10 Different Types Of Kayak Materials

10 Different Types Of Kayak Materials

One of the cool things about kayaking is the flexibility it gives you. There are so many types of kayaks, all constructed from different materials. The wide range of materials you can use to make kayaks is one of the fun things about kayaking. Some materials are better for speed, while others are best if you’re looking for a cheap but durable kayak.

It’s essential to know about the different materials kayaks are made of and the benefits and disadvantages of each one. Whether you’re buying a kayak or building your own, this knowledge will be incredibly useful and help you choose the best kayak for your needs. Let’s get into it.

Different Types of Kayak Materials

1. Wood

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Wooden kayaks are easy to construct and not too expensive. There are many kits that provide the materials needed to create a wooden kayak by yourself, even if you have limited woodworking skills. There are two ways to build a wooden kayak.

The first is what’s known as the stitch and glue method. First developed by Ken Littledyke, the stitch and glue method is easy for beginner woodworkers and was initially designed to build canoes. First, you’ll need to cut the plywood into the right shapes – some kits may come with the pieces of wood already full cut.

Next, you’ll have to tie the pieces together with wires or zip ties. That’s the stitching part of the process.

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The next part is the gluing part. You’ll use epoxy resin glue to permanently attach the pieces to each other. Once done, you’ll strengthen the kayak by coating it with fiberglass. This method eliminates the need to use frames and special tools. However, it does have some disadvantages.

For example, you usually use large panels to speed up construction and create free joints, which limits the design and shape flexibility. The other method is called cold molding or the strip-built method. It involves using temporary frames while attaching strips together with glue and then inserting nails to strengthen them.

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Either way, wooden kayaks look fantastic and are incredibly affordable, especially if you build them yourself. With the right coating, they are durable, scratch resistant, and very light.

On the other hand, the advantage of wooden kayaks being cheaper only really applies if you build them yourself. You’ll need a lot of time for that, especially if you’re new to woodworking. However, these ten plywood kayak plan PDFs will help.

2. Rotomolded Polyethylene

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Rotomolding is short for rotational molding. Polyethylene is the most common type of plastic used in production, including for plastic bags, food containers, and other packaging. The process involves inserting these plastic pellets into a metal boat mold.

The mold is then inserted into a massive oven and rotated until it melts. Once sufficiently melted, the mold will be taken out and cooled, and you’ll be left with a durable plastic boat. These kayaks are often very cheap to produce, and their affordability is one of their most attractive pros.

Despite being inexpensive, they’re incredibly long-lasting, and you can use them in shallow waters, drag them on beaches, and subject them to all kinds of rough treatment.

On the other hand, while shock-resistant, they do get damaged by the sun, so you’ll need to apply a UV coating and use a good cover to protect them from the sun. If you leave them on the roof of your RV for too long, they can start warping and lose strength. Furthermore, they are pretty heavy, making transport more difficult.

Although shock resistant, they can scratch easily, and little tufts of plastic will come off, decreasing performance and speed.

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Since the end result is a single piece of plastic, it’s not easy to crack. However, if it does get punctured, it will also be pretty hard to repair. Many beginner kayakers opt for this type of material due to its affordability and durability.

Be aware that these kayaks can bend, and the hull can sag when it is subjected to excessive weight or pressure. While the sagging will go away once you remove the extra weight, too much bending and sagging can weaken the boat. You’ll also have to properly clean the kayak in between uses.

3. Composite Kayaks

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Composite kayaks are made of a few different types of materials, which can include:

  • Fiberglass
  • Aramid
  • Carbon fiber

Carbon fiber, for example, is incredibly lightweight, allowing for extra speed and excellent performance on the waters. Aramid fiber is also extremely light, but both aramid and carbon fiber are pretty expensive. Fiberglass isn’t usually as expensive, but it also isn’t as light.

Graphite is usually even lighter than carbon fiber, and it’s cheaper than fiberglass, but it’s also a lot more vulnerable than carbon fiber and easier to shatter. You might combine carbon fiber and aramid, for example, to save weight while reducing cost. Composite kayaks are incredibly durable.

They are much better when it comes to performance than rotomolded plastic kayaks, but you can’t even compare the two in terms of speed, agility, efficiency, and responsiveness.

Kayaking in a composite kayak is simply a much more enjoyable and smoother experience. They are also incredibly light, UV resistant, and aren’t susceptible to scratches like rotomolded plastic kayaks.

On the other hand, they do have several disadvantages compared to plastic kayaks, and it’s not just because they are more expensive. Direct hits can more easily damage composite kayaks, which means they aren’t great for shallow or rocky waters.

4. Thermoform Kayaks

Thermoformed kayaks use high-quality plastic, and they offer more flexibility than rotomolded kayaks. Instead of forming a single-piece kayak with heat, thermoformed kayaks use kayak molds and heated sheets wrapped over those molds.

Different parts of the kayak, such as the deck and hull, are created separately and then fused together. That means that they require more work than rotomolded kayaks, making them more expensive. At the same time, you can create more intricate designs, and you are also able to produce more refined edges and lines and a sleeker finish than rotomolded kayaks.

They are also lighter, sleeker, and shinier than rotomolded kayaks, although they do not quite reach the level of composite kayaks. They are cheaper than composite kayaks, as they are easier to make, so they strike the perfect balance for someone looking for something better than a rotomolded kayak but who can’t afford a composite one.

Thermoformed kayaks usually use acrylic coatings, which give them their glossy, shiny look that makes everyone’s heads turn. They’re not as susceptible to scratching as rotomolded kayaks. However, while they offer better UV resistance than rotomolded kayaks, the layer will degrade over time after repeated exposure to the sun, even if you maintain it properly.

There’s not much you can do about that. Furthermore, in below-freezing temperatures, the outer layer can shatter, which means you’ll have to be careful about how you store your kayak during the winter.

Keeping it in a shed can help protect it. Thermoformed kayaks are also less common than rotomolded kayaks. That means that there are typically fewer options when it comes to design.

5. Polycarbonate Kayaks

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If you’ve ever seen a see-through kayak, you might have wondered what it’s made out of. Polycarbonate is used to make see-through kayaks, television screens, car headlights, and more. It’s a type of thermoplastic. Heat is used to design the shape of the kayak. Compared to regular thermoformed kayaks, polycarbonate is a lot stronger and more durable.

They may have an aluminum frame for durability and rigidity. They are very light and shock-resistant. The main reason anyone would choose a transparent kayak, though, is to be able to see through the kayak and see the water underneath, which is quite an experience.

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While they’re not always that cheap, the aluminum rim and plastic paddles help reduce the overall cost. There aren’t really that many designs to select from, though. Typically, transparent kayaks can seat one or two people, and you’re usually limited to an open-topped design.

Of course, they have some downsides. You’ll want to keep your transparent kayak out of the sun and prevent suntan lotion and other oils from spilling on it.

Another issue is scratching. Scratching can affect your ability to see through the kayak clearly. There’s one thing that’s certain, though. A see-through kayak will definitely make you stand out and attract tons of positive attention from friends and other kayakers.

6. Vinyl

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Vinyl is a common material used for inflatable kayaks. Inflatable kayaks are kayaks that you can inflate and deflate, and they’re actually easy to use, affordable, and incredibly convenient.

Vinyl is also commonly known as PVC (you’ll see that listed in the product description of many inflatable kayaks), which stands for polyvinyl chloride.

It’s incredibly inexpensive and easy to produce, which is why it is one of the most common types of plastics in the world. It’s often used in home construction products, like pipes (as an alternative to metal pipes). One of the main advantages of getting a PVC kayak is that they’re so incredibly affordable.

Besides, inflatable kayaks are easy to transport, and you can fold them up and put them in a bag or in your trunk while on the go.

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Vinyl is incredibly lightweight, which is something many people look for in an inflatable kayak. It is surprisingly durable for the price and tear-resistant, especially when it’s bonded with other materials, like nylon, to strengthen it. On the other hand, it offers inferior UV protection, which is why many manufacturers use a special coating to protect it from the sun.

You’ll still have to be careful how you store your vinyl kayak if you want it to last a long time. There’s another thing to consider. Vinyl kayaks typically release harmful chemicals into the environment throughout their use, which is something environmentally conscious individuals might want to avoid.

7. Hypalon

Hypalon is a type of chlorinated and sulfonated polyethylene (also known as CSM). It was originally created by DuPont, but many manufacturers produce it now. It’s often used for boats, such as kayaks, as an alternative to PVC.

Compared to PVC, it’s a lot more durable and tear-resistant, and it also offers much better protection against the sun. In hot and harsh climates, Hypalon will last longer than PVC. In most aspects, Hypalon is superior to PVC, although finding a Hypalon kayak is sometimes more difficult. The only downside is that it’s a lot more expensive than PVC boats.

8. Nytralon

Another alternative to vinyl is Nytralon. Nytralon offers better protection and durability than PVC, and it’s also not as expensive as Hypalon. Its superior puncture resistance is a big plus, but it’s also thick and heavy.

Many boats containing Nytralon use it for the bottom deck, side panels, or tubes, as using too much of it will weigh down your kayak. One main reason people opt for Nytralon, though, is that it is a lot more friendly to the environment than vinyl.

9. Polyurethane

Polyurethane is another eco-friendly alternative to PVC. It uses a wide range of starting materials, leading to a variety of different uses, one of them being kayaks. They’re much more durable than PVC kayaks, and they also offer better protection against mold, scratches, and UV damage. The strength-to-weight ratio of polyurethane kayaks is quite impressive.

10. Folding Kayaks

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In addition to inflatable kayaks, you can also opt for folding kayaks. Folding kayaks are just like they sound: you can fold them and unfold them as needed. They allow you to save space while transporting them, and they are typically lighter than inflatable kayaks.

Folding kayaks are typically made from polypropylene plastic sheeting that’s designed to be folded and unfolded without sustaining damage.

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Some folding kayaks use a metal or wooden frame with a coating of synthetic rubber or plastic on top. The extra layer of rubber or plastic helps add waterproof protection and makes the kayak look better. Since folding kayaks are so versatile, the price varies a lot. Some folding kayaks are incredibly cheap, while others are costly.

What Type of Kayak Should You Get?

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So, which type of kayak material is best for you? Let’s go over some specific scenarios and which kind of kayak material you should look for in each one.

You’re on a Strict Budget

If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a kayak, I recommend purchasing a rotomolded kayak or an inflatable kayak made of PVC material. Whether you choose the former or the latter will depend on your preferences.

An inflatable kayak is a lot lighter than a rotomolded kayak, and it will also be easier to transport if you have limited space. On the other hand, it requires extra work.

You’ll have to carry a pump around with you, and you’ll need to spend 10-15 minutes inflating the kayak each time you want to use it. Rotomolded kayaks are a bit heavy, but they’re incredibly cheap. Just make sure to keep them out of the sun as much as you can.

You Have a Mid-Range Budget

If you have a mid-range budget, I’d suggest going with a composite boat. They’re not too expensive, but they are still lightweight and pretty affordable. Another option is getting a thermoformed kayak. While more expensive than rotomolded kayaks, they also won’t empty your wallet.

You Need to Kayak in Rocky Waters

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For kayaking in rocky and shallow waters, I’d recommend against getting a composite kayak, as they are easier to shatter. That does depend on the percentage of each material used; as I explained before, some materials are easier to crack than others.

A rotomolded kayak is a good choice, though. So is an inflatable kayak. Inflatable kayaks are great for rocky waters. Just make sure to get an inflatable kayak that has several air chambers. That way, even if one air chamber gets punctured, you won’t sink. Many inflatable kayaks have three or four air chambers to ensure you stay afloat.

You Want to Build Your Own Kayak

The experience of kayaking in a vessel that you worked hard creating is one like no other. If you want to build your own kayak and enjoy the fruits of your labor, build a wooden kayak. Building other types of kayaks is complex and can often require equipment you won’t have access to as a consumer.

Wooden kayaks, on the other hand, are a lot easier to create. If you don’t have good woodworking skills, look into kayak-building kits that give you pre-cut pieces of wood and include instructions on how to construct a kayak with them.

You Need Something Easy to Transport

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If you need something that doesn’t take up a lot of storage space, an inflatable kayak is probably best. You can fold it into small spaces, and many come with transport bags to make carrying them around easier. Another option is a folding kayak, but they typically require more space than inflatable kayaks. On the flip side, they can be lighter.

You’re a Beginner Kayaker

I recommend using a rotomolded kayak if you’re a beginner kayaker without a lot of experience. They’re cheaper and allow you to gain experience in the waters without spending a lot of money. If you’re a more experienced kayaker, you might consider a composite kayak, as it will offer more speed and agility.

Other Things to Consider When Buying a Kayak

Which material the kayak is made of is only one factor you need to take into account. Just because some kayak materials are more durable than others, that doesn’t necessarily mean every kayak made from that material is high-quality.

Kayak quality depends on the manufacturer and the manufacturing process. The design of the kayak will also play a significant role in your purchasing decision. Here are some things to look for to ensure you’re getting a good kayak.


When buying a kayak on Amazon, choose one that has plenty of good reviews. See what people are saying about the durability of the kayak, how long they have been using it, and what their experience was like. It’s important not to cheap out when buying a kayak.

If the price seems too good to be true, it might be. Of course, prices depend on the material used. A cheap rotomolded or inflatable kayak isn’t something to be worried about, but a cheap composite kayak might be poorly constructed.


The design of your kayak matters a lot. Sit-on-top kayaks, for example, are great for beginners who want to have fun and learn how to kayak.

A sit-in kayak, on the other hand, is better for longer distances, touring, and surfing. There are many types of kayaks for different purposes. For example, there are fishing kayaks for people who want to go fishing and sea kayaks if you want to kayak in the ocean.

Boat Length

Should you get a long or a short kayak? It depends on a lot of things. Longer kayaks might be more expensive, but they tend to offer better stability, speed, and agility. For calmer waters, a short kayak is fine. Your height, the size of your group, and the amount of luggage you are bringing with you are also important to consider when deciding on the length of your kayak.

Inflatable vs Folding vs Traditional

Which should you get, a hardshell or inflatable kayak? Most people will end up getting a regular, non-foldable kayak. You can easily transport it on the top of your car or van by getting a rack. However, if you have limited space, you might consider getting a foldable or inflatable kayak.

Inflatable kayaks are very convenient, but they are prone to mold and mildew, especially if you don’t store them correctly. Foldable kayaks are often lighter, especially since they don’t absorb as much water as inflatable kayaks. However, they aren’t as great for rough waters. When buying a folding kayak, see how many fold cycles it is designed to last for.

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed this guide. By now, you should have a good understanding of the different types of materials used for kayaks. You’ll also have a pretty good idea of which material and kayak type is best for you.

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Different Types Of Kayak Materials

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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.