3 Simple things you should know when shopping for a kayak paddle.

It’s inevitable, you do your research, you buy a kayak, you quickly choose a PFD but when you’re confronted with buying a paddle, it’s like you are a deer caught in the headlights. We can’t blame you, it can be intimidating when you are staring at the paddle wall in our store or even on our website where we feature rows and rows of paddles. This may sound pushy coming from a retailer but spend the most you can possibly afford. Easier said than done of course, but when you consider the fact that you’ll be making up to 1,000 strokes per mile, the difference in a quality paddle will go along way, literally and figuratively speaking. Here is a non-technical quick guide to help get you get outfitted with the proper paddle.

Step 1. Start by determining the type of paddle you need in terms of the activity. You essentially have two types of paddles, one for more leisurely or recreational use and the other for more performance based activities. You can easily tell them apart by the blade shapes (see Figure 1). The top blade is called a high angle blade, which is typically wider and shorter and used for performance or more aggressive paddling. The one on the bottom, is referred to as a low angle blade which is more common and better suited for recreational, touring and leisure kayaking. Chances are, you’ll be looking for a low angle blade.

Step 2. Next you want to make sure you pick the lightest and stiffest paddle possible within your budget. If you are not able to “touch” a paddle before you buy one, know that blades constructed of fiberglass and carbon materials will be stiffer than blades such as those made of plastic or plastic blends. This is an important feature because the more the blade flexes, the more energy you lose with each stroke. Fiberglass and Carbon blades will also be lighter. You’ll find that paddle shafts are constructed from a variety of different materials and just like blades, shafts made of fiberglass and carbon will typically be lighter and more durable than aluminum.

Before we continue on, if you find that top-to-bottom fiberglass and/or carbon paddles do not meet your budget requirements, you should at least consider purchasing a paddle with a quality shaft. Most manufacturers offer mid-range hybrid paddles that are constructed with reinforced nylon blades and carbon shafts offering some advantages over aluminum and even fiberglass or fiberglass/plastic blend shafts.

Step 3. Sizing a paddle does not have to be a complicated. Sure, this entire article could be about paddle length and you can get into the finer physical details using a variety of algorithms but let’s keep it simple. This easy-to-read diagram (compliments of Bending Branches) will help you determine what paddle length you’ll need to consider when shopping for a general recreational paddle.

If you plan to purchase a whitewater paddle, sizing can be a bit more complicated based on a variety of different factors. Feel free to contact us so that we can better guide you.

This really can be as easy as 1, 2, 3 but you should consider a few more things. For instance, you may run into a situation where a manufacturer offers different diameter shaft options. If you have smaller hands, consider the smaller diameter shaft. Another feature you’ll see on some paddles are bent shafts. Bent shafts simply offer more hand to shaft contact for increased control and help reduce fatigue. Bent shafts may feel a bit odd at first but you’ll quickly get the hang of it after just a few trips. This is just my personal opinion but I now use a bent shaft paddle and couldn’t imagine using anything else. Another paddle term you will hear is “Feathering” which is usually a function of the Ferrule (see diagram below). This allows for you to adjust the angle of your blades for less wind resistance. Most paddles offer at least 3 angle positions. However, some higher end paddles do offer feathering in shorter more precise increments. Also, you may be wondering what those rubber rings on each side of the paddle are for. They are Drip Rings and are there to keep water from trickling down the shaft, helping to keep your hands dry and blister free.

Paddle-atomy – The 4 basic parts of a paddle.

There you have it, that wasn’t too difficult was it? We do advise that once you narrow your interest down to 2-3 paddles, look at the details and options offered by each manufacturer as these deals can vary substantially between brands. Furthermore, most paddle manufacturers do offer some in-depth information each on their own websites. And, of course, if you prefer to just speak to someone, never hesitate to give our customer service team a call at 888-828-3828.

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  1. what are the advantages of more carbon vs more fiberglass in a kayak paddle. Some performance (non whitewater) paddles i’ve looked at on line have a higher carbon makeup and a less carbon makeup in the same model. It seems there is only a 1/2 oz. difference in weight

  2. Very helpful, simple explaination for choosing a paddle. I plan to send the info to friends who are just learning to kayak. Thanks for the tips!

  3. I appreciate the valuable information in this article. I notice that you do not address the “flattening” of some paddle shafts in the grip area. I have paddled with a couple of such paddles and found the flattened grip uncomfortable. While the overall diameter of the shafts weren’t larger than that of my own paddle, the slight widening of the flattened grip made my average-sized female hands sore fairly quickly. I would be interested in any remarks this author has on the subject.

    1. Frances – the flattening is to mimic your hand. Your hand is not a ’round’ when you hold something, you will notice that if you make a grip like you are holding a paddle that it is oval, they ovalize the grips on the paddles to mimic this. Most find it more comfortable.