Abstract The aim of this study is to investigate the perforation resistance of a range of foam-based sandwich structures. Nine foams, based on a crosslinked PVC, a linear PVC and PET, have been combined with thin glass fibre reinforced plastic skins to produce a range of lightweight sandwich structures, Initially, the mechanical properties of the different foams are characterised. Here, a new test geometry is used to evaluate the toughness characteristics and strengths of the foams under shear loading, a condition similar to that encountered during the impact perforation event. The influence of the plastic collapse stress of the foam in determining the failure thresholds of the front and rear composite skins is established. Here, an existing model has been used to successfully predict failure of the top surface composite skin in the sandwich structures. In addition, the force associated with perforating the lightweight core has been shown to be strongly dependent on the shear strength of the polymer foam. Finally, the perforation resistance of the sandwich structure has been shown to be closely linked to the Mode II work of fracture of the foam material. Here a unique relationship has been established between these two parameters, with all of the experimental points lying on one curve.