Best Kayak Paddle 2018 (REVIEW GUIDE)

Kayak paddles look pretty simple, and cost a small fraction of a new boat. They’re frequently an afterthought for new paddlers, who think it’s just something to pick up with a PFD and dry bags. But nothing could be further from the truth; choosing the right paddle is arguably more important than choosing the right boat.

​Your paddle is your means of propulsion, something you’ll need to maneuver into an efficient stroke hundreds of times every hour you’re out on the water. Most people who buy entry-level kayaks will upgrade their boat eventually, after they figure out what kind of kayaking they enjoy most. But a good paddle will last you through multiple boats, and you should buy the best kayak paddle you can afford from the beginning.

​Reviews of the Best Kayak Paddles of 201​8

SeaSense X-Treme II Mix Kayak Paddle Review

This is a paddle that works well for certain types of people; it’s great for budget-minded paddlers who won’t be going on many trips and for entry-level kayakers who will be upgrading in the near future, but don’t want to buy something overly expensive right now.

The shaft is aluminum, and the blades are hard plastic. These are not the most durable materials and won’t hold up as long as a carbon fiber or fiberglass paddle would.

The shaft rotates to three positions, so you can paddle with the blades parallel or at two different feathered positions. This is great if you’ll be using it in windy conditions and need your paddle to cut through the air.

The paddle comes with two raised handgrips, but they‘re not particularly comfortable. Adjustable drip guards near the blades prevent water from streaming down onto the handgrips.

The SeaSense X-Treme II Mix Kayak Paddle is not a bad entry-level paddle, but the blades bend too much for kayakers who want to get real power out of their strokes. More importantly, trying to push off of a rock is likely to result in a broken paddle and a very bad day.

​What We Liked:

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight

​What We Didn't Like:

  • Blades are too flexible
  • Connection between the two shaft sections feels flimsy
  • Shaft material is thin and can bend in strong waves

Leader Accessories Marine Aluminum Kayak Paddle Review

Here’s another lightweight, budget-friendly paddle, but this one has a few more features. The Leader Accessories Marine paddle is constructed of the same aluminum and plastic as the SeaSense, but also has rubber grips included.

The lightweight aluminum shaft and plastic blades make it easy to handle and paddle for long periods of time. However, those materials don’t make for a particularly durable paddle, and there’s a chance you’ll end up stranded after bending it or snapping off one of the blades.

The rubberized grips on this paddle seem like a good idea and an improvement over hard plastic ones or a slippery aluminum shaft. However, the friction they exert on your hands will cause blisters in no time, so wearing gloves with this paddle is almost a necessity.

The blades can be set parallel or at two different feathering positions for paddling in strong winds. The blades are curved to give a stronger push-off and more power with each stroke, though the lightweight materials preclude you from paddling very aggressively.

This paddle is made for those just getting into the sport, and it’s a good choice for that market. However, the lightweight construction and uncomfortable grips will disappoint anyone with experience or the desire to kayak in rough waters.

​What We Liked:

  • Inexpensiv​​​​e
  • Lightweight

​What We Didn't Like:

  • Rubber grips will cause blisters without gloves
  • Blade flexes too much
  • Paddle is not very durable

Bending Branches Whisper 2-Piece Snap-Button Paddle Review

Bending Branches is one of the most popular makers of kayak paddles, and for good reason; they make high-quality paddles without being overly expensive. The ​
Bending Branches Whisper 2-Piece Snap-Button Kayak Paddle is a great example of their products, made with a durable aluminum shaft. Its long-lasting plastic blades also perform better than their competitors’ paddles constructed from the same materials.

The blade is the highlight of this paddle. It’s got a high angle that can control the boat with ease in rough conditions when used by experienced paddlers. There’s very little flutter in it, so you’ll get maximum power out of each stroke.

The shaft is another strong point, made of thicker aluminum than other paddles, which makes it slightly heavier but also less likely to bend. It’s also oval-shaped, allowing for a more comfortable grip.

The handgrip areas are unpadded, which is a little bit of a disappointment, but there’s a coating on them to keep your hands from slipping. The other downside of this paddle is the cheap ferrule that holds the two pieces of the shaft together. It gets loose with time, and eventually makes for weaker strokes.

Still, the Whisper is an extremely popular paddle for a reason. The shaft and blades, though aluminum and plastic, are designed to be strong without getting too pricey.

​What We Liked:

  • ​​​​​Shaft is oval-shaped for more comfortable grip
  • ​The high-angle blade shape is great for quick acceleration and control
  • ​The blade material doesn’t bend and won’t snap

​What We Didn't Like:

  • ​The locking mechanism between the two sections is weak
  • It’s hard to put the two sections together
  • ​The shaft has no padding, just a grippy surface

​Bending Branches ​Angler Scout 2-Piece Snap-Button Paddle Review

This is another great paddle from Bending Branches, but this one’s made with anglers in mind. Its quality two-piece construction and strong blades make it a great choice to use with a fishing kayak.

The Bending Branches Angler Scout Paddle shaft has the comfortable oval shaped-handgrip area that’s present in most Bending Branches paddles. The handgrips do not have any padding though, so you might want to wear gloves to prevent blisters and to give yourself a better grip on the shaft. Fortunately, this paddle doesn’t seem to have the weak ferrule problem seen on some other Bending Branches paddles.

The blades are fiberglass-reinforced, making them incredibly tough and capable of pushing you off the rocks in your favorite fishing hole. One blade has a hook retrieval system, which is a small notch you can use to unsnag your line if it gets caught on something.

There’s a tape measure along the shaft for measuring the length of fish you catch. It’s a cool feature, but the numbers wear off pretty quickly, so don’t let this be a deciding factor in purchasing the paddle. Some users report that a little polyurethane spray will keep them from coming off.

​What We Liked:

  • ​​​​Tape measure for gauging the size of your fish
  • ​Very strong, heavy construction
  • ​Hook retrieval system

​What We Didn't Like:

  • Numbers on the tape measure wear off easily
  • Price is moderately high
  • ​Handgrips have no padding

​Carlisle Expedition Fiberglass Touring Kayak Paddle Review

The ​Carlisle Expedition Fiberglass Touring Kayak Paddle is a great choice for long-distance paddlers, people who want to paddle for several hours a day and don’t need a heavy paddle weighing them down. It’s very lightweight, but that comes with a higher price tag than many other paddles.

The shaft splits into two pieces, but it doesn’t allow you to feather the blade angle. Some users have also complained that it’s difficult to connect the two shaft pieces, though this can be remedied by dipping them in water before assembly; it’s just the nature of fiberglass construction.

The paddle does wobble a little bit when you’re paddling really forcefully. It may be made of fiberglass, but it can only be pushed so far before you notice some flimsiness. A much more expensive paddle (one made of carbon fiber) would be necessary to avoid this problem.

 If you’re looking for a really lightweight paddle, perhaps for long touring expeditions, but want something more durable than flimsy aluminum or hard plastic, this is a good choice.

​What We Liked:

  • ​​​​Lightweight
  • ​Incredibly tough

​What We Didn't Like:

  • Not cheap
  • ​Cannot feather the blades
  • ​Can be difficult to connect the two shaft pieces


Differences in Kayak Paddles

A lot goes into choosing a kayak paddle, and you’ll need to do some thinking beforehand about where and how you plan to use it. The right paddle for kayak fishing might not be the right one for long-distance touring trips. Here are the attributes that are most important when choosing the best kayak paddle.

Length

Paddles come in different lengths, and the right length for you is determined by three factors: your height (and associated arm span), the width of your boat, and your paddling style. Most paddles are somewhere between 210 and 260 centimeters long.

Paddler Height

Your arm span is important when selecting a kayak paddle because people with longer arms will feel more comfortable with a longer paddle. They also have a more efficient stroke with the hands father apart, compared to people with shorter arms.

Boat Width

Secondly, you have to consider the width of your boat; many sea kayaks are rail-thin and having a longer paddle is just annoying, as an efficient stroke would have you dipping the blade as close to the boat as possible. On the other hand, a wide touring boat will require a longer paddle, since the extra length is needed to clear the sides of the kayak on each stroke.

Paddling Style

This last factor comes into play because kayakers who paddle more aggressively dip their paddle blade into the water at a higher angle, making a shorter paddle feel easier to control. Kayakers who prefer a more leisurely pace will want a longer paddle they can dip in from a lower angle, which will be more comfortable.


Materials

Ideally, you’ll want a kayak paddle that is both lightweight and strong. Heavier paddles are exhausting to use, and weak blades can break and leave you stranded. However, we all have to choose our gear with a budget in mind, and trade-offs need to be made.

Plastic Blade/Aluminum Shaft

These are the kinds of paddles you’ll most commonly find packaged with entry-level kayaks. The blades are relatively lightweight, but are prone to breaking, especially in the cold.

The aluminum shaft can feel cold and uncomfortable during long trips, and unlike more expensive paddles, they have no flex. If you paddle aggressively in rough waters, the shaft might bend, and it’s pretty much ruined at that point. They’re inexpensive though; if you lose it one in a particularly violent wet exit, you won’t be that sad – except now you don’t have a paddle for the rest of the day…

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is a great middle-of-the-road choice; it’s lightweight and flexible, but also strong. There are very few downsides to it, and it only costs a bit more than a plastic/aluminum model.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is the top-end, and you’ll notice the difference after a long day of paddling with one. They’re incredibly lightweight, feel great in your hands, and even have that cool, high-performance look.

If you have the money, a carbon fiber paddle is a great option, but if you don’t, a fiberglass one won’t break the bank and still has many of the same advantages.


Shaft

Bent vs. Straight

The majority of paddles have a straight shaft, but some kayakers prefer a shaft that has slight bends near the handgrips. Some find the angle more comfortable, and it can reduce joint problems in those with pre-existing pain.

Shape

Shafts can also be round or slightly oval-shaped. The oval shape is more comfortable to most kayakers, and some paddles have an oval-shaped handgrip as well.

Sections

Most kayak paddle shafts are made of either one or two pieces. Whitewater paddles are one-piece to make them rigid enough to deal with the stresses of rough waters. Touring paddles are usually two-piece and are still quite rigid, though inexpensive models may have a thin connection between the two sections, leading them to wobble.

Four-section paddles are also available for paddlers who need a lot of pack-ability, such as when using inflatable or folding kayaks that can be stored in a backpack. They have the most flex, but it’s a trade-off for being able to pack down so small.


Blade Type

There are two types of kayak paddle blades, Euro and Greenland. Most people start out with a Euro blade and some will transition to the more traditional Greenland, but it’s mostly a matter of personal preference.

Euro Blade

These are the most commonly seen paddle blades, with a roughly ovoid-shape that may or may not be feathered. The only downside to the Euro design is that they are more difficult to roll with.

Euro blades are a good choice for most paddlers because they can quickly provide a lot of power. There’s a large surface area concentrated at the end of the paddle, which acts as a lever to push you through the water.

Greenland Blade

The Greenland has a long but comparatively narrow blade that extends about a third of the way up the paddle shaft. They’re straight, symmetrical, and modeled on the traditional paddles of the indigenous people who first used kayaks.

Their biggest advantage to these paddles is that they’re easy to roll with. They have a longer, buoyant edge, which makes the motion of performing a kayak roll feel more natural. The downside is that they’re more difficult to get forward motion with, and they don’t feel as responsive. They also can’t be used to make a “dig” on one side to accelerate and turn you around.

Greenland paddles are not a good choice for beginners, but can be adeptly handled by more experienced kayakers who want a traditional feel and are more concerned with executing an effortless roll than with quick acceleration.


Feathering

Feathering is the ability to twist the paddle shaft so the blades are at offset angles, usually 60 degrees to each other. When you dip one blade into the water, the other one is making its way through the air. If that blade is at an offset angle, it presents a straight edge to the air, instead of a flat face, making it more aerodynamic and requiring less effort to paddle.

Whitewater paddles never have feathering as their purpose is to steer you through rapids, rather than provide propulsion (the river current is sufficient for that).

Most kayak paddles allow you to change the feathering angle to three positions: an offset for right-handed paddlers, an offset for left-handed, and straight. Normally you just push a metal button on the paddle shaft and twist it into the next notch to switch between them.


Choosing the Best Kayak Paddle

You should always buy the best paddle from the beginning; it’s not something you necessarily need to upgrade later. The ​Bending Branches Angler Scout Paddle is the clear winner of the paddles reviewed above, even if you have no desire to go fishing from your kayak.

The entry-level paddles are not as well made, and it’s likely you’d just end up buying another paddle later on. The Carlisle weighs less, but that doesn’t really justify the higher price tag, especially since the blades can’t be feathered.

While the hook retrieval system and shaft tape measure are a bonus for anglers, Bending Branches Angler paddle is the best choice because it’s really durable. You’ll never have to worry that the blade will snap or the shaft will bend and leave you literally up a creek without a paddle. The rigid shaft and fiberglass-reinforced blades, as well as the reasonable price, make it a solid choice for any type of kayaker.

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