Decent Canoe Paddle

I canoed a bit as a kid growing up, but never really payed much attention to what i was using for gear. Now that i am older i have been kayaking for years now, and i certainly recognise the benefits of a good paddle, so when i got a canoe to run a few rivers this summer my initial thought was “i’ll just get a couple of cheap ones, it’s only a canoe”. I had to almost immediatly stop and do a double take, because after working at a shop that sells kayaks for a few years and just people asking for advice, i would cringe every time i heard someone say that about kayak paddles and go get a $20 paddle from the hardware store or someplace.

Since i don’t do alot of canoeing, i don’t want to break the bank on something that sees little use, but at the same time i want something decent, but i’m not really familiar enough with canoe paddles to know what i should get.

To kind of compare it to kayak paddles i would say something like the the glass shaft aquabound or bending branches. Something better then aluminum and plastic junk, but not like a $400 carbon fibre either

Hard to go wrong with a ZRE. Once I thought they were expensive, now they seem pretty cheap. Last I bought (couple years ago) you could still get a medium for under $200. I’ve never bought anything but the factory blems for a discount. Never seen or felt a problem with them.


Got an outfitter near?
Or, how are you at simple wood working?

Not really
We don’t have any big outfitters nearby that have anything worth driving for, kayaks and kayak paddles are pretty common around, but most places barely have some pelican type canoe stuff.

I have made a greenland paddle before, and plan an several more when i get the time, so it probably wouldn’t be to hard for me if i had some plans

Stance, then
Are you going to kneel or sit?

If kneeling, you need a straight and a knee pad. If sitting you need a bent. If both; well you need all three.

Rationslly priced brands include Bending Branches, Fox Worx, Grey Owl, Mitchell and Sawyer. All have paddles , straight and bent, around a C note.

Zavarel and Cricket are a step up, closer to two C.s

You’ll want blades ~ 8.5" wide, the straight ~ 20-22 in long, the bent ~17 in long. In a perfect world the straight blade would have a foiled blade! smooth taper from edge to rib and back to edge on both faces. This is optimal but hardly a deal stopper on bents.

The shaft, which must be oval, should fit your hand comfortably, as should the top grip. Shafts/ grips that require opening or closing the hands from their angle of repose bring fatigue on early in the day.

Mostly will be sitting
Only kneeling in sketchy sections, which don’t come up very often.

What are the benefits of bent shaft while sitting? just more ergonomic like a bent shaft kayak paddle would be?

Pushing against water rather than

– Last Updated: May-04-12 10:14 PM EST –

lifting it. If you're mostly sitting, get one of each. You want a spare anyway.

Depending on the canoe, your stature, and height of your seats from the surface of the water, your straight-shaft paddle will likely have a total length 4-8 inches longer than your bent-shaft. There are many variables involved that you can research, but it's probably more important to get some experience with both styles before committing to expensive paddles.

For your purposes, it's hard to go too far wrong with entry-level BB offerings. For a very basic measurement, grip the shaft about 4-5'' above the throat and let your arm fall to near full extension while standing. The top grip should come to somwhere between your chin and nose. You can fine-tune this later when you're ready to upgrade.

BB or Dri Ki
Bending Branch all the way. Dri Ki if you are interested in using a traditional “animal tail” non-laminated paddle.

I like that Dri-Ki guy, too.
He’s a hoot and knows how to make one-piece traditional paddles.

I really like …
the Bending Branches Espresso Plus - either the ST for straight shaft or the 14 for bent shaft. Nice paddles for around a C note.

Different bents
A bent shaft canoe paddle is different than a bent shaft kayak paddle. The blade isn’t in-line with the shaft, rather angled forward about 12 degrees. Helps keep the blade vertical in the water. Once the blade goes past vertical you’re lifting water instead of pushing against it.


BB Bent Shaft Paddles are Short…
…for me. I’ve never tried one, but use a 38" shaft length. Some of the BB paddles have a max length of 54", and other 56". Either way, with a 20" blade, I’d still be a couple inches short. My everyday paddle is a 63" BB beavertail. It’s about perfect for my long arms and torso, and I can get a very fast cadence with litle effort. I’m always eager to try something new, so maybe I’ll order a bent shaft from Foxworx, or another manufacturer that has longer lengths.

FWIW, I beat the pants off my BB Beavertail. I dig it into stream beds and lake bottoms to hold our canoe while my wife casts, and it looks nearly new. It’s 5 years old.

BB Fox Werner Aquabound
For wood, look into Bending Branches, Fox Worx and for composite look into aquabound or werner. I have used and enjoyed paddles from all 4 makers. All 4 make paddles for 150 and under.

blade angle
The key to selecting a paddle is your stance in the boat and the resultant blade angle.

Winters’ ran a series of experiments in the late 80s determining that paddle blades lose effectiveness when angled more than 10 dg off square to the stroke.

Kneeling, we torso rotate from our knees up and can reach to a forward catch. That is good, because a straight blade runs through it’s +/- 10 dg completely in front of the knee. Note it is withing that range for maneuvering draws closer to the paddler.

When we sit, and most of us do, we torso rotate from our sitz bones and we sit lower in the boat, both reducing reach. Bending the paddle ~ 12 dg brings it +/- square to the stroke from the knee to mid thigh. Reduced reach and the shorter paddle needed due to lower position and having the +/- range close to the paddler allows a higher cadence.

Most paddlers should select one of each.

So …
is the 14 degree bend too much on the BB? And, if I paddle a 54" BB and a 53" ZAV straight, what length shaft for a bent, given approximate same blade length and width? I almost exclusively kneel, but sometimes need a sitting break.

bent angles, paddle length.

– Last Updated: May-05-12 12:03 PM EST –

After experimentation between zero and 18dg, marathon racers have arrived at ~12dg as the optimal bend angle. That said, I doubt you'll notice the 2dg difference at 14dg.


Fitting paddles requires consideration of paddlers physical size, the canoes width at the paddler's station and the seating arrangement. With blade dimensions variable and wanting the blade to pass closely under the canoe, fitting a paddle is a function of selecting optimal shaft length to paddler torso height, stance in the boat and the boats depth in the water.

With the paddler seated on a flat bench or step, invert the paddle with the grip on the step and the blade at the paddler’s face. When a step isn’t available, get a good grasp of the top grip and drop that hand in front of the body. The standing fit should yield the same dimension unless the grip hand lodges, or slips around the grip. The wrist needs be bent tightly.

The paddle throat is where blade shoulders intersect the shaft. Straight paddles should be fitted with the throat to the paddler’s hairline or an inch longer, the extra length allowing more forward reach to the catch and cross strokes. Bents are fitted with the throat to the bridge of the nose, shorter than straights, compensating for sitting rather than kneeling, closer location of power phase and minimal cross stroke use.

Lower seating in the canoe, such as in marathon boats, suggests fitting bents a couple inches shorter yet; to the tip of the nose or lips. The low stance and reduced reach generally works poorly with straight paddles. Tripping loads usually sink the hull an inch or more in the water, so paddles might be shortened.

Mitchell Paddles