At first glance, all kayak paddles may look alike. And it’s true that they have the same basic parts: a shaft and a blade at each end. But those apparently minor differences can have a huge impact on performance.
In fact, beyond your choice of a kayak itself, there’s no more important piece of gear. Your paddle is the engine for your ‘yak, connecting your muscles to the water and transferring that power with every stroke. It’s also the chief means for you to steer and stop. Like choosing the tires on your car, selecting the right paddle is important to your ability to handle your kayak.
But because so many factors affect this choice, and because the range of options is huge, it can be tough to know what the right paddle is for you. To help, take a look at our buying guide and reviews of the following excellent paddles.
Best Beginner and Recreational Kayak Paddles
Carlisle Magic Plus - Editors Choice
Best Touring Kayak Paddles
Werner Camano - Editors Choice
Best Fishing Kayak Paddles
Bending Branches Angler Ace - Editors Choice
Best Whitewater Kayak Paddles
Adventure Technology Geronimo - Editors Choice
Things to Consider When Buying the Right Paddle
Kayak paddles are generally available in lengths ranging from 210 centimeters to 260 centimeters. That difference in length matters a lot for how a given paddle will handle for you, as well as how it will handle your ‘yak.
- Kayak width - All other things being equal, a wider kayak demands a longer paddle. That’s because the narrower the ‘yak, the easier it is to reach the water with the blades. If you tour in a sea kayak, you’ll need a paddle on the shorter end for your height. Conversely, if you’re an angler in a wide, stable kayak, you’ll need a longer paddle.
- Torso height - One simple method to begin the process of selecting the right length for you is to sit in a chair and measure the distance between your crotch to the tip of your nose. That distance is your torso height, and it’s a good place to start to choose the best paddle length for you:
- Low-angle paddling - If your hands remain below your shoulders when you paddle, you’re low-angle paddling. This is common for touring and long-distance paddling, where fighting sudden currents isn’t the order of the day. You’ll need a longer paddle if this is your style.
- High-angle paddling - If your hands rise above your shoulders when you paddle, you’re high-angle paddling. This style allows the paddle to enter the water at a steep angle, applying more power to the stroke. In unpredictable water, where control is at a premium, this is a must. You can use a shorter paddle if this is your style.
Feathered blades are offset to improve their efficiency, and this placement keeps the higher blade flat, reducing its wind resistance. For each stroke, feathered blades demand a slight twist of your wrist to turn the blade into the water. Surprisingly, most people find that this is a bit kinder on their wrists than matched blades.
By contrast, matched blades are aligned. Most paddles are designed to allow you to alternate between feathered and matched, and to decide which hand rotates during the stroke. You’ll need to experiment to find what works best for you.
Straight vs. Bent Shaft
The choice of shaft style is a question of what you do on the water.
- Straight shaft - Exactly what the name suggests. The shaft runs in a line between the blades, giving you a lot of control and allowing a wide variety of strokes. This is a good choice if you fight strong currents and need to make a variety of powerful strokes.
- Bent shaft - These designs feature two bends in the shaft to change your hand position, allowing a more natural grip. For longer trips, this can reduce fatigue and stress on your wrists and increase paddling efficiency.
Shaft and Blade Material
The most common materials for kayak paddle shafts are aluminum, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. Each has its advantages.
- Plastic is not a great choice for paddle shafts as it’s just too flexible to provide power. But as a budget material for blades, especially when reinforced with glass, fiberglass, or carbon, it can be a great option.
- Aluminum is used in shafts as it’s both inexpensive and durable, but comparatively heavy. It can also get really hot in the sun. Common in less expensive paddles, this material is a good choice for beginners and spare paddles.
- Fiberglass is strong and light -- an ideal combination for a paddle shaft. A popular choice for more experienced kayakers, paddles and blades made from fiberglass provide excellent performance.
- Carbon fiber is ultra-light and incredibly strong, but often many times more expensive than fiberglass. Paddles constructed from carbon fiber are something to consider if kayaking is a major part of your life. It can also be an ideal choice if you run whitewater that demands the strongest blades and paddle around, or you regularly take long, multi-day expeditions.
Blade ShapeWhile small differences in blade shapes and sizes may appear inconsequential, they actually have huge impacts on performance. There are two basic, polar opposites and a huge range between them.
- Short, fat blades are better for whitewater and any situation demanding immediate power for steering or stopping. Unsurprisingly, high-angle paddling demands this style of blade. More athletic paddlers may also prefer fatter blades because they allow more energy to be transferred to each stroke.
- Long, skinny blades are better for touring and recreation-- types of paddling that tend toward a low-angle style. Driven by the need for efficiency, if you’re paddling all day in calm, deep water, these are a good choice.
One, Two, or Four-piece
Kayak paddles come in three configurations for transport and storage.
Some paddles are a single piece, offering the lightest possible weight and the strongest possible shaft. But most take-down at a ferrule in the middle, and some also offer the added feature of removable blades. Four-piece paddles are very easy to store, though most people don’t find a two-piece paddle problematic.
If you lean toward paddling every day, and your life happens on the water, a one-piece paddle may be right for you.
Beginner and Recreational Paddle Reviews
Carlisle has been making kayak paddles for some time, and it’s a trusted name on the water. Its Magic Plus is available in three lengths: 220 centimeters, 230 centimeters, and 240 centimeters. For beginners and recreational kayakers, that’s enough range to fit most people, and these lengths lend themselves more to low-angle paddling.
Its straight shaft is constructed from fiberglass, weighing in at 2.48 pounds. For a recreational paddle, that’s no problem, but keep in mind that this paddle is probably not the best choice for multi-day expeditions. It uses a push-button, three-position ferrule, offering matched or 60-degree feathered options, with either right- and left-hand dominance.
The Magic Plus offers glass reinforced plastic blades, and though shaped somewhat like touring blades, they’re relatively fat, providing plenty of power. That comes with a caveat, however, as the bite they provide demands a bit more fitness. If you find yourself on long-ish adventures and are more of a recreational kayaker than a tourer, this paddle will serve you well. It’s also budget-friendly, so you won’t need a loan to get out on the water!
Advanced Elements’ compact touring paddle comes in a single length, 231 centimeters. That’s a nice sweet spot for general use and most people.
Its straight shaft is constructed from aluminum, offering durability for entry-level kayakers who plan on calm water and no more than a day’s paddle. Given that this describes a pretty large number of people you’ll find kayaking, it’s good place to start your search for a recreational paddle.
The downside to that aluminum construction is weight, and at 2.7 pounds, this paddle will start to feel heavy on multi-day trips. Its asymmetrical blades are relatively long and thin, and made from glass-reinforced plastic. They’ll be plenty tough enough for whatever you’ll throw at them. Designed for low-angle paddling, this is a good choice if you prefer calm, deep water.
The ferrule that joins the central sections Advanced Elements’ paddle allows matched and 60-degree feathered right- and left-hand control options. While not as variable as more advanced ferrules, this shouldn’t be an issue for beginners and occasional ‘yakkers. And this four-piece paddle breaks down conveniently for travel and storage.
Bending Branches is a well-known name in paddles, and you’ll see their designs on the water wherever you go. Its Whisper is available in a good range of lengths, and all but the tallest kayakers should find a size to suit them. Designed for recreational use, this general-purpose paddle has a lot of qualities that make it a good fit for beginning kayakers.
Offered with a straight aluminum shaft, this paddle is sturdy and dependable. It’s not light, however, and at 2.3 pounds, this isn’t the best choice for long trips. Relying on the three-hole snap system common to entry-level paddles, its ferrule is adjustable between matched blades and 60-degree feathering, with either right- or left-hand dominance. Again, while this may not be the ideal system, it’s a good choice for beginners who don’t demand precise control over feathering.
Its plastic blades promise sufficient strength for most adventures, with a shape that offers a compromise between high- and low-angle styles. As a jack-of-all-trades, the Whisper is a good choice for beginners and anyone who might want a spare paddle.
Touring Paddle Reviews
Werner manufactures high-end paddles, and it’s fair to say that their quality is unmatched. The Camano is available in a staggering array of lengths, ranging from 205 centimeters to 260 centimeters in five-centimeter increments. And as a result, anyone should be able to find the ideal length to suit them.
Constructed from carbon fiber, it features your choice of a bent or straight shaft. And at an incredible 1.53 pounds., this is one of the lightest paddles around, something to consider if long distances are your thing. Its ferrule is clearly marked, allowing a wide range of feathering options, including matched blades. This huge range of options pretty much guarantees that you end up with the paddle you want, an important consideration for serious kayakers.
Its fiberglass blades are strong, light, and efficient. Shaped for low-angle paddling, they’ve won awards for their design and promise fantastic performance on multi-day journeys.
Models are available in one, two, and four-piece options, so whatever you need, Werner provides it. If touring is something you do most days of the week, this might be the paddle for you, but be aware that this excellent paddles won’t come cheap!
Aqua-Bound’s Sting Ray is available in a wide range of lengths, and for most people, finding the right paddle should be simple. With lengths between 210 centimeters and 250 centimeters, in 10-centimeter increments, all but the tallest kayakers will find one that fits.
Built from carbon fiber, this paddle is light, stiff, and strong -- exactly what a serious touring kayaker demands. At just 1.9 pounds, it can hold its own on long excursions, and its adjustable ferrule offers an infinite number of feathering angles, with clearly marked guides for consistency and easy use. That’s a huge plus, and something to pay close attention to.
The Sting Ray’s blades are long and narrow, clearly designed for low-angle paddling and touring. Made from fiberglass reinforced plastic, they’re tough and durable, too.
For experienced kayakers who prefer a straight shaft, this paddle is a good choice. But if you prefer your shafts bent, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Available in a two-piece model, for most people, this paddle shouldn’t be a problem to transport and store.
Carlisle’s Expedition is one of its most well-respected touring paddles. Available in three lengths, 220 centimeters, 230 centimeters, and 240 centimeters, there’s a lot to like about it, and it’s a solid choice.
Fiberglass from tip to tip, the Expedition offers a strong, light, straight shaft designed for long trips, as its name suggests. While perhaps not as light as full carbon fiber, at 2.06 pounds, this is a strong choice for experienced kayakers looking for a powerful paddle. Its ferrule uses a simple push-button system, offering the usual matched or 60-degree feathered variations, in both right- and left-hand options. While not as variable as more advanced ferrules, if that doesn’t bother you, this paddle is otherwise excellent.
The Expedition’s fiberglass blades are relatively fat for a touring design, transferring a lot of power to each stroke. It’ll demand a lot from your torso, chest, and arms, but it promises a lot of speed. If you’re very fit, it’ll have you clipping along at a fast pace, and if you do play in the surf, you’ll appreciate a bit more blade there, too.
Quality like this usually comes at a steep price, but the Expedition is a premium paddle at an affordable price.
Kayak Fishing Paddle Reviews
Bending Branches’ Angler Ace is due to be retired, but for 2018, it’s a great choice. Available in a large range of sizes with the adjustable length necessary for fishing kayaks, it offers the performance you’ll want when you’re out on the water a long way from the launch.
At its heart is a straight carbon fiber shaft that’s stiff, durable, and strong. It’s lightweight, too, and on long paddles to and from your honey hole, you’ll care about each arm-burning stroke. Like the Angler Classic, its infinitely adjustable “plus” ferrule allows for any feathering angle you like.
The Angler Ace is equipped with carbon reinforced plastic blades. They can certainly take the abuse you’ll dish out, and like the Classic, sport that handy line notch, too.
Perhaps the chief advantage of this paddle over the Classic is that it’s lightweight, and if you regularly paddle a fair piece when you fish, this is probably the better option.
Bending Branches’ Angler Classic is a design fishermen can count on. Available in two adjustable sizes, it’s long enough to accommodate the width of most fishing kayaks. That adjustability helps, too, when you change the seat height in your ‘yak -- a nice touch and a feature to keep in mind in your search for the right paddle.
Its straight fiberglass shaft is durable and strong, and having used my own paddle as a push pole, I can testify that this is a feature you’ll care about! But that strength comes at the cost of weight, and at 2.1 pounds, you won’t mistake this paddle for an ultra-light touring model. When equipped with the infinitely adjustable “plus” ferrule -- necessary to adjust lengths, too -- it allows for any feathering angle you prefer, another mark in its favor.
The Angler Classic is tipped with blades made from fiberglass reinforced plastic, and that’s a good choice for the bumps and impacts of fishing. They also have a cool notch on each one, allowing you to hook your line with your paddle. As every kayak angler knows, that’s going to come in handy.
Werner makes premium paddles, and its Cyprus is no exception. Available in a staggering range of lengths and options, you’re sure to get the paddle you need for your next adventure. Plenty long enough for even the widest kayaks and highest seats, the Cyprus can be had in lengths to fit almost any angler.
It’s composed of carbon fiber from tip to tip, providing the strength, stiffness, and durability that even the most demanding kayakers need, wherever their adventures might take them. At an amazing 1.26 pounds., it’s the stuff of dreams on long paddles to and from the boat launch, too. Bent or straight shaft, feathered or matched, one, two, or four-piece, this paddle offers the options to suit your style.
It offers relatively fat, short blades designed to be multi-purpose, though it’s intended for the high-angle paddler. And while it doesn’t offer any angling-specific bells and whistles, if you want a bent shaft, need an ultra-light paddle, or find that you fish, tour, and rec paddle on different days, the Cyprus’ versatility might be just the thing.
Whitewater Kayak Paddle Reviews
Best Whitewater Kayak Paddle
Length: 185 cm, 188 cm, 191 cm, 194 cm, 197 cm, and 200 cm (bent); plus 205 cm and 210 cm (straight); custom lengths available
Weight: 1.93 lbs. (straight); 2.25 lbs. (bent)
Material: carbon fiber
Shaft type: bent or straightTake-down: one-piece
Adventure Technology is a serious player in whitewater paddles, and their Geronimo is a great choice for serious kayakers. Available in a huge range of lengths, including custom options, you can get exactly the fit you need to transfer maximum power to its blades.
Carbon fiber throughout, the Geronimo is tough and stiff. Its fat blades are designed for maximum control, and their edges are reinforced for the inevitable battering a whitewater paddle will endure. Offering both straight and bent shafts, this paddle comprises a single piece to maximize its strength.
Because of that, it’s offered only in an R30 configuration, meaning 30-degree feathering, right-hand dominant -- that is, unless you have them build one for you, which is an option! R30 is a popular choice in any case, and if you’re already using it, this is a serious paddle that deserves a close look. For those who want a custom paddle, and can afford to pay for one, this is the place to go.
Aqua-Bound’s Shred is its premium whitewater paddle, and it’s serious competition for our other choices. Available in two-centimeter increments of lengths, ranging from 192 centimeter to 200 centimeters, kayakers have a lot of options to find the best fit for them.
Its straight shaft is carbon fiber, but its fat, short blades are carbon reinforced plastic. This is perhaps the only real fault we can find with this paddle -- at least compared to its premium alternatives. At 2.15 pounds, you can count on its strength and durability, and it’ll provide the stiffness you need to bite the raging water around your ‘yak.
Available in both an ultra-strong one-piece and an ultra-portable four-piece configuration, this is an excellent choice for people worried about storage and transport. The one-piece model features an R30 set-up, meaning right-hand dominance and 30-degree feathering. The four-piece offers a simple push-button ferrule in fixed feathering options ranging from 60 degrees in 15-degree increments, right- or left-hand dominant.
Unlike its competitors, the Shred won’t break the bank, and if you’re on a tight budget, this might be the paddle for you.
The final paddle I’ll review is the Werner Sho-Gun. For a whitewater kayaker, this is an awesome choice. Available in lengths ranging from 162 centimeters to 230 centimeters in five-centimeter increments, you’ll have no trouble finding the best length to fit you, helping you maintain the control whitewater requires.
Like the Geronimo, it’s made up of carbon fiber from tip-to-tip, delivering the strength, durability, and stiffness you’d expect. Its large blades demand a strong hand, but they deliver the immediate response and power you want. Short, fat, stiff, and tough, you can count on them when the pressure’s on. With the option of a straight or bent shaft, it’s ferrule offers 5-degree increments of feathering, as well as matched blade angles. For kayakers who want customizable feathering without having a paddle made for them, this just might be the best pick.
Weight isn’t an issue in whitewater -- but durability is. So the Sho-Gun is built to take it, coming in at 2.25 pounds.
If you’re a serious river runner who wants a custom feathering angle, the Sho-Gun is an excellent choice and maybe the paddle against which others should be judged. But be aware that this awesome quality will set your budget back a bit.
Our Picks! The Carlisle Magic Plus, the Werner Camano, the Bending Branches Angler Ace, and the Adventure Technology Geronimo
Choosing the right paddle isn’t as simple as grabbing the first one you see in the store, and depending on what you do on the water, your level of experience, and your dedication to kayaking, the right paddle for you might be the wrong one for someone else.
If you’re a beginner, for instance, the Carlisle Magic Plus is a fantastic choice. Stronger and lighter than its competitors, it offers a great hybrid blade design, offering both power and efficiency. For recreational kayaking, that’s a great combination. But don’t ignore the merits of the Bending Branches Whisper or the Advanced Elements compact paddle, either. Depending on what you need, either could be a better fit for you.
For kayakers who paddle long distances in deep, calm waters, the Werner Camano is about as good as it gets. Incredibly light, stiff, and efficient, this paddle is at home on multi-day expeditions and in the hands of serious kayakers who need to make good time on long trips. Its unsurpassed range of options make it a stand-out, but the excellent Carlisle Expedition deserves a close look, too.
On the other hand, if you’re a dedicated angler, it’s hard to go wrong with Bending Branches Angler Ace. Adjustable to fit a range of fishermen, kayaks, and seat heights, it’s light, durable, and designed with fishermen in mind. It just edges out the Werner Cyprus -- perhaps the best all-arounder on our list. But if you kayak really long distances in your search for fish, the Cyprus might take the lead due to its incredible light weight.
Finally, if white-knuckled whitewater is your thing, Adventure Technology probably has your paddle. Its Geronimo is truly a premium design, and with custom options available, you can have a paddle built to your specifications. Impressively strong and amazingly stiff, this is the stand-out choice if you have them make your paddle for you. But if you need off-the-shelf options, Werner’s Sho-Gun might be the better choice.
Whatever your decision, you’d be hard pressed to do better than these paddles, and we’re confident that they’ll help you enjoy your time on the water.