how to choose a paddle (canoe)

Can someone give me some general guidelines for selecting a canoe paddle. Is it based on the paddlers size, boat size, tandem vs. solo? Should each paddler in the family have their own paddle specifically for them or is there a “general use” paddle that will work for most situations? Here’s the info for our type of paddling, if it’s needed.

*big canoe (19’)


*short lake trips loaded with a family of 4-5 and picnic gear

*I’m a big’n, 6’4 250# and I imagine I’ll be doing most of the work. My small wife will be the other paddler and we’ll be introducing our 7 y/o to canoeing this summer.

Generally this works:
Recreational Canoes:

In order to Buy the correct sized canoe paddle, one must measure and size it correctly. The most accurate method of sizing paddle length removes leg length from the equation. Sit in a chair and measure the distance from the chair seat to the bridge of your nose or eye-level, this is the length of your shaft and grip. Add the blade length of the paddle model you prefer in order to obtain the overall paddle length. Overall canoe paddle length is measured in a straight line from the tip of the blade to the top of the grip.

If you purchase bent shaft paddles you will probably want to go slightly shorter than a straight shaft paddle. I usually paddle alone so I purchased 2 straight shaft and one bent shaft paddle sized for me. I occasionally paddle with a lady friend who is much smaller so I purchased a straight shaft paddle for her sized to fit her. I think you will find paddlers will paddle with less fatique if the paddle fits them.

big fella
the last poster was thorough and accurate. but here’s a short and sweet answer for you.

you need a big paddle. either a 60" or 62". get a straight shaft, ‘classic’ paddle with a wide blade. since you will be the one mostly in control and providing the power. Grey Owl makes a couple of great paddles, well balanced, thick shafted ideal for strapping paddlers. there are other good ones that are mostly available in the US. Grey Owl is Cdn and largely the ‘default’ paddle for many canoeist. good price, good quality, good availability.

bent vs straight
What’s the advantage or disadvantage of a bent shaft paddle?

Get double paddles…
…(mistakenly called kayak paddles), long enough not to drip, and carry a couple of singles for spares.

Bent Shaft Paddles
The advantage of a bent-shaft paddle is that the blade is more vertical during the most powerful part of your stroke. During that part of the stroke, you upper hand is farther forward than the hand which grips the shaft near the blade. In that postion, a standard paddle is “lifting” water to some extent, and the effort used for that doesn’t aid propulsion. With the bent shaft, the blade is nearly straight up-and-down in the water, so most of the force is directed toward the rear, which is most efficient. Bent-shaft users often opt for a very short stroke which keeps the blade in the most efficient zone a greater percentage of the time.

The disadvantage of the bent-shaft paddle is that it is harder to do some corrective strokes, but a lot of folks learn to overcome the awkwardness and for them it works just fine.

A straight shaft is generally more versatile, but a bent shaft really delivers the power. Lots of paddlers have one of each in the boat with them at all times.

Forget the Kayak paddle
Most people call them kayak paddles for a reason – it’s because they’re kayak paddles.

Learn to paddle with a canoe paddle first then experiment with a kayak paddle later if you want. Ever see the Three Stooges moving long boards around? Whack! Whack! Whack! Now picture the occupants of your canoe…

I hope that helped,


I agree with Curly
Unless you are paddling a very narrow sleak solo canoe, I would concentrate on a single paddle. In order to prevent water from dripping from the paddle into the canoe you need a very long paddle (which is more efficient anyway). With others in the canoe you have less space to manuveur such a paddle without the risk of hitting someone. Stick to a single blade, get a good single blade, one that is strong and light and learn to use it well. Sawyer makes a good strong and light paddle for a reasonable price.

If your wife paddles like mine,learn
to use a single paddle, but get the Mohawk Big Honkin’ double paddle for times when you need some more speed or have to paddle them by yourself.It’s a good, cheap backup.

single blade
Big guy, sitting in the stern, big paddle. 60-62" straight shaft

56-58 bentshaft.

for all the same reasons mentioned above.

It’s true that it’s harder to do
corrective strokes with a bent shaft paddle so I started switching sides to eliminate the corrections. Three or four strokes and then switch to the other side. It’s not elegant but it works. When I need to be more precise, I get my straight paddle out. I just ordered a 258 cm kayak paddle and can’t wait to try it out. If you’re getting one of those cheap plastic paddles order large and then cut it down later when you figure out how long you want it. I build my own paddles which isn’t too difficult and a lot of fun.

What is the Best Glue?
For building your own paddles?

Thanks, Jay.