Choosing the right paddle for you is often an overlooked aspect of kayaking. Selecting the correct paddle for your trip can make all the difference. Weight, length, blade surface area, and other variables can all play a vital part in your paddle’s performance.
In this article, we’ll be looking at the best kayak paddles available today, separating them into various categories to help you find the one that’s best for you.
Whether you’re planning a whitewater trip, a weeklong adventure, or even fishing, we’ve highlighted our favorite paddles in these categories and more.
Our Top Picks
If you’re in a hurry, here are our top picks. Or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.
- Best Overall: Aqua Bound Tango
- Best Value: Werner Skagit FG
- Best Budget: Bending Branches Whisper
- Best Ultralight High-Performance Paddle: Werner Kalliste
- Best Greenland-Style Paddle: Gearlab Outdoors Kalleq
- Best Paddle for Fishing: Bending Branches Angler Ace Snap
- Best Paddle for Whitewater: Werner Powerhouse Fiberglass
- Best Paddle for Kids: Perception Hi Five Kids Kayak Paddle
Best Overall: Aqua Bound Tango
Weight: 1 lb 10 oz | Length: 220-240 cm | Shaft: Carbon Fiber | Blade: Fiberglass
A high-performing paddle that’s appreciably cheaper than the higher-end paddles on the market, Aqua Bound’s Tango can be enjoyed by paddlers of all skill levels.
While it isn’t as light as some of the most expensive paddles, it still checks in at under two pounds, thanks to the lightweight carbon fiber shaft and fiberglass blade.
While a few more ounces off the weight would be nice for super long paddles, most kayakers will find the Tango lightweight and a joy to operate. Especially if upgrading from a heavier, cheaper starter model.
The blade’s surface area is a reasonable 96 square inches, giving you a nice balance of power and control. The Tango gets top marks for its low swing weight and the shaft’s subtle flexing. This minimizes the obnoxious fluttering effect that hampers many kayakers that are still learning.
Feathering is simple thanks to the two-lock system, allowing you to adjust the angle in 15-degree increments up to 60-degrees. In addition, the same locking system is used to break down the paddle, making storage and transportation easy.
Available in three lengths, it shouldn’t be difficult for paddlers of all shapes and sizes to find a Tango that fits them.
Best Value: Werner Skagit FG
Weight: 2 lbs 2 oz | Length: 220-260 cm | Shaft: Carbon/Fiberglass | Blade: Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon
I’ve always preferred a blade with a smaller surface area to increase my paddling efficiency. But most value and beginner paddlers skew the other way since fatter blades minimize the fluttering effect. This sets the Werner Skagit FG apart with a smaller blade surface area than the Tango from Aqua Bound.
While this may steepen your learning curve, I’d argue that learning on a thinner blade allows you to kayak with most paddles afterwards.
I love how many size varieties Werner offers this paddle. Having 250 and 260 cm options makes it an excellent choice for those taller, long-armed paddlers who can finally extend their arms for a full stroke without fear of capsizing.
The carbon/fiberglass shaft provides excellent durability that can stand up to hours of hard paddling without warping or cracking. However, it is a little heavier than the Tango, coming in at over two pounds.
Make sure you’re comfortable with that additional weight before planning an extended trip with long paddle days. It may not seem like that big of a difference, but every ounce counts!
Best Budget: Bending Branches Whisper
Weight: 2 lbs 5 oz | Length: 210-240 cm | Shaft: Aluminum | Blade: Fiberglass Reinforced Polypropylene
Even cheaper than the Skagit FG, the Bending Branches Whisper gives newcomers a tough and durable paddle that is easy to learn with. The aluminum shaft and polypropylene plastic blade can stand up to drops and impacts with underwater hazards and keep right ongoing.
This durable design does add some extra weight compared to fiberglass and carbon fiber models, and you start to feel it in your shoulders after a few hours. This makes it a suitable paddle for casual, recreational paddles, but a poor choice for multi-day adventures.
While the blade’s surface area is smaller than the Skagit FG, it’s actually wider since the blade is symmetrical. This means you won’t win any races with the Whisper churning through the waves. Still, it will forgive any inefficiencies in your stroke and eliminate fluttering in all but the direst of cases.
Many blades in this price range omit the bells and whistles that higher-end paddles come with. But this is what sets the Whisper apart. You still get some of the flexibility of a more expensive paddle, such as the ability to feather to 60-degrees and the capability to shift hand control.
Unlike many adjustment systems, the Whisper has a low-profile button that disappears into the shaft. Giving the appearance of a single shaft design while still providing the convenience of easy disassembly, storage, and transport.
Best Ultralight High-Performance Paddle: Werner Kalliste
Weight: 1 lb 7 oz | Length: 220-240 cm | Shaft: Carbon Fiber | Blade: Carbon Fiber with Foam Core
With a silky-smooth stroke and feathery light design, it’s hard to go back to a fiberglass or aluminum paddle once you’ve had your hands on the Werner Kalliste. The weight savings come from using a carbon fiber shaft and foam core blades, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice power or durability for a minuscule weight.
The foam core helps the blade enter the water even smoother and quietly, adding to the experience of paddling through a peaceful, wilderness environment.
From an efficiency perspective, the asymmetrical, dihedral design of the blade cuts through the water with hardly a flutter.
This midsize blade is excellent for bracing, an invaluable tool in rough water, or if you paddle a kayak that relies on edging and chines for steering and maneuvering. In addition, it’s an excellent asset for sculling, thanks to the rib-less back of the blade that reduces flutter regardless of the direction you’re moving.
This is a paddle for the passionate kayaker. Unfortunately, it’s also more expensive than the other paddles on this list. However, it’s excellent for more extended trips, thanks to the low swing rate. This reduces the effort required for every stroke, keeping you out on the water longer and paddling faster.
Best Greenland-Style Paddle: Gearlab Outdoors Kalleq
Weight: 1 lb 9 oz | Length: 210-230 cm | Shaft: Carbon Fiber | Blade: Carbon Fiber
Razor-thin and 100% carbon fiber, this sleek, black Gearlab Outdoors Kalleq embraces a paddling-rich tradition with modern improvements to enhance durability and performance.
The Kelleq is 1.1 mm thick at the thinnest point, providing unparalleled performance on long open water crossings and a seamless transition when you dip the blade in the water. In addition, that carbon fiber frame makes the Kelleq ultralight, making it a joy to paddle for days on end with no extra shoulder fatigue.
You’d expect such a thin, lightweight paddle to feel fragile and snap like a twig. But this isn’t the case because Gearlab uses an ingenious weave of the carbon fiber that prevents tearing and feels extremely durable.
The ends of the blades have replaceable ProTek tips made of polyamide. So not only can you outfit with the color of your choice for a custom feel, but they also protect the carbon fiber blade from damage in shallow or rocky waters.
Hidden within the streamlined appearance is titanium hardware resistant to rust and makes maintenance and upkeep easy. I love that it’s a two-piece paddle, something that’s often omitted in Greenland designs.
The Kelleq comes at a higher price than most paddles on this list, and the learning curve for a Greenland can be challenging. But you won’t find many paddles on the ocean today that can outpace it from a performance perspective.
Best Paddle for Fishing: Bending Branches Angler Ace Snap
Weight: 1 lb 14 oz | Length: 230-260 cm | Shaft: Carbon Fiber | Blade: Carbon Fiber with Foam Core
You can fish with any paddle on this list with good success, so don’t use your paddle as an excuse if you get skunked. But the Bending Branches Angler Ace Snap comes with a few ingenious little additions that enhance your angling experience.
The shaft has a tape measure stenciled onto it, allowing you to instantly measure your catch without fumbling for extra tools. And if you cast like I do, you’ll love the built-in hook retrieval system they’ve implemented into the blade. Allowing you to recover wayward tackle, which means the paddle can pay for itself if you retrieve enough lures.
The Angler Ace Snap isn’t meant for long-distance paddles. It has the largest blade surface area of any paddle on the list so far. However, this does mean fluttering is virtually non-existent. It’s still under two pounds, but that big surface does require more effort to propel you through the water.
It’s not quite as flexible as other paddles and can only be adjusted to 60-degrees instead of the 15-degree increments we’ve seen in other models. But it’s easy to paddle, and all the little goodies tailored to fishing make it excellent for a day on the water whether you catch anything or not.
Best Paddle for Whitewater: Werner Powerhouse Fiberglass
Weight: 2 lbs 3 oz | Length: 194-206 cm | Shaft: Fiberglass | Blade: Fiberglass
If careening down a river peppered with rapids is more to your taste, look no further than the Werner Powerhouse to get you home safely.
Shorter than sea kayak paddles, the Powerhouse measures under 200 cm and is perfect for whitewater kayaks’ narrow, stubby design. This gives you pristine control with the ability to make sharp turns and navigate challenging riverways with confidence.
The Powerhouse can be feathered in five-degree increments up to 60-degrees with the option to make it left or right-hand controlled depending on your preference. In addition, the dihedral blade adds to your level of control and helps maintain stability when edging or bracing.
It is a little heavier than some of the other paddles on this list since there’s no carbon fiber, but this isn’t as much of a concern since your paddle days are generally shorter and fewer paddle strokes are required.
A significant problem with whitewater paddling is the risk of damaging your blade on underwater hazards. But the Powerhouse is built entirely of fiberglass, giving it excellent durability and lessening the chances of the blade snapping on a rock.
Best Paddle for Kids: Perception Hi Five Kids Kayak Paddle
Weight: 1 lb 11 oz | Length: 190 cm | Shaft: Aluminum | Blade: Fiberglass Reinforced Polypropylene
For your youngest paddler, there are a few things to consider. First, since they’ll be outgrowing it soon, you don’t want to break the bank. Secondly, you want a tough-as-nails design because young paddlers tend to break things.
Perception has you covered with their Hi Five kids’ Kayak paddle. The aluminum shaft and fiberglass/plastic blade are rugged and should survive just about anything thrown at (or on) them.
The shaft is considerably shorter than adult paddles, allowing shorter paddlers to practice the proper stroke and learn correct techniques. That shorter length also keeps the weight under two pounds despite the bulkier materials used. The diameter of the shaft is smaller, too, measuring just one inch to better accommodate smaller hands.
It isn’t quite as fancy as many adult paddles. Still, I appreciate that Perception did incorporate a simple feathering system that lets the Hi Five be adjusted to 60-degrees.
While this paddle works great with narrower kayaks, the shorter shaft will make it more difficult for the blades to reach the water in some boats. In addition, wider boats or sit-in kayaks with high combing may be too cumbersome for shorter paddlers to wield the Hi Five. In this case, going with a larger paddle may be necessary.
Kayak Paddle Buying Guide
Looking at individual paddles is one thing, but it can be helpful to learn about all the independent features that make up a kayak paddle. In this buying guide, we’ll examine several relevant key questions regardless of the type of kayaking you plan on doing.
Kayak paddles are usually polypropylene plastic, aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. The shaft and blades may be made of different materials in some situations.
Like many things in the kayaking world, the lighter the material, the more you can expect to spend. You’ll find that the most lightweight paddles on this list, like the Werner Kalliste, are made of carbon fiber and can cost more than twice what an aluminum paddle goes for.
Carbon or fiberglass paddles tend to perform better. Their lighter weight makes them ideal if you are a passionate paddler who plans on doing extended trips. A long day of kayaking can equal thousands of paddle strokes. Those extra ounces can lead to unnecessary wear and tear on your shoulders.
If you’re more of a weekend paddler who enjoys casual days on the local lakes or rivers, you can certainly enjoy one of these high-end paddles. But it’s not as necessary. Instead, you’ll likely be happy and satisfied with a cheaper paddle like the Bending Branches Whisper, which has an aluminum shaft and fiberglass blade reinforced with plastic.
If you’d prefer to take a step up in quality from your entry-level paddle, the Werner Skagit FG is a good option. The shaft is a carbon/fiberglass combination, while the blade is fiberglass reinforced with nylon. As a result, it’s not too pricey and offers better performance and a lighter weight than an aluminum paddle.
Most kayak paddles come in different sizes to accommodate a range of heights, arm lengths, and kayak sizes. The one exception on this list is the Werner Powerhouse, which is designed for whitewater kayaking and only offers a few shorter lengths.
While it’ll be almost impossible for most to find a paddle that’s the perfect length, many have enough options to get you close enough to the mark. Of course, you’ll need to take into account the width of your kayak as well; wide kayaks require a wider paddle shaft.
Some longer paddles like the Bending Branches Angler Ace Snap will be unwieldy in narrower boats. This model is designed for fishing kayaks that typically have a wide beam and need a longer shaft.
Even taller paddlers shouldn’t require a 250 cm paddle for narrower sit-in kayaks. Instead, opt for a 240 cm paddle if you’re over 6.’ Those less than 6’ are probably best served with a 220 cm paddle unless you’re paddling a boat over 30” wide.
Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical
Any references to symmetry in the paddling world likely refer to the blades. Symmetrical blades have the same amount of surface area on the northern and southern hemispheres. Asymmetrical paddles have more surface areas in the northern hemisphere.
Symmetrical paddles generate more power since they often have more surface area and generate more force, but they require more effort to move through the water. Paddles like the Bending Branches Whisper or the Angler Ace Snap are great for shorter distances, but don’t be surprised if your shoulders are sore if you try paddling all day.
Whitewater kayakers tend to favor symmetrical paddles too. The Werner Powerhouse isn’t quite a true asymmetrical paddle since there is a little more surface area in the blade’s northern hemisphere. But compared to touring paddles, it’s considerably closer to symmetrical than most, giving you a great combination of power with a little more efficiency.
Asymmetrical blades are lighter, and the angle of the blade makes it easier for water to run equally over each side and lessen your paddling effort. Many touring paddles like the Gearlab Kalliste, Aqua Bound Tango, and Werner Skagit FG are asymmetrical in design, making them better choices for longer paddle days.
Except for the Greenland-Style Kalleq, all the paddles on this list can be feathered. While this does require a bit of practice, paddling with your blades feathered decreases wind resistance and increases efficiency.
If you’re interested in various feathering angles, the Aqua Bound Tango, Werner Skagit FB, and Werner Kalliste allow you to adjust the angle in 15-degree increments up to 60-degrees.
Is a Greenland Paddle Right for Me?
If you’re unfamiliar with Greenland paddles, your first thought when you hold one is probably, “how does this thing move a kayak through the water?” It’s a fair question, but the Greenland paddle, affectionately known as “a stick” by modern Greenland kayakers, is fantastic in open water and long paddle trips.
Their lightweight and minimal surface area means there’s less stress on your shoulders and arms as you paddle. Power is generated in the middle and end of the stroke as opposed to when the blade first hits the water.
Suppose your paddling entails rivers, lakes, and surf zones. In that case, it’s best to avoid the Greenland paddle as their performance is lackluster in these environments.
However, suppose you’re more of a touring paddler with some ambitious trips in mind. In that case, a Greenland paddle like the eye-catching Gearlab Kalleq may be worth a look if you’re not interested in the Werner Kalliste.
The Greenland paddle does take some practice to get used to. The blade flutters much easier and requires a strong, fundamentally sound paddle stroke to be used efficiently.
Kayak paddles are as diverse as kayaks today, so understanding the differences between models and designs is essential when it comes to selecting the right one for you. Weight, surface area, and symmetry should all play a role in your choice.
While we’ve given you what we feel are the best options available, how you prioritize these various elements depends a lot on the type of paddling you’re envisioning.
As a general-purpose paddle that impresses in various environments, we love the Aqua Bound Tango. It’s lightweight with a tough fiberglass blade and can be feathered in several different ways. While it’s asymmetrical, it’s more than capable of handling a variety of waterways, all at a reasonable price.
Whatever paddle you end up with, we hope this article answered many of your questions and will make your next paddle purchase a smooth and easy one.