Kevlar canoes are a high performing, durable and incredibly lightweight, but many people outside the racing community do not realize how great these canoes can be. Kevlar canoes are now seen more frequently in sporting goods stores alongside plastic, aluminum, fiberglass, Royalex or other composite canoes and are considered general purpose now. The lightness and durability of a Kevlar canoe have made them a top choice for the serious paddler. These canoes are not right for everyone, however.
Dupont developed Kevlar in the 1960s. This synthetic fiber is used for many sporting areas and equipment including bike tires, safety clothing, ropes, bow lines, racing sails and kayaks and canoes. Because Kevlar is woven into a fabric it can be produced in long sheets, which make it perfect for hull construction. The strength of Kevlar is legendary and on a per weight basis is stronger than steel. The combination of strength, flexibility, and weight make it perfect for use on the water.
Kevlar canoes are substantially more expensive than the alternatives, but for those with long portages or who frequently paddle in whitewater, the extra cost is justified. These canoes can easily be half the weight of a fiberglass model and far less than a Royalex made canoe. For a solo canoeist this is a real back saver.
Canoes made from Kevlar are built layer by layer and sometimes incorporate layers of fiberglass in the construction. A gel coat is typically applied to the outside to protect the Kevlar and protect the fibers from becoming frayed from scrapes or contact with rocks or trees. This is an important feature because while a Kevlar canoe can be repaired it is somewhat difficult and the repair is hard to hide.
The choices available in a Kevlar canoe are the same as in other more traditional canoes made from aluminum or fiberglass. There are a variety of hull shapes and some even feature modular gunwales for easy on-the-fly modifications. Kevlar canoes handle much differently than aluminum or fiberglass. The slipperiness in the water as well as their lightweight nature make them more responsive, but can make them seem difficult to control for even an experienced paddler used to using certain stroking methods. The ability to steer and properly negotiate the water is another reason why most buyers of Kevlar canoes are experienced boaters. For flatwater pleasure paddling a Kevlar canoe is really not necessary and other types will be fine. For whitewater rapids, the strength and maneuverability are definitely positives.
Many top companies produce Kevlar or Kevlar/fiberglass canoes and when possible an individual should test the feel in the water of several models before making a decision. Reading specs and features online in one thing, but performance under real conditions is everything. Only then is it possible to reach the conclusion about whether the higher price is justified. Each individual will have to decide how important weight and responsiveness in the water is and judge the value for themselves. For a do-it-yourselfer there are several books on the market with designs to help an enthusiast build their own Kevlar canoe. This can be a fun project with the end result being a fine water worthy craft to enjoy for years to come.