8 Best Kayak Paddles | March 2017

We spent 30 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. You don't ever want to be up the creek without one, so make sure you peruse our selection of kayak paddles and select the right one for your next water-based adventure. These models include something for every level of kayaker and at every price point. Skip to the best kayak paddle on Amazon.
8 Best Kayak Paddles | March 2017

Overall Rank: 7
Best Mid-Range
Overall Rank: 1
Best High-End
Overall Rank: 2
Best Inexpensive
The Cannon Paddles Escape E kayak paddle is on the pricier end of the midrange spectrum, but it does have fiberglass polymer blades that will last for years even with the scrapes and bumps any well-used paddle will endure.
The Carlisle Day Tripper Aluminum kayak paddle has durable polypropylene blades that stand up to heavy use even in the hands of less-than-professional users who take less than excellent care of their paddles.
The Shoreline Marine Kayak Paddle has round, contoured blades that allow for maximum water movement and rapid forward speed with minimal effort and reduced arm strain. The paddle easily disassembles into two pieces for storage.
If you're looking for a low-cost but decent-quality kayak paddle suitable for occasional use, then the AIRHEAD AHTK-P2 Deluxe paddle should suit you fine. Its blades feature a distinct curve, which helps propel you through the water.
  • adjustable blade angle
  • heavier paddle at 6 lbs.
  • saltwater may corrode connection points
Brand Airhead
Model AHTK-P2
Weight 2.8 pounds
The Solstice 4 piece Quick Release paddle breaks down fast for easy storage in a trunk, duffel bag, or even in a large drawer, and it can be reconstructed equally quickly when it's time to get back in the water.
  • 3-position adjustability
  • great for use during travel
  • longest piece is 30" when disassembled
Brand Solstice
Model 29504
Weight 2.8 pounds
The SeaSense X-1 Kayak Paddle is an affordable and versatile option suitable for many applications, from ocean kayaking to exploring almost any river without large rapids. Its extra long design is great for open water travel.
  • comes with limited lifetime warranty
  • black molded plastic blades
  • adjustable drip rings
Brand SeaSense
Model 008680
Weight 2.3 pounds
It's simply a wise idea to buy a Shoreline Marine Telescopic Mini Paddle and tuck it away in your kayak. In the event you lose your main paddle, you won't be up the creek. Its price tag is small, but its impact may be huge one day.
  • extends from 22 to 42 inches
  • highly visible bright yellow
  • excellent corrosion resistance
Brand Shoreline
Model SL52250
Weight 15.2 ounces
The Bending Branches Angler Classic Kayak Paddle is not something you buy for a first foray into the hobby; it's something you buy once you're a lifelong devotee. Its features include a ruler on the shaft for measuring water depth.
  • snap-button ferrule shaft
  • excellent weight balance
  • handcrafted in osceola, wisconsin
Brand Bending Branches
Model Bending Branches
Weight 2.4 pounds

How To Choose The Right Kayak Paddle

To the dedicated kayaker, the sport is not even called "kayaking," but rather is referred to as "paddling." Indeed after the boat itself, the paddle is far and away the most essential piece of gear the paddler owns and uses. In tandem with your own muscles and motion, the kayak paddle is your propulsion system, your rudder for steering, and your best line of defense against rocks, hanging branches, floating debris, and any other obstacles that stand (or float or hang) in your way during a paddling trip downriver or out on open water.

First, let's take a moment to cover the terminology used in discussing kayak paddles. The long central tube of the paddle is called the shaft, with the outer few inches of both side of the shaft -- the parts that actually dip into the water -- known as the throat. Many paddlers refer to the section of the shaft just inside the throats as the grips, as these are areas in which your hands will wrap around the shaft.

At the very ends of many kayak paddle shafts you will find two discs called drip rings that help keep water from running down toward the paddler. And finally, at each end of a kayak paddle, you will find the all-important blades of the paddle. These are the propellers and rudders of your swift, sleek craft, and are of the utmost importance. The vaguely concave side of the blade, the face that will push through the water, is known as the power face.

When choosing a kayak paddle, the primary concern for most paddlers is the overall length of the paddle, the proper measure of which is determined relative to user height (or, for the more technically minded paddler, by torso length -- this level of specificity is hardly required, though). A paddler who is less than 5'5" should use a paddle measuring about 215 centimeter or a bit less. A paddler who is between 5'5" and 5'11" will be best served by a kayak around 220 to 225cm. And a paddler who is six feet or taller should look for a paddle measuring 225 to 230cm or even slightly longer, depending on how and where it will be used.

Note that kayak paddles are always measured using the metric system, so don't confuse inches and centimeters.

When in doubt, choose a slightly smaller paddle for use during whitewater kayaking. The reduced length of the overall paddle will give you more room to maneuver it around your boat and the obstacles in the river, while the smaller blades won't much impact your forward motion, thanks to the rushing river's current carrying you along anyway.

If you are more of an open water kayaker, usually plying the swells of the ocean, bay, or lakes, then it's a good idea to get a longer paddle with plenty of surface area on both blades. While a long, larger paddle can be a liability when you are trying to deftly dodge and turn in the exciting environment of whitewater, on open water, there's plenty of room for your paddle on either side of the kayak, and the increased surface area of the blades means more propulsion through the water.

A Few Words On Proper Paddling Technique

Far too often, amateur kayakers tire themselves out (and risk back, shoulder, and arm strain) far too easily based on improper paddling technique. Proper paddling is more of a core exercise -- using the many strong muscles of your torso, chest, and abs working in concert -- than it is a burning workout for your biceps and deltoids.

To paddle properly, first focus on posture. You should be facing directly forward in your boat, with your legs outstretched and your feet resting against the foot pegs or against the hull of the craft. Your knees should be bent slightly and never locked. Sit upright, keep your shoulders relaxed and fluid, and don't press against the backrest or the cockpit rim.

Next make sure you are gripping your paddle with your hands in the proper area of the shaft just inside from the throat sections. When paddling, one of your arms should be bent at around a fifty degree angle while the other is nearly straight, with this straight arm held forward and stabbing the blade into the water quickly.

Try to generate maximum force during the first few feet of each stroke, relaxing as the blade passes your body in the water and then removing it to dip and pull on the alternate side. When your legs are bracing you in place in the boat and your rotating core is doing most of the work to move your arms past you, your arms should remain feeling strong and relaxed even for long paddling sessions.

Turning a kayak is an easy and natural motion. Simply trail the paddle in the water on the side toward which you want to turn for a gentle shift, or paddle backward on that same side for a more dramatic tack.

A Few Facts About Paddling

A kayak is one of the fastest human powered watercraft on earth. While covering flat water for shorter distances, a single rower in a skull can achieve faster speeds than most kayakers, kayaks are significantly faster than canoes. And given the ease with which a kayak can handle rough water conditions that would best any rowing boat and even most open canoes, kayaks come out on top for distance travel over choppy open water or down rivers with rapids.

While under most circumstances, the average cruising speed of a kayak is accepted to be three knots (newcomers to the hobby will likely paddle at close to two knots), the actual theoretical top speed of a kayak can be determined by a mathematical equation. By taking the square root of the kayak's hull length where it meets the waterline and multiplying it by 1.34, you can determine a boat's top speed. So an eighteen foot kayak with a waterline of sixteen feet would have a top speed of 5.36 knots. This is considered the top speed because above this pace, the kayak would begin to plane, rising out of the water and sacrificing speed and control.

Different kayak lengths and designs can buck this equation, though, in the hands of an expert. The current world record for distance covered by a kayaker in a single day is 155 miles and was achieved by Carter Jonson in 2013. His record indicates an average causing speed of 6.45 miles per hour, or almost twice the top speed of an amateur paddler.

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Last updated: 03/22/2017 | Authorship Information