Aluminum vs. Kevlar Canoes

If you have either read the title of this article or searched it up, you are well aware that there are two primary types of canoes: Aluminum and Kevlar. Both have various strengths and weaknesses, and both have their own individual situations where they excel! Here, we will be examining five of the most important comparison categories for aluminum vs. kevlar canoes, and looking at which choice may be best for you.

Comparing Kevlar and Aluminum Canoes


  • Aluminum: As with most types of vehicles we use, weight typically equals stability. Canoes are no exception! Aluminum canoes, as compared to kevlar canoes, will always come out on top when examining the issue of stability in canoeing. As aforementioned, the answer is simple- weight. Aluminum canoes are far heavier than kevlar canoes due to their material nature, and therefore will always fare better against rough weather and/or water conditions. Additionally, the strong stability of Aluminum canoes gives them the advantage when considering the transport of a rather sizable or heavy payload. This also goes for the transport of several passengers on one canoe. Not only are aluminum canoes more stable due to what they are made of, but the hardy welding and riveting of aluminum canoes provides them extra strength overall. This means that they will hold more stable against anything from extra-heavy loads to collisions with obstacles (though, of course, any sort of collision should ALWAYS be avoided)!
  • Kevlar: Though kevlars are much lighter and therefore less stable than aluminum canoes, they should not immediately be discarded in the stability argument. The reason for this is that of speed, which will be expanded upon in the next category of examination. Due to being able to achieve such high levels of speed so easily, kevlar canoes are actually capable of staying relatively stable in a wide variety of conditions, being held steady by their fast course through the water.
  • Advantage: Aluminum


  • Aluminum: As often is the case, weight plays the largest role in the determination of this comparison category. In the case of aluminum canoes, speed is unfortunately not a strong suit! This is simply due to the fact that it takes more force to push it forward. You also therefore may find yourself having a harder time trying to do a considerable trek in one day with an aluminum rather than with a kevlar.
  • Kevlar: Kevlars were made for two primary purposes, which are speed and portaging. That being said, it is not hard to imagine why they take the cake on this one! Formulated to be extremely light and hydrodynamic, you will have no problem easily propelling yourself to a truly impressive speed when in a kevlar, especially if you are paddling with a partner! It is for this reason also that kevlar canoes have more and more become the favored type by long-haul voyageurs of the boundary waters canoe area. Unlike aluminums, kevlars in general will give you very little trouble when trying to make a very long stretch within the space of a day. They very much so feel like an extension of oneself, and therefore if you would like to go fast, you will go fast.
  • Advantage: Kevlar

Canoe Handling in the Wind

  • Aluminum: Going along with their inherent stability, aluminum canoes almost always come out on top when examining the issue of wind with canoeing. Due to the unwavering nature of their frames and just the straight-up weight of them, wind typically won’t have too much of an effect on your steering ability or overall course. The one downfall that aluminums have in wind, really, is that they don’t get too much of a boost from a tailwind for the same reason that they don’t get too badly harmed in terms of their course (again, weight). A headwind can also sometimes hit especially hard on an aluminum, as even though you have momentum on your side, you are now fighting against a headwind in addition to your heavy watercraft while paddling.
  • Kevlar: Kevlars are strong in the presence of many situational factors, but wind is unfortunately not one of them. Strong gusts of wind, especially overall windy days, can make the steering of a kevlar canoe extremely difficult and quite tiring. Due to their light nature, they take the direction of a wind gust just about as strongly as they do a stroke from your paddle. Of course, this situation remains to be a double-edged sword, as tailwinds on a kevlar canoes are about the closest thing to motors as you’ll find in the BWCA. As mentioned before, the “self-extension” quality of kevlar canoes really enhances the feeling of wind on your back, and it is wonderfully easy to get going quite consistently fast. As for headwinds, it really can go quite well or quite badly, and it all depends on how adept of a canoer you are going into the situation. If you consider yourself to be good at steering, especially if you have another paddler on board, headwinds can cause few problems and are not too troublesome to cut through. If tactical steering is not your strong suit, though (we personally are painfully far from being masters at it, so don’t worry), headwinds on a kevlar can make going in a straight line terribly difficult. In such a case, stick as close to the shoreline as you can!
  • Advantage: Aluminum


  • Aluminum: Though we have touched on weight in every examination thus far, there are few times that you will actually feel it more than when youcanoe portaging are carrying it! Aluminum canoes, of course, are far heavier than kevlars and therefore are going to be much more difficult to portage. This is not to say that it is too hard to attempt, however; very many people do it, and those who are strong enough can even one-up an aluminum (don’t try that without support, though)! Really, portaging an aluminum canoe is plenty realistic. You would just be wise to do it with a partner, and you will likely need several more breaks than you would with a kevlar. However, as long as your trip is not abnormally portage-heavy and you feel up to carrying the aluminum when you need to, it is generally worth the benefits to stick with an aluminum if you prefer them in general over kevlars.
  • Kevlar: Remember how we said earlier that kevlar canoes were made for two things? Well, if you do, you probably recall that portaging was the second of the two things. You could ask literally anybody on earth who has used a kevlar canoe before what their favorite thing was about it, and we are willing to bet it all that they will say something about the portaging. Though you can feel the lightness of a kevlar when you are paddling it, they really shine when you portage them. The beautiful lightness that kevlars possess is hard to switch away from once you have felt it on your shoulders, and it is not uncommon for the average camper to be able to portage a kevlar canoe around half a mile if not longer without even slowing down. For any portage-heavy or really just long-term trip, kevlars are undisputedly the best option to go with.
  • Advantage: Kevlar

When would you use an Aluminum vs. a Kevlar Canoe?

  • Aluminum: Generally, aluminum canoes are best for trips that are either more on the short side, requiring a very heavy amount of cargo, or likely to experience rough conditions. If you are going camping in a highly windy area, it really isn’t even a question of aluminum vs. kevlar, as anybody would tell you to use an aluminum. What a lot of people appreciate aluminum canoes for, however, is their durability. If you accidentally bump or scrape a rock with a kevlar, you very well could be looking at water pouring into your canoe. Bump a single rock with an aluminum, however, and 99 times out of a 100 you won’t have anything to worry about. Aluminum canoes are also generally easier to come by.
  • Kevlar: If you’re looking to travel sleeker, especially for a longer amount of time, a kevlar canoe is absolutely the way to go. They generally wear you out far slower than an aluminum would, and their speed is going to be a pro in any situation. Ever since they were introduced in the 1970s, where kevlars have really shined is in solo camping, as they are generally much easier to propel and control on one’s own than an aluminum would be. Of course, there is the final point of portaging as well, where kevlars are truly a camper’s dream.


1 thought on “Aluminum vs. Kevlar Canoes”

  1. About myself. I’m a lifelong canoe paddler and have owned and paddled many (30+) different canoes over the course of my life. I was an ACA canoeing instructor and have instructed 100’s of classes and have successfully guided many trips. Aluminum vs Kevlar is a topic often discussed. I currently own 8 canoes at the moment. I still have my first canoe (which is aluminum) that my dad bought new back in 1978. My others are either Royalex ,Fiberglass or Kevlar/Inegra IXP layup.

    Your article makes several good points as weight is a factor that affects Speed, Efficiency, Stability. A heavy wood and canvas Prospector 16 runs upwards of 70# and was designed to be a stable freight friendly Northwoods canoe. Very very stable. It’s heavy and wide. The truth is however that weight is not a major factor in speed. Please bear with me. Hull design is everything. Beam width , Chine and Hull shape, length and rocker “altogether” are responsible for speed and also stability efficiency maneuverability. Don’t forget the paddlers themselves and their paddling skill are a large factor in speed.
    You can take a short fat Kevlar canoe and put it up against an aluminum 17’ Osagian with equally skilled paddlers and the Osagian will win. Those are fast aluminum canoes. Now in this case the Kevlar canoe will likely lose because of the fact that its length vs width won’t carry over the wave or hydrodynamic wave length. It’s all math and engineering/ physics. The 17’ canoe can actually take advantage of that wave force and actually glide on two not just one wave length. This makes for speed if you have the horsepower to get it there. Length in an of itself won’t get you there. Olympic paddlers have that power most of us common folk don’t. 😂 I owned a 17 1/2 foot TuffWeave flex core Wenonah Voyager solo canoe . I could get it up on plane with a kayak paddle but not for very long with a single blade.
    Scenario #2:

    2- 17’ canoes, one 50# aluminum and one 35# Kevlar with the Kevlar carrying 615# of people and gear and the aluminum carrying 600# the only factor you have left is hull design. If the aluminum canoe had a better hull shape it would win given the paddlers were all equally matched. In most hull design cases, stability and speed and maneuverability are the three main things that are adjusted. The more maneuverable, a canoe is the less it usually tracks in the straight line. The more efficient, a canoe becomes the speedier it becomes and less effort to maintain speed increases. The width narrows, and hull shape width decreases. In addition stability also decreases as the hull design gets narrower. Wider hulls, equal more stability and less speed.
    Weight is a factor in how fast a canoe is but a very small factor compared to hull design.

    I paddle Solo Canoes on small rivers and lakes. My opinion about aluminum vs Kevlar is that people should buy what they can afford and just get out and enjoy yourselves! I love canoes of all kinds. If I paddle shallow gravely rivers I would not take my aluminum I would take a Royalex or TuffStuff canoe. If I’m going to bounce off rocks down a class 3 Rocky river I’d take my Royalex or my IXP canoe (expedition grade layup) you can literally hit it with a framing hammer and it will bounce off of it. I like my aluminum canoes for lakes where I’m not portaging.
    Have a fantastic day and see you on the river!


Leave a Comment