Canoe paddles - how to select?

Trying to learn how to select paddles for canoe. I’m 6’1, sort of heavy built. And I’m 100% beginner. Canoe is 16’ long, if there is a difference for different boat. As a novice, I want something not too expencive, but not garbage also. And durable.

Please help…

Paddle Fit

– Last Updated: Jun-15-10 7:41 PM EST –

The paddle shaft should fit from your top-hand to the water. Longer sets the blade deeper; scratches stone and upsets waterflow. Shorter REALLY upsets waterflow around the blade and encourages air to ventilate down the backface, robbing you of power. So we fit shaft length to your body, stance in the boat, and paddle configuration.

Take any longish canoe paddle; grab the grip and drop your hand in front of your body; careful to keep the wrist bent and the blade over your head. The distance from the grip to the shaft's intersection with your hair line is a good number to remember; that's the shaft length you need for a straight paddle when kneeling in a canoe. [Advanced solo paddlers will add an inch to have a longer shaft for cross strokes and maneuvers.] The concept with the longish shaft is that kneeling paddlers can rotate to forward catches, or blade insertion points that keep the straight blade square to the stroke from catch to knee.

If you're intending to sit instead of kneel, you'll want a 12 dg bent paddle to match your reduced range of motion. Fit shaft length to your nose in ~ high seated hulls like Bells and Mad Rivers. With low seating, like most WeNoNah's fit grip to shaft length to your lips. Sitting paddles are bent because one cannot rotate enough to reach a forward catch. The blade is bent to square to the stroke in the range a little forward of the knee to mid thigh.

Canadian style paddling, where a tandem is paddled at a standing heel requires a very short shafted straight because the distance to the water is reduced, but that is a special case. Shaft length usually to the lips.

You'll want blades with the reinforcing ribs faired into both sides of the blade, creating equal camber to slice, or move diagonally, through the water, without splash. A cross section of the blade should roughly resemble a top view of your canoe - widest in the middle, gently tapering to both edges. Tips should be rounded to ease splashing at the catch. Blades should be about 8- 8.5" wide, 22-24 inches long for a straight, 17-18" long for a bent, reflecting the higher cadence possible with the reduced torso rotation of the seated position.

The paddle is more important than the boat and it's less expensive to go upscale in paddles. Boats increase in significant increments, roughly $1000 for rubber, $2000 for Kevlar, $3000 for carbon. $50 doesn't make any difference at all in a boat, but it can make a big difference in your paddle

One can acquire a decent, FG wrapped wood paddles starting around $110, with carbon sticks starting under $200 and custom made sticks like Dog Paddle design $300 to $400. [Look up that web site, Cricket Design, and Whiskey Jacks too for scale, then buy a Bending Branches, Grey Owl or Mitchell for a first stick. The top end sticks are nice after you've developed your own preferences for blade, grip, shaft and length.

And, make your first paddle a straight one unless you're in a WeNoNah or GRE or Savage sit & switch boat. You'll need a bent later, but to learn to paddle solo you want to start on your knees, with a pad and a straight paddle.

Anything much below $100 will not be shaped properly. The edges will be too thick to slice, the rib[s] will not be cambered into the blade, the tips will be too square, the grip too small. Sub standard gear inhibits growth as a paddler.

Great lesson!
But, they are expensive! How about regular stuff from sporting store - I’m beginner and $150-200 little bit too much.

54 inches
If you are buying a regular paddle from a sporting goods store go to Dicks and buy their nicest one that is 54 inches. It will later be a decent spare that will fit most anyone and do most anything in a pinch. Next year you will sand it down a little and wrap the tip in fiberglass, but by them it may be you back up paddle.

If you can, join a paddling club and try everyones paddles. Bringing cookies helps makes friends, then you’ll find just what you like in a year or two or three.

What material? Wood? Composite?
How much difference? What is better for the novice?


– Last Updated: Jun-10-10 11:10 PM EST –

I could not agree less. I was 5'10, now glaciated to 5'8.5". My straight paddles run 57-60", my racing bents 52". A 54 sounds like a length that would work for a paddler sitting in a Bell, etc. It should be bent 12dg at that length for average guys.

I know a couple 5'2" women who use 56" straights. Again, solo paddlers who use cross strokes.

Choose a paddle with a narrow blade
so that you can slip it down your pants leg and sneak it out of the store.

No, seriously, both wood and non-wood paddles range widely in price and quality. If you are near an REI, you might check their selection, because most of their cheaper paddles are still quite serviceable.

a Carlisle Beavertail paddle …

– Last Updated: Jun-11-10 4:33 PM EST –

...... purchase direct from Old Town Canoe Co. , will cost about 58. shipped to your door .

call direct and order I like best ... Old Town Canoe Co./Carlisle Paddles , 800-343-1555

Fine paddle for all around use in rocky river or flat water . Has a durable tip guard , has a nice blade and very comfortable to use all day long .

I bought my first one (54") when we got the new canoe in 06 , it felt great in the hand then and still does , it is my favorite and have since bought 3 more as we added a second canoe that friends take out with us sometimes .

This is the kind of paddle you will enjoy using for many many years to come , it's the kind of paddle that you will not worry about when you punch the rocky bottom with it , push off rocks or shore with it , drag/pole/scrape yourself through gravel shallows with it , use it as ballance stick entering or exiting your canoe from steep or muddy shores ... in short this paddle is a fine and hard working tool and best of all it paddles very nicely .

There are many expensive to VERY EXPENSIVE paddles available , that are ultra light , very thin , exquisit laminate designs (works of art) , eye candy , that are sooo fine you dare do nothing other than dip them in obstical clear waters ... in other words you walk on eggshells with them .

How can I compare my opinion of "paddles very nicely" ??

Well let's see , I have a couple Whiskey Jacks (a Whiskey Straight and Good Sky) , owned a Turtleworks ottertail , have some custom made paddles by the best , have aluminum & plastic rafter type paddles , have a couple very fine old guide paddles , and have used or tried at one time or other thick and/or clumsy junk paddles .

Out of all my paddles before and present , my favorite is the Carlisle Beavertail in 54" and 57" (get both) . The "Carlisle Golden Light" aluminum and plastic rafter type paddle (green and gold) is a comfortable working paddle also and it goes out and gets used everytime also .

What you want is a practical , tough and light hard working paddle that is very comfortable to use all day and can take the beating of doing a little more with it than just paddling along (which is what most exploring type paddlers use their paddles for as well) .

practical , comfortable and light …
… Carlisle 8" Beavertail (wood) and Carlisle 8" Golden Light (aluminum and plastic T grip) … have two sizes 54" and 57" … 54" will be your lazy take your time no push or hurry paddle , 57" will be your push into a tough wind or strong up-current paddle .

One question
are you going to just paddle out to the middle of a pond and go fishing, or do you anticipate continuously paddling to see the scenery etc? If you are only going a relatively short distance as an adjunct to Fishing etc, then weight and performance isn’t a primary concern. I like the suggestion of finding a club and trying a bunch of paddles. Just be aware you might fall in love with one that you can not afford.

Manufacturer specific
Check the web page of your local or virtual store to see what brands they carry. Then check the web pages of those brands to see what they say about sizing their paddles. Back when I learned to paddle as a boy scout I was told to fnd a paddle that comes up to my armpit as I was standing up. That is not a good way to do it. It is all about torso length and distance from the water.

There is some good information about paddles on this site in the articles. Summed up, wood might feel better in your hands than the cheap plastic and metal ones. T handles give you more control which is great for whitewater, but not as comfortable as pear handles which are great for all day paddling. All day flatwater paddling means you will lift your paddle thousands of times so weight is an issue.

Check the REI, EMS, NRS, Outdoor Play and Cabellas web pages. Also check local classifieds like Craigslist. Pawn shops and second stores can be a good source as well.

If you don’t have a local paddling club or friends who paddle, you’re new to the game, not going to paddle all day long for days on end, and don’t want to spend a lot, then get some inexpensve paddles. It will also give you an opportunity to discover what kind of paddling you like and you will be able to make a better choice if/when you decide to upgrade.

You may buy a cheap paddle and it is fine for simple beginning use, such as a Featherbrand. For length, stand and a paddle should come up to your chin.


many different ways to measure length
I prefer sitting in a chair, measuring from chair to tip of my nose, and adding blade length.

Thats supposed to give you your paddle length too.

I subtract an inch from that.

For paddles, if you are starting out, I would say just get a wood one, and paddle with that until you have a better grasp of your abilities. As you move up, and know what you are looking for, and have a preferred length, etc, then go carbon fiber is you paddle frequently. You might even want carbon if you do not paddle a lot, just because it is so much lighter.

I find a 68 in. paddle to be a bit long, as well as hard to find.

depends where you live
over heah the usual Maine Guide paddle is 68 inches or more …

Its meant for various paddling positions ranging from standing ( where 68 inches can be too short) to seated with the Northwoods stroke.

Hence the variable grip as you cannot do a standard J with a paddle shaft of 46 inches or so.

Those paddles are very common here. Dont look for them at an outdoor mass retailer though.


– Last Updated: Jun-13-10 9:43 PM EST –

You missed the sad attempt at humor in my post...

On the REI canoe paddle page are

– Last Updated: Jun-13-10 9:00 PM EST –

three acceptable paddles for $80 or much less. There's a basic Carlisle paddle. Carlisles are similar to the inexpensive Mohawk paddles that whitewater paddlers used as spares, or sometimes as primary paddles. The other two paddles, $60 and $80, are wood, appear to have good blade design, and should serve well as starter paddles.

Can’t Agree

– Last Updated: Jun-14-10 5:54 PM EST –

The inexpensive paddles mentioned above do not work well for paddling a canoe. We want a top grip that comfortably fills the hand, an oval shaft that fills the hand and a paddleblade with camber. Cheap paddles generally feature parallel power and back faces and pretty sharp rather than rounded tips. They tend to veer of course on in water recoveries as we should use on back strokes, Draws, pushaways and cross forwards. The flat tip tends to catch, splash and tilt the paddle at the catch to each stroke.

A review of REI's site indicates one workable Bending Branches Espresso at $110 and a Sun Shadow at $120. Piragis has more, so does Carl's in Madison. Your local dealer may stock good canoe paddles, Mitchells Sureal and Touring are good production sticks. Cricket sells direct now, but you may want to figure the length and blade size you need with a less expensive stick before investing in a really good one which will enhance your paddling immensely.

More bang for your buck?
If I was looking for an inexpensive paddle I’d get the Bending Branches Traveler.

It has a small blade, which lends itself to a higher stroke rate, slices reasonably well on in water recoveries and the “rockgard” tip seems to hold up pretty well.

I much prefer the Carbon Fiber Zaveral straight shaft but I keep the Traveler in the boat for when it gets rocky. Since the Traveler retails for roughly %25 of the price of Zav I have to say it wins the Bang for the Buck prize.

Carl’s paddlin
Carl’s in Madison went out of business last year.

Bill H.