Life After Royalex: Canoe Materials 101

Mad River FGX

Fiberglass is usually dismissed as old-school and an inferior material for canoes. That’s like saying rubber is bad for making tires because the only rubber you’ve ever seen was a pencil eraser. Fiberglass as a material is simply silica melted down and spun into fibers like cotton candy. Fiberglass cloth—that’s different. There are literally hundreds of ways to weave berglass cloth that changes the characteristics of the material. Imagine an engineer who lies awake at night to gure out how to get the lightest, stiffest and strongest weave. Those are the unsung heroes of paddling. Mad River Canoe’s new FGX (Fiber Glass eXpedition) is a new lay-up released last year, not to replace Royalex but to offer a lower price point as Royalex prices climbed precipitously in anticipation of the end-times. It’s nothing fancy, just a tough composite alternative. When the Mad River folks make a new layup, it’s going to be tough. They use a Soric foam core, which has better impact than a stiffer core because it exes a little. Low-tech works.

Nova Craft Tuff Stuff

One of the composite materials getting a lot of attention is Tuff Stuff from Nova Craft Canoe. Tuff Stuff is a proprietary weave of high-modulus polypropylene fibers and a fabric made from basalt that is crushed, melted, and spun into fibers like fiberglass. Think of cloth made from the core of a volcano. High modulus basically means a material is stiffer than a low modulus version of the same material. You can weave materials to make them stiffer or more flexible, depending on your need. Polypropylene is a very durable material designed to take a beating, which is why most carpeting is made from it. Add the basalt fabric and you get the benefits of both materials: stiffness and durability. It’s so durable, you can throw it off a six-story building and paddle it home, as Nova Craft demonstrated in a YouTube video this spring. The only caveat is that the gel coat covering Tuff Stuff is not as flexible as the material, so your canoe may need cosmetic repairs from time to time.


Kevlar is amazing stuff. Its tensile strength is five times stronger than a steel cable of the same size, is resistant to high temperatures, and is very abrasion-resistant. If Kevlar weren’t durable, they wouldn’t be making body armor out of it. Kevlar is used in many proprietary composite layups, including Wenonah’s Kevlar Flex-Core and Northstar’s White Gold. A few years ago, when I heard rumors that Royalex was not long for this world, I decided to build a Kevlar solo canoe and paddle it as if it were Royalex. After two years, I’m happy to report that my Kevlar Argosy is completely intact. Completely. Scratched on the bottom? Yes. A few gelcoat chips? Sure. In the final analysis, though, it is more durable than Royalex, because I can replace any gelcoat I leave on a rock. I can’t do that with Royalex.

Advances in Rotomolding

Johnson Outdoors, makers of Necky and Ocean Kayaks as well as Old Town Canoes, has been working to finne-tune its polyethylene rotomolding techniques to approximate the functionality of Royalex. Johnson’s three-layer rotomolding process mimics the “sandwich” construction of Royalex. It’s a tricky process, and the technicians who create these hulls must be masters of rotomolding art and science. Their skill, combined with advances in polyethylene formulas, yields canoes that are four or five pounds heavier than the same model made from Royalex. No one wants a heavier boat, but considering the difference used to be 20-pounds, we’re heading in the right direction.


Esquif Canoes has been working to develop a Royalex-like material called T-Formex, which it would make available to all canoe builders. Esquif has had some business challenges. While there is some hope that the company will still bring T-Formex to market, we reserve judgment until the material has been made into an actual canoe and river-tested.

— Click the links below to see how manufacturers are putting these materials into action:

Wenonah Argosy

Material: Kevlar Flex-Core

Northstar Phoenix

Material: White Gold

Abenaki Algonquin Canoe

Material: Betula Papyrifera

Nova Craft Prospector 16

Material: Tuff Stuff

Mad River Explorer 16

Material: FGX

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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