How to Choose a Kayak Paddle

Next to the kayak itself, your paddle has the biggest impact on your performance on the water. Even a short tour involves thousands of strokes, so a proper paddle can make all the difference. To choose a kayak paddle, you need to consider four basic ideas:

  • Length: Your boat width and your height determine your paddle length.
  • Materials and price: Lightweight materials improve performance, but add to a paddle’s price.
  • Blade choice: Your paddle’s blade size and shape affect its overall efficiency in the water.
  • Shaft choice: A bent shaft or feathered blades can also improve a paddle’s effectiveness.

Paddle Length

three kayak paddles of varying lengths

Figuring out the right size (length) of paddle is surprisingly straightforward. The wider your boat is, the longer your paddle needs to be. Your height is also a factor, especially for a narrower boat: Taller paddlers need longer paddles.

Having a correctly sized kayak paddle can make all the difference while on the water.

No matter what brand or model you buy, too short of a paddle will have you hitting your hands on the sides of the kayak. Too long and you could be adding extra strain to your shoulders and zig-zagging the kayak in the water, which can be exhausting.

Selecting the right size is more of an art than a science. When you’re deciding on your perfect paddle size you’ll not only want to determine your correct length, but also what category of paddle fits your lifestyle best, and what blade shape and ferrule is right for you.


First things first, the primary factors to consider when determining your kayak paddle length is your height as well as the width of the kayak.

If you’re unsure of the width of your boat, measure your kayak at its widest point. As a reference, here are the widths of typical kayak types:

Recreational Kayak width of 26″ to 30″. These boats are generally 6-12 feet long.

Recreational Kayak

Touring Kayak width 22″ to 25″. These boats are typically 12-15 feet long.

Touring Kayak

Performance Kayak width 19″ to 22″. These boats are even longer at 15-18 feet.

Performance Kayak

Whitewater Kayak The width of the boat is not as critical of a factor as the paddlers height is. These boats are typically around 7-11 feet long.

Whitewater Kayak

If your kayak falls under the sizes of rec, touring, or performance use the first chart below. Take the width of your kayak on the top horizontal axis, and then take your height on the left vertical axis, where they meet is your paddle size.

Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide

Kayak WidthUnder 23″23″ to 27.75″28″ to 32″Over 32″
Paddler HeightRecommended Paddle Length
Under 5′200 cm210 cm220 cm230 cm
5′ to 5’6″210 cm220 cm230 cm240 cm
5’7″ to 6′220 cm220 cm230 cm240 cm
Over 6′220 cm230 cm240 cm250 cm
*If your kayak’s width were the only consideration in sizing your paddle, you could choose a paddle based solely on this kayak width table. We include it here as one point of reference.

If you’re in a whitewater kayak, refer to the following chart. Keep in mind many people use a shorter paddle style for playboating and freestyling. A longer paddle size is best used for river running and creeking.

Adult Whitewater Paddle Sizing Guide

No matter what style kayak you have, it’s always a good idea to try out a few paddle sizes and types before you commit.


Picking a paddle can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.

It’s easiest to narrow down your choices by deciding which category (performance, touring, rec, or whitewater) lines up with your paddling lifestyle.

Extended trips on flat or moving water, including sea touring

True enthusiasts typically choose a paddle with a stiff, efficient and responsive carbon shaft, which dramatically reduces the weight. Along with a carbon shaft, compression molded carbon or fiberglass blades are lightweight yet stiff to deliver more power with every stroke.

For long trips or for paddlers who suffer from sore shoulders, some experts recommend you choose a light weight paddle with fiberglass or carbon composite blades.

Lakes and rivers

If you’ll be paddling on lakes and slow-moving rivers, and spending a fair amount of time in your boat, a touring kayak paddle would be a good choice. Touring paddles are the mainstay in kayak paddles and are good for day tripping, river-running, exploring and camping. The carbon or fiberglass shafts are lightweight and warmer on the hands than aluminum.

If you don’t find yourself spending a lot of time on the water, a recreational paddle will work just fine. This class of paddles is ideal for short trips, fishing, exercise, and shore exploration. These paddles are going to be heavier than performance or touring paddles, but very durable and the least expensive option.

If you find you’re in shallow water often, hitting rocks, sand, or gravel, you’re going to want to place priority on durability. Also consider a wider blade, many paddlers feel it provides more bite even with half of the blade out of the shallow water.


If you’re looking for a blade that really bites the water, consider whitewater paddles. They’re built for durability, efficiency and quick cadence. Plus, carbon or fiberglass whitewater shafts are typically thicker to provide extra strength needed during whitewater use. These paddles stand up to rugged conditions of whitewater use, and you’ll need a paddle here that can take some hard knocks.

*Depending on the type of use, whitewater paddles can break regardless of the manufacture due to the intense conditions their put through. A perfect design always balances weight versus strength for a given set of materials. Be prepared for the unexpected moments by carrying a compact, easy to store 4-piece paddle as well.


Your paddling style is the biggest factor when determining whether you should be paddling with a short wide blade or a long skinny blade.


High-Angle Blade

High-angle paddlers keep the shaft more vertical during their stroke (perpendicular to the water). These paddlers typically use a shorter, wider blade and a paddle with a shorter shaft. This more upright paddling style permits a more powerful, athletic stroke. Paddlers who prefer to use a fast cadence (whitewater, racers, touring with fast cadence) usually prefer this shorter shaft, wider blade paddle, too.



Low-angle paddlers keep their paddle relatively horizontal (parallel to the water). Paddlers who use this more relaxed, cruising stroke often find that a paddle with a longer, thinner blade is the most energy efficient. That could be why this is the most common paddling style in North America.

Do I need a ferrule that is able to feather? What does that even mean?

A ferrule system is the piece that connects both halves of a 2-piece kayak paddle together.

Posi-Lok Ferrule

It allows a 2-piece paddle to function as a 1-piece paddle in addition to having the flexibility to allow feathering, like the Aqua-Bound Posi-Lok ferrule.

Feathering is how the two paddle blades offset each other.

  • A paddling stroke done correctly when your paddle is feathered will save you strain in your wrists and overall energy in your upper body.
  • Paddling when your blades aren’t feathered is an easier stroke, but it could cause more strain within your wrists. It’s also harder to paddle in the wind since the face of the top blade pushes through the wind as the bottom blade is pulled through water.
  • Check out this article to learn more about feathering.


The featured video below expands on all the great information found in this lesson.

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