Help Me Choose Canoe Paddle

Hi folks. I’m getting back into canoeing after being away from it for about 20 years. I’ve been kayaking for the past few and I’ve learned to value a good and lightweight paddle. Last time I paddled a canoe was back in the early 80’s and I was using a heavy beavertail made of maybe birch. I’m hoping that if I tell you what kind of paddling I’m doing, you can suggest some paddles to check out that will come in under $100.

I’m only 5’2" and will be paddling sometimes solo sometimes stern mostly on lakes at a leisurely pace but also occasionally in Class I or even II. Most of my paddling will be in the Adirondacks such as Lila, Little Tupper, Upper Saranac, Cranberry but some will be on the bigger lakes including the BW. Sometimes I’ll just need to poke around the lilly pads while I fly fish. I take care of my stuff but I don’t want to baby it. I’m very capable of re-applying resin annually if I have to. I don’t care much for sit and switch and the J stroke is one of my favorite moves. Haven’t learned the C stroke yet but as soon as I read about it it made perfect sense and I plan to C stroke through the wind. So… any paddle suggestions for me? I’d appreciate any ideas you’ve got. Thanks!


Control Stroke Paddle
You are describing 3 different paddling situations that some specialists would say require 3 different paddles: one for paddling solo, one as the sternman in a tandem on flatwater, and one as the sternman in a tandem on moving water. Just be aware that one paddle may not be perfect for all these situations.

You aren’t a sit and switch paddler and you prefer slow steady control strokes - get a straight shaft paddle.

You want a low maintenace paddle - get a paddle with a tip protector and consider one with the blade encased in glass or kevlar.

You are 5’ 2". You should be concerned about the blade size and I recommend getting one around 125 sq in or smaller - certainly no bigger than 8"x20" for you.

The bending branches explorer plus might be a good match for you and one that you should look at. You’ll have to decide what length is best for you; solo a little shorter, but sternman in a tandem usually a little longer. Hope this helps.

Welcome back! Duluthmoose gave very good advice. I have Werner for my canoe, and liked it well enough that I got it for my kayak as well. Light, strong, breaks down.


Welcome back to canoeing!

Both Bending Branches and Grey Owl make good quality affordable canoe paddles.

A resin tip is always a good idea – you won’t have to baby the tip. I do a lot of creek running in areas with slick mud banks and routinely use my paddles as a “walking sticks” in tough terrain. Personally I greatly prefer straight shafts – they’re more fun to play with. I also don’t overly concern myself with weight - that’s more of an issue for ‘hit and switch’ style paddling. Using underwater recoveries my paddles are rarely fully out of the water, so weigh is not much of an issue. Still… an ash paddle does weight more than cherry…

The Grey Owl Guide cherry is a particularly nice paddle. Its priced somewhere around $60 as I recall. Its blade is a lot like an ottertail but fuller for a touch more power (good for static placement maneuvers and quick pries etc.). It also features a tough resin tip and reasonably thin edges for silent underwater recoveries. I can well imagine at your size that you have small hands – this is where this particular model would shine for you since its shaft diameter is noticeably smaller than most paddle manufacturers’ shafts – ideally suited for smaller hands. I picked one up a few years ago for myself, but eventually realized the shaft was really too small for my large hands. About that time my wife tried it and, well, I haven’t been able to pry it out of her hands since!

Regarding the Bending Branches Expedition Plus and Loon models. I’ve used both quite a bit and both are pretty fair paddles. The Loon is a particularly good paddle for the money – simple but cheap – and not too heavy.

I must respectfully disagree with some comments made about Werner paddles. I have found them to be stiff and unresponsive. The shafts have no “give”; I really dislike ‘em. I have a couple that just sit in the corner and may never see water again – those things are little more than clubs. An experienced paddling buddy of mine had a Werner straight (at one time marketed by Bell) that he really hated. He disliked that paddle so much that he didn’t want to curse anyone else with it… So he drilled holes in the shaft, glued pegs in it and turned it into a hat rack! Cracked me up completely when he gave it to me to hang in our boathouse! Maybe there are some good Werner paddles out there, but I’ve never met one I liked – well, I do like my hat-rack! ;^) Randall

PS – My apologies to Werner paddle devotees…

Apology accepted–I guess I can beat your hat rack with my club.:slight_smile: I still like 'em!

I highly recommend ZRE paddles. We have several for differnt types of water, bent shafts for flat water situations and straight shafts for fast water. I have also several grey owls made of wood which have a nice feel and I real enjoy them. As you have stated you paddle both flat and fast water so imvho you would want both a bent shaft and a staight shaft paddle. The folks at ZRE will help with any and all question reguarding paddles. If you buy a factory second(all of ours are,purely cosmetic reasons,which are undectible imho) it will run around 130 dollars for recreational use style paddle. These paddles weigh only mere ounces,and they truely become an extension of your arm. Ofcourse its all personal preference. So givin that, just give ZRE a call,a great bunch of folks there to help you choose and size your paddle. Heres the link;

Let us know how you make out and what choices you choose. One note: all wood bent shafts I have owned all required repair to the bend at one point in its life and if you paddle on a regular basis as we do here in Flroida you will outlive these. The ZRE paddles are all composite shaft paddles and will most likey outlive all of us in our paddling lives. Hope my “2 paddles input” helps you with your decision making process.


Thanks everyone
ok, looks like i’ve got the models to check out from grey owl, bending branches, and if i get a bit larger budget, ZRE. Thanks everyone. I look forward to checking these out. I’ll report back as soon as I finish rebuilding this canoe and choosing a paddle. Soon, soon.


Ithaca, NY