beginners, however, the accessories included in the scope of delivery play a greater role.
With the knowledge about the advantages and disadvantages and the individual characteristics of the kayak materials you can make a better informed purchase decision, which hopefully you will have something of for a long time.