All kayak paddles are not created equal. There is a surprising amount of variety in the market for the tool that provides locomotion for your kayak, so knowing about the different types of kayak paddles will help you choose a model that suits your paddling needs.
From long to short and heavy to ultralight, you will find kayak paddles on all ends of the spectrum (plus everywhere in between!). The good news is that they all have somewhat of a ‘best use’, or a type of kayaking that they work better for than others.
If you are new to kayaking, for example, a bent shaft paddle is probably going to look and feel pretty weird. As you gain experience, however, you will learn about the scenarios in which this type of kayak paddle is easier to use and much more efficient than others.
The purpose of putting this guide together is to help you learn as much about kayak paddles as possible without you having to learn it the hard way. So we will highlight 15 different types of kayak paddles and suggest some practical applications for all of them.
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- 16 Different Types of Kayak Paddles 2021
- Jargon Buster
- Kayak Paddle Shaft Materials
Different Types of Kayak Paddles 2021
- 1. Low-Angle Paddles
- 2. High-Angle Paddles
- 3. Paddles with Plastic or Nylon Blades
- 4. Paddles with Fiberglass Blades
- 5. Paddles with Carbon Fiber Blades
- 6. Paddles with Asymmetrical Blades
- 7. Paddles with Dihedral Blades
- 8. Straight Shaft Paddles
- 9. Bent Shaft Paddles
- 10. Two-Piece Paddles
- 11. Four-Piece Paddles
- 12. Single-Piece Paddles
- 13. Paddles with Small-Diameter Shafts
- 14. Paddles with Matched Blades
- 15. Paddles with Feathered Blades
- 16. Paddles for Kayak Fishing
- How To Get The Most Out Of Your Kayak Paddle
- Final Thoughts
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- Low Angle Paddles
- High Angle Paddles
- Paddles with Plastic or Nylon Blades
- Paddles with Fiberglass Blades
- Paddles with Carbon Fiber Blades
- Paddles with Asymmetrical Blades
- Paddles with Dihedral Blades
- Straight Shaft Paddles
- Bent Shaft Paddles
- Two-Piece Paddles
- Four-Piece Paddles
- Single-Piece Paddles
- Paddles With Small-Diameter Shaft
- Paddles With Matches Blades
- Paddles With Feathered Blades
- Paddles For Kayak Fishing
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We are going to be explaining many different facets of kayak paddle design and kayak locomotion in this article. These terms, however, will be commonly used throughout, so it will be really helpful if we take a second to clearly define them.
The shaft of your kayak paddle is the tubular section that connects the two blades at either end. This is where you place your hands while paddling and it can either be a single-piece, two-pieces, or four-pieces.
The blades provide the power and directional control for your kayak. They are glued to the ends of your paddle shaft and spend most of their time pushing or pulling water along the edges of your kayak to control your direction and move you forward or backward.
Feathering refers to the adjustments to the blade angle that some kayak paddles allow you to make. With a non-feathered (also known as matched) paddle, both blades will be facing directly upward at the same angle when you are holding your paddle.
With two-piece paddles, however, the blade angles can be changed so that one blade points directly upward and the other points slightly more towards either the bow or stern of your kayak.
Depending on your preference, feathering your kayak paddle’s blades can give you either left-hand or right-hand steering control.
Drip guards are the small, circular pieces of rubber that encircle the shaft of your kayak paddle. They are designed to be placed at the far ends of your paddle shaft where the blades connect.
The purpose of drip guards is to stop water that drips from the blades towards the center of the shaft and cause it to fall back into the water outside of your kayak instead of falling into your lap in the cockpit.
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Because there is so much variety among kayak paddles, we need to add a brief description before we get into the different types to explain a little bit about the different materials used to build the shafts of kayak paddles.
While plastic blades are very common among the most affordable kayak paddles, paddles with plastic shafts are extremely rare. That is probably because it has far too much flex to make a serviceably efficient paddle.
Aluminum is the most common material used to build budget-friendly kayak paddles. In terms of performance, paddles with aluminum shafts are reasonably durable and will serve beginners well enough.
The biggest problem with aluminum is that it can be subject to extreme temperatures. You will probably need to wear a pair of the best kayaking gloves if using a paddle with an aluminum shaft during the winter because it will get quite cold.
Conversely, an aluminum paddle shaft will heat up quickly during hot days. So just making sure you avoid leaving a kayak paddle with an aluminum shaft sitting directly in the sun will help you avoid burning your hands when you pick it up.
Kayak paddles with fiberglass and/or carbon fiber shafts are going to be the strongest, lightest, and most efficient options. They will be slightly more expensive than aluminum paddles, with carbon fiber being the most expensive material.
Paddles with fiberglass or carbon fiber shafts are usually used by only very experienced paddlers. They are common for competitive paddlers of whitewater kayaks or long-distance paddlers of touring kayaks.
Low-angle paddles are designed for relaxed, recreational paddling. The blade is purposely shaped to allow you to enjoy good control and reasonable power with minimal effort.
The low-angle paddle stroke calls on you to keep your top hand below the level of your shoulders. This keeps the shaft of your paddle at a relatively low angle (hence the name of the stroke!).
High-angle paddles are designed for more speed and maneuverability. They are usually only used by experienced paddlers because the high-angle paddle stroke is more fatiguing than the low-angle stroke.
These paddles usually have a shorter shaft and a wider blade. They are popular for whitewater kayaking because the high-angle paddle strokes allow whitewater kayaks to generate as much power as possible and maneuver quickly to avoid obstacles in the river.
High-angle paddles also feature a more tilted shaft and they are designed to keep the paddle blades closer to the edges of your kayak. That is one reason why these paddles require more precision because you are more likely to scratch or bump your knuckles against your kayak if you are not careful.
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Paddles with plastic or nylon blades are usually the most affordable options on the market. The flexibility of plastic can make these paddles less likely to snap, but flexibility reduces the paddle’s efficiency on the water.
While these paddles are reasonably durable, they are far from indestructible. If left out in the sun for too long, they can crack or just degrade in the UV light.
Paddles with fiberglass blades offer great performance and durability with a more affordable price tag than paddles with carbon fiber blades. They are in the middle of the price range in terms of all kayak paddles.
Fiberglass can make the blades on these paddles more likely to chip than plastic, but they will rarely crack entirely. The added rigidity of fiberglass also makes these paddles more efficient than those with plastic blades.
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Paddles with carbon fiber blades are going to be the most expensive options on the market these days. If you are willing to pay top dollar, however, these paddles consistently outperform the competition.
Carbon fiber paddles are super light so that you do not get fatigued as quickly as you would when paddling with another paddle. It is also extra stiff so it provides the most efficient transfer of energy with each paddle stroke.
The asymmetrical shape of the blades on these paddles is narrow and slightly shorter on one side. That shape naturally angles the blade to allow the surface area to remain more uniform as you pull it through the water.
Nowadays, most kayak paddles actually feature blades with an asymmetrical and dihedral design. That gives you the uniformity of the asymmetrical design and the smooth function of the dihedral design in one paddle.
Plus, there are also paddles with wider blades and narrower blades. Narrower blades tend to be better for long-distance paddling and wider blades are best suited to folks paddling one of the best kayaks for surfing.
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The blades on this type of paddle are easy to differentiate by the rib that runs down the center (in line with the paddle shaft). By adding this rib, water flows more smoothly over both halves (top and bottom) of the blade.
Blades without a central rib are more prone to flutter (which is when the paddle slightly shakes in your hand with every paddle stroke). A paddle that flutters a lot makes it more difficult to keep your kayak tracking in a straight line.
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These paddles look like most of the kayak paddles you have seen in your life. The shaft that connects the blades is straight and does not look like something weird hit it or the Incredible Hulk got angry when holding it.
These paddles are the ones that look like maybe there is something wrong with them. However, the kinked section of these paddles is intentionally designed to place your hands at a more comfortable angle during the power portion of your paddle stroke.
In doing so, bent shaft paddles minimize fatigue and also wear and tear on your joints. The only problem is that you will need at least a full day on the water to master the new technique when switching from a straight shaft paddle to a bent shaft paddle.
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This is the most common type of kayak paddle and the shaft comes apart at its centermost point. This makes it easier to store the paddle in a smaller area, but it also doesn’t usually have as much flex as a four-piece paddle.
Some two-piece paddles only have a single pin position at the center, but some will have multiple pins that allow you to adjust the feathering angle of the blades at the ends of the shaft.
Two-piece paddles also have fewer moving parts than four-piece paddles. Although they don’t break down as much, they have less that can get broken or go missing over the course of their lifetime.
Four-piece paddles are the preference of most travelers and they often come with inflatable kayaks because they break down to roughly a quarter of their full length. This allows them to easily fit into a compact carry bag or into the back of a small SUV.
Many four-piece paddles also come with the option for adjusting the feathering angle from the center-most joint. The only downside of these paddles is that they have more clips that can get lost or broken during their lifetime.
Plus, if you happen to lose even just one of the four sections, your paddle becomes pretty useless.
Single-piece paddles have less flex than both two-piece and four-piece paddles. They also do not have any clips that hold the sections together so there is nothing to worry about losing or breaking (other than the entire shaft itself).
You will often find single-piece paddles in shorter lengths for paddling whitewater or going with one of the best crossover kayaks. While some do have feathering adjustments at the center of the shaft, this is pretty rare for single-piece paddles.
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If you have trouble touching your index finger to your thumb when you grab a standard kayak paddle, this is the option for you. As their name suggests, the shafts on these paddles are smaller in diameter than regular kayak paddles.
For folks with smaller hands, it is easier to use this type of kayak paddle. Your hands will not become fatigued as quickly, but it is important to know that there are only two different kayak paddle diameters: standard and small.
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Paddles with matched blades are also sometimes known as unfeathered. The top edge of the blades set at the same angle when you are holding the shaft with your knuckles facing towards the sky.
While these are rarer than the type of kayak paddle we will review next, there are some paddles out there that do not allow you to adjust the angle of the blades.
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Most kayak paddles under $150 actually fall into this category. They allow you to change the relationship between the blades so that they are offset at an angle when compared to one another.
By doing so, the offset reduces the amount of wind resistance on the blade that is out of the water. Most paddles with feathered blades allow you to adjust them in 15-degree increments, but some allow almost infinite adjustments.
Paddles with feathered blades also allow for either left-hand or right-hand control. This refers to the hand that is responsible for rotating the shaft during the feathered paddle stroke.
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The last type of kayak paddle that we want to mention is made specifically for kayak fishing. If you own one of the best kayaks for river fishing or an ocean fishing kayak, you need one of these paddles.
At first sight, a kayak fishing paddle looks almost identical to a regular kayak paddle. However, these paddles will have a small notch in one of the blades that differentiates them from other paddles.
This notch is used as a line retrieval tool to help extend your reach and keep your hands cleaner when kayak fishing.
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It is hard to argue that a kayak paddle is only as good as the person using it. No matter which of these kayak paddles you choose, you need to know how to get the most out of it.
To space your hands properly on your kayak paddle, place the center of the paddle shaft on top of your head and then grab it so that your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle. This will form a rectangular shape between your arms and the paddle shaft (with your head in the middle).
Having your hands spaced evenly apart will help you generate even power with your strokes on both sides of your kayak and reduce the likelihood of your kayak drifting to one side because of uneven strokes.
As you place one blade of your paddle into the water and begin to pull it along the edge of your kayak, water builds up on the surface, becomes agitated, and then exerts an uneven pressure on the surface of the blade.
This pressure often causes the blade to flutter and, if forceful enough, can even cause the paddle to twist in your hands. Flutter and twist are larger problems with paddles with wider blades because they are more responsive to changes in the angle of your paddle blade.
To reduce and eliminate flutter and twist, you will need to employ a strong, technically sound paddle stroke. Otherwise, you can add a rib down the center of your paddle blade or create a slight dihedral cross-section to reduce the likelihood of twist and flutter.
In order to get the most out of any kayak paddle, you will need to employ the muscles in your entire upper body and not just your arms and shoulders. Many new kayakers fail to engage their core when they first begin.
When you are sitting in your kayak, your feet need to be firmly set on the molded-in footwells or adjustable foot pedals in the cockpit. This will allow you to maintain stability while also engaging your core muscles.
Now you can dip one of your paddle blades into the water while gently rotating your torso away from that side of your kayak. As you pull the blade from bow-to-stern, you will also engage your core and gently rotate towards the side of your kayak where your blade is in the water.
From there, you can simply repeat the process on the other side. It may feel slightly unnatural at first but, over time, you will find that this torso action will save you valuable energy and make your paddle strokes more efficient.
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When you are picking a kayak paddle, it is important to know that these types of kayak paddles are not mutually exclusive. For example, you could have a bent shaft paddle with plastic blades and an aluminum shaft.
You could also have a wide variety of paddles with fiberglass blades and a fiberglass shaft in two-piece, four-piece, or single-piece designs. So, in reality, there are many more than 16 different types of kayak paddles out there.
What that also means is that you can find the perfect kayak paddle for your specific needs. It also means that it can be slightly overwhelming to choose a paddle if you are new to kayaking.
By using the guiding principles we have set forth in this article, however, you will have a better idea of the right type of kayak paddle for you. Do not worry too much about choosing the perfect paddle the first time around because you can always upgrade.
Plus, the resale market for kayak paddles is pretty favorable for sellers. So you should be able to get plenty of value for your old paddle that can help you pay for a new one.
We hope that all of the information we have set forth in this guide proves useful in your process to select a new kayak paddle. As always, we also wish you the happiest and healthiest of paddle adventures during the coming season!