Aluminum Vs Fiberglass Canoe – Which Material Suits Your Paddling Style?

Aluminum Vs Fiberglass Canoe – Which Material Suits Your Paddling Style?

There are many materials with which canoes are made of.

From aluminum to plastic to fiberglass and other composite materials, there are canoes suited for every paddling style.

The focus of this article will be comparing aluminum to fiberglass canoes. Which one is better for your paddling style, and what are the pros and cons of each.

To start with, let’s explore the differences between aluminum and fiberglass canoes. Once we understand what each one has to offer, we can see which one is better suited for different paddling styles.

Let’s get into it.

Quick Summary

Both fiberglass and aluminum canoes have pros and cons. While both are durable materials, aluminum canoes tend to be more durable.

Here are some of the paddling styles for which aluminum canoes are more suitable:

  • Whitewater canoeing, since aluminum canoes are less prone to damage in rough conditions while fiberglass canoes are more likely to crack or scratch
  • Recreational and lake paddling, as aluminum canoes tend to be slow and steady
  • Beginner paddling, as aluminum canoes offer excellent stability and are also available at a lower price
  • Fishing, since aluminum canoes offer greater stability, which is important for fishing

However, fiberglass canoes are better for these paddling styles:

  • River running, since they are faster and nimbler
  • Racing, for the same reason
  • Long expeditions, since they are easier to carry and also take you from place A to place B much faster
  • Solo paddling, since they are lighter and thus easier to paddle by yourself
  • Sea canoeing, since they are less prone to rust and won’t get super hot like aluminum would

Aluminum vs Fiberglass Canoes: Differences

Basic Overview

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Aluminum is a type of metal. You are most probably already familiar with aluminum – many soda cans are made of aluminum alloy.

So is, well, aluminum foil.

Of course, canoes are made of aluminum which is a lot thicker than the type of aluminum used to make soda cans or foil. However, in general, aluminum is a much lower density metal than other common metals, which is why it’s great for canoes – it helps keep them lightweight but durable.

Meanwhile, fiberglass is not actually a type of glass.

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It is, in fact, a type of plastic that is reinforced with glass fibers. This creates an incredibly durable but lightweight material that is great for canoes.

Fiberglass is just one type of composite material (material made from different types of materials; in this case, glass fibers and plastic). Kevlar, a popular tough fabric, is another type of composite material.

Weight

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One of the advantages of reinforcing plastic with glass fibers is that it creates a tough material that is still lightweight.

Despite the fact that aluminum is a low density metal, it is still a metal. As such, it is heavier than fiberglass, although aluminum canoes tend to be lighter than wooden canoes.

If you’re going for a lightweight canoe, fiberglass should be a top choice.

This has ramifications for transportability.

Obviously, the heavier a kayak is, the harder it will be to transport it. If you are using a vehicle roof rack to transport your canoes or kayaks from place A to place B, you might have difficulty lifting a heavy canoe onto the top of your vehicle, especially if you are alone.

You can always get a lift-assist system to bring your canoe up to the top of your vehicle, but they cost money. Another option might be a canoe trailer.

It’s not just portability that is an issue. The heavier a canoe is, the harder it will be to paddle it; that much is obvious, as you will require more strength to push it forward.

So, if you and your friends are smaller people, a fiberglass canoe might be easier to paddle.

Performance

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Aluminum and fiberglass canoes differ in terms of performance. Aluminum canoes tend to be slower, one of the main reasons being they are heavier.

Fiberglass canoes, on the other hand, are faster and nimbler. They can glide through the waters in a way which aluminum canoes just can’t.

Now, that doesn’t mean that aluminum canoes have worse performance; it’s just that they’re different.

Stability

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In terms of stability, on the other hand, aluminum wins. Aluminum canoes tend to be more stable.

Fiberglass canoes are faster but also less stable. These two things usually go hand in hand; the nimbleness of fiberglass canoes means they are less steady on the waters, and sharp turns can result in your canoe overturning if you are not skilled.

Slippiness

While aluminum tends to be more stable in the water, it is also more slippery on rocks. If you are paddling in rocky waters, you will find that the canoe tends to slip on the rocks more easily.

Fiberglass is less slippery overall, though.

Durability and Impact Resistance

Aluminum tends to be more durable. It is harder to break aluminum than fiberglass.

Try tearing a soda can in half, and you will see what I mean.

I did mention that fiberglass is very durable and resistant, but it’s still not as durable as aluminum. Aluminum won’t break easily, nor will it get punctured on rocks (the fact that it’s slippery helps too), although it can get dented.

Usually, though, most dents can be repaired by simply banging them back into place. It’s not a difficult process.

Fiberglass, on the other hand, is a lot more prone to damage. It can crack upon impact with heavy rocks, and it gets scratched easily.

Aluminum does have a disadvantage, though, which is that it is prone to rust, unlike fiberglass. All metals are.

Aluminum is not very prone to corrosion, but rust can be a problem if you don’t take proper care of your canoe. That is why you should not store it in damp conditions, and you should make sure it is fully dry before storing it inside or under a canoe cover.

As a general rule, aluminum canoes have better longevity and durability than fiberglass canoes.

Initial Cost

If you are looking for a budget canoe, aluminum would be a better fit. Fiberglass is a strong material and not as simple to make as rotomolded plastic, for example, which is why the production costs get passed on to you, the consumer, in the form of a higher end price.

Meanwhile, aluminum is a common metal, making it cheap to manufacture aluminum canoes.

Maintenance

Not only do aluminum canoes cost considerably less, but they also require less maintenance over the years. If you do get a dent, you will need to hammer it back in, and you will need to make sure that it is properly dried after use to avoid rusting.

Other than that, though, there is not much you will need to do.

Fiberglass canoes, on the other hand, may require waxing or buffing with a special gel.

Resale Value

In terms of retaining value, aluminum wins.

Of course, used fiberglass canoes typically have a higher resale value than used aluminum canoes, but that’s simply because they are more expensive in the first place. In terms of retaining their initial value, though, aluminum does a better job simply because it’s less prone to damage.

If you ever want to sell your used aluminum canoe, you will be able to get back more of your initial expenditure compared to fiberglass canoes.

Noise

Aluminum tends to be noisier than fiberglass canoes when you paddle them. In addition to being noisier in the water in and of themselves (fiberglass canoes glide quietly over the water), things can also bang around inside.

If you have things inside your canoe, they can make a lot of noise when banging into the walls of your canoe. Fiberglass canoes make for a more relaxing experience in terms of noise alone.

Temperature

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In terms of comfort, fiberglass canoes typically win. That’s because aluminum canoes tend to get very hot or cold, depending on the outside weather.

If the sun is shining, aluminum canoes can get very hot to the touch. This can burn your hands or just make it uncomfortable.

It’s just like any other metal when exposed to the sun.

When it gets cold, an aluminum canoe will be very cold as well. Again, this is the nature of metal, and aluminum canoes are no different.

Versatility

Finally, fiberglass has more styles and options available. It’s just easier to mold fiberglass into more specific shapes and designs, whether the goal is aesthetics or performance.

That means that aluminum limits you both in terms of aesthetics and use cases. For racing, for example, you can find fiberglass canoes that are designed for that purpose, but it is harder to design an aluminum canoe for that.

Different Paddling Styles and Which Material Is Better for Each One

Now that we better understand the effects each material has on performance, let’s discuss different paddling styles and decide which option is better.

Beginner Paddling

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For beginners, I would recommend an aluminum canoe over a fiberglass canoe.

The slow speed makes it more suitable for beginners overall. If a canoe is faster and nimbler, it also means it is harder to control and maneuver, and there is a greater risk of overturning.

As a beginner, you may not yet have the skills to upright a capsized kayak or canoe.

Furthermore, you should typically opt for a more stable option as a beginner. It will just make paddling a lot easier.

Finally, another good reason to choose aluminum canoes if you are new to canoeing is that they are cheaper. What if you decide that you aren’t a fan of canoeing but would rather switch to kayaking or stand up paddleboarding?

There’s no reason to spend a lot of money on your first canoe. Your first canoe is just that: your first.

If you stick to a lifestyle of canoeing, many other canoes will follow. And remember, aluminum canoes tend to retain their value pretty well, so you can always sell it later.

Recreational and Lake Paddling

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For recreational canoeing and paddling in calm, quiet lakes, aluminum canoes tend to be better. They are more stable, and you can sit back and relax.

You also don’t really need a fiberglass canoe if you are not planning to go fast. If slow canoeing is your thing, try an aluminum canoe.

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Furthermore, if you only casually canoe, you will find that aluminum canoes are a lot simpler to maintain. As long as you are careful about rusting, you can leave your canoe in your shed or garage for long periods and then find it there in a great condition, ready when you are.

River Running

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River running is an activity in which you paddle down flowing rivers. The current can be still or fast, depending on when you go.

For river running, I prefer fiberglass canoes. They are nimbler and easier to maneuver, and I do like a bit of speed when going down a long river.

Whitewater Paddling

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For whitewater paddling, I will go against the grain here and say that aluminum is the superior choice.

Even though fiberglass canoes tend to be faster and nimbler, they are more prone to damage. They just won’t last as well in rough conditions.

Fiberglass is more likely to crack and sustain injuries when crashing into all those rocks you will encounter while paddling in whitewater. Aluminum canoes, on the other hand, tend to fare very well in such conditions.

Not only won’t they puncture, but any dents can be easily repaired. Furthermore, the fact that they are slippery on rocks is an advantage to whitewater paddlers, not a disadvantage like it might be in other situations.

Still, though, for whitewater paddling, try to find a very light aluminum canoe.

Racing

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For canoe racing, fiberglass canoes are the obvious choice. They can go much faster than aluminum canoes.

I don’t see why you would attempt to race in an aluminum canoe. They are great for slow, gentle, and calm paddling, not for racing.

Long-Distance Trips

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If you tend to go on a lot of long-distance trips, choose a fiberglass canoe. There are two reasons for this.

First of all, aluminum canoes tend to be a lot heavier. On a long-distance trip, you are more likely to need to transport your canoe on land from one place to another.

A fiberglass canoe will be a lot easier to transport, especially if you are camping and need to go from one campsite to another.

The second reason is that you are likely to go down a long river on long expeditions instead of simply paddling around a small lake. You can take all your gear with you and camp downriver, for example, and then head back the next day.

If you want to cover more ground in a single day, a fiberglass canoe is superior. It is faster and will help you get to your destination quicker.

Sea Canoeing

If you want to explore the coastal waters, I would choose a fiberglass canoe for this purpose.

Firstly, aluminum canoes tend to be very noisy. As waves splash against your canoe, they will make a lot of noise, which can be distracting.

Second of all, you will be exposed to the sun. If you are in a lake, you can stick close to the shore and get some shade.

In the sea, however, you won’t have much to protect your canoe from the sun. That means that your canoe can get very hot if it is made of aluminum.

If you are kneeling in a canoe, that can be incredibly uncomfortable.

Another reason to choose a fiberglass canoe in this case is that the salt in the saltwater will make the aluminum canoe more likely to rust. This is not an issue for fiberglass canoes.

Fishing

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It feels great to fish from a canoe. If you are an angler, opt for an aluminum canoe in most cases.

Stability is super important for fishing. You need to be able to stand up in your canoe and stay stable as you haul in a big fish.

This is easier in an aluminum canoe due to the stability it offers.

This is especially true for freshwater fishing. For saltwater fishing, aluminum canoes do have several disadvantages.

While they offer more stability, they are more likely to get hot and are prone to rust. Still, though, I think the added stability outweighs the cons.

Solo Paddling

Yes, you can go canoeing by yourself. It’s not the easiest thing to do, though, as canoes are typically designed for at least two people.

If you do decide to go canoeing by yourself, opt for a fiberglass canoe. Since they are lighter, they will be easier to paddle even though you are by yourself.

Conclusion

As you can see, both aluminum and fiberglass canoes have their pros and cons.

Fiberglass canoes are becoming incredibly popular, but aluminum canoes are great if you are looking for something stable, entry-level, or budget friendly.

If you were having a tough time deciding between the two, I hope things are clear for you now!

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Peter Salisbury

Pete is the Owner of KayakHelp.com. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of KayakHelp.com. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.

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