How To Choose a Touring Kayak Paddle

how to choose a touring paddle

This month I’ve been on a quest to find myself a new kayak paddle. Up until this point I’ve used some fairly standard paddles that came with my kayaks.

They are perfectly fine kayak paddles for recreational touring and I’ve used them now for a good five years at least.

However I decided it was time to upgrade. I wanted a lighter and more technical paddle that would allow me to use less energy, reduce arm and shoulder fatigue, and maybe help improve my stroke.

Choosing a kayak paddle takes some thought. If you’ve done any looking you will already know there are a TON of options.

Buying a paddle requires you to think about 6 main things:

  • Type of kayaking you will be doing most
  • Price
  • Materials
  • Length
  • Blade Shape
  • Shaft Design

What Type Of Kayaking Will You Be Doing?

Will you be kayaking on lakes, ocean touring or whitewater kayaking?

Whitewater kayak paddles and flat water touring paddles are quite different.

For myself I paddle mostly flat water such as lakes, ocean bays or calm rivers.

I normally head out for a good few hours, sometimes more, sometimes less. I wanted a lightweight-touring paddle that would be versatile enough for lakes and ocean paddling.

Price Point

Price for most of us is a big factor and prices can vary greatly. It is very possible to get a decent paddle for well under $100.

As the price goes up of course the paddle usually gets lighter, stronger and more technical.

How much you spend will likely depend on your budget, your skill level and how often you paddle.

I was looking to upgrade so I was willing to spend a little more. What I really wanted was a super lightweight carbon paddle but they are all typically in the $400+ range and I didn’t want to spend that much.

The price range I was okay with was around $250, which gets me a pretty decent paddle… lightweight, strong and a definite upgrade from what I was currently using.

Prices can vary by store so a little Google searching and cost comparison is usually in order to find the best deal.

Materials

The materials your kayak blade is made off will determine its weight and strength.

For touring, a lightweight paddle is nice as it will allow you to paddle further while expending less energy.

However it’s nice if your paddle is a combination of lightweight and strength so that it lasts.

Kayak paddles are made from one or a combination of these materials:

  • fiberglass
  • carbon fiber
  • aluminum/plastic
  • wood

Fiberglass – Fiberglass paddles are very popular and considered a mid-range paddle with regards to price and quality.

They are mostly used for recreational use and touring. They are normally fairly lightweight and also quite strong.

It is also very common to see fiberglass kayak paddles in a range of different colors. This is what I have used mostly up until this point.

Carbon Fiber – Carbon fiber paddles are much more expensive. They are very lightweight and used for multi-day paddling trips and high performance.

I had used fiberglass paddles for years. When I finally got to try out a really nice carbon fiber paddle I could not believe the difference.

You can truly paddle much further with far less effort. There’s a big difference in my opinion but there is also a huge price increase.

Aluminum/Plastic – These paddles are the cheapest of the bunch. They are not only affordable but also very durable. Basically you can abuse them to no end, they take very little care.

Their low price and durability makes them very popular with outdoor adventure companies and families.

However they are also heavier and they can feel cold in cooler weather.

Wood – Wood kayak paddles are less common and in my opinion can be very beautiful.

Wood paddles are known to be durable and smooth. They often have a carbon fiber or aluminum shaft.

They can be lightweight and strong which makes them very attractive. Prices vary greatly depending on the paddle as well as if the blades are made in combination with other materials.

Length

The taller you are the longer the paddle you will need. If you paddle inflatable kayaks like me then we need a longer paddle than normal because they tend to be wider.

The most common length for paddling inflatable kayaks is 230cm.

Blade Shape

The blade shape will either have a low angle or a high angle. Low is the most common and has longer and narrower blades.

The low angle blade suits a relaxed stroke, with ample power and smooth forward motion.

A high angle blade is good for someone who wants to really focus on technique and a more aggressive paddling style.

Your top hand will sit about forehead height as opposed to shoulder height with the low angle blade.

With a high angle blade your kayak will normally track better. However with this type of blade it is important to focus on technique, keep your hand higher and be aware of the proper torso rotation as more pressure will be put on your shoulders.

I personally use a low angle paddle as it suits my more recreational style. My brother however uses a high angle blade. He is more advanced than I am and does longer and more daring paddling trips. The high angle blade for him is worth it as he is performing at a higher level.

Shaft Design

Kayak paddles either have a straight shaft or a bent shaft. Some are made of one solid piece while others break down into 2 pieces or even 4 pieces.

The straight-shaft paddle is most common. I have used a bent-shaft paddle a few times and loved it. The only problem is that the bent-shaft paddles are usually very pricey.  They can also be heavier and sometimes even weaker.

The kink in the bent shaft will keep your hands and wrists positioned at a comfortable angle, minimizing fatigue and really allowing you to focus on your power strokes.

This type of shaft is ideal for more aggressive paddlers as well as those who suffer from shoulder injuries or joint pain.

The majority of my kayak paddles break down into two-pieces, which makes it easy to transport them in the trunk of my car.

I do however also have a couple of 4-piece break down shafts which I use for traveling. Fits right into my suitcase! The 4-piece paddles are popular with inflatable kayaks because they are so convenient and great for traveling.

The last thing to know about the kayak paddle shaft is that it is possible for people with smaller hands to get a small-diameter shaft, which allows for an easier grip and less fatigue.

To choose the diameter of your paddle shaft measure your hand from the base of your palm to your fingertip.

If the length of your hand is smaller than 6.5 inches, then you will need a small-diameter shaft. If your hand is around 6.5″ or just over you can go either way.

My Final Choice

After searching and reading about many different touring kayak paddles I narrowed my choice to three:

  • Werner Camano – A fiberglass and carbon blend 2-piece paddle priced around $275. Weighs 1.75 lbs.
  • Bending Branches Navigator – A carbon shaft and blade made of rich willow wood and reinforced with fiberglass. Priced around $280 and weighs 1.75 lbs.
  • Sawyer Sea Feather – Carbon fiber shaft and blade made of carbon fiber reinforced laminated Western Red Cedar and fiberglass. Priced around $300 and weighs 1.7 lbs.

sawyer_sea_feather

As you can tell they are all similar in weight and class. All three had excellent 5-star reviews from many sources. In the end I decided to go with the Sawyer Sea Feather paddle. I thought it was a beautiful looking paddle with nice long touring blades and an adjustable shaft.

Plus I found a great sale price at Amazon.com for $245 plus free shipping at the time of my purchase. Once I get it I’ll do a full review and let you know if I made the right choice… I think I did.

It’s a beautiful paddle and I am really looking forward to using it!

Comments

  1. I’m looking forward to reading your review on that. Joel

  2. Thanks for the great write up. You mentioned that you can get decent paddles for under $100 – can you mention some? thanks, Richard

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