Call or Text 587-855-1304


Your Cart is Empty

  • For Special Pricing and Discount Please Contact us or come in store.

  • A column with no settings can be used as a spacer

  • Link to your collections, sales and even external links

  • Add up to five columns

  • February 08, 2024 5 min read

    HDPE vs. ABS vs. Fiberglass vs. Composite

    When comparing kayak materials there are benefits in durability, lifespan, availability and total cost of the kayak depending on the construction material. Kayaks are built with materials have different flex and strength characteristics, but in general the thicker the material is the heavier the kayak will be. The higher quality of the material will result in more durability, but this does not always reflect in the overall cost of the kayak. There is a misconception that HDPE kayaks are cheaper and more durable than ABS, Fiberglass or composite construction, which is not the case when comparing over all life span and repair of the different materials.

    The materials most commonly used in manufactured kayaks are HDPE or LDPE (high density or low density polyethylene), ABS (thermoform plastic), fiberglass (polyester) or composite (epoxy and cloth materials). The common belief is that HDPE kayaks are less expensive and more durable than ABS or fiberglass, this is not the case. The belief is also that HDPE kayaks are also more durable than ABS or fiberglass kayaks, this is also untrue. ABS thermoform kayaks are durable in all situations and significantly lighter than HDPE. Fiberglass (polyester) constructed kayaks are very durable but they are often more heavy than HDPE and twice the weight of ABS. Composite (epoxy) construction with woven cloths will always lead to the most durable kayak, lightest weight and longest lifespan but they are more expensive than the three previous material types.

    We will compare kayaks that are the same length with HDPE, ABS, Fiberglass and Composite weights and costs to clearly define the value of each material. The Jackson Journey 14 kayak retails for $1499, the Riot Enduro 14 retails for $1495 and the Perception Carolina 14 retails for $1649 CAD. These kayaks are all HDPE and weight, in order, the journey 14 weighs 56 lbs, the Enduro 58.9 lbs and they Carolina 53 lbs. The Delta 14 kayak are ABS and they retail for $2295 and weigh 45 pounds. The fiberglass constructed kayaks Seaward Mantra 14 is $5050 CAD and is 52 lbs. The Stellar 14 is a composite carbon fibre kayak that retails for $5595 USD ($7532 CAD) and weighs 32 lbs. These costs and weights are taken directly from the manufacturer or retailer websites, they accurately represent the current costs of these similar size kayaks with different construction materials.

    The lifespan of the materials is directly affected by winterization, transportation and direct sunlight. In general kayaks require covered storage to avoid impact damage in cold weather, heat is not required, and a correct roof rack system so the kayaks are not damaged in transport or fall off the vehicle during transport. The HDPE kayaks unless specified are not UV protective coated, this makes the kayaks lose strength over a much shorter period of time, which makes the kayaks “oil can” which is ripples and soft spots in the kayaks material. HDPE kayaks are more temperature sensitive in direct sunlight and heat, which can cause them to warp when in a roof rack. ABS kayaks from Delta are UV coated, so they will not oil can or warp. They handle heat and temperature change very well, but just like HDPE can become brittle in extreme cold conditions such as winter storage and winter transportation. Fiberglass kayaks are UV coated with Gelcoat or compatible paints, and are easily winterized and transported. The only factor with the fiberglass kayaks is the overall weight, just as it is with HDPE which can affect loading, unloading and winter storage options. Composite kayaks are very easy to store, generally due to their cost, in a warm covered storage. They are UV coated for long life span and do require roof rack transport. Generally the lifespan from shortest to longest is HDPE for a 5+ years, ABS for 10-15 years, Fiberglass for 10-15 years and Composite for 15+ years. These lifespans will directly impact the purchase price, since purchasing a lower quality material will initially be cost effective, buying the same quality every few years will cost far more than an ABS or Fiberglass kayak.

    The availability of retailers for a kayak is also a huge factor in actually being able to paddle, which also affects price, repair services and customer service. Naturally the larger retailers that carry many types of products will carry recreational HDPE kayaks, but the 14 foot kayaks are more specialty shops and are located in larger cities. As far as repair services and customer service, the specialty shop is going to offer superior services to big box stores or direct to door shipping services. The HDPE and ABS kayaks are available in retailers almost year-round and can be picked up in store the same day of purchase. Fiberglass and Composite kayaks may have a retailer but generally are ordered directly and shipped to the client, which depending on the model and manufacturer timeline could take months or years to build. Generally, the fiberglass and composite kayaks are a paddlers’ second or third kayak, once the paddler knows exactly the performance they require and have a less expensive boat to paddle they will order a custom boat. The HDPE kayaks are the most difficult to repair with the non-porous surface, with a few plastic weld options and a few epoxy options. ABS kayaks can also be hard to repair with Structural Acrylic Adhesive (offered by Delta kayaks as a repair kit) or epoxy. Fiberglass is easy to repair but hard to refinish because the in-mold gelcoats are hard to colour match. Composite kayaks are the most difficult to repair because the fit and finish on them is very high, so any repair begins to add weight and custom colour and gelcoats cannot be duplicated unless the manufacturer offers the product and can ship it to the client. Repair shops will almost always have a method and the correct materials to structurally repair a kayak of any material, its just the refinishing and painting that can be a challenge.

    We have found that ABS kayaks offer the best value and long lifespan for recreational and touring paddlers, with excellent customer service and availability over the cheaper built HDPE. The fiberglass and composite boats are high value and ideal for paddlers that want a specialized boat and are willing to order and wait for a manufacturer. At the cost of buying and maintaining an HDPE kayak, and the overall weight of the kayak, we have found ABS to be superior for lifespan, durability, transportation, repairs and winter storage.

    Leave a comment

    Comments will be approved before showing up.