Paddlers would agree that in kayaking, your main weapon is your paddle. But at the same time, it’s also the most overlooked gear.
Did you know if you know how to choose the best kayak paddles it would enable you to do just about anything over the waters?
Kayak paddles aren’t simply all plastic blades and paddle shaft. These elements are also shaped and crafted meticulously to give you the right force, control, and power when you’re out paddling.
So what do you need to consider when choosing the best kayak paddle?
After months of testing and research, we present you this comprehensive guide to choosing the right kayak paddles as we cover:
- Features to consider when choosing your next paddle;
- Options for different materials and designs;
- A good kayak paddle size chart;
- How your skill level will affect the type of paddle you need;
- Lots more…
So stay with us while we run through everything you need to know to choose the best kayak paddles and paddles blades on the market for 2024. You will get answer to your query for choosing the best paddle for your needs.
Raise your kayak paddles.
And let’s begin!
Kayaks, often mistakenly referred to as canoes – are similar to canoes in certain aspects – but – they aren’t the same thing.
In terms of structure and design, kayaks differ a lot from canoes.
Kayaks have a more streamlined body that helps with their stability during use – while canoes have a flatter body which makes them less stable or agile than kayaks. The main difference between them is how they are propelled on water.
Canoe paddlers opt for using different types of paddles while kayak users paddle their crafts using a type of paddle called “kayak paddle.”
How important is the kayak paddle in your performance?
Simply put, a reliable paddle is what connects your body to the water underneath you. It’s where your force and power gets transferred so you can propel forward as you go.
Suffice to say, it’s like the motor to your kayak.
That’s why you shouldn’t just settle on an affordable paddle or a simple recreational kayak paddle. That goes especially important if you’re planning to paddle seriously.
A premium paddle has well-shaped paddle shaft that can even make you feel more comfortable and at home as you navigate the waters, with great paddle blades which are mostly plastic blades.
Blade shape also contributes greatly to the overall performance of your paddle.
Some are fiberglass reinforced polypropylene blades, which is a bit common nowadays and some are carbon reinforced nylon blades. Each kind has their own advantages to suit every kind of need. More on this later.
So stay with us while we run through the details you need to know to choose the best Paddle on the market for 2024.
Consider these things:
If you think a good store-bought kayak paddle will do, think again. The length of your kayak paddle will make all the difference.
Average paddle length should be no less than 210cm and no more than 270cm.
But aside from this…
…you should also consider your height and your body stature.
Think of this: if you have a shorter paddle, it might end up hitting your arm or hands. And if it is too short, you will most probably have a very hard time controlling it and paddling with it, with the addition of strained shoulders and an unstable run for your kayak.
Aside from the fixed numbers, determining the right kayak paddle length should also depend on your lifestyle, strength, as well as the matched blades for you, whether you’re using fishing kayaks or you’re a recreational kayaker.
And most of all…
Keep this in mind: the length of your paddle should be greater than the width of your boat.
This refers to the total weight of the paddle in kilos. Kayakers prefer paddles that are light for easy portability wherever they go on the water.
However, other factors should be considered as well when choosing a lightweight paddle such as – durability – and strength – because you don’t want it to break while you’re out there enjoying your kayak experience.
While a lighter paddle is more recommendable for recreational kayakers as it will greatly improve your performance, most lightweight paddles are more expensive compared to the regular ones.
The Paddle Blade:
When we say the lighter the better, it applies to your kayak paddle blade, too.
Because when you’re out kayaking, you’re raising the blade even higher than the kayak paddle shafts itself, a lighter blade can benefite you more than you know.
Blade length varies from 108 cm to 125 cm… so which length is best?
The answer depends on what type of paddling you’d like to do.
If you’ll just be doing casual trips by yourself, then I suggest choosing a shorter one for greater maneuverability.
…if you’ll be going out with a group, you’ll definitely want one that’s longer so as to give your arms a break from the effort of paddling… especially when doing long trips or endurance paddling. It might be an idea to get one that has an adjustable paddle blade length for greater versatility.
A feathered paddle has the blades on different planes. This can help increase speed and efficiency with less wind resistance.
If you’ll be doing plenty of kayak touring, especially in open water, a feathered paddle is good option because it will undoubtedly make paddling easier in these conditions.
Basic paddles tend to have symmetrical blades but more experienced paddlers may prefer asymmetrical blades thanks to their greater surface area – leading to a more efficient paddle.
Dihedral type blades have a ridge running across the center. This helps water to flow evenly over the surface for easier paddling.
Now lets talk about the materials.
When you read plastic blades, it is just a general term. In reality, you have quite a great option of different blade types.
Of of the most common “plastic baldes” are the nylon blades. It’s one of the most popular choices among recreational kayakers. Most fiberglass reinforced nylon blades are quite flexible, and that may be one of the reasons of its popularity.
While most think that a fiberglass reinforced nylon material is literally indestructable, it actually isn’t and can break as well, especially when left under the heat of the sun.
Fiberglass reinforced blades can be cheap and it will mostly be up to you to take care of it so it lasts.
On the other hand…
…you also have the carbon fiber paddle blades.
These carbon blades are even lighter than fiberglass blades. And you know what that means: they’re also mostly expensive.
More serious kayakers prefer this kind of blade as they’re made for performance paddling, so an efficient and almost effortless move through water is guaranteed. It can also help the paddler avoid body strain and fatigue.
The Paddle Shaft:
Just like kayak paddle blades, a paddle shaft also contributes to a kayaker’s performance and experience.
You can have a bent shaft or a straight shaft, and they’re also available in a variety of materials for oyu to choose from, depending, of course, on your needs and kayaking style.
The most common type of paddle shaft is the aluminum shaft.
It’s lightweight and the material is not pricey, making the aluminum shaft a popular choice among all kinds of kayakers today.
A durable aluminum shaft can last for years while providing comfortable and efficient performance, so you might want to choose carefully when getting your own aluminum shaft.
They can get very hot or very cold quickly so if you’re kayaking in winter, you’d do well to wear gloves to keep your fingers from freezing.
On the other hand…
…you have the fiberglass shaft.
Just like the aluminum one, a fiberglass shaft is also lightweight and strong. They’re sold mostly to performance kayakers, because of the ease of use and efficiency it lends to the user. Not to mention, a fiberglass shaft is also way more affordable than other materials such as the carbon fiber shaft.
A lightweight fiberglass shaft can come in a price closer to aluminum but with more benefits- or most users thought.
And in case you’re wondering…
Another shaft type is the carbon fiber shaft.
A carbon fiber shaft is much, much lighter than the first two, so it’s understandable that it can also be one of the priciest out there.
Join it with a carbon paddle blade and you have a kayak paddle that’s worthy enough for the Olympics!
A carbon fiber shaft can also keep shoulder strain and fatigue at bay when combined with the right paddling technique. That’s why most serious paddles prefer the carbon shaft.
And since we’ve mentioned the straight shaft and the bent shaft…
You might hear about the straight shaft. In case you’re wondering what difference it can make, let me tell you that a straight shaft is not only the most basic choice but also a favorite among the most advanced kayakers.
A striaght shaft is also perfect for adventure kayakers.
Why is that?
A straight shaft gives more room for flexibility for the paddler when it comes to manuevering the boat. It goes true with other situations, whether in rough or still waters.
Meanwhile, a bent shaft is the ideal type for beginners. While seasoned kayakers can adjust the shaft and their strokes to avoid body pains and strain, a curved shaft does the job bby taking the pressure off of the user’s wrist.
Each paddle manufacturer will have their own claims on which material is best – but ultimately it boils down to user preference.
If you feel lightweightedness is more important than durability, then choose a lighter shaft type such as aluminum. But if you’re willing to sacrifice the light weight for increased durability a composite shaft would be more ideal.
And if you’re looking for a combination of the two then go with fiberglass.
Each different type of material has its own pros and cons as well.
Fiberglass is lightweight but can be prone to breakage, while aluminum shafts are commonly stronger but less durable than most, and composite tends to fall somewhere in the middle of these two options – though there are many other factors that contribute towards which way you go…
The Grip: Triangular rubber grips used on paddle handles are common amongst both recreational and competitive paddlers alike.
These grips come in various sizes and thicknesses depending on personal preference – some people swear by thicker grips while others prefer thinner ones, which could also be determined by your overall hand size.
The bigger your hands, the thicker grip you may consider for a more comfortable hold.
Foam grips are commonly used on kayaks and are great as their shape molds to your hand in order to provide the best possible support during long paddling sessions.
Foam does have a particular downside – so keep this in mind if you’re looking to buy this type of grip. They can collect saltwater, which will eventually erode foam over time, and don’t offer great stability when wet.
Some people find them slippery too – but those who enjoy these types of grip say that’s what makes them so easy to hold onto no matter how much water is coming onto or over the side of the vessel.
In addition to this…
Optional finger grooves can also be added to foam handles; these come with or without holes and allow you to rest your fingers in a more natural position.
Many paddle makers also provide two different-sized foam grips, so if one end of the kayak is lower than the other, then you can swap out the longer grip for a shorter one. You’ll know whether this will work before buying as it’s usually mentioned in reviews on sites like Amazon.
A synthetic material alternative to foam is called “dry grip”, sometimes just called “grip”. This has become very popular recently and has been embraced by most major kayak brands.
DryGrip mimics some of the very best features of traditional rubber handles, without any of the downsides or maintenance, though there are a number of negative comments online from people who feel that these new-fangled materials aren’t what they’re used to be. Go figure!
What’s the best paddle blade material?
The material your paddle is constructed from is a crucial consideration when it comes to choosing a good paddle since this will have a huge influence on how comfortable your paddling experience is – and ultimately whether you’ll enjoy it or not.
The top options in commercial use today are carbon, fiberglass, and aluminum which can be easily confirmed online if you search for these terms plus “kayak paddles”.
Looking at mass-produced models…
… all three of these types can result in super components but there are some subtle differences which make each one more suitable than the next, depending on your needs and preferences.
Plastic is an option for those who prefere a lower cost paddle. But plastic paddles don’t last as long as fiberglass models, and they can crack or break under stress. Fiberglass is more expensive, but it stands up to abuse better than plastic. Fiberglass blades also tend to be thinner when compared with those made of polypropylene (plastic) so that may make them easier to control or maneuver if you are new to the sport.
Fiberglass paddles might look like they’re heavier than their plastic counterparts, because in some cases, the front part of the blade can appear thicker — but that’s only because it has more reinforcement around the edges and across its length. Thinner-bladed fiberglass kayak paddles will actually have less overall weight.
On the other hand, aluminium paddles can be very expensive, and often have a thinner blade.
Aluminium has the potential to damage easily if it’s not properly anodised (coated) before being machined into a blade shape. The anodising process makes the aluminium stronger while at the same time making it more resistant to dents — scratches don’t hurt it as much, so longevity is better with this material. An aluminium paddle should still look brand new after hundreds of hours of paddling on it or through years of use.
It’s worth pointing out that kayak paddles are designed to fit more than one type of kayak or canoe – they’re a universal product. So unless you have your heart set on a specific style or material then, in my opinion, you can’t really go wrong with any option presented here.
I’ve always found it fascinating…
… how many people really get into using and loving kayaks – but don’t appear to notice the fact that their paddle isn’t really a great choice! It could be that when buying online they just grab whatever fits their budget – not realizing the huge difference in performance between the best and the mid-range options which are available today.
I guess it can be an issue with the price. But you’ll only know what a great paddle is once you’ve compared yours to something else that performs better!
Maybe, like me, you might have bought a cheap paddle for your first kayak – then, by chance, you got the chance to use a fellow kayaker’s paddle and found the difference much bigger than you expected.
There are different types of kayaks available on the market today. They’re designed and produced by different manufacturers who all claim they have the best solution for you.
Let’s take a look at each style of Kayak Paddle and its pluses and minuses:
What Type of Kayak Paddle Should I Get?
There are three general types of kayak paddle: for recreational use, touring kayaks or racing kayaks. The type you choose actually depends mostly on what kind of activity you plan on enjoying with your new gear.
A novice may want a recreational paddle, to learn the basics of kayaking. This type of paddle is typically shorter and lighter weight (around 37 inches). It gives more control during calmer water conditions and is easier for newbies to maneuver.
The touring kayak paddle…
… is designed and manufactured for longer distances on lakes, rivers, or in bays, hence the increased length and heftier weight (41 inches and above). It was initially aimed for,well,touring kayakers. So you’ll expect that the touring kayak paddle will be able to bring you to greater distances.
Today, these are usually chosen by intermediate paddlers who are looking to maximize their workout time while at the same time, enjoying a leisurely ride.
What most kayakers love about the touring paddle is its flexibility.
The touring paddle allows its user to paddle in either low arm position or high arm position.
If you like to paddle while leaning towards the vertical high position, all you have to do is stick the short end of your paddle. And if you like to paddle in a more relaxed manner without exerting much effort, you may paddle in the lower arm position while sticking out the longer end of your paddle.
… there’s the ultimate racing paddle.
This choice is also designed for distance but at the same time will appeal more to advanced users who opt for speed over comfort. This type will comprise lots of curved blades that will easily cut through the water. You’ll find that these kinds of paddles will also include a “featherless” shaft.
Moreover, advanced kayakers also prefer the spoon-shaped racing paddles as they grip the water more effectively as it cuts through.
Some kayakers also call the racing paddle as a “propeller” as they are mostly used for speed, just like in aeroplanes!
Racing paddles does not come cheap though. So you would do well to practice more if you want to try using one.
A note about Sit-In vs Sit-On-Top Kayaks
The first distinction you need to make in choosing a paddle is if it’s going to be used in an open or closed hull (sit-in/ on top) kayak.
Sit-in kayaks are generally more expensive because they’re designed with extra features such as sealed bulkheads, better storage options, and other perks.
It’s also a closed type of kayak compared to the sit-on-top (SOT) kayak. It has an area that is called a “cockpit” where the kayaker can sit. You can even attach a spray skirt in it to keep water splashes out and disturbing you while you paddle.
Aside from a seat, you can also find foot pedals in the cockpit of a sit-in kayak and they can also be adjustable to accomodate your legs length!
Sit-on-top kayaks are easier to use and require less skill because the design is simpler – they’re usually cheaper than sit-ins too.
If you’re a beginner looking for an easy way to get started in the sport of kayaking, this is your best bet!
Sit on tops often have fewer features and may be an inflatable kayak, but that’s generally what makes them so affordable.
One thing you need to look out for with sit-on-top kayaks is making sure you buy one from a reputable manufacturer.
There are many poor-quality models on the market, especially with inflatable kayak- that won’t be particularly durable or will sink if they hit something hard enough underwater. This can obviously be dangerous if you’re in a situation where you need to rely on the kayak’s strength, like if you’re out in choppy waters or trying to go against a current.
The best sit-on-top kayaks will be durable and have enough features to make your time afloat more enjoyable.
This can include things like storage compartments, multiple air chambers for added stability, and footpegs (to keep legs from dangling during longer paddles).
Paddle Weight Limits Explained
Kayak Paddling is an ever-popular recreational activity for people of all ages, and skill levels.
Whether you’re looking to head out on an easy day trip across the lake to catch your supper, or embarking on a more challenging journey down a whitewater river with your buddies, it’s important to make sure your paddle and kayak are appropriate for the situation(s) you’re going to find yourself in.
Many paddles have weight recommendations listed along with their corresponding kayaks.
If you exceed the recommended weight limit for either one, then you do run the risk of compromising your paddling experience or – even worse, putting yourself in danger through unstable control of the boat and your equipment.
Kayak Paddles Blade Shapes & Sizes Explained
Blade shape and size is deceptively important to a paddle’s performance. Blade shape and size is usually the first thing that people look at, but it should rarely be the only consideration when choosing a paddle.
A blade shape can:
- provide lift and efficiency
- affect maneuverability and tracking ability; the larger it is, the faster you go.
So how do they work?
Paddle blades are created in three ways: concave, flat, or convex blades.
Concave-shaped blades (also known as spoon blades) have rounded edges that help them slice through the water making paddling easier because less muscle power/ energy is required to move forward with each stroke.
Flat bladed paddles are best suited to large cockpit and/or heavily loaded canoes as they provide more support and less drag.
Convex blades (also known as wing shaped) are designed to produce a higher lift on each stroke; this makes paddling easier but it does take more energy and time to move forward.
If you’re looking for an easy paddle with less muscle effort, choose concave blades or if you want the ultimate paddling experience, go for convex blades.
A side note: some manufacturers now offer paddle combinations, where one blade is convex and the other concave.
The next question is how many blades should I have?
Most modern kayak paddles have two-bladed paddles, but there are also single-blade paddles that are equally efficient.
Kayak Paddle Sizing Chart
Choosing the right length for your paddle will not only mean you’re comfortable when seating inside (or on top of) your kayak but also that you’re able to maneuver easier, and also move correctly – with no risk of injury or strain.
So how do you decide what is the best kayak paddle length?
If you’re at all unsure, then it’s always worth speaking to the experts – and we can help by providing your kayak paddle sizing guide!
See your recommended kayak paddle length according to your height.
|Under 5’5″ – recommended kayak paddle lengths
|5’5″-5’11”- recommended kayak paddle lengths
|Over 6′- recommended kayak paddle lengths
How To Choose The Best Kayak Paddle
Ultimately, the best choice you can make for a paddle is not necessarily the most expensive or popular one. It will be determined by your unique paddling style and experience level in the sport. Always keep in mind that no matter what paddle you choose, it should help propel you forward, safely and efficiently.
This article should have given you a good idea of what to look for when choosing your next kayak paddle – everything from Paddle Length, to Paddle Blades and beyond.
And don’t forget our handy kayak paddle sizing chart, for your quick reference.
If this indeed proved valuable to you, then feel free to share with other paddlers who may find this information just as helpful. Good luck with your next purchase!
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Related: Best Kayak Paddle – (2024)