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Published Dec. 6, 2021

Paddling a kayak one mile requires over 1,000 paddle strokes. With an average speed of three miles per hour, that’s 3,000 strokes in 60 minutes. Do the math for a day on the water, and you’ll realize the value of the best kayak paddle.

To determine the best kayak paddle, we looked at all parts of the paddle and how they will be used. Starting with the blade, moving to the shaft and testing the ferrule where the two parts of the paddle come together allowed us to pick our favorites from a long list of contenders in each category.

Things to Consider Before Buying the Best Kayak Paddle

Choosing the best kayak paddle is as important as choosing the best paddle kayak. In fact, the paddle and the kayak should be considered as one unit. A great kayak is worthless with the wrong paddle. And the best paddle will go nowhere in a poorly designed kayak. 

For the greatest efficiency, power and control, look for a paddle that balances weight, stiffness, comfort and durability. At any price point, in any category, there are paddles that excel in each of these categories.

Weight is the most important consideration. Every ounce and any flex in the paddle will rob performance and steal efficiency. A heavy, clunky kayak paddle will be harder to operate and cause fatigue and discomfort.

Moreover, lightweight paddles are built out of better materials with a more efficient design, so the weight savings are added to durability and efficiency to make paddling easier.

But, as the ounces go down, the price goes up. An ultralight paddle can cost four times as much as a heavier budget paddle. But, sacrificing a little weight for greater durability can pay off when the going gets rough. The objective is to get the best kayak paddle for the best price.

And not every paddle fits every kayak. An ultralight or high-performance paddle is too light and efficient to push a heavy fishing kayak. A longer paddle with more features is a waste on a performance kayak. Some situations call for durability over lightweight materials, making a budget paddle a better choice for entry-level anglers.

Finally, consider the ferrule. The ferrule is the joint where the two halves of a two-piece paddle are joined together. Fixed-shaft paddles do not have a ferrule. These paddles are lighter and stiffer for better performance. But one-piece paddles are harder to store and transport. 

A two-piece paddle is more common. Most two-piece paddles have a push-button ferrule to secure the halves together and allow the blades to be feathered at an angle to easily pass through the air on the return stroke. Some ferrules allow infinite feathering and others are set at specific angles. Advanced ferrules can be angled and extended to allow the paddler to dial in the perfect paddle length.

At first look, a paddle is just two blades and a shaft. But closer examination exposes many different designs and materials to satisfy paddlers with different needs. The key is to find the best paddle for your kayak to make a perfect package.

Best Kayak Paddle Overall: Bending Branches Angler Ace Plus

Best Kayak Paddle

Bending Branches Angler Ace Plus BENDING BRANCHES

Why It Made the Cut: Bending Branches Angler Plus is the best kayak paddle overall because of the balance of weight, materials, and construction at the best value. To reduce weight and increase stiffness, the Angler Plus combines a carbon fiber shaft with durable carbon reinforced nylon blades. To dial in the perfect fit, the adjustable ferrule allows you to adjust length and blade angle.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 31.5 ounces
  • Dimensions: 7.25 x 18 in.
  • Materials: Carbon fiber shaft, carbon reinforced nylon blade

Pros: 

  • Adjustable
  • Carbon fiber shaft
  • Best value

Cons:

  • Not available with shorter shaft
  • Heavy

With so many features, the Bending Branches Angler Ace Plus is more than just a fishing paddle. To make the cut, the best overall kayak paddle offers the best balance of weight and durability. 

The Angler Plus’ carbon fiber shaft keeps the weight down and the carbon reinforced nylon blades keep the price down. Sacrificing a little weight for affordability is a valid tradeoff with the Bending Branches Angler Plus. 

There is no sacrifice in durability, with the bulletproof nylon blades the Angler Plus tough enough to survive river rocks and hard knocks. Add in an infinitely adjustable ferrule and measuring stick and paddles with a utility hook on the blade, you can’t pack more features into a kayak paddle.

Best Kayak Paddle for Fishing: YakGear Backwater Assassin

Best Kayak Paddle for Fishing

YakGear Backwater Assassin Bass Pro Shop

Why It Made the Cut: As many kayak anglers go with pedal or motor power, the paddle becomes a tool as well as backup propulsion. The Backwater Assassins’ unique ABS injected nylon paddle blades are shaped with a hook on one side and serrated edge on the other to turn the paddle into a push pole and boat hook.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 28 ounces
  • Dimensions: 230-240 centimeters, 250-260 centimeters
  • Materials: Carbon Fiber, ABS injection nylon

Pros: 

  • Tough construction
  • Serrated and hooked blade
  • Carbon fiber shaft

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Not for long distance paddling

To win the award for best kayak paddle for fishing, the YakGear Backwater Assassin is durable and multifunctional. For anglers using pedals or an electric motor, a paddle is most useful when launching and landing the kayak or maneuvering into tight spaces and standup fishing. 

The Backwater Assassin’s unique blade shape makes it perfect for pushing and pulling the kayak into position. Despite the carbon fiber shaft, the nylon injected blades are too heavy and awkward for long distance paddling, but the molded, reinforced blades are perfect for maneuvering a heavy fishing kayak. The paddle is available in two adjustable lengths, 230 to 240 centimeters and 250 to 260 centimeters making it perfect for wide kayaks with a high-low frame seat.

Best Kayak Paddle for the Money: Bending Branches Whisper

Best Kayak Paddle for the Money

Bending Branches Whisper BENDING BRANCHES

Why It Made the Cut: Not every kayak paddle costs hundreds of dollars. The Bending Branches Whisper has high-dollar features in a budget paddle making it the best kayak paddle for the money.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 37 ounces
  • Dimensions: Aluminum shaft, nylon blade
  • Materials: 6.75 x 18 inches / 89 square inche

Pros: 

  • Low price
  • Aluminum shaft
  • Ergonomic grips

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Nylon blades

While most paddlers chase paddling efficiency with dollars and cents, some paddlers are looking for a tough paddle for a low price. The Bending Branches Whisper combines solid construction and efficient blade design in a low-price paddle.

The aluminum shaft and nylon blades are tough enough to bounce down a rocky river. Whisper’s efficient blades and ergonomic grips make it a great choice as a backup paddle or second paddle for guests. This is an entry-level paddle that will last a lifetime.

Best Ultralight Kayak Paddle: Aquabound Tango

Best Ultralight Kayak Paddle

Aquabound Tango AQUA BOUND

Why It Made the Cut: The Aquabound Tango is the lightest paddle at the best price to take the title of the best ultralight kayak paddle.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 23 ounces
  • Dimensions: 210 to 250 centimeter
  • Materials: Carbon fiber shaft, compressed carbon fiber blade

Pros: 

  • Very lightweight
  • Low-profile blade
  • Adjustable ferrule

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Length not adjustable

When it comes down to it, weight is the most important factor in choosing the best kayak paddle. Not only does reducing weight improve efficiency and comfort, but lightweight paddles use better materials and design for a more enjoyable paddling experience. Of course, as the weight goes down the price goes up. The trick is finding the best ultralight paddle for the money.

For anglers looking to paddle for miles in any water conditions, Aquabound’s Tango Carbon has a low-profile blade that moves easily through the water. At only 23 ounces, the Tango is the lightest paddle in our review. The carbon fiber shaft, and compression molded carbon fiber blades are super light and super tough.

To keep the paddle simple, a pushbutton ferrule allows infinite feather adjustment and a solid connection for less flex. The full carbon ferrule adds to the weight savings.   

The proof is in the pudding, and the Tango’s low-profile blades are tested for the perfect balance of power and dynamics. They even added the right amount of buoyancy for a snappy return after each paddle stroke.

Best High Performance Paddle: Werner Camano Bent Shaft

Best High Performance Paddle

Werner Camano Bent Shaft Werner

Why It Made the Cut: Werner’s Camano Bent Shaft cuts weight with full carbon construction and minimalist ferrule. The bent shaft further improves performance by placing the paddler’s hands at an angle to improve paddling position and reduce fatigue.

Key Features 

  • Weight: 28 ounces
  • Dimensions: 210-to-240-centimeter shaft
  • Materials: Carbon fiber shaft and blades

Pros: 

  • Bent shaft
  • Lightweight
  • Dihedral blade

Cons:

  • Limited shaft lengths

The best high-performance paddles aren’t just light. A paddle for covering long distance in any water conditions is efficient and powerful, too. With carbon fiber blades and shaft, the Werner Camano saves weight and maximizes stiffness for the best power transfer from your arms to the water.The long, low-profile blades have an uneven dihedral shape for ultimate power and efficiency over miles of paddling. To reduce fatigue, the shaft bends slightly at the grips to hold the paddler’s hands at a more ergonomic angle. Not only is the Werner Camano Bent Shaft efficient and powerful, but it is one of the most comfortable paddles.

Methodology

To test the best kayak paddles I broke the candidates into five categories. Then, we judged paddles against similar models in the same category. Measuring the best budget kayak paddle against the best performance paddle wouldn’t be fair. You’ll notice the best overall paddle isn’t the lightest or the most expensive. To determine the best budget kayak paddle we didn’t just look at the price. Instead, we looked for the most features and best construction at a great value. On the other end of the spectrum, the best performance kayak paddle and ultralight paddle were in a tough competition to balance weight and power with a reasonable price. To pick the best paddle for kayak fishing, we looked for a paddle with useful features and durable construction. In the end, our choices were determined by how the paddle performs in its category.  

Some of the factors that played a role in my decisions were the following:

  • Design: The basic layouts of kayak paddles are the same, but some tweaks can make them better suited for certain types of paddling. If it is specialty model, such as for fishing, I looked for features that made it more useful for that purpose. I also keyed in on features that would make the paddle more efficient, giving you more go with each stroke.
  • Materials: Nothing effects the weight and strength of a kayak paddle more than the materials used in its construction. Carbon fiber is very strong and lightweight but can’t stand up to bashing off rocks like aluminum can. I selected paddles that built with materials that were ideal for their intended use.
  • Weight: How heavy a paddle is has a direct effect on how tired you are at the end of the day. While lightweight paddles are ideal for cruising open water, they usually can’t stand up to serious abuse. I choose paddles that were as light as possible while being built sturdy enough to tackle the tasks they were designed for.
  • Durability: The last place you want to be is up a creek without a paddle. Each paddle I have selected will stand up to rough use so you can always make it back to the ramp or takeout.

FAQs

Q: What type of paddle is best for kayaking?

What type of paddle is best for kayaking depends on how you plan to paddle the kayak. Paddlers looking to cover miles of water in a sit-inside kayak will want the lightest, stiffest, and most efficient paddle available. Kayak anglers using pedals or a motor need a robust paddle to maneuver their big, heavy kayaks through shallow water and around heavy structure. Kayakers who are just getting into the hobby, or who are looking for a reliable paddle to use anywhere, then a less-expensive aluminum or fiberglass shaft with nylon blades will get the job done.

Q: What should I look for when buying a kayak paddle?

One of the most frequent questions at the paddle shop is what should I look for when buying a kayak paddle? The easy answer is start with the lightest paddle you can afford. Not only is a lighter paddle easier to operate, but premium carbon fiber is stiffer and handles better than heavier fiberglass, nylon or aluminum. 
 
The second consideration is blade shape. Wider, shorter high-angle blades move more water to push a heavier, wider fishing kayak. Long, narrow low-profile blades pass through the water easier to propel a long, narrow kayak farther. 
 
Finally, be sure to pick the best ferrule for how you plan to use the paddle. The ferrule is the center of the shaft where the two parts of the paddle come together. One-piece paddles don’t have a ferrule, so they are lighter and stiffer and preferred by performance paddlers. Most paddles have a ferrule that allows the paddle to break in two for easier storage and transport. The ferrule also allows the blades to be feathered so the paddle easily passes through the air on the return stroke. Some paddles have an adjustable ferrule that extends the shaft length for a perfect fit.

Q: How do you determine kayak paddle length?

Figuring out how do you determine kayak paddle length requires some simple calculations. Recreational kayakers paddling a sit-inside kayak should refer to the paddle maker’s sizing chart for paddler height and kayak width. Each paddle has different parameters, and each paddler will have his preference. Kayak anglers, on the other hand, worry less about matching paddle length and boat height. Instead, most fishing kayaks are high off the water, so anglers need a longer paddle to reach the water. If you have more than one kayak, or fish in a kayak with an adjustable high and low seat, a paddle with an adjustable length ferrule makes it easy to dial in the fit for any kayak.

Q: How much should you spend on a kayak paddle?

How much should you spend on a kayak paddle largely comes down to your budget. You generally get what you pay for with kayak paddles, and the higher the price the better the paddle. Lightweight models come with a premium price tag to match their premium construction, and better thought our designs require higher-paid engineers to produce. In short, spend as much as you can afford to when buying a paddle.

 Final Thoughts on the Best Kayak Paddles

Choosing the best overall kayak paddle required balancing the needs of a wide variety of paddlers. From recreational paddlers in low sit-inside kayaks to kayak anglers in elevated frame seats, the ultimate paddle must cover the water. This is the reason we picked the Bending Branches Angler Ace Plus. The carbon fiber shaft’s length and feather are adjustable. Carbon reinforced nylon blades balance weight savings for long-distance paddling with durability for fishing in shallow, rocky water. A measuring stick on the shaft rounds out the cool features to make the Angler Ace Plus our pick for best overall kayak paddle.

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