kayak paddle

Ultimate Guide on How to Choose your Kayak Paddle

In this post, I’ll share my experience of choosing the kayak paddle, and let you know what to take into consideration when purchasing your own.

After using this pair of Welsh classics a couple of times, I think my new Greenland paddle from Select is the whitewater weapon I have been waiting patiently to wield. But it’s not an instant victory. At 6ft 4 and just less than 80kg, I’m not your typically built paddler. Contrary to what many would think, my height hasn’t been a big problem in choosing the kayaks I wanted.

Whitewater kayak designs have evolved over the past 10 years to favor a broader front half, even in smaller more playful boats; the extra volume in the bow helps the kayak to emerge quickly again and to fly over the river features.

I have always noticed that I had enough legroom after a few bolt adjustments! The gear that needed most of the trial and error was the paddle. How long? Does it have to be a crank? Which shape/size of the blade? Does it have to be a crank? Carbon or glass? What feather? These questions seem simple, but in practice, they can be confusing and have dramatic effects on the performance of your paddle and your body’s response to pulling those big old spoons through the water.

Here are a few of my findings over the years:

 

5 Simple steps you should follow when buying for a kayak paddle

It is inevitable, you do your research, you buy a kayak, you quickly choose a PFD, but when you are faced with buying a paddle, it is as if you were a deer caught in the headlights. I can’t blame you, it can be intimidating to look at the wall paddles in the store or even on a website, where we present the rows and rows of paddles. This may seem provocative to a seller but spend as much as you can. Easier said than done, of course, but if we take into account that you make up to 1000 strokes per mile, the difference in a quality paddle go a long way, literally in the figurative sense. Here is a quick, non-technical guide to help you get the right paddle.

 

Step 1. Type

Start by determining the type of paddle that you need in terms of activity.

You basically have two types of paddles, one for recreational use and the other for more performance-oriented activities. You can easily distinguish them by the shape of the blades. The top blade is called a high-angle blade. It is usually wider and shorter and is used for performance or more aggressive paddling. A specimen that is considered a low-angle blade, most common and best suited for tourism, recreational kayaking, and leisure.

Chances are you are looking for a low-angle blade.

 

Step 2. Material

Next, you want to make sure that you choose the lightest and most rigid paddle possible within your budget.

If you can’t “touch” a paddle before buying one, keep in mind that glass fiber and carbon sheets are stiffer than plastic blades or plastic blends. This is an important characteristic, because the more the blade bends, the more energy you lose with every stroke. Fiberglass and carbon sheets will also be lighter. You will notice that the paddle shafts are made of a variety of different materials and like blades, the fiberglass and carbon sheets are generally lighter and more durable than aluminum.

Before we go any further, if you think that that top-to-bottom fiberglass and/or carbon paddles don’t meet your budget requirements, you should at least consider buying a paddle with a quality shaft. Most manufacturers offer mid-range hybrid paddles made from reinforced nylon blades and carbon shafts with an offering more benefits than aluminum and even fiberglass or fiberglass/plastic blend shafts.

 

Step 3. Size

The size of a paddle does not have to be complicated.

Of course, this entire article could be about the length of the paddle and you can go into the finer physical details with a variety of algorithms, but it’s best to keep it simple. This easy-to-read table will help you determine the length of the paddle you need to consider when looking for a recreational paddle in general.

Torso Size Kayak Paddle Size
22” Youth 180 cm
24” Youth 180-200 cm
26” 190-210 cm
28” 200-220 cm
30” 210-230 cm
32” 220-240 cm
34” 230-250 cm
36” 240-250 cm
38” 250 cm

 

If you are planning to buy a paddle in whitewater, the dimensioning may be slightly more complicated, depending on many factors. Don’t hesitate to contact us so that we can better guide you.

 

Step 4 Shaft

This can be as simple as 1, 2, 3, but you have to consider a few extra points. For example, you are in a situation where a manufacturer offers shaft options of different diameters. If you have smaller hands, consider shafts with a smaller diameter. Another feature that you will see on some paddles is the bent shafts. Bent shafts easily provide more finger contact for more control and help reduce fatigue. Bent shafts may seem strange at first, but you will soon understand the movement after only a few trips. It is just my personal opinion, but I now use a paddle with bent shafts and I can’t imagine using anything else.

Another kayak paddle term that you will hear is “Feathering”, usually a function of the ferrule. It allows you to adjust the angle of your blades to reduce wind resistance. Most paddles offer at least 3 angle positions. However, some higher paddles offer more precise and shorter feathering. You may also wonder what these rubber rings are on both sides of the paddle. They are anti-drip rings and they are used to prevent water from sinking into the drum, keeping your hands dry and free from blisters.

 

Step 5: Weight

In general, lighter paddles are preferred over heavier paddles, unless the type of paddle you are considering requires maximum durability, such as whitewater. But even in this case, if you have the choice between two equally apparent sustainability models, go lighter.

It’s a simple physics, a lighter paddle is easier to lift and swing in the air, as well as to pull through the water. The difference may not be too obvious in the morning, but by the end of the afternoon, you see the difference. Ounces add up. Suppose a paddler makes 1000 strokes a day. If his paddle weighs 30 ozs, he’s lifted 1,875 pounds in the course of those 1000 strokes. If the paddle weighs 21 ozs, that translates to a burden of 1312 ozs., a savings of about 40%, nothing to be sneezed at.

 

More Detail about Choosing your Kayak Paddle

 

Size matters

If you are over 6ft and paddle on a river or a creek boat, you should forget about an enjoyable ride with a paddle of less than 197 cm.

One of the most important decisions that most people forget when kayaking for the first time is choosing the perfect sized paddle. I remember when I bought my first kayak, I used the paddle that came with it. I really didn’t know much about the paddle or that there were even kayak paddles of different sizes. I was just happy with a paddle and a kayak because now I could catch some redfish in my own boat.

Like a lot of people who start kayaking, I was first a fisherman and then a paddler though I still am, at least I know a lot more about kayaking now. At that time I did not know how important it would be to become a good paddler to become a better fisherman.

 

You may have heard a general rule stating that you determine the size of your paddle by keeping your arms above your head. The size of your palette must be equal to the distance between the floor and the tips of your fingers. However, this rule must be taken with a grain of salt as you usually paddle while sitting down – this makes leg length less important.

Instead, I recommend measuring your torso as this will help you determine how much you should stretch your upper body while paddling. Measure your torso by sitting upright on a flat chair. Then measure the distance between the surface of the chair and the top of your shoulders. This usually means the following paddle sizes:

Torso Size Kayak Paddle Size
22” Youth 180 cm
24” Youth 180-200 cm
26” 190-210 cm
28” 200-220 cm
30” 210-230 cm
32” 220-240 cm
34” 230-250 cm
36” 240-250 cm
38” 250 cm

 

Your fitness level also has a role to play in the choice of a paddle:

More athletic kayakers will often opt for a longer paddle, while the smaller kayakers will choose shorter paddles. Women, who generally have less muscle mass than men, will often have more advantage to choose a slightly shorter paddle.

Paddlers with issues in their wrists or shoulder can also benefit from the choice of a shorter paddle, paddling for a 210-215 cm showed that it requires little or no pressure on the wrists and shoulders.

But, as mentioned earlier, these guidelines are only meant to point you in the right direction. And in the end, I don’t think you have to worry about the perfect size of the paddle.

An example: if you choose a paddle with an extra length of 4 cm, it only equals to an extra area of 16 cm – and this should be compared to the blades total area of 650 cm2.

 

Degree Feather?

Choosing a degree feather is personal preference, but watch out for your wrist!

I’ve paddled with all variations of feathers (i.e. the degree of variation between the two blades) over the years and I can honestly say that this is one of the most popular ones, in terms of usability I don’t think it matters much.

On the other hand, what you really need to bothered about is your wrist. Imagine Rocky throwing a punch – no gloves. Imagine now that he does it with his fist a little diagonally, at odds with the line of his forearm. It’s going to hurt. Now replace Rocky’s arm with your upper hand as he grasps the shaft of the paddle and pushes it to power your stroke.

The pain may not be as direct as when Rocky’s punch goes wrong, but paddling with a twisted wrist WILL cause you to pain in the long run. After kayaking with the 90s for a year, I had wrist problems for about two years after switching to a more sensitive feather. See more: Understanding Paddle Feathering

 

Crank Paddle?

A crank shaft looks cool, but be sure it’s for you before buying one!

After the aforementioned wrist problem, some people suggested investing in a crank paddle. Others suggested giving up my extracurricular activities. The cranks are recommended to encourage an ergonomic grip (Good strong punch) if they work for you and you find that you can’t find this position without them, they may be exactly what you need!

I didn’t get on with them. I discovered that the crank was in the wrong place for me, and I resented that I was told where to hold a paddle. As with the above, it is important to ensure that as you put power through your blade, both wrists can stay in line as much as possible.

 

Oval Grip

A nice oval grip makes a big difference.

All the best manufacturers of paddles have the option to oval the paddle shaft. Many do it as standard. An oval handle will guide your fingers for a natural grip on the right side, aligning your joint with the top of the blade and giving you the best feel and control over the feather of the blade in the water.

This can really make a difference for those struggling with their Eskimo roll!

 

Blade Size

A big strong paddle blade will give power, but try to find a blade size that fits!

If you realize that you are making too many strokes to make a simple move across the flow, one of the two things may go wrong. Either your blade is too small for your pulling power, which is equivalent to riding a bike with too low gear; or the blade is not stiff enough and therefore loses energy by bending with water.

The rigidity problem exists mainly in plastic paddles and can be solved with a paddle that is carbon or fiberglass. It will make a huge difference! The carbon foam-core blades will give the most bang for their money in this respect. Your blade size is like the acceleration on your bike. If it’s too small, you will lose energy and in the end, you won’t get anywhere, and if it’s too big you’ll stall. It’s time to try out so many different shapes and sizes until you find a paddle that looks like the Baby Bear’s porridge; just right.

paddle-blade-size
Photo Credit: kayakfishing.blog

 

Kayak paddle weight

I recommend a paddle weight between 700 and 1,100 grams.

A paddle weighing less than 700 grams will be very difficult to control when it’s not comfortable in your hands. On the other hand, if a paddle weighs more than 1100 grams, it increases the weight you have to move with each stroke – it becomes clear after a few hours in the water.

 

My Top Recommendations of Kayak Paddle

In this section, we’ll take a look at the best kayak paddles for the money. I’ve compared durability, size, weight, and cost to give you my top recommendations.

How many times have you wondered what kind of paddle is best for you? I began asking myself this question from the start, while for some of my kayaking friends this never seemed to be an issue.

There are many parameters to consider and to choose from and once you’ve started to evaluate all those you’re hardly in the mood to buy a new paddle and stick with your old one. You could say, better the old paddle you know and is comfortable with than go down a new path with a new paddle.

But let’s put our thoughts in order and make a list of what drives us to buy one over the other or to stay faithful to the old one. Undoubtedly one of the first thoughts is with regards to budget, If the funds are very limited even before thinking about buying a new paddle, which could possibly cost hundreds of bucks, I would likely desist buying.

 

Gearlab Akiak Kayak Paddle

My lifelong friend and adventure companion and I have always argued on what paddle is most powerful, responsive and what model makes you less tired. We never come to a conclusion. He prefers the Euro blade with adjustable blade angles. I have used Greenland paddles for years and now I have two Gearlab carbon models.


(Check on Amazon)

I think he likes the way that his kayak responds with a large blade while I’m fine in the longer distances and I do not tire easily. But never really knowing who is right, we rely on what we feel and each one of us holds on to our beliefs. It is not wrong to say that there are two different ways to paddle and that, I agree with him, when sea conditions get worse, I find my Greenland paddle, the AKIAK model, less reactive than the Euro blade. But that’s what Gearlab thought of when offering a surf paddle, the KAYAKID, which has a shorter length and a wider blade, details that make it suitable for rougher seas.

Anyway, given my experience with Greenland paddles, I would not go back today. The Greenland paddle is the one I stick to for many reasons. A paddle like this offers little resistance to wind and less wrist movement, so since I started using the Greenland paddle my days at sea have become more and more enjoyable and with fewer ailments.

The Gearlab models, such as my AKIAK, (Check the current price on Amazon) are unparalleled over long distances. The right length proportioned to my anthropometric measurements and the main measurements of the kayak. It’s very low weight allow you to paddle for hours without feeling tired, especially in the trapezius muscles and the forearms. In addition, the option to utilize the full paddle length for maneuvering by just moving your hands (e.g. support and Eskimo) is another benefit.

One point, not against, but a detail to be considered in the purchasing choice, but this would also apply to the Euro blades, is the vulnerability of materials such as carbon. Super light, rigid, but delicate in the event of an impact on rocks.

This fact always makes me a bit anxious when I paddle on shallow water depths with paddles like these. And that’s why Gearlab has made the tip more robust, with replaceable plastic ends/caps. These will take the hit in the eventuality of impact against the seabed or the rocks.

 

Carlisle Day Tripper Aluminum Kayak Paddle

Whether you’re a beginner, a hobbyist, or a serious river rat, I can guarantee that Carlisle Paddle Gear has something for you. now that we are more informed about the brand, let’s take a closer look at the product. The Carlisle Day Tripper Aluminum Kayak Paddle (Check the price on Amazon) is an awesome paddle that both beginners and experienced kayakers often go for.

Being made out of lightweight tempered aluminum of the highest quality, you can be sure that transporting and using this paddle will be a breeze. You will be able to subject this paddle to all kinds of abuse with the guarantee that it won’t break down on you.

The blade of this is made out of polypropylene to ensure the blade’s durability and ability to stand up to the toughest conditions that it may be subjected to. Like the other paddles on my list, this amazing paddle can float. You won’t have to worry about losing this paddle when you accidentally let it go.

Lastly, the push-button two-piece design allows blades to be feathered at 60-degrees for right or left-hand control or used inline. This wonderful paddle is something that I would recommend to any hobbyist or beginner that is looking for a kayak paddle of the highest quality. You’re sure to be getting a bang for your buck with this amazing product and I suggest that you get it as soon as you can.

You can’t go wrong with this.

 

Intex Dual Purpose Paddle

Since the 1970s, Intex has strived to provide the market with products of the highest quality. Besides providing the market with high-quality products, Intex also makes it a point to price their products affordable. You can be guaranteed that you’ll be getting the best quality and price with anything from Intex.

Now that we know more about Intex and the brand’s rich history, mission, and vision, let us now learn more about the Intex Dual Purpose Kayak Paddle/Boat Oars. (Check the price on Amazon)

 

This fantastic product is an excellent 2 in 1 that can either be a kayak paddle or an oar for boats. This is perfect for any outdoorsman that engages himself in an array of different water-oriented activities.

The 96-inch paddle is connectable, and when it connects, it transforms into two 48-inch oars that are perfect for boating.

This awesome two-in-one kayak paddle/oar is constructed out of high-quality aluminum. You can be sure of the durability of this amazing material. You won’t ever again have to worry about having your paddle breaking on you when subjected to stress.

Overall, I’d recommend this beautiful product to any outdoorsman that engages himself in a wide array of different water-oriented outdoor activities. You are sure to be getting the best bang for your buck with this awesome product. 

 

Conclusion

To really find the best kayak paddle for you, you need to try different ones to compare them. You’ll then able to judge for yourself which one is more comfortable to use or offers better performance.

But you should choose among these 3 options we have listed on this kayak paddle reviews first, so you can see what great paddles feel like. But the most important rule of all is to never take kayak paddles for granted. They’re just as important for your enjoyment of the water as your kayak.

Thanks for reading.  If you’ve found this post helpful or would like to share an opinion of your own, please continue the discussion in the comment section below.

Happy paddling!

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Levi Armstrong
9 months ago

It’s great that you mentioned I should get a paddle that weighs between 700-1,100 grams because a lighter paddle would be difficult and uncomfortable to control. Meanwhile, if the paddle is too heavy, it would feel heavier with each stroke. My dad plans to purchase paddles for the used kayak he bought, so I’ll share this with him later. Thanks!

Boat Rental Service Indian Rocks Beach, FL

Hi! This article is filled with answers to my ample questions. I am in the midst of starting a new blog and this article will be a bookmark for my future reference. Thanks for sharing this informative article.

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