When I was shopping for my first kayak, I wondered if it mattered what kayak paddle I got. There were 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.
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What Size Kayak Paddle Do I Need?
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.
If your kayak paddle is too long, your paddle will tend to paddle shallow and won’t grab the water as well as losing traction.
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.
Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide
Manufacturers have established standard measurements for kayak paddles to help kayak enthusiasts select the correct paddle size. Use this guide to know how to size a kayak paddle.
The two most important factors in determining the best paddle length are kayak width and paddler height.
The width of the kayak depends on your type of kayaking. Fishing or recreational kayaks more stable and tend 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 it is, 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.
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.
To paddle a kayak efficiently, you need to consider the paddler’s height.
Rule of thumb: for kayakers with torso heights over 28 inches, you will want paddle lengths 200 cm or longer. For torso heights under 28 inches, you will want a 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
- Low angle is for a relaxed and leisurely pace or a longer time on the water. So a longer paddle works well for this. 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.
Choose The Blade Design
- Asymmetrical vs. Symmetrical.
- Symmetrical blades have the same shape on both sides of the 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 is designed for a shallow stroke angle.
- Dihedral vs. Spoon. Dihedral blades provide a flat shape. Preferred by beginners for its easy use.
- The spoon shape scoops water with more power.
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
- Plastic Blades / Nylon Blades
- Fiberglass Blades
- Composite Blades (Carbon Fiber)
- 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.
Choose The Shaft 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. Learn about paddling techniques here.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can use a kayak leash or bungee cord.
Sort of, depending on the material weight and density. But yes, all major paddle manufacturers offer models that float well.