Paddle and Oar Buyer's Guide

You are captain of your own ship, guiding yourself down the paths of your own choosing — all the while using your arms as your guide. And your watercraft will never run out of gas unless you do, which is why it’s important to choose a paddle that works most intuitively with you to propel you forward.

The advantages of canoeing and kayaking are numerous. For starters, you are a part of a solitude that’s so quieting, all you can hear are your own thoughts and the calming swoosh from paddling. You are captain of your own ship, guiding yourself down the paths of your own choosing - all the while using your arms as your guide. And your watercraft will never run out of gas unless you do, which is why it’s important to choose a paddle that works most intuitively with you to propel you forward.

While a paddle’s fit is mostly a matter of personal preference, you should keep a few considerations in mind, like length, shaft material and blade shape, to help you determine the best fit. Listed below are important points to help narrow your paddle choices.

Determining paddle length

Kayak paddles
Generally, the taller you are, the longer you’ll want the paddle to be. Conversely, if you are shorter, you’ll want a shorter paddle. Use the chart below as a general guide to determine the paddle length that best suits you. And remember to choose a paddle that’s long enough for you to extend beyond the cockpit so you don’t knock your knuckles against the hull as you paddle.

Kayak Width Under 23" 24 - 28" 29"+
Paddler Height      
Under 5’5" 210-220 cm 230 cm 230 - 240 cm
5’5" - 5’11" 220 cm 230 cm 230 - 240 cm
6"+ 220-230 cm 230 - 240 cm 240 cm

Canoe paddles
The ideal way to determine the proper-fitting canoe paddle is to sit in the canoe and place a paddle throat-deep (where the blade and shaft meet) into the water. A proper fitting paddle will be at shoulder level when it’s in the water. A more convenient and simplistic measurement is to place the paddle’s blade on the ground in front of you while standing. It should reach up to your chin if you’ll be paddling in the bow (front end) and up to your eyes if you’ll be paddling from the stern (the rear).

Don’t get shafted-
Considerations when choosing from shaft materials
There are a variety of shaft materials to choose from, each with their advantages and drawbacks. Wood, aluminum and carbon fiber composites are just a few of the materials to pick from.

The advantage of wood is that it flexes slightly and absorbs some of the shock. For you, that means less strain on your arm and shoulder. Wood also captures the water’s movement so you can "feel" your paddle strokes. It’s ability to retain heat better than its aluminum counterpart means greater hand warmth in cooler conditions. And aesthetically, wood appeals to the traditionalist for its beauty and its direct lineage to the birth of paddling. Wood’s downfall is its heavier weight. It’s something you may not notice right away, but the more strokes you take in a given day, the more you’ll notice the fatigue in your arm.

This material is relatively light and the least expensive of the three, which makes for an economical choice, especially for the paddler just starting out. It also maintains its strength over time. Aluminum’s downfall is that it may feel cold to the hands in cooler temperatures, a problem that’s easily overcome with neoprene gloves.

Carbon fiber composite
This material is among the lightest available on the market while retaining its strength, making it the ultimate choice in a strength-to weight ratio. Because it is so light, you’ll be able to handle a longer day’s paddle with less fatigue.

Other shaft design considerations

One piece or two?
A one-piece paddle inherently has more overall strength than that of a two-piece. However, if cargo space and storage is an issue, a two-piece offers a good solution because it breaks down into a manageable size that fits easily inside a trunk.

Two-piece paddles come in a variety of styles, like the push-button takedown model and the telescoping model. The takedown model has three click hole settings, which allows you to feather the blades (position them at angles) for easy slicing through the air with minimal resistance.

A telescoping handle lets you set the desired length, so you decide if it’ll be shorter or longer. Just choose the length and twist it in place. This is an advantage if you’ll be using one paddle for a variety of boats, or if you have multiple-sized paddlers sharing the same paddle.

Some paddles are designed specifically with the angler in mind and come with a measuring tape etched into the shaft, eliminating the need to carry excess equipment to your favorite watering hole.

Crank shaft kayak paddle
Crank shaft paddles have a bend in either side of the paddle to provide you with an ergonomic fit, reducing stress on vulnerable areas in the forearm and wrist. This is especially helpful for longer floats.

Bent shaft canoe paddle
The blade’s arc is positioned at an angle so the power of your forward thrust is maintained up through the latter part of the paddle stroke for a further drift.

Getting a handle on hand grips and other accessories

Kayak paddle grips
Sometimes the paddle will come equipped with foam grips that mold to your hand for improved comfort, or you can purchase a neoprene grip add-on to help prevent slippage. Also, take note if the paddle comes with drip rings. They work by creating a barrier from water droplets that would otherwise crawl down your arm as you lift the paddle in the air. If drip rings don’t come with the paddle, you can always purchase them separately. Another useful accessory is a paddle leash to prevent a run-away paddle from floating downstream without you. Paddle holders are especially helpful for the angler because they free up hands while the angler manages their catch.

Canoe paddle grips
Canoe paddles come in a couple of handle shapes, most commonly being the T-grip, which offers the best lateral control and is easy to grasp, or the classic palm grip with a flattened design for a comfortable fit in your hand.

Selecting from blade shapes-
The skinny on wide, narrow, oval and square

Wide or narrow?
When considering blade shape, think about the areas you¿ll be navigating. A wide blade allows for more powerful bursts of energy and drives your canoe or kayak more quickly, but is more tiring in the long haul. Generally speaking, recreational kayakers use a narrower blade since it¿s easier to draw through the water and affords you more paddle strokes in a given day so you can cover more area.

Oval or square?
Oval blades come either asymmetrical or concave like a spoon, or can be squared off on the bottom. The spoon shape helps you maintain stability as you push through the water and the asymmetrical shape is similar to that of an airplane wing for smooth pulling through the water.

Square-bottomed blades can handle more stress than oval-shaped paddles, an important consideration if you’ll be using it to leverage off of lake bottoms and rocky shores. Also, consider if the blade has a reinforced tip. This ensures greater protection from everyday wear and tear and adds years to the paddle’s life.