How To Choose A Kayak Paddle: The Complete Guide

January 16, 2022

Man kayaking on the river with kayak gear

Choosing the right kayak paddle makes a world of difference. In fact, it can be the difference between a long, fun day on the water and a miserable, exhausting expedition that you look forward to the end of.

Sure, we love a good workout. But you spend time on the water to enjoy yourself and soak in the great outdoors. While it may seem like a minor detail to your overall kayaking experience, the length and style of your paddle matter much more than you think.

If you came here to learn how to choose a kayak paddle, you're in the right place. At Outdoorplay, we are lifelong paddlers ourselves! Today, we're going to cover everything you need to know, including paddle length, paddle blade, shaft construction, and more.

By the end of this guide, you'll have everything you need to just click a few buttons, pick your paddle, and prepare for your next outing. Whether this is your first paddle purchase or you're upgrading your existing setup, this is not a blog post you're going to want to miss. Let's dive right in!

Why Does The Specific Kayak Paddle You Choose Matter So Much?

Before we dive into actually choosing your paddle, we want to talk about why it's so important. What seems so simple actually matters more than you think. After all, this piece of kayaking equipment has the biggest impact on your performance on the water next to your kayak itself.

Without the right paddle, you'll end up working harder than you really need to. Let's face it - paddling can get pretty exhausting. If you're in for a full day on the water, you need all the help you can get in terms of paddling efficiency. That way, you aren't wasting your energy more than is necessary.

What affects paddling efficiency, you ask? Your paddle, of course! The main factors you'll need to consider to select the right paddle for your body and preferences include:

  • Paddle Length
  • Paddle Blade
  • Paddle Materials

Along with these factors, you'll also have to consider the price of your paddle. Some of us are truly after the best of the best, regardless of what it costs. But, if you're shopping on a budget, you'll have to weigh this into your selection too.

Now, without any further ado, let's get right into the topic at hand today: how to choose a kayak paddle.

How To Choose A Kayak Paddle That Fits You!

First and foremost, we're going to talk about choosing your kayak paddle length. As you probably already know, paddles are not one size fits all. Trying to kayak with a paddle that is too short or too long for your body will be frustrating. But it's not just about finding the kayak paddle length that fits your body - your boat size and type matter, too. Let's discuss.

Choosing Your Kayak Paddle Length

While it may seem overwhelming, choosing the right kayak paddle is actually pretty straightforward when it comes to length! You just need to know your height and the size of your boat, and you can consult a handy kayak paddle size chart like the one below. Here are the basic recommendations below based on paddler height and boat width:


Of course, personal preference will come into this a bit, too. And, manufacturers may recommend slightly different sizing for their own paddles. That's why it's always a great idea to consult a brand-specific size chart before making your purchase. And when in doubt - give us a phone call, email, or chat, and we'll help you pick the right length!

Oh, and one more thing on paddle length - if you are between sizes, we recommend you size down and go with the shorter length. For example, if you're 6' operating a 23" boat, we would advise you to go with a 220cm paddle rather than the slightly longer 230cm paddle.

Now, let's move on to the next factor you'll have to consider when choosing your kayak paddle - the paddle blade.

Choosing Your Kayak Paddle Blade

There are so many different styles you can choose from when it comes to a kayak paddle blade that it can get a bit overwhelming. The first factor worth considering is the design of your blade.

These days, you'll find that the asymmetrical dihedral shape is the most common style. These are more narrow than a traditional paddle, and they are shorter on one side - which is why they're called asymmetrical. This design creates an angle that results in easier paddling. Your blade will be more efficient at pushing through the water.

Dihedral paddle blades have a rib down the center of them - making them incredibly easy to spot. What does this do, and why does it matter? Well, it helps disperse water evenly over both sides of the blade. As such, you are able to paddle more evenly and smoothly. If you've paddled with one of these and then a non-dihedral blade, you probably noticed that the latter flutters more. This affects your ability to track straight, leading to inefficiency.

When choosing between narrow and wider paddle blades, consider the type of paddling you'll be doing. Are you going to spend a full, 8+ hour day paddling on the water? If so, you'll want to stick with a narrow blade. These offer more efficiency and comfort. But if it's rapid acceleration you're after, then a wider blade would be more advantageous.

Are you a kayak fisher? If so, you'll be interested in a specialized fishing paddle. These include notches in the blades to help you retrieve fishing lines and hooks.

Choosing Your Kayak Paddle Materials

Once you've figured out your paddle length and blade style, it's time to consider the materials that go into your paddle. If you're really looking to personalize your selection, you can choose materials for both the paddle shaft and the blade.

When it comes to choosing a material, you'll want to find the most sturdy, lightweight material possible. As you can imagine, there is a balance to be struck here. The strongest materials aren't necessarily the lightest, after all. So, which materials do we recommend? Let's start by talking about the blade material.

Blade Materials

Fiberglass blades are the most common choice we see paddlers make. Why? Because they're right in the middle of the other two main materials - which we'll discuss momentarily - in terms of price and performance. Fiberglass blades are really efficient in the water. They're very durable, too, and far more lightweight than plastic or nylon. While they may chip from time to time if you hit a rock, they will rarely break entirely.

If you're shopping on a budget, however, you may be forced to stick with plastic or nylon blades. These are typically a great starting point for paddlers who are already buying all the other kayaking gear that you need starting out. Be advised, though, you tend to get what you pay for here. These plastic kayak paddles will degrade in the sun and crack easily. While their flexibility might make them a favorite for some paddlers, this flexibility compromises stroke efficiency.

The final material worth nothing is carbon fiber. Carbon fiber blades are definitely the most expensive - but for good reason. They are the top contender when it comes to efficiency and durability. They're super lightweight, and yet very stiff which contributes to a strong, comfortable stroke.

Shaft Materials

The blade isn't the only part of your paddle that you can customize - you also get to choose a shaft material. While there used to be plastic shafts, these days, they are increasingly rare - they just break too easily and don't offer the efficient stroking you need.

Instead, aluminum is a great budget-friendly material for your paddle's shaft. It's pretty durable, but not quite as lightweight as some other options. You'll also have to keep in mind that the temperature really affects an aluminum shaft - if it's really hot or really cold, your paddle will reflect that.

If you're looking for the most lightweight kayak paddles possible, that requires either a carbon fiber shaft or a fiberglass shaft. Paddle shafts made from one of these materials will be very lightweight, especially when paired with a matching blade. These paddle shafts are also super durable and built to withstand heavy, long-term paddling. But, keep in mind - these more premium materials aren't cheap! Budget accordingly.

Choosing Your Kayak Paddle Shaft Design

We're almost done explaining how to choose a kayak paddle - there are just a few more things to consider. One of these is the design of your kayak paddles shaft itself. There are two main options you have: a straight shaft or a bent shaft.

As the name suggests, a bent shaft sort of resembles an EZ-Curl bar - it's bent or kinked in the middle. To some, this creates a more comfortable and optimized paddling angle and position. As such, you can delay the paddling fatigue associated with a long day on the water. The bent shaft will definitely take some getting used to - so if you're used to a straight paddle shaft, keep that in mind during your first day on the water.

Kayak paddles can typically break down when not in use or during transportation. But, should you go with a four-piece or two-piece shaft design? It depends. If you just take your boat to and from your home to the water, a 2 piece design is fine. But if you go on multi-day excursions where you take a portable kayak hiking with you, a 4-piece shaft is advantageous. It can be broken down smaller to fit in your backpack.

While we're talking about the paddle shaft, let's talk about the actual diameter of your shaft. If you have big hands, you'll want a thicker shaft. If you have smaller hands, a smaller diameter will be the right choice. This kind of goes without saying, but keep it in mind.

Last But Not Least - Choosing The Angle Of Your Kayak Paddle

Finally, we've arrived at the final factor to consider when you choose a kayak paddle: the angle of your paddle itself. There are two options here - low angle and high angle kayak paddles. Which is right for you? The difference between the two is pretty subtle, yet makes a big difference.

The low-angle kayak paddles are great for recreational paddling. If you just take your boat out to calm lakes or ponds, this is the right choice. But, if you're seeking speed and performance, a high-angle paddle will be better. Keep in mind, though, this type of stroking is more fatiguing. And to truly get the most out of it, you'll need to also ensure your kayak paddle is shorter and features a wider blade.

Final Thoughts On How To Choose A Kayak Paddle

Well, there you have it. Now you know everything you need to know before you choose a kayak paddle. We've talked about sizing, materials, and style. But what matters just as much as the type of paddle you buy is where you buy it.

There are plenty of places you can buy kayak paddles online, but to get the most bang for your buck, stick with the experts at Outdoorplay.

Why Buy Your Kayak Paddles At Outdoorplay?

At Outdoorplay, you'll find the best selection of kayak paddles online. We've curated the top paddles from the best brands in the entire industry. Our selection is so diverse that you'll have no issue finding the perfect paddle for your body, boat, and preferences! We also have all the other kayak essentials you need - such as kayaks for sale themselves, kayak PFD's, kayak clothing, and much, much more.

All of our kayak paddles are backed up by a money-back guarantee. If you don't love your new kayak paddle, just let us know - we'll make it right. And, we offer price matching so you can get the specific paddle you want for the best price online. Plus, your paddle ships free. When you shop at Outdoorplay, you're able to stretch your budget further than you may have anticipated!

Some of the brands we recommend include NRS, Werner, and Aqua-Bound. If you're looking for a specific recommendation, reach out! We're lifelong paddlers ourselves. Our passion lies in helping people just like you get the products they need to enjoy the water as much as we do. Whether you need help picking a product, placing your order, or learning how to use your paddle correctly - we're just a phone call, email, or live chat away ready to assist!

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Stacey JohnsonCustomer Experience ManagerStacey has been with Outdoorplay for over 17 years, sharing wisdom from her years of experience and passion for all kinds of kayaking (whitewater, recreational, and touring), stand-up paddle boarding, and rafting. When she's not out on the water, Stacey also enjoys camping with her family and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the Cascade mountains.