Even if you think that now you are able to rest in peace after doing loads of research about different types of kayaks and finally deciding which one is suitable for you, it may not be party time yet. You need to understand that without getting the right paddle for your kayak, your quest is never complete, because your kayak will only be able to perform as nicely as the quality of the paddle you use.
However, as you may have guessed already, selecting the right type of paddle is not as easy a task as it sounds, because you will find a variety of petty differences between different models. Besides, even the most subtle differences will result in huge differences in price. As long as you are like most people, then you definitely do not have the option to try out hundreds of different paddles before deciding to purchase one. Of course, reading online reviews is a good idea, but to understand all different kayak paddle customer reviews rightly, you will have to know a certain things about fishing kayak paddles, and that is why this article will help you in knowing the 4 most important factors to consider while buying the best kayak paddle.
Before I move onto discussing the factors that one needs to consider before buying a yak paddle, let’s quickly take a loot at my top 3 recommendations for the best kayak paddles in the market. These have been carefully chosen after taking into account each and every important factor including price points.
1. Right Blade Design
Even the most expert kayakers are going to agree that the design of a paddle is the single most important factor that should impact any buyer’s decision to buy a new paddle. So when reading reviews, try to pay extra attention to anything and everything that seems to be associated with paddle design. A perfect paddle is one that is very lightweight, can maintain great speed of cruising, is able to advance through water with minimal effort and can work absolutely silently, however, in reality, you will almost never find a paddle that will satisfy all these conditions perfectly, resulting in the need for making little compromises on your part here and there, in order to find the right balance.
The size or width of a paddle is a very significant aspect too, because the width of a kayak paddle significantly determines its power output. That is, when you go for a blade having a wide design, your paddle will be able to push more water at a time, resulting in greater acceleration! However, such paddles require much more effort than paddles having narrow blades. Although narrower blades are not as great at providing acceleration as wider ones, you will often find that the former kind of blades provide far more efficiency by draining your energy at a much slower rate.
Touring kayaks normally work best when paired with narrow paddles. Most touring kayaks have a width of not more than 25-inches, and that is why, although you may need to stroke a bit more with a narrower paddle, you will find that such a paddle will rarely cause any exhaustion, even after traveling a long distance. However, in case of certain recreational varieties, it is best to just go for a fat blade design. The main reason for that lies in the fact that many kayaks that serve recreational purposes are designed with a wide body; and such a body cannot be taken care of well with narrow blade paddles, particularly when that first bit of acceleration to help you recover from dead stop is required.
One important thing to keep in mind is that you always want to avoid paddles which have shaft protruding through the paddle’s power face. In case you do not know what power face is, it is the part of a blade which is pulled through water with a view to propelling a kayak forward. Or, to put it simply, the power face is the side of a paddle blade that faces you as you hold it in front. Protruding shafts are normally a manufacturer’s attempt at reducing flutter, but such shafts often end up resulting in a rounded ridge kind of design, which is almost never efficient. In terms of practicality, such an addition provides no real value, and only ends up causing weakness of performance, and plopping noise when advancement is made. Many blades feature reinforcement ridges at the back side, and that is perfectly fine as long as the power face remains uninterrupted. When it comes to the power face, you want to always have a flat and smooth design. Sometimes, you are going to encounter paddles that contain mild crease down the power face center, and that is quite okay too actually. However, avoid protruding seams through power face at all costs.
In case you have not realized it yet, till this point, we have been discussing European paddles only, which are typically flat and oval in shape, and have long shaft. Two other paddle designs, Wing and Greenland, are quite popular too.
I haven’t found one yet that I liked as well as a comparable Euro-paddle, but there are probably some paddlers who will prefer them.
Wing paddles are mostly suitable for those who love sprinting or racing, since such paddles feature curved blades. These paddles, having a three-dimensional shape, often are able to provide high accelerating capabilities. However, there are many kayakers who feel as if Wing paddles lack versatility, although many others tend to disagree, saying that Wing paddles only require experience and some getting used to in order for a kayaker to fully appreciate them. Personally, I do not like Wing paddles as much as I like Euro-paddles, but I know others who prefer Wings over Euros.
Greenland paddles are actually paddles that are inspired by design elements that Inuit tribes make use of. When compared to Euro style, such paddles tend to feel much shorter in terms of shaft length, and feature very narrow and long blades. According to a large percentage of paddlers, Greenland types are great when it comes to having true versatility, since such paddles allow easy roles as well as varied bracings. Moreover, since Greenland paddles are super-long as well as super-narrow, efficiency remains always at its peak when it comes to touring long distances. Euro-paddles are typically found at shops, however, with Greenland paddles, one can even build one using a good wood plank and black pane. As far as beginners are concerned, Greenland paddles are only recommended if versatility and uniqueness are high on the list.
2. Paddle Length
Length of a fishing kayak paddle is one of the most important factors you need to keep your eyes on when it comes to choosing the best kayak paddle. Primarily, your style of paddling, the type of kayak you use and your body height will determine what size works best in your case. More often than not, you will find that kayak length is listed in cm, averaging about 210 – 240 cm in case of touring or recreational ones.
There is one simple way to determine whether the length of a paddle is suitable for you or not. First, get the paddle right next to you, and reach one of your arms over the head, attempting to curl the tips of your fingers over the blade top. In case your hands are not able to reach the top part of your paddle blade, the length of your kayak paddle is likely to be too long. In case it is the other way around, and you seem to be able to curl whole of your hand over your paddle blade, the length can be regarded as very long. The right length is when your fingers just curl over the paddle top.
So according to the above calculation, a paddler with a height of 5’10’’ will need a 220 cm paddle, whereas another paddler who is as tall as 6’1’’ will be served best by a 230 cm paddle. While most shops are going to keep 220 cm – 230 cm paddles in large quantities, 210 cm paddles are likely to be available too for short-frame kayakers and 240cm for those having large body frames. One important thing you need to note at this point is that the finger curl tip is usually helpful as long as you select a kayak that has a width of around 20 – 25 inches. In case your preferred kayak seems to be much wider than that, somewhere around 30 inches or so, then you will be served best by a longer paddle, because otherwise reaching water nicely will be quite difficult to do. In case of wider kayaks, even if you are about 5’5’’ tall, you will be served best by paddles having a length of around 230 -240cm.
If you have been following kayaking trends closely, then you are certainly aware of the fact that for the past couple of years, the craze for using shorter paddles has been constant. If you want to go for a shorter paddle, just make sure that the paddle blades reach water fully even when you do not lean toward the side in which you are paddling. On the other hand, going for a longer paddle than recommend will compel you to put extra effort since water is likely to have greater leverage in that case. Having said that, there are many kayakers who are of the opinion that a slightly longer length of paddle may often result in greater acceleration capabilities as well as easier maintenance of cruising speed and rhythm!
Actually whether you decide to go for a slightly shorter paddle or a slightly longer one, the differences between the two experiences will not be huge. However, in case you want greater paddling comfort combined with effortlessness, choosing a slightly longer paddle will serve you better than going for a shorter one. But then again, I personally feel that it is best to go for as short a paddle as possible as long as convenience is not compromised, because that way water leverage that is against you tends to be less, resulting in lower level of fatigue even after long kayaking duration.
Moreover, in practical terms, shorter paddles tend to result in more straightforward path compared to longer ones. The main reason for that lies in the fact that when you have certain extra length, that means there is more turning in terms of leverage resulting in curved path! The best way to stroke is by keeping your blades as close to the kayak as you can, and since short paddle blades always remain near the kayak, moving straightforward becomes much easier and natural. As a matter of fact, if your kayak seems to move in curved motions even when the weather seems quite calm and water still, then the real problem may be that you are actually using a longer paddle than necessary.
3. Paddle Weight
If you have never gone to a kayak paddle shop before, then you are likely to be surprised to find out that the price difference between composite or performance paddles and economy or recreational paddles is huge! In fact, while a 40 oz economy variety may cost you just about $40, you may be asked to pay upward of $300 if you want a carbon-fiber paddle of elite category weighing just 28 oz. So what is it about such huge cost difference? Is it even worth buying a very expensive paddle? Does the weight factor decide which the best kayak paddle from the lot is?
Well, to put it simply, weight does make a difference, and the difference can be often very noticeable. Imagine lifting a 28 oz paddle for like 2000 times over a period of kayaking 4 or 5 miles, and now imagine doing the same thing, only with a 40 oz paddle! Well, even if you cannot feel the difference just by imagining it, the actual difference in real life is going to be huge. While a 28 oz paddle will feel very refreshing to use, a 40 oz paddle may be quite frustrating to handle for long durations. The former will often give you a feeling of comfort and liveliness, and the later will just make you collapse and sleep, and maybe even scream due to the pain you experience after a long day!
It is not that heavier paddles are utterly useless. But then, when you use a lighter version, you will find that your journeys become much happier and refreshing. A paddle is always about performance, and you cannot get great performance with mediocre products. If you do not want to feel half-dead at the end of a long day, then saving money to buy an expensive lightweight paddle may be one of the best things you can do. Do not simply neglect expensive paddles as ‘luxury’, because that is not the case. In terms of kayak paddles, when you pay more, you get more too.
You will find many people saying that there is no reason to choose a performance paddle as long as you do not run laps and attempt to cross a few miles with ultra-high accelerations. However, even with casual kayakers, expensive paddles can be often big hit. That is because such finely made light paddles give a soothing comfort, which is impossible to find with cheap products. But then, many will tend to say that performance paddles do not justify the price tags, since many good paddles only cost just about $100!
You need to understand that generally, going for a performance paddle is often worth the high cost. Having said that, there is point at which paying more does not improve performance any further. So if you choose a paddle worth about $160 – $220, you will often be making the best decision. However, if you pay beyond that, maybe buy a $300 paddle, the extra price will often not ensure any additional performance boost.
If you are trying to be realistic, stay away from paddles that cost as high as $400. Those paddles are meant for kayakers who want ultra-high acceleration. As long as you are not a die-hard speed-crazy kayaker, a $200 paddle should satisfy you just fine. Besides, in terms of durability, $200 paddles tend to be firmer than $400 ones.
4. Right Material
It has been already hinted in this article that when you use a paddle having low weight, your kayaking becomes infinitely easier. That said, the best kayak paddle for the money is one that always ensures that there remains good strength even when the weight is kept quite low. Especially in case of touring paddles, weight can be a crucial factor, while in case of whitewater paddles strength is often the major determinant. Further, the material of a kayak blade often plays a huge role when it comes to strength and weight. The main types of pedals material-wise you are likely to come across are:
The main reason why fiberglass paddles are chosen by many kayakers is because these paddles combine light weight with durability. Mostly suitable for recreational and touring purposes, fiberglass paddles can be bought in a wide range of different colors for prices that can be considered neither too high nor too low.
Carbon Fiber Paddles
If high performance is one of the most desired aspects, a carbon paddle may often be the answer. Such paddles normally have low weight, and look quite unique. Generally, carbon fiber paddles tend to cost more. These paddles are great for long trips
Nylon or Aluminum or Plastic Paddles
Paddles made of plastic, aluminum or nylon tend to be quite cheap, yet highly durable. Requiring almost no major care, these paddles tend to serve beginners and recreation enthusiasts well. However, most such paddles tend to be heavy, and an aluminum paddle may prove to be discomforting due to the freezing body when the surroundings are cold.
Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.