Plastic vs Composite Kayaks – Pros & Cons

Kayaks come in a range of different sizes, forms, and prices. Some kayaks cost a few hundred bucks, while others cost thousands. Beginner kayakers are now faced with the challenge of selecting the best kind of kayaks for their intended activities. This is challenging due to the diversity and price range of kayaks.

This difference is mainly caused by the materials used to construct the several kayaks and their models, which are made to function effectively in different circumstances. Therefore, a novice needs to comprehend the distinction between a kayak made of fiberglass and one built of plastic.

Another thing a newbie should be aware of is that the functionality and durability of a kayak will vary depending on the material used to construct it. This write-up will look at everything about plastic and composite kayaks. In the end, you will know the difference and advantages of both kayaks. Nevertheless, let’s begin with the different materials used in a kayak before looking at plastic and composite kayaks.

Line up of plastic and composite kayaks

Types of Kayak Materials

A kayak’s construction material impacts how it looks, functions, and holds over time. The material a kayak is built of can affect how much fun you have paddling it. In addition, factors such as durability, cost, weight, aesthetics, storage, ease of transportation, and performance can affect the impact when kayaking. 

You can pick a kayak material that best meets your demands and preferences if you know the benefits and drawbacks of each material. So what materials are used to make kayaks? This section will discuss the key components needed to make inflatable and hard-shell kayaks.

Wooden Kayaks

DIY home builders produce the majority of wooden kayaks. These aren’t the kinds of kayaks you’d find on the shelves of big-box stores or even at your neighborhood paddle shop.

Fortunately, building your own wooden kayak doesn’t require you to be an expert woodworker. Wooden kayaks always come in two common construction styles. Wooden kayaks made using stitch-and-glue construction are easier to assemble and don’t need any prior woodworking knowledge.

By using wire to join pre-cut plywood pieces and epoxy resin to seal the seams, even inexperienced builders may produce showroom-quality results. After being put together, the exposed wire is cut off, and the wooden kayak is usually protected with layers of resin and fiberglass.

Although strip-built wooden boats offer limitless design options, DIY builders must have more patience. Since this building process requires binding numerous thin wood strips collectively around temporary frameworks, having previous woodworking experience is necessary.

Nothing compares to wood’s natural beauty and countless creative opportunities. Wooden kayaks operate with the same speed, effectiveness, and durability as cutting-edge composite kayaks. Nowadays, they are part of the lightweight kayak materials on the market.

Advantages of Wooden kayaks

  • Wooden kayaks have a classic appearance, are attractive, and are distinctive.
  • It allows woodworkers to create whatever design they want
  • Affordable at a reasonable price
  • Wooden kayaks are unique, durable, and gorgeous.

Disadvantages of Wooden Kayaks

  • It is time-consuming to build a wooden kayak
  • Unable to use epoxy and clamps
  • Unsuitable for rocky or whitewater environment
  • Incorporating flotation devices and watertight bulkheads are challenging

Rotomolded polyethylene kayaks

Everything from traffic cones to food plastic boxes to car body panels is made of tough plastic polyethylene. It is a very adaptable and strong substance, as this list suggests. The most popular and affordable plastic for kayaks is polyethylene. These so-called “Tupperware kayaks” can last for many years with little maintenance.

In the 1970s, the first kayaks made of rotomolded polyethylene were released. Plastic pellets are used to create hulls. To spread the molten plastic across the hollow metal mold, the mold is heated and turned in a large oven.

Polyethylene may be the best material for you if your kayaking involves descending rocky or deep rivers, releasing seals from cobble beaches, and insensitive rooftop or trailer transportation. Most fishing kayaks and leisure kayaks make use of rotomolded polyethylene. It’s also a widely-liked kayak material for sea touring kayaks for beginners, and kayaks made for surfing.

Advantages of Rotomolded Polyethylene kayaks

  • Unparalleled design options and adaptability
  • Suitable for rocky and whitewater environments
  • Excellent performance to price ratios.

Disadvantages of Rotomolded Polyethylene Kayaks

  • Difficult to repair punctures
  • Requires protective coatings since it is susceptive to ultraviolet damage
  • Heavy materials compared to others

Polycarbonate kayaks

Since their introduction, transparent kayaks have taken over the ocean and river excursions from Bali to Belize. However, they are also becoming more popular on nearby waterways, giving amateur paddlers a look inside their hulls.

What exactly are transparent kayaks composed of? Polycarbonate sheets, also known as Lexan, are used to create transparent hulls and decks. Aside from transparent kayaks, polycarbonate is utilized in everything from television displays and bulletproof glass to fighter aircraft canopies and automobile lighting.

Acrylic and polycarbonate are both examples of thermoplastics, which can be heated to mold them into intricate designs without breaking or cracking. Vacuum thermoforming is used to create clear polycarbonate kayaks. The resistance of polycarbonate is around 30 times greater than that of acrylic, giving it an even more durable hull than a thermoformed kayak.

Most transparent kayaks have an open, sit-on-top design with a high-sided, transparent hull, much like a canoe. Many also have a straightforward metal frame to strengthen the hull. Transparent kayaks are best suited for recreational touring on calm waters because they typically lack bulkheads for buoyancy.

Advantages of Polycarbonate Kayaks

  • Extremely impact-resistant and lightweight

Disadvantages of Polycarbonate Kayaks

  • Limited designs

Inflatable Kayaks

Woman sitting in an inflatable kayak

Users of inflatable kayaks benefit from unmatched flexibility and storage convenience. These kayaks are an excellent option for people who can’t store a full-size kayak or a car to carry it because they are built of rubber-like materials for easy movement.

In terms of sophistication and design complexity, inflatable kayaks come in a wide range. High-end inflatables use fused air chambers, baffles, and drop-stitch construction to produce higher rigidity, puncture resistance, and effective hull designs. The cheapest inflatable kayaks are essentially just plain tubes that have been given a canoe or kayak shape.

I have recently written an article in which I review the best inflatable kayaks on the market. I would highly recommend that you give it a look.

Inflatable kayaks are designed using different materials. The option you choose will depend on its cost, weight, strength, and environmental sustainability. Here are the common materials used for inflatable kayaks.

  • Nitrylon is a far more environmentally friendly substitute that outshines PVC. It weighs a lot, but its better abrasion and puncture resistance can be used for inflatables’ side tubes and flooring.
  • Usually referred to as PVC or polyvinyl chloride, vinyl is used for most inflatable kayaks. PVC can be glued to nylon or other components to make it even more tear-resistant, cheap, and relatively light. However, PVC is highly harmful to the environment because of its susceptibility to UV degradation and the poisonous compounds emitted.
  • Polyurethane is a tough, high-performance substance that falls between plastics and synthetic rubbers, polyurethane (also known as urethane) is an excellent choice. It offers excellent UV stability, flexibility, and resistance to abrasion, mildew, and extreme temperatures.

Advantages of Inflatable kayaks

  • Lightweight and inexpensive
  • More minor punctures are simple to patch up and fix
  • Inflatable kayaks can be folded or rolled for transportation or storage

Disadvantages of inflatable kayaks

  • Most inflatable kayaks have a short lifespan
  • PVC is a substance that harms the environment
  • Inflatable kayaks are vulnerable to UV damage and punctures

Composite Kayaks

Kayaks built of composite materials include those that are products of carbon fiber, aramid fibers, fiberglass, or a combination of synthetic textiles that have been resin-impregnated. For added rigidity, some manufacturers sandwich foam or honeycomb layers within the fabric layers. We will expound more about composite kayaks later as we compare them with plastic kayaks.

What are plastic and composite Kayaks?

The first step is understanding what these two kayaks entail and outlining their distinguishing features.

Since lower-grade plastic is used in their construction, plastic kayaks are often less expensive than composite kayaks. However, this also implies that they might not be as sturdy or impact-resistant as composite kayaks.

Composite kayaks are more expensive but have a lower overall weight because they are composed of lighter materials than plastic ones.

When comparing these two types of kayaks, remember that composite kayaks are lighter, whereas plastic kayaks are heavier. This implies that it can be more difficult for you to store your plastic kayak after usage or put it on your car’s roof rack.

Your composite kayak won’t require you to move it around much, making it simpler to get it rolling without exerting too much energy. Because it is built from solid materials than a plastic kayak, a composite kayak should be more durable than a plastic kayak.

The least expensive plastic kayaks usually do not measure up with mid-range or higher composite kayaks, even if some plastic kayaks may be priced comparable to composite kayaks.

Although plastic kayaks are more prone to tearing than composite ones, they are lighter for a given boat size. They come in various colors and are typically less priced for their size. It is appropriate for paddlers to choose slow rivers for their paddling.

They are capable of navigating waves and whitewater. However, compared to composites, they require more effort and money to maintain.

Prices of Plastic and Composite Kayaks

Man buying a kayak

Their cost varies according to the type of plastic used in construction and production. The price per boat can vary from $900 to over $2,500. This is pricey compared to a 12′ kayak, which costs about $600.

Composite kayaks have hulls that are both light and sturdy relative to their weight because they are constructed from layers of fiberglass material that have been dipped in resin. Composite kayaks are more durable than plastic kayaks due to their superior abrasion resistance, which is especially useful in challenging environments like rocky beaches or shallow water. They are thought of as high-performance vessels.

Compared to plastic kayaks, composite kayaks are often faster and more responsive. Composite kayaks are perfect for flatwater tours and solo open water paddling since they can edge quickly and keep their line over a corner or down a river.

Composite kayaks are often thought to be less robust than plastic kayaks due to their materials. According to the material quality, composite kayaks can cost within $800 to $1,700.

Overall, since one has advantages over the other, it boils down to personal preference, but one thing is sure. If you have it in that form, you have it! Compared to composite kayaks, plastic kayaks are less expensive.

Plastic vs. Composite Kayaks – Which is faster?

Regarding kayak design, components, and how they impact performance, there isn’t much useful information provided. We have seen the designing and production of kayaks from both composite and plastic materials. Both materials and production processes have advantages. Let’s explore areas where these two kayaks tend to have the advantage over the other.


The design of a kayak’s hull has an impact on speed. The weight comes in third, followed by the extent of drag caused by scratches, warpage, and dents. The only drawback to the weight coming in third is how much it affects acceleration.

For more information on the kayaks speed capabilities, check out this guide I wrote. You can find the guide by clicking here.


Composite kayaks perform quickly but weigh significantly less than plastic kayaks, typically between 30 and 50 percent less. The initial strokes you make to move the boat have a far more significant impact. During kayak fishing, you frequently start and stop throughout the day to catch fish. A composite fishing kayak will travel faster and require considerably less energy to accelerate.

Scratches and wraps

Plastic boats frequently develop deep scratches that increase drag with use. They can also warp and accumulate dents. The fastest plastic boat is always going to be a brand-new one. Contrarily, composite boats are constructed from sturdy materials that don’t stretch or easily scrape past the surface, ensuring that the hull will remain effective even after many years of use.

Hull shape

Composite hulls consistently operate at their highest level while maintaining their intended shape. Plastic hulls are vulnerable to warpage due to inappropriate boat storage. New composite and plastic hulls will perform similarly, but the composite hull won’t deteriorate over time.

There are several hull design options; this page won’t go into great length about each one, but some examples include lifting bows and displacement hulls with flared sidewalls. The hull’s cruise or top-end speed is influenced by its length, width, rocker, and other factors.

Plastics vs. composite kayaks – Advantages and Disadvantages

Plastics Advantages

  • Composite kayaks are more expensive than kayaks made of plastic.
  • Due to their widespread use as the primary kayak manufacturing material, they are simpler to locate and buy
  • Because plastic is such strong material, it can withstand more harsh weather than other materials.

Plastic Disadvantages

  • These boats move more slowly than boats made of fiberglass because of the smoothness of plastic. Increased water resistance is another drawback, which lengthens the time it takes to travel comparatively short distances.
  • They are less effective than other materials at kayaking on flat water due to the same lack of speed.

Composite Kayaks Advantages

  • Fiberglass reinforces composite kayaks, making them lighter and stronger than plastic kayaks.
  • When on land, this enables them to be readily carried by one person
  • These boats are excellent for new users or those seeking to go on a short vacation in a pleasure model due to their robustness, lightweight, affordability, and ease of portability

Composite Kayaks Disadvantages

  • They are costly
  • Composite kayaks provide less protection against sunlight

What is the best kayaking material?

We have analyzed different kayak materials in this post. You might be contemplating at this stage, like most new paddlers, what the ideal kayak material is.

There isn’t a direct answer to that question. The ideal material for a kayak indeed hinges on several factors, including paddling experience. Of course, there is also the matter of budget.

Every kayak material has unique characteristics that can improve or damage your paddling experience. After weighing the benefits and drawbacks of each material, decide on the size and weight of the kayak you require. Lastly, you need to create a budget.

We recommend trying as many kayaks as possible before making a purchase. Alternately, you might try out a thermoformed kayak and decide that the lightweight design, stunning finish, and svelte performance are worth a little extra money.

Notwithstanding the option, you can rent a different kayak before deciding on what kayak best suit your need.

FAQ on Plastic vs. Composite Kayaks

Is a composite kayak suitable for beginners?

Composite kayaks have a stunning appearance and are easy to paddle. Since composites are stiffer than plastics, they are faster and more responsive to the water.

How long do plastic kayaks last?

The lifespan of most kayaks on the market is within 7–12 years. For instance, inflatable kayaks, which normally last 4 to 8 years, are generally the least resilient.

Can one store plastic kayaks outside?

The greatest defence is to keep it inside, but that isn’t always feasible. As long as the kayak is shielded from the sun and weather, outside is acceptable.


Kayaks made of plastic are more accessible and less expensive, making them a better option for new paddlers who will likely utilize them in calm water conditions. Because of their fiberglass structure, composite kayaks paddle more evenly, making them ideal for long distances.

Vanessa Hopkins

Hi, I'm Vanessa. Long-time kayaker who's proud to be part of this community. I strive to provide our visitors with insightful guides with the aim to improve their kayaking experience. I've been working with SunshineKayaking for over 5 years, providing world-class services.

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