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Best Kayak Paddles for the Money in 2018

Creative Commons "Floating Down the Lazy River" by Ryk Venema is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
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Introduction

When you’re new to kayaking, it can be easy to think the best kayak paddle is the one you can buy for the lowest price. After all, a paddle is just a paddle, right?

But when you consider the countless hours you’ll spend holding it and the thousands of strokes you’ll take even on a quick trip around the lake, it becomes clear that every inch, ounce and angle counts.

In fact, finding the best kayak paddle for your style is the second-most important choice you’ll make (next to finding the best kayak, of course). At American Paddler, we know a thing or two about kayak paddles for fishing, touring, whitewater and just about every kind of paddlesport imaginable.

There’s lots to consider when choosing a kayak paddle, and we’ll go over that in our guide below. First, though, here are our reviews for the top rated kayak paddles of 2018:

A QUICK RUNDOWN: THE 7 BEST KAYAK PADDLES OF 2018 (COMPARISON CHART)

PADDLESHAFTWEIGHTBEST FORPRICEAP RATING
Bending Branches Angler AceCarbon, 2-piece30 ozFishing$$
Seattle Sports SeaWhisperCarbon, 2-piece40 ozValue$$
Cannon Paddles Escape E SeriesAluminum, 2-piece39 ozBeginners$
Carlisle Magic Mystic PaddleAnodized Aluminum, 2-piece39.5 ozLow-stress$
Shoreline Marine Kayak PaddleAluminum, 2-piece36.8 ozBudget$
Werner Desperado CF IMFiberglass35.7 ozWhitewater$$
Aqua-Bound Eagle RayCarbon, 4-piece30 ozTouring$$

Best Kayak Paddle for Fishing

Bending Branches Angler Ace

Shaft: 100 percent carbon
Weight: 30 oz
Blades: Carbon-reinforced nylon
Length: Fully adjustable from 220-260 cm
Extra perks: “Hook retrieval” system, tape measure, and 60-degree feathering

For a kayak fisherman, choosing a paddle is primarily about durability, efficiency and convenience. The Bending Branches Angler Ace provides all three in spades. (See what we did there? Get it? Ace of spades? Nevermind.)

With a two-piece, T-700 carbon shaft and carbon-reinforced nylon blades, this paddle is extremely lightweight and strong, meaning you’ll never get tired of paddling with this masterpiece. The oversized blades are designed for efficiency and power, so you can get where you’re going quickly and without spending valuable energy.

Besides being lightweight, the paddle shaft is fully adjustable between 220-260 cm — meaning it’s already the perfect length for you. The blades can also be feathered (offset) at a 60-degree angle, thanks to the paddle’s 3-hole snap-button ferrule.

The Angler Ace comes with two features designed specifically for fishermen: an innovative “hook retrieval” system built into the blade, and a brilliantly added tape measure printed on the shaft. The hook retrieval system is great for freeing snagged lines and getting extra leverage on your catch, and if you don’t know what the tape measure is for … well, we can’t help you.

Bending Branches is famous for being sticklers for producing quality kayak paddles, and the Angler Ace is a terrific example of this philosophy in action.

While the Angler Ace is one of the best carbon kayak paddles for fishing, there’s also the Angler Classic for those on a budget (with a fiberglass shaft) and the Angler Pro for those who want to take their kayak fishing to the next level.


Best Kayak Paddle for the Money

Seattle Sports SeaWhisper

Shaft: Carbon, 2-piece
Weight: 40 oz
Blades: Glass-reinforced nylon (with DorselBlades for easy catch points)
Length: 210-220 cm and 230-240 cm versions available
Extra perks: Cam-lock ferrule for adjustable feathering and length, easy-catch blades for retrieving fishing lines and items from the water, reflective and glow-in-the-dark

If you’re looking for the best value kayak paddle that’s still a high-quality product, the Seattle Sports SeaWhisper carbon-shaft paddle is a great answer.

One of the best-priced carbon kayak paddles on the market, the SeaWhisper isn’t just a terrific kayak paddle for the money; it’s also loaded with features for both recreational and serious kayakers alike.

The first thing paddlers will notice — besides the high-strength lightweight shaft — is the cam-locking ferrule that allows the paddle to be precision-adjusted to virtually any degree of feathering (offset blade angles) for aerodynamic efficiency. This, combined with the SeaWhisper’s DorselBlade design and low-angle paddling style, makes this one of the best all-around kayak paddles for recreational touring or even light fishing.

Like some higher-end fishing kayak paddles, the SeaWhisper features a convenient “notch” blade design to make retrieving lost items or fishing lures a breeze, or simply for grabbing a dock when it’s time to come in. And an integrated leash loop means you’ll never worry about losing the paddle itself.

For paddling in low light conditions such as dusk or nighttime, the SeaWhisper’s glass fiber-reinforced reflective paddles and glow-in-the-dark drip rings provide a nice safety feature for high boat-traffic areas.

The SeaWhisper comes in 210-220 cm and 230-240 cm adjustable lengths.


Best Kayak Paddle for Beginners

Cannon Paddles Escape E Series

Shaft: Aluminum (2-piece)
Weight: 39 oz
Blades: Fiberglass-reinforced nylon
Length: 220, 230 or 240 cm
Extra perks: Flattened hand grips for a comfortable grasp, heavy-duty drip rings, 60-degree lockable feathering

Video: How to Choose a Recreational Kayak Paddle

For those just looking for a quality kayak paddle that won’t break the bank, the Cannon Paddles Escape E Series does the trick quite well.

A great entry-level kayak paddle — and possibly one of the best recreational kayak paddles for lakes, rivers and quiet fishing trips — the Escape is designed to be comfortable and efficient for kayak outings of any kind.

Most paddlers will love the flattened, “oval” hand grips, which allow for a tighter grip on the paddle without becoming uncomfortable. It’s especially handy (no pun intended) for those with smaller fingers or even those with arthritis to easily grasp.

The Escape’s blades are made of fiberglass-reinforced nylon for lightweight durability, and their longer shape makes for easy, low-angle paddling that won’t tire you out.

As far as adjustability, the Escape comes in 220, 230 and 240 cm options, and features a twistable, locking design to offset the paddle blades on windy days. Drip rings on either side also help keep water from running down your arms.

The Cannon Escape has a two-piece shaft for easy storage in the back of your car or SUV.


Best Kayak Paddle Under $100

Carlisle Magic Mystic Paddle

Shaft: Anodized Aluminum (2-piece)
Weight: 39.5 oz
Blades: Fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene
Length: 220, 230 or 240 cm
Extra perks: Slightly depressed shaft reduces stress on hands, bright colors for added safety

For the experienced paddler who doesn’t want to spend a fortune on a kayak paddle but also wants a little better performance, the Carlisle Magic Mystic provides a great compromise.

Built for beginner to intermediate paddlers who want to spend a few hours on the water, the Magic Mystic is a lightweight, durable option and one of the best inexpensive kayak paddles on the market.

The Magic Mystic’s lightweight aluminum shaft features a “kinked” design that’s made to be more forgiving of less-than-perfect paddling techniques. Rather than a perfectly straight paddle shaft, the slight bend helps alleviate stress on the hands and arms for those who tend to grip the paddle a little more tightly.

Brightly colored orange or blue paddle blades are easy to spot — both for oncoming boats or in case you happen to lose it in the lake — and their well-designed “cupped” shape provides for a strong, powerful paddling bite. They’re also durable, so you don’t have to worry about an errant rock in the shallow river bend.

While the Magic Mystic earns the nod as the best kayak paddle under $100, Carlisle also offers the Magic Plus, which comes with a fiberglass shaft that shaves a little more weight.

The Magic Mystic breaks apart into two pieces for easy storage and portability, and dual drip rings keep your hands nice and dry.


Best Budget Kayak Paddle

Shoreline Marine Kayak Paddle

Shaft: Aluminum (2-piece)
Weight: 36.8 oz
Blades: Contour-molded plastic
Length: 96 inches (243 cm)
Extra perks: Foam-padded hand grips, tri-position offset blades, and rubber rings for drip protection

Video: How to Size a Kayak Paddle

If you’re not all that concerned about bells and whistles and just want a good kayak paddle to get you from A to B, Shoreline Marine has you covered.

For its reliability and features, the Shoreline Marine’s surprisingly low price makes this the best kayak paddle under $50, in our opinion.

A nice kayak paddle for a sit on top kayak (or any kayak with a wider, stable base), the 96-inch shaft is comfortable for even the tallest of paddlers to handle (for a shorter paddle, try the Magic Mystic or Cannon Escape above). Wide, contoured blades provide a strong thrust in the water, and foam-padded grip handles and drip rings are nice for colder days.

For a budget kayak paddle, the Shoreline Marine still offers the feathering features of a more expensive paddle. The adjustable paddle shaft allows you to offset your blades in three different positions to cut down on wind resistance.

The shaft comes apart in two pieces for portable storage and transport, and easily snaps back together.


Best Whitewater Kayak Paddle

Werner Desperado CF IM

Shaft: “Bomber strength” fiberglass (1-piece)
Weight: 35.7 oz
Blades: Carbon-fiber injected
Length: 191, 194 or 197 cm
Extra perks: “Ovalized” hand grips for no-look paddle orientation, feathering on some models

When choosing a kayak paddle for whitewater river running or creek boating, blade strength and shape are very important. Because you’ll need both power and quick maneuverability — and a blade that won’t crack on a boulder — whitewater paddles are generally designed to be more durable and lightweight.

Unfortunately, this also means they tend to be more expensive. However, Werner’s Desperado CF IM is a great midrange balance at an affordable price for beginner whitewater paddlers.

The Desperado’s mid-size carbon-fiber injected blades are lightweight and stiff, and their well-balanced shape allows for powerful, efficient strokes when bounding over waves. The one-piece paddle shaft is made with Werner’s “bomber strength” fiberglass, which offers lightweight durability to keep your arms from tiring out.

At 35.7 ounces, the Desperado is pretty lightweight, but for the serious whitewater paddler looking for premium performance, the Werner Powerhouse Carbon offers a lighter swing weight and greater impact resistance.

Overall, though, the Desperado is one of the best fiberglass kayak paddles for whitewater, offering a great mix of performance and affordability.


Best Touring Kayak Paddle

Aqua-Bound Eagle Ray

Shaft: 100 percent carbon (4-piece)
Weight: 30 oz
Blades: Extra long abX carbon-fiber nylon resin
Length: 210, 220, 230, 240 or 250 cm options
Extra perks: Extremely low swing weight; Posi-Lok ferrule for infinite feathering (blade offset) angles

What makes for good touring kayak paddle? If you’re planning cover long distances with lots of gear, you want a paddle that’s not only extremely lightweight, but one that’s designed for low-angle paddling that won’t cause stress on your arms and back.

Aqua-Bound offers a nice line of touring kayak paddles, and the Eagle Ray is the nicest of the bunch. With a 100 percent carbon shaft and carbon-reinforced blades, the Eagle Ray is one of the lightest kayak paddles you’ll find anywhere.

Specifically designed for touring kayaks heavily loaded with gear, the Eagle Ray features extra-long and slim blades that grab more water with less effort — which is exactly what you want for long, endurance-style excursions. It also snaps apart into quad sections for easy storage on backpacking adventures.

In fact, if you’re looking for a backup paddle (never a bad idea on a touring expedition), the Eagle Ray — along with Aqua-Bound’s cheaper Sting Ray and Manta Ray models — is a great option as one of the best 4-piece kayak paddles on the market for convenient portability.

A kayak paddle built for speed and endurance, the Eagle Ray also features some a fully adjustable “Posi-Lok” ferrule with infinite feathering (blade offset) angles to cut down on wind resistance.


How to Pick the Right Kayak Paddle

Kayak paddles are basically built the same, but with key differences based on the type of paddling you’ll do.

High-angle or low angle?

High-angle kayak paddles are designed for kayakers who want to get more “oomph” out of every stroke. The “high angle” refers to the way the kayaker dips the paddle in the water almost vertically, with the control hand high above the boat. (Here’s a video explaining this further.) To accommodate this, high-angle paddle blades are wider to provide a better “bite” to the water and shed water evenly.

Low-angle kayak paddles, on the other hand, are designed for a more leisurely pace. Usually designed with a longer — and lighter — blade and shaft, these types of paddles are used at a “low angle” for less stress on the arms and back on longer kayaking expeditions.

Blade materials

best kayak paddles
Notice how the paddle blades are offset from each other? That’s known as the “feathering” angle, which is made possible by a locking ferrule.

Basically, there are three types of commonly used materials for kayak paddle blades: plastic (usually nylon or polypropylene), fiberglass and carbon.

Plastic paddle blades are the cheapest, but also the heaviest. Although plastic blades are strong and durable, they do flex — which can cause you to lose efficiency in your stroke — and can crack on rocks or riverbeds.

Fiberglass paddle blades are the middle option, offering a good mix of affordability, durability and lightweight performance. These blades might chip, but usually won’t crack.

Carbon-fiber paddle blades are extremely lightweight, strong and extra-stiff, and provide the best performance for all kinds of kayaking. While these high-quality blades won’t slow you down or crack easily, they also have the highest price.

Shaft Design

Paddle shafts also come in different materials, with aluminum being the most common for budget kayak paddles. Although aluminum is strong and lightweight, fiberglass and carbon shafts also provide a substantial edge here.

Shafts can be either straight or “kinked.” While most paddlers are more initially comfortable with a straight shaft, a kinked (or “crooked”) shaft is designed to be more forgiving of poor technique and reduces stress on hands and joints by adjusting the paddler’s grip. Mostly, this is a preference thing.

If a shaft isn’t kinked, it will sometimes offer an “ovalized” hand grip, which means the shaft is narrower where the user grips the paddle. This also alleviates stress and allows better control.

While a few paddles offer foam grips for cold weather, these actually can contribute to discomfort. Instead, we recommend a good pair of paddling gloves.

Adjustability

best kayak paddles
Most recreational paddles break apart into two (or more) pieces, while whitewater paddles are often one piece for more power in each stroke.

Ferrules: Most paddles these days come with what’s known as a “ferrule,” or a twistable shaft that can be locked in different positions. This allows for the blades to be offset (called “feathering”), which can cut down on wind resistance and contributes to better technique. Higher-end paddles offer more feathering angles and better locking mechanisms.

2-piece vs. 4-piece: Most kayak paddles (with the exception of some whitewater paddles) break apart into multiple pieces for easier storage. The advantage of a 4-piece paddle over a 2-piece is the ability to store it in the bulkhead of your kayak itself — a great feature if you think you’ll need a backup paddle. It’s also a nice feature for backpacking and camping trips with your kayak.

What’s the right length for me?

The general rule of thumb is, the wider the boat and the taller the person, the longer the paddle should be. While there’s no hard-and-fast rule on paddle length, the following provides a general guideline:

Kayak WidthUnder 23″24″ to 28″29″ to 33″34″+
Paddler HeightRECOMMENDED PADDLE LENGTH
Under 5’5″210-220 cm220-230 cm230-240 cm250 cm
5’5″ to 5’11”220 cm230 cm230-240 cm250 cm
6’+220-230 cm230-240 cm240-250 cm250-260 cm
*Data from Aqua-Bound Paddles sizing chart

Remember: The shorter the paddle, the lighter the paddle. If you’re unsure, go smaller.

Last words

To get the most out of your kayaking odyssey, a reliable paddle goes a long way. The best kayak paddle for speed isn’t always the best ocean kayak paddle, and a great paddle for you might not be the right choice for someone else.

We hope American Paddler has been able to help you make a more informed choice, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. If we’ve helped you, drop us a line and let us know!

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