What Are Kayaks Made Of – Materials, Manufacturing, Types?

What Are Kayaks Made Of – Materials, Manufacturing, Types?

Have you ever wondered what kayaks are made of or how they are made?

Many people don’t stop to think much about which materials their kayak is made of or the manufacturing processes used to make the kayak.

However, knowing what kayaks are made of is important because it will allow you to make better purchasing decisions when choosing which kayak to buy.

Different materials have different pros and cons, and some are better suited for some types of trips than others.

Today, I will be going over the different types of materials kayaks are made of and the manufacturing processes used to make them.

What Material Are Most Kayaks Made Of?

What Material Are Most Kayaks Made Of?

Image Source: Shutterstock

These days, most kayaks are made of plastic. Plastic is used for the manufacturing of most recreational kayaks because modern technology allows us to create strong, durable, and long-lasting plastic kayaks with affordable plastic.

It’s a win-win. Plastic kayaks are not only affordable and inexpensive to manufacture, but they also don’t take long to make, unlike other types of kayaks, like wooden kayaks.

They can be mass-produced, as they don’t require special steps like fusing separate parts together (most plastic kayaks are made of one single piece).

Plastic kayaks come in many forms, but they are typically impact resistant and won’t get damaged easily, allowing you to use them even in challenging waters.

Kayaks have come a long way since they were first invented. The indigenous population of North America were the first to use kayaks for hunting, fishing, and transport.

However, the original kayaks were made of driftwood, whalebone, and sealskin.

Not long ago, plastic kayaks were not that common. Perception Kayaks, a popular kayak brand, popularized plastic kayaks in the 1970s, and it has since caught on to become the most popular material for kayaks.

What Other Materials Are Kayaks Made Of?

We’ll talk more about plastic kayaks, including the most popular plastic used for kayaks, in a bit. For now, though, let’s talk about some of the other popular materials used for kayaks and some of the benefits and drawbacks of these different kayak materials.



Image Source: Shutterstock

Wooden kayaks are not usually mass-produced. Instead, they are custom-built or made by DIY enthusiasts who want to build their own boats.

For example, here are 10 DIY plywood kayak plans you can use to build your own kayak. If you want to build a canoe instead, check out these 15 canoe plans.

It’s actually not that hard to build your own wooden kayak, as there are many kits that come with all of the necessary parts and equipment, along with instructions on how to put the boat together.

The wood is usually coated with fiberglass, resin, and varnish to ensure that the wood does not get damaged while in the water. Therefore, wooden kayaks are pretty durable but still lightweight, as the majority of the material is still wood, which is lighter than many other materials, like plastic or even fiberglass.

Despite being durable, they aren’t as durable as other types of kayaks, so they’re not the best choice for higher-class rapids.



Image Source: Shutterstock

Composite is a general term that refers to kayaks made of several materials. Usually, these materials include fiberglass, aramid, carbon fiber, graphite, and perhaps other materials.

They are more prone to damage, though, but their advantage is that they offer outstanding performance, agility, and speed. They are also very lightweight and look very nice, making them a good choice for people who care about aesthetics.

What Plastic Are Most Kayaks Made Of?

What Plastic Are Most Kayaks Made Of?

Image Source: Shutterstock

Most kayaks are made of polyethylene. Polyethylene is, in fact, the most widely produced plastic in the world, although it can be separated into different density levels (there is high-density, low-density, and linear low-density).

The three most widely produced plastics in the world are polyethylene, polypropylene, and PVC (polyvinyl chloride), in that order. Similarly, most plastic kayaks are made of one of these three types of plastic.

However, it depends mostly on the type of kayak in question. When most people think of plastic kayaks, they think of typical, one-piece, traditional, hardshell kayaks.

What Plastic Are Most Kayaks Made Of?

Image Source: Shutterstock

There are other types of kayaks, though. For example, there are folding kayaks, which are thin and can be folded into two or three, allowing you to easily transport them without taking up too much space.

What Plastic Are Most Kayaks Made Of?

Image Source: Shutterstock

Then there are inflatable kayaks. Inflatable kayaks are also great if you are struggling to find space on the roof of your car to transport your kayak.

You can deflate the kayak when not in use and put it in a carrier bag. Both folding and inflatable kayaks can fit in your trunk.

It’s also possible to carry an inflatable kayak with you or put it on the back of your motorcycle or bicycle, as they don’t tend to be very heavy. Keep in mind that you will need to carry a pump around with you as well.

Many people find it surprising that inflatable kayaks are so durable and long-lasting. They are made with strong plastic material (PVC, to be exact), and they are designed to withstand rocks, underwater obstacles, and other impacts.

They also tend to be rip-resistant, so they won’t tear easily. See our comparison of hardshell and inflatable kayaks for more information.

Back to the different types of plastic kayaks. Polyethylene is the most common type of plastic used for kayaks, and it is the main type of plastic used for traditional kayaks that are not folding or inflatable.

We will talk more about the exact manufacturing process used to create these kayaks in the next section.

Moving on, we have polypropylene, which is the second most widely produced plastic in the world. Most folding kayaks are made with polypropylene – a single sheet of rugged, durable, and double-layered polypropylene plastic.

Finally, we have PVC, which is the main material used to make plastic inflatable kayaks. However, to make the kayak more durable, some manufacturers use a hybrid material that is made of both PVC and other materials.

For example, nylon is a popular material used in conjunction with PVC to manufacture inflatable kayaks. The nylon helps make the material more tear-resistant.

The advantages of PVC are many. For one, it is incredibly cheap, which is why inflatable kayaks tend to be relatively inexpensive and affordable.

At the same time, it is durable and very lightweight. Since most people looking for an inflatable kayak also want a kayak that is easy to transport, PVC is an obvious choice.

However, PVC does have some disadvantages, as it is the least environmentally friendly of all the plastics just mentioned. It is known for releasing toxic chemicals into the environment throughout its lifecycle.

Furthermore, PVC is generally susceptible to UV damage, more so than other types of plastic. All plastic kayaks are susceptible to UV damage, though, which is why it’s a good idea to look for one that has a UV coating – this extra protection will increase the lifespan of your kayak.

Even so, you should make sure to store your kayak correctly. When it is outside, whether in your backyard or on the roof of your car, cover it with a kayak cover that provides UV protection.

The rest of the time, keep your kayak indoors or in the shade to minimize UV exposure. The less time it is exposed to UV rays, the longer it will last – having a bit of sunshine on it won’t do any significant damage.

Those aren’t the only types of plastics used to create kayaks. For example, some kayaks are made of polyurethane, which offers better UV protection and is much better for the environment than PVC and other materials.

Nevertheless, it can be harder to find a kayak made with polyurethane, and it may be more expensive than other types of plastic.

Polycarbonate is another type of thermoplastic used to make kayaks. See-through kayaks tend to use polycarbonate.

Why would you want a see-through kayak? For one, it allows you to see the water you are kayaking on, which is quite cool.

Transparent kayaks offer a unique experience, although they are not for the faint-hearted. They also make you stand out – you will attract plenty of attention, and it’s a good conversation starter as well.

What Type of Polyethylene Is Used for Kayaks?

What Type of Polyethylene Is Used for Kayaks?

Image Source: Shutterstock

Kayak manufacturers tend to use high-density rotomolded polyethylene to make plastic kayaks.

Rotomolding is a manufacturing process that involves a few simple steps. To start with, manufacturers get polyethylene plastic pellets and put them into a mold in the shape of a kayak.

Then, they put this mold into a large structure, sort of like an oven, to melt the pellets and turn them into one single melted piece of plastic in the mold.

The model is rotated in the oven to ensure the plastic pellets are evenly melted, which is where the term rotomolded comes from. Once that is completed, the mold is removed from the oven, and the kayak is cooled off.

The result is a kayak that is made from a single piece of plastic, with no parts that need to be fused together. That makes it harder for the kayak to break or get damaged, as the pieces can’t come apart.

Since you don’t need to fuse parts together, the manufacturing process is also cheaper and easier.

There are some disadvantages that rotomolded kayaks have. For example, they are susceptible to UV ray damage and heat damage.

In extreme heat, the kayak may even bend, although the damage tends to repair itself once the kayak cools down. Compared to PVC inflatable kayaks, though, rotomolded kayaks tend to be a bit heavier.

Not all kayaks are rotomolded. Thermoformed kayaks, which are newer to the scene, are gaining popularity as well.

Unlike rotomolded kayaks, thermoformed kayaks are made of several parts that are bonded together. They are also made of several layers that are stretched over the mold.

Thermoformed kayaks are kind of in between plastic and composite kayaks, and they tend to be lighter and more expensive than rotomolded kayaks, and they also look better while being cheaper than composite kayaks. However, they are not as durable or as long-lasting as rotomolded kayaks.

Composite kayaks are made of many materials, including fiberglass, aramid, carbon fiber, and other materials, depending on the specific brand and manufacturer.

Do Kayaks Sink Easily?

Do Kayaks Sink Easily?

Image Source: Shutterstock

No. Kayaks do not sink easily.

Kayaks, like all boats, are designed to be buoyant and float on the water. All boats are designed to weigh less than the water it displaces, and the shape of the hull also creates a pocket of air between the boat and the water; kayaks are no different.

Kayaks can sink when overloaded and the weight of the boat becomes more than the weight of the water it displaces. Every kayak will have its own weight limit, which depends on the size and shape of the kayak.

It is important not to go over the weight limit of your kayak. In fact, I recommend sticking to 80% of the total weight limit, as it’s never a good idea to reach the maximum weight capacity of your boat – for safety reasons.

It doesn’t matter which material the kayak is made out of. All kayaks are buoyant – even if the material is heavy or thick.

Can Plastic Kayaks Sink?

Can Plastic Kayaks Sink?

Image Source: Shutterstock

All kayaks can sink if they fill with water or are overloaded. However, plastic kayaks, like all kayaks, are buoyant and will not sink when used properly, even in rough waters.

When might a plastic kayak sink? Rotomolded kayaks are hard to puncture, but it’s not impossible.

If you puncture a rotomolded kayak, it will be hard to repair. The kayak may also fill with water, and it can start sinking.

Can Plastic Kayaks Sink?

Image Source: Shutterstock

Sit-on-top kayaks don’t have a protective barrier separating the kayak from the water, but they are usually equipped with scupper holes, which are holes in the plastic that allow the water to drain.

These holes are designed with a particular angle to ensure proper drainage while kayaking and avoid the buildup of water on the kayak, which could cause it to sink.

Let’s talk about inflatable plastic kayaks, though, which are a bit different from regular kayaks. An inflatable kayak stays afloat due to the air inside it – if you were to deflate the kayak, it obviously would not float.

So, can an inflatable plastic kayak sink? Theoretically, but it’s not common.

Most inflatable kayaks have two to four separate air chambers. Even if you were to puncture one air chamber, the other two to three air chambers would help keep your kayak afloat.

You would have to puncture all air chambers at once, which isn’t something that happens every day. That would be a rare occurrence.

How Thick Is Kayak Plastic?

How Thick Is Kayak Plastic?

Image Source: Shutterstock

The plastic in kayaks is usually 3 to six millimeters thick. However, it really does depend on the specific kayak in question as well as the type of kayak (an inflatable kayak will not be as thick as a rotomolded kayak).

Note that thickness is not the same thing as high-density vs. low-density polyethylene, which refers to the number of molecular bonds in the plastic due to the molding process and not the actual mass of the plastic. High-density polyethylene is more durable and long-lasting.

Most kayaks, as I already said, are made of high-density polyethylene or at least medium-density polyethylene, which are the most suitable for kayaks.

However, cheap kayaks manufactured in China may be made of low-density polyethylene, as it is the most inexpensive plastic to mold. They may not meet safety standards in the United States, though.

What Is the Lightest Material for a Kayak?

Carbon fiber is the lightest material used to make kayaks. However, most recreational kayaks are not made of carbon fiber, as it is quite expensive.

Instead, it is usually reserved for competition kayaks as well as racing kayaks.

What Is the Lightest Material for a Kayak?

Image Source: Shutterstock

However, some light touring, fishing, and recreational kayaks may have carbon fiber, although it is usually combined with other materials, such as nylon or aramid – such kayaks are known as composite kayaks.

Composite kayaks vary greatly both in the exact materials used to make them and the percentages of each material used.

Other light materials used for kayaks include aramid fiber and fiberglass.

Which Kayak Material Is Best for Your Needs?

Which Kayak Material Is Best for Your Needs?

Image Source: Shutterstock

Most people would do just fine with a rotomolded plastic kayak. There is a reason it is the most common material used to make kayaks, and that’s because it is durable, affordable, and easy to find.

However, you must make sure to maintain and store it properly.

An inflatable kayak might be a good choice as well, especially if you are on a budget. Despite the initial concerns you may have, inflatable kayaks are just as good, performance-wise, as many other types of kayaks.

Furthermore, they are cheap and can fit your budget, even if you don’t have a lot to spend on a kayak. I recommend getting an inflatable kayak that has at least three air chambers for extra safety and peace of mind.

If you’re a DIY kind of person, look for a wooden kayak-building kit that comes with the parts and equipment you will need. Just make sure you follow the instructions to the T, so the kayak is safe to take on the water.

Can a Kayak Be Made Out of Metal?

Can a Kayak Be Made Out of Metal?

Image Source: Shutterstock

Yes, some kayaks are made of metal – aluminum in particular. You may not have known this, but aluminum is a type of metal – in fact, it is the most abundant metal on earth.

It seems like aluminum canoes may be a tad more popular than aluminum kayaks, but both exist. You probably have never seen one, though, and that’s for a good reason – there are so many other materials that are more suitable for building kayaks than metal.

Aluminum kayaks and canoes are harder to find in shops, although they are easier to purchase on the internet.

Some advantages of metal kayaks are that they don’t require as much maintenance and are incredibly durable (for the most part). However, while they don’t get punctured or cracked easily, they can get dented.

There are many downsides to aluminum kayaks, though. For one, they are very noisy – when you hit a rock or another obstacle, all eyes will turn on you.

Furthermore, they are heavy, making them more challenging to transport. One of the biggest downsides, though, is that metal can get very cold or hot.

If you are out kayaking on a cold day, your metal boat will be very cold to the touch, which can be pretty uncomfortable. Alternatively, if it’s a hot day, it can heat up in the sun and be hot to the touch, even burning you.

Most importantly, though, metal kayaks are not easy to mass produce compared to plastic ones. Rotomolded kayaks require a simple setup for manufacturing, but metal kayaks require more expensive and complicated equipment.

Therefore, manufacturers simply don’t have a real interest in mass-producing them. Since the demand for metal kayaks isn’t exceptionally high, either, it doesn’t make any financial sense for the biggest kayak manufacturers to use metal as their main material.

Can Kayaks Be Made of Glass?

Can Kayaks Be Made of Glass?

Image Source: Shutterstock

Theoretically, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a real glass kayak. Most transparent kayaks are not made of glass because a glass kayak would scratch easily – over time, it will become harder to see through it.

Instead, most transparent kayaks are made of polycarbonate. However, you may be able to find kayaks made of bulletproof glass, either for sale or offered by tour companies offering tours in such kayaks.

Note that fiberglass is a plastic material – it’s not actual glass. It is reinforced with glass fibers, but it is not considered glass since it is mostly plastic.

Wrapping It up

As you can see, there are many types of materials kayaks are made of. The most common material, though, is plastic, as you can create various types of kayaks with plastic, including regular kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and folding kayaks.

Regardless of which type of material you choose, it’s important to read up on how to store and maintain it properly so it lasts as long as possible. For example, check out our list of the best cleaners for plastic kayaks.

If you liked this article, share it with a friend!

Enjoyed What Are Kayaks Made Of – Materials, Manufacturing, Types? Share it with your friends so they too can follow the kayakhelp journey.

Share on Pinterest

What are kayaks made of - materials, manufacturing, types?

Picture of Peter Salisbury

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.