Stiff, Durable, Economical: Popular since the 1950's when aluminum became widely available, these boats are still the choice for many rental companies and those who want a durable, no-maintenance craft. You can leave an aluminum canoe in the sun, rain and snow for 20 years without a problem, and aluminum canoes are lighter than they used to be; a 17' boat weighs 69 lbs. This is the most abrasion resistant hull material in canoe models.
Aluminum is used in making the clips and brackets and sometimes frame parts in many collapsible canoes and kayaks. This metal tends to be light for it's strength.
Flexible, Tough, although Heavy: Polyethylene has become the material of choice for moderately priced, yet durable canoes and kayaks. These boats can take impact but are softer than most of the other hull materials described here and not known for being stiff. They can be more subject to abrasion damage than many other hull materials. They need little maintenance, and they can be dropped, banged, or bent and still spring back to shape although they may retain deformities. They are somewhat sensitive to heat but this can be helpful in bringing them back into proper shape if they have been deformed. A 17'canoe can be 85 lbs. A 16 foot kayak is often over 65 lbs.
Flexible, Tough, Light: Royalex has become the material of choice for moderately light-weight, yet durable canoes. Royalex canoes tend to be molded with more complex shapes than aluminum ones, and they are much quieter to carry and paddle, especially when scraping over rocks. As durable as aluminum, royalex canoes need little maintenance, and they can be dropped, banged, or even bent nearly in half and still spring back to shape with no more than a crease mark. Good all-around boats at just a slightly higher cost than aluminum. A 17' boat is about 63 lbs.
Stiff, Ultralight, Efficient: Kevlar, carbon and fiberglass combinations make up these sleek craft. Composite boats are the choice for those who want to slice efficiently through the water and for those wanting a boat that is easy to lift onto a car rack and carry over long portages. Though needing more care in handling to prevent damage, composite boats are not delicate and can, with care (and repair, if needed), outlast royalex canoes. 17' canoes run 40-55 lbs. Expect to pay higher prices for good stiff boats at lower weights.
Elegant, Traditional, Sturdy: For those who have paddled one, there is no comparison to the ease and grace of paddling a well designed and constructed wood and canvas canoe. These boats are works of art, but have also proven themselves to be highly durable, extremely repairable, and just plain fun. A 17' boat runs 65-80 lbs. They can increase in weight if they absorb water so maintenance is important.
Elegant, Traditional, Light: These canoes are works of art and history and it is difficult to find people still making them. But they can be light on the water and are thought by many to represent the pinnacle of traditional beauty in a canoe. They are more fragile than many other boats described here but they are also more durable than many assume and can be field repaired more easily than many other boats.
Traditional, Light to Heavy: There are many marvelous canoes and kayaks that are built using a skin on frame technology. Some of these are traditional designs such as the Greenland style or Aleutian style kayaks. In some cases high tech construction materials have been used to create lighter boats or in many cases, boats that can be disassembled and reassembled which makes them ideal to take along when a paddling trip is planned on some distant continent or when space is at a premium. You'll find far more kayaks than canoes built using this method.
Inflatables are like many of the other boats described here in that performance and design characteristics can vary from model to model or company to company. Prices vary from some of the least expensive to amongst the most expensive kayaks in the overall price range. Price is an indication of the construction quality. One exciting feature to inflatables is that the top-end boats can take an incredible beating so they can be great whitewater and adventure options. These boats are great when storage space is limited or when you want to fly to an exotic distant paddling location but bring your own gear.
Stiff, Ultralight, Efficient: Wood strip canoes and kayaks can be gorgeous craft. They are more often made by the home builder than by a boat manufacturer although there are some small reputable companies specializing in this construction technique. Many of the large composite boat manufacturers start with a strip-built boat as the model off which a mould is formed. So the construction method is frequently used in the industry. In finished boats, what we see looks like a gorgeous wooden watercraft but in essence these are fiberglass or composite boats with wood cores.