Canoe Paddle Selector

Canoe Paddle Selector

Are you looking for the best canoe paddle and need help choosing between all the different options?  You have come to the right place!  Let's dive right into the details.


The paddle is a great place to invest a little extra money.  It is your connection to the water, controlling your boat's direction and propelling you to your destination. Price in canoe paddles is mainly dictated by materials and quality of craftmanship.  Below are the common paddle materials from most to least expensive.

Carbon Fiber $$$
Fiberglass & Wood $$
Aluminum Shafts $
Plastic Blades $

There are also minor choices that alter the price of a canoe paddle.  A bent shaft adds about 10% to the cost compared to a straight paddle.  A larger blade adds to the price slightly.  Quality wood blades are wrapped in fiberglass for durability, but more economical wood paddles are just coated with epoxy or varnish.

Paddle Shafts

Straight Shaft: The most powerful part of the stroke is when the blade is vertical in the water.  At this point all of your energy will be used to pull the canoe forward. The blade on a straight paddle will be vertical near the beginning of the stroke, when the blade is in front of the canoeist. Throughout the rest of the stroke the straight paddle is starting to angle up and out of the water.  So you are lifting the water slightly, making the stroke less efficient. 

It is easier to turn a canoe with a straight paddle, both when using corrective strokes or when using your paddle as a rudder. 

Straight paddles are great for:

  • technical waters. 
  • stern paddlers. 
  • solo canoeists.*

* Bow paddlers also often prefer a straight paddle for it's ease of use and intuitive turning.

Bent Shaft: A bent shaft paddle bends forward about 11 degrees at the junction of the shaft and blade.  The logo usually faces the bow of the canoe. 

This bend in the paddle moves the most powerful part towards the middle of the stroke.  At this point your top hand is level with your shoulder, reducing fatigue. The bent shaft also extends the time when the paddle is vertical in the water, producing more power throughout the stroke.  On the downside, turning a canoe is less intuitive with a bent shaft.

Bent shaft canoe paddles are great for:

  • flat water.
  • long trips.
  • bow paddlers.*

* Stern paddlers often use bent shaft paddles too, especially when travelling long distances at speed on flat water.

Shaft Material: 

Every time a shaft flexes it wastes energy.  Every extra ounce adds up.  The further you go the more you will appreciate a paddle with a high stiffness to weight ratio.

Carbon fiber is by far the stiffest and lightest option. If you want to save energy and go fast the higher price tag is worth it.   Carbon shafts are smooth and almost soft to the touch.  Carbon fiber is also excellent against fatigue failure, so barring any impact they will last a very long time.

Wood shafts are a durable and beautiful classic option, but the solid shaft is relatively heavy.  Wood shafts are a great choice for recreational, youth and expedition paddlers; or someone looking for a paddle to last a long time.

Fiberglass shaft canoe paddles are stiffer and lighter than wood, but heavier and more flexible than carbon.

Aluminum shafts are impact resistance and the most economical option.  However, aluminum is the heaviest option and prone to fatigue failure over time.


Size: The larger the surface area of a blade, the more water it is pushing against and in turn the more power you can generate with each stroke.  That also means bigger blades are more tiring to use.  Therefore, you see marathon and excursion paddlers with small blades using a high cadence.  Yet whitewater canoeists and short distance paddlers often use large blades.  They rely on the large surface area to generate a lot of power quickly.

Blade Profile

Shape:  A tear drop shaped blade with square tips ("Sugar Island" profile) is more efficient for paddling.  It is quiet and smooth at entry and exit.  They have less surface area and in turn are less fatiguing. 

The advantages of the long "Beavertail" blade are their ability to steer and generate more power.  As you turn your paddle to straighten out the canoe, more blade is in the water to initiate the turn.  This makes Beavertail paddles excellent for solo and stern canoeists.  Keep in mind with the increased blade length you need deeper water to get the whole blade below surface, and it requires more work per stroke.  You will notice solo canoeists with a Beavertail paddle take long slow strokes with an exaggerated turn at the end to keep the boat on course.

Material:  Blade material choices are carbon fiber, wood, fiberglass and plastic.  Carbon fiber is again the lightest, most efficient and expensive option.  Carbon fiber is prone to crack failure due to high impact.  So if you go with a carbon fiber blade extra caution needs to be taken in rocky waters.  Don't push off of rocks with it to get away from shore. Carbon fiber blades dominate the market amongst racers and deep water users. 

Wood blades are beautiful.  When properly wrapped with fiberglass and an edge guard a wood blade will last a very long time.  They are slightly heavier than carbon fiber. Fiberglass are again in between wood and carbon fiber on durability, stiffness and weight.  Plastic blades are heavy, cheap and durable.  They also flex a lot which in turn wastes your energy and reduces responsiveness.


Canoe Paddle Grips

Two style grips dominate the canoe market.  One in particular, the palm grip.  It sets comfortably in the palm of your hand for countless hours.  The larger area distributes the pressure across your palm, allowing you to push the top of the paddle forward easily. 

On the contrary, you wrap your hand around the T-grip handle making it easier to turn with the help of your thumb.  Often you will find these on whitewater paddles or those made for technical waters.


Paddle length is measured with the blade on the floor and the shaft vertical.  Paddle length is from the floor to the top of the handle.  There is no method to choose paddle length that works for everyone in every canoe.  Paddle length ultimately becomes a personal preference. 

What are the symptoms of incorrect paddle length?  Too short and you will be overreaching, or the paddle will be skimming the surface and you will not get proper power.  Too long and the paddle will be completely submerged throughout the entire stroke, inefficiently wasting energy as you battle to keep it from wobbling at the start and end.   Paddlers who travel long distances prefer to keep their top hand lower to reduce fatigue.  Whereas, others who want a more powerful stroke will have a longer paddle where their top hand is higher, increasing their leverage.

So how do you know what is the best length?  It depends on two factors primarily.  First is the length of your torso, second is the distance from your canoe seat to the water line. 

Method #1

Ideally, the best way to measure would be to sit in your canoe, while on the water, and loaded with a normal amount of weight including other paddler(s). 

Straight Paddle: You want your paddle just fully submerged at the beginning of your stroke where the blade is vertical.  The blade will slightly in front of you. When using a straight paddle your top hand should be level with your nose. 

Bent Shaft Paddle: The paddle should be just fully submerged and vertical at the middle of your stroke with a bent shaft paddle. Your top hand should be level with your shoulder because you are further into your stroke. This shorter distance to reach results in about a 4" shorter bent paddle being needed when compared to a straight shaft. 

Method #2

If you can't get on the water an estimate can be made by sitting in a chair and measuring the distance from the chair to your nose.  Take this distance in inches, and add 22" for a bent shaft and 26" for a straight paddle.  Remember, the difficulty here is every canoe has different seat heights relative to the water line.  It also depends on the weight of paddlers and their gear. 

NOTE: If you are using a beavertail blade, add an additional 2-4" inches to accommodate the longer blade that should be completely submerged when the blade is vertical in the water.

Torso Length Bent Shaft Paddle Length Straight Paddle Length
26" 26"+22"=48"  26"+26"=52"
28" 50" 54"
30" 52" 56"
32" 54" 58"
34" 56" 60"

Photos Courtesy of Bending Branches

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