Canoe Paddles

Can anyone help me understand what advantages I get, when I buy an expensive (several hundred dollar) canoe paddle vs a less expensive model?

To be clear, not talking about cheap plastic and aluminum paddles or the cheap clunky wood paddles sold in department stores. I know what they are and their limitations. I’m also not talking about bent shaft paddles.What I am talking about are supposedly good quality, straight shaft, wooden canoe paddles.

I see paddles on display in paddling shops that cost from fifty dollars to a couple of hundred dollars. I can see some difference in them but I see ads for paddles costing upwards of three hundred dollars. I know that carbon fiber is expensive and very light weight, but it seems that the most expensive paddles are still made out of wood. What makes a paddle worth that much?

Most of my paddling is on lakes and slow moving rivers and streams. I like to move along, but I don’t race and for me it’s mostly about the journey, not the destination. I paddle solo most of the time, but not exclusively. I have a Bell Merlin II and a Black Gold Wildfire among others.

I’ve obviously spent several thousand dollars on boats, should I consider a three or four hundred dollar paddle? Since these expensive paddles aren’t sold in paddling shops, where can I actually get to see/try them? I’ve heard names such as Lutra, Quimby and Dogpaddle. I assume there are others. Dogpaddle has a website, the other two seem elusive.


It’s like anything else
You can buy 90% of the quality for a reasonable price. Getting that last 10% of the quality that a “state of the art” piece of equipment offers usually costs at least several multiples of that price.

Better paddles are lighter for the same strength, better finished (wood), more comfortable in the hand, slice through the water better during in-water recoveries, and are less likely to flutter when drawn through the water. They are often also quieter.

I would stick with a reasonably priced, good quality paddle until you are really able to appreciate these fine points. Until you are, the price difference will be hard to justify (even after you can appreciate the difference it might be hard to justify).

I’ve never spent “several hundred
dollars” on a canoe paddle, and I have 3 pretty sophisticated slalom style paddles. Competition hones slalom paddle style, just as it does bent-shaft marathon style.

Some interesting previous discussions…
You might want to take a look at

That includes a suggestion that an additional $50 makes more difference in your paddle than in your hull… and a warning against sub $100 paddles with concerns about edges being too thick to slice, rib[s] not being cambered into the blade, tips being too square, the grip being too small.

Switching forums, see also

Solotripping recently had a thread on carbon blades… but is still down :frowning:

the price jump from wood to carbon is justifiable, whereas wood to more expensive wood is not.

Thin edges, light weight, strength, etc are all good points, but I can’t see why someone would pay that much for a non-carbon paddle, especially when you consider that a $300 wood paddle is going to be heavier, thicker, and weaker than a $300 carbon paddle.

Wood paddles do look better, and have a certain “cool factor”, but aside from that, I doubt I could ever bring myself to blow that much on something that just does not have the performance of a carbon paddle.

Yeah, you’ll notice!

– Last Updated: Jul-28-10 1:51 PM EST –

The paddle is more important than the boat. A good paddle fills both hands and enhances control, A good straight paddle had equal camber in both faces, slopping shoulders, rounded tips, sharpish edges, slices where you want it to go and doesn't wobble when you pull hard.

If the paddle doesn't transmit the forces are working on it to your hands you won't be able to make the hull do what you want it to. "Paddle Sensitivity is an interaction between mind body and blade, all three components important to the whole. A well designed paddle will shorten the learning curve on paddle sensitivity because it will work as it's supposed to. The feedback is precise; you learn more quickly.

If you're a kneeling straight blade blade guy, look to the Bell / Mitchel Sureal or the Cricket Sugar Island or Genimi as good intermediate sticks. The Wenonah/Grey Owl Raven straight as a workable carbon stick at at about the same ~$200 price. But, eventually you'll want sticks with exact blade size and shape, shaft size and length and top grip size and shape; custom paddles.

And, you'll need a bent for when you sit and want to pound out some mileage. There are others, but Zav is the community standard.

There will be those claiming they can't tell the difference, and don't see sense in spending extra money. Maybe they can't; I'll bet you can.

Mostly hype and snob hobbyism
Truly, if you have technique, you can paddle anything with just about anything. But you may not want to.

Re straight wood paddles, the differences are very incremental once you get past the $125 level–perhaps little lighter weight with some better craftsmanship and aesthetics.

Last year I surveyed and personally tried out all the high end paddles I could locate. I found things about all of them I didn’t like, just as I can with lower priced paddles. I also observed that most paddlers who own these plutocratic paddles don’t use them when engaged in plebeian cruising or tripping. I have no idea why. To me, if you’ve found and paid for the perfect paddle, that’s the one you should use all the time.

My solution was to design my own, and then have it made for me by a willing professional. I’m very happy with it, and use it all the time for everything from mild whitewater to tripping to swamps to flatwater freestyle. Yes, it cost me over $200, but paddling is my hobby and I like some gear that’s snobby.

Mitchell has two remaining Galt Lutra’s that he has been trying to sell for over a year. I think they are both 2.5 degree S blades.

Charlie summed it up best
I’ll simply add a few points. Top end paddles are usually custom made. What that means is the following.

  1. They can be made to any length the buyer requests. Most commercially available paddles are sold in two inch increments.
  2. Grip size and shape can be altered to suit the buyer.
  3. The weight/strength of the paddle can be adjusted to suit the buyer and his/her intended usage.
  4. Blade shape can be modified to suit the buyer.

    Lastly, the aesthetics can be of the buyer’s choosing. I’ve had requests for light colored woods vs. dark. Contrasting laminations vs. matched. I generally book match my laminations so that the pieces of wood forming the left side of the blade, mirror those on the right.

    To me canoeing is an aesthetic sport. I typically paddle wood or wood/canvas boats because I like the way they look and feel. On a composite boat I like wood trim. A wooden paddle enhances that experience, both in appearance and feel. A top notch wood paddle can closely approach the weight and stiffness of a carbon blade but at a trade off for feel and aesthetics. (BTW, my “wood” paddles are in fact composites. All of my blades are a composite of wood and fiberglass. Some have additional carbon fiber reinforcements.)

    In the end, it’s a matter of personal choice. If you’re going to spend $2000-$3000 or more on a canoe, spending $300 ± on a fine paddle doesn’t seem out of place. If the ultimate in light weight and stiffness are your priorities, carbon is for you. If you like the look/feel of wood and the ability to customize your blade, wood is the better choice.

    Marc Ornstein

    Dogpaddle Canoe Works

    Custom Paddles and Woodstrip Canoes

Good paddles please me greatly.
No other reason to own one, but good enough reason for me. I will leave the prose to Charlie & Marc.



The one thing I can guarantee about
some fairly high priced wood paddles is that they will be stronger than any carbon paddles that have yet been marketed. And more repairable. I say that as one who prefers carbon shaft paddles for their light weight.

I Don’t Race, Don’t Need to go Fast

– Last Updated: Jul-28-10 10:40 AM EST –

But not a reason to use a paddle that "Feels" good in the hands. I've NEVER spent more than $125 for a canoe paddle and I own a Zaveral (6 year old "Rec" model), a Whiskey Jack, and a Werner, etc. If you're in the market look on E-bay, look at stores with paddles on clearance, and be patient. You don't HAVE to pay an arm and a leg for a good paddle. For 23 years I paddled with big, heavy, cheap wood paddles. Thought I never needed those fancy sticks. Then, 7 years ago, a new friend showed me the pleasures of using lightweight and bent shafted paddles ("Thanks," Mick!). I couldn't have imagined how much better the paddling experience would be with a good paddle. Glad he taught me! WW

JS, a custom paddle and a Tilley
make you just about the ultimate snob.

Wood has a “live” feel
that you can’t get in carbon. It may be a small thing, but if you spend a lot of time in your boat and have the sensitivity to appreciate quality equipment it does make a difference you can feel. And as Marc explained you can dial in the exact amount of that feel you want with a custom made stick.

I am fortunate to have Quimby paddles that are made for FreeStyle and when used for that activity there is no equal for me. That’s the thing, you can get a paddle made specifically for the type of paddling you want to do…sort of like having several golf clubs to play 18 holes…sure, you could play the whole round with a 5 iron, but you get more enjoyment and efficacy from a full bag. To me that pretty much covers the reasons I paddle.

String: Ouch!
Hey, look at TommyC-1’s pics of the Adirondak Freestyle Symposium. Several Tilleys in attendance, and I bet nice paddles too.


Hey, wait a minute! You have a Tilley, a Rapidfire, and what kind of stick?

There’s considerable overlap, though,
even with the same manufacturer. My wood Clinch River is stiffer and clunkier than my carbon shaft with the same blade.

It’s risky to insist that wood is always better. There have been some very, very good carbon musical instruments, better than most of the wood instruments that people are able to afford.

Agreed, though I like the golf club
analogy. There is without doubt something special about a hand-carved stick that one laid up in a mold lacks, however. Some might call it “soul”. Perhaps someday we’ll see world-class symphonies featuring graphite violas, but not anytime soon I’m guessing. I’m thankful to have the variety from which to choose and learn from.

Sad Fact
Only Joan McGuffin looks good with one of those damned Canadian floppy paddling hats on.

They do keep sun off neck and ears and forehead. They do intimidate bugs, but they just look goofy on almost everyone. Maybe that has to do with the elephant hat testing program.>


– Last Updated: Jul-30-10 7:34 PM EST –

I've a few Quimbys' myself, five if memory serves, ans three Ibis's and a Mathews, a Winters, a Dagger Custom, a Dog Paddle Design/Marc Ornstein, a Cricket, a Blackburn, a Unidilla, a Black Bart, a Black Buck, a Werner bent and a Pat Moore Que.

The last 4 are molded carbon and all superb, but that carbon Que is a really special stick. 'Nothing wrong with a paddle that comes out of a mold if the core, lamination schedule and mold are right! In fact, once those three things are aligned, the beauty of Carbon paddles a is that they are all the same and always function the same way; no surprises, as in catastrophic failure of wood grain.

It's just the future knocking, although one-off customs and product development will always be done in wood.

I've found a sleeper entry level straight paddle. Placid boatworks has Fox Werks build short shafted straights and bents for single blading with their pack canoes. The straight is a sweet little stick at $95, and Joe claims a larger blade is available.

Call Bev or Dale Fox, get an appropriate shaft length on the bigger blade. An extra $6 for a larger palm grip is worth the upcharge. A quimby, not quite, but a nice enough, glass wrapped double cambered blade in the $100 range. Who'da thunk that was still an option?

I think the best option may be to …

– Last Updated: Jul-28-10 9:52 PM EST –

...... have a whole golf bag full of paddles along with you , that way you can pick the one that's best for whatever stretch of water and conditions you encounter along the way ,

don't forget to yell ... four ... before switching paddles

Different Strokes
If you are like most folks I know there will come a time when you will start to know what you want and don’t want from a paddle. You will borrow someones paddle and say “Oh yeah! I gotta get one of these.”

Things like catch and slice and balance and grip and flutter and feel. Maybe even appearance and price. They are all things folks consider before shelling out for a paddle.