Aside from your kayak, your paddle is the paramount element influencing your water performance. Considering you take thousands of strokes even on short tours, the right paddle is crucial. When selecting a kayak paddle, there are four fundamental factors to keep in mind:

Length: The dimensions of your boat and your height dictate the length of your paddle.

Blade choice: The size and shape of your paddle’s blade dictate its overall efficiency in the water.

Shaft choice: Opting for a bent shaft or feathered blades can further optimize a paddle’s performance.

Materials and cost: Lighter materials enhance performance but increase a paddle’s cost.

How to Choose Kayak Paddle: Consider Paddle Length

Determining the appropriate paddle size (length) is simpler than you may think. The broader your boat, the longer your paddle needs to be. Your height also plays a role, particularly with narrower boats: taller paddlers require longer paddles.

Thus, paddle manufacturers determine size based on these two elements (paddles are measured in centimeters, while boats are gauged in inches). 

The following chart is for Werner Paddles. I highly recommend checking the website of any brand you’re considering as you might encounter slight variations from the specs below:


Tweener Sizes

When caught between two sizes, typically opting for the shorter one is advantageous. Both sizes might function, but a shorter paddle will shave off a few ounces. However, if you have a shorter torso, the additional reach of a longer paddle could be beneficial, so opt for that.

Low- and High-Angle Paddles


A low-angle stroke involves minimal shaft tilt, keeping your top hand below shoulder level. It’s perfect for leisurely kayaking on calm water. 

The high-angle stroke, however, features a steeper shaft tilt and blade path close to the boat. Some paddlers transition to this for increased speed. This stroke demands accuracy and can be tiresome without it. It calls for a shorter paddle with a broader blade compared to a low-angle stroke paddle.

Paddles are classified for either low- or high-angle kayaking, each with distinct size charts. The chart provided above pertains to low-angle paddling.

How to Choose Kayak Paddle: Consider Blade Design

Paddle blades today largely utilize an asymmetrical dihedral design. The asymmetrical blade, being somewhat slender and shorter on one side, positions it for uniform surface area distribution during water propulsion.

A dihedral blade’s distinguishing feature is the central rib, facilitating smooth, even water flow over the blade’s two halves. The absence of this rib induces more flutter, challenging directional control.

Lighter, slimmer blades offer comfortable prolonged paddling, proving beneficial for full-day excursions or multi-day trips.

Broader blades enable rapid, potent strokes for swift acceleration. For this quality, they’re often favored by kayaking surfers. Certain custom fishing blades also feature a J-shaped notch, useful for retrieving snagged fishing lines and hooks.

How to Choose Kayak Paddle: Consider Shaft Design

Straight or bent shaft? 

Bent-shaft paddles introduce a ‘twisted’ segment, setting your hands at a comfort-enhancing angle during the stroke’s power phase, thereby reducing joint stress and tiredness. Are you transitioning from a straight-shaft to a bent-shaft paddle? Allocate a day on the water for stroke technique adaptation.

Two-piece or four-piece? 

Each disassembles for effortless stowing. A four-piece shaft type possesses shorter segments, ideal if you’re trekking with a portable kayak or flying with your paddle. 

Standard- or small-diameter? 

Small-diameter shafts provide a more sustainable hold for paddlers with petite hands. If your thumb and index finger fail to meet when clasping a paddle, consider this option. Shafts aren’t offered in diverse diameters: they’re either standard or small diameters.

Matched or feathered blade?

Blades can be either matched or feathered. Matched, also known as unfeathered blades, align with one another. Feathered blades are angled and don’t share a plane, diminishing wind resistance on the raised blade.

Virtually all paddle shafts give you the freedom to alter between matched or feathered configurations. Moreover, they offer the flexibility to modify the degree of feathering, generally in 15-degree steps. A few allow for adjustment to any desired angle.

Take note: The phrases “right-hand control” and “left-hand control” indicate which hand rotates the shaft during a feathered stroke. The majority of paddles allow for either setup.

How to Choose Kayak Paddle: Consider Material

Blade Material


The hypothesis that reduced weight boosts performance and price applies here. As your blade elevates above your shaft, lightweight materials yield greater fatigue relief. Blade materials vary in their energy transfer efficiency to your stroke.

Plastic” is an umbrella term. Specifications may list variations such as “polymer” or “polypropylene”, or plastic blends fused with nylon or fiberglass. Each could offer a slight increase in performance (and price). “Composite” encompasses carbon fiber and fiberglass.

Plastic/Nylon Blades

At the lowest price point, plastic is popular with recreational paddlers who deem it indestructible. However, it can fracture and deteriorates under sun exposure. While its flexibility may prevent a total break, it compromises stroke efficiency in the water.

Fiberglass Blades

Mid-priced, these deliver excellent performance and durability. Lighter than plastic, a fiberglass blade could chip but typically won’t crack completely. Sturdy fiberglass blades are efficient in the water.

Carbon-Fiber Blades

If you seek top-tier performance and are ready to pay a premium, choose carbon fiber. Exceptionally lightweight and rigid, it ensures excellent energy transfer with every stroke.

Shaft Material

Plastic shafts are uncommon. Aluminum, the most economical shaft material, boasts durability and functionality. However, it can get extremely cold or hot, suggesting glove use in frigid weather and storage in the shade during hot days.

Carbon and fiberglass shafts exhibit durability, strength, and lightness. Pairing these shaft materials with any of the lightweight composite blade materials formulates the lightest, most efficient paddle selection, with a price tag mirroring this high performance.

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