Having the right sized kayak paddle can make all the difference while on the water.

Once you've found the kayak that fits you, your next decision will be to choose a paddle. Whether you're buying a boat for the lake or a boat for whitewater, we have a kayak paddle for you. We even have a well-balanced paddle that comes with a small diameter shaft to elevate your kids' paddling experience. Your paddle will likely be in your hands the entire time you're on the water, so picking the right paddle is critical. A paddle that fits you and your paddling style can make the difference between a fun, rewarding experience on the water and sore hands and shoulders.

 

Choosing the right paddle.

Unlike canoe paddles, selecting a kayak paddle is more art than science. What you can count on is that the right kayak paddles will be light, strong, and comfortable for your paddling style and different paddling conditions.

STEP 1: DETERMINE THE DIMENSIONS OF YOUR KAYAK.

As a reference, here are the widths of typical kayak types:

Recreational Kayak width of 26" to 30". These boats are generally short and wide.

Touring Kayak width 22" to 25". These boats are typically longer and narrower with more capacity

Performance Kayak width 19" to 22". These boats are also long, with a narrow hull.

Whitewater Kayak The width of the boat is not as critical as the paddlers height.

Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide


If you're a recreational paddler the kayak's width will be the most important factor for paddle selection. If you're touring or sea kayaking, your paddling style and physical size will play more heavily in your decision.

Wider boats require longer paddles. Be sure to measure your boat's width at its widest point before shopping for a paddle.

If your kayak's width were the only consideration in sizing your paddle, you could choose a paddle based solely on this kayak width table.

We include it here as one point of reference. Remember, though, that you need to balance this consideration with others like the torso measurement table that comes later.

STEP 2: PADDLER TORSO SIZE AND LEVEL OF FITNESS.

Torso length is a critical factor in sizing a kayak paddle. Here's a simple and accurate way to measure your torso. Sit up straight, don't slouch, on a flat chair. Measure the distance from the surface of the chair between your legs to your nose. Next, follow this chart.

Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide Torso


When you're in the field, an easy way to see whether you have the right length paddle is to hold out a paddle horizontally with your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. If your hands are about two-thirds of the way between the center of the shaft and the shoulder of the blade (the point where the blade meets the shaft), you have the right length of paddle. Again, always take stroke angle and boat width into consideration. Your level of fitness is also important.

More athletic paddlers generally want a shorter paddle with a wider blade for the extra horsepower that it provides.

Heavier or taller paddlers generally prefer a longer paddle with a wide blade to move their weight efficiently.

Smaller paddlers, those who are not into speed or those with wrist or shoulder issues typically choose blades with less surface area; those that want more power and desire a bigger bite on the water go for larger blades.

Remember, too, that if you have small hands, you'll do far better with a paddle that has a small shaft. As a general rule, if your glove size is a small, you need a paddle with a small shaft.

STEP 3: TYPES OF PADDLING AND LENGTH OF YOUR OUTING.

Lakes and rivers

  • If you'll be paddling on lakes and slow-moving rivers, and spending a fair amount of time in your boat, a touring kayak paddle would be a good choice. Touring paddles are the mainstay in kayak paddles and are good for day tripping, river-running, exploring and camping. Check out our great selection of touring kayak paddles by clicking here, Touring Kayak Paddles.

  • A kayak paddle with an ovalized shaft (vs. a perfectly round shaft) will allow you to orient the blades without looking and will be easier to hold and less fatiguing.
  • If, on the other hand, most of your paddling is in deep water, your blade shape and material are really a matter of the kind of stroke you prefer. See the following notes on your style of paddling (Step 5).
  • When paddling in shallow water, a plastic blade will provide you more durability as the blades hits gravel, sand and rocks. Many paddlers feel in these shallow conditions that a wider blade provides more bite even with half of the blade out of the water.
  • On the other hand, if you don't think you'll spend a lot of time on the water, you might think about a recreational kayak paddle. This class of paddles is ideal for short trips, fishing, exercise, and shore exploration. Click here to see our fantastic recreational kayak paddle options, Recreational Kayak Paddles.

Extended trips on flat or moving water, including sea touring:

  • Again, if you'll be spending a lot of time on the water, look at Touring Kayak Paddles or Performance Kayak Paddles. Generally, as you move up the line in these types of paddles, the paddles will get lighter.
  • True enthusiasts typically choose a paddle with a stiff, efficient and responsive carbon shaft. This dramatically reduces weight, allowing for longer paddling with less fatigue.
  • For those who find themselves often pushing off rocks, gravel and sandy bottoms, select a paddle with injection-molded blades made of nylon or polypropylene and typically reinforced with glass or carbon fibers. These paddles provide the perfect blend of weight and durability. P.S. A kayak paddle is not a duck pole. It will like you more if you get out rather than bouncing on the tip of your paddle to get off the rock you're stuck on.
  • For long trips or for paddlers who suffer from sore shoulders, some experts recommend you choose a light weight paddle with fiberglass or carbon composite blades.

Whitewater

  • You'll need a paddle here that can take some hard knocks. Paddlers who are into whitewater, adventure racing and sea touring may select a shorter paddle for these rougher conditions. Whitewater paddlers typically prefer a length of 205 cm or less for control. Click here for our Whitewater Kayak Paddles.

 

STEP 4: SUMMARY OF KAYAK PADDLES AND KEY FEATURES.

Performance Kayak Paddles

  • High-tech paddles for the kayaking enthusiast who wants the latest paddling innovations.

  • Paddles are super lightweight to reduce their swing weight and lessen fatigue.
  • Blades are stiffer to deliver more power with each stroke.
  • Shafts are all-carbon.
  • Ferrules provide more feathering options.
  • Ergonomic designs and light weight materials reduce joint strain.
  • Different blade shapes deliver a different type of experience.

Touring Kayak Paddles

  • Durable paddles that are still comfortable after a full day on the water.
  • Special nylon resins and blade designs make them extremely light.
  • Blades are often reinforced with fiberglass or carbon, enhancing paddle's durability.
  • Shafts are available in a range of options from fiberglass to carbon.
  • Ferrules provide more feathering options.
  • Different blade shapes deliver a different type of experience.

Recreational Kayak Paddles

  • For short trips with your family or friends, fishing or shore exploring, these paddles are a great choice.
  • The lower-end of this paddle category is the heaviest and least expensive kayak paddle.
  • Blades are typically injection-molded plastic resin and shafts are generally aluminum or fiberglass.
  • Ferrule is straight-forward without many frills.
  • Durable and economically priced.

Whitewater Kayak Paddles

  • Built for durability, efficiency and quick cadence, they stand up to rugged conditions of whitewater use.
  • Wide blades for better bite.
  • Composite whitewater blades are light weight but not as durable as plastic injection-molded blades when hitting those unexpected underwater obstructions.
  • Carbon or fiberglass whitewater shafts are typically thicker to provide extra strength needed during whitewater use.
  • Depending on the type of use, whitewater paddles break regardless of the manufacture. A perfect design always balances weight versus strength for a given set of materials. Be prepared for the unexpected moments by carrying a compact, easy to store 4-piece paddle.

STEP 5: YOUR STYLE OF PADDLING.

High-angle paddlers

High-angle paddlers keep the shaft more vertical during their stroke (perpendicular to the water). These paddlers typically use a shorter, wider blade and a paddle with a shorter shaft. This more upright paddling style permits a more powerful, athletic stroke. Paddlers who prefer to use a fast cadence (whitewater, racers, touring with fast cadence) usually prefer this shorter shaft, wider blade paddle, too. 

Low-angle paddlers

Low-angle paddlers keep the paddle relatively horizontal (parallel to the water). Paddlers who use this more relaxed, cruising stroke often find that a paddle with a longer, thinner blade is most energy efficient. In fact, this is the most common paddling style in North America. 

To feather or not to feather? How much to feather?

  • Feathering is about how the two paddle blades offset each other. A blade without feathering (where the blades are parallel to each other) is easy on the wrists but hard to paddle in the wind. The face of the top blade pushes through the wind as the bottom blade is pulled through water. A blade that is feathered to 60 degrees presents the edge of the top blade to the wind (vs. the face of the blade), so it's more efficient when paddling against the wind. However, that degree of feather is harder on the wrists and can create sore joints. Many kayak paddles have adjustable ferrules that permit the paddler to adjust the feathering on-the-fly to fit the specific situation. Most kayak paddles today can be feathered between 15 and 60 degrees. 60 is most typical, except for whitewater paddlers, who usually use 30 to 45 degrees because of the rough conditions they face. For long trips or for paddlers who suffer from sore shoulders, some experts recommend you choose a light weight paddle with fiberglass or carbon composite blades.

WHITEWATER PADDLE SIZING GUIDE.

Use a shorter paddle style for playboating and freestyling. Use a longer paddle size for river running and creeking.

Adult Whitewater Paddle Sizing Chart

Whenever possible, try out a few paddle sizes and types before you commit. On-water demos held by many retailers are always a good way to try before you buy.

STEP 6: FIND THE PERFECT PADDLE FOR YOU.

Now that you know how to find the right size paddle, click on the links below to find the model that fits your needs.