How enjoyable your kayaking trips will be is dependent on your kayak and paddle. Having a quality kayak isn’t enough as you also need a good paddle to improve your performance on the water.
A glance at different kayak paddles and they all seem to be the same. This isn’t surprising as kayak paddles have the same basic design – a shaft and two blades (one at each end). But differences in materials, length, blades, and shafts mean all kayak paddles are not made equal.
The best kayak paddles are those that are lightweight, sturdy/durable, easy to use, and also super-efficient. Sometimes, the paddles that come with kayaks aren’t good enough or could be better. And you should consider buying an aftermarket paddle if you find yourself in this scenario.
I’ve made this little guide to help you see clearly what to pay attention to when choosing your paddles, and what are the different options. Here we go.
How to Choose Your Kayak Paddle?
Shaft and Blade Materials
The materials used to manufacture the shafts and blades of kayak paddles have a significant effect on their performance. Usually, materials used for paddles should be lightweight while also being durable.
Carbon fiber is the best material for the paddles’ shafts because it is the lightest and most sturdy. However, the material is very expensive.
Fiberglass is another excellent shaft material that’s lightweight and durable (not as much as carbon fiber though) and it’s more affordable. Most mid-range kayak paddles usually have shafts made of fiberglass.
Aluminum alloy could also be used to manufacture paddles’ shafts. It is durable and functional but is heavier than either carbon fiber or fiberglass.
The material used to manufacture the blade of your paddle matters. And the best blade material is nylon, then fiberglass, and plastic.
The major determinants here are the length of your kayak and your height. So the wider your vessel, the longer your paddle will be. Also, taller paddlers would require longer paddles.
Manufacturers put this factor into consideration when making paddles. Typically, paddles are sized in centimeters (as opposed to kayaks sized in inches). And there is usually a size chart on the websites of paddle manufacturers to help paddlers pick the right paddle length.
The materials used to manufacture a paddle will largely determine its weight. As I said earlier, carbon fiber is the lightest paddle material which is then followed by fiberglass, and aluminum alloy.
Straight vs. Bent Shaft
Straight shafts are exactly what the name tells you. They are straight as they run in a line between the blades. The major benefit of using a straight shaft paddle is that you have more control and will be able to perform a wide variety of strokes. If you are paddling on strong currents or rapid torrents where you need to make various powerful strokes, a straight shaft will get the job done.
Bent shafts have a ‘kinked’ position and are usually more comfortable to use. They are especially beneficial for long kayaking trips as they reduce fatigue and stress on your wrists.
Feathering (Matched vs. Feathered Blades)
When it comes to feathering, blades are either feathered or matched. Matched, also called unfeathered, blades align with each other. This is in contrast to feathered blades that are not on the same plane. Instead, they are offset at an angle to each other. The advantage of this design (offsetting) is that there’s less wind resistance on the blade when it’s out of the water during paddling.
Most manufacturers make the shafts of their paddles rotatable to allow paddlers to use them matched or feathered. There is also the option to adjust the amount of feathering in 15-degree increments. There are however models that allow you to easily adjust the amount of feathering, typically in 15-degree increments. A few let you adjust them to any angle you want.
Note that “right-hand control” and “left-hand control” when talking about feathering in paddles refer to which hand rotates the shaft during a feathered stroke. I learned kayaking directly with feathered paddles, and I have to say it is easy to get used to it and effective.
Blade Type and Size
When it comes to shape, blades are either short and fat or long and skinny. Short, flat blades are ideal for whitewater conditions as they allow you to transfer more energy with each stroke. In short, you get more powerful strokes with short, flat blades.
Long, skinny blades are more about efficiency and are suitable for touring and recreation. Intend to paddle all day on calm, deep water? Then a long, skinny blade will get the job done.
One Piece vs. 2 Sections vs. 4 Sections
Paddles can come as a single piece, 2 sections, or 4 sections. Single-piece paddles are usually the lightest and most durable. They are ideal for people that paddle regularly.
2-section and 4-section blades can be disassembled into 2 and 4 sections respectively. This makes them more convenient to store and transport. If you are hiking somewhere with a foldable or inflatable kayak, a 2-piece or 4-piece paddle will be easier to transport.
Paddles could be as cheap as under $50 and as expensive as $300 or more. Materials used and performance are usually the reasons for this price jump. Ultimately, everyone has a budget in mind for paddles and I made sure to include addles for paddlers of all budgets on this list.
A quality paddle will make your time on the water easier and offer you more control over your vessel. However, choosing a paddle isn’t as easy as just buying anyone that first comes your way.
This article is intended to simplify the buying process of a kayak paddle. While you are at it, why not add a paddle holder to your kayak as well? Have any questions, contact me in the comment section below.