Types of Sail Cloth and How to Choose

Types of Sail Cloth and How to Choose | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Sailcloth comes in numerous synthetic materials, arrangements, weights, and weaves. These materials vary widely and cost and durability.

In this article, we will cover several of the most popular types of sailcloth. We'll explain the differences between organic and synthetic sailcloth, along with when to choose standard or laminated material. It will also cover the pros and cons of each common sailcloth.

There are over a dozen types of sailcloth on the market today. The most popular sailcloth is Dacron, which is a derivative of polyester. Other materials, such as Kevlar, carbon fiber, Spectra, Technora, and Vectran, are also common in some applications.

We sourced the information for this article from sailcloth manufacturers, sailors, and sail repair experts. Additionally, we researched current trends in the sailing market to provide the most accurate analysis possible.


Table of contents

Popular Sail Materials

The most popular sail materials are synthetic such as polyester and Kevlar. These fibers are woven and manufactured in many different ways, as modern sail making techniques have made it possible to adapt synthetic fibers to both high and low-stress environments. Nylon is also a popular synthetic sail material, though it's not as prolific as Dacron.

Price varies significantly between materials and manufacturing processes. Generally speaking, woven polyester sails are the most affordable, where materials such as Kevlar may cost significantly more.

Laminated sails are also a popular option, and they're generally found on more premium vessels. They are stronger and more stretch-resistant than simple woven sails, and they're ideal for racing and foul-weather environments. Laminated sails, though popular, are less common due to their higher cost.

Polyester (Dacron) Sailcloth

The most popular type of sailcloth is Dacron. This material is a durable and tightly-woven polyester fabric, and it has been used for decades successfully in almost all conditions. It is not the most durable, stretch-resistant, or long-lasting sailcloth. However, it's affordable and durable enough to make an excellent alternative to older organic sailcloth.

Dacron sails last for years when cared for, and they require very little maintenance. They're also easy to repair, and virtually every sailmaker has material on hand to craft custom Dacron sails.

Dacron is superior to canvas for several reasons. It is stronger by weight, which allows sails to be thinner and lighter. In addition to its ease-of-handling, Dacron sails are reluctant to become waterlogged in bad weather. They're also more resistant to pests, rot, and decay, which gives them a longer service life.


  • Highly affordable
  • Durable
  • In common use
  • Easy to make, repair, and maintain
  • Lightweight
  • Suitable for almost all applications
  • Resistant to bilge rot


  • Stretches more than premium sailcloth
  • Less durable than other types

Average Cost (per sq-ft):

$6 to $7

Kevlar Sailcloth

Kevlar is the other material that comes to mind when considering popular sail cloths. Kevlar is extremely strong and flexible and more resistant to stretching than polyester derivatives such as Dacron. Kevlar is costly and worth considering for racing sailboats and offshore cruisers.

Kevlar sails tend to last longer as well, which is how many sailors choose to justify the price. Kevlar sails are available in multiple weave types, strengths, and thicknesses. Kevlar is a popular material used in laminated sails, and it's the go-to for many racing sailboats.


  • Strong
  • Weather-resistant
  • Stiff and stretch-resistant
  • Available in numerous variants
  • Lightweight


  • More expensive than typical sails
  • Unnecessary for many day-to-day sailors

Average Cost (per sq-ft):

$9 to $12

Carbon Fiber Sailcloth

Carbon fiber is the most promising new sail material available. Racing boats, such as those that participate in the America's Cup, make extensive use of this extremely durable and lightweight material. In addition to forming a hard shell such as a hull, carbon fiber can be used in sailmaking.

Carbon fiber is notable for its extreme strength-to-weight ratio. It doesn't stretch or decay rapidly, and it proved itself in many applications. Carbon fiber sails are often the most expensive, as the material is costly to make and work with.


  • Extremely strong
  • Lightweight
  • Trusted by racing teams
  • Stiff and non-stretching


  • Prohibitively expensive for most sailors
  • Difficult to manufacture
  • Difficult to repair

Average Cost (per sq-ft):

$25 to $30

Organic Sailcloth

Organic sailcloth, once ubiquitous, is now extremely rare. Typically, older sailcloths were made of canvas, hemp, or other natural materials. Cotton-based sailcloth is strong, but it's much heavier than synthetic materials.

It also absorbs water readily and requires regular maintenance. Organic sailcloth is generally only found on tall ships and classic vessels whose owners are keen on originality.


  • Traditional choice
  • Robust and strong
  • Easy to repair anywhere in the world
  • Environmentally friendly


  • Easily waterlogged
  • Heavy
  • Vulnerable to water and natural decay

Average Cost (per sq-ft):

$10 to $15

Laminated Sailcloth

Laminated sailcloth is a recent addition to the market. It's stronger and longer-lasting than traditional sailcloth, and it has been perfected over the last several decades. Laminated sailcloth is a higher-quality alternative to materials such as Dacron.

Laminated sails include multiple components and different layers of material. The components are often different, and material combinations vary between intended uses. Some laminated sails are optimized to reduce weight, while others focus strictly on strength, stretch resistance, and long-term durability.


  • Durable
  • Highly stretch-resistant
  • Efficient
  • Available in numerous material combinations
  • Weather-resistant


  • Much higher cost than non-laminated alternatives
  • May decay faster during storage

Average Cost (per sq-ft):  

$10.20 to $14.50

3D 'Load Path' Sail Fabric

Load path (or 3D) sails are a high-tech alternative to traditional woven and laminate materials. Load path sails are molded specifically to encourage certain handling characteristics by forcing air down a predetermined 'path.' These three-dimensional sails are popular on racing vessels.


  • Best efficiency
  • Custom-made to optimize performance
  • Crafted with the highest-quality materials


  • Expensive
  • Performance benefits negligible on regular production cruisers

Average Cost (per lb):

$75 to $90

Sailcloth Weight

Sailcloth is made in different weights. The weight of the sailcloth indicates its thickness. Generally speaking, higher weight sailcloth is more durable but also heavier. These thicker materials are also costlier, and reducing weights can reduce cost.

In the United States, sailcloth weight is measured in ounces. Material weights range anywhere from 2oz to more than 10oz, and 4 to 6oz is most common for materials like Dacron. High-quality sailcloth generally has a 6oz or greater weight.

Sail Cloth Weave Types

Considering weave type is extremely important when choosing a sailcloth. The type and density of the weave determine the weight, durability, and stretching characteristics of the sail.

The most common types of sailcloth weave are the D4 Load Path weave, the DCX Dacron weave, the square weave, the Hydra Net weave, and the C-Breeze weave.

Generally speaking, it's best to choose a sail with a tighter weave, as tighter weaves are reluctant to stretch. Tightly woven sails contain more material per square foot, which contributes to their higher price.

Storm Sails

Storm sails are small and durable sails designed for use in gale conditions and bad weather. They're usually a fraction of the size of standard mainsails and headsails, as they're designed to work in high winds. Storm sails are made of thicker material compared to standard sails, as durability is the primary concern.

Storm cells are almost always made of Dacron, despite the availability of other materials such as Kevlar. Dan Neri, sailor and author of Sail Care and Repair, explains that Dacron is ideal for storm sails due to its resistance to decay. Storm sails are rarely used and often stored in damp places, conditions which rapidly deteriorate laminated and Kevlar sails.

Sailcloth Sourcing

Proper sourcing is key to choosing the right sailcloth. Industry standards vary widely between countries, and a small price variation could be the difference between a high-quality sail and a fragile mistake.

American-made sailcloth is almost always manufactured with higher-quality materials than imported sailcloth. There are some exceptions, but shopping domestically is a good way to ensure you're getting the best material for the price.

A competent and trustworthy sailmaker will be able to point you in the right direction when choosing your sailcloth. Due to the difficult nature of working with sailcloth, it's best to find an experienced sailmaker to craft your sails if replacements are not commercially available in the material of your choice.

How to Choose a Sailcloth

Choosing the right sailcloth can be challenging, as there are numerous options on the market today. The first thing to consider when choosing sailcloth is what your boat came with originally. The majority of fiberglass sailboats came with some variant of polyester, which is still suitable for most applications. But if you're planning on racing or making a long offshore passage, it's worth considering other sailcloth materials more carefully.

Best Sail Cloth for Casual Cruising

For casual cruising, it's difficult to go wrong with good old Dacron. It's durable, affordable, and extremely easy to work with. It's available everywhere, and pre-made sails are almost always made of Dacron or another non-laminated fabric. Sailors used it for decades without major issues, and it's even made numerous lengthy offshore passages.

Best Sail Cloth for Offshore Passages

The best sailcloth for offshore cruising is difficult to choose. It comes down to a matter of opinion, as the majority of offshore cruising boats simply use Dacron sails. However, serious offshore Cruisers often upgrade to laminated sails such as Kevlar, Pentax, and Dyneema.

Best Performance Sail Cloth

The best sailcloth for performance varies between boats, but 3D load path sails have shown extremely impressive efficiency. This is because load path sails are molded ahead of time to assume the optimal shape for harnessing wind power. Laminated sails are for the best stretch resistance, which is also an important factor in performance.

Types of Sail Cloth and How to Choose
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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