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Kayak Paddles

A lot of paddlers overlook the importance of a good paddle to propel their kayak. You'll spend many hours wielding your paddle on the water, so you'll want one that is both comfortable and efficient to use.

Choosing a Paddle Length

Your height and the width of your kayak will determine your paddle length. Taller paddlers and wider kayaks require longer paddles. Our article on choosing a kayak paddle includes a chart that's a good place to start.

Low- vs. high-angle paddling: Advanced paddlers sometimes prefer a faster high-angle stroke, which uses a slightly shorter paddle than recommended in this chart.

Paddle Materials

Generally, lighter blade and shaft materials boost performance—and the price you pay.

  • Plastic/nylon blades: They're inexpensive and relatively durable but not indestructible. The flexibility of plastic is a plus when you bump things with it, but you sacrifice some efficiency with each stroke.
  • Aluminum shafts: Inexpensive, durable and serviceable. Aluminum retains both heat and cold well, though, so having paddling gloves is a good idea to protect against weather extremes.
  • Composite blades and shafts: More lightweight and efficient to paddle with than plastic, fiberglass paddles also cost more. Fiberglass blades tend to chip rather than crack, a plus for longevity. Carbon-fiber paddles are ultralight, ultra-efficient and priced to reflect premium performance.

Blade Design

Most blades are asymmetrical to optimize the amount of blade surface in the water during each stroke. Most blades are also dihedral, meaning there's a rib in the center that channels waterflow for a smoother stroke. Inexpensive, symmetrical and/or rib-less blades are fine for recreational paddling.

Narrower blades cut down on weight and fatigue on long tours. Wider blades give you more power per stroke, which can be helpful in dealing with currents, winds and waves.

Shaft Design

Most shafts are straight. With more expensive bent-shaft models, your hands are positioned at an optimum angle during each stroke to help reduce discomfort and fatigue on long tours.

Most shafts can be broken down into two or four pieces to make transport easier. They also allow you to rotate the blades to be "feathered" (offset) or "matched" (aligned). In feathered mode, most paddles also allow you to set them up for right- or left-hand control.

To learn more about how to use your paddle, read How to Paddle a Kayak: Basic Strokes.

More to Consider

In addition to your kayak paddle, consider these paddling essentials and kayak accessories.

More Reasons to Shop at REI

REI carries top brands like Werner and Aqua-Bound. We also have gear checklists and a library of kayaking articles to help you get started kayaking.