Once you’ve gotten your kayak, you’re still only halfway to being able to be out on the water. A paddle is the other half!
Some kayaks may come with paddles included, but if you’re looking to buy one separately, the amount of choice can we confusing.
We’ve reviewed a selection of top kayak paddle options to help you choose.
The Carlisle Magic Plus Kayak Paddle is a wonderfully light weight, comfortable, and strong paddle for anyone who is becoming serious and wants to take more trips out on the water in their kayak.
This is a good paddle for speed. It’s light and strong. The construction feels sturdy and durable. We found the balance to be good and it really helped reduce wrist fatigue on a long outing.
This paddle is about efficiency. You’ll be able to go further and faster for longer. If you’re a strong paddler or becoming a stronger paddler, this is a good piece of gear for longer trips.
We enjoyed the weight of the paddle. While light, it didn’t feel flimsy or like it was going to snap on a hard stroke.
This paddle handles well and has a comfortable grip that’s adjustable depending on your strong hand. There’s no play on the shaft, even though the paddle can be taken apart.
The one complaint we had with this paddle was that the water guards didn’t seem to work as they should have. We had a lot of water running down the shaft of the paddle, since the rings don’t seem to sit flush with the paddle. This is easily fixable with a new set of rings.
We experienced no flutter with this paddle, even in a fairly strong current. The blades are strong enough to handle being pushed off a sandbank or used as a crutch when getting out of a kayak.
With a fiberglass shaft and polypro blades comes a higher price tag, but we really enjoyed using this paddle.
The Pelican paddle is a great beginners paddle and offers some handy features. It’s durable and will help you to perform well when touring.
This paddle has an aluminum shaft and fiberglass blades. The shaft is ovalized, which will help a beginner keep their hand in the correct position.
It’s light and easy to maneuver, making it attractive for teens or beginner paddles. We found that the drip guards worked very well and kept the water running down the shaft to a minimum.
The shaft can come apart and allows you to store and transport the paddle more easily. The fitting seems to be durable and it didn’t come apart while propelling through rapids.
The rubberized grip is soft and comfortable. For someone whose hands are not used to paddling, the grip may chafe and cause blisters, but time will improve that. When it comes to blisters, the rubber is much kinder than a hard plastic shaft.
This paddle does not float, so be sure to buy a paddle attachment to keep from losing your paddle in the event of a capsize. You don’t want to be trying to right your kayak while keeping one hand occupied with a paddle.
The Pelican paddle is light, comfortable, and durable. It’s a good choice for beginners or young paddlers who want something that will really work well.
This dual-purpose paddle from Intex can be used for kayaks or as double boat oars. The blade is large and durable, which lends it more to casual cruising than speed.
This paddle is sturdy and strong. It’s a good idea to have one of these in the family for when another paddle breaks or when you need an extra pair of paddles for rafts or other water activities.
We found that the coupling tends to come loose if you don’t ensure that it’s correctly and tightly screwed on. You’ll only need to do this once or twice before it will become muscle memory.
We recommend these paddles as long lasting, durable, and versatile standbys for any household. The low price and sturdy aluminum shaft, combined with wide blades makes a powerful combination.
The drip guards worked well and the paddle floats. This makes it easier to concentrate only on your paddling and not worry about water running down your arms or the possibility of losing the paddle.
If your kids forget to attach the paddle you won’t have to buy a new one, as this one floats. You might still insist on an attachment when paddling in rapids and any river with a current that could sweep the paddles away though.
Because these paddles are so versatile, they’re a good buy for those who love to be on the water. You’ll be able to use these for rafts, row boats, kayaks, and paddle boards.
The SeaSense X-Treme II is an aluminum paddle suited to an intermediate paddler. The weight, quality, and general feel we got will be comfortable to someone who knows how to paddle efficiently.
We found the added convenience of being able to take the paddle apart to be helpful. You can more easily store and transport the two pieces. You can also take the paddle apart if you’re in a narrow channel. Both pieces float.
The diameter of the shaft is smaller than most paddles (1.25”), making it easier for people with small hands to use. We recommend this paddle to women for that reason.
The fitting on the SeaSense is sturdy and reliable. The two pieces won’t come apart while you’re using the paddle, and the aluminum shaft is strong. The durability of this paddle is ensured.
The padded handles add to the comfort and easy of maneuverability that these paddles offer. The blades dig well into the water, allowing for powerful strokes and efficient movements.
The drip guards will keep your hands mostly dry. We thought that this certainly added to our overall good experience when using this paddle.
The SeaSeanse X-Treme is an all-round good paddle that is suited to female paddlers. It makes for a great paddling experience and is easy to store and transport.
At two pairs these paddles are a bargain for the price. They are easy to assemble and can also be used for river tubing.
This Intex paddle has a plastic shaft and blade, making them perfect for kids. Although they are not flimsy, they wouldn’t stand up to a heavy punishing. We recommend using them on a quiet lake or to steer while river tubing.
We found them to be very light weight, making them easy to use for general steering and direction on the lake with an inflatable kayak.
The combination of an inflatable kayak and these paddles would make for hassle-free transport and storage. If you want to be able to throw your kid’s stuff in the back of an SUV on top of your own, these will work well.
They’re a little short for a very wide kayak, so if you have something flat (and therefore stable) these might not work. Make sure to measure before purchasing.
For light, comfortable and well-priced paddles for younger paddlers, we recommend the Intex Paddles. They’re not a long term investment, but they’ll work well for the few years that your children are at the right size to use them for river tubing and kayaking on the lake.
Your paddle length is a completely personal decision.
The general rule of thumb is to be able to stand next to the paddle and wrap your hand around the top. If you don’t have a paddle to try that out on, you can look up online what the best paddle length is for your height.
The width of your kayak and your paddling style also plays a role in this decision.
It’s a good idea to borrow a couple of paddles that are different lengths and try them out to discover what’s most comfortable for you. It’s always better to go shorter, as a paddle that’s too long is unwieldy and difficult to use.
The lighter the paddle, the more comfortable you’ll be paddling for long periods of time.
At the same time, don’t go for paddles that are too light. They might be flimsy or simply not be able to provide enough power.
For most adults, a weight of about 2 pounds is what you look for in a paddle. The lighter the paddle the less fatigue you’ll experience and the longer you’ll be able to be on the water.
The heavier the blade material, the harder you’re going to work to lift it out of the water.
You’ll want to look for lightweight blade materials in a paddle that will make it easier to lift the paddle cleanly out of the water without making you too tired, too fast.
Aluminum is the most common shaft material. It’s the easiest and cheapest to produce. It can be heat conductive, so it’s best to have rubber grips to keep you from burning or freezing your hands, depending on the weather.
Carbon and fiberglass shafts are lighter than aluminum, but push the price up. They’re strong and durable and will increase your performance.
A narrower, feathered blade is more comfortable for longer paddling trips. This is because they’re lighter and require less power to use.
For shorter, more powerful paddling, a wider blade is recommended. Generally you should buy a narrow blade, as you’ll want something efficient rather than powerful when touring.
Shafts can be ovalized (also called indexing) which will serve as a reference for where you should put your right hand (or power hand).
Some shafts are also bent. This minimizes fatigue, but is rare in mainstream paddles, so stick with straight shafts until you’re more experienced.
Smaller diameter in your shaft will make it easier for someone to grip and wield the heavy paddles, so always check the diameter of the shafts before buying.
Hey, I'm Brad - the founder and editor of Watercraft Watch. My love for boating is what prompted me to start WatercraftWatch.com – helping people find the right equipment and supplies so they can enjoy their time on the water. I hope you find the articles on the site useful, and share in my love for boating.