The most important piece of kayaking equipment is of course the kayak itself. Second to that is the kayak paddle. A kayak paddle can make a big difference as to what kind of paddling experience you have.
For many of us, our first kayak paddle is simply one that we can afford. However, as you become more experienced you may start to look into the different kinds of kayak paddles and how the different materials can affect your stroke, speed, comfort, and overall experience. This article serves as a buying guide by helping you understand the different parts of a kayak paddle and their impact on your performance.
How to choose the right kayak paddle size
A. Kayak paddle length
A key factor in determining your overall kayak experience is the length of your kayak paddle. Choose a paddle that has a less than an optimum length for you, and you risk ending up with a compromised form and banged knuckles. Although there are different opinions as to what is the most efficient kayak paddle length for a particular paddler, it is commonly known and agreed that there are three guidelines to take into account when choosing the right kayak paddle size. These guidelines are your height, the width of your kayak and your kayaking style. The following chart shows the recommended kayak paddle length for you when comparing your height to the width of your kayak. As you will notice, the length of a kayak paddle is expressed in the metric system so know that 1” equals 2.54 cm when comparing the length between a 215cm and a 220cm paddle.
23" - 28"
28" - 32"
5ft. to 6ft.
215cm to 220cm
240cm to 250cm
Over 6 ft.
Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or an advanced paddler, the kayak paddle length chart above will help you choose the right paddle length for you.
Once that is done, you want to consider the angle that you will be paddling with. If you are going to be really aggressive such as when rafting or touring and thereby have a high angle, a shorter paddle in the range of 210cm to 220cm is what you need. However, if you are going to be more relaxed such as when kayak fishing and thereby have a medium angle, then a paddle in the range of 220cm to 230cm is ideal. Lastly, if you are planning on just chilling, sitting back and enjoying the scenery when out kayaking, then a 230cm to 250cm will suit you just fine. In case you want to know which kayaking style is suitable for which situation, then please watch the video below.
B. Kayak paddle shaft size
Let’s not forget to mention the diameter of the kayak paddle shaft, which is the part that you hold when kayaking. In general, kayak paddles come in small and regular shaft sizes, and knowing which shaft size is suitable for you depends on the length between the bottom of your palm to the tip of your middle finger. If it’s 7”, then you should be using a regular shaft while a small shaft is recommended in case it’s 6.5” or lower.
C. Kayak paddle shaft shape
Besides picking the right paddle length, you also have the option between a bent or straight shaft. The idea with the bent shaft is that it’s putting your wrist in a neutral angle. This way you are not putting any strain on your wrist with each stroke that you take unlike with a straight shaft where you risk getting an overuse injury when paddling often. A useful tip for avoiding this on a straight shaft is a nice loose grip that still gives you control over the kayak paddle as opposed to a firm grip that leads to blisters and a strained body. For more information on how to hold a kayak, watch the following video led by an American Canoe Association instruction, trainer and educator in kayaking.
D. One piece vs two piece kayak paddle shaft
When going through the different kayak paddles, you’ll notice that you can choose between a one-piece paddle or one that breaks down into two or more pieces. The two or more piece paddle not only offers an easy way out for storing it when traveling, but also the option to feather your paddle. This simply means that you adjust the ferrule on the shaft so the blades are at an angle to each other rather than straight, just like this:
There are various degrees of rotation; some choose to go to the ultimate 90-degree right angle; others tend to range within angles between 30 and 60 degrees. This is especially helpful when paddling in windy conditions. As one blade enters the water, the one in the air can slice through the wind rather than be a drag in the wind. As a result, you experience less fatigue which was initially caused by wind resistance. Another advantage of using a feathered kayak paddle is a more natural wrist movement and hence less wrist strain. However, an unfeathered paddle is more natural to use, so using a feathered paddle takes some practice to master the skill.
The mechanism that makes it possible to feather, change the length and break down your kayak paddle is called the ferrule. This mechanism is responsible for connecting the left and right halves of a 2-piece kayak paddle shaft. As of today, there are three types of ferrule systems with each having its own attributes:
Lever Action Ferrule System
Posi-Lok Ferrule System
Smart-View Adjustable Ferrule System
Choosing which system suits you best will ultimately depend on your paddling style and environment. For example, in case you plan on wearing gloves, you need to ensure that the system you choose is easy to manipulate with padded fingers or cold hands.
How to choose the right kayak paddle weight
It is said that roughly 1000 paddle strokes are needed for every mile that you cover with your kayak. So if you think about it, paddling a mile with a 2lbs kayak paddle versus a 5lbs kayak paddle will have a big impact on whether you are tired at the end of the day or whether you managed to maintain good form throughout the whole trip. Fortunately, not all kayak paddles are made out of the same material resulting in some weighing 2lbs while others so much as 5lbs. As you read on about the different materials being used for making a kayak paddle, keep in mind that the more lightweight a kayak paddle is, the more expensive it also tends to be. Hence, in what follows is a list ordered from the cheapest to the most expensive material being used for kayak paddles.
- Aluminum shaft with plastic or nylon blades
The aluminum kayak paddles are one of the cheapest but also one of the heaviest types on the market. They are a great choice if you don’t cover a lot of distance with your kayak. However, given that the swing weight -the weight of the paddle at the end of the blades- is heavier than for other paddles, it is difficult to use this paddle with good form or cover long distances without experiencing fatigue. As a result, they are good for starting out since you usually get them for free when purchasing a kayak, but you will need to upgrade to a far lighter material once you become more serious about kayaking.
- Carbon fiberglass shaft with plastic blades
Replacing the aluminum shaft with a carbon fiberglass shaft not only results in a lighter kayak paddle, but it also keeps your hands warm during cold conditions. Also, in case you choose a 2 piece take apart shaft, the fitting will be much tighter so that there’s no movement on the paddle when you shake it. Nevertheless, these paddles still have a heavy swing weight.
- Full carbon shaft with reinforced blades
This is where the swing weight really starts to drop. The reinforced blades consist of a plastic or nylon blade that is reinforced with either fiberglass or carbon. The fiberglass reinforcing on the blades not only stiffens the paddle but also makes sure that the paddle is lighter. The carbon reinforced blades are the lightest paddles that you can have while still having a plastic blade and still spending less than $200.
- Full carbon shaft with full fiberglass blades
For those seeking featherweight kayak paddles, here is where it all starts. The hand laid fiberglass blades drastically reduce the swing weight of the paddle. Although the price for these types of kayak paddles tend to be around $250, you will notice an exponential jump in performance. As such, you will not be tired by the end of day and neither will your arms be resting on your lap. This is a suitable paddle for maintaining good form and using all day long without being exhausted.
- Full carbon shaft with foam injected carbon blades
As final, we have the lightest and most expensive kayak paddles on the market so far. The blades of these paddles are made of carbon fiber with a foam core. The carbon fiber gives the paddle its super lightweight feature while the foam core adds buoyancy to the paddle. This buoyancy allows the blade to naturally float and rise out of the water instead of the paddler wasting energy by lifting it out of the water. That being said, you should expect this kayak paddle to be priced around $400.
How to choose the right kayak paddle blade
As the video illustrates, there are 2 types of blade designs namely a high angle and low angle blade. The high angle blade is short and wide and will therefore require more effort to paddle, but give you more propulsion in return with every stroke. The low angle blade is longer and narrower resulting in more strokes per mile but requiring less effort to paddle, which makes them a suitable choice for recreational and touring. On the other hand, if you are stopping and going like when kayak fishing and also need power to accelerate then the high angle blade is recommended because it offers more grip, power, and control.
We’ve also researched and reviewed the best kayak paddles on the market in order to save you the trouble of doing this by yourself. If interested, check out our kayak paddle reviews.