How To Choose A Kayak Paddle

How To Choose A Kayak Paddle7 min read

When I first started kayaking, I wondered if the type of paddle even mattered. There are paddles of all different lengths and price points.

However, after talking to many experienced kayakers, it became clear that there are three main things you should focus on when choosing a paddle:

  • The length of the paddle.
  • The shape of the blade.
  • Saving on lower material costs until you are an established kayaker.

To find out what length kayak paddle is right for you, check out our helpful kayak paddle size chart. It will guide you to the perfect size paddle for you!

Why The Right-Sized Kayak Paddle Is Important

When you paddle close to your kayak with a too-short paddle, you might hit your knuckles or fingers on the kayak. An incorrectly sized kayak paddle doesn’t let you grip and paddle properly.

A kayak paddle that is too long will make shallow strokes that don’t have as much contact with the water, making it harder to move forward. If this happens, you need a shorter 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.

Rule Of Thumb
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 size of your paddle is essential for two reasons:

  • The length of your paddle’s shaft should be proportional to your height and arm length for the best kayaking experience.
  • The size of the blade on your paddle affects how much effort each stroke requires.

Kayak Paddle Length Chart

Manufacturers have devised a standard measurement to make it easier for kayakers to select the right-sized paddle. This guide will help you get the proper paddle length.

Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide
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.

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.

Rule Of Thumb
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.

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. 

Learn about paddling techniques here.


So, what’s the verdict? Are you convinced that a good paddle makes all the difference when kayaking? I hope so!

And, if you are starting out, don’t worry – there are plenty of great paddles at lower price points. But as you progress in your kayaking journey, I recommend saving up for a higher-quality paddle that will make your experience even more enjoyable.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below – we would love to hear from you!

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.

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