How to Choose a Kayak Paddle

choose the best kayak paddle

Choosing a kayak is not the only important decision that a new kayaker has to make.

While it may look simple, getting the wrong kayak paddle will prove to be costly in the long run.

Paddling trips will be a pain and this will ruin the sport for you.

Besides, you cannot paddle correctly with the wrong paddle. An improper paddling technique could give you serious back problems.

Getting the right paddle goes beyond the correct length. A lot of factors come into play including the type of kayak you have.

This guide brings you the best criteria for choosing a kayak paddle.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Kayak Paddle

a. Length of Paddle

This is one of the most important factors. It is determined by your height and the width of your kayak—assuming you have already bought a kayak. A wider kayak requires you to get a longer paddle. The same way, if you are tall your paddle should be long. The type of paddling you take part in determines what has more weight. For instance, in recreational kayaking, the width of the kayak matters more. In whitewater kayaking, the height of the kayaker has more weight.

It is not easy to recommend a specific height for everyone. The table below offers the recommended length of paddle depending on how tall you are and how wide your kayak is. Normally, the length of paddle is measured in centimeters.

Width of Kayak
Under 23”24” – 28”29” – 33”34” and above
Height of Paddler
Under 5’5” 210cm 220 cm 230 cm 240 cm
5’5” to 5’11”220 cm230 cm240 cm250 cm
6’ and above220 cm230 cm250 cm260 cm

The table above will give you a good idea of how long your paddle should be. For the perfect fit, try a paddle first before buying.

There are two other factors to consider: your paddling style and seat height.

When you are using a sit-on-top kayak, you will be higher than someone using a sit-in kayak. In that case, add about 10 centimeters to the recommended length of paddle above.

As for the paddling technique, there are two types of strokes. There is the high-angle stroke and the low-angle stroke.

The high-angle stroke is not common. Your upper hand blade is usually above your shoulder and the lower hand blade close to the kayak in the water. The paddle is almost perpendicular to the water. It is exhausting and challenging. The stroke is used in cases where speed and strength are needed. Think racing and whitewater paddling. For this technique you need a shorter paddle with a wider blade.

The low-angle stroke is more relaxed. The upper hand blade is below your shoulder and the lower hand one is further from the kayak in the water. It assumes a horizontal position. The ideal paddle is one that is longer with a narrower blade.

b. Materials

kayak paddle

Like a kayak, the material used to make a paddle affects its performance, price and weight. It also determines whether the paddle will last or not.

Plastic: many of the paddles you will come across are made of plastic. As you can image, a plastic paddle is light. Some of them are durable—if you get the right quality.

Carbon-fiber and fiberglass: paddles made of these materials are the most expensive. There is a good reason for that. Not only are they light, but they are also the best performers in the water. Their stiffness is amazing.

Aluminum: if you are looking for a paddle that will last and one that is affordable, get an aluminum one. The downside is that these paddles are heavy. You may also find it too cold or hot for comfort especially when temperatures are extreme.

Wood: paddles made of wood are not the go-to option for many people. Besides being heavy, they are not the most durable ones out there. Buy one if you are confident that you can take good care of it. On the brighter side, a wooden paddle is appealing to look at.

To know the best material, sit down and analyze what is most important for you. Is it weight, price, performance or durability?

c. Shaft

When it comes to the shaft, you should look at two things; its design and material. The material part has been covered above. A carbon-fiber/fiberglass shaft is expensive but it is light and performs well. On the other end of the spectrum is an aluminum shaft. It may be heavy but at least it is affordable.

If you have been looking around in shops for a paddle, then you have noticed that some appear to be crooked (bent) while others are straight.

A straight shaft is the most common. It is not necessarily bad but it is also not forgiving. If you paddle a lot, you may notice that your wrist is straining and uncomfortable.

The bent shaft, on the other hand, is quite comfortable. Your wrist will be at a “normal” angle. A bent shaft is highly recommended for paddlers who spend long hours kayaking. It will cost more but it is worth it.

Kayak paddles can either come as a single piece or 2 – 4 pieces. A one-piece paddle is not adjustable and requires a bigger storage space. You can choose a two-piece or four-piece depending on how you prioritize portability. The four-piece is nice if you want the paddle to fit in a small space like a backpack.

Lastly, you should take into account the diameter of your shaft. A shaft diameter is categorized as either small or standard. The standard one is fine unless you have small hands. Hold the shaft with your index and thumb. The two should go around the shaft and touch. If not, get a small-diameter paddle.

d. Blade

kayak paddle blade shapes

As already discussed, no material is bad. You only have to know what matters to you. Here, a plastic blade is ideal for the kayaker on a budget. It is not indestructible but it is durable. Generally, plastic does not do well when left under the sun for long.

If you don’t mind spending a good amount on a paddle, get one with a carbon-fiber blade. It is the best for whitewater kayakers and people who value performance.

Other blade aspects to think about are the size and shape.

First, a blade can either be symmetrical or asymmetrical. With an asymmetrical blade, one side is longer than the other. This contributes to a matching surface area when the blade is pushing water. Many kayaking paddle blades are asymmetrical.

A symmetrical blade is not good for kayaking. However, you can still go for it if money is tight and you don’t care about efficiency.

Other than getting an asymmetrical blade, make sure it is a dihedral blade too. This is one which has a rib or ridge at the center. It is considered the better choice for all kinds of kayak paddlers. The other option is a spoon blade. While it pushes water efficiently, it will flap if you are not skilled.

When it comes to size, it is easy to think that bigger is better. This is true—partly. A big blade is powerful and you will go faster. Nonetheless, you will need to apply more effort. If you are not big and strong, a large blade is too much for you. A narrower blade allows you to paddle for longer without getting burnt out.

While still on blades, there is something known as feathering. Some blades are feathered and others are matched. Many of them are flexible in that, you can switch between feathered and matched by rotating. Feathered blades are not aligned. This prevents wind resistance. It is best to buy one that you can adjust.

Choosing a kayak paddle is not complicated. You only need to have a few things in mind when making that choice. Know how wide your kayak is and how tall you are. With these two variables, you are half-way there. Understand the craft’s seat height and your paddling stroke to see if you need to add or subtract 10 centimeters. Next, decide what kind of material you prefer on the shaft and blade. Finally, choose the design that you like. That’s pretty much it. Happy kayaking!