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Best kayak paddles for touring and exploring coastlines, rivers and lakes

Sep 01, 2023Sep 01, 2023

We take a look at the best kayak paddles for powering along during aquatic adventures from cruisy sea kayaking and estuary escapades to rowdy river runs

After choosing the best kayak for your on-water adventures and escapades, the next biggest decision is what kayak paddle to power it with. And no matter whether you’re a touring sea kayaker, a white-water paddler or perhaps a surfski racer, there are plenty of paddle designs to choose from, with shafts and blades made with various materials, all offering a different range of features.

What makes the best kayak paddle for you will depend on your paddling preferences. Sometimes kayak brands and retailers throw in a cheap paddle as part of the package when you buy an inflatable boat, but as you get more experienced on the water, it will become increasingly important that you choose the best paddle for the kind of kayaking you do.

The length of the shaft and the size and shape of the blade are key decisions, but other factors to consider include whether you need a left or right or left-handed paddle, would you prefer a single-piece paddle or one that splits into two or more sections? Do you want a straight shaft or a bent one? Would you prefer the blades to be straight or feathered, and if the latter, at what angle? See below for more information about these considerations.

A lightweight, 2-piece, carbon paddle with an excellent locking system

• Lengths: 200cm/205cm/225cm/230cm/235cm/240cm/245cm/250cm/255cm/260cm• Blade size: 16.5 x 46cm / 6.5 x 18in• Weight: 815g/28.75oz• Blade style: Low angle, flatwater paddle• Design: 2-piece• Materials: 100% carbon shaft, carbon & nylon blade

Reasons to buy: Ovalized shaft; Lightweight; Flexible

Reasons to avoid: Expensive; Shaft length can't be altered; Carbon can be brittle

Updated this year, this perennially popular kayak paddle is ideal for swift and efficient flatwater kayaking. The completely carbon shaft and composite carbon-and-nylon blades make it extremely lightweight, so you can paddle further and faster, and for longer periods of time, without your arms and shoulders getting exhausted.

This is a two-piece paddle, and the collar-style Posi-Lok ferrule locking system is top class, providing a reliable and secure connection, and allowing you to adjust the angle of your blades in marked 15-degree increments (so you can quickly change the set up according to conditions). It is undeniably an investment, but this is a robust paddle that will (with a bit of care) last for many years.

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A highly versatile, low-angle, 2-piece touring paddle

• Lengths: 205cm to 260cm in 5cm increments• Blade size: 52cm x 16.5cm• Weight: 761g / 26.75oz• Blade style: Low-angle touring paddle• Shaft design: 2-piece, straight• Materials: Carbon / carbon-blend shaft and fiberglass blades

Reasons to buy: Lightweight; Midsize blades mean max versatility; Rigid, dihedral-shaped, fiberglass blades; Available in lots of colors

Reasons to avoid: Expensive; Shaft length can't be altered

Named after an island in Puget Sound, Washington, close to where the Werner story started, the Camano is a very popular two-piece kayak paddle from one of the most highly regarded brands in the business.

Available with a standard or small diameter shaft, the sturdy Smart View Adjustable collar-style ferrule allows the paddler to adjust the feather angle. The Camano features fiberglass blades for high-performance stiffness on the forward stroke.

They are midsized blades, for maximum versatility, and dihedral shaped to improve water flow off the paddle and prevent flutter. The stats given here are for a straight paddle, but the Camano is also available with a neutral bend shaft option.

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A two-piece paddle with high-angle blades for fast-paced paddling in surfzones

• Length: Adjustable from 220cm to 240cm• Blade Size: 600cm2• Weight: 992g/35oz• Blade style: High-angle touring paddle• Shaft design: Two-piece straight• Materials: Carbon blend shaft, fiberglass-reinforced nylon blade

Reasons to buy: Adjustable length shaft; Good price; Versatile; Powerful

Reasons to avoid: High angle blade shape won't suit everyone

The Origin has high-angle blades offering a big punch of power with each stroke, making it better suited to fairly experienced and fit paddlers looking for a high level of performance on the water.

A highly responsive but reasonably versatile kayak paddle, it can be used for short tour or more technical paddling, such as rock hopping or surfing. Because the shaft length can be altered with a flip of a lever, people of different heights can use the same paddle. The angle of feather can also be adjusted easily in the same way.

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Reasonably priced touring paddle with high-angle blades

• Length: 220cm / 230cm / 240cm• Blade Size: 17.78cm x 44.45cm / 7 x 17.5in• Weight (220cm): 1128g / 39.8oz• Blade style: High-angle touring paddle• Shaft design: Two piece, straight• Materials: Fiberglass shaft, fiberglass-filled polypropylene blades

Reasons to buy: Excellent price; Facilitates a really powerful stroke; Great back-up paddle

Reasons to avoid: Limited lengths available; Shaft length can't be altered; Heavier than some others

Not only are the blades high angled on the Magic Plus, they are also asymmetrical and slightly spoon shaped, which gives you serious power in each stroke. With a bit of extra weight in the paddle, this might not be the best for long days of laid-back touring or expedition-length escapades, but for adventures in rowdier water or more technical conditions, when you need something that really packs a punch, this could be perfect.

With a two-piece fibreglass shaft, it's still reasonably light, and also makes for a great back-up paddle too. It can be set up with anything from a neutral to a 60-degree feather, and suits left and right handed paddlers.

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A good paddle for beginner kayakers still working out their paddling preferences

• Length: 210cm / 220cm / 230cm /240cm• Blade Size: 17 x 46cm / 6.75 x 18in• Weight: 1,049g / 37oz• Blade style: Entry level, low angle touring paddle• Shaft Design: Two-piece, straight• Materials: Aluminum shaft, polypropylene blade

Reasons to buy: Good price; Ergonomic handgrips on shaft; Feathering possible; Handy back-up paddle

Reasons to avoid: Heavier than other paddles; Can only be feathered to three angle settings; Snap button connection systems can degrade over time due to saltwater exposure; Aluminum shaft and plastic blade less performance orientated; Can't adjust length

Featuring an aluminum shaft and plastic blade, this is a much more affordable paddle ideal for beginners and those who are still working out what their real requirements are for the kind of kayaking they most enjoy. The blade is more low angle than high, which lends itself well to relaxed, low intensity paddling.

The shaft features two hand grips, which will make paddling more comfortable, especially on bigger outings, encouraging newcomers to the activity to do it more often and to put in longer sessions, all of which will help them progress with the pursuit.

The blades can be angled between 0° to 60° (left or right) with a three-hole snap button system, so you can get a feel for what kind of feathering (if any) suits your paddle stroke. Once kayakers progress to a more advanced paddle, the Whisper makes a great back-up paddle.

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A top-end, bent-shaft premium paddle for serious kayakers

• Length: 205cm / 210cm / 215cm / 220cm• Blade size: 46 x 18cm / 18 x 7in• Weight: 719g / 25oz• Blade style: High angle, mid sized• Shaft design: Two-piece, bent• Materials: Carbon Dynel Reinforced

Reasons to buy: Very light; Ergonomically comfortable (for some people); Offers top-end performance; Shaft available in standard or small diameter

Reasons to avoid: Bent shaft not comfortable for everyone; High angle blade and other specs make this inappropriate for inexperienced paddlers; Length not adjustable; Expensive

For experienced paddlers looking for absolute top-end performance levels and premium comfort, this bent shaft kayak paddle is a great – albeit large – investment, which will provide many years of on-water enjoyment.

All the materials and design features are top class; you can easily and quickly choose and change the angle of feather (with the smart-view adjustable ferrule system) according to preference and conditions, and paddle for hours on end in comfort with the ergonomically designed bent shaft.

Not everyone gets on with a bent shaft, however, so it's worth trying one out before you fork out all that cash (the Cyprus is also available with a straight shaft). The blades are high angled, for good responsiveness, but mid-sized and designed with a dihedral and asymmetrical shape to avoid fatigue.

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An innovative paddle offering both straight and bent-shaft feel and high performance at a low price

• Length: 210cm / 220cm / 230cm / 240cm• Blade size: 18 x 45.7cm / 7.1 x 18in• Weight: 957g / 33.25oz• Blade style: Mid angle, versatile touring• Shaft design: Two-piece, straight (but with grips offering bent shaft ergonomics)• Materials: Carbon shaft, FR Nylon blades

Reasons to buy: Offers straight and bent shaft performance and feel; Mid angle blade increases versatility; Great materials at an excellent price; Feathering possible

Reasons to avoid: Length is not adjustable

The great thing about this smart paddle is that, via some cleverly designed handgrips, it offers users the choice of whether to opt for a straight or a bent shaft (with some kayakers preferring the latter for ergonomic reasons).

At this choice comes at a really cheap cost – most bent shaft paddles are premium products, with a large price tag. The materials used in this paddle are high end too, especially the carbon shaft, so it represents a real bargain.

It is a two-piece paddle, and the ferrule has a kingpin connection that offers feathering at 0°, 30°, 60° and 90° angles, with right and lefthand blade settings.

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The perfect first whitewater kayak paddle

• Length: 194cm / 197cm / 200cm• Blade size: 680cm sq• Weight (197cm): 1225g / 43oz• Blade style: High-angle for whitewater performance• Shaft design: One-piece straight with 45° right-hand feather• Materials: Glass fibre shaft, reinforced nylon blades

Reasons to buy: Good price; Ovalised shaft for comfort; Large high-angle blade for maximum responsiveness; Dihedral design on blade to shed water fast; Length and feather can be customised

Reasons to avoid: Set length (customized versions available); Set feather angle (customized versions available); One colour blade only (lime for the G5); Designed for right-handed paddlers

For those keen to start kayaking on feistier water, tackling rapids and technical runs, the Maverick G1 is an ideal paddle to start off with. It has large, high-angled blades, which facilitate quick turns, but the dihedral design also reduces shudder when you dig deep.

Available in three lengths, it has a 45° right-hand feather, but can also be ordered in other lengths, and with other feathering angles, if you know what you need. The Palm Maverick range spans several models, with the G5 being the premium paddle – others include the 2-piece G1 and the budget-priced aluminium G1 (£65).

The colours might not be to everyone's taste, but they do make the paddles highly visible and easier to find if (OK, let's face it, when) you let go of it after an unintentional swim.

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A performance-orientated, big scoop wing paddle designed for racing and high-intensity training

• Length: Adjustable• Blade size: 16.4 x 50cm / 6.5 x 19.7in• Weight: Club Carbon 737g/26oz; Full Carbon 680g / 24oz• Blade style: High volume wing• Shaft design: Two-piece, racing• Materials: Club Carbon or Full Carbon

Reasons to buy: Super lightweight; Adjustable length and feather; Facilitates fast paddling

Reasons to avoid: Race-orientation not right for recreational paddlers; Expensive

It's all about going forward as fast as possible with wing paddles, which are firmly focused on providing high performance to competitive people engaged in racing or fitness-orientated kayaking or surfski paddling.

And the Epic Mid Wing is one of the best in this category, available in a range of increasingly high-end set ups from the entry level (but still pricey) Club Carbon construction through to the premium ProGrip Series, which are 100% carbon and come with all the bells and whistles.

Getting your feathering right is extra important when you’re jostling for position and looking for maximum energy return for invested effort, but Epic's trademark Length-Lock 2 adjustable ferrule technology offers complete versatility to angle the blades how you want them, as well as providing a really secure lock that won't let you down mid race.

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A four-piece kayak paddle perfect for use with collapsible and inflatable kayaks

• Length: 220-230cm• Blade style: Mid angle• Shaft design: Four-piece, straight• Materials: Fiberglass shaft, ABS plastic blades

Reasons to buy: Very easy to pack and carry; Adjustable length and feather; Versatile blade design

Reasons to avoid: Four-piece construction does compromise performance to some extent; Materials not high-end; Snap button connection systems can degrade over time due to saltwater exposure

If you have invested in a collapsible or inflatable kayak, it may have come with a kit paddle, which probably has a metal shaft and very basic blades – these are functional enough for your first few outings, but if you’re serious about using your kayak to go exploring and you want to enjoy the aquatic experiences such versatile boats open up, then it's well worth investing in a better kayak paddle.

With a four-piece fiberglass shaft, this paddle from the makers of the original origami kayak offers a really decent level of performance, while still being super packable and easy to store and transport. You can adjust the feathering angle, and the blades are mid angled, for maximum versatility no matter what kind of paddling you are doing.

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Before making a purchase, it's important to understand a few things so you can choose the best kayak paddle for you. Most importantly, you need a paddle that suits the style of kayaking you most often do, and the boat you have – you can buy the best low-angle touring paddle on the planet, or a wicked wing paddle, but neither will be much good if you intend on going whitewater kayaking.

The following considerations are things to think about – all styles and designs have their pluses and minuses, and what makes the perfect kayak paddle changes according to who is holding it, where they are and what they want to do while on the water.

The big plus to having a one-piece paddle was always the advanced performance level a single-section shaft would offer, because, with no connection area, you won't experience any movement or weakness.

As connection and locking systems have improved massively over the years, this has become less of a concern, and the benefits of having a split paddle (ease of transport and storage, the ability to change the angle of feather to suit various conditions, and even the overall length of the shaft so people of different sizes can use the paddle) now vastly outweigh the drawbacks. For this reason, most products featured here are two-piece paddles.

Carlisle Magic Plus Paddle

All that said, the quality of connecting and locking systems does vary a lot – they’re not all brilliant, so check this element carefully. Also, whitewater paddles are put under much more stress than touring paddles, and one-piece paddles are best for running rapids and technical rivers.

If you have a collapsible or inflatable kayak, it can be beneficial to have a four-piece paddle, which is even easier to transport (generally speaking, though, performance levels, strength and structural integrity will diminish the more sections you have in the shaft of your paddle).

When paddles are feathered, it means the blades are off-set from the neutral position (a paddle with neutral or 0-degree angle would lie on the floor with both blades flat on the ground, but once you start feathering the paddle, one of the blades would point up off the ground – to what extent depends on the angle you go with, but say it was 90 degrees, while one blade was completely flat on the floor, the opposite blade would be stood fully upright on its edge).

Many people, especially those who have been paddling for some time, find it easier to perform repeated forward strokes with a paddle that is feathered, because it requires less repeated movement in the wrists (which can get very painful if you paddle a lot).

A feathered paddle also promotes a good, efficient stroke, using your core instead of your arms to power along. Most modern two-piece paddles feature a ferrule (the device that joins the sections of the shaft) that allows you to feather the paddle at, for example, + or – 30, 60 or 90 degrees (the + or – bit comes into play depending on whether you’re left or right handed, as determined by which hand you use as the ‘control’ when padding).

The benefits of feathering are much debated and seemingly quite subjective – the best angle for you will depend partly on your preference and paddling style, but also on the conditions (feathering can really help when paddling into wind). You may prefer to have the blades angled the same way all the time, whether neutral or feathered, but it's good to be able to adjust the angle if desired.

The blades on kayaking paddles come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but two descriptions you will see and hear a lot are low-angle paddles and high-angle paddles. Very simply, a low angle paddle blade is longer and thinner, and such a design is perfect for people who primarily want to tour on flattish water at a fairly relaxed pace, where forward-moving efficiency is more important that making quick turns.

A high-angle paddle is squarer and shorter, and this shape is better for strong paddlers and those taking on more technical water, where you need the boat to be highly responsive.

There are various iterations in between these two basic designs – some low angled paddles will be more concaved, with the most extreme example of this being the wing paddle, which is has a large volume scoop like a big spoon, ideal for powering straight ahead very fast, but not so good for backpaddling or making quick turns.

Another consideration is whether to go for a paddle with symmetrical blades (where the shape is exactly the same on either side of the shaft) or asymmetrical blades, where the top half of the blade is longer than the bottom.

Symmetrical blades are better for beginners and are also used by whitewater paddlers looking for instant reaction when they put in a stroke. By contrast, with an asymmetrical design, the blade goes deeper into the water and gives you more purchase on each stroke, so these are favoured by experienced touring kayakers.

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