Choosing The Best Kayak Paddle

Aside from your kayak, your paddle is the single most important kayak accessory that you can purchase because it not only enables you to propel and maneuver your kayak, it also has a major impact on both your paddling performance and your level of enjoyment while on the water.

However, to the novice paddler, choosing the right kayak paddle from the many different brands and models on the market today can be a confusing task at best!

In this article, we will examine the many different aspects of choosing the right kayak paddle, based on many years of research and personal experience, in order to aid you in choosing the best kayak paddle for your individual paddling style.

Before we dive into the many different aspects of choosing the right touring kayak paddle, you should first be aware that there are five main factors that affect your choice:

  1. The style of the paddle that you choose
  2. The length of the paddle that you choose
  3. The type of shaft the paddle has
  4. The size and shape of the blades
  5. The material from which the paddle is made

Paddle Style – Euro Blade vs Greenland vs Aleut

The first factor to consider when choosing a kayak paddle is to choose between:

  1. Euro-blade style paddle
  2. Greenland style paddle
  3. Aleut style paddle

So, let’s examine the differences between each type of paddle as well as their advantages and disadvantages

Euro-blade paddles

The so called “euro-blade” kayak paddle was originally developed by the first European white water kayakers who found that traditional Greenland and Aleut style paddles with their relatively narrow blades, simply did not provide them enough “catch”  (the amount of resistance a paddle presents when used to propel a watercraft) to enable them to properly maneuver in river currents.

Therefore, they developed a new type of kayak paddle with a significantly longer shaft and much shorter and wider blades.

Greenland paddles

Greenland style paddles on the other hand are a traditional paddle type developed by indigenous Greenland and Maritime Canadian kayakers who used their kayaks to hunt aquatic mammals and catch fish.

Therefore, Greenland paddles have much longer and, much narrower, blades with much shorter shafts (aka “loom”) than euro-blade paddles do.

Aleut Paddles

Similar to Greenland style paddles, Aleut style paddles also have significantly shorter looms and much longer blades than euro-blade paddles do.

Thus, they appear very similar to Greenland paddles but, they differ from Greenland paddles in both the shape of their blades and the shape of the blade’s face.

Different Greenland paddles – source

So, while the euro-blade paddle is by far the most common and most popular type of kayak paddle used by modern kayakers, each type of kayak paddle has both advantages and disadvantages over the others.

For instance, Euro-blade paddles generally provide significantly more catch then either Greenland or Aleut paddles and thus, they are capable of maneuvering and propelling a kayak significantly faster than the other types of kayak paddles. In addition, they also make rolling a kayak easier due to their greater resistance.

However, the more catch a kayak paddle has, the more effort it requires to use it to propel a kayak and thus, Euro-blade paddles require more energy from the paddler than Greenland or Aleut paddles do, resulting in greater fatigue.

Greenland paddles on the other hand are fast gaining in popularity among avid kayak enthusiast because they require significantly less effort to maneuver and propel a kayak and, the same is true of Aleut paddles.

In addition, narrow-bladed paddles enable experienced kayakers to use specific paddling techniques to maneuver and roll their kayaks that are simply not possible with euro-blade paddles.

Paddle length

Once you have decided what type of kayak paddle you prefer, the next step is to choose the right paddle length.

However, this can be somewhat confusing because Euro-blade paddles are generally measured in centimeters while both Greenland and Aleut paddles are generally measured in inches.

But, as general rule, Euro-blade paddles range in length from 210 centimeters to 250 centimeters and, the length of the paddle you choose should depend on 4 factors

  1. your height
  2. the kayak’s beam (aka width)
  3. your paddling style
  4. your paddling cadence

Paddler’s height

Traditionally, kayak paddles are chosen according to the paddler’s height. Thus, when choosing a kayak paddle, the paddler would stand the paddle on end with one blade on the ground and the other facing straight up and then, the paddler would extend their hand above their head and cup the end of the paddle blade to determine the correct paddle length. However, this is merely a general rule as you will see in the following paragraphs.

Kayak’s Beam

When choosing a kayak paddle, paddlers who choose kayaks with relatively wide beams should also choose relatively long kayak paddles because, the longer the paddle is, the longer its shaft will be and thus, the farther apart the paddler can spread their hands. This, in turn, provides the paddler with more leverage and, in the case of euro-blade paddles, it also prevents the paddler’s knuckles from scraping the kayak’s gunwales as they propel the kayak forward.

Paddling style

Paddling style is another important factor when choosing the length of a kayak paddle. For instance, if you favor a low angle paddling style which means that you prefer to keep your hands low in relation to the deck and your elbows tucked in close to your body, then you will need a longer kayak paddle. However, if you prefer a high angle paddling style, then you need a shorter kayak paddle in order to accommodate the higher cadence needed to propel your kayak.

Paddle cadence

Paddle cadence is a description of the rate at which you paddle. Thus, a slow paddle cadence will result in fewer strokes per minute than a high paddle cadence will. However, a slower paddle cadence will not propel a kayak as fast as a high paddle cadence will but, at the same time, a slow paddle cadence will use less energy than a high paddle cadence will and thus, a slow paddle cadence is generally preferred over a high paddle cadence. Thus, longer kayak paddles cause the paddler to have slower paddle cadence while, shorter kayak paddles enable a faster paddle cadence.

With these factors in mind, the table below displays the recommended paddle length based on the paddler’s height and the width of their kayak.

Paddler Height Kayak Width
Under 23 inches 23 to 28 inches 28 to 32 inches Over 32 inches
Under 5 ft. tall 210 cm. 220 cm. 230 cm. 240 cm.
5 ft. to 5 ft. 6 in. 215 cm. 220 cm. 230 cm. 240 cm.
5 ft. 6 in. to 6 ft. 220 cm. 220 cm. 230 cm. 240 cm.
Over 6 ft. tall 220 cm. 230 cm. 240 cm. 250 cm.

Paddle Shaft and Loom Length

When choosing a euro-blade kayak paddle, you will also need to choose between two different types of paddle shafts. For instance, some euro-blade kayak paddles have straight shafts while others have bent shafts.

Thus, although straight shafts are the most common type, they do place significantly more strain on the paddler’s writs because they force the paddler’s wrists into an unnatural angle due to the much wider placement of the paddler’s hands on the paddle’s shaft.

Therefore, bent shafts are specifically designed to alleviate stress on a paddler’s wrists by aligning the handle section of the paddle’s shaft to the paddler’s wrists.

Consequently, many paddlers find that bent-shaft kayak paddles are far more comfortable than those with straight shafts.

However, both Greenland and Aleut paddles all feature straight looms (aka shafts). Thus, in order to properly align the paddle’s loom with the paddler’s wrist, both types have much shorter looms than Euro-blade paddles do.

Therefore, loom length is generally chosen by measuring the width of the paddler’s shoulders and then choosing a loom length that enables the paddler’s thumbs to be positioned on the loom even with the outside edge of the paddler’s shoulders.

Blade Size

Yet another factor in choosing the best kayak paddle is to choose one with the right blade size.

For instance, the more surface area a paddle blade has, the more catch it will have and, vice versa. Therefore, Euro-blade paddles generally have more catch than either Greenland or Aleut paddles do because their blades have more surface area.

Thus, while a larger paddle blade enables a paddler to propel their kayak at a higher rate of speed, it also requires more energy from the paddler; thus fatiguing them more quickly.

Consequently, kayak paddles with smaller blades are most often chosen by paddlers with smaller statures and/or by those who paddle over long distances or, for long periods of time.

On the other hand, paddlers who have kayaks with relatively wide beams, as well as those who enjoy playing in rock gardens and/or the surf in addition to paddlers who wish to paddle at a high rate of speed, need a paddle with more thrust to maneuver and propel their kayaks.

Consequently, these paddlers most often choose kayak paddles with relatively large blades.

Paddle Material

Last but not least, the final choice that you will need to make when choosing a kayak paddle is the material from which it is constructed.

Kayak paddles are constructed of:

  1. Wood
  2. Fiberglass
  3. Carbon fiber

Each material has its advantages and disadvantages.

Wooden Paddles

Until the invention of fiberglass, kayak paddles were traditionally made from wood and, while wood is a wonderful material from which to construct a kayak paddle, it does have both advantages and disadvantages.

For instance, woods such as pine and cedar can be used to construct relatively strong and lightweight and kayak paddles with relatively flexible shafts which are less fatiguing to use and which also float. In addition, different types of wood can be combined to create more durable paddles as well as some amazing works of art. 

But, regardless of the type of wood used to construct them, wooden kayak paddles are simply not as strong as either fiberglass or carbon kayak paddles are and thus, they are more prone to break which can leave you stranded miles from home with no means of propelling your kayak.

Fiberglass Paddles

Fortunately, the invention of glass reinforced plastic (aka fiberglass) enabled the construction of far more durable kayak paddles. However, the increased durability of a fiberglass kayak paddle also comes at the expense of increasing its weight. Thus, while fiberglass kayak paddles are the most durable, they are also the heaviest.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber kayak paddles on the other hand provide kayakers with the perfect compromise between weight and durability. In fact, many carbon fiber kayak paddles weigh significantly less than wooden kayak paddles of similar design and size while also exhibiting a level of durability that is similar to fiberglass.

Consequently, while the weight of a kayak paddle is not really an issue for paddlers who paddle recreational kayaks over short distances and/or those who like to play in rock gardens and the surf zone, it can make a huge difference to paddlers who paddle over long distances or for long periods of time because, the heavier a kayak paddle is, the more quickly it will cause a paddler to fatigue.

Therefore, when choosing a kayak paddle material, it is important to balance the cost of the paddle against the need for durability or light weight.

As a general rule, wooden kayak paddles are the least expensive, while fiberglass kayak paddles often costing significantly more with carbon fiber kayak paddles being the most expensive type.

Conclusion: Picking The Best Paddle For Your Needs

So, as you can see, the process of choosing the right kayak paddle can be somewhat confusing because there are so many different choices that need to be made.

However, it’s very important that you carefully consider each of the various aspects of kayak paddles listed above in order to insure that you choose the best possible kayak paddle for you.

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