Are Kevlar Canoes Worth It? (A Kevlar Canoe Owner’s Advice)

Christine waves hello from the fore section of our 16 foot Kevlar canoe.
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When you’re on the hunt for either your first canoe or a replacement canoe, research will always lead you to the question of what material is best. Canoes typically come composed of fiberglass, plastic, wood, kevlar, aluminum, canvas (over a frame), or other synthetic fiber composite materials. Any canoeist worth their salt will mention the more elusive (and expensive) Kevlar at some point. But are kevlar canoes worth it? Especially with so many other choices, we wanted to know if it was the best, and if the saying ‘you get what you pay for’ really does apply here.

Most serious canoeists agree that although Kevlar canoes are more expensive, they are definitely worth the money. The lighter (25% lighter than fiberglass) and therefore faster hull material is robust and reliable, making the extra money well-spent, especially if carrying the canoe is ever required.

The real question here is, are you willing to pay for the higher quality specialized materials? It leads us to a straightforward question: What do you intend to do with the canoe? To help solve this question, we’ve made a pretty simple chart (see below) to help answer.

How To Choose Between Kevlar, Fiberglass, Aluminum, Or Plastic Canoes

The following table compares the typical three most common types of canoes: the cheapest plastic hull canoe models found at big box stores, the middle-grade fiberglass, and aluminum hull canoes, and the more expensive kevlar canoes.

QuestionPlastic CanoeFiberglass CanoeKevlar CanoeAluminum
DurabilityPoor DurabilityMedium DurableGreater DurabilityMost Durable
WeightVery HeavyMedium WeightLightestMedium Weight
PriceCheapMedium CostMost ExpensiveMedium Cost
Do you intend to do portages or extended canoe trips?Too heavy to carry long.Medium quality for carrying on portages due to weight.An excellent choice for portaging or extended canoe trips.May require gloves to carry due to the heat of aluminum in sunlight.
Will the canoe stay at one location (at the cottage) and not require much transportation?Plastic canoes are heavy and not suitable for carrying long distances.Medium weight means it can be portaged, but not as good as Kevlar.Great to portage due to lightweight and durable material.Robust construction but can get very hot in the sun to carry.
Will the canoe be left out in the sun?Plastic canoes warp or crack from extended sun exposure.The paint will fade in the sunlight over time.The paint will fade in the sunlight over time.It gets scorching to the touch when in the sun.
Above is a table I created to show some considerations about what type of canoe hull material to look for.

As you can see from the above table, each canoe type has its own merits. However, the Kevlar comes out on top due to the durability and lightweight benefits a kevlar hull provides. From this perspective, a Kevlar canoe is worth it, but it depends on how you intend to use it.

My Own Experience

A picture of Jeremy Shantz standing by his car with his yellow Kevlar canoe strapped to the roof rack.
Here I am with my yellow Kevlar canoe loaded on the roof ready to go on a pandemic canoeing adventure.

Early in 2019, I decided to start researching a canoe purchase. I’d rented canoes plenty of times before but never owned one until recently.
I live in the area (Southern Ontario, about 1 hour from Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York) there are only plastic, fiberglass, kevlar, and wood canoes available. Fiberglass and plastic being the two predominant materials for canoes found in my area. I’ve seen plenty of ads for used wood canoes, not too many for new ones, though. And there are Kevlar canoes, of course, but these are only available at a few stores compared to the readily available plastic and fiberglass.

When I bought my canoe, I decided to go with Kevlar. Here’s why I made this decision to buy a kevlar canoe over the other hull material types.

3 Reasons I Bought Kevlar

  1. Weight – Kevlar canoes are light. My canoe is a 16’ wide body kevlar canoe (over 900 lbs weight capacity), and it comes in at 56 lbs (25.4 kg). And that’s with the extra reinforcement I requested in the hull build. That also includes the beautifully stained built-in yoke and hull floats at the canoe’s fore, and aft ends.
  2. Durability – Kevlar canoes are not as strong as aluminum, but they also don’t bake in the sun either. I couldn’t find an aluminum canoe for sale here in my region anyway, so I would have had to import if aluminum had been my choice. Kevlar is stronger than fiberglass and won’t warp or split like plastic if left in the sun. Although I don’t recommend storing any canoe outside that is uncovered (even a tarp will help protect it).
  3. Price – Normally, one might think that due to Kevlar canoes being more expensive, I would not have purchased one for the price. However, I found a deal on my model. I bought my kevlar canoe directly from a manufacturer. There was a slight blemish in the fore hull tip with a minor crack at the hull’s end (likely the canoe was dinged during production). I was able to get the canoe for the cost of a fiberglass model of the same size. I repaired the blemish myself and have a perfectly functional new kevlar canoe that cost me less than 1800 Canadian Dollars, tax included with a set of paddles. Not bad if you ask me.

The Final Stroke – Is A Kevlar Canoe Worth It?

Okay, so after everything is said and done, a new Kevlar canoe can run anywhere from $2000 to $4000, so is a Kevlar canoe worth it?. If you are a weekend canoeist who won’t be carrying the canoe much, I believe I would go with a fiberglass model. However, if you’re serious about getting into canoeing or already into the sport and want an upgrade, go with Kevlar. But try to find a deal, because new ones are a lot of money and I’m not sure I would have ‘bit that hook’ had I not found a good deal.

Try looking for a used kevlar canoe. One that is less than five years old and in decent condition can run around $1500 but will still be well worth it compared to newer fiberglass. That is if you intend to portage at all. When you carry a canoe for any length of time, the weight makes all the difference. I suppose we can sum up the worth of the purchase in one question:

Do you intend to carry the canoe for long, like portaging? If so, buy a kevlar canoe.

What do you think, is a Kevlar canoe worth it? Leave me a comment with your thoughts on Kevlar canoes. I’d love to hear your views!

Sources

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