Canoe Paddles

Hey all, thanks for the info shared on this site. My family is new to canoeing and I am wondering at what point in the learning curve does the paddle shape/type start to make a difference? We are currently using the cheapest paddles that we could find. They are alum/plastic with a slightly curved power face. I am beginning to discover that the blade shape could affect underwater recovery…? With a basic wood beaver tail design, will we notice a difference in trying to learn strokes with underwater recovery or in general efficiency?

As to the first question…

– Last Updated: Oct-13-14 12:56 PM EST –

You are there. At least for me, it was the desire to do underwater recoveries that made cheap paddles unattractive. Oh - and their tendency to take on water and get heavier.

You don't have to go to an animal-tail paddle to have the fair surface that gives good underwater recoveries. Any of the better modern recreational paddles with shorter blades will also work. Something like this....

...or this...

The animal-tail paddles are nice for going solo in a tandem, IME - but otherwise, I would advise to look for something like the two linked above for starters.

Another benefit of the better paddles is
The ergonomics of the handles and the shafts. The difference in comfort after a long day on the water is really amazing.

I paddled with a field and stream aluminum paddle for a few years until I got a Bending Branches that came with a used canoe. First time holding it in my hand was a revelation. My aluminum paddle had a T handle and my correction phase started with a thumb up rotation as the thumb down was just awkward. Even with a cheap wooden featherlight it was more comfortable to roll thumb up. But the Bending Branches just fits the hand so much better and the proper rotation is easier to do and there is far less stress on the wrists and forearm muscles. For whatever reason I do far less correction stroke now too but I’ll never go back to the old paddle to see if it’s me or the paddle that made the improvement.

I don’t know how much you have to paddle to make the investment attractive but I promise if you do get one you will wonder why you waited so long.

brand wood paddles.

They are not a real high end paddle, but they serve real well. I started with the cheapo aluminum, then went to the better AL, and I picked up a set of Feather brand used because the price was right.

IMHO, the feel and weight of the wood by itself makes it a better paddle than the low end AL/plastic, as bonus, I think they push water better. The blade shape works better for me for control.

feather brand paddle differing opinion
I didn’t like the feather brand paddles I’ve seen and used because the shaft had a cross-section that was sort of a rounded off rectangle with the long edge parallel to the blade. Higher end paddles, if they have an oval shaft, have the long dimension of the oval perpendicular to the blade. The feather brand paddles can be relatively uncomfortable for the shaft hand. Don’t know if they make other models that have a more comfortable cross-section - what I said may or may not apply to all feather brand paddles.

I agree

– Last Updated: Oct-13-14 8:53 PM EST –

This can't be said without being harsh. Feather brand paddles are about as refined, and as comfortable to hold as dimension lumber. In fact, all they are is a board that's been sawed to shape and hit lightly with a belt sander to remove the sharp point of the right-angle corners. I could list individual fit and comfort problems, but just envision paddling with a pine board and you've got the idea. And speaking of underwater recoveries, the blade of a Feather brand paddle is much thicker than the blade of even the cheapest "real" canoe paddles made of wood, so underwater recoveries are pretty much out of the question.

Of course, the recommendation for Feather brand might have been a joke, in which case I got hooked.

Good Advice
I used to use the model of paddle shown in that first link as my shallow-water beater paddle. I’ve had a couple of them. For a cheap paddle, that model is amazingly light. Really it is.

I don’t know the model of paddle shown in the other link, but I do use a few models of Sawyer paddles and I really like them. I’ve found the consistency (from paddle to paddle) to be a little iffy at times, so it’s good if you can choose the one you want off the rack, though 98 percent of the time you’ll get a good one if you buy it sight unseen (like ordering online).

With both these brands you get a lot for the money.

“This can’t be said without being harsh. Feather brand paddles are about as refined, and as comfortable to hold as dimension lumber.”

The truth hurts :slight_smile: I have an old Feather paddle I found along the river years ago. I’ve kept it around as its the perfect gate jamb for my fence when the wind is blowing and I need to prop it open while doing yard work.

As to the OP I’d like to second the BB Explorer Plus. Its a very good all arounder. Not real light but not unduly heavy. Holds up well to a lot of conditions and paddlers of varying ages. Their Espresso is also a nice paddle - lighter, very smooth underwater but not designed to bang about.

If one is not opposed to an asymmetrical ‘comfort’ grip the BB Arrow is a nice economical paddle with a less aggressive blade dimension often favored by less conditioned or younger paddlers. I much prefer a symmetrical pear for my own use but I have a couple Arrow paddles for loaners.

Good paddle is worth the money
I use the same paddle for just about everything - a 58" Werner Bandit in fiberglass with a T-grip and spooned blade. Not the lightest paddle out there, but it is well balanced so it works fine for me. I never feel that I have to coddle this paddle. I was out yesterday in a shallow rocky stream using the paddle to push myself upstream like a pole. The fiberglass wears eventually, but it is tough. Finally had to replace my old bandit after several years of use:

Like anything, there are a lot of things to think about when buying a paddle - length, straight/bent shaft, type of grip, blade shape. It’s a good idea to try a few to see what you like.

More Important

– Last Updated: Oct-14-14 8:24 AM EST –

As a canoe/kayak design & manufacturing guy, I firmly believe the paddle is more important than the canoe for enjoyable paddling.

There are lots of good paddlemakers; Fox Worx, BB, Grey Owl, Mitchell and Cricket for starters. [There are other builders.] A good paddle is going to cost close to $100, and the difference when one pops up near $150 is fantastic.

The shaft needs be oval, and both shaft and top grip should be sized to fit the hand at it's angle of repose. The blade should be ~8.5 in wide, about 22 in long with sloped shoulders to work close under the boat and rounded tip for forgiving catches. The blade sides should have equal camber as reinforcing ribs are faired to the edges. This fairing produced smooth in water recoveries.

That said, in-water recovery slows cadence, and thereby, the canoe. In water recoveries also tend to engender misdirection; loading either blade face just a little more than the other over that much time and distance can torque the boat.

And, if sitting to paddle, bent paddles are due for consideration, adding Werner and Zaveral to the above list.

I agree
With Charlie. I have been an instructor for a BSA National Camp School adult wilderness trek leader training course for more than 20 years. I bring my own canoe(s) and paddles to the course, but the week of training is done with a variety of Boy Scout camp canoes, and an even worse selection of very bad paddles.

I alway tell and demo to the trek guide students that you can have an enjoyable time and advance your skills when paddling almost any floatable canoe if you have a good paddle. But you will never find long term enjoyment or advance very far in even the best performing canoe by using a crappy paddle that is better suited as a club. You can skimp on a canoe if your budget is limited, but definitely invest in a good well made paddle.

Did you all miss the OP?
Start, family, cheapest paddles.

If some of you are hunters, I am guessing that you cant go into the woods without something branded “magnum” either.

Not everyone is going to buy 200.00 paddles for their kids to lose in the river and use for swordfighting in camp.

A feather is head and sholders over a Dunhams special.

If we are talking solo canoeing here, paddle preference is even more varied than canoe preference. The “feel” is very individual thing. You really need to try one for a while to know what you want. One advantage to paddling in a group like I often do is that we switch paddles and boats a lot. This is the best way to decide. Used paddles are often a good deal. Remember to go by SHAFT length, not overall length. Mt personal favorite is the Bending Branches expresso Plus -straight even though I own more expensive paddles.

I paddle using inwater recovery’s a lot when not in a hurry,which is usually. I find it quiet and relaxing. They also strain my shoulder less- Different strokes for different folks.

Keep your paddle wet,Turtle

Start cheapest paddles
and give up canoeing fast.

I think too that paddles ought to be bought first and money left over to buy a canoe

You can buy cheap many times or buy better once. Your choice.

No one is espousing a $200 paddle.

I love it when people spend $2000 on a boat and turn up with a $39 paddle.

The more expensive paddles require more tooling… There is no such thing as a free ride.

I wish there were… I’d love a waterfront house for free.

yes I think the curved power face
could mess with the recovery of your paddle strokes. Bass Pro shop and many other places sell an economy t grip in plastic with exposed aluminum shaft made by carlisle and usually comes in black- my choice for a “cheap” yet durable paddle- much prefer it over the feather brand sticks- and I like paddles I can literally throw around- onto shore, pushing off the bottom, using as a walking stick- you get the idea. Its what I would get if I was working at a camp or livery, or rec program etc. Length options are limited. Commercial ww outfitters use a beefed up version of this paddle.

A nice high performance light paddle can make paddling more enjoyable because you experience less fatigue but its certainly not essential, especially when starting out.

A good commercial ww guide doesn’t need a fancy paddle to get his crew down the river. For many its a source of pride to use a customer stick and they’d rather spend their tip money on beer rather than a piece of gear.


– Last Updated: Oct-15-14 8:48 AM EST –

Thanks for the responses. I guess I should have done as much research on paddles as I did when we bought "real" canoes. Indeed our paddles are Dunham's specials and leave much to be desired. That said, they have served us well until now by letting us get on the water and learn a few basics. I will check out the various suggestions from everyone and try to come up with a paddle that is best for us without spending $800 on 4 paddles. Wish I could try different paddles before buying, but will probably have to resort to relying on the general opinions here. The kids are pretty good at taking care of things, so maybe $100/paddle is not out of the question. I won't even start to mention our PFD's.

A good way to get good paddles inexpensively is to go to an outfitter that rents at this time of year. they often sell this years rental paddles cheap and buy new next year. I have gotten several good paddles that way. Who cares about stink’in scratches?


OP was quite clear
He already has cheap paddles. Why buy more?

I’m sorry, I have to disagree about the Feather wood paddles too. I’ll take a plastic and aluminum Carlisle paddle over one of those every time. At least the shaft is actually round, and the blade isn’t 1/2" thick. $20 for a paddle that will last a long time isn’t bad.

I’d rather pay $60 for a paddle with a nice shape that has better feel and performance though. It’s not like he has to buy all four paddles at once.

Kids can use/lose the cheap paddles on the river. “Sword” sticks are plentiful in camp. I don’t own any Magnum rifles (anymore) and am quite satisfied by some pretty inexpensive hunting gear. A $250 paddle would be nice - but you don’t have to spend that much to have a decent paddle that works like a paddle should.

Curved blades can feel quite neutral
if the maker knows how to shape the non-power face.

My old Mitchell slalom paddle is wonderfully neutral in handling. The non-power face is complex in shape.

But I would not suggest that new paddlers use curved blade paddles.

I can tolerate an oval shaft, but
I don’t find benefit from them. The cross-bow contortions I go through in whitewater are slightly easier with a round shaft, as the hand is shifting around the shaft to a considerable degree.