How to Compare the Efficiency of Different Paddles

I have a new paddle coming and want to compare its efficiency against my current one. Specifically I wish to determine whether it allows me to maintain 3.5 miles per hour in calm conditions with less effort. Below is my tentative plan for testing that without others assisting. Please suggest improvements or practical alternatives.

  1. Use a run defined by two trees that overhang the water about 1/3 of a mile apart.
  2. Test only within 45 minutes of high tide or low tide.
  3. Go west and then east with one paddle, then switch paddles and repeat, for six reps.
  4. Use a GPS to monitor speed. Suggested make/model?
  5. Use a Polar FT-7chest pulse monitor with calorie burn estimates, which Consumer Reports has found accurately measures pulse, but it did not assess the calorie burn.

Of course, the conditions will not be completely the same over each run, I will not be exactly on 3.5 MPH the whole time, and the calorie burn estimates may not be accurate, but the repeated sets of runs with switching back and forth between the two paddles, should balance out those errors. I would conclude that the paddle with the lowest total calorie burn is the most efficient for my yak and body under the tested conditions.
How might I improve on this test protocol?


I am far too much of a newbie to know, but have enough experience not to make a guess.
I believe the best paddle for me, you or “paddler A”. is not always going to be "best’ for different paddlers.
Yesterday I learned something about paddles that was a pleasant surprise. I wish I could have learned without the pain involved however.
I had to tow a friend in.

He just got a new Hurricane Tracer 165 and we took it out today to see how it would fit and work for him. Only about a 12 mile trip was planned.

When he picked the kayak up from the people who sold it to him, he slipped and injured his ribs and side, falling on the rack as he was loading it on the truck. Not sure exactly what’s going on in there, but yesterday about 7 miles out he started to get very sharp pains around the injury. I told him to let me tow him back so he didn’t make it worse.
I towed him for about 1 mile and he then said “it’s feeling better, so let me unhook and I’ll paddle myself”. He did for about half a mile more and sure enough, it got worse.

So I reattached the rope from his bow to my stern and towed him in the last 1.5 miles back to the trucks. We didn’t do the whole 12 miles (obviously.)

The thing that I was struck by was the efficiency I have found with my new GL paddle. I made it myself about 2 months ago. I had it on this trip and so that’s what I used. I was very careful to be sure of my strokes and I didn’t try to go fast, but I was very pleased at the progress I made with it. I made sure to concentrate on a bit of an outward angle, going away from my hull on every stroke and I kept the blade pretty quiet as I went along. I ate up that last 1.5 mile stretch in 29 minutes pulling him and his kayak along. His new kayak is 50 pounds and he’s 140 plus he had a bit of gear on the kayak too, so I expect I was towing about 215 to 220 pounds. I was not trying to go fast, but just being careful to make every stroke as well as I could. I was paddling my Necky Chatham17 poly kayak. It’s 63 pounds and I weight 190. I had about 15 pounds of gear under my hatches. When I knew he was in pain and said I should tow him, I expected the progress to be a lot slower.

MY GL paddle is right at 3 pound’s and 2 OZ. It’s 8 feet long and the loom is 19". I left the blades parallel for about 6" back of the tips and them tapered them to the loom with no shoulders. I made the blades thin to about 7/16" at the tips and left them 4-3/8" wide at their widest points.
So it is larger then most GL paddles I see for sale, but I don’t know how many square inches of surface it gives me to catch water. What I do know is that I did tow him in much faster then I thought I could have, and it was not even difficult at all.

So I think in my case that paddle was good. Others would disagree and I am sure for good reasons. I am guessing, but I think paddles are more efficient or less so, depending on who’s using them. I have towed my wife and her kayak a few time for training and for fun, and I think I did as well with the GL paddle yesterday as I have in the past with the spoon bladed paddle we practiced with.


How is your friend?

Me I would test closer to to tide changes, no wind days, top speed, and average speeds on long distances. Repeat many times. I use to use Endomondo because I could pick any point on the course and see my speeds. I’m on a canal that’s a mile long and I could measure distance of properties yard lines also. For a fixed distance.

I think you have a good plan… But why not just always take two paddles with you that have different ‘efficiencies’? Different surface areas? On the bicycle you can use a lower gear to climb or go into the wind and switch to a higher gear for downhill or downwind. Do the same in the boat with different paddles based on the wind and the current.

My friend Steve M. is healing up, but may not be in his kayak for a week or more. I spoke to him last night. I am going to the water now, and today I’ll be alone.


Switching back and forth that way can introduce bias. For example you will be consistently “fresher” with each rep on the first paddle you use. So instead of using paddles A and B alternately, go ABBAABBAABBA so that you use paddle B first as often as you use paddle A first.

Forget about measuring calories burnt and HRM. And your body also uses calories for other functions, like brain and digestion. Unless you are in a lab where they have controlled conditions, measure your oxygen intake etc., that HRM is meaningless.

And 2 relatively good paddles are too close to be noticeable in the wild. Too many variables like current or wind. Maybe a huge indoor pool could work, but that is too short a distance. If you paddle 10 miles, you will notice that a heavy paddle is exhausting, but over 10 miles, wind and current and your physical condition change too much.

I bet the manufacturers have machines that paddle and measure force created vs force put in. that is the only way to have an objective comparison.

And then the issue of that one paddle may be "better, but not suitable to your style. think high or low angle, small or large surface area etc. For YOU the one paddle could be better, but for ME, the other paddle could be better.


Interesting objective and lots of interesting comments. I’ll just add that you might want to include a structured subjective evaluation. When I worked in automotive we did many different kinds of objective and subjective characterizations since both can be revealing. Even if you were able to accurately measure effort based on heart rate or calories burned you’d still be looking at averages. A large blade paddle may hurt you a bit during the catch…so maybe take too much effort at the beginning of the stroke or conversely a small blade paddle may be too soft on the catch and not able to transit as much power as your body is comfortable delivering. I’m just saying that averages may not tell you which paddle would enable you to cover miles more comfortably at 3.5 mph.

I think that in principle you’d want to repeat your experiment with more than one boat since the ideal paddle can be different with different boats (I have several solo canoes and the paddles I favor for cruising are not the same for each boat). Or just be aware that your results may be specific to the boat used (and to you and your physical characteristics) and not totally generic to the paddle.

I hope that you share your results.

How are you going to measure your effort?
I can see how you would measure speed (GPS) and using the appropriate water/wind conditions but not sure how to measure the effort part.
Bicyclists have ergometers but what do canoeists/kayakers use?


A problem is that each paddle shape has a different angle that it works best at. The farther from the hull, the less force drives the hull forward.

The proper term is apples against oranges.

If it fits and is comfortable to you, it is as efficient as it needs to be; unless you are training for something. 3.5 mph is not a competitive speed.

3.5 mph is a decent average for traveling longer distances. I just look at my average speed or my speed and how it feels. Doubtful you can get much more scientific with anything you’d have available in a kayak.

Thanks to all for the suggestions. I plan to change the testing protocol some per those of PaddleDog52 and Kevburg. I’ll also make a form to record several subjective perceptions, as implied by TomL’s comments, and some of the above comments suggest things to put on the form. Since posting, I have quickly checked some of the research on commercial fitness monitor’s accuracy in estimating calorie burn and they suck. But despite that and a few responders’ advice to ignore that output, I am going to look at the data. For assessing the relative EFFICIENCY of two paddle (for a given yak, paddler, speed, and conditions) it is essential to have some measure of effort over time to maintain the target speed. In addition, if the calorie measurement error is fixed, it will affect the results for both paddles about equally. If it is random, that will be apparent from the recorded values jumping up and down inexplicably between the several sets of the runs. I’ll give it a try and see what happens.

If the new paddle arrives before the end of the paddling season, I’ll share a summary of the results.

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Waiting on a Celtic Kinetic 750. Maybe a week more till I get it. 208-218 adjustable plus adjustable feathering. Hope it’s a little faster than my Ikelos and Corryvreckan paddles. They are 710 & 721 CM2 and I can feel the difference. Now add 29 CM2 to 750 should be a much bigger difference.

Again with the bicycles… A few years back I got focused on tire pressures and efficiencies on road/racing bicycles. Here’s what the research guys found out: As a general rule, and up to a certain point, the rougher the pavement the lower the pressure for optimal efficiency. Smooth roads call for higher pressures for optimum efficiency. Therefore… if you pump your tires for perfection on smooth Abbey Road then you turn onto rough Copperhead Road… suddenly you aren’t optimized at all. I suspect you’ll run into the same thing with paddles. As soon as the wind or current changes you’ll find that your paddle is no longer ‘the very thing’.

So what do you do? On the bike you set the pressure for the pavement type on the longest part of the route and use your gears to deal with hills and wind. In the kayak you alternate between your ‘upwind’ and ‘downwind’ paddles.

If you can’t pull it up wind it’s to big. Many times you don’t want to be swapping paddles in rough water.

In the bike world you’d be the single speed or fixed gear guy. I have 22 gear combinations to choose from. You’re right about the rough water. In the bike world they worked on this problem by moving the gear shifter from the down tube where you have to take your hands off the handlebar. They moved it to the brake levers. Much safer.

No gears on paddles.
No shrinking or enlarging blades yet. Adjustable lengths yes.

Gear combos I probably have you beat by a long way.

Road raced cars you pick your best average temp for tires. Same when I raced offshore boats you pick your best average propeller for the conditions.

Agree with switching back and forth, especially if paddling with another person. Sounds like you already own two different paddles. When you use a paddle for several trips and switch, the differences become apparent immediately (at least for me).

Put each paddle through the range. How does it feel accelerating, when cruising, and at maximum output. Does the shaft flex. Does the blade enter and exit smoothly, or wobble through the power stroke. I can paddle at a higher cadence with certain paddles before the blade starts to create noticeable turbulence.

I switch paddles off with partners all the time and find there is no universal opinion on which brand or style is best. It’s also interesting to note that price of the paddle isn’t a deciding factor.

I let my 10 year old granddaughter use a 220cm fiberglass Carlisle (130 sq in) and a Werner 210 cm Little Dipper (85 sq in). She prefers the 220cm, because she can go faster. I paced her by GPS and she’s right. Need to see how she does over 5 miles, to figure out if she can paddle longer before getting tired using the 85 square inch blade.

Depends on the goal you set for your paddle. Distance, speed, comfort, or all of the above.