How To Choose A Kayak Paddle

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 paddles of all lengths and prices and it got confusing really quick.

Over the years (and talking to lots of kayaking buddies) it became clear. To choose a kayak paddle: focus on the length of 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.

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. Like loosing traction.

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.

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 right paddle size. Use this guide to know how to size a kayak paddle.

Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide

Kayak Width

The two most important factors to determine the best paddle length is kayak width and the paddler height.

The width of the kayak depends on your type of kayaking. Fishing or recreational kayaks more stability and tend to be wider. Others like the sea or touring kayaks are built for speed and cutting through the water efficiently and are narrow.

There are several kayak types and each has a typical width. This 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.

Seat Height

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

Paddler Height

To paddle a kayak efficiently, you really need to consider the paddler 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 typically adds 10 cm to the kayak 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 on this angle, so 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.
    • 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. It is designed for a shallow stroke angle.
  • Dihedral vs Spoon.
    • Dihedral blades provide a flat shape. Preferred by beginners for its simple use.
    • The spoon shape scoops water with more power.

Blade Size

Paddles with a wider blade is useful for high angle paddling. This is better for speed or sport like whitewater or touring kayaking. They provide more quick power and speed.

A longer, narrow blade is commonly used for a relaxing, smoother stroking like you get with a recreational or fishing kayak.

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 offered for paddles.
  • Composite Shafts. Made up of fiberglass and carbon fiber, 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

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.

Tracy Villarreal

I'm the owner of Active At The Beach. I grew up in a beach town in which I was fortunate enough to spend tons of time around the sea and the beach.

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