How to Choose the Right Size Kayak Paddle
Choosing the right size kayak paddle is essential for a long, enjoyable day out on the water. When you use too long of a paddle for kayaking you risk muscle strain, blisters, and expending your body's energy way too quickly. Follow this simple guide to quickly and easily figure out the best kayak paddle size for you.
The correct paddle length depends on a few factors: your height, your kayak width, and the type of kayaking you'll be doing. Whitewater uses shorter paddles for quick turns and fast acceleration, whereas touring uses longer paddles for smooth, efficient strokes. Recreational is somewhere in-between.
For the most part, taller people will require longer paddles and shorter people will need shorter paddles. Your height and your boat's width affect your paddle angle, which you should use to select your optimal paddle height. Use this paddle sizing chart to find the right size.
Low-angle paddling is a more relaxed style of paddling, which offers a more stable stroke in rough water, and less wind resistance.
High-angle paddling is more aggressive and is useful for powerful strokes and speed.
Large blades have greater surface areas, allowing them to slice into the water and provide more power and acceleration with each stroke. That being said, they have greater resistance in the water, so more energy is required per stroke.
Small blades are sleek and pull through the water more efficiently, meaning you won't get tired as quickly. However, because they have less surface area, they won't push as much water and you'll need more strokes to cover distances.
Asymmetrical blades feature a face with one side longer than the other. This allows the blade to enter the water easier and get deeper into the water with less resistance, creating an energy-efficient stroke.
Symmetrical blades are equal length across the face and get a stronger grip on the water, which is an advantage for beginners or for recreational uses.
Blade & Shaft Material
Fiberglass: Fiberglass is a strong, lightweight material composed of glass fibers and resin. These properties make it an excellent material for paddle blades and shafts. The balance of weight and durability is a good all-around material for most types of touring, recreational and whitewater paddling.
Nylon: Nylon is a very durable material for a paddle blade and shaft, but it's also a little on the heavy side. Because paddles are relatively inexpensive, nylon is a great choice for beginners, or for people who are looking for something that requires less maintenance.
Carbon Fiber: Carbon fiber is usually the lightest weight option. It lacks the durability of fiberglass or nylon, but the weight savings will pay off on longer trips. This makes it a great touring paddle/shaft combination.
Straight vs. Bent Shaft
Straight shaft: Most paddles you see have straight shafts. If you have a comfortable, smooth stroke with proper torso rotation, then a straight shaft should fit you perfectly.
Bent shaft: If you have wrist issues or notice that paddling with a straight shaft stresses your joints, you might want to look into paddles with bent areas for gripping that offer a more intuitive hand angle during your paddle stroke.
When holding the paddle out in front of you, the blades may be offset at different angles and look mismatched. This is called feathering. Many believe that feathering gives paddlers the ability to cut through wind on the forward stroke.
Others believe feathering is merely a more natural way to paddle, offering your wrists neutral positioning during your time paddling. This would in turn prevent damage or pain, as it would avoid the constant bending of the wrists (unlike a non-feathered).
Some paddles also have adjustable shafts where you can lock in different feathering angles. This way you can cut through a headwind with one setting, and "sail" a tailwind with another.
1-, 2-, 3-, 4-Piece
Paddles are available in 1 to 4 pieces to accommodate your personal preference. The most common are 1- and 2-piece, as there are less parts to keep track of. That being said, the more pieces, the easier it is to travel and store. One-piece paddles are often lighter and stronger, but you'll have to decide at the time of purchase whether you want to use a feathered angle or not. With more pieces, there's more room for adjustment depending on how you plan on riding that day.
If you haven't already decided what type of kayak you want for the activities you plan to do, we've already laid out the kayak basics you need to know in order to choose between them. Use this as your launching point to give yourself the best day possible on the water.