Kayaks have been there for more than 4000 years and are still evolving. It is a very popular tool for fishing and recreational boating. Today there are varieties of kayaks differing in size, design and price. And for a buyer, the price is one of the prime factors to consider which can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. The material of the kayak dictates not only the price, but also other important factors like strength, durability, weight and rigidity of the boat.
Centuries before, you wouldn’t have much options to choose from. But as kayaks evolved, different materials are used today to manufacture them. Each of these has some distinct specifications along with its pros and cons.
Common Kayak Materials
Let me give an overview. If you are looking for the cheapest but durable kayak for casual whitewater touring, then plastic (Polyethylene) boat is the best for you. But other options like Fiberglass, Kevlar, Wood kayaks are also available for sea or ocean kayaking. These are more expensive but more delicate, faster and lighter. Durability is slightly less though.
It is the most popular material for constructing Kayaks. Polyethylene kayaks are widely manufactured because of high supply and low cost of polyethylene. Being extremely cheap, it can be afforded by almost everyone. Due to its elastic and ductile properties, it can absorb impacts easily. It is an ideal option for the beginners and for casual kayaking.
- It is cheap and so money is not a problem
- More durable compared to other materials
- Impact resistant
- It is very heavy making transportation arduous
- It’s pliability makes it prone to scratches and deformities
- Damaged by Sun and becomes brittle
- Repairing is almost impossible
This category includes Fiberglass, Kevlar and Graphite-Carbon composites.
It is a type of glass polymer composite. Fiberglass Kayaks are lighter than polyethylene kayaks but less impact resistant. Nevertheless, it has a strong structure and is more convenient to paddle. It is mostly used in the seas.
- Lighter than polyethylene and is very stiff
- More responsive to paddling
- It has a gel coating which is scratch resistant
- Can be repaired easily if damaged
- Less expensive than the other composites (Carbon, Kevlar)
- More costly and less impact resistant than polyethylene
- Quite heavier than other composites
- It has tendency to be elastically deformed
Carbon fiber Kayaks
It is a graphite-carbon composite which is almost similar to fiberglass and Kevlar. In terms of compression and tension, it is stronger than fiberglass. Carbon fiber is used for constructing lightweight and strong kayaks. This boat is suitable for adventures in the oceans and seas.
- Possesses high heat resistance
- Very stout but lightweight
- Strength to weight ratio is great
- Minimum susceptibility to UV damage.
- Highly flexible and deals little damage under load
- Can carry more weight
- Very costly
- Repairing requires more dexterity
- Less impact resistant compared to polyethylene
Kevlar kayak is the most expensive and most desired kayak available. Though it is very similar to fiberglass, it is stronger and lighter. It is slightly more brittle than carbon fiber and polyethylene. Kevlar kayak is also coated with protective gel and thus resistant to scratches. Besides, it has a very stiff body and it is less prone to flexing. And guess what? The price is also very high because it’s different extra benefits.
- It is the lightest material
- Very strong and heat resistant
- Effective in flat water
- Can be easily repaired
- Minimum susceptibility to UV damage.
- More resistant to flexing and damage
- Too expensive
- Impact strength is less
- More brittle than polyethylene
Apart from these, if you want to build your own kayak, Wood Kayak is a good choice. But you have to have some woodworking skill. The main advantage is it is customizable and can also save you money. It is also often covered with fiberglass for more durability.
Hopefully you have already got an idea of various types of kayaks based on the constructing materials. My suggestion will be- if you are a rookie, go for the polyethylene one. And if you want a better experience with high end kayaks, the composite boats are there especially the Kevlar Kayak which is really impressive. Finally, whatever you choose, you will be a winner if you consider wisely.