For anyone who is ready to take to the water via a kayak, you have a lot of things to consider. Do you want a traditional kayak or an inflatable kayak? Do you want one for touring and lazy rivers or one that can handle ocean waves and river rapids? The kayak paddle can be one of the biggest dilemmas when it comes to kayaking. Even though it is only a small part of the kayak, it can make a world of difference.
Choosing the wrong kayak paddle can influence how easy it is for you to kayak and how well you are able to flow through the water. Before you purchase the best kayak paddle for your personal use, take a little time to discover what makes a great paddle and how to choose a kayak paddle that will work great for you.
Choosing the Right Kayak Paddle Length
Some people feel that bigger is better when it comes to kayak paddles. In some cases, this may be true, but there are several factors that can make it better or worse for you. For instance, if you are using a whitewater paddle, shorter is better. You should look for a paddle that is at least 188cm, but it should be under 203cm. An inflatable kayak paddle should be longer, usually 220-240cm long because an inflatable is slightly larger than traditional hard bodied kayaks. A standard touring or recreational paddle has an average length of 210-240cm.
You must consider your personal height to decide whether you need to stay on the lower end of those numbers or if a longer paddle is best. As a general rule for testing the paddle based on your height, you can buy based on how you measure up next to the paddle. Some say that if you are buying in person you should stand next to the paddle and if your hand can cup the end of the paddle, with your arm extended over your head, then you have the right size. Reaching over the paddle or not being able to reach the end, means it is not the right paddle for you. If you are buying online, you can use the torso test. The length of your torso is important when determining the kayak paddle length. Sit up straight on a flat chair. Measure the distance from the surface of the chair between your legs to your nose. If that measurement is 30″ or less try a 220cm paddle length for your inflatable kayak. If that measurement is 31″ – 33″ try a 230cm paddle length for your inflatable kayak. If that measurement is 34″ or more try a 240cm paddle length for your inflatable kayak.
Chances are good, you have given kayaking a try before you begin investing all of your money into the sport. Think about how you paddle when you are on the water and the type of environment you want to kayak in. This can also influence the length of your paddle. If you prefer to be in waters that are calm you want to stick with a low angle paddling style, this means you can use a shorter length. If you want to use a high angle paddling style, where you will get a lot of speed and a much better workout, longer could be a better choice for you.
Choosing the type of Kayak Paddle Shaft
There are typically three different types of materials used in creating the shaft of a kayak paddle. They include:
Aluminum Shafts: These are most common because they are cheaper but still durable. The downside is that they may become hot or cold depending on the weather and you do need to rinse them after each use, especially if you are kayaking in salt water.
Fiberglass Shafts: These shafts are more durable than aluminum and they require very little maintenance. However, they are slightly more expensive.
Carbon Fiber Shafts: These shafts are not as durable as the fiberglass shafts, but they are very lightweight. This makes them ideal if you are worried about becoming tired on long kayaking adventures. The problem is, they are also the most expensive shafts.
When considering the shaft, you also need to decide whether you want a straight shaft or a slightly curved shaft as well as the shaft’s diameter. If you have a larger hand, you may be more comfortable with a larger diameter and smaller hands will want a smaller diameter shaft so that it can be gripped easily. Whether you choose a bent shaft or a curved will vary depending on what you want from it. A straight shaft is the most common, but a bent shaft may put less stress on your joints and help your stroke alignment. Some people also feel that a bent shaft is just overall more comfortable to use. Please keep in mind many inflatable kayak paddles come apart for easy storage and transport.
Choosing the type of Kayak Paddle Blades
Blades are also confusing to many new kayakers. Some are wider and some are thinner. They may be straight across from one another or they may be slightly offset. These blades are better for some situations than others.
If you have a thinner blade on your paddles, you will be holding a touring paddle. They are typically used by people who stick with calmer waters and by people who want to kayak over long distances. They are less tiring because you have less water resistance per stroke. The wider blades, which are also longer, push more water, which makes you travel faster. They are more tiring to use, but they are great in waves.
The offset of the blades, or the feathering of them, determines how much wind resistance you may have. By having two blades that face the same direction, you have a great recreational paddle that is easy on the wrists. However, by having them feathered, when one blade is in the water, you have only water resistance and no wind resistance. This decreases the chance you will become tired. The most commonly used amount of feathering is 45 degrees, but you do have other options and they are typically measured in 15-degree increments. If you want feathered paddles, you will have to decide which fits your personal style. They key is, when you plan to kayak over long distances, feathering may be something that benefits you the most. Check out our list of the top kayak paddles here.