Canoe paddle choice...

-- Last Updated: Jan-31-12 11:45 PM EST --

I'm trying to pick out first paddles for my wife and I. I'd like to keep them under $80, something general use. We will be learning to paddle around the shoreline of a large lake, but we will also be paddling shallow rivers soon.

A couple that I have considered are:
Bending Branches Meadowhawk
Bending Branches Arrow

Does anyone have experince with these paddles? Or any advice on paddles in general? I have read lots about sizing them, and used a couple different methods to come up with our sizes, getting the same size both ways.

I originally was thing about beavertails because we will be learning on a lake. After reading guideboatguys post on my other thread, I realize that's probably not a good choice for an all around paddle. I think a narrower paddle though, would be easier on the body.


I’ll start again

– Last Updated: Feb-01-12 12:13 AM EST –

You said you thought a narrower paddle would be easier on the body, and you are half right. The thing about a beavertail is that, although it's narrow, it is also long, which means it still has a whole lot of surface area. It will have as much "bite" or "grip" as a broader paddle of shorter blade length, and more than most regular paddles. The two "standard-use" paddles in your opening post will probably have a little more "give" or "slippage" than a beavertail. At least that's what I think based on my experience with that blade shape anyway. You need not worry about too much stress from working that kind of blade.

For a paddle that doesn't break the bank, either of those two choices should be fine. I'd guess that the more expensive one is lighter in weight because that's almost always the case, but I haven't used either one of them so can't be sure (I'm familiar with that basic blade shape and size in other Bending Branches paddles, just not those exact models).

Regarding paddle size, Rutabaga's website should help you come up with a good first choice for size (perhaps that's even one of the places you've checked).

Look at surface area
Ottertails are narrower and more forgiving for misstrokes than beavertail paddles.

What you seek is a narrower paddle to start but beware the length of the blade. Ottertails are deep water paddles.

Wider blades transmit turning forces more readily and are less forgiving than narrower ones.

It looks like the Meadowhawk is a symmetrical paddle. The Arrow is not. You will get more use out of a symmetrical grip paddle. The one direction grip of the Arrow severely limits you. It will be fine to start but as you explore what you can do with a paddle and start to roll it around in your grip, a useful technique, the Arrow will fail the comfort test.

Grey Owl
If you can find a couple of Grey Owl Scouts in your sizes, they are terrific paddles for the money. Very light, nice feel, blade is toward the narrow end of the spectrum. We have 2 that my boys grew out of. I need to replace them with longer ones. Last time I looked I had a hard time finding them in the U.S. Campmore had some for a while but I missed those.

I don’t know about Grey Owl’s other paddles except for their bentshaf Sprite. Again, terrific bargain. Great feel.

On the BB Arrow, I have one and don’t really like it. As kayamedic said, the grip is for one way only. To me, it’s also clumsy feeling.

canoe paddles
Some makers of quality paddles that are not hideously expensive other than Bending Branches and Grey Owl (both of which are good) are Sawyer and Foxworx.

Foxworx often sells seconds, which are perfectly usable paddles, at substantial discount so you might check them out:

Paddle sizing is a bit different if you are using straight shaft paddles or bent shaft paddles. Bent shaft paddles often tend to be 4-6" shorter than straight shafts for the same individual.

There is no sure fire method for paddle sizing. The important aspect of paddle size is not overall length but shaft length. The optimal shaft length will depend on many factors including your torso length, seat height in the canoe, how heavily the boat is loaded (which determines how deep it sits in the water), and how the boat is being used. Whitewater boaters often use paddles a bit longer to allow effective cross strokes and control strokes. The farther you can get the blade from the pivot point of the boat the more effective your turning and control strokes will be.

The good news is that if you are within a couple of inches of optimum the paddle will still be OK to use. To give you a rough idea I am about medium height (5’ 11") and typically use straight shaft paddles with an overall length of 56-58" and bents from 50-53" (although I have sometimes gone as short as 48" for boats with very low seats).

If you are looking at paddles in the store a quick and dirty method of evaluating shaft length is to take the grip of the paddle and tuck it up snugly in your armpit with that same arm stretched down along the shaft and the hand of that arm gripping the paddle with the thumb pointing down toward the blade. Now take your other hand and grip the paddle shaft just below the tip of your thumb. This is about where you will want your shaft hand most of the time when paddling. You want at least one hand breadth and possibly several between that shaft hand and the throat of the paddle (where the blade meets the shaft) for a straight shaft paddle for typical use.

stance, etc
We can only be of general help until we know whether OP and wife will be sitting or kneeling in their boat. ??

In a perfect world, kneeling paddlers would use straight paddles with symmetrical grips. Sitting paddlers would use ~ 12 dg bent paddles with offset grips.

An easy way to fit shaft length to individual torso height is to grab the top grip of a paddle as if paddling. Without letting the grip slip, invert the paddle with the top grip arm dropped in front of the body.

Straight paddlers for kneelers should place the neck, where the blade’s shoulders meet the shaft, at the paddlers hairline or an inch above.

Sitting paddlers in recreational canoes want to place the neck at the bridge of their nose whether straight or bent, and those sitting lower in USCA marathon-heritage boats want the neck of their bent to be at the tip of their nose or a little lower.

Basically we want the blade buried in the water during the power portion of forward stroke where the blade is ~ square to the stroke, +/- 15 dg. Having the blade’s shoulders exposed invites ventilation, air drawn down the backface, which reduces purchase on the water.

As that “window” is forward of the knee for kneelers using straight blades, they need a longer shaft to reach farther forward.

Sitting paddlers cannot reach as far forward due to lower position in the boat and reduced torso rotation so a shorter shaft buries the blade closer alongside their thighs. Bent paddles optimize squaring the blade to the stroke alongside the thigh. The paddle physics of straight blades for sitting paddlers indicates they loose the first portion of the +/- 15dg window.

USCA heritage boats, GRE, Savage and WeNoNah have lower seats and shorter shafts reach the water.

Excellent. Thanks.

That “Meadowlark” looks good

– Last Updated: Feb-01-12 10:55 AM EST –

if it has a symetrical grip. You're gonna want a third paddle of a length somewhere between those of your primaries for a spare anyway, so there's an opportunity to experiment with a different style.

If you stick with it, you'll likely end up with 6 different paddles as "keepers" in a few years. There's really no cure for it.

Edit: Oops. "Meadowhawk"

Sitting versus Kneeling

– Last Updated: Feb-01-12 11:32 AM EST –

As usual, Charlie reminds us of something important. However, dedicated sitters with bent shafts usually have the seat mounted a little lower, so I think it might be worth mentioning that if a sitting paddler uses the same seat height as a kneeling paddler, there may be less need for a shorter paddle shaft. That's my guess, based on how it feels to me. My height in the boat doesn't seem to change all that much when switching between sitting and kneeling, but any of the dedicated bent-shaft users that I see are sitting noticeably closer to the bottom of the boat.

Speaking of which, one nice thing about the boat chosen by the OP is that the seat height can be changed pretty easily compared to some others. Trim the drops shorter to raise the seat, and build longer drops or order them from Eds Canoe to lower it.

Good point!
I had not noticed the asymmetrical grip. My first paddle had an asymmetrical grip (I didn’t even notice it when checking it out in the store since I was so clueless at the time), and I stopped using at just as soon as I’d acquired some basic skills. I like a grip that can be rolled in the palm, and one that allows a 180-degree spin of the shaft to not change anything regarding the next stroke.

My Experience
Probably like most, when I bought my first canoe I bought the least expensive paddle that seemed like a good value.

Discovered over time that the paddle, along with your arms and torso, is your motor. Over time kept buying a better blade - swing weight, intended use, etc. until 4 blades later I got the paddle that fit me best.

So general thoughts I might share are, lighter paddles over a long day are easier on the body; too much blade cross section can hurt your joints, despite the power it provides in tough white water.

If you are buying 2 blades I’d suggest you get one that fits your budget and then one that is a step or two above. If you buy on the cheap and keep paddling, the cheap ones will get replaced by better paddles you buy. And fine paddles that are used are hard to find - seems like a fine boat is easier to find used.

I like these …

– Last Updated: Feb-01-12 9:04 PM EST –


You can buy them direct from Old Town Canoe Co. over the phone , they will send to your door ... 800-343-1555

I suggest a 57" and a 54" .

These were my 1st paddles . I have many other brand and types now but I still like the Carlisle Beavertails as much as any of the others and use them 90% of the time .

My other paddles are and have been Whiskey Jack paddles , Turtleworks , a Custom paddle made by a well respected maker here on , and a "very nice" paddle I made for myself , plus some plastic/aluminum paddles , plus some others that caught my eye ... everyone should have at least one plastic/aluminum (the Carlisle Golden Light is a nice one of those - green and gold) .

I've also bought 2 more of the Carlisle Beavertails since the 1st ones ... but I'm still using my 1st ones , I have the later ones for friends who borrow one of our canoes .

I've had my eye on the Bending Branches Expresso Plus for awhile now ...

From my experience a paddle ends up doing a bit more than just paddling . It gets used to push yourself through skinny and/or rocky waters sometimes , it helps push you off shore sometimes , it gets used like a ballance stick when stepping out of the canoe on a slippery or rocky river bank , and a number of other things . But if you only have your very pretty expensive and maybe more delicate paddle , it's unlikely you'll be willing use it for those rather important and almost certain things .

Even delicate paddles are pretty tough,

– Last Updated: Feb-01-12 11:05 PM EST –

... at least if they are still in the medium price range. I think you may be right about something like a lightweight Zaveral or something like that, but I've never used one (I know SOME Zaverals are VERY strong and can take a lot of abuse in spite of weighing far less than any wood paddle). My favorite all-around paddle is very lightweight as wood paddles go (lightest wood paddle I've ever held in my own hands), but I stab it into mud or sand when possible to help stabilize the boat when getting out in a tricky spot, and I jab it endwise like a push pole into logs and trees when doing so is more convenient than a paddle stroke, as well as lots of other things. For ordinary use, you won't break most reasonably light paddles by using them as you "shouldn't". For the price ranges being talked about here, "too delicate to be rough with" just won't be an issue.

In spite of what I just said, one poster suggested that when getting two paddles, one of them should be higher grade than the target price, but we know money is tight in this situation so I'd recommend Pilotwings' style and make the second paddle cheaper and super-tough. When my spare paddle is tougher than my primary paddle, I like it to be just a little bit shorter so it's more suited to use in water that's too shallow for normal paddling.

Paddles are like Hammers
Both have pricing variability; paddles maybe $20 - $600, hammers $5-~$225. Let’s discuss hammers because there is less localized emotion involved. Comparisons with knives, range $1- $5000 don’t work, they enage even more emotional attachment.

The five dollar hammer picked from the bargain bin at the local hardware store will drive and pull nails. Sure, the wooden handle is too small to fit the hand, the head a little light, the claws not machined to grab finishing nails securely and the notch and magnet designed to hold nails for a first blow set is missing. But, it will drive a nail.

Somewhere around $30 we acquire the magnetized nail notch, claws machined to function and a steel or fiberglass handle with a foam grip that fills the hand.

At the top of the continuum there is the Stiletto Ti hammer, titanium shaft and head, nail notch, two milled nail pullers and replaceable strike faces. Is it a better hammer? sure. It reduces shock tot he user, pulls nails other hammers fail to grasp and when the face wears it can be replaced.

Is the Stiletto forty times better than the bargain bin special? Not a chance. It functions significantly better, but is not worth the price difference for banging in ten nails a year. Is it seven times better than the $30 hammer? Again, no, and not worth the difference if one bangs a hundred and pulls ten nails a year. On the hammer continuum price increases ~ forty times, geometrically as perfection is approached. All of us own hammers somewhere along that line, probably several.

Paddles are no different and may also be placed along a continuum with a shorter, 20X spread. Price is a pretty good indicator of quality, understanding that that it increases geometrically, not arithmetically as quality increases. Paddle sensitivity, a function of shaping, beauty and ruggedness all increase that price.

Ah… crappe.
19 hammers in my shop. I just counted. Not a single one cost more than $30, though.

Hammers have magnets?
Mine must all be to old for that. Another thing I’ll have to do without…

Any Kids Paddle Will Do
That is long enough to fit her. They are very economical (under $100) and some are very well made. For rock bashing and no worries, I recommend the Carlisle aluminum and hard rubber blade paddles, which I just purchased at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop for $10.00 each. Check out the thrift shops, for you might find some real gems like I did in finding an Aussie made Xylo outrigger paddle for $59.00 USD.

What about the 10 year old?
Is that old enough for a short adult paddle? Or should she start out with a kids paddle, like the Bending Branches Twig?

Get The 10 Year Old A Wing Paddle
And a K-1. Kids are our future paddling generation and should be encouraged to paddle top of the line equipment, just like they do in other sports. So when my 10 year old got bored with paddling, and preferred playing basketball, soccer, tennis, etc. I got rid of the slow boats and replaced them with a k-1, a surfski and an Onno Small Wing paddle.

The kid’s mom inherited the Camp Kid’s Bent Shaft (45 inches long) paddle.

Bending Branches
seems to be fine. Got mine some three years ago…its already put some miles on. Probably around a hundred paddling days.

The fit is odd though… Because the blade is a little short and the shaft proportionally longer and the size that ridiculous overall length… I would go a little shorter than you usually do.

The BB is my bashing around paddle for remote Northern trips in Canada.