What Are Kayaks Made Of – A Detailed Guide On Kayak Materials

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There is a wide range of options available, from simple DIY wooden boats to high-tech proprietary constructions, when it comes to building Kayaks. The material that a kayak is made of affects its performance, durability, transportation, storage, weight, and the overall aesthetics of its build. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of the various materials can help you choose a kayak construction that best suits your needs, preferences, and budget.

In this article, we will break down the various kayak materials available based on their strengths and weaknesses. We will also delve deeper into how these kayaks are manufactured. We hope this article will arm you with the knowledge required to make the best decision while investing in a new kayak.

Factors To Consider Before Choosing A Kayak

Before choosing a kayak material, you need to consider several factors. Just as with any sports equipment, it is vital to study the trade-offs between cost, durability, and performance before making a decision. Here are some factors to keep in mind before buying a kayak.

1. Environment

Where do you plan to use your kayak? In the ocean or maybe inshore. Saltwater can be much harsher on your kayak as compared to freshwater. Do you plan to use it in whitewater rivers? If so, you may need to consider more robust and durable materials.

2. Purpose

Do you utilize your kayak extensively, or are you committed to a sport? Do you use your kayak simply for recreational purposes or maybe for challenging sea expeditions? You will need to choose your kayak based on how you plan to utilize it.

3. Storage And Transportation

You may not know this, but kayaks can be bulky. You need to plan out storage space and transportation for it before you decide to buy one.

4. Budget

It doesn’t make sense to spend top dollar on a kayak you will probably use only once a year. On the other hand, if you plan on using your kayak for sea expeditions or white water rafting, you must prioritize performance over cost. Plan your budget accordingly and based on your needs and requirements.

5. The Various Materials Used

Kayaks have been around for a very long time. The usage of kayaks by the Inuit people of the Arctic dates back to at least 2000 years ago. They were primarily used for fishing, hunting, and transportation. These ancient kayaks were made of seal skins stretched over driftwood, offering maximum maneuverability.

Despite the primitive materials, these handmade kayaks were extremely durable. In fact, modern kayaks borrowed heavily from the ancient designs used by the Inuit people. These designs have further been improved by utilizing modern materials and construction techniques. So, what are kayaks made of these days? Let’s have a look at the latest kayak construction materials.

a. Wooden Kayaks

Wooden kayaks are made of durable marine-grade wooden frames. These are some of the most aesthetically pleasing water crafts out there. These kayaks are often coated with fiberglass and resin or are varnished to protect them from warping and water damage. Despite many people’s assumptions, wooden kayaks are exceptionally strong. Furthermore, they’re incredibly light and agile.

Although these kayaks are sturdy, they aren’t suited for whitewater environments and rocky rapids. Many buyers don’t consider wooden kayaks, the main reason being the requirement of woodworking skills. Most wooden kayaks require you to have specific skills to assemble them or hire an expert to custom build one. This can be quite heavy on the pocket. Fortunately, there are stick-and-glue models available these days that require minimal to no woodworking skills.

b. Composite Materials

Composite kayaks are often referred to as fiberglass kayaks. These are actually constructed from several laminates of Kevlar, graphite, carbon fiber, and other high-tech fabrics. There a wide variety of configurations available with variations in strength, durability, and performance. Generally, graphite blends are the lightest and also the most expensive.

Overall these kayaks offer the best performance on the water, with fantastic speed, tracking, and responsiveness. These are also extremely light and durable. Although being stiff means they aren’t suited for direct impacts on rocks and can easily be damaged. However, most of the time, minor scratches and punctures can be easily repaired with minimal tools and YouTube tutorials.

Although all these benefits come at a hefty price, composite kayaks are some of the most expensive watercrafts available in the market.

c. Rotomolded Polyethylene Kayaks

Most recreational kayaks of today are made of rotomolded polyethylene. While rotomolded describes the technique of manufacturing these kayaks, polyethylene is an extremely durable and flexible material. This makes the kayak extremely resistant to hard impacts. The manufacturing process is relatively straightforward, making polyethylene kayaks inexpensive and a great choice as budget kayaks. Although these kayaks are ideal for whitewater rivers and rapids, they’re fairly difficult to repair once punctured.

Another downside of these kayaks is their weight, as polyethylene tends to be a bulky material. This makes these kayaks a poor choice when it comes to maneuverability and long-distance touring. Polyethylene is also susceptible to UV damage, making it necessary to coat your kayak with a UV protectant, at all times.

4. Thermoform Kayaks

Thermoforming is a new manufacturing process that is rapidly becoming the go-to choice for intermediate-level kayakers. The technique involves fusing several layers of plastic. The base layer is typically an impact-resistant ABS layer, which is followed by weather resistant acrylic layers.

The final product is an extremely durable, lightweight kayak that costs only slightly more than its polyethylene counterparts. The acrylic finish gives these kayaks an aesthetically pleasing, lustrous shine along with UV resistance. These kayaks are great all-rounders with minimal drawbacks.

Inflatable Kayaks- PVC And Hypalon

Inflatable kayaks are generally made from durable drop-stitch fabrics. The drop-stitch construction allows them to withstand high inflation pressures and also provides puncture resistance. Inflatable kayaks are typically made of PVC or Hypalon, so let’s take a look at each material in detail.

1. PVC Inflatable Kayaks

PVC is relatively inexpensive due to its simple manufacturing processes. These kayaks are also extremely easy to patch. However, they aren’t resistant to UV damage, high temperatures, and abrasion.

2. Hypalon Inflatable Kayaks

Hypalon is extremely tough and resistant to hard weather conditions as well as UV radiation. It is also immune to environmental factors and pests such as mildew and fungus. However, the manufacturing process is labor-intensive, making these kayaks more expensive as compared to PVC inflatables.

Inflatable kayaks provide excellent portability and versatility. They are ultra-light and can easily fit into a large backpack, making them ideal options for camping and trekking. However, these kayaks lack in performance and speed.

We hope you now know what kayaks are made of and have a firm grasp on the pros and cons of the various kayak materials. Remember that there is no ideal kayak to every situation, and each material has its relative strengths and weaknesses. Take into consideration the purpose you plan to use the kayak for and its environmental consequences before making a decision.

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Donald Patt

Donald Platt, our founder, is a fishing enthusiast who has almost 10 years of experience in fly fishing. While Donald works hard to put up the most informative articles, he still keeps his Sundays free for a quick fishing trip.

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