Its one of those truths that most people are willing to spend the money to get a really nice kayak but will skimp when it comes to the paddle. This is a mistake any way you look at it. If you want the best performance and speed, you need a great paddle. Luckily you don’t have to spend a fortune to get one.
Even if your kayak came with a paddle, its probably worth exploring the options to make sure that paddle is the best for you, your boat, and where you will be kayaking. No two paddles are the same and none are created equally.
Here are some points to consider when choosing the perfect paddle for you.
The angle the blade of the paddle hits the water is a very important consideration. You don’t want the paddle to go too deep or it will be too hard to move. Too shallow and you won’t generate the speed you need. You want to be able to get the proper bite while sitting comfortably and using proper form to prevent strain.
There are several factors to consider when it comes to picking a length. Some will take a little practice to really figure out but a great place to start is to decide your paddle length based on your height, the width of your kayak and, as a minor concern, fitness level.
It should make sense that the taller you are, the longer paddle you will need to reach the water just the right way. Unless you are either very short or very tall, the standard paddles that fall from 220 cm to 240 cm will be a good fit. That’s 86 to 94 inches in imperial. As long as you understand that your height will have an effect, you can move on to the table below to find the proper paddle length.
The wider the kayak, the longer paddle you will need. The sidewalls of the kayak can interfere with the proper stroke if your paddle is too short. Most boats will fall between 28 and 40 inches which can be cross-referenced in the height chart below.
People who are more fit are better able to get a deeper bite on the water consistently to generate more speed. This is an advanced paddle method and more useful in whitewater than recreational or fishing kayaking. For the time being, disregard this. As you gain strength and skill, you will be able to better decide what paddle length is correct for you.
Kayak Paddle Size Chart
|Width of the Kayak:||Under 28″||29″-33″||34″+|
|Under 5’6″||220 cm||230 cm||240 cm|
|Between 5’6″ – 6′||230 cm||240 cm||250 cm|
|Over 6′:||230 cm||250 cm||260 cm|
Kayaking is an ever expanding and innovating sport, especially on the performance end. This has led to a lot of breakthroughs on paddle blade shape for the best overall thrust per stroke. The end result was a change from the standard paddle shape.
If you are a beginner, the standard paddle that is flat will work just fine if that is what you choose. The modern asymmetrical paddles have a blade that is convex. This helps the blade stay perpendicular to the water and provide more thrust per stroke. Paddling will require a bit more effort but the blade will self-center, keeping you from tilting your blade and losing power.
The profile of the blade is another point to consider. Most modern paddles have a rounded shape to the blade. This simply improves the way water moves around the blade. Some paddles, especially those on the cheaper side, may have square blades. These are not preferable and take more effort to generate the same amount of momentum.
Blades can be made for a variety of materials and still serve the same purpose. The main difference will be in stiffness and weight. The benefits of a lighter, stiffer blade are more thrust and less energy loss. Some cheaper paddles use PVC which is not an optimal material. Nylon and polypro are a step up from PVC. Fiberglass is probably the most cost-effective material that makes a great blade. Carbon fiber is the pinnacle of blade material, being both stiffer and lower weight than any other material.
For kayaking, avoid paddles made of wood or aluminum.
Shaft Material & Shape
Most paddle shafts are made from aluminum or fiberglass but some very high-end paddles may have carbon fiber shafts. There is nothing wrong with aluminum, it works very well and isn’t too heavy. Fiberglass is lighter and stronger but more expensive. Carbon fiber seems nearly weightless and is a supreme material in every way. Avoid any other shaft materials.
Shape is another shaft consideration. The majority of paddles are going to be straight shaft, which are easier to use and much better for those starting out. When you have grown to the point where you feel your paddle is limiting your ability to grow as a kayaker, consider a bent shaft paddle.
Bent shaft paddles take some pressure off the wrists and elbows by making the motion of paddling more natural. The problem with a bent paddle is getting the proper bite in the water. Judging by sight or feel takes a lot more practice. You are much better off starting with a straight paddle until your form is perfect and you can get a good feel for how much of the blade is biting into the water.
Kayak Paddle Comparison Table
|Carlisle Magic Plus||Fiberglass||Fiberglass/ Polypro||220-240 cm|| |
|Carlisle Magic Mystic||Aluminum||Fiberglass/ Polypro||220-240 cm|| |
|SeaSense X-Treme II Mix||Aluminum||Polypro||220-240 cm|| |
|Shoreline Marine||Aluminum||Polypro||200-s40 cm|| |
|TRAC-Outdoor||Aluminum||Fiberglass/ Polypro||215-245 cm|| |
Kayak Paddle Reviews
Carlisle Magic Plus
When it comes to paddles on a budget, there is no doubt that Carlisle knows their game. A number of kayaks ship with their paddles and more added to kayaking kits every year. Not only are they cost effective but have a great feel and overall quality. They may not be pro-grade but if you are a recreational kayaker or fisher, they will meet every need you have.
The Magic Plus is one of their higher end paddles with asymmetrical fiberglass/polypropylene blades. This keeps the whole paddle light and maneuverable for an effortless day on the water. To further enhance this amazing lightweight, the whole handle is spun out of fiberglass which is rigid and exceptionally strong. In total, the weight of this paddle comes in under a pound and a half.
Unless you are in the extremes of height or boat width, you can find a size from Carlisle to fit your needs. Anything from 220 to 240 cm and occasionally even a 210 for those shorter kayakers. Any of those lengths, these paddles are nearly indestructible and can take years of use without issues.
With slightly spoon-shaped blades and a slightly flexible handle, you can get a little load on the handle for a very powerful stroke. From beginner to advanced, this is simply an amazing paddle for an amazing price!
Carlisle Magic Mystic
If you want a slightly more affordable paddle from the same great manufacturer, opting to get the Mystic series is hardly a downgrade. While it may lack some of the advanced features of the Plus, this is still a very good paddle that will last a lifetime. It has all of the innovation and quality you would expect from Carlisle
This paddle uses a slightly curved blade mounted to an aluminum shaft with a very slight offset in the middle. While this is not a true bent shaft paddle, it has enough of a bend to minimize wrist fatigue. It also doesn’t suffer from the same issue as a bent paddle not getting enough bite in the water. It does weigh a little more, about a pound more, than the Plus series but is still very light.
All Carlisle paddles are available from 220 to 240 cm regularly. This should cover the needs of most kayakers. It even comes with a one year warranty just in case something happens. Capable of generating sure, powerful strokes, this is a perfect beginner paddle that won’t disappoint those with some experience.
SeaSense X-Treme II
SeaSense is probably better known for their products for bigger boats but they have branched out to cover a few other niche markets lately. Good thing they did! It turns out that they make paddles for kayaks that are spot on the needs of most users. In the case of the X-Treme, it even floats so you won’t lose it!
The blades of this paddle are slightly offset and made of nearly indestructible polypropylene. While this material isn’t that rigid, it does make paddling a softer, more relaxing exercise. You lose a bit of power but not enough to worry most recreational kayakers. These are mounted offset on an aluminum shaft that comes apart for easy storage. It even locks in three different positions so you get a little customization in your paddle.
While this paddle may fall short of some of the higher priced paddles, there are a number that cost more and do less. You can usually catch these paddles discounted, making them an amazing buy! If you are just getting into kayaking and don’t know where to start, this is a great place! You won’t be disappointed in this paddle.
Like SeaSense, Shoreline started as a boat accessory company that has stepped into the kayak market and done very well. So well that they have made one of the most comfortable paddles to use unless you want to spend much more. On a budget, this is quite a good paddle that will serve the needs of most any avid kayaker.
With polypro blades, this does suffer from a lack of rigidity but like most paddles made of this material, it does have a more comfortable stroke in the water. Unlike the blades, the two-piece handle is very rigid but very lightweight. It can be adjusted a few inches for a custom fit and is offset a little to give you a natural stroke.
The grips on this paddle are sure but soft for easy all-day use. The fact that it can be taken apart makes it easy to transport and store. All in all, you have to call this paddle a success. Even more so since it is one of the best paddles on the market where value is a concern.
Despite the price, TRAC-Outdoor makes one of my personal favorite paddles that has far more quality than the price would lead you to believe. This is not an accident. TRAC has a long history of making high-quality boat parts and accessories. They have just carried their expertise and craftsmanship over to smaller boats.
With rigid, fiber reinforced blades, you get a very powerful stroke off this paddle. More so than most paddles costing much more. The whole paddle is slightly curved for easy, comfortable use. With an aluminum shaft, you get almost zero flex which is great for those who are interested in getting the most out of every movement.
This is a take-down paddle which is a great option. They measure their paddles in feet unlike most companies but you will find them very close to the usual dimensions, plus or minus an inch or two. They adjust to three positions for a little customization if needed. These are a simple paddle that simply works. They are somewhat heavier than their competitors but for the price, that is a fair trade-off.
Don’t Forget your Emergency Paddle
Never hit the water without a backup in case you lose your main paddle. You could get one of those miniature jobs but as a very good alternative, check out the Attwood Emergency Telescoping Paddle. Rather than having to fight with a short job, this extends to a full-sized paddle and will get you home safe and easy. The blade is nylon and the handle aluminum. For 10 bucks, this is a lot of piece of mind that you can store most anywhere on your boat should you need it!
If you are on a budget or new and not willing to invest in a high priced paddle, any of those above will do you for years. If you ever need to upgrade, you can do so but most of these paddles will serve you well without ever needing replacement. They are far better than the paddle I started with and I still keep that around in case I should break my main paddle. They are a solid investment and available at a price a fraction of what you would pay for the high-end models.