With over 20 years in business selling paddles and paddle accessories at Wind Rose North Ltd. Outfitters, the first thing I will say is, we don’t know anything.
How Do I Choose a Kayak Paddle?
Paddle selection is particular to the kayak, the application it will be used in, and of course, the paddler. What is important to us in telling the story, may not at all be important to the customer, but this is what we know, and it’s up to you to decide.
Design of Kayak Paddles
What are the factors that go into choosing a paddle? Well, you asked. Price, material, design, and application. First, let’s talk about design. The paddle is made up of a few simple components:
- The paddle shaft is the portion of the paddle that your hands grasp onto.
- On either end of the paddle, the wide portion that moves through the water is the paddle blades.
- The center of the paddle is referred to as the ferrule.
- Just before the blades of a paddle, some paddles (most nowadays) are equipped with rubber drip-rings (allows most of the water from the paddle blade to catch on the ring and fall into the water instead of your hands and ultimately, your kayak).
Material and Prices of Kayak Paddles
Now that we’ve established the design of a kayak paddle, we can now talk about the material and price. Most recreational kayak paddlers are interested in the cost of the paddle.
Aluminum Kayak Paddles
Typical construction of an entry-level paddle will be a solid-state paddle ferrule with the blades of the paddle permanently orientated the same, or in other words, when grasping the paddle, both blades will face vertically in relation to the water surface. The recreational paddle is typically constructed of an aluminum paddle shaft with flat plastic blades. More and more, recreational paddles are coming equipped with three-position ferrules on the shaft. Generally, you should not spend more than $50 on a paddle in this category.
Fiberglass Kayak Paddles
The next best construction compared to aluminum is going to be fiberglass as it is lighter weight, non-metallic, and warmer to the touch on a cold spring or fall day without hand protection. Typically, fiberglass paddles will always have the three-position ferrule and drip-rings and most often generic plastic blades. Fiberglass paddles are most often less than $90.
Wood Kayak Paddles
Next in-line would be a white cedar (wood) paddle. Typically, these paddles are crazy light with solid cedar all the way through from blade-to-blade. These can be the most expensive option and are a choice not only for performance but aesthetics (wall-hanger). Bending Branches out of Osceola, Wisconsin, makes the finest kayak paddles in white cedar with their primary business in white cedar canoe paddles. Typically, paddles in this class can be $150 and up and, unfortunately, can be the most difficult of all the materials to maintain.
Carbon-Fiber Kayak Paddles
Finally, the most advanced and typically the lightest-weight paddle shaft construction will be carbon fiber. The blades on a carbon-fiber paddle can be nylon/plastic build, or fully carbon from blade-to-blade, depending on how advanced the paddler is. I typically pair the lightweight carbon-fiber shaft with durable nylon blades to accommodate a kayaker with little experience
that will appreciate a lightweight setup. Carbon fiber used to be an elite, “untouchable” material for the everyday paddler, but now for $150, you can’t go wrong. This is the preferred choice for 97% of the customers at Wind Rose North. For a full catalog of Bending Branches paddles, follow this link to its brand page on our site Aqua-Bound paddles is a sister company to Bending Branches, and both are of high quality.
Application of Kayak Paddles
Lastly, the application of the paddle is important. Recreational users will most often (and correctly so) choose an aluminum paddle that can serve as an epic lance or sword in the event their children engage in battle on the high seas of a swimming pool, slow-moving river, or small lake or pond. A recreational paddle must have the durability to survive blows against each other’s boats, and minor nicks and cuts from rocks, trees, and riverbed.
Conversely, aluminum is about the only choice for whitewater kayakers who typically have an above-average level of experience on and in the water. Traversing rivers in class II, III, IV, and V rapids can be very demanding on your gear, including your paddle. Go aluminum or risk not returning. Paddles for whitewater kayaking will be aluminum and probably a bit pricier for performance reasons, but overall, aluminum shaft paddles with plastic blades are incredibly affordable.
Fiberglass paddles are still in the recreational paddler category. Users appreciate a lighter swing weight of the paddle. Due to material cost, fiberglass is an excellent choice for the cost-conscious paddler, and it has a similar, if not identical, application as the aluminum paddle (except whitewater).
Lastly, wood and carbon fiber are used in similar, if not equal, settings. The wood paddle is going to be used by the kayaking purist and those looking for that authentic experience. They enjoy the sport for what it is, and often, you will find the paddle prominently displayed at home. Wood is a good choice for day-tripping or longer duration trips most often near land—a day trip kayaker or even a sea kayaker appreciates the weight savings.
With its durable and weather-resistant materials, carbon fiber (due to falling prices) is a great choice for sea kayakers. It acts as a “second appendage” when they’re away from land for extended periods. Constant repetition in use of the paddle is expected, and no one likes lifting weights above their head for eight hours a day.
That said, carbon fiber has all but replaced fiberglass in sea kayaking solely due to weight savings. It’s also a good fit in kayak fishing where weight savings is essential since the kayaker is also an angler and requires more gear. A few shaved pounds in the paddle will mean more lures can be brought along.
For safety reasons, we recommend each kayak and vessel be equipped with two paddles per kayaker. If your primary paddle fails or you lose it in an epic wave, I think everyone reading this article knows the old saying.
There are many paddles in this world, but there is only one good paddle—pick the one that works how you want it to. And, do the right thing and set yourself up for safety. Always wear a life jacket (buy a kayak life jacket, so you actually like wearing it). Happy paddling, everyone!