Knowing how to choose a kayak paddle that works for you can make all the difference when you’re on the water. Your paddle may seem like an insignificant part of kayaking, but in reality, it’s what keeps you moving.
There’s a real feeling of freedom as you paddle your own tiny vessel through the water. However, if you’ve kayaked with a paddle that was the wrong size or structure for your needs, you know how exhausting it can be. Save your back and your arms by learning how to choose a kayak paddle that’s perfect for you.
With the right paddle, you’ll be gliding effortlessly through the water in no time.
Kayaking is a recreational activity enjoyed by many for its health benefits as well as its endless fun. For those who long to be on the water, but cannot afford a massive boat, kayaking is the perfect solution. It’s a great way to tour new waterfront locales, and many find it the ideal arrangement for fishing.
If you are interested in kayaking for recreational reasons, you’ll most likely find yourself low-paddling. Low paddling is a technique that keeps your paddle in a more horizontal position and further out from your boat. When it comes to how to choose a kayak paddle for low paddling, you’ll want a longer paddle than those who participate in high-paddling.
High-paddling is a more aggressive style mostly used in competitive or challenging conditions. Your paddle will be in a more vertical position and tucked closer to the boat. As such, you use a shorter paddle for more powerful strokes.
Keep this difference in mind as you discover how to choose a kayak paddle. We target our information for those who like to low-paddle, as it is most common. However, high paddlers will find information of value here. It just may need to be adjusted accordingly.
The length of your paddle is of principal importance when it comes to how to choose a kayak paddle. If your paddle is the wrong length, you may find yourself losing control of your kayak, having to awkwardly lean to reach the water, or fighting with unnecessary paddle weight for your height.
To find the right length paddle, you need to consider your height as well as the width of your kayak. It follows logically that those with wider vessels or taller frames will need a longer paddle.
Begin by measuring your kayak at its widest point (or check the manufacturer’s website if possible). Although there is no hard and fast rule for kayak widths, there are some general trends you can follow. Keep in mind kayak paddles are universally measured using centimeters.
Those who own recreational kayaks generally choose a wider boat for more stability. These boats range from 27 inches to 36 inches in width and require a paddle length of 230 centimeters to 240 centimeters, depending on the height of the kayaker.
Touring kayaks are a more narrow boat, usually 23 inches to 27 inches wide. Look for a paddle that’s about 220 centimeters to 230 centimeters long.
Sea kayaks are most narrow, at only 19 inches to 23 inches on average. When looking for how to choose a kayak paddle for this vessel, go with a length of only 210 centimeters to 220 centimeters.
On the other end of the spectrum are fishing kayaks, which are very wide and often have an adjustable seat. The best kayak paddles for fishing will be about 240 centimeters to 260 centimeters. In a high seating position, add an additional 10 centimeters to adjust for the distance from the water.
IT’S A MATERIAL WORLD
Of course, the right length is only the beginning when learning how to choose a kayak paddle. Paddle material can make a huge difference in its performance, durability, and weight.
Having a lightweight paddle can make be a life-saver as you find yourself moving through the water using thousands of strokes.
Choose a kayak paddle crafted from rigid materials to ensure the paddle holds its shape as you move. This will be more efficient and ultimately require fewer strokes to move the same distance.
When considering materials, you’ll need to look at both the blades and shaft of your kayak paddle.
The blades are the oblong pieces at either end of the paddle used to propel yourself in the water. The shaft is the long bar between them that joins the two blades together, on which you place your hands.
Because your blades move higher into the air, choosing a lightweight material is key.
Blades made from plastic or nylon are a popular choice because they are readily available and cost-effective. However, keep in mind that plastic bends beneath the water, preventing you from moving as far with every stroke.
Fiberglass blades are a great mid-range option with plenty of benefits. Not only are they lighter than plastic, but they are far more durable. A rigid fiberglass blade does a decent job of moving through the water.
If you’re looking for the best quality, opt for carbon-fiber blades. These babies are incredibly light while staying rigid for maximum efficiency in the water.
Most kayak paddles have an aluminum shaft. This works fine, although keep in mind aluminum can get both very hot and very cold, depending on the ambient temperature. If you’re kayaking in a very hot or cold climate, gloves can be an easy solution.
Shafts made from a composite of fiberglass and carbon-fiber are top-of-the-line. These are not only lightweight and incredibly durable, but they are also temperature resistant. Choose a kayak paddle made from this material, and your hands will definitely thank you!
BLADES OF GLORY
Aside from choosing the right blade material, there are a few other necessary considerations. When it comes to knowing how to choose a kayak paddle, the size and shape of the blade are key.
For low-angle paddlers, look for a long and narrow blade ideal for casual or long-distance paddling. On the other hand, high-angle paddlers should look for a short and wide blade.
When it comes to shape, you will most often see either dihedral-shaped or spoon-shaped paddles.
Dihedral blades are easy to spot by the ridge that runs through the middle. This ridge keeps water flowing over the blade and makes paddling easier. They are also usually asymmetrical, meaning they are angled to help move smoothly through the water.
Spoon-shaped blades are ideal for the kayaking expert who has the perfect stroke. These blades scoop the water and provide more power, but are more difficult to control.
In general, the more massive the blade, the more power they pack in every stroke. But that doesn’t mean larger is always ideal. Bigger blades require additional strength to paddle.
As a general rule of thumb, only opt for large paddle blades of over 100 square inches if you have a larger frame or if your kayak is loaded down with gear.
(DO) GET THE SHAFT
When it comes to how to choose a kayak paddle, considering which paddle shaft works best for you can make all the difference.
One of your primary considerations should be the design of the shaft itself. There are both straight shaft paddles and bent shaft paddles available.
Many kayakers appreciate the kinks in a bent shaft because it makes the paddle more comfortable to hold and naturally positions your hands in such a way to resist fatigue while you paddle.
However, keep in mind most paddles have a straight shaft. So if you’re interested in making the switch to a bent-shaft paddle, give yourself a little time to adjust.
Another great way to help with fatigue while paddling is to get a small-diameter shaft. This smaller design is ideal for those with smaller hands. With a narrower shaft, you’re less likely to have to put a lot of effort into gripping the paddle.
Looking for the perfect test to decide if a small-diameter shaft is right for you? Wrap your fingers around a standard size paddle. If your thumb and index finger cannot touch, opt for a small-diameter shaft.
After determining the ideal size, shape, and material of the blades and shaft of your kayak paddle, search out any additional features.
Many people appreciate a kayak paddle that breaks into pieces for easier transport. Most paddles to come apart into two sections. However, there are also paddles available that break into four smaller pieces.
If you’re looking to hike with a portable kayak or travel on a plane or other public transportation, this may be ideal for you.
You may also wish to look for a kayak paddle with feathered blades. Offset at an angle, these blades will reduce wind resistance and make paddling easier.
As an added bonus, many kayak paddles allow you to adjust the blades to your desired amount of feathering.
PADDLE, PADDLE, PADDLE YOUR BOAT
Knowing how to choose a kayak paddle that suits you can seem like a daunting task at first. But if you follow our advice, and take the length, materials, blades, and shaft into consideration, you’ll be well on your way to happier kayaking.
Kayak paddles are not a one-size-fits-all product, and customizing your paddles to your individual needs will make your time on the water far more enjoyable.
Do you have anything to add when it comes to choosing the perfect paddle? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image from Pixabay
Jonathan O’Ryan is what you might call a seasonal digital nomad. When he is not thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or finetuning his custom UL camping gear in the middle of nowhere, he comfortably sits at his home desk – yes, he still has a physical address, we don’t know for how long though – sharing his insights on all things outdoors with Wilderness Today’s audience. We know life is an adventure, Jon, but we’d still like to have that urgent work email answered by noon.