Kayak Paddle Size Guide - Choosing the Right Paddle

Canoes and Kayaks

Choosing a kayak paddle size can be a lot more difficult than most people think due to the many factors that must be considered. Everyone wants a kayak paddle to feel good to hold, be balanced, look great and perform well. 

However, amongst the many considerations, the size of the kayak paddle (length) is one of the most important.  If you get the wrong size paddle as a beginner it can be problematic.  It can affect your kayak paddle technique including hand spacing, stroke technique, and power.

See also our article on the best kayak paddle review.

what kayak paddle size do i need?

Choosing the right kayak paddle for you

The best kayak paddle should be lightweight, comfortable, and easy to use. Most importantly, the paddle should be safe, reliable, and suit you individually.

When choosing the right paddle, it’s important to consider your physical attributes as well as circumstances around the use of the paddle. Paddles are available in different weights and lengths with differing shaft thicknesses and shaped blades, and are constructed from various materials.  Your kayak design and the type of kayaking you intend to do are also important factors to consider.

Use of the kayak paddle

What and how you use your kayak paddle is probably your first consideration.  If you intend to use it for short relaxing trips on lakes or rivers, a recreational paddle, the most common, would be worth a look.  Long distance paddling for 1-2 days at a time may require a lighter touring paddle.  Whitewater kayaking paddles and high-performance paddles (built for speed and power) are also available.  These usually are much higher in price and aimed at advanced paddlers.

Watch the video below for a look at proper kayak paddle techniques.

What kayak paddle size do I need?

The size (length) of a paddle is the distance measured between the tips of each of its blades. It is easiest to measure the length by standing the paddle on the ground next to you.

A rough guide to the correct size paddle is to stand it next to you and reach up to the blade’s tip. You should be able to curl your fingers over the edge of the blade.

When you’re trying to decide on the right kayak paddle length more accurately, there are a few factors you need to consider. The kayak width, whether it’s a sit-in or sit-on-top kayak, your paddling style (angle of the paddle), and of course, your height 

Wider boats require longer paddles to prevent hitting your hand against the side of the boat or into the water for each stroke. 

A sit-on kayak needs a longer paddle as you are generally sitting much higher out of the water than a sit-in kayak. 

A paddler who has a more horizontal style of paddling stroke reaches out further from the kayak and requires a longer paddle to engage the paddles deep enough to be effective.

Your height is intrinsic to the correct paddle length as it determines how far above the water you will be sitting. Therefore, knowing your height is important before going paddle shopping. 

Kayak Paddle Size Chart

Let’s look at the kayak paddle sizing chart below, which considers your height and the boat width to help you with your decision.

kayak paddle size chart

So if you are under 5 feet tall with a 23 inches wide kayak, your ideal paddle length would be up to 210 cm. Likewise, if you are over 6 feet in a much broader 32″ sit-on-top kayak, you would need to look at the paddles 250cm and over.

With all these calculations and guides, we still think the best option is to test a kayak paddle first. Borrow a friends’ paddle or even rent a few to get a feel of what is suitable for you before buying.

Other Paddle Factors to Consider

Once you’ve settled on the length of paddle needed, there are a few other considerations we need to review.

Kayak Paddle Materials

Let’s take a look at the basic parts of a kayak paddle and different choices of paddle materials. 

Paddle Blades

Kayak paddle blades most frequently are found made of three materials, plastic, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. The three materials also feature in that order of weight and price. Plastic is the cheapest and heaviest option, while carbon fiber is the lightest and will most affect the wallet.

Paddle Shafts

Aluminium shafts feature highly amongst the budget paddles mainly due to their heavier weight, though they tend to be pretty sturdy.

Shafts made of fiberglass are popular with paddlers due to their lighter weight and durability. However, fiberglass shaft paddles are less affordable than their Aluminium counterparts.

At the top end of the scale is carbon fiber. Of course, a carbon fiber paddle will hurt the bank account more than most, but you’ll love the lighter weight and strength.

Shaft Design

Let’s have a look at different shaft designs and attributes:

Diameter of Paddle Shaft
Kayak paddles come in two different diameters: standard or small. Kayakers with smaller hands may prefer the small diameter.  It’s important to get a shaft that is not too big for you hands as it can cause fatigue after a very short time.

Bent or Straight Shaft 
A bent shaft allows you wrists to be in a better position for paddling and can be easier on your wrists over a long period of paddling.  Straight shafts are considered the norm and are generally cheaper than ones with bent shafts.

Number of Paddle Pieces
Traditionally paddles came in 1 piece but nowadays you can buy them in 1,2,3 or 4 pieces. Paddles that come in pieces have a number of advantages in that they are easier to transport. They can be adapted to other style of paddling eg. SUP paddling, and allows feathering of the blades (aligning the blades into different orientations)

kayak paddle bent shaft
Kayak Paddle Bent Shaft vs Straight Shaft

Blade Design

Wide Blades

Wider blades have a greater surface area and allow more water behind each stroke and thus more power. They are not ideal for beginners or light-framed paddlers.

Narrow Blades

In contrast, narrow paddle blades cover a smaller surface area and require less force to drag it through the water. As a result, this blade enables easier paddling, but it is less efficient.

Summing Up Kayak Paddle Sizes

Choosing the right size to paddle for your height and specific needs is not a simple task due to the many variables involved. Hopefully, we have provided you with an insight into what to think about when buying your next paddle. Make sure you consider your purchase thoroughly, especially if you’re forking out some decent cash. It would be wise not to go straight for the best cheap paddle available.

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