Durability - It's particularily important when you are 20 miles away from home
It never ceases to amaze me how many times I hear how somebody's Brand X kevlar canoe was cracked or was punctured badly on a boundary waters canoe trip. When I go to BWCA landings near Red Rock to haul and pick up canoes from our rental customers, I occasionally get the opportunity to compare Brand X, foam core canoes to Souris River Canoes.
The first, tell-tale sign of a foam-core kevlar canoe that has been exposed to the rigors of rock laden country such as the Minnesota Boundary Waters are in the valleys and dents that run thru the bottom of the foam-canoe canoes used here by outfitters. One day at the Snowbank Lake canoe landing in August 2005, I looked at a 2003 Brand X model that had literally crumbling kevlar with a few four foot long, jagged cracks running the length of the canoes bottom. It was hard to see but it was there. When I pushed on them with gentle pressure, even though the hull was completely dry, water squeezed out of the foam as the bottom flexed towards the inside of the canoe from my light finger pressure. Not only was the bottom soft (and I'm sure it oil-canned when being paddled), the foam was also waterlogged. So, in a 3 year old canoe, and by a canoe builder who decries the importance of hull stiffness for paddling efficiency, I could pretty much conclude that their super-light, waterlogged, and significantly damaged canoe was not all that cracked up for rocky water traveling. Plus, with all that lumpy-bumpy stuff going on, I really wondered how fast that "superstiff" performance canoe now traveled given it's new-found texture? After you keep hearing from Brand X sales reps and private afficianados about how bad it is if a canoe has even a little movement in the floor, you wonder if a canoe that gets all dimpled with use really gains that much over a canoe which is actually designed to give on demand?
The best part of my "industrial espionage field work" was that a 2002 kevlar Souris River Canoe was laying right next to the Brand X canoe. It was a year older being a 2002, owned by the same outfitter, and had seen it's fair share of brutal BWCA trips. It had a no less than one zillion scratches, many of which appeared significant until I actually dragged my fingernail across and found them to be the usual, less-than-half-a-millimeter-deep, scratches. No dents or ruts changed the hull shape like I could see in the newer foam-core canoe. The Souris River was in pretty good shape on the inside with no real damage to anything. The skidplates appeared to have been installed by a drunken circus clown on a windy day, but other than that, you could easily see which canoe faired far better despite having been rented for a whole year longer than the Brand X kevlar canoe.
This brings me to the point. I've had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people and most of them conclude (and I tend to agree) that a private individual who owns a canoe is usually not going to be that tough on their own canoe, intentionally. But, there is the element of the unknown, the unseen and the just plain crappy luck that we all encounter at the most inopportune times. It's for these times such as the rock just under the surface that the bow paddler couldn't see or the time the wind blew the canoe off the car just as you bent down to pick up a tiedown strap. These are the times when an extra shield of durability is extremely helpful and will be appreciated immensely. Sure, you aren't trying to damage your canoe, but given that unfortunate things can and do happen, doesn't it make sense to have a canoe that will more likely survive that massive "OOOPS!" that you utter as the unpredictable happens? Why would anyone be interested in increasing their odds of a substantial amount of damage to their canoe especially when they are 20 miles out into the middle of nowhere? Our ultimate test is to rent Souris River Canoes for hundreds of days each and every summer. Our logic is that if they hold up well in BWCA rentals, they'll hold up even better for our private customers. We've proven the theory many, many times now and we've observed many, many Brand X kevlar canoes. The durability difference is very obvious.
Durability comes from a combination of epoxy resin and layup design. This is what sets Souris River apart from all other canoes in their ability to take a hit. The fact that you can have a durable canoe that doesn't weigh 80 lbs. is incredible in itself. Also, having a kevlar canoe that can flex when necessary and is designed to flex under duress was not available until now. Until Souris Rivers came along, everyone considered kevlar canoes to be incredibly fragile because Brand X kevlar canoes failed miserably during almost every canoe trip taken thru an outfitter and with many private folks. Brand X's philosophy is about stiffness. Stiffness of the hull in the water to them means the most efficient paddling is achieved because less kinetic energy is lost with each paddle stroke. Unfortunately, stiff doesn't translate into strong. Think of how stiff an eggshell is when it's still intact. Now lightly smack it into a sharp (or even a dull) rock. Souris River's durability comes from its unique ability to flex repeatedly (on demand and as needed right at that point) without falling apart. That ability comes directly from the epoxy resin and the kevlar cloth layup and other goodies built into the canoe.
Brand X Canoes made with kevlar
Here is a typical comment about kevlar canoes which aren't made by Souris River. We hear this question regularly and have to explain that "fragility" in Souris River Canoes in not generally an issue. Just visit this link and scroll down the page until you see the comments made by the writer as they are launching their kevlar canoe. You'll need to hit your back button to return here if you'd like to come back. This guy is "surprised" that his paper thin, rigid as a rail, kevlar canoe is quite delicate when exposed to rocks. That just goes to show how people's perception of kevlar due to media hype about bulletproof vests (mainly) confuses much of the world including outfitters. http://www.plantbio.uga.edu/~chris/bwcaw.html
DuPont Kevlar 49 is used in canoes. Kevlar 28 is used in bulletproof vests (in 25 layers or more along with a special weave pattern as well). No wonder everybody is so confused. There are many different kevlar fibers and weaves available. When you add in the type of resin used to hold it all together in the shape of a canoe, durability comes into question again. It's also well known in the engineering (structural, mechanical and chemical engineering) world that epoxy resin is substantially stronger than polyester or vinylester resin.
What really surprises me is the degree of skeptism that we run into regarding the durability of Souris River Canoes relative to any other kevlars. It's understandable skeptism however because Brand X kevlar canoes have really cultivated a bad name for kevlar with regards to durability. I can see the skeptism in customer's eyes when making comparisons between Souris River Canoes and Brand X canoes. But then, we head out to our rental pile of canoes and I let the customer see if he can spot a patch or other significant damage in all those terribly scratched up canoes. We also inspect the depth of the scratches with our fingernails, even the really nasty looking drag marks left by a rock and the crazy person who obviously hates canoes and rocks. Next, I invite the customers to go into Ely to check out the Brand X kevlars at various outfitters and count the patches they see on those canoes from 30 feet away. Brand X kevlar canoes make it easy to understand the differences in durability.
So there you have it. The proof is in the pudding and you can check it out for yourself. If you like the prospect of potentially having to repair your Brand X kevlar canoe when you get home, knock yourself out. If less fooling around is in your agenda, Souris Rivers with epoxy resin and their flexible rib system is the durable choice.