Last updated on July 19th, 2018 at 11:48 pm
Your kayak paddle is the most important piece of equipment after your kayak. It has a serious impact on both your performance and how much you enjoy your time on the water.
While there are tons of options available, choosing a paddle doesn’t have to be difficult. Once you know the important points to consider and the pros and cons of various features, you’ll be able to narrow down the sea of options to just a handful of paddles that best fit your needs and budget.
Here’s an infographic that summarizes the key aspects of choosing a kayak paddle. Read the full article below for an in depth guide on finding your ideal paddle.
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When choosing a paddle the first and most important thing to get right is its length.
Problems that come with an incorrectly sized paddle:
Problems that come with an incorrectly sized paddle:
The key points to consider when sizing your paddle are:
- Kayak width
- Paddler height
As a rule, wider kayaks and taller paddlers require longer paddles. Each manufacturer recommends slightly different lengths but the chart below should give you a pretty good idea where you stand. Just bear in mind that paddle length is measured in centimeters rather than inches.
Paddle Sizing Chart
|Kayak Width||Under 23”||24” to 28”||29” to 33”||34”+|
|Under 5’ 5”||210 cm||220 cm||230 cm||240 cm|
|5’ 5” to 5’ 11”||220 cm||230 cm||240 cm||250 cm|
|6’+||230 cm||240 cm||250 cm||260 cm|
It’s worth measuring the width of your kayak or looking it up on the manufacturer’s website for the best possible fit. But as a reference, here are the typical widths of various types of kayaks.
|Width||27” – 36”||23” – 27”||19” – 23”||30” – 40”||30” – 40”|
Just the width of your kayak and your height will give you a pretty accurate idea of your ideal paddle length.
However, it’s also a good idea to take into account your seat height and the angle of your paddle stroke.
Some sit-on-top kayaks have seats that sit particularly high above the level of the water. This is common among fishing kayaks that have both high and low seating positions.
If you paddle from a high seating position, you may want to consider adding 10 cm to compensate for the increased distance from the water.
Low-Angle vs High-Angle Paddle Strokes
There are two broad styles of paddling:
- Low-Angle – More relaxed and ideal for touring and casual recreational paddling. It’s not as powerful but also won’t tire you out as quickly. Low-angle paddling requires a longer paddle.
- High-Angle – More aggressive paddling style suited to more demanding conditions or for generating more powerful strokes. High-angle paddling requires a shorter paddle.
Low-angle paddling is the most common style. Most paddlers will default to a low-angle stroke without even thinking about it as it’s more comfortable.
Ideally, a manufacturer will specify whether their size charts are geared towards low or high-angle paddling, but some won’t. If they don’t, there’s a good chance their chart is based on low-angle paddling and you may want to subtract 10 cm if you prefer a high-angle stroke.
When considering the design of your paddle blade, you want to think about both its shape and size. The material it’s made of is also important but we’ll cover that in a bit.
The shape of your blade goes back to whether you prefer a low-angle or high-angle paddling style.
Low-angle blades are narrow and long, which makes them more comfortable for casual and long distance paddling. High-angle blades, on the other hand, are short and wide and are designed for maximum power when paddled at a high angle.
Dihedral vs Spoon
Dihedral and spoon are the most common paddle shapes you’ll see. Most kayakers find dihedral blades more comfortable.
You can spot a dihedral blade by the ridge that runs along its center. The ridge helps water flow evenly over the surface of the blade, which prevents it from fluttering and makes for more comfortable paddling.
Spoon blades scoop the water and offer a better bite. The downside is that they tend to flutter quite a bit if your paddling technique isn’t perfect. You’re probably better off with a dihedral blade unless you’re committed to nailing down your technique.
Asymmetrical vs Symmetrical
Most kayak paddles have an asymmetrical shape with the top edge of the blade being longer than the bottom. This helps keep the water pressure on the top and bottom of the blade even and prevents the shaft from twisting in your hands.
Symmetrical blades are more common for non-kayaking paddles but some budget kayak paddles may use them. You’re generally better off with an asymmetrical blade for kayaking if it’s in your budget.
Larger blades have more surface area and will offer more bite while paddling. They’ll be able to generate more power but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should go for the largest paddle blade you can find.
Moving a larger blade through the water requires more strength and puts more strain on your body. So, paddlers that aren’t as strong or have a smaller frame are usually better off with a smaller blade.
Having said that, larger blades can be an advantage if your kayak is very heavy or loaded down with a lot of gear.
|Blade Size||Under 90 in² (580 cm²)||90 – 100 in² (580 – 645 cm²)||Over 100 in² (645 cm²)|
The material a paddle is made of has a significant impact on its:
Weight – Having a lighter paddle allows you to extend your time on the water and do more paddling with less fatigue. Shaving off a pound may not seem like much but it adds up over the course of several hours of paddling and thousands of strokes.
Performance – More rigid materials perform better while paddling and do a better job turning your effort into forward motion. Materials with more flex don’t hold their shape as well while moving through the water, leading to less efficient paddling and requiring more strokes to cover the same distance.
Durability – While there are exceptions, higher-end materials are generally tougher and will stand up to abuse better than lower quality materials.
Price – As with most things, you’ll pay a premium for higher quality materials. From cheapest to most expensive, here are the most common material combinations:
- Plastic blade / aluminum shaft
- Reinforced plastic blade / composite shaft
- Composite blade / composite shaft
‘Plastic’ and ‘composite’ are used in a generic sense. There are a number of plastics used in paddle blades with the most common being nylon and polypropylene. Composites refer exclusively to either fiberglass or carbon fiber.
- Plastic / plastic reinforced with fiberglass – These are the most economical blades you’ll find. They’re also the heaviest and least rigid blades, so they don’t perform particularly well. Plastic blades are most commonly found in recreational kayak paddles. Reinforcing plastic blades with fiberglass can improve performance and durability but not to the level of full composite blades.
- Fiberglass – This is your middle of the road option. Fiberglass blades offer excellent durability and performance but are significantly cheaper than carbon fiber blades.They’re a good fit for more committed recreational paddlers and as entry-level touring paddles. They have a little bit of flexibility so they don’t perform quite as well as carbon fiber. However, the flex makes them a bit more impact resistant, which is nice if you’re paddling around rocks.
- Carbon fiber – Blades made from carbon fiber are the lightest and highest performance ones you’ll find. They’re not cheap but are your best bet if you’re looking for an ultralight performance paddle. While carbon fiber is a very strong material, blades made of carbon fiber are typically made to be as light as possible and can be a little more susceptible to sharp impacts compared to fiberglass blades.
- Aluminum – Shafts made from aluminum are easy on your wallet and are actually fairly durable. The downside is that they can be uncomfortable to hold when it’s hot or cold out. This is particularly worth thinking about if the water you’re paddling in is cold.
- Fiberglass & carbon fiber – Composite materials make for the most lightweight and highest performance shafts. Carbon fiber does have an edge but, as with blades, you’ll pay a premium for it. Both fiberglass and carbon fiber do an excellent job insulating your hands from the water temperature.
- Straight vs Bent – Straight shafts are what most paddlers are familiar with. However, if you do a lot of paddling or have issues with your wrists a bent shaft is worth considering. It places your wrists in a more neutral position during your stroke, which puts less strain on them. Unfortunately, they tend to be fairly expensive.
- Diameter – Shafts will either come in a standard or small size. Most paddlers are better off with a standard shaft but if you have smaller hands try a small-diameter shaft. You want a fairly relaxed grip to reduce fatigue while paddling, which is hard to do if the shaft is too large for your hands.
- Feathering – Most shafts allow you to ‘feather’ your paddle blades so they’re offset from each other. Paddling with offset blades takes a bit of getting used to but it can significantly reduce the wind resistance of your upper blade while it’s moving through the air. Some paddles allow for only one preset feathering angle while other paddles will allow you to set a customized angle.
- Two-piece vs four-piece – The standard is for paddles to break down into two pieces for easier transportation and storage. If you want some extra portability or plan to fly with your paddle, many paddles also come in a four-piece configuration that pack down to a smaller size.
- Adjustable length – Some paddles have the ability to adjust their length. The adjustment is usually about 15 cm and could be a good option if you have multiple kayaks of different widths or the paddle will be used by paddlers of different heights. It’s also a handy feature if your kayak’s seat is adjustable between a low and high position as is commonly found in fishing kayaks.