Oftentimes, when you purchase a kayak, there may be an included paddle. But as any experienced kayaker will tell you, sometimes it’s best to do a bit more digging to make sure that the paddle is the perfect fit for you. For some, this might mean purchasing a new paddle suited for you specifically.
Today, I’ll share with you some easy tips for finding the perfect paddle for you and your kayak. I’ll also share with you the different types of paddle designs and styles that you can shop for in order to make your adventures that much more personalized.
Does the Size of Your Kayak Paddle Matter?
The size of your kayak paddle plays a significant role in how safe your kayaking adventure will be. Having a properly sized paddle will also allow you to have a fun and comfortable experience on the water.
If you head out on the water with the wrong size kayak paddle, you can cause unnecessary strain on your wrists and upper body as you paddle. If you’re out on the water for a long time, this unnecessary strain can cause you to have a weaker stroke that will require you to paddle harder than you have to.
So yes, paddle lengths do matter – and having an incorrectly sized kayak paddle can negatively impact your kayaking experience. In short, it’s important to choose the correct paddle length.
How to Determine What Kayak Paddle Size to Choose
When figuring out the right paddle size to choose for your kayak, there are a couple of factors that you need to consider. The kayak size, your height, and the type of paddling you do all contribute to the type of paddle you should select.
When you’re looking at different paddle sizes, you’ll notice that paddles are measured in centimeters. This is the standard rate of measurement used for paddles.
As you shop around for paddles, you’ll notice that adult paddles run anywhere from 200 cm to 250 cm. Kid friendly kayak paddles range from 142 cm to 240 cm. More on children’s kayak paddle sizing later.
You’ll also notice that the wider your kayak is, the longer your paddle should be. Let’s take a look at how to determine your kayak paddle size based on your kayak’s width, your torso height, and your full body height.
Measure the Width of Your Kayak
The kayak paddle size you should opt for relates to the width of the kayaks that you are using. The wider your kayak is, the longer your paddle needs to be.
In order to measure your kayak’s width, you will want to start by finding the widest part of your kayak. Measured the width from one point to another in inches in order to have a figure that you can convert over to paddle sizes.
Looking at your kayak’s owner’s manual is another great way to quickly find your kayak’s measurements. Oftentimes, your kayaks manual will also include a guide on how to figure out what the right paddle size for you and your kayak is.
Generally, the width of your kayak depends on the type of kayak you have. Here is a quick guide to help you determine how wide your kayak may be.
- Recreational Kayaks: 26 to 30 inches
- Touring Kayaks: 22 to 25 inches
- Performance Kayaks: 19 to 22 inches
- Fishing Kayaks: 30 to 42 inches
- Inflatable Kayaks: 28 to 40 inches
Find Your Body Measurements
Once you have your kayak’s measurements, you need to find your measure of your body’s height. Typically, the taller you are, the longer your paddle needs to be. There are two ways you can use your body measurements to figure out your paddle size. The first way is by measuring your torso height. The second is by considering how tall you are.
Pro Tip: Use these numbers to find the corresponding kayak paddle length. If you find that your measurements fall in between two paddle sizes, it’s generally better to opt for the shorter size.
Measure Your Torso Height
To measure your torso height, you’ll need to figure out how long your torso is in inches. To do this, bend your head and use your fingers to find the top vertebrae where your shoulders meet your neck. This is your 7th cervical or C7 vertebra.
Then, put your hands on your hip bones and find the middle point in your spine that aligns with your torso. This will help you find the end of your torso. Measure the distance between the bottom of your torso and the top of your torso and round to the nearest inch.
Once you have that measurement, you can determine the appropriate size kayak paddle length for your body. Use this guide to help you determine the length your paddle should be:
- 22 inches: 180 cm paddle – youth sized paddle
- 24 inches: 180 – 200 cm paddle
- 26 inches: 190 – 210 cm paddle
- 28 inches: 200 – 220 cm paddle
- 32 inches: 220 – 240 cm paddle
- 34 inches: 230 – 250 cm paddle
- 36 inches: 240 – 250 cm paddle
- 38 inches: 250 cm paddle
Measure Your Body Height
Your body’s height can also help you determine the correct paddle sizing for your body type. Consider these following guidelines to help you determine the correct paddle size:
If you are 5’5” or shorter, use the following kayak width to determine your paddle size:
- 23 inches or below: 210 cm paddle
- 24 – 32 inches: 220 cm paddle
- 29 – 33 inches: 230 cm paddle
- 34 inches or wider: 240 cm paddle
If you are 5’5” – 5’11” use the following kayak width to determine your paddle size:
- 23 inches or below: 230 cm paddle
- 24 – 32 inches: 240 cm paddle
- 29 – 33 inches: 260 cm paddle
- 34 inches or wider: 260 cm paddle
If you are 6’ or taller, use the following kayak width to determine your paddle size:
- 23 inches or below: 220 cm paddle
- 24 – 32 inches: 230 cm paddle
- 29 – 33 inches: 250 cm paddle
- 34 inches or wider: 260 cm paddle
No Time to Measure? How to Quickly Size a Kayak Paddle
The easiest way to figure out an appropriate paddle size for you is to pick up the paddle and try it out. If you’re out on the water or are in a store where you have a choice of kayak paddle, you can quickly and fairly accurately pick out a kayak paddle that is comfortable and a right fit for you.
The Vertical Method
This first method will require you to stand up the paddle vertically alongside your body. Reach the hand closest to the paddle above the paddle blade. You’ll want the first joints of your fingers to just hook over the paddle blade.
If you’re able to reach your finger completely over the paddle blade or if you’re not able to reach your fingers to the tip of the paddle blade, then the paddle is either too short or too long for you.
The right fit is at the point where the first joint of your fingers can comfortably wrap around the blade.
The “Raise Above Your Head” Method
This second method will require you to pick up a paddle and hold it above your head. You want your hands to be at the side of your body, not in front of you as you hold the paddle up.
Also make sure that your elbows are bent at a 90 degree angle, almost as if you are in the middle of lifting a barbell over your head. The paddle will be a right fit for you if your hands rest about 2/3 away from the center of the shaft to the base of the paddle blade.
Kayak Paddle Length Chart
It can be helpful to have a kayak paddle size chart on hand to aid you in visually figuring out what the recommended paddle length is for your height and your boat width. Here’s a universal sizing chart that will help you do just that.
How Do Kayak Paddle Materials and Design Influence Paddle Length?
The type of material used to create your paddle and the way it is designed don’t so much influence paddle length as they do your comfort using that paddle. Your comfort level in turn can determine your paddle length.
For example, if a paddle is too heavy or too light, you may want to opt for a shorter or longer sized paddle that will help you offset the weight.
If a paddle is made out of a heavier material, it will require you to use more energy with every stroke. While the length itself doesn’t have anything to do with the weight, your paddle will feel heavier over time while you’re out on the water. This can lead to discomfort and a looser, less powerful stroke.
Keep the kayak material and design in mind because if the paddle is a little too heavy, you may want to opt for a shorter or longer title to offset the weight.
Low vs. High Angle Paddles
Your paddling style can also determine the proper paddle length you should be using. There are typically two types of paddling styles; low angle paddling and high angle paddling.
Knowing how both paddling styles work will allow you to choose the paddle that works best for you. Let’s look at some of the features that determine each type of paddling style.
High Angle Paddling
A high angle stroke is a very vertical paddling style and it’s meant to give you more speed and power with each stroke. If you enjoy strong kayaking with quick paddling movements, then a high angle paddle is what you’ll want to opt for.
High angle paddles are described as being wide and short. You can quickly change strokes using a high angle paddle because it is a lot shorter and easier to maneuver. These types of paddles are best suited for aggressive paddlers like those who are white water rafting, or enjoy intense recreational kayaking.
The wide blades allow you to push a lot more water, giving you more power per stroke. The wider blades will propel you faster through the water. And because the paddle is rather short, you can quickly switch sides with each stroke.
High angle paddles are made out of a variety of materials, but they can tend to be heavier in order to give you that necessary power.
Low Angle Paddling
Unlike high angle paddling, low angle paddling uses a leaner and longer paddle with narrower blades. The stroke of a low angle paddle is more horizontal and you’ll often have a paddling angle of about 20 to 30 degrees.
If you enjoy the light, relaxed touring, then this is the paddle style you’ll want to opt for. Unlike a high angle paddle, the focus of each stroke is not power and speed, but efficiency.
The long narrow construction of the blades allow you to easily and effortlessly cut through the water without requiring a large transfer of energy. You can paddle for longer without getting fatigued because the blades tend to be more lightweight as well.
This is also a great paddle type for someone who is looking for leisurely time on the water without putting too much strain on their body. You’ll find that low angle paddles tend to be made out of carbon or lightweight fiberglass to limit the strain on your body as you paddle.
Choose the Right Paddle Design
There is no shortage of paddle designs for you to choose from when you’re searching for a well fitted paddle for your kayak.
There is no one set type of paddle design that performs better than another. Rather, the kayak paddle that you should opt for is the one that suits your needs and works well with your kayak type.
There are two main components of a paddle that determine the paddle design and how it will serve you. The shaft (or the middle part of the paddle where you hold it) is the first design element that you need to consider. The next is the paddle blade.
Let’s go over the different styles of paddle shafts and paddle blade as well as the different types of materials you can find them in. Knowing the type of kayaking you like to embark on will largely determine which type of paddle shaft and paddle blade you should shop for as well.
We’ll also take a look at the different types of kayaking you can do and what the best length kayak paddle is for specific types of kayaking as well.
Paddle Shaft Options
The material that your paddle shaft is made out of, the part of the paddle that you hold, can have an effect on the way that you paddle. A heavier material will require more transfer of energy while a lighter material will give you a more relaxing experience.
Carbon fiber shafts are a lightweight material that are often accompanied by a nylon or plastic blend blade. Carbon fiber paddles are great for both low angle paddling and high angle paddling. But because they are lightweight, this is an ideal paddle material if you are someone who prefers relaxed non aggressive paddling.
Fiberglass is another lightweight material and is optimal if you are doing quick paddling. A Fiberglass paddle shaft will often come assembled with fiberglass composite paddle blades as well. This is a good paddle option to consider if you will be doing low angle paddling. The shaft is not heavy and will cause you less strain as you paddle through the water.
Aluminum is the most common type of material used in a paddle shaft because it is affordable yet incredibly durable. Aluminum is temperamental to the weather. If you’re kayaking in cold conditions, you may want to use gloves. In hot conditions, keep the paddle shaft away from direct sun so it doesn’t absorb too much heat.
Paddle Shaft Design
You’ll have a couple of options when it comes to the paddle shaft shape. Your paddle shaft will either be straight or bent. A straight paddle shaft gives you a straightforward grip. A bent or “kinked” paddle shaft has a bit more of a zig zag construction to it with a designated area to place your hands.
A straight paddle shaft is best for aggressive kayakers who are looking to push a lot of water or go white water rafting. You don’t have to always worry about putting your hands in the exact same position each time and you’ll have a lot more flexibility and comfort when you hold the paddle.
A Bent paddle shaft offers you a more relaxed grip and is great for kayakers who want to do some relaxed touring out on the water.
Paddle Blade Design
Your paddle blade will also determine how much strength you are transferring with each stroke.
An asymmetrical dihedral shape is what you will find on most blades. An asymmetrical blade is narrow and short on one side and has an angle that almost resembles a fin of a fish. The angle of the blade allows you to cut into the water in a way that allows the surface area of the blade to be more uniform as you push through the water.
The dihedral component of the blade can be seen by a rib that goes down the center of the blade, stretching out from the shaft. This rib is what allows the water to flow evenly over both halves of the blade. This is also what allows you to track better with each stroke.
You’ll also find that blades will either be matched or feathered. A paddle that has matched blades has both blades aligned evenly with one another so that they face the same direction.
Feathered blades on the other hand, do not face the same direction. Instead, they face each other at an angle. Feathered blades have the advantage of cutting down on wind resistance. When one blade is in the water, the other blade will cut through the wind as it is in the air.
The advantage of having matched paddle blades is that you’ll have an easier stroke each time. However, if you’re paddling for a long time, you can cause more strain to your wrist.
Almost all paddle shafts allow you to adjust the blades so that you can choose between a feathered or a matched position.
What’s the Best Paddle Length for White Water Rafting?
White water rafting is one of those kayaking activities where you need to have an appropriate paddle in order to have a safe and fun experience.
If you are kayaking with a group, then the length of the paddle is not overly important as your group leader will be doing the brunt of intentional paddling.
If you are solo white water rafting with a recreational kayak, then you’ll want to use the kayak paddle sizing guide to find a paddle fit for you and your boat. Generally, to have the best control, you’ll want a paddle that is shorter and wider for greater control.
Are There Kayak Paddles for Kids?
Kids can be quickly and easily weighed down by a heavy adult size paddle blade. That’s why kids should have kayak paddles that are compatible with their size and ability.
With kids size paddles, the paddle shaft will usually be smaller in order to fit child sized hands. The blades will also be sized down so that your kiddo will have an easier time paddling.
Much like adult paddles, kids size kayak paddles are also measured in centimeters. The size of a child’s paddle is also determined by their height and how wide their kayak is as well.
The last thing any kayaker wants to deal with is an ill-fitted kayak paddle. It’s not just about getting out on the water, but it’s about having a fun, comfortable, and enjoyable experience.
I hope my tips on picking out the best kayak paddle for your needs has helped you. Is there a specific type of kayak paddle you absolutely love using? Be sure to share with me in the comments section below!