What Are Kayaks Made Of?

There are three main categories of materials used for constructing kayaks: Polyethylene (plastic), Composite (blend of several ingredients), and Wood. Let’s take a closer look at what each does, the good traits about each and the bad traits as well.

3 Types of Kayak Materials

Polyethylene

Polyethylene, also known as plastic, can be heated and converted into a tough and waxy-textured material that can be unaffected by the water and support a decent amount of weight very well. We find this type of plastic in different grades used in the seats of boats, flotation devices, bulk-heads, and paddles.

PROS:
  • The low weight of the boat makes it easy to carry and float
  • The low cost makes this material affordable for any beginner paddler

CONS:
  • The degree of quality and grades of polyethylene can affect the performance and lifespan of the boat, which can be difficult to assess
  • Use of lower grade plastic can affect the weight and durability of the boat

Plastic may not look as great as other types of kayaks, but they make up for it in affordability while still being highly durable. For new kayakers starting out, polyethylene is perfect for the few trips in a year. It is cheap, floats well, and gets the job done. They also tend to weigh much less than other materials.

Composite

Composite includes several materials made from laminates of fiberglass, aramid, carbon fiber, or a blend of the three. Kevlar and graphite composites also contribute to this material group. The use of these materials provides a higher quality of kayak with increased performance and durability. Boats made with composite materials tend to be light-weight, with an overall design and hull that is stiffer than plastic for better tracking and maneuvering in the water.

PROS:
  • They are faster and much more responsive in the water
  • The weight can be significantly lighter especially with the use of carbon and aramid
  • Can be easily repaired by searching online and following the guidance of a few YouTube kayak repair videos

CONS:
  • The high price relative to other material types
  • The stiffer material makes it fragile and susceptible to breaking when directly crashing into rocks or falling off your roof rack

Composite tends to look shinier and much more attractive than plastic. Although they can cost much more, their performance in the water is noticeable. For the committed kayaker, composite kayaks will be a worthwhile investment.

Wood

Wood kayaks use a wooden deck and hull that is typically covered in fiberglass, resin, and varnish to protect the wood layer from damage by moisture or other environmental factors. The wood makes the boat as durable as any other synthetic composite construction. It provides flexibility for the kayak to bend and absorb shock. Wood is also structurally efficient, making wooden boats light and float well on the water. There is also a selection of different types of wood available that can change the appearance, durability, weight, and performance of the boat.

PROS:
  • An endless number of designs and styling available for wood
  • Composite is just as strong as any other boat
  • Noticeably lighter for carrying vs. fiberglass counterparts
  • Stitch-and-glue kits available may not require an advanced wood-worker to build

CONS:
  • It can cost you to purchase from a craftsman or a lot of energy and time to build it yourself

Wood tends to look amazing, with the ability for the craftsmen to carve unique designs and style the boat. However, the amount of labor required to make wood kayaks tends to make up the bulk of the cost. It may also be difficult to find quality wooden boats built by reputable craftsmen.

Which One Is Right for You?

There are several ways to pick the material for yourself.

  • Do you intend to use the kayak several times during the year?
  • Are you interested in kayaking frequently as a sport or for leisure?
  • How important is quality to you?
  • What budget do you have in mind?

Depending on your answers, you may look for a kayak that fits your budget or for long-term use.

One consideration from Kayak Dave and Alex from KayakDave.com is whether you want to invest a little more money as a commitment to kayaking.

For some people, they may be interested in kayaking as a workout. Others may want to purchase a kayak for the occasional leisure paddling.

Our Closing Thoughts

Our general recommendation is for most people with a limited budget and simply want to test the waters out. The best type of kayak would be made with polyethylene. This minimizes your initial investment and the risk of mental distress from damaging your boat accidentally.

Whichever the case is, we hope this article helps to understand how each material type can benefit you and the challenges they may have.