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How to Choose a Kayak Paddle – Pro Tips

 by Updated on October 7, 2020. In Reviews

To get the most out of your kayaking experience, ensure that you have the right paddle for the job. It doesn’t matter how great of a kayak you have. If you’re using the wrong paddle with it, then performance will be affected either way.

If it’s too short, your hands will keep hitting the sides of the boat. If it’s too long, the kayak will end up zigzagging in the water, which, quite frankly, can be exhausting; not to mention the added strain to your shoulders.

You need to find one that’s the right length, perfect fit for your lifestyle, and correct blade shape for the activity. This guide explores everything you need to know about how to choose a kayak paddle.

How to Choose a Kayak Paddle 101 – Length

Let’s get into the fundamental rule of picking the right kayak – the length. The correct dimensions of the paddle you choose will, in large part, be determined by the width of the kayak you’ll be using.

For reference, here are the respective widths of the various types of kayaks you’ll come across.

  • Recreational kayaks typically have a width of anywhere between 26 and 30 inches. Yaks in this category generally measure 6 to 12 feet in length.
  • Touring kayaks measure between 22 and 25 inches in width, and are typically 12 to 15 feet long.
  • Performance kayaks are the narrowest of the bunch with a width of 19 to 22 inches. They are also the longest with a length of 15 to 18 feet.
  • Whitewater kayaks measure 7 to 11 feet long. The width, in this case, is not as major a factor in picking the right length paddle as is the paddler’s height.

If the kayak you own falls into any of the categories listed above, here’s an easy way to determine the right paddle size for you.

Paddle Sizing Guide

Paddler’s height Width of Kayak
< 23” 23” – 27.75” 28” – 32” > 32”
< 5 ft. 200cm 210cm 220cm 230cm
5 ft. – 5 ft. 6 in. 210cm 220cm 230cm 240cm
5 ft. 7 in. -6 ft. 220cm 220cm 230cm 240cm
> 6 ft. 220cm 230cm 240cm 250cm

Look up your height on the left column of the chart and compare it against the width of your kayak as listed at the top. Where the two values converge indicates the length of the paddle you should get.

A couple of things to keep in mind when finding the suitable paddle length are:

  • The wider the kayak is, the longer the paddle you’ll need
  • The taller you are, the longer the paddle you’ll need
  • If you have a higher stroke, you might want to get a paddle that’s slightly shorter than the recommended length
  • If your stroke is lower, you should consider getting a paddle that’s slightly longer than the recommended length

A paddle of the correct length means that your blades should easily submerge in the water with every stroke without striking the kayak in the process. It is always a great idea to try out a few different paddle types and sizes to get a feel for them before you commit.

If, however, you’re buying your paddle online, the sizing guide above will suffice.

Shaft

The next thing you need to think about when picking the right kayak paddle is the shaft. More specifically, the material used to make it. The shaft is considered the backbone of the paddle and is the middle part adjoining the two blades on either side of it.

Straight vs. Bent Paddle Shafts – Which Is Better

The other thing you need to consider is whether to get a paddle with a straight shaft, or one that’s bent. Straight shafts are, well – straight along the entire length of the paddle. Their bent variants have a small bend in the handgrip section where the normal hand position lies.

The idea behind cranked shafts is to reduce the amount of wrist flex that comes with every forward stroke. This is especially important for people who tend to grip down hard on the shaft or don’t execute the proper torso rotation.

On the flip side, proponents of straight shaft paddles appreciate the added versatility they get from being able to apply different stroke options and the fact that they can shift the hands to different positions if need be.

For instance, when paddling in windy conditions, the kayaker may need to extend the paddle reach beyond the shaft’s center, while ensuring that they make correct strokes. Cranked paddles may get in the way of this.

At the end of the day, your choice all boils down to what’s important to you. If you’re prone to straining your wrist, then a bent shaft would be ideal. If you kayak in rough conditions that may require you to extend the paddle reach to one side of its center, then consider getting a straight shaft instead.

It’s important to mention at this point that some shafts have adjustability features that allow users to change their length. This is particularly beneficial if kayakers of different sizes use the same paddle.

Shaft Swing Weight

You can think of a paddle’s physical weight as the total of all its parts combined; that is – the blade, shafts, adjustable ferrules, clips, and any additional components that make it up.

The swing weight would, therefore, be its dynamic weight. It is the feel of the paddle while it is in motion that comes from its weight distribution and balance throughout the entire paddle length.

You can’t measure the swing weight on a scale. You can only feel it. You measure it with your senses. A paddle with an even swing weight flows seamlessly through the paddle motions, from the power stroke to the return arc swing.

Getting a paddle that has a good swing weight means that you’re less likely to get fatigued both during and after kayaking.

Weight

Two different paddles may have excellent swing weights but vary tremendously in their respective physical weights. Here’s an illustration.

Suppose you have a choice between two different paddles that are similar in every aspect except their weight. One paddle weighs about 0.5 pounds while the other weighs 8 ounces more. You decide to go with the one that’s 8 ounces heavier because it is cheaper. Plus, what’s 8 ounces in the grand scheme of things anyway?

Well, a lot as you’re about to see.

Let’s say you’re out paddling, gliding along at a leisurely pace of 40 strokes per minute. Every sweep through the water with the heavier paddle essentially means that you’re lifting an additional 0.5 pounds every one and a half seconds.

That translates to 20 extra pounds every minute. If you paddle for an hour, it means that you’ll have lifted well over 1,200 additional pounds. Now, that’s a lot if you think about it even though it may not seem like much at that moment.

The rule of thumb when it comes to picking the right paddle is – the lighter it is, the less effort you’ll use, which means less fatigue at the end of your kayaking expedition.

Blade

The other factor you need to consider when it comes to how to choose a kayak paddle is the blade. This is the part that you dip into the water every time you take a stroke.

While there isn’t any hard and fast rule that applies when it comes to choosing the precise size of the blade you’ll need, there are some things you need to keep in mind when picking a kayak paddle.

Blade Surface Area

Ideally, the larger you are, the larger your blade size can be. The reason for this has everything to do with the surface area. If you’re bigger, you likely have the strength required to pull a blade with a larger surface area through the water.

Here are some guidelines you can use based on your body weight.

  • For small and medium body types weighing less than 150 lbs., the recommended surface area of the blade should be between 80 and 90 square inches.
  • For medium and large body types weighing between 150 and 200 lbs., the recommended blade surface area should be between 90 and 100 square inches.
  • For large and X-large body types weighing more than 200 lbs., the recommended blade surface area should be between 100 and 120 square inches.

The key thing you need to remember is – larger blades are more powerful since they move through a lot of water, therefore allowing you to take powerful strokes. Smaller blades, on the other hand, are more efficient since you move through less water. So, you don’t use as much energy.

Blade Material

The other thing to consider when choosing a blade is the material it is made from.

  • Nylon/Plastic blades tend to have a low price point and are a great option for beginners.
  • Fiberglass blades are lighter than the nylon/plastic variety but are more durable.
  • Carbon fiber blades are the lightest of the bunch. They are also extremely stiff, which improves the transfer of energy with every stroke.

Blade Shape

Blades typically come in two shapes – short and wide or long and skinny. The choice of one over the other ultimately depends on your paddling style.

If you’re a high-angle paddler, you’ll need a shorter wider blade since you tend to keep the shaft more vertical during a stroke. On the other hand, if you’re a low-angle paddler, then you would benefit from a longer skinnier blade since you tend to keep the paddle relatively parallel to the water surface.

Grab a Paddle and Get Going

There you have it – how to choose a kayak paddle. Although, there are several designs available on the market right now, choosing the right paddle isn’t hard to do, provided that you know what to look for.

Use this guide to steer you in the right direction. Then, grab a paddle and hit the water!

Want to learn how to kayak? Check out our guide for everything you need to know.

1. Wood

Wood Kayak Paddles

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Some of the most common woods used to make paddles include walnut, cedar, ash, and spruce. These are usually laminated to give the paddle a more visually appealing color layering finish. They may also be coated with a layer of urethane, while others use oil instead to preserve and protect the surface finish.

2. Aluminum

Aluminum Kayak Paddles

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Aluminum alloy is the most widely used material in the making of paddle shafts. Their weight to strength ratio is fairly strong despite its low cost. They are durable, corrosion-resistant, and can withstand wear and tear, making them an ideal choice for anyone on the market for a low maintenance paddle.

So, if you’re looking for a solid, cost-effective paddle that will get the job done, you should consider getting an aluminum shaft paddle.

The one thing you’ll need to keep in mind, though, is that aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat. It means that they have the potential to get extremely hot on sunny days or extremely cold in winter weather.

So, you may have to wear gloves when using them in cold weather or store them in the shade on hotter days.

3. Synthetics

Synthetic Kayak Paddles

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You’ll also come across paddle shafts made from synthetic materials like carbon and fiberglass. These tend to cost significantly more than their wooden and aluminum cousins.

The great thing about them, however, is just how durable and lightweight they are. They are also not as temperature-sensitive as metal alloy shafts. Fiberglass is renowned for its outstanding strength and lightness.

Carbon fiber, on the other hand, has a very high weight to strength ratio and is the most expensive of the bunch.

4. Carbon

Carbon Kayak Paddles

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Carbon fiber, on the other hand, has a very high weight to strength ratio and is the most expensive of the bunch.

Shop Carbon Fiber Shaft Paddles

Straight vs. Bent Paddle Shafts – Which Is Better

The other thing you need to consider is whether to get a paddle with a straight shaft, or one that’s bent. Straight shafts are, well – straight along the entire length of the paddle. Their bent variants have a small bend in the handgrip section where the normal hand position lies.

The idea behind cranked shafts is to reduce the amount of wrist flex that comes with every forward stroke. This is especially important for people who tend to grip down hard on the shaft or don’t execute the proper torso rotation.

On the flip side, proponents of straight shaft paddles appreciate the added versatility they get from being able to apply different stroke options and the fact that they can shift the hands to different positions if need be.

For instance, when paddling in windy conditions, the kayaker may need to extend the paddle reach beyond the shaft’s center, while ensuring that they make correct strokes. Cranked paddles may get in the way of this.

At the end of the day, your choice all boils down to what’s important to you. If you’re prone to straining your wrist, then a bent shaft would be ideal. If you kayak in rough conditions that may require you to extend the paddle reach to one side of its center, then consider getting a straight shaft instead.

It’s important to mention at this point that some shafts have adjustability features that allow users to change their length. This is particularly beneficial if kayakers of different sizes use the same paddle.

Shaft Swing Weight

You can think of a paddle’s physical weight as the total of all its parts combined; that is – the blade, shafts, adjustable ferrules, clips, and any additional components that make it up.

The swing weight would, therefore, be its dynamic weight. It is the feel of the paddle while it is in motion that comes from its weight distribution and balance throughout the entire paddle length.

You can’t measure the swing weight on a scale. You can only feel it. You measure it with your senses. A paddle with an even swing weight flows seamlessly through the paddle motions, from the power stroke to the return arc swing.

Getting a paddle that has a good swing weight means that you’re less likely to get fatigued both during and after kayaking.

Weight

Two different paddles may have excellent swing weights but vary tremendously in their respective physical weights. Here’s an illustration.

Suppose you have a choice between two different paddles that are similar in every aspect except their weight. One paddle weighs about 0.5 pounds while the other weighs 8 ounces more. You decide to go with the one that’s 8 ounces heavier because it is cheaper. Plus, what’s 8 ounces in the grand scheme of things anyway?

Well, a lot as you’re about to see.

Let’s say you’re out paddling, gliding along at a leisurely pace of 40 strokes per minute. Every sweep through the water with the heavier paddle essentially means that you’re lifting an additional 0.5 pounds every one and a half seconds.

That translates to 20 extra pounds every minute. If you paddle for an hour, it means that you’ll have lifted well over 1,200 additional pounds. Now, that’s a lot if you think about it even though it may not seem like much at that moment.

5. Lightweight Paddles

Lightweight Kayak Paddle

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The rule of thumb when it comes to picking the right paddle is – the lighter it is, the less effort you’ll use, which means less fatigue at the end of your kayaking expedition.

Blade

The other factor you need to consider when it comes to how to choose a kayak paddle is the blade. This is the part that you dip into the water every time you take a stroke.

While there isn’t any hard and fast rule that applies when it comes to choosing the precise size of the blade you’ll need, there are some things you need to keep in mind when picking a kayak paddle.

Blade Surface Area

Ideally, the larger you are, the larger your blade size can be. The reason for this has everything to do with the surface area. If you’re bigger, you likely have the strength required to pull a blade with a larger surface area through the water.

Here are some guidelines you can use based on your body weight.

  • For small and medium body types weighing less than 150 lbs., the recommended surface area of the blade should be between 80 and 90 square inches.
  • For medium and large body types weighing between 150 and 200 lbs., the recommended blade surface area should be between 90 and 100 square inches.
  • For large and X-large body types weighing more than 200 lbs., the recommended blade surface area should be between 100 and 120 square inches.

The key thing you need to remember is – larger blades are more powerful since they move through a lot of water, therefore allowing you to take powerful strokes. Smaller blades, on the other hand, are more efficient since you move through less water. So, you don’t use as much energy.

6. Fiberglass Blade Paddles

Fiberglass Blade Paddles

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Blade Material

The other thing to consider when choosing a blade is the material it is made from.

  • Nylon/Plastic blades tend to have a low price point and are a great option for beginners.
  • Fiberglass blades are lighter than the nylon/plastic variety but are more durable.
  • Carbon fiber blades are the lightest of the bunch. They are also extremely stiff, which improves the transfer of energy with every stroke.

Blade Shape

Blades typically come in two shapes – short and wide or long and skinny. The choice of one over the other ultimately depends on your paddling style.

If you’re a high-angle paddler, you’ll need a shorter wider blade since you tend to keep the shaft more vertical during a stroke. On the other hand, if you’re a low-angle paddler, then you would benefit from a longer skinnier blade since you tend to keep the paddle relatively parallel to the water surface.

Grab a Paddle and Get Going

There you have it – how to choose a kayak paddle. Although, there are several designs available on the market right now, choosing the right paddle isn’t hard to do, provided that you know what to look for.

Use this guide to steer you in the right direction. Then, grab a paddle and hit the water!

Want to learn how to kayak? Check out our guide for everything you need to know.

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