How To Choose A Kayak Paddle

When I was shopping for my first kayak, I wondered if it mattered what kayak paddle I got. There were kayak paddles of all lengths and prices, and it got confusing quickly.

Over the years (and talking to lots of kayaking buddies), it became clear. To choose a kayak paddle: focus on the length of the paddle, the shape of the blade and save on lower material costs until you are an established kayaker.

So, the key to making a good choice is to pay attention to your paddling style and what kind of kayak you will be using.

Choosing The Proper Kayak Paddle Length

Have you ever banged your knuckles or pinched your fingers while doing something? You can happen when your kayak paddle is too short and you stroke too close to your kayak. This is the result of an incorrectly sized kayak paddle.

If your kayak paddle is too long, your paddle will tend to paddle shallow and won't grab the water as well as lose traction. In this case, you will need a shorter length paddle.

Learn how to paddle your kayak here.

In the end, the wrong length paddle can cause your kayak to zig-zag and work against you.

Here is an important point: when sizing a paddle length, you can use kayak and paddler measurements in inches or centimeters. But, the paddle length you choose will almost always be in centimeters.

So, let's work through these various factors you will use to determine your ideal paddle size.

What Length Kayak Paddle Do You Need?

The length of your paddle blade is important for two reasons:

your kayak will perform better with a paddle that's the perfect fit. you'll need to match the blade size to your own height and arm length.

The blade size affects how much work it takes to paddle because your arms are moving more or less distance for each stroke.

Kayak Paddle Length Chart

Manufacturers have established standard measurements by establishing a kayak paddle length guide to help kayak enthusiasts select the correct paddle size. Use this kayak paddle size chart to get the proper paddle length.

Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide

Kayak Width

The two most important factors in determining the best paddle length are the kayak's width and paddler torso height.

The kayak width depends on the type of kayaking you plan to do. Kayak fishing or recreational kayaks are more stable and the boat width tends to be wider. Others like the sea or touring kayaks are built for speed, cutting through the water efficiently and narrowly.

There are several kayak types, and each has a typical width. The style affects the paddle length of the kayak. The wider your kayak, the longer the paddle shaft will need to be.

Paddlers in higher seat positions like in a sit-on-top kayak prefer a high angle for a more efficient stroke.

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Seat Height

Sit-on-top kayaks with a taller seat will require additional shaft length to reach the water. This seat height typically adds 10 cm to the kayak paddle length.

Paddler Torso Height

To paddle a kayak efficiently, you need to consider the paddler's torso height.


For kayakers with a torso height over 28 inches, you will want paddle lengths 200 cm or longer. For a torso height under 28 inches, you will want a smaller size kayak paddle under 200 cm.

Sit-on-top kayaks with a taller seat will require additional shaft length to reach the water. This kayak style typically adds 10 cm to the paddle length.

Low-Angle vs. High-Angle Paddle Strokes

The stroke angle preference is a good starting point to prevent bad paddling habits. Choosing the correct stroke angle can help you keep a normal paddling posture.

  • Low angle paddling is for a relaxed and leisurely pace or a longer time on the water. So longer paddles work well for low angle strokes. Most manufacturers standardize this angle so that you can size the paddle with the stated length.
  • High angle is when you need to be aggressive and fast, like a whitewater kayaker. You hold the shaft in a more vertical position, so it is closer to the water. A shorter paddle works better, so you can subtract 10 cm from the listed length.
How to Choose a Kayak Paddle | $100 vs $500 Paddles

Choose The Blade Design

Blade Shape

  • Asymmetrical vs. Symmetrical Paddle Blades.
  • Symmetrical blades have the same shape on both sides of the paddle blade. This blade is easier to use for beginners or lighter paddling.
  • Asymmetrical blades have a deeper bottom end to apply more power. This paddle blade is designed for a low angle paddler.
  • Dihedral vs. Spoon. Dihedral blades provide a flat shape. Preferred by beginners for its easy use.
  • The spoon shape scoops water with more power.

Blade Size

Paddles with a broader blade are helpful for high-angle paddling. This design is better for speed or sport like whitewater or touring kayaking. They provide more quick power and speed.

For relaxing, smoother stroking like you get with a recreational or fishing kayak, use a long, narrow blade.

Choose The Materials

Blade Materials

  • Plastic Blades / Nylon Blades
  • Fiberglass Blades
  • Composite Blades (Carbon Fiber)

Shaft Materials

  • Aluminum Shafts. These are relatively inexpensive but are some of the heaviest and durable. Your hands will feel material retain cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
  • Fiberglass Shafts. Midrange material for both the weight and cost.
  • Carbon-Fiber. The best strength-to-weight ratio is offered for paddles.
  • Composite Shafts. Made up of fiberglass and carbon fiber, they are top of the line and insulate your hands from temperature extremes.

Do You Need A Longer Paddle Or A Shorter Paddle?

Adjustable Or one-piece kayak paddle?

If you are buying a new kayak paddle, it's pretty much only going to come in one size. An adjustable kayak paddle means you can adjust the length of your kayak paddle for different body positions and conditions. This is pretty awesome when you share the paddle with other size kayakers or different type of kayak.

Choose The Paddle Shafts Design

  • Straight Shaft vs. Bent Shaft. The straight shaft is the most common and cost-effective. Consider a bent shaft if you have wrist issues, and this shaft will provide less strain.
  • Feathering vs. Matched. A paddle with a ferrule system allows for a twist of 60 to 90 degrees to reduce wind resistance during the recovery phase. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you keep your kayak paddle attached to your kayak? You can use a kayak leash or bungee cord.

Do kayak paddles float? Sort of, depending on the material weight and density. But yes, all major paddle manufacturers offer models that float well.

Thank you for reading this article. Please help us to provide more valuable content to you by leaving a comment below with any questions or topic suggestions.

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About the author 

Tracy Villarreal

Tracy has been fishing Texas' beaches, piers, and inshore waters for over 30 years. A kayak fisherman for the last three years, Tracy is dedicated to helping others make the most of their trips by writing informative tips, guides, and onpoint articles based on his own experience since 2018.

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