After your kayak, your paddle is the second most important piece of gear you need. The kind of paddle you choose can make or mar the experience when you are out on the water.
You want to choose a paddle that provides a great balance between comfort and performance and is right for your paddling style.
As a recreational kayaker, one of the main factors you will need to take into consideration when choosing a paddle is the paddling angle or style you prefer or intend to use.
Paddling angles or styles simply refer to the angle at which the paddle’s blade makes contact with the water. There are two main angles: low angle and high angle.
Each paddling style and angle has pros and cons that might make one a better option than the other.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through the differences between high angle and low angle kayak paddles and help you figure out the one that is best for you.
Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery
- What is a High Angle Kayak Paddle?
- What is a Low Angle Kayak Paddle?
- High Angle vs Low Angle Kayak Paddle —What’s the Difference?
- Low Angle Kayak Paddle vs High Angle Kayak Paddle – Disadvantages
- Choosing the Right Paddle Length
- Torso Height Kayak Paddle Size Guide
- How to Size a Kayak Paddle in Person?
- Final Verdict
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Photo by Brett Sayles
High angle kayak paddles are used to execute high angle paddling strokes that position the paddle shaft at a vertical angle. This type of paddle usually requires a lot more effort and movement on the part of the paddler.
With high angle paddling, your top hand is raised to between your shoulder and eye level when handling the paddle, leading to more vertical strokes. The paddle’s blade breaks through the surface of the water near the sides of the kayak, propelling you to move forward more directly.
High angle paddles are designed to give you shorter and faster strokes, so you will get more speed and be able to cover a longer distance in less time.
Photo by Thilo Lehnert
A low angle kayak paddle is used for low angle paddling which requires the paddler to hold or move the paddle shaft at a horizontal and flatter angle.
When using a low angle paddle or paddling style, your upper hand rests below your shoulder level and your mid-torso creating a lower paddling stroke.
With a low angle paddle, the paddle’s active blade touches the water at a distance that’s farther away from the kayak’s edge, unlike a high angle kayak paddle.
Low angle kayak paddles are ideal for recreational kayaking in relaxed and flat waters.
There are a few characteristics that set high angle kayak paddles and low angle kayak paddles apart. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Photo by Brett Sayles
High angle kayak paddles are needed to achieve high angle strokes and they are shorter in length than low angle paddles. The length of high angle paddles ranges from 205cm to 220cm depending on how tall you are and the width of your boat.
The shorter paddle shaft gives high angle kayak paddles better rhythm and flow of movement. The vertical paddling style allows you to try more advanced techniques such as low brace turns, bow rudder, stern rudder, and cross bow stroke.
Low angle paddles are designed to provide ease while using a low angle paddling style thanks to their longer shaft. They range in length from 220cm to 250cm depending on your boat width and your height.
Due to their longer nature, your kayak might wobble a little when using low angle kayak paddles because of how the active blade travels through the water. This means that your forward movement will be a bit less direct than what you would get with high angle paddles.
Photo by Spencer Gurley Films
High angle kayak paddles come with a wider and shorter blade to provide extra support to paddlers who want more speed. They are designed to deliver high-performance paddling strokes by moving a lot of water and to withstand more aggressive float trips.
Low angle kayak paddles have narrower and longer blades than their high angle counterparts. Their blade profiles are designed to give you ease and efficiency by allowing the paddle to glide through the water more easily with each stroke.
Photo by Kevin Bidwell
There are certain needs, people, and situations that might benefit from choosing a high angle paddle, and others that might be better served with a low angle paddle. Here are some of the use cases for each type of angled paddle.
A high angle paddle is ideal for kayakers who:
- Own narrow boats that make it easier to perform high angle strokes
- Are going on a kayaking tour
- Have a more aggressive paddling style
- Love to kayak surf, go packrafting, whitewater kayaking, or kayak fishing
- Want to explore slow class 1 or 2 rivers
- Are looking to add some intensity to their performance
- Want to boost their technical paddling abilities
- Plan to go paddling in rock garden or coastal surf areas
- Are high-performance paddlers and want to cover more distance in less time
- Kayak for exercise on long flatwater trips
A low angle paddle is best suited for kayakers who:
- Own wide boats that make it easier to perform vertical strokes
- Are new to kayaking
- Enjoy recreational paddling in flatwater
- Prefer a more relaxed paddling style
- Are less concerned about paddling techniques
- Intend to go on extended multi-day flatwater trips and want to save energy
- Are experiencing pain or trouble with their back or shoulders
- Want a paddling experience that puts less strain on their body
Photo by Brett Sayles
As with most things, there are some downsides that might come into play when you opt for either a low angle or high angle paddle. Being aware of the attendant cons of each paddle style will help you make more informed purchasing decisions.
- They can put a lot of stress and fatigue on your muscles and joints so you will get sore a lot faster.
- They are not suitable for long-distance water adventures unless you have above-average fitness and can withstand the challenge.
- Unless your low angle kayak paddle is the right length, each stroke can cause it to scrape the side of your kayak, causing you to zig-zag while paddling.
Photo by Rachel Claire
Whether you are going with a high angle or low angle kayak paddle, there are two main things you will need to factor in to figure out the specific length of kayak paddle that you need: your height and your kayak width.
The taller you are and the wider your kayak is the longer the kayak paddle size or length you will need.
If you have a sea kayak or touring kayak and you use or are thinking about switching to a high angle paddling style, use this guide to figure out the appropriate paddle length for you based on your height and the width of your kayak.
|Recommended High Angle Paddle Length|
|Paddler Height Range||17″ – 23″||23″ – 25″||Over 25″|
|5’0″ – 5’6″||210cm||220cm||230cm|
|5’6″ – 6’2″||220cm||230cm||240cm|
If you have a touring, fishing, or recreational kayak and you intend to use a low angle paddling style, use this size chart to find the right paddle length for you.
|Recommended Low Angle Paddle Length|
|Paddler Height Range||Under 24″||24″ – 28″||29″ – 33″||Over 33″|
|5’0″ – 5’6″||215cm||220cm||230cm||240cm|
|5’6″ – 6’0″||220cm||220cm||230cm||250cm|
Photo by Rachel Claire
Although overall height is a good way to figure out the appropriate measurement for a kayak paddle, it’s not always the best or most accurate option. This is because people of the same height can have different proportions and different heights when they sit.
Some people carry more height in the upper part of their body—their torso—while others may have most of their height in the lower section of their body.
For this reason, you are better off using your torso height to determine the paddle length you need because that’s what actually matters when you are sitting and paddling a kayak.
To measure your torso height, get a tape measure and run it along your back starting at the top of your torso—the bony bump that sits at the base of your neck, where the slope of your shoulders meet. You can bend your head forward to feel for this bone if you are unclear about where to place your tape.
The tape should run from this bony spot to the bottom of your torso which is the top of your hip bone.
Here’s a size guide you can use to figure out the appropriate high angle or low angle kayak paddle length for you based on your torso height.
|Paddler Torso Height Range||High Angle Kayak Paddle||Low Angle Kayak Paddle|
|24″ – 28″||210cm – 215cm||215cm – 220cm|
|28″ – 30″||220cm – 230cm||230cm – 240cm|
|Over 30″||230cm||Over 230cm|
Photo by Maël BALLAND
Depending on your schedule or where you live, you may not have the opportunity to go to a kayak supply shop to buy the paddle you need. In such a situation, it’s perfectly fine to shop online.
You should have no trouble finding a paddle that works for you using the above size guides. Simply measure your overall height or torso height and the width of your kayak, then consult the sizing guides to find the recommended paddle length for your particular measurements.
But if you can afford to visit a kayak shop, the best way to figure out the perfect high angle or low angle kayak paddle size for you is to get inside your kayak and try out different sizes of paddles till you find the one.
Any good gear shop run by experienced kayakers will be able to tell the type and size of kayak paddle you need right away looking at you and your kayak.
Alternatively, if hauling around your kayak isn’t convenient, they can put you in a kayak similar to the one you own and let you test different paddles to see which one you are comfortable with.
Going to a kayak shop in person will also give them a chance to observe your paddling techniques and point out any poor paddling habits that may be affecting your performance.
At the end of the day, choosing between a high angle kayak paddle and a low angle kayak paddle comes down to your preferences, paddling style, endurance level, and the kayaking activity you intend to engage in.
For those who want to go hard and fast on the water, a high angle paddle is the better option. Beginners and those who want calm and ease while kayaking will benefit from going with a low angle paddle to avoid over-exerting themselves.