How to Choose a Kayak Paddle – With Sizing Guide

You’ve been thinking about getting into kayaking, but you don’t have a proper kayak paddle to use. There are several different models that you can choose from, and once you get a kayak, you need a good paddle to guide it. In this guide, we will discuss the different kayaking paddles available to you and how to choose the best kayak paddle for the type of paddling that you will be enjoying.

What Kind of Kayaking are you Considering?

There are a few factors to choosing a kayak paddle that is right for you. First, we will go through the type of kayaking you are doing before moving onto sizing, types of paddles, and designs.

Recreational Kayaking

recreational paddler

When you are doing a lot of recreational kayaking, you will find that the majority of these kayaks paddles that you get are designed to be used with shorter kayaks. Most recreational kayaking is done on calm water, so a low angle paddle will work well for your needs. Because of the width of recreational kayaks, a longer paddle that is between 230 and 250 centimeters is ideal so that you can always reach the water with the paddle.

You will also want to consider a heavier paddle because recreational kayaking is typically only done for a short period of time. It will give you more durability, but the increased weight can quickly give you fatigue. Typically these paddles can be found at a good price.

Kayak Fishing

guy paddling in fishing kayak

Many avid anglers like to enjoy a day out on the water in their kayak. Fishing kayak paddles can have special features on them that make it easy for you to recover a fishing line when it gets snagged on a rock or a fallen branch under the water. Also many paddles have a tape measure built into the shaft so that you can measure the fish that you catch. These features can make fishing more convenient in a kayak.

In fishing kayaks, the seat is often positioned higher in the kayak so that it’s easier to maneuver your fishing rod, so this means that you will want a longer paddle that will easily be able to reach the water. In fact, telescoping paddles have become more popular when it comes to kayak fishing so that the same paddle can be used when the seat is raised to fish as well as when the seat is lowered to travel to your destination on the water.

Since you are likely going to be fishing for a few hours or more, you will want to find a lightweight paddle to help minimize fatigue when you are rowing. You will need a durable paddle that does not sacrifice functionality.

Sea/ Touring Kayaking

guy paddling in touring kayak

 

Touring is typically done using long, narrow kayaks, so you will need to get a short paddle to properly maneuver them. Ideally, a paddle that is 210 to 230 centimeters will work well for most touring trips. With the right touring kayaking paddle, you will be comfortable paddling for hours because of the ergonomic design that helps reduce fatigue. These lightweight paddles are also perfect for navigating in rivers and slow-moving bodies of water. Different styles and blade shapes can be used for sea kayaking, so find one that is comfortable for you.

White Water Kayaking

guy paddling in white water kayak

Kayaking in white water is a more aggressive form of the sport. Since you will be dealing with rapids, you need a strong kayak paddle to make sure that you can get where you are going. There are two basic shapes of paddle blades that you should consider. River runners are designed to give you power when running rivers and creeks. Play paddles give you more maneuverability so that you can avoid rocks while linking strokes. Ideally, you will want a high angled paddle that is feathered to easily control the kayak in this type of water.

These paddles also need to withstand impact because you never know how the water will treat you on any given day. The last thing you need is to damage your paddle because you hit a rock. Your paddle needs to be able to cut through the water with ease as well as fight against the strength of the current. With that being said, most kayaking paddles have a wide blade and a thick shaft to make dealing with these strong currents easier.

How to Choose the Kayak Paddle Length

The length of the kayaking paddle that you are going to get is typically determined by two things: the width of the kayak and your height. If you get the wrong paddle length, then you are likely to have issues with the paddle reaching the water and having less control of the boat when you are paddling. Let’s take a quick look at each to see what length is right for your needs. Below is a kayak paddle size chart.

Paddlers Height Kayak Width (based on REI)
Under 23" 23 - 28" 29" - 32" Over 32"
Under 5' Tall 210 cm 220 cm 230 cm 240 cm
Under 5'6" Tall 215 cm 220 cm 230 cm 240 cm
Under 6' Tall 220 cm 220 cm 230 cm 250 cm
Over 6' Tall 220 cm 230 cm 240 cm 250 cm

Kayak Width: Wider kayaks require you to have a longer paddle. So, for example, fishing kayaks require you to have a long paddle because they have a width between 30 and 40 inches. However, touring kayaking, which are 20 to 27 inches wide, will manage a shorter paddle with ease because the kayak is narrower. The kayak should be measured at the widest point to help you determine the length that you need.

Paddler Height: Taller individuals will need longer paddles so that the distance you are from the water does not affect how your paddle hits the water. Realistically, for every 6 inches over five feet, you should add 10 centimeters to the length of the paddle. This includes having a high seating position in the kayak as well.

If you find that you need a height that falls between what is available to you, it is best to go with the shorter option unless you have an extremely short torso and need the extra reach that a longer paddle can provide. The angle you paddle will also come into play when you determine the length of your paddle. Hopefully, this section has helped you size up your paddle needs, but if you are a virtual learner, then take a look at this video.

Low Angle or High Angle

This refers to the angle that your paddle hits the water when you are kayaking. In general, high angle paddling is better for more aggressive water and white water kayaking because the short strokes make the paddle faster. When the current is strong, high angle strokes can help you move through the water more quickly. The paddle can be shorter with this style, but it will require more work to keep doing it for an extended period of time.

Low angle paddling is a more relaxed style that keeps your paddles more horizontal to the surface of the water. It is designed for long periods on the water, so if you use this type of stroke, then a longer paddle may be best. Low angle is the type of paddling that many default to using while on the water because it is the more comfortable option out of the two. Fishing, recreational, and touring kayaking also typically use low angle paddling.

Budget

One of the most significant differences between a more budget-friendly paddle and a more expensive one is durability. More expensive paddles tend to be made of better materials, so expect them to last longer. When it comes to kayaking materials, the old adage rings true: you get what you pay for.

Still, this isn’t to say that you have to spend a ton of cash on your paddles – casual kayakers that aren’t spending a lot of time on the water can easily get away with a cheaper paddle. Cheaper models are also excellent for a beginner that’s just learning the kayaking ropes.

To really understand the difference between a cheaper paddle and a more fully-featured one, let’s take a look at two specific kayak paddle reviews.

Budget Paddle: Naviskin Two-Piece Aluminum Construction Paddle

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

This product is relatively popular with casual kayakers because it is a two-piece product that can be split to make storage easier. The kayak paddles are also made of aluminum, so it ends up being a relatively lightweight and strong option, especially for those kayakers on a budget. The paddles are also feathered, so they aren’t parallel, making them aerodynamic and giving you more speed in the water.

The blades on these are ultra-thin and made of polypropylene (PP), which is a newer type of plastic material that allows for some flex compared to other, more rigid plastics like polyethylene (PE). As a result, the blade cuts more naturally through the water, which can benefit your paddling. Additionally, this product comes in five colors, which is useful for paddlers looking to match their vessel’s color.

Still, as a budget-friendly product, there are some noteworthy issues that may be off-putting for more serious kayakers. For example, the shaft of the paddle is a bit rough on the hands, so going on the water for hours may introduce some scrapes and calluses. Also, the aluminum material can bend and distort over time and use.

Pros

  • The aluminum shaft is very lightweight and easy to paddle with.
  • It’s feathered, so you’ll find it’s easy to cut through both air and water as you paddle.
  • It comes in five colors, so it’ll be easier to match the paddle with the vessel.

Cons

  • The paddle is somewhat short and can be a poor fit for some kayakers.
  • The haft section of the shaft is rough on the hands, especially if you’re planning on kayaking for hours.

More Expensive Paddle: Wilderness Systems Apex Carbon Angler Kayak Fishing Paddle

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

Durability and featheFounr lightness are the two hallmark features of this Wilderness Systems paddle. Carbon fiber is one of those new-age materials that tend to bring the price up of just about any product, but this is for a reason; carbon fiber is lightweight and has a strength that’s hard to emulate. It can also be relatively flexible, and in a kayak paddle, this helps the oar subtly bend when you’re pushing through the water.

In addition to these key features, this oar also has an adjustable size, so it’ll work for any paddler. At base, the paddle starts at seven feet, 10 inches and expands up to eight feet, six inches. This paddle is also designed for long-haul trips; it has a comfortable shaft and has a feathered design that’s made to increase stroke efficiency and control of your kayak.

This also has a high-angle blade, so this is also a paddle that you can use during whitewater kayaking since these tend to deliver more control. The Apex is also firmly geared towards fishing kayakers, as you may have guessed based on the “Angler” title, and the design promotes this kind of long-hour kayaking.

Pros

  • The oar has a high level of adjustability – you can even adjust the feathering with a lever.
  • It’s crafted out of carbon fiber.
  • It has an integrated line hook and 36-inch measuring tape for anglers.

Cons

  • Outside of the top-end price, there aren’t any real drawbacks to this paddle.

Materials

Carlisle Predator

When looking for a new kayak paddle, you must consider the type of material that it is made out of. The material you select for your paddle will significantly impact how durable it is and how well it performs in the water. The material will help determine the price of the paddle as well as its overall weight.

In general, high-end materials are more durable, but they also cost more. Rigid materials perform better, but that could add more weight to the paddle. The best bet is to try out a few paddles to see which one is right for your needs. Let’s start with the material of the blade.

Blade Materials

The material that the blade is crafted from can vary quite a bit, but it will need to cut through the water without losing performance. The blade can be made using basic materials like wood and plastic or more complex composite material like carbon fiber or fiberglass. Let’s take a look at why each could be beneficial.

Wood: Wooden blades will add a bit of weight to your paddle. They cut through the water well, but different types of wood will act differently in the water. For example, some wood absorbs water, but other types of wood will not.

If you opt for wooden blades, look for a type that will not absorb the water and make maneuvering the kayak more difficult. In addition, the price of the oar will vary based upon the type of wood that is used.

Carbon Fiber: Carbon fiber is an extremely light option for the blade, and because it is a strong, stiff material, it will make kayaking through the water a breeze. Because of this high level of performance, it is also one of the more expensive options that you can consider.

This is an excellent option for touring because of the lightweight design; however, it is not that durable when it takes hard hits, so white water kayaking with it will make it susceptible to breaking.

Fiberglass: Fiberglass is a light, durable substance that creates stiff blades that perform well in the water. However, they are more flexible than a blade that’s made out of carbon fiber.

They have a medium weight and a price that will not break your bank, so this material is a middle-of-the-road option. In general, this is the type of blade material that most use for long kayaking trips.

Plastic: Plastic is a common choice for a kayak paddle, especially when you are looking for a paddle that has a low price point. They weigh more than carbon fiber and fiberglass, which makes them more durable. They don’t require much to maintain, but purchasing another one will be a simple process if they do break.

These blades tend to be flexible, which means they don’t perform the best in the water. They can be reinforced with fiberglass to correct this issue. Plastic blades are an excellent option for recreational kayaking. One of the main complaints about plastic kayak paddles is the thickness of the blade, which will keep you from getting your speed up because of a less efficient stroke.

Shaft Materials

In addition to the blade, you will also need to consider the material that the shaft of the paddle is made out of. This will also affect the weight of the paddle and how it performs in the water. This is the part that you hold, so determining how comfortable it is in your hands is also important. Overall, there are four materials that are typically used; let’s take a look.

Wood: If you are considering an all-wood paddle, then you will find that the material is warm to the touch. With that said, this is not the most durable material, and the flexibility that wood provides decreases the overall performance of the paddle.

Laminated wood shafts will be stronger than regular wood, but both options will require extra care to maintain them. For example, they may need sanded and varnished from time to time to make sure that you are not getting splinters as you use the paddle.

Carbon Fiber: For the shaft, carbon fiber does an excellent job of insulating your hands in cold weather. A carbon fiber shaft provides you a lightweight paddle that performs well, especially if the blade is made from carbon fiber as well. This is the most expensive paddle material that you can purchase, so many kayakers will not consider it unless they are die-hard kayak fans with a good bit of experience.

Fiberglass: Fiberglass is another lightweight material that will keep your hands warm when you paddle with it. This is an option that is a good middle ground when it comes to price and weight. It performs well in the water, and it’s easy to hold on to when your hands are cold. In most cases, fiberglass can be mixed with plastic to help minimize the cost, but this could reduce the durability of the paddle.

Aluminum: If you are looking for an inexpensive paddle, the most common material for the shaft to be made out of is aluminum. It’s durable and easy to maintain, which is why aluminum is an obvious choice for a beginner.

However, this is a material that changes quickly when the temperature changes. It will get hot in the summer and cold in cooler temperatures, so you may need to take steps to protect your hands as you kayak. This is also a heavier material that may give you added fatigue if you are kayaking for long periods of time.

Paddle Design

There are a few different paddle designs that you will need to consider before making a purchase. The design of the blade and the shaft will affect the paddle’s performance, so you will need to figure out which one fits your needs best. In this section, we will look at both parts of the paddle in-depth to help you decide which design is right for you. First, let’s take a look at the blade design that you will find on the market.

Blade Design

When you are discussing a kayak paddle, the part that affects its performance in the water the most is the blade. Wider blades will provide you with more surface area so that you can get a more powerful stroke and more speed in the water. Narrow blades are more comfortable for longer journeys in the water, especially if the trip lasts for multiple days. Let’s take a look at some of the basic blade shapes to help you make a purchase decision.

Flat Blade

When you look at a flat blade, you will see that the entire surface is flat, which means there will not be a rib or a bump running down the center of the paddle. The blade may be slightly curved, but it will not have a large rib running through the blade.

Dihedral Blade

A dihedral blade, on the other hand, does have a rib running through the center of the blade. It is designed to minimize the flutter of the paddle as the water flows off of it in the water. It typically has a slightly angled blade that helps guide the flow of the water. In addition, the rib that is positioned in the center of the paddle will provide some strength and durability to the blade. This can help a beginner learn how to row without a lot of interference from the flow of the water.

Symmetrical

With a symmetrical blade, both sides of the blade will be the exact same shape and size. This allows you to hold the paddle any way that is comfortable for you, and paddling with it will be the same. This is an excellent option for a beginner so that they don’t have to worry about holding the paddle a certain way. It is also ideal for someone who enjoys white water kayaking. It allows you to get down the river with ease without worrying about how you are holding the paddle to help you steer the kayak in the rapids.

Asymmetrical

Blades that are asymmetrical are designed with one end of the paddle blade being shorter than the other. In addition, the short side is typically narrower than the long side of the blade. When you put the paddle in the water, you will want to have the narrow end go in first so that there is less of a surface to break the water. This allows the paddle to move more smoothly in the water and adds power to your stroke. With that being said, these paddles tend to perform better overall, especially if you are trying to move through the water quickly.

Matched

Matched kayak blades are designed to be precisely the same on each side of the paddle. This means that if you lay the paddle down on the ground, both of the blades will be flat to the ground. This is a great option for paddlers who do a lot of recreational kayaking because the resistance that the matched blades create will not be noticed much with this type of kayaking.

These blades are commonly called unfeathered blades. If you have issues with your wrists, this type of paddle will be easier to manage because you will not have to move your wrist much to maneuver the paddle.

Feathered

A feathered kayaking paddle is designed so that the blades are positioned on different planes. This means that when you lie one end of the paddle on the ground, the other side will not lie flat. Typically the difference in the blade is slight, but it can be set to an angle of 30, 45, or 90 degrees. Some paddles are set to the specific feathering, but most allow you to adjust the angle by up to 15 degrees.

So, why would you want a feathered blade? Well, because of the angle of the blade that is in the air, the air resistance that you experience while paddling will be reduced. Reducing the wind resistance can significantly increase the speed of your stroke as you paddle, and it can also help reduce the fatigue that a matched paddle can create if you are kayaking for an extended period.

Remember, a feathered paddle will require you to rotate your wrists to move the water effectively, so if you are a beginner, this may not be the option you need. It will work great for touring, but it can make basic kayaking more of a challenge for someone who is still learning.

Shaft Design

Now that you have a better idea about the different blade options that your kayak paddle can have, we need to take a look at the shaft and determine which design is best. Let’s discuss some of the shaft designs that you will encounter.

Bent vs Straight

A straight shaft is what you will find on the majority of paddles that you can get for kayaking, but there are bent options as well that could be beneficial to consider. With a bent shaft, the angels that your wrists are positioned at are designed to feel more natural. This can be ideal if you have wrist issues that are preventing you from paddling correctly. However, some natural moves that would typically not be an issue can be more challenging to do with a bent shaft.

In addition, a good kayak paddle with a bent shaft is typically going to have a higher price point because it takes a bit of work to make sure that the shaft is angled at the right locations. The additional investment could be worth it. However, the type of shaft that you get for your kayak paddle is basically a personal choice. If you don’t have experience kayaking, it is advised to get out on the water and try to use both types to see which one is more comfortable for you.

Two vs Four Piece

Kayak paddles can be one piece, or they can be broken down into two to four pieces. The main reason that you would want a paddle that breaks down into smaller pieces is so that transporting it is easier. Of course, a two-piece kayak paddle is a good size for your car, but do you plan to walk once you arrive at your destination? If the paddle can break down into four pieces, you can easily fit the paddle into a backpack so that it’s easier to manage.

It will also make it easier to pack away in a suitcase and take it on a plane if you tend to travel a lot. The ferrule of the paddles that break apart can add some weight to the paddle, which can be inconvenient for some. However, it also allows you to adjust the paddle so that you don’t have to choose between a matched blade setup or a feathered one.

Shaft Diameter

Do you have small hands that make it difficult to grip your kayak paddle? If you have had this experience, and your index finger and thumb find it difficult to connect while paddling, you may want to consider a paddle that has a smaller diameter. With that being said, you will only have one size option if you opt for a smaller diameter because there are only standard diameter or small diameter shafts that you can consider. If you have difficulties with a standard paddle, consider getting a smaller one to make your trips out in the water more comfortable.

how to choose a kayak paddle

What are the Top Kayak Paddle Brands?

When you look at how to buy a kayak paddle, you are going to find a myriad of options that you can purchase. To get on the right path for purchasing a kayak paddle, find a known brand that people rely on. These brands are committed to creating durable products that will perform well in the water. In fact, many of these brands have manufacturers that offer a warranty to stand behind the paddle. Some of the top brands that you will want to consider before making a purchase decision.

Aqua Bound: The company was born in 1991, and it quickly became the number one producer of plastic blade kayak paddles. Their equipment is a durable, lightweight option that is built by passionate individuals.

Bending Branches: Since the birth of Bending Branches in 1982, the company has made high-quality products that are designed to work on both short and long kayaking trips.

Best Marine: Best marine makes kayak paddles and other kayak accessories that may be important as you kayak. All of their products are built to last, and many of their paddles have a durable, carbon fiber or fiberglass design, so you know they are made to last.

Problems that can occur with an Incorrect Paddle Size

If you select a kayaking paddle that is the wrong size, then some issues may occur during your trip. Most of these issues will not cause the end of the world, but they are irritations that could wear on you over time. To prevent these issues, make sure that you get the correct paddle size for your kayak and your height. Let’s take a look at some of the problems that you may experience.

Fatigue: Long paddles can be heavier to manage on the water, so if you get a paddle that is too long, it can cause unwanted fatigue that you will have to deal with throughout the day.

Blisters: If the diameter of the shaft is not sized correctly, then you can get blisters on the inside of your hands that will irritate you as you are trying to enjoy kayaking.

Bruised Knuckles: When using a short paddle, you can easily bang your knuckles on the sides of the kayak, which can cause bruising if it is done enough during a trip.

Back Pain: If the paddle is the incorrect length, you may need to bend over farther to make sure that it gets into the water. This can give you a stiff back, and if you are on a long kayaking trip, it could become strained, which can leave you in pain for days.

Inability to Turn: If you paddle is too short, and you cannot reach the water properly, you may have difficulties navigating the kayak to where you need to go.

FAQ’s

Still have questions? Let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions that you may be wondering about.

What is the Best Kayak Paddle for a Beginner?

As a beginner, you will not have the skills to paddle all kayak paddles, especially those with a feathered blade. You are going to want a matched blade kayak paddle that is made out of plastic or aluminum. These options are durable and will cost less to purchase. If you are willing to spend a bit more of an investment on the paddle, then a fiberglass paddle is a middle-of-the-road option that you will love.

What Size Kayak Paddle do I Need?

The size of the paddle that you get will depend on the width of the kayak as well as your height. The wider the kayak is, the longer the paddle will need to be. Taller individuals will also need longer paddles so that they do not have to bend over to reach the water to paddle properly.

What Happens When You use too Long of a Paddle?

A paddle that is too long will be heavier for you to lift while paddling. It can be cumbersome to maneuver, and turning the kayak can be more difficult. This can give you less control over the kayak and will increase your fatigue throughout the day.

What Happens When You use too Short of a Paddle?

A paddle that is too short will cause frustration and pain over a long period. You can bruise your knuckles by knocking them into the kayak as you paddle. You may also find that you need to bend over or lean forward to paddle correctly, causing pain in your back and making sitting uncomfortable.

Final Thoughts

Did you enjoy our tutorial? As you can see, there are several different types of kayak paddles that you can purchase. It’s important to figure out the length of the paddle that you need as well as the type of blade and shaft that you prefer for kayaking. As a kayaker, finding the right paddle is essential, and hopefully, this guide has helped you accomplish that. Feel free to comment and let us know what you think about the article, and if you like it, share it to help others find a kayak paddle of their own.

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