Articles - How To Choose the Right Canoe Paddle

How Tio Choose The Right Canoe Paddle
How Tio Choose The Right Canoe Paddle
Canoe & Kayak UK Test Team - Posted on 22 Aug 2012
Here are some top tips on things to consider when selecting a canoe paddle

How Long A Canoe Paddle Do I Need?
Choosing the right Canoe Paddle
There are various ways of judging exactly how long a canoe paddle you need to choose, and this varies from different individuals and how they’re proportioned, and depending on the purpose of the canoe paddle, i.e. whether it’s for touring or whitewater canoeing. Our resident Canoe & Kayak UK canoeing experts, though, would recommend sitting on a chair with your legs at 90 degrees to your body and with your arm straight out in front of you. Your arm should rest on top of the paddle at as close to 90 degrees as possible. This means that when you’re in the paddling position in your canoe, you’ll have just enough reach with your paddle to get in deep, powerful strokes, but you’ll maintain good control as it won’t be too long or unwieldy. If it is too short and you are forced to hunch over too much to get the strokes, your back will soon inform you of the problem in a form of a good ache.

Which Grip?
There are two main types of grip, with small degrees of variation within each. The main choice you’ll be confronted with, though, is whether you’d like a T grip of a rolling palm grip. As a general rule of hand at the high-end specialist level T grips, and pronounced T-grips at that, are favoured by whitewater canoeists: the provide a better handle for aggressive, powerful forward strokes and allow for quick transition across the deck. Palm grips are more common in touring paddles, partly because of the tradition of carving them entirely from wood, but mainly because they’re more ergonomic for long paddles and delicate manoeuvring.

Hand-Crafted Canoe Paddles
A large number of companies and individuals will make hand-crafted wooden paddles to order. The results are always beautiful, and having a paddle whittled from a branch specifically for you with all your specifications in mind will almost always be a better paddle for you than even the best production option

Canoe Paddle Materials

Wood is the canoe paddle material of choice for traditionalists and serious touring canoeists. Ranging from the reasonably priced, factory-produced options to the bespoke and beautifully hand crafted canoe paddles you can commission from a range of companies and individuals who specialise in creating unique paddles to your specifications, there is an incredible amount of choice. Once you have tried out different canoe blade shapes, shaft lengths and grips and decided what exact canoe paddle is right for you, and feel ready to invest in a specialist canoe touring paddle then you’d do well to consider one in wood; whether production or bespoke.

Carbon is the highest-performing engineered material for canoe paddles to be made out of in terms of durability against being lightweight. This also means that they’re quite naturally the most expensive of engineered materials. If you’re looking for a high-end, high-performance whitewater blade you’d probably begin by looking at carbon blades, but for anything less then that there isn’t normally the need to leap in at the deep end here.

Thermo-moulded foam makes strong, lightweight and buoyant material for paddle blades. Often a little cheaper than carbon, it is another option if you’re looking for a high-end performance paddle, particularly for whitewater canoeing.

Fibreglass: You can still expect a fairly high-performing and durable paddle buying glass, and expect also to pay a little less. There is a spectrum of quality within fibreglass blades, too, so don’t assume that they will all be the same.

You’ll only come across alloy shafts on the most budget paddles. They’re always heavier than composites, and have other disadvantages such as getting cold, something they’re more than happy to transfer to your hands!

Plastics: Many canoe paddles at the cheaper end of the spectrum have blades made from plastics and these are materials that are surprisingly good for the purpose. You do lose a little in the way of feel but plastic blades are usually fairly light and are very, very robust. handing knocks against the canoe or rocks with ease.

Check out our group canoe paddle test HERE

For canoe & canoeing gear reviews go HERE

A useful video on choosing your canoe paddle - for more great canoeing videos check out the Open Canoe Section on Canoe & Kayak TV HERE

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