Your paddle has the most significant impact on performance apart from your kayak itself. But recreational paddlers don’t necessarily need a top of the line paddle, so finding a balance between performance, comfort, and affordability is the name of the game.

This article will go over some of the key aspects to consider when choosing a recreational kayak paddle. We’ve also done the legwork of creating a shortlist of some of the best recreational kayak paddles you can find for under $100.

best recreational kayak paddle under 100

How to Choose a Recreational Kayak Paddle

How to Choose a Recreational Kayak Paddle

When it comes down to it, a good recreational paddle strikes a balance between affordability and performance.

Affordability

For recreational paddling, high-performance carbon fiber paddles are generally overkill.

Most recreational kayaks are built primarily for stability and ease of use rather than speed and efficiency. At a certain point, performance improvements will be limited by the kayak itself, so spending hundreds of dollars on a top of the line paddle may not be worth it.

Having said that, there is a benefit to having a lighter paddle purely for comfort’s sake. If you’re on the water for longer periods of time a heavy paddle can be a bit of a drag and wear you out faster than a lighter paddle.

Fortunately, there are a number of solid options that won’t totally blow your budget out of the water.

Paddle Sizing

To figure out the right paddle length, you need to consider both the width of your kayak and your height.

As a general rule, wider kayaks and taller paddlers need longer paddles. For recreational kayaks, the width of the boat is generally the more important of the two.

While each manufacturer recommends slightly different paddle lengths based on paddler height and boat width, this chart should give you a pretty good idea what size paddle you should be looking for. Keep in mind that paddle length is typically measured in centimeters rather than inches.

 

Kayak WidthUnder 23”24” to 28”29” to 33”34”+
Paddler Height
Under 5’ 5”210 cm220 cm230 cm240 cm
5’ 5” to 5’ 11”220 cm230 cm240 cm250 cm
6’+220 cm230 cm250 cm260 cm

 

Materials

The material the paddle shaft and paddle blade are made from have the biggest impact on performance and price.

Rigidity – The more rigid a material is, the better it is at converting energy into forward movement, making for more efficient paddling. Materials that flex lead to wasted energy and require more effort to paddle.

Weight – Heavier materials are more cumbersome and cause you to fatigue faster while paddling. Lightweight materials are more comfortable and desirable, but they also cost more.

Paddle Shaft Materials

On the lower end of the spectrum, paddle shafts are typically made of aluminum, while higher end paddles use composites like fiberglass for better performance and durability.

Performance paddles may also use carbon fiber but they’re generally priced above our $100 limit.

Aluminum

  • Affordable
  • Rigid
  • Durable

  • Heavier
  • Uncomfortable to hold without gloves in hot or cold weather

Fiberglass

  • Lightweight
  • Rigid
  • Durable

  • More expensive

Paddle Blade Materials

Plastic (nylon/polypropylene)

It’s common for more wallet-friendly paddles to use a plastic paddle blade due to its lower cost. However, they tend to flex while paddling, so they’re not terribly efficient. They’re also not as strong as composite paddle blades and can be damaged by UV rays if left out in the sun for extended periods.

  • Affordable

  • Heavy
  • Less Efficient

Composites

Fiberglass and carbon fiber blades are more rigid than plastic, so they make for more efficient paddling. They’re also lighter and more durable than plastic. However, pure composite blades are fairly expensive and prone to chipping when knocked against rocks. Many manufacturers will add fiberglass reinforcing to plastic blades for added rigidity and durability while keeping costs down.

  • Lightweight
  • More Efficient
  • More Durable

  • Expensive

Other Features to Consider

Feathering – Some paddles allow you to ‘feather’ the paddle, which means offsetting the blades of the paddle so they aren’t perfectly lined up with each other. Put simply, while one blade is in the water the other will be angled so that it is slicing through the air resulting in greater paddling efficiency. It requires more wrist movement and takes a bit of getting used to but it’s nice to have the option to try this style of paddling to see if you like it.

Drip rings – Most paddles come with rubber drip rings that prevent water from sliding down the paddle and getting you wet.

Paddle color – While color mostly comes down to personal preference, brighter colors stand out and make it easier for other water traffic to spot you. Consider a brighter color if you paddle in busy areas for added safety.

Best Recreational Kayak Paddles Under $100

Best Recreational Kayak Paddles Under $100

Bending Branches Whisper

Overall Score: (4.5/5)

Bending Branches Whisper 2-Piece Snap-Button Recreational Kayak Paddle; (Aluminium Shaft/Black Blade - 220cm)

Weight: 37 oz. (210 cm)

Lengths: 210 cm, 220 cm, 230 cm, 240 cm

Shaft Material: Aluminum

Blade Material: Plastic reinforced with fiberglass

Durability:

Performance:

Value:

Best for: Paddlers that want a step up from a budget paddle but still don’t want to spend a ton of money. 

 $65.33

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-07-20 at 17:14 – Details)

Review

The Whisper, according to Bending Branches, is one of the best selling recreational kayak paddles in the world, and for good reason.

It’s a step up in quality compared to budget paddles but still manages to maintain a wallet-friendly price point.

It uses a tried and true aluminum/plastic combination for the shaft and paddle blade to keep costs down but kicks up the build quality a notch and packs in a few extra features.

The Whisper breaks down into two pieces and can be used in a standard or feathered position like most paddles. But unlike other paddles, Bending Branches added in an upgraded plastic ferrule where the two pieces join. The ferrule acts to reinforce the joint and ensures a secure fit with no wiggle. It also helps the pieces connect and disconnect smoothly even if you get a bit of grit in the joint.

The shaft also has two plastic grip areas which are a nice touch as they’re a bit more comfortable to hang on to than bare aluminum.

The blades are reinforced with a center ridge and fiberglass for added rigidity and to help prevent fluttering while paddling through the water.

If you’re not quite ready to spring for a fiberglass paddle, the Whisper offers a good compromise between performance, quality, and value.

Advanced Elements Orbit

Overall Score: (4.5/5)

ADVANCED ELEMENTS Orbit Kayak Paddle

Weight: 36 oz.

Length: Adjustable from 225 cm to 235 cm

Shaft Material: Fiberglass

Blade Material: Plastic reinforced with fiberglass

Durability:

Performance:

Value:

Best for: Paddlers looking for an adaptable and ultra portable paddle.

 $76.95

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-07-20 at 17:14 – Details)

Review

For those that aren’t familiar with Advanced Elements, they’re one of the top manufactuerers of performance-focused but ultra portable inflatable kayaks. So, it’s no wonder they’ve also come up with a paddle to match.

The Orbit disassembles into four separate pieces rather than the standard two, which allows it to break down to a compact 25.5 inches. This is great not only for storage when not in use, but also makes it really easy to throw into a pack or into the trunk of a small car for transportation.

The shaft is made of fiberglass so, it’s rigid and lightweight, which are great qualities if you paddle for extended periods of time. Another unique feature of the shaft is that the length is adjustable between 225 cm and 235 cm. This could come in handy if it’ll be used by paddlers of different heights or if you want a paddle that can adjust to fit the width of other kayaks.

The shaft is also fully featherable, so you can adjust it to the exact angle you want. While the blades are nylon, they’re reinforced with fiberglass for added rigidity and durability.

The Orbit is an adaptable paddle in a performance-focused package. It’s not the cheapest paddle but could be ideal if you need something extra portable or a paddle that’s suited to different paddlers or kayaks.

SeaSense X-Treme II Mix

Overall Score: (4.0/5)

SeaSense X-Treme II Mix Kayak Paddle

Weight: Not specified

Lengths: 84 inch (213 cm), 96 inch (244 cm)

Shaft Material: Aluminum

Blade Material: Plastic

Durability:

Performance:

Value:

Best for: Paddlers on a budget that want good value for their money.

 from $37.22

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-07-20 at 17:14 – Details)

Review

If you’re working with a budget but still want a decent paddle, the SeaSense X-Treme II Mix could be a solid option.

It uses a fairly basic aluminum/plastic construction for the shaft and the blade, so don’t expect the level of performance you’d get from a composite paddle. However, it does have a ridge down the center of the paddle blade for some extra reinforcement and durability.

The size options are fairly limited and it only comes in 84 inch (213 cm) or 96 inch (244 cm) lengths. But if either of those sizes works for you, it’s a paddle that will offer acceptable performance, especially considering its price.

The X-Treme II Mix breaks down into two pieces for easier transportation. It also has multiple locking positions so you can either feather the paddle or keep it straight depending on your preference. The foam grips on the paddle are a nice touch for added comfort and also help prevent blisters.

While it’s certainly not a performance paddle, if you’re looking for something simple that won’t fall apart on you, it’ll get the job done without breaking the bank in the process.

 

 

Carlisle Magic Plus

Overall Score: (4.3/5)

Carlisle Magic Plus Kayak Paddle - Polypro Blades/Fiberglass Shaft

Weight: 39.8 oz. (220 cm)

Lengths: 220 cm, 230 cm, 240 cm

Shaft Material: Fiberglass

Blade Material: Plastic reinforced with fiberglass

Durability:

Performance:

Value:

Best for: Paddlers looking for an entry level fiberglass paddle.

 from $69.00

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-07-20 at 17:14 – Details)

Review

The Magic Plus is an entry level performance paddle from Carlisle and is one of the most affordable fiberglass paddles you’re likely to find. While it’s on the heavier side for a fiberglass shafted paddle, it still offers the performance benefits that come with a more rigid material.

The blades are plastic reinforced with fiberglass for extra durability and rigidity.

It’s worth noting that the shaft is a bit thicker than other models, which is perhaps the reason it’s a bit heavier. That being the case, it may not be the most comfortable choice if you have smaller hands.

Another noteworthy point is that the right side of the shaft has an ‘ovalized’ section where your hand is placed. This allows you to feel how the paddle is angled while paddling without having to look at the paddle. It may take a bit of getting used to, but it’ll help you stay more in tune with your paddle once you do get the hang of it.

 

Aqua-Bound Manta Ray Fiberglass

Overall Score: (4.5/5)

AQUA BOUND Manta Ray 2-Piece Fiberglass Shaft Kayak Paddle

Weight: 34.75 oz. (220 cm)

Lengths: 210 cm, 220 cm, 230 cm, 240 cm

Shaft Material: Fiberglass

Blade Material: Plastic reinforced with fiberglass

Durability:

Performance:

Value:

Best for: Recreational paddlers that regularly go on extended day trips.

 from $109.95

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-07-20 at 17:14 – Details)

Review

The Manta Ray line of Aqua-Bound paddles offers a bit more horsepower than their other models. Its larger paddle blades offer more bite while paddling through the water and help get wider recreational kayaks up to speed with fewer strokes.

The shaft is fiberglass and is ‘ovalized’ where your hands are placed. This offers a more comfortable grip than a perfectly round shaft and helps you know how the blades are angled without having to look at them.

The Manta Ray has fiberglass reinforced plastic blades and uses Aqua-Bound’s abXII resin, which makes the blades 22% stronger than older models without adding extra weight.

While it’s not the cheapest, the Manta Ray’s lightweight and comfortable build make it particularly well suited to recreational paddlers that like to head out on extended day trips. If you only hit the water for an hour or two at a time, you may not be able to take full advantage of it and can probably get away with a more basic paddle.

Wrapping Up

A big part of choosing a good recreational paddle comes down to personal preference and how long your paddling sessions are. Having said that, our top pick for best recreational kayak paddle under $100 is the Bending Branches Whisper.

It’s a well-made paddle from a highly respected company and offers a great balance between performance and durability at a price that’s well within reach for most recreational paddlers. It’s also surprisingly lightweight for an aluminum paddle so you’ll be able to extend the amount of time you spend on the water without getting tired too quickly.

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