How to choose a canoe paddle

By Eb's Adventure
Posted in News, on July 14, 2014

Often people will buy the best canoe they can afford, then cheap out on the paddles.  But think about it.  A steady paddling rate is around 30 strokes per minute.  That means that over the course of an hour, you would be lifting your paddle out of and across the water 1800 times.  If you're wielding a heavy, industrial aluminium paddle, you're going to feel it after awhile.

Choose your paddle with care

Portrait of Grey Owl (1936), by Yousif Karsh, from Wikipedia

There are a number of things to consider when choosing the right paddle, and they all depend on what kind of paddling you expect to be doing:

  • weight and material
  • blade shape and size
  • shaft: straight or bent?
  • grip
  • sizing

Weight and material   The lighter the paddle, the less energy it takes to paddle.  The lightest paddles on the market are made of carbon fibre and weigh as little as 7.5oz.  Wood is a bit heavier, but has a more forgiving flex for long days of tripping.  The most durable paddles are nylon/plastic but they are usually quite heavy.  These are good for spares or for outfitting a rental fleet. 

Blade shape and size    Longer, narrower blades are good for deep water.  If you're paddling in shallower waters, or doing some whitewater, you'll want a shorter, fatter blade.  Larger blades are like higher gears on a bicycle: it takes more energy but allows for more power on each stroke.  If you're crossing a lot of lakes, go for a mid-size blade that demands a bit less effort per stroke.

Paddle blades

Shaft: straight or bent?    Traditional straight shaft paddles allow for a great range of stroke variation.  This is what most people are used to.  Bent shaft paddles have the blade angled forward from 7 to 14 degrees, which positions the blade more vertically in the water during the paddle stroke.  This is the most efficient design for flatwater cruising or racing, but for whitewater the straight shaft is preferable as it is easier for most people to get a solid brace or draw stroke.  Many people trip with a bent shaft but carry a traditional straight shaft for fast water sections.

Grip    There are two basic types of grip: palm grip (also called pear or teardrop grip) and T-grip.  The palm grip is the most comfortable and it's the grip you'll find on most paddles.  A T-grip is a little less comfortable but it really lets you torque on the handle, so it is perfect for whitewater paddling.

paddle grips

Sizing    The simplest way to size your paddle is to sit on a chair and place the paddle grip between your legs with the paddle blade sticking up in the air.  Sit straight and tall and look straight ahead.  The throat of the paddle (where the shaft meets the blade) should come to about eyebrow level (marathon paddlers may go a bit shorter, to the bridge of the nose).  This is the correct length of grip and shaft - but remember that paddles are measured from tip of blade to top of grip.  Note: If you are paddling a narrower canoe, go shorter, and if you are paddling a wide recreational boat (or marathon C-1) go longer.  Best of all - try paddling with some different paddle lengths and see which one feels best.

how to size a canoe paddle

There you have it, folks!  Now you can find the perfect paddle (or paddles?).  And 1800 paddle strokes into your next canoe trip, you'll be very happy you spent a little time researching your purchase.  After all, the canoe is there to be sat in.  The blade is what makes the magic happen. 

About Eb's

Let Eb’s Source For Adventure be your destination to equip your next outdoor adventure. We’ve got the gear for your adventure, be it sailing, canoeing/kayaking, hiking, cross country skiing, or snowshoeing. And we’ve got the expertise to make sure you are well equipped, since we are adventure enthusiasts ourselves.