double paddle w/ solo canoe?

So I recently picked up a Old Town solo discovery to get back into canoe camping; just me, 25 lbs of gear and the pooch. The bulk of my canoeing experience came in my Scouting days including 9 days on the BWCA so I was never paddling solo.

Recently I put in on a local river for the afternoon in a pretty swift current as we have received lots of precipitation lately. Going upstream I had to alternate every forward stroke with a cross stroke, if I so much as thought of completing a J-stroke I would start floating backwards. It took me over 2 hours to paddle up and only 45 minutes to get back, thats how strong the current was.

In this situation would I be better off with a double paddle? I just about killed my shoulder cross stroking so much and still made slow progress. Just want to hear some educated opinions before dumping money into a paddle I may not need, thanks!

It works!
Lots of folks solo canoe with kayak paddles. The pack canoe concept goes back to the mid 1800s, so tradition is on your side too.

Cadence, hence speed is improved and if you can remember that tricky left, right, left sequence you will arrive at your destination.

works fine except drips
The only real downside is the dripping inside the canoe.

I have a solo canoe with fairly low freeboard. I like the elegance of single-blade strokes, but I’ve got to say that a double-blade paddle works very well in this boat.

Sure you can paddle that boat with a double-bladed paddle. In fact, Old Town says it is well-suited for it. I find that I need a pretty long paddle to use in a canoe, much longer than a kayak paddle although others claim to get by with shorter paddles.

With a paddle of a length commonly used for a kayak, it may be somewhat difficult to adequately immerse the blade, since you are sitting higher in a canoe and are farther from the water. Also, if your opposite blade is always crossing over into the hull with each stroke, you will get a lot of drip off of it into the boat and over your legs.

Rather than using alternate forward and cross-forward strokes to attain upstream, you could simply switch paddling sides every few strokes like most marathon canoe racers do. As you gain some experience, you may find that you can reduce the frequency of the switches somewhat, by using some alternating boat lean. Your course will be a little “meandering” this way but will still be efficient.

If you decide to try a double-bladed paddle get one that takes apart so that you can easily stow it in the canoe, and don’t forget to take along a conventional paddle. There will be tight places on rivers where trees make the use of a double blade impractical.

I believe that Mohawk still makes an inexpensive double-bladed take apart paddle (TAP) intended for canoe, that can actually convert to a single-bladed paddle by using one half of it with a detachable T-grip.

Its the high angle stroke
that leads to drippage in the boat.

If you can keep a low angle stroke and have a paddle perhaps in the 260 cm range you can avoid all drippage.( I use a 240 in my 29 inch wide gunwale station Swift Raven.)

The downside of course with a small turny solo canoe with a double blade is lots of induced yaw. Keeping the forward stroke short diminishes that.

Going upstream a double blade might work better if your river is shallow as the side of the blade is presented to the water instead of the end.

thanks y’all
thanks plbanc, thats some good info. I was looking at local outdoor retailers and none of their kayak paddles are going to be long enough, Mohawk looks like a good option as all the other double canoe paddles are well over my budget

Here’s something else to consider

– Last Updated: Apr-23-10 12:10 PM EST –

The odds are with me when I suspect that your J-stroke acts more like a rudder than a J. That's because it would be rare to encounter someone with your paddling experience who has learned to move beyond the ruddering aspect of course correction. To put this in perspective, I know of several serious paddlers right on these boards who keep the paddle behind them like a rudder for one or two seconds on every stroke, and one of them even "talks" to be a paddling pro all the time but clearly isn't there yet. All I'm saying is that developing your J-stroke to be smooth and rapid takes time. As you work on that, other corrective strokes will work their way into your bag of tricks.

Go ahead and use the double-blade paddle when necessary, but work on perfecting your J-stroke too. It should be possible to paddle with "nearly" as fast a cadence when doing the J-stroke as when doing uncorrected strokes, but it takes time and practice. Also, if you opt to switch sides every few strokes, as recommended by someone else here, you can do just a small amount of correction on each stroke, not enough to keep you paddling on one side, but enough to let you increase the number of strokes per side before switching.

By the way, I make no claims to being a "pro", and it took me "forever" to make my J-stroke do what I'm saying it can do. Five years from now, I'll probably be saying that it took "forever" to increase my ability another notch. That's the cool thing about single-blading: It is forever a learning process.

One more thing to consider
OK, maybe two more things…

  1. When paddling upstream, particularly in strong current, the current will tend to catch the bow and turn the boat on you. The stronger the current, the greater this force. The best way to counteract that force is to not give it anything to grab onto. That is, either sit (or kneel) colse to the stern or shift whatever gear you have to the back of the boat to lift the bow somewhat out of the water (this is called adjusting the trim). This does not have to be exaggerated…you can often get away with just having the bottom of the boat right at the bow slightly above the water. The stronger the current, the more of the boe you’d need to “lift” out of the water by adjusting the trim.

  2. If you’re trying to paddle upstream in water so shallow that you can’t get a good bite on the paddle (and therefore allowing the current to have its way with you), that is a great time to stand tall and try out canoe poling, i.e. standing in the canoe and propelling it with a 10-12-foot pole by pushing off the bottom.


The best tool
is the one that gets the job done with the least effort. Dogma be damned.

That said, I still like single blading. C-stroking. J-stroking. Lillydipping. Hit-and-switching.

But if I have to drive my Magic into a stiff southerly wind at Assateague, or push my MR Freedom Solo down the Youghiogheny River’s Middle section into an upstream wind I will gladly use my double. Because it gets the job done.

Do what pleases you.


i paddle one of those
with a double blade mostly. Double is definitely faster and less work I feel than single blading in this boat.

my cadence is usually about 2 strokes per side with a single and I yaw noticeably quite a bit from side to side. With a double its easier to maintain a straight track and less effort to maintain the same speed i would be working hard to get with a single. i have gpsd many trips at over 4 mph average. I can maintain 5 with a double but only for about 2 hours. Single blading i can get 3-3.5 fairly comfortably. i would be using a double blade for upstream for sure.

I use a 210 and 230 cm kayak paddle from bass pro that ive used in all my kayaks for years. get some paddle drip, but not much at all. I get more water getting in and out once with bare feet than i will from paddle drip for 6hours, so dont think you need a $300 paddle to get on the water.

J stroke

– Last Updated: Apr-23-10 12:52 PM EST –

Oh I definitely lack the proper stroke technique at this point which was exaggerated in the strong current, I will try to use the single blade as much of the time as possible but I wanted to make sure the double blade wasn't a bad habit to grow. I'm in Texas so swift rivers and strong winds are expected this time of the year, I'll just have to do my best

Frame of Reference

– Last Updated: Apr-23-10 6:25 PM EST –

I can hardly ever let these upstream vs. flatwater comments go by without some elaboration. As far as the boat is concerned, it only "knows" how fast it is going through the water and how straight, and only "behaves" relative to its motion through that water. When going upstream, when the bow gets "grabbed" it's usually a case of encountering differential currents, where nosing into an area of stronger flow catches the boat between currents of differing speeds. Riverstrider's advice about that situation is good.

When going upstream in uniform current, any tendency to get "knocked sideways" appears to be a violent motion, but it is not, IF your frame of reference is the same as the boat's. What the boat is doing in that instance is carving into an ever-sharpening turn over a distance of many feet of travel through the water, and this is exactly the same as what happens when sprinting on flatwater if you exacerbate a momentary loss of control by continuing to paddle as if you are going straight ahead. Going upstream though, since you are judging your speed and direction relative to some stationary object like a log or rock or the river bottom, you lose track of what the boat is actually doing in the water, so you relate its motion to your speed over the ground, which is both wrong and misleading. From the boat's point of view, slipping into a sharper and sharper turn while streaming through 20 or 40 feet of water is really a gentle process that would not be difficult to correct, but from your point of view, comparing the rate of deflection to the much-slower "ground speed" of your boat, the process appears violent and rapid. To add insult to injury, once the turn nears 45 degrees or so, your ground speed "shifts into reverse" and you lose what you had gained, while the same boat-through-the-water motion on a lake translates simply into a case of being a little off course. To complicate this, the initial slow deflection is not interpreted correctly by the paddler when going upstream since he thinks the boat is going "slowly" and a minor shift in heading seems like no big deal.

Poling can exaggerate this frame-of-reference issue even more, since you are "connected" to the river bottom by feel. If you could pole across a flat lake with a conveyor belt beneath you, the outcome, as well as the feeling when losing control, would be the same as when going upstream on a river, even though the water in this case is stationary.

Some people "get it", and others never will, but that's the deal. The very fact that some people can't get this is the reason physics teachers LOVE to present problems involving boats in current. They enjoy making the counter-intuitive understandable (at least all of my physics teachers got a kick out of it).

A reason to get that Mohawk paddle
When I started out solo canoeing, I relied on a double-blade paddle a LOT. I started with a fairly typical kayak paddle, but then got a 230 cm Mohawk paddle to use on rocky rivers. Once I used the Mohawk paddle, I never used the kayak paddle again. The blades of a typical kayak paddle are much too small for canoeing. Any attempt to sprint as you will need to when going against the current, or to “horse” the boat around corners will cause a kayak paddle to slip a lot, and even ventilate and slip like crazy. The big blades on that Mohawk paddle will get the job done when you crank up the horsepower.

Lucky You’re in Texas
Because I rarely get out of New England and whenever I see folks double blading canoes I like to point and shout and generally make fun of all y’all.

Seriously, I used to carry a double for windy conditions. I got into kneel and switch paddling to ballance the load on the shoulders and found that I was able to move the boat better that way than with the double. No pesky blade up in the air catching the wind either.

Point and shout and laugh
maybe I should bring my double to AFS Tommy LOL!(actually have NO reason to)

Feathering a paddle helps with the wind.

Sit and switch didnt work for me in the Glades in many places. Where the water is deep yes but where the water was foot or less and the single blade 18 inches long…the single blade was a pole that got stuck in the mud.

Double blade was not a stick in the mud.

good point
Yes, that is a good point about using a little correction along with a sit and switch technique to reduce the frequency of switches.

I like the pitch stroke even better than the J stroke for that purpose as it is a faster, shorter stroke that creates less drag.

I often use a combination of “carving circles” using a pitch stroke along with switching and can often take a dozen or more strokes on a side before switching, using just a little correction on each stroke.

If the kayak spoons get you out on the water, do it…but one can’t master canoe(paddle) strokes in a week. You’ll enjoy using the canoe paddle once you put some time in with it.


Why didn’t you just use sit and switch ?
probably could have done two strokes or more on each side, and then switch, etc



How About a Long GP?
As mentioned in similar past posts, my Greenland paddle drives my Wen-Vag K-UL solo just fine, especially when windy and running with local yakkers. Had a looong one (104") made of nice plain WRCedar for $225. Light, indexed, very tough, no joint stress. Sliding sweeps spins the Vag when needed. Can get/make stretch neoprene drip guards for it, and extra length allows low angle strokes like the yakkers. With a paddle float, deep water self rescues (yak style) pretty easy too even for this old dog. Can even pole or SUP with it. Just thoughts, R

I can speak with experience because I have virtually the same boat but in royalex (I have the Old Town Pack). First off, that hull isn’t meant to be paddled up river so I think you learned a bit about your boat’s capabilities. Dont get me wrong, I simply love my Pack but every boat has areas where it shines and where it lacks. Where your boat will shine is on still water, quiet ponds, swamps, calm lakes. I mostly use a single blade just because I enjoy the romance of it all. I do however carry a very long double blade for when the conditions turn on me. Your boat will do wonderfully with a single blade once it gets up to speed. I’ll take 3 or 4 cross strokes on still water, and once the boat is moving I can keep her tracking nicely by paddling on one side, dig in, when the paddle gets just behind you turn the blade and push outward (I think it’s a modified JStroke). Dont get me wrong, I’ve taken my Pack out on windy lakes, once when I’m guessing were 18" waves and did ok. Sometimes quartering into the wind keeps the boat tracking well while you paddle on the opposite side. I took it striper fishing last year on the Piscataqua river, it was fun going around until the tide started to head out, then I used the double blade all the way back to Dover Point. I made it obviously, but it’s not in it’s zone when being paddled against current. So I say, other than very windy conditions, you may never reach for the double blade but it’s nice to have on board for when it’s needed. Going up stream like you mentioned, I dont think a double would have helped you much just because that boat just isn’t meant to be put in that position. Be sure to get a long one…FoxWorx sells a 280 that is perfect for that boat. Dont worry about getting dripped on, It’s not at all the high angle of stroke…the the width of the boat you need to consider. A canoe is much wider than a kayak, so you need a longer paddle otherwise you’ll get dripped on. With a 280 you’ll stay nice and dry. If the river is shallow enough, you can “pole” with your paddle while kneeling high. Did that once and it worked nicely. Good luck to you.