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Best Kayak Paddles

Updated November 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 18 Models Considered
  • 7 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 165 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best kayak paddles

    Last Updated November 2018

    If you’re an avid kayaker, you’ll want to buy your own gear. Kayak, neoprene booties, spray skirt, and rashguard? Check. Hat and flotation device? Check. Food, water, and first-aid kit? Check. You’re ready to go, right? Nope. You won’t get anywhere without a paddle, and you won’t get far without the right kayak paddle.

    You could just grab the first kayak paddle you see, but there’s a good chance it could be too short or too heavy for you. With so many kayak paddles on the market, how do you narrow down your options?

    At BestReviews, we outline exactly what you need to look for in our handy shopping guides, so you’ll always make the best purchasing decisions. If you’re shopping for the perfect paddle for your next kayaking adventure, just keep reading.

    Most kayak paddles break down into either two or four pieces for storage or carrying.

    Kayak paddles vs. other paddles

    Perhaps you’re thinking you can just use that old canoe paddle in the garage the next time you go kayaking. You can try, but you’ll expend a lot of energy to not get very far.

    Canoe paddles

    Canoes are open-deck, stable boats that are designed for unhurried touring around calm waters. Canoe paddles, traditionally made of wood, have one blade. The canoer grips the other end to paddle.

    Stand up paddle board paddles

    Like canoe paddles, those for stand up paddle boarding only have one blade, and the paddler grips the other end. These paddles are longer than canoe paddles but shorter than kayak paddles.

    Kayak paddles

    Kayaks are only big enough for one person (although there are tandem kayaks for two or three people). You sit inside or on top of the kayak with legs outstretched. Kayaks are much more maneuverable than canoes, especially short, enclosed kayaks designed for whitewater kayaking. Kayak paddles are much lighter and longer than canoe paddles and have a blade at either end. The kayaker grips the paddle in between the two blades and moves forward by pulling first one blade and then the other through the water.

    Types of kayaks

    When choosing a kayak paddle, you first need to know what type of kayaking you’re going to do because that will determine the kind of paddle you use.

    Recreational kayaks

    These kayaks are about 26 to 30 inches wide and about six to 12 feet long. They are for shorter trips, perhaps a day spent fishing or exploring a coastline on a leisurely afternoon. Paddles for these kayaks are often inexpensive and heavy, as much as three pounds. You aren’t going to spend all your time paddling hard, so the weight is less important.

    Touring kayaks

    These kayaks are from 19 to 26 inches wide and 12 to 18 feet long. Touring kayaks are designed for open water, such as lakes, rivers, and oceans. You would choose this type of kayak for a camping trip. Performance kayaks are touring kayaks at the narrower and longer end of the size range. These kayaks are for extended sea kayaking. The weight of the paddle is very important on a long trip of thousands of paddle strokes, and durability is critical, too, especially if you’re out in the middle of nowhere in rough water.

    Whitewater kayaks

    These highly maneuverable kayaks are about seven to 11 feet long. The width isn’t as important with these kayaks. The paddles for whitewater kayaks are generally shorter than those for touring kayaks.

    EXPERT TIP

    Paddling in a tandem kayak, with the stronger paddler sitting behind, requires you to synchronize your strokes so your kayak paddles don’t collide.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Features to consider for kayak paddles

    Length

    Kayak paddles are measured in centimeters, from about 188 cm (just over six feet) to 260 cm (about 8.5 feet), with most paddles falling between 210 cm and 240 cm. Your height, strength, kayak width, and preference will determine the right paddle length for you. Just remember that if you have a wider kayak, you’ll need a longer paddle, but longer paddles require more effort for each stroke. You can paddle more quickly with a shorter paddle, and shorter paddles are usually lighter.

    As an example, if you’re six feet tall, and your recreational kayak is 28 inches wide, a paddle that is 230 cm long (about 7.5 feet) would be right for you. Kayak and paddle manufacturers provide sizing charts online so you can easily find the right paddle length.

    Blade shape and width

    Kayak paddle blades come in various shapes and widths, and your choice will be determined by the type of kayaking you want to do.

    Wider blades (six to eight inches and wider) are good for powerful accelerating, but there is increased strain on the wrists and shoulders. Narrow blades (five inches or less) offer less power, but they’re less tiring to use on long trips.

    Asymmetrical blades, used for sea kayaking, enable the kayaker to paddle more efficiently. Dihedral blades reduce side-to-side twisting and increase power. Scooped blades are used by kayak racers who need to power forward quickly.

    Feathered or unfeathered blades

    Most kayak paddles enable you to adjust the blades so that they are unfeathered (aligned on the same plane) or feathered (offset to one another).

    With feathered blades, you rotate the shaft of the paddle with each stroke. The feathering reduces the wind resistance on the raised blade. Since you don’t twist unfeathered blades as you stroke, this type of paddle is less likely to cause wrist strain. Again, the type of kayaking you do will determine how you adjust the blades.

    Low-angle or high-angle blades

    Kayak paddle blades are designed for low-angle or high-angle paddling, which refers to the height of the paddle’s shaft with each stroke. This also affects the length of paddle you need.

    High-angle blades are shorter and wider, and the shaft is shorter. Whitewater kayakers and experienced touring kayakers prefer this type of blade for fast, aggressive, powerful paddling, with the top hand at forehead height.

    With low-angle blades, the paddle stays more horizontal with each stroke, with your top hand at about shoulder height. Low-angle blades are longer and narrower than those for high-angle paddling. The slower, more relaxed stroke used by recreational kayakers is easier to do for long periods of time with low-angle blades.

    Blade material

    You will find kayak paddle blades made of plastic (or a blend of plastic and other materials like nylon), fiberglass, and carbon fiber. Weight and durability are the determining factors here. You’ll be able to paddle longer without getting tired with a lighter paddle. But the lighter and stronger the kayak paddle, the more expensive it is.

    Inexpensive plastic blades are the choice of recreational kayakers who kayak infrequently. Plastic is flexible, so it might not break easily, but that same flexibility makes your stroke less efficient. That probably won’t matter to the occasional paddler, however. Know that plastic cracks, and UV rays can degrade it, so you might have to replace a kayak paddle with plastic blades more often.

    Mid-priced fiberglass blades are both durable and efficient. Fiberglass is more rigid and lightweight than plastic, and while it can chip, it’s less prone to cracking.

    You’ll pay the most for blades made of super-light, super-rigid carbon fiber because they deliver maximum efficiency with each stroke.

    Shaft

    Kayak paddle shafts come in two diameters: small and standard. If your thumb and index finger don’t touch when you hold a standard shaft, opt for a small shaft.

    Kayak paddle shafts are either straight or bent. A straight shaft is lighter and less expensive than a bent shaft, but it can put more pressure on the wrist. A bent shaft is more ergonomic and therefore more comfortable and less fatiguing for long sessions on the water. However, kayak paddles with bent shafts are more expensive.

    Shaft material

    Kayak paddle shafts are made of aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon and vary in weight, characteristics, and price.

    Inexpensive, durable aluminum is a popular choice for paddles used for recreational kayaking. These paddles often have plastic blades. Aluminum is heavier than other materials, but weight is less of a factor when you’re in calm water and not paddling continuously.

    Like fiberglass blades, fiberglass shafts are durable and effective. You’ll find these shafts with fiberglass or carbon blades.

    You’ll find carbon shafts with nylon and other blades, but matching a carbon shaft with carbon blades makes for the lightest, most efficient, and most expensive kayak paddle.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    The ferrule is the piece that connects the two halves of your kayak paddle. It also enables you to feather, or offset, the blades and lock them in place at the desired angle.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Rubber rings, called drip guards, keep water from running down the kayak paddle’s blades and into the kayak.

    Prices for kayak paddles

    As with most outdoor or athletic gear, you will pay more for better, lighter, more durable materials, and kayak paddles are no different. You can expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $500-plus for a kayak paddle, depending on the type and materials.

    The least expensive kayak paddles have aluminum shafts (sometimes coated with plastic) and plastic or fiberglass-reinforced blades and are heavy, as much as three pounds or more. Prices for these kayak paddles range from about $30 to $70.

    In the middle of the price range, from about $70 to $190, you’ll find recreational and touring kayak paddles with aluminum or fiberglass shafts and fiberglass or fiberglass-reinforced blades. At the upper end of this range, you’ll also start to see some touring paddles with carbon shafts and carbon-reinforced nylon blades that weigh less than two pounds.

    For over $190, you’ll find ultra-light kayak paddles with carbon shafts and fiberglass blades. You’ll pay dearly for a paddle with a carbon shaft and carbon blades that weighs just over a pound – some of these high-end paddles are $500 or more.

    Tips

    • The right paddle length is important. You want enough reach to be able to paddle with strong strokes, but you don’t want to have to lift the paddle so high that water drips into your kayak.

    • Use a feathered kayak paddle in windy conditions. Paddling with feathered blades eases the strain on your wrists and saves energy when it’s windy because feathered blades are less resistant to wind.

    • Use your paddle as an outrigger for stability when getting into or out of your kayak. With the kayak parallel to the dock or shore, put your weight on the paddle when getting in or out.

    • Choose the shorter kayak paddle if you fall between two sizes. Shorter paddles are usually lighter.
    Carry a paddle float when kayaking far from shore. If you capsize, you can slip the float over the blade and use the kayak paddle as an outrigger to help you get back into the kayak.

    FAQ

    Q. How do I know what length kayak paddle to buy?

    A. That depends on how tall you are, your kayak’s width, and whether you sit inside your kayak or on top. However, an easy test is to hold the kayak paddle vertically next to you (with one blade touching the ground). Raise your arm and reach to the top of the paddle. If your fingers go over the top of the blade, the paddle is the right size. That said, know that your torso length and level of fitness also factor into paddle length. Most manufacturers post paddle sizing charts online.

    Q. How do I take care of my kayak paddle?

    A. As with any sports equipment, a little care and some regular maintenance will keep your gear in good shape for a longer period of time. When kayaking, be careful when pushing off from shore. Some paddle blades can crack or break, and you won’t be happy if you’re out in the wilderness with a broken blade and no spare. After each use, rinse off the kayak paddle with clean water. Also, occasionally spray the connection point on the shaft with silicone lubricant.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Writer
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Katherine
      Katherine
      Editor
    • Linsay
      Linsay
      Editor
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer
    • Moriah
      Moriah
      Writer

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