Is the Paddle Worth it?

I have been looking for a canoe paddle to buy. I have been looking at all the high end paddles, such as edenwood, turtle paddle works, and badger paddles. However I was wondering if buying something like an $85 black walnut red tail will feel that different. Or will a $100 grey owl sagamore feel any different. I know that more expensive paddles have better feathering through the water and flutter less, but are they really worth double the price. I paddle 5-7 weeks a year on extended trips. I have been using a simple ash beavertail that is nothing special. It is nice, but I want to own a nice paddle. However, given that i do not paddle the entire year, i cannot decide if it is worth it. Will having a $180 paddle really help me cover miles any better then a $60-$100 paddle. I am only interested in traditional, straight bladed paddles, and really do not want a carbon fiber, or fiberglass paddle. I already own an aluminum whitewater paddle. The paddle I buy would be for lake travel or deepwater travel. Also if you have any personal favorite paddles please share.



“I know that more expensive paddles—
— have better feathering through the water and flutter less…”

I don’t know that. DOes anyone know that? There isn’t any reason why cheaper paddles should feather or slice badly through the water, or why they should flutter.

I think you’ll find the advantages of high end paddles are often more subtle. They may have a better distribution of flexibility. They may feel a bit less clunky. As for flutter, that’s as much a function of the paddler as the paddle.

Companies like Grey Owl and Bending Branches are entirely capable of producing medium price paddles that are without significant faults. If you get a chance to try such paddles, you may find there is no reason to spend more.

on what kind of paddling you do. If you are paddling on extended trips an ultralight paddle can make a real difference in how tired you are at the end of each day. It is surprising really.

I’d have to agree.
You don’t hear many paddlers saying they’ve switched back to a heavier stick.

Preferred paddle is a personal thing

– Last Updated: Dec-04-11 12:31 AM EST –

I'm far from an expert on paddles, but I can tell you my own perception about using them. The better I become at making a canoe move "in the ways that make a canoe such a beautiful craft" (and I'm no expert at making a canoe dance either), the more I notice particular subtleties in how different paddles work and how they feel. As the price goes up, paddle quality generally gets better, but much more important than that is choosing the particular style of paddle that suits you, and among paddles of that style, picking the one that "feels right" in your hands as you make the boat do what you want it to do. I don't think your question about price can be answered completely. However, nearly everyone appreciates a lighter paddle, so I'll say that if you are determined to stick with beavertail styles like the Gray Owl Sagamore, you'll be less likely to ever try a really light paddle. Still, it's a good bet that the more expensive beavertails will usually weigh less than the cheaper ones.

Two years ago I bought a nice, lightweight, medium-cost (expensive by your standards) Sawyer beavertail just to see what might be better about a traditional style blade. Too bad I can't tell you much about it, since I've been paddling so few places where it can be used consistently that I just never bring it along. However, it's a lot lighter than most beavertails, and the blade is just exceptionally thin, so that's actually a model for which you'd probably notice a difference in underwater slicing and in having less fatigue at the end of the day. My own preference has been with the newer, broader and shorter blade designs, though I still stick with wood. I suspect that the way a shorter blade enters and exits the water with less changing of the vertical angle makes them more efficient. If that's not the case, I think there must be some other reason that almost nobody uses them anymore. You might want to try out a few modern designs, perhaps by switching with other paddlers on your next trip.

Oh, my personal favorite? It's a Sawyer Cedar Voyager, for $150. I like the better bite of the slightly larger-than-normal blade. The blade is thinner than that of any other wood paddle I've seen (other than the Sawyer beavertail mentioned above) and it slices wonderfully. The flex "feels" right to me - not too little and not too much, and definitely not "clunky" (but that's hard to explain). I like the big rounded grip (though on the newer models it's a little too big and too round for my taste - I'm not sure why they changed it). Oh, and the weight. It's the lightest wood paddle I've ever held in my hands.

I paddle mostly as guideboatguy describes, but I do carry and use a traditional paddle that I like a lot.

Overall, I really like the Bending Branches Espresso ST paddle for most of my paddling. I like how it looks and it is fairly lightweight at ~18 ounces. It’s a bargin too at a list price of ~$110-120 I also have a 10 ounce Zaveral all carbon paddle that is sweet, but cost ~$240.

Like you, I used to use heavy, ash beavertail paddles and I have quite a collection of them. But, I discovered a really nice paddle for tripping in the Badger Paddles Sliver. The cherry and butternut paddles are nice choices at $120-140, but ash and tulip poplar are available for less.

Badger Paddle
You said that you found the Badger Sliver to be a nice paddle. What I am wondering is whether I should get the badger tripper, or the sliver. I do not have an extremely fast stroke cadence which makes me think the badger tripper. Does taking off the 3/4 of an inch in width inhibit any of the performance of the paddle. I will be sterning on my canoe trips and paddling tandem.

How long are your trips typically?
If you are out for week or two or three and you paddle a lot of flat water - might even consider a bent shaft graphite like the Zaveral White Water. Not for everybody, but some folks like them.

need to back up a bit
sitting or kneeling?

The suggestions are coming fast and furious but before you lay out big change…lets get on one track or another…

It seems that you are using straight ottertail or beavertails. If you are sitting it may well be time for a bent shaft. Better approach angle but it is not traditional.

Rather than moving up in the same shape category it might be time to move out and discover the benefits of other shapes and keep the costs down.

However I have to admit that early on I acquired a Zav bent and love continuing to explore what it can do even though I have more than a roomful of paddles of all shapes…the thirty nine dollar ones all got relegated to the woodstove with the acquisition of others.

FE would be the paddle hoarder though. Terry and the bob can’t be far behind.

However the best way to figure out if a paddle will be worth the investment is to borrow a friends for a few minutes and see if it brings a smile to your face.

I am, by far …
no expert, but I use the Sliver when paddling solo - for me it’s about the journey, not speed or distance. For tandem paddling, I would think that something like the Tripper might be a little better. I haven’t tried any of the other Badger’s, but the Sliver sure slices through the water nicely for underwater recovery. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

For just cruising in Quetico,
one does not need an ultralight paddle. My slalom paddles are quite light, but similar medium weight paddles don’t tire me any more.

I don’t think one could buy a medium weight paddle from Grey Owl or Bending Branches that would be a big mistake.

And, I don’t think the guy needs to buy a Zaveral Power Surge for his first multi-night trip.

So he wants a Zaveral "White Water"
for flatwater??

Underwater recovery is an issue on a
5 to 7 day trip?

At any rate, Grey Owl or BB medium priced paddles should have very acceptable underwater recovery.

For Tandem Go Bent Shaft
But for solo, stick with straight shaft. So I’d recommend for $125, the Sanborn Gunflint paddle that comes either straight or bent.

Take a look at Foxworx paddles,
as I have a couple of them, and they are very fine and efficient paddles for a very reasonable price.

They usually have some specials available, as well.

Depends on both paddling style and
on environment. Only twisted types use bent shaft on whitewater. Partly because, if you kneel for stability, then the usual 10 to 14 degree bent shaft paddles don’t have the right mechanics. They’re too bent. I made a 5 degree bent shaft that works for kneeling, and I made it long enough to compensate for the fact that a kneeling paddler’s shoulders are usually higher off the water.

I could wish that bent shaft fans would realise that bent shafts are for covering ground fast on flattish water while sitting on their butts. Bent shafts are for speed, and on rivers with good flow, most of us aren’t in that kind of hurry.

Bent shaft paddlers. See you on a whitewater slalom course.

No, it’s not worth it
Unless you become a canoe-aholic, in which case you will appreciate and even crave subtle differences in feel and performance.

For the average, once-in-a-while paddler, an average paddle will propel you just about the same as a high end paddle.

Flutter is not necessarily a function of price nor is slicing ability.

You will get the opposite advice here, too. Some people will tell you the paddle is more important than the canoe. I simply disagree.

You can get a very nice wood paddle that will last you forever in the $85-$125 range, especially if you look for sales. Mitchell, Sawyer, Foxworx, Bending Branches, and Gray Owl all have several offerings.

Another confusion is blade shape. There are passionate devotees of all shapes, and the canoe-aholic buys at least one of each. I’d stick with the rectangular shape sometimes called Sugar Island or Honey Island, which can be used in flat or white water, given that you already have a mammal tail paddle.

My 2 cents
I am a kneeling straight shaft paddler and I have and have been greatly impressed with the Bending branches Expresso Plus. It is very lite,the inwater performance is good and the price is reasonable. I modified the grip to pear shaped as I do a lot of inwater recovery paddling with a palm roll. Some newer models have a more square cornered blade which I don’t like as well so do some research.


Small increments of “perfection”

– Last Updated: Dec-05-11 9:10 AM EST –

I will not represent myself as an authority on paddles, but I do have experience with quite a few over the past 40 years or so.

A recent experience: I bought a flatwater stick, manufactured by one of the (IMO) leading manufacturers of laminated paddles. A fine looking paddle, with laminations glued as good as any to be found in the industry. But I was never really happy with it - It felt sort of "clunky" in that it gurgled whilst being sliced, and the balance was blade-heavy. But it had a well-shaped grip, and was the size I wanted.

Solution: Spokeshave, rasp, sandpaper, plane. I am not sure how many oz I removed, but I ended up with a paddle that had a more pleasing (to my taste) feel, a throat better sized to my hand, and a blade cross-section that had more delicate edges that allow quiet underwater recoveries.

I took a $100 paddle and essentially turned it into a $200 paddle by investing a summer of woodworking tweaks at my own personal expense.

Was it worth it for me? Absolutely, as I appreciate the time and effort that goes into making a custom stick.

Does everyone need to modify a production line paddle? Not at all. The paddle as I bought it was completely serviceable, but I was in the mood to tweak it. And the tweaking pleased me.

If you have the opportunity to try a number of paddles, do so. Resist the temptation to rush into a purchase. Research is fun, and can be enlightening. But by all means, have fun.


PS: I guess the point I was trying to make is that the difference between a $100 and $200 or more paddle will not be astounding. Rather, it will be a subtle feel that results in a wistful smile on the face of the user.

How about some rework?
Have you thought about taking your ash beavertail and reworking it? Since it is “okay but anything special” why not do some thinning of the edges and blade…

It’ll be a sandpaper job for the most part. You have to be careful with ash in the final carving stages because it is prone to grain pulls. You’re not likely to do any damage if you do the work by hand.

I make my own traditional long blade straight shafts. fluttering when slicing is usually caused by fat edges.

I’ve also played with blade areas and a paddle that feels a bit dead and heavy in the water is usually just a bit to large in area. Taking a 1/8 to 1/4 inch of the blade’s edges can make a paddle really feel “right”.

A beavertail may not be the most efficient or best at anything. In my experience I have found it to be the most enjoyable paddle design in use…they just feel good.