How to Size Kayak Paddles


Picking the right paddle for your next kayak trip may not be as easy as you think. There is a general rule of thumb, however, many variables are involved in getting the right paddle for your kayak. The width of the boat, the length of your torso and the type of paddling you intend to do are all factors that should be taken into consideration. The first hour of a daylong trip is the wrong time to find out your paddle doesn't really suit you.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Kayak

Rule of Thumb

  • Measure the beam of your kayak. The beam is the width of the kayak from one side to the other. Take your measurement at the center of the cockpit. If the width of your kayak is 25 inches or less and you have an average torso length, the following rule of thumb should get you close.

  • Stand paddle upright. Stand next to paddle and extend your hand to the tip of the paddle.If you can curl your fingers over the tip of the paddle, the paddle is the right length. If the base of your hand does not reach it, it is too short. If your fingers just reach the tip, it is too long.

  • Test the paddle with your kayak. Whenever possible, you should test the paddle with the kayak you will be using with the steps below.

Modifying the Rule

  • Sit in the kayak in your normal paddling posture. Take a few test strokes. You should be able to fully immerse the paddle blade in the water without leaning or striking the side of the kayak with the paddle's web.

  • Note the blade's distance from the side of the kayak. If the paddle is too long, the blade will exert force too far from the kayak's center of gravity and have a tendency to turn the craft from the intended direction of travel with every stroke.

  • Note the drag or effort required to make each stroke with the paddle. A paddle that is the right length with blades that are too large can tire you quickly on a long trip. Be sure to take the length of the trip and type of water you will be crossing.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you have a shorter than average torso and find that you need a very long paddle to clear the side of the kayak, consider using a narrower craft.
  • Kayak paddles come in several different styles for different uses, try to use the blade style suited to your purpose. A Greenland touring paddle is wonderful for long cruises on open water but gives insufficient bite for proper steering in a rapidly flowing river.

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