How to Choose a Kayak Paddle

You don’t know how many kayak paddle models there are until you start looking for one. You’ll be surprised. You will see different sizes, materials, and blade shapes. What is supposed to be a simple task can quickly become a daunting one.

So, here is everything you need to know to help you choose the best kayak paddle.

Types of Kayak Paddles

What differentiates one paddle from another?

Well, read on to find out. 

1. Blade Materials

Kayak paddle blades are commonly made using plastic, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. Each of these materials has its pros and cons.

Take a look.

a. Plastic/Nylon

Compared to the other two, this is the cheapest material. So paddles with plastic blades are cheaper. But they tend to be heavier.

The material flexes slightly on impact and it is less likely to break if you hit something like a rock.

Unfortunately, this flexing characteristic makes it less efficient when paddling. The strokes are not impressive.

Another thing, the material degrades when exposed to the sun. After a while, the blade may start cracking.

Plastic blades are suitable for people who don’t have much money to spend on a paddle. Or beginners and people who don’t intend to do a lot of paddling.

b. Fiberglass

Paddles with fiberglass blades fall in the middle. They are more expensive than plastic blades but cheaper than carbon fiber blades.

They are lighter and stiffer than nylon blades and, therefore, make more powerful paddle strokes. 

This material is a good choice for a kayaker who is on a budget but still wants a light, effective paddle.

c. Carbon Fiber

It is the most expensive kayak blade material.

But the paddles are worth the price.

Carbon fiber paddle blades are extremely lightweight and durable.

The material is super stiff and offers top-tier performance.

It’s energy transfer is exceptional.

This translates to powerful strokes and a minimum loss of energy.

Paddles with carbon fiber blades are ideal for paddlers who expect to spend tons of hours on the water.

You should also consider a carbon fiber blade if you want excellent performance.

Kayak racing and touring enthusiasts, especially, will benefit from the efficiency of this blade.

2. Shaft Materials

The shaft of a paddle is the part you hold while paddling. There are three materials mainly used to make kayak paddle shafts.

a. Aluminum

Aluminum shaft kayak paddles don’t cost much. 

The material is durable and can withstand a lot of use and abuse.

But aluminum shafts are far from perfect.

They are heavy and not ideal for long hours of paddling. 

Aluminum is also a good conductor of heat.

This means that it loses and absorbs heat quickly.

It can be uncomfortable to hold when it is too cold or when left in the sun for too long.

An aluminum shaft paddle is great for paddlers who are on a tight budget.

b. Fiberglass

These are the mid-range paddles. They are lighter than aluminum and have some degree of flex.

A fiberglass shaft paddle will give you awesome performance and you won’t have to break the bank.

This would be the perfect choice for beginner kayakers. It is not expensive and you can continue to use it even when you become a skilled paddler. It is easy on your muscles so you can paddle for longer.

c. Carbon Fiber

Paddles with a carbon fiber shaft are super lightweight and a delight to use. They are strong and durable.

Buy a carbon fiber paddle if you don’t mind spending a few hundred dollars. But know that it will be well worth the price. 

Once the pain of coughing up that amount passes, you will be happy you bought it.

I recommend a carbon fiber shaft if you are an avid kayaker who spends many hours in the water. Or if you have some form of injury/pain and you don’t want to cause further damage.

Note: even with the lightest and most efficient paddle, you’ll still need to learn the proper paddling technique to enjoy the benefits.

3. Blade Shapes

When you look at several kayak paddles, you’ll notice that the blades don’t all look the same.

a. Asymmetrical Vs Symmetrical Paddle Blades
Asymmetrical blade

An asymmetrical blade is narrower and shorter on one side. This shape allows its surface area to push water uniformly. It makes your paddling stroke more efficient and enhances maneuverability.

With a symmetrical blade, both sides are of the same shape and size. Unlike with an asymmetrical blade, there is no one way to hold a symmetrical blade paddle. So it is great for newbie kayakers.

b. Feathered Vs Matched Paddle Blades
Feathered paddle

A feathered paddle has blades positioned at different angles.

What does that mean?

Imagine you are paddling a kayak. The lower blade is pushing water back. So if the paddle is feathered, the upper blade will be positioned in such a way that it cuts through the air reducing resistance.

A matched paddle has both blades on the same plane. It is unfeathered.

Whether one is better than the other is still a big debate among paddlers—and will probably continue to be. 

If you will be paddling in windy conditions, you could benefit from a feathered paddle.

Luckily, many paddles now allow you to adjust the feather angle so you can find out what you like.

c. Dihedral Paddle Blades

This one has a ridge running down the center. It causes water to flow down evenly on either side which minimizes flutter. Increased flutter (the blade twisting) hinders tracking.

d. Spoon Paddle Blades

A spoon blade, as you can guess from the name, is designed to scoop water. This shape is better suited for experts because it will flutter if you haven’t learned the proper paddling technique.

4. Shaft Designs

Like blades, shafts come in different designs too.

a. Bent Vs Straight

A bent shaft has curves, as opposed to being straight. It is comfortable to hold and feels more natural.

The bent shaft design is easy on your wrists as they don’t strain at all. You’ll also be able to make more powerful strokes.

It is a good option for paddlers who often have to deal with strong currents. Or anyone with wrist pain. 

The only downside is that they aren’t cheap.

A straight shaft is what you see on almost every other paddle. It works just fine, so don’t worry if you can’t afford a bent shaft paddle.

b. One-Piece Vs Multi-Piece Shaft

A multi-piece paddle can be broken down into several pieces—usually two to four—for storage and transport.

A paddle that breaks down into more pieces is better for transport.

However, it has more weak points which means that it is easier to break.

The connection points can become loose with time too if it’s a cheap model.

So although a single-piece is not ideal for traveling or storing, it is sturdier.

5. What’s the Right Length Kayak Paddle?

For many people, determining the right kayak paddle length is a complicated process. And it doesn’t help that almost every manufacturer has their own sizing guide.

So we will try to simplify everything as much as possible.

Three main factors determine the length of your paddle: your height, kayak width, and paddling style (discussed below). Some manufacturers base their sizing on torso height.

Here are charts to help you find the correct paddle length.

Recommended Paddle Length for Low-Angle Paddling Style

KAYAK WIDTH
KAYAKER’S HEIGHTUnder 23”23” – 28”29” – 32”32”+
Under 5’210 cm 220 cm230 cm240 cm
5’ – 5’6215 cm220 cm230 cm240 cm
5’6 – 6’220 cm220 cm230 cm250 cm
6’+220 cm230 cm240 cm250 cm

Recommended Paddle Length for High-Angle Paddling Style

KAYAK WIDTH
KAYAKER’S HEIGHTUnder 23”23” – 25”26”+
Under 5’1200 cm200 cm220 cm
5’1 – 5’4205 cm205 cm220 cm
5’4 – 5’6210 cm215 cm220 cm
6’+215 cm220 cm230 cm

Note: the charts only act as a general guideline. No chart is 100% reliable. They are meant to give you an idea. Luckily, many kayak paddles are adjustable.

Try a few lengths and see how they feel first before buying. If you have to lean for the blade to reach the water or you are knocking your hands against the kayak, the paddle is too short. If you are having a hard time controlling your kayak and it won’t travel straight, the paddle is too long.

6. High-Angle or Low-Angle?

In kayaking, a kayaker will adopt either one of two paddling styles: the high-angle or the low-angle.

a. Low-Angle Paddling Style

With this style, the shaft tilts slightly, making a low angle in relation to the kayak. The top hand doesn’t go above shoulder level.

This paddling style is relaxed and more suited for casual paddling. It is not strenuous and you can paddle for hours.

However, the blade doesn’t enter the water very close to the kayak. This causes the boat to snake a little and the tracking is not very straight.

The low-angle paddling style is suited for people who just want to have a good time cruising around.

If this is your style, your paddle blade should be long and narrow.

b. High-Angle Paddling Style

This is a “more serious” style for the performance-oriented kayaker. When making a paddle stroke, the upper hand is at cheek level or higher.

The shaft makes a higher angle and the blade enters the water very close to the kayak. Because of this, the canoe will track straighter and move faster.

Nonetheless, you need to focus on your paddling technique while using this style. Otherwise, you will strain your muscles and won’t be able to paddle for long.

The ideal paddle blade for this style is shorter and wider.

Here is a video explaining the two paddling styles.

Things to Consider When Buying a Kayak Paddle

There are five factors that you can use to narrow down to the perfect paddle for you.

Check them out.

a. Performance

Kayak paddles made of carbon fiber are stiff, as stated above. The rigidity of the carbon fiber blade, which you won’t find in a plastic blade, offers a better bite and power transfer. Energy is properly utilized hence more efficient strokes.

These paddles tend to be very lightweight and this makes it easy to paddle faster.

Another thing that influences a paddle’s performance is the size of the blade. Bigger blades make more powerful strokes compared to smaller ones. However, you get worn out quickly and it gets hard to paddle for long, especially if you are a beginner.

b. Ease of Adjustment

Some paddles will let you adjust the length and feathering of your paddle.

Whatever option your paddle offers, it should be simple and straightforward. If you have to adjust the angle of the blades while on water, you shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to figure it out.

The same applies to length adjustment. If it feels off and you are straining, adjusting it should take less than a minute.

Even better, the paddle should have calibration markings to make the task easier.

c. Locking Mechanism

Having a paddle that can be disassembled and adjusted is awesome. But it can bring about new issues. When you adjust or attach the pieces, you want them to stay in place. 

Unfortunately, some paddles feature a substandard locking system. After a while (or even immediately) you’ll notice wiggling or creaking in the connection points.

This prevents you from enjoying your trip and paddling properly.

Make sure you assess the locking mechanism to avoid disappointments later. The paddle should be as sturdy as a single-piece when all the pieces are in place.

d. Paddle Weight

Paddling a kayak is fun but not that easy. With a heavy paddle, it could turn into a painful experience.

The material used to make a paddle is the biggest determinant of its weight. An aluminum shaft and plastic blade paddle will be heavier. Some of them do not float and can get lost if they fall into the water.

Fiberglass paddles are lighter and don’t cost that much. They offer value for money. If you are looking for premium quality at a reasonable price, get a fiberglass paddle.

Carbon fiber paddles, as already mentioned, are the lightest paddles—especially if both the shaft and blade are carbon fiber. They cost quite a bit though, some as much as $450+. But they are worth it.

Lightweight paddles allow you to paddle for hours and more efficiently. They are also great if you have a physical condition and don’t want to strain muscles.

e. Durability

Generally, the cheaper materials, aluminum and plastic, are the most durable. Aluminum will withstand heavy use. Plastic bends slightly on impact so it doesn’t get damaged easily.

The more expensive materials are stiff, with carbon being the stiffest. They are likely to chip in the event of an impact. But at least they don’t degrade when exposed to the sun like plastic.

Determining the durability of a specific model is not that simple. Always check the user reviews to see how the paddle holds up over time.

What About Kayak Paddle Extensions?

Maybe you have more than one kayak, and all of them are of different sizes. The paddle you use for your narrow sea kayak may not work for your wide fishing kayak that features an adjustable height seat.

You’ll need a longer paddle. But you don’t have to buy a new one.

a. Can You Extend a Kayak Paddle?

Yes, you can. It is possible to make your paddle longer to suit a new kayak or in case you bought the wrong size. And you have options on how to do it as well.

b. How to Extend Your Paddle

The first option is DIY. But know that it can get complicated, depending on your paddle’s locking mechanism. The click button would be easier to figure out.

If you are looking to spend close to $0 on your project, you’ll find this video useful. You probably have all the required tools and pieces in your house.

The other choice would be to buy a paddle extension. They make them for specific models and most of them don’t cost much.

This is the recommended option because you are less likely to damage your paddle. The installation is quicker and simpler too.

Kayak Paddle Q&A

Q: What Happens When You Use Too Long a Paddle for Kayaking?

A: When your kayak paddle is too long, you will have a hard time paddling close to the boat and this will interfere with tracking. That is, the kayak won’t move in a straight line. You’ll also be forced to use more energy while paddling.

A longer paddle also means more weight which is not something you want.

Q: Why Are Kayak Paddles Offset?

A: This is what we referred to as feathering above, kayak blades being at different angles. It reduces wind resistance.

Q: Should I Feather My Kayak Paddle?

A: Feathering is not necessary, especially for casual paddlers and beginners. But as already mentioned, it is useful when it’s windy. If you decide to use a feathered paddle, take some time to learn how to properly hold and use it. It’s not as intuitive as an unfeathered one.

Q: Do Kayak Paddles Make a Difference?

A: Yes, they do. Just like a kayak, you have to be careful when picking a paddle. The wrong paddle will make you miserable. If it is too heavy, you will strain and that’s not fun. If the length is not right, it will be hard to control your boat without using too much energy or leaning.

Q: Do Kayak Paddles Float?

A: Some do, others don’t. Whether or not a paddle will float depends on its weight and the materials used to make it. Carbon fiber paddles are more likely to float than aluminum ones. Others float initially then start sinking.

Regardless of what the manufacturer says, always ensure you have a paddle leash so you don’t find out the hard way.

Conclusion

Buying a kayak paddle is not something you can do without thinking. Choose your preferred materials, according to your budget, and the paddle length that would be right for you. Figure out your ideal blade and shaft design. Ensure that the paddle is easy to adjust and has a reliable locking mechanism.

Do you have any questions about kayak paddles? Feel free to ask us below. Happy kayaking!

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