The sun begins rising slowly over a ridge as birds chirp, welcoming the new day. You’re soaking in the beauty of a light mist rising from the glassy waters of your favorite lake, and you find yourself marveling at this canoe life and all the outdoor adventures your sturdy float-worthy vessel has carried you on. On the other hand, what if the canoe you chose isn’t getting the job done? Maybe it isn’t as fast in the water as you’d like and therefore requires greater propulsion than you had hoped for. What if you’d planned on trips requiring multiple portages, but the canoe you have is an absolute bear to carry? Often times, once these thoughts occur to us, it may be too late. A canoe has already been purchased and our funds have been invested.
Canoes have been crafted over the years of many different materials from wood to a number of different composites. Today we take a look at three separate canoe hull materials in the hopes our readers will not suffer from buyer’s remorse like we did early on in our boating adventures.
Most manufacturers of canoes use some form of polyethylene. Poly canoes are made by putting plastic pellets into a heated mold. Although priced right, poly canoes have a few drawbacks. This material is typically heavier than other options as well as being less rigid. Also, they are more susceptible to being misshapen by the sun. They can also change shape while you’re paddling thus lessening stability and creating drag. However, poly canoes are a good choice for infrequent paddlers and for folks that don’t have to worry about portages. This material will take a beating. Poly canoes are a great choice as low cost entry-level recreational canoes.
- Multi-Layer Composites
Aluminum was the gold standard in canoe hulls post WWII all the way through the 1970s when Royalex was first introduced. Royalex is a three-layer composite consisting of an outer layer of vinyl, an inner layer of ABS plastic, with ABS foam sandwiched in between. This makes for a nearly indestructible hull that can be bent around a rock and then pops back into shape. Old Town took a canoe made of Royalex (at the time they called Oltomar) and dropped it from the top of their building to show how strong this revolutionary material was. Unfortunately, the production of Royalex ceased between 2013-2014. There are still a lot of used Royalex canoes available, and they are highly sought after. Many canoe manufacturers have since developed their own version of Royalex to fill the market void. Mad River makes FGX; NovaCraft markets their Tuff Stuff and Esquif with T-Formex just to name a few. Royalex and like materials are durable, medium weight and are sold at a mid-range price point. These are excellent canoes for tripping, expeditions and portages on lakes as well as any class river rapids. Multi-layer composite canoes are built to last a lifetime.
- Fiberglass / Kevlar
Kevlar has a high tensile strength, can resist high temperatures and is very abrasion resistant. Most of us recognize Kevlar to be a strong material based on the fact it’s used in body armor. Kevlar is very lightweight, thereby making it an excellent hull material for long trips into the backcountry with multiple portages. Kevlar canoes can be expensive, but their durability, lighter weight and performance make them a good long-term investment.
Fiberglass hulls are light, rigid and strong. However, buyers beware of hulls that use fiberglass alone as they may be fragile. Fiberglass is a worthwhile material as they can be shaped finitely making for sharp entry lines that create a smoother, more efficient ride. Fiberglass canoes are a little pricey, but they are a long lasting hull that is good for lakes and mild rivers. It can be combined with Kevlar to add strength as seen in Wenonah’s Kevlar Flexcore and Northstar’s Whitegold. The addition of the Kevlar makes the hull slightly heavier, but it’s worth it for the added strength.
While lighter than wood, they are heavier to comparable composite canoes. Aluminum tends to be slow in tracking (slow in the water meaning they require great propulsion) due to construction limitation in molding. Aluminum is very durable. These canoes shine in recreational, camp-type environments especially with children who are just learning and may be prone to hitting rocks.
Wooden canoes are costly to build and a bit delicate, but they yield excellent performance. They’re versatile from flatwater to rivers and for wilderness/expedition tripping. The weight of this hull material can vary depending on construction, but when properly cared for can last 100+ years. Wood canoes are not only a historical work of art but are a thrill to paddle. Bring your checkbook though as wooden canoes are typically very expensive due to the amount of skill and labor required to craft one of these beauties.