Bent vs straight blade canoe paddles

What are the advantages/disadvantages of bent-blade vs straight-blade canoe paddles?

Do you have a week or so to read?
Because when everyone here chimes in, it will take you about that long to read the replies and opinions.

My two cents, short version: Bent Shaft paddles are more efficient for covering water; less energy spent per mile traveled. Straight shaft paddles are easier to use; it doesn’t matter which side is front or back.


Bent vs straight blade canoe paddles
I thought for sure that I’d find some info already posted here on this topic, but my search revealed nothing, so yes, I’d be willing to wade through a week’s worth of postings to get the pros and cons.

My high-school physics tells me that the bent blade/shaft will give you more leverage, and thus more power, at the expense of having to use more muscle. If my thinking is right, a bent paddle would be better for an able-bodied paddler.

Additional question: Does the answer to this question depend on whether you’re paddling solo or tandem?

If you want to go fast…
…you need a bent shaft.

It is as simple as that!



Bent shafts are good for covering water quickly. Particularly when used with the sit and switch or hit and switch method. 1-2-3 strokes on the right side. HUT!! 1-2-3 strokes on the left side. HUT!! Switch and repeat. Bents can be used to J-stroke, pry, draw etc. but takes some getting used to.

Straight shafts lend themselves well to paddling on the same side. Their longer length and ability to use either side of the blade make them a good choice if you are a “northwoods” style paddler. Meaning you paddle predominantly on one side and do all your corrective strokes on that side as well. I like it because it’s easier for me to do my “gooney” stroke that way.

You need water to get the benefit from
a bent shaft. If you’re in very shallow water, stick with a straight shaft or kayak paddle.

Technology has changed
the design of paddles, and this has been accepted primarily in the kayaking circles where paddle designs are many. Canoeists tend to be more aesthetic with respect to the history and tradition of the canoe. Having said this, if you are looking primarily for energy and momentum return from a paddle, try a double bladed kayak(yikes!) paddle with a spooned hi-tech shape and crank style shaft. We carry and use 3 paddles in our tandem canoe, being the aforementioned, a bent shaft canoe paddle, and a traditional wooden beaver tail canoe paddle. There are relaxed and quiet times when I greatly enjoy the beaver tail paddle for smoothness and control. If you want to get somewhere, the bent shaft paddle will get you there faster than the straight shaft paddle, but the double bladed hi-tech crank will be way ahead. There are different paddles for different occasions, and this all adds up to the versatility and beauty of the sport. Happy paddling! mickjetblue

straight or bent
My preference is a relatively short straight shaft lightweight carbon fiber paddle.

The light weight allows you to sit and switch for speed and efficiency like a bent shaft (all power goes into moving boat forward…not steering it), yet the straight shaft still gives maximum control…and also maximum enjoyment for slow speed playing around.

Not sure I give up any speed to a bent shaft except perhaps over many miles…for a sprint up to a mile or two my 7-8 ounce short/straight Zav does a pretty good job. Sometimes when I run upstream against the current and have to attempt to drive through a spout of very fast water coming through a small break in some natural dam - a straight shaft seems to allow me to put down more instant power to get through the toughest section.

For race boats and big distance the bent wins for sure. Bents are shorter and the paddle feels more handy and easy to swing…the inertia goes with the 4th power of length so if a bent is 10% shorter than a straight, it’s like 100% easier to swing.

And bent shafts make nice back-up paddles because they don’t take much room, and if you get tired you can use the bent shaft and actually recover a bit while you keep paddling.

And bent shafts are much better than straight shafts for scooping up turtles.

Bought two Sawyer Manta Single Bend
bent shaf paddles this weekend. These are beautiful paddles. My wife and I tried them out in our Wenonah Solo Plus Sunday evening and we really liked them. The curled palm grip falls into the hand nicely when switching sides and they feel very comfortable while paddling.

I’ve been paddling my Sawyer Summersong solo (I’ve had the Summersong abut 5 weeks) with both my 51" beaver tail and my 52" Wenonah standard bent shaft and most of the time I preferred the old style Old Town beaver tail because it just seemed to move through the water better and seems more fluid when switching sides. My old bent shaft seemed kind of clutsy when switching sides. I definately prefer these Sawyer Manta single bend bent shafts (they also make a straight shaft and a double bend bent shaft) to my old standard design bent shaft. It will be interesting to fing if I prefer the new Manta bent shaft over my beaver tail while paddling the Summersong and Mad River Slipper. So far I’ve only use the single blades on lakes. I’ve previously mostly used kayak paddles in my canoes on rivers because I didn’t have any canoe paddles that I liked and that were durable enough. Times, they are a changing.

Sorry if this seems a little off topic, but I think that the design of the particular bent or straight shaft paddle may be almost as important as the general comparison of bent and straight shafts. There are a lot of design variations withing the two groups. I’m still developing my single blade skills, but these are my observations so far. I greatly appreciate all the information and tips I get from all the more experienced and talented paddlers.

Happy paddling.

Manta Looked Interesting
I would like to hold one and see how it feels before parting with the $$$, though. Hopefully I can find a paddle shop when I go on vacation this week. I, fo one, appreciate your “Review” of the Manta. WW

Bent vs Straight
Been paddling 20 some years and I never really gave bent shafts a chance to prove themselves until the last few years. Now that I HAVE done so, I find I can j-stroke, paddle rivers, etc with a bent just as well as a straight. I wouldn’t paddle above easy class II’s without a dedicated WW paddle, but then, I DON’T PADDLE anything above class II anyway! I have a couple nice straight shafts, one made by a good friend, that I will take for a spin occasionally; I’ll use them because they feel good in the hand and are pleasing to the eye. But, this stubborn paddler who abhors most any change, HAS changed to a bent shaft for most of my paddling and can’t imagine turning back. WW

jack’s right
if you want to go fast/efficient, go with a carbon bentshaft. it really shows on flatwater. you should be able to pick up a zre factory second for about $150 or so. that’s pretty good for a top-notch carbon blade.

How important is ZRE bent shaft weight?
Would the $130 15oz recreational model work well enough for most people? I tried a ZRE 7oz racing bent shaft in the front of a Wenonah Jensen cruizer a couple weeks ago and the light weight was easy on the arms, but there was a little bit of breeze and the paddle sometimes got squirrely in the wind when switching from one side to the other. I can see where the lightest, well designed paddle possible might be just the ticket when I’m paddling solo down a river and everybody else is in tandems or kayaks. I have to paddle more strokes, so lighter weight would mean less fatigue at the end of the trip. I usually use a double blade to keep up with tandem paddlers.

My new wooden Sawyer Manta single bend paddles weight about 23oz, about the same as my old wooden bent shaft, but they “feel” lighter when paddling and switching than my old wooden bent shaft because of the design.

I’m sure that I would be even more pleased with the Manta if it only weighed 12oz. My wife would like it more too. We’ll probably end up with a couple ZREs sometime in the next year or two.

How do the ZREs hold up to the abuse of paddling on shallow, rocky rivers and streams where the paddle will inevitably contact rocks while paddling?

worth it’s weight in gold
I love the ZRE bent shaft. I have the whitewater model which is a bit tougher and weighs a tiny bit more. I use it constantly on rocky rivers. I’ve been very, very happy with it. I don’t find I have any trouble at all keeping up with double blade paddlers. You do have to be careful in the wind, though. It’s so light that a gust of wind almost took it away from me when I was packing it back in the car!

River Goddess

Bent is easier on lower hand
If you paddle a lot or have strained hands/wrists, you’ll find that the bent is much easier on your lower hand, as the blade self-centers on the pull stroke and all your lower hand is doing is hanging on. A straight shaft requires a tighter lower hand when you are paddling hard.

If it is the type river that you can…
paddle a kevlar canoe in it then by all means get the ZRE ultralight racing paddle, but if it is type river where you can only use a poly or royalex canoe I would go with a cheaper paddle.

Why spend the extra bucks when you could use a cheaper and heavier duty one which you won’t mind pushing over gravel bars and dinging it going through boulder gardens.



I use my ZRE in exactly those conditions
…rock gardens, gravel bars, etc. I love having a royalex boat on the rocky rivers I usually paddle, but I don’t hesitate to use my ZRE Whitewater bent shaft paddle on them at all. It’s meant to be used, and I use it.

River Goddess

A forward bend on the palm grip also
also reduces stress on the upper wrist. I had never used a paddle with this type of grip until I bought some Sawyer Mantas last weekend. The 52" Manta just feels so much better in my hands and while paddling than my standard design 52" bent shaft. The curled palm grip just seems to land perfectly in my palm when switching sides. My old bent shaft felt more awkward & clutsy both while paddling and switching sides.

Why is straight better than bent in
shallow water? I would think that the shorter, wider bent shaft blade would give more control when you can’t get the blade very deep into the water. I’ll experiment with this the next time I go down a river in a canoe. I didn’t have a decent bent shaft paddle until last weekend.

My experience (relatively little compared to many on this board) has also been that kayak paddles are definately best when paddling upstream in shallow, fast water.

i use my zav for tripping, day-paddling, fishing, etc. i often hit oyster bars, limestone, etc. and haven’t really damaged a rec. blade yet, knock on wood. i do, however, get the factory-second uncut with the upgraded carbon handle. i never really liked the plastic handles and my old one seemed weak in comparison. myself, i’m a little scared to pry off an oyster bar with a 7 oz. paddle. racing is a totally different story.