The best kayak paddle

Bob Beacham

Perhaps surprisingly, not all kayak paddles float. If yours doesn’t, you risk losing it if you capsize. Consider buying floating grips, which might also improve your comfort.

So, you've bought a kayak, but in all likelihood you are now up the creek without a paddle! Few kayaks are supplied with one because the kind of kayak paddle you use is very much a personal choice. Your physicality and your chosen kayak both have an impact on your decision. The material with which it's made will affect the weight, which is also an important consideration. All of your choices are fully explained in the following concise review. Our top pick from Carlisle Paddle Gear a fine example: it's a great all-rounder and also very affordable.

Considerations when choosing kayak paddles

Choosing the right kayak paddle

The two big decisions when choosing a kayak paddle are length and weight, the latter being a combination of shaft and blade materials.


Working out the length you need as a beginner is fairly straightforward: it's a combination of your height and your kayak's width (some will also include torso length). There are numerous charts available online to help you figure this out. As you develop your skill, strength, and stamina (and perhaps focus on one particular type of kayaking), you may want to upgrade, but those initial details give you a great place to start.


Entry-level kayak paddles have an aluminum shaft and polypropylene or ABS (polymer) blades. With inexpensive models, the shafts can bend under the force of paddling, and the blades can be prone to cracking. Nevertheless, you can get a decent paddle for around $30 to $50.

Medium-weight kayak paddles use fiberglass for both shaft and paddle, the latter usually combined with polypropylene for increased durability. These cost from $60 to $120 and are the choice of most people who spend a reasonable amount of time on the water. At the upper end of the range, carbon fiber shafts start to appear.

The lightest kayak paddles have carbon fiber shafts and blades. Despite the lack of weight, they have immense rigidity and tremendous strength. This is the high-performance option, and prices range from $150 to in excess of $400.

Other kayak paddle features

Blade shape varies. Narrow blades are easier to paddle for long periods. Wide blades create more power if you want rapid acceleration. Asymmetric blades, which taper slightly toward the shaft, are a good compromise.

Standard shafts can be too big for some people. You should be able to touch your forefinger and thumb together. If you have small hands, you'll want to look for a shaft with a smaller diameter. Unfortunately, this will restrict your choice a little, but they are available.

Most paddles are two-piece, though four-piece models do exist and are popular with those who like to hike with a kayak because they're easier to pack.

Drip rings prevent water running from the blade down onto the shaft. Without them, your grip could be affected, and your hands could quickly get sore.

Padded handles help with comfort and grip, particularly on aluminum shafts, which can get hot or cold depending on the weather. Fiberglass and carbon shafts aren't affected in the same way, so they seldom have them fitted, but you can still add them if you like.


Q. What does feathering the paddle mean?

A. Rather than have the two blades in a straight line, you rotate them so they are at an angle. This is also called offset paddling. Experts tell us that with the right technique, feathering reduces air resistance and creates less drag in the water, both of which are easier on your wrists. If you're competitive, it can give you a slight speed advantage.

Some paddles give a choice of three positions, some offer eighteen, and some are infinitely variable. You should try as many angles as possible to see which suits you best.

Q. Kayak paddles aren't left- or right-handed, are they?

A. You'd think it wouldn't matter -- and for the most part, you'd be right. However, there is an exception. A feathered paddle needs to be rotated a little with each stroke. You'll do that with either your right or left hand. With most paddles, it's not a problem, but we did find a few that can't be set up for left-handers. If you're a leftie, it's best to check!

Kayak paddles we recommend

Best of the best: Carlisle Magic Plus Kayak Paddle

Our take: Top-quality paddle for those who take their recreational or touring kayaking seriously.

What we like: Three sizes are available. Stiff yet lightweight fiberglass shaft. Two-piece construction. Glass-filled polypropylene blades provide high durability. Asymmetric design reduces fatigue but increases power. Built for paddling hard all day.

What we dislike: Not much. Perhaps not as light as suggested.

Best bang for your buck: Shoreline Marine Kayak Paddle

Our take: Low-cost 96-inch paddle typically used for wide kayaks and/or tall people.

What we like: The longest paddle commonly available, and it comes at a great price. Two-piece construction with aluminum handle and contoured blades for improved rowing efficiency. Foam grips and drip rings included.

What we dislike: Does not float. One length only. More reports of breakages than we'd like to see.

Choice 3: Airhead Kayak Paddle

Our take: Good quality at a reasonable price. It's primarily designed for inflatable kayaks.

What we like: Two-piece paddle offers a couple of angle options. Aluminum shaft and tough ABS blades. Includes drip rings and foam grips, so it floats. An excellent value.

What we dislike: One length only. Heavy.

Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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