watch video on youtube »

buying advice

How to choose & Size a canoe paddle

Video: Kaelen Sikma

Kaelen here from AQ Outdoors, today we're going to chat about how to choose and size the correct canoe paddle for you. First up, we're going to talk about paddle materials, then paddle styles, and finally, how to size a canoe paddle. They all have various benefits and drawbacks, so it’s essential to consider what will work best for your paddling needs. This can help make your day on the water more efficient and enjoyable.

Table of Contents

Parts of the Canoe Paddle

A canoe paddle consists of several key parts, each with its specific function. Before we get too deep into our guide on how to find the right fit for you, it's important we get acquainted with the various parts of the paddle (and the lingo to go along with it). Here are the main parts of a canoe paddle:


The topmost part of the paddle where the paddler holds it with their top hand. It is typically shaped for comfort and control. Common grip shapes include the T-grip and the Palm grip.


The long, narrow part of the paddle that connects the grip to the blade. The paddler's bottom hand holds the shaft during use. It can be made from various materials like wood, aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber.


The part of the paddle where the shaft transitions into the blade. This area needs to be strong as it bears significant stress during paddling.


The wide, flat part of the paddle that enters the water to propel the canoe forward. Blades can have different shapes (e.g., rectangular, oval) and sizes depending on their intended use and the paddler's preference.


The bottom edge of the blade, which enters the water first during a stroke. It is often reinforced to withstand impact and abrasion.

Understanding these parts helps in choosing the right paddle for your needs and using it effectively.

Paddle Materials

Materials make a big impact on the weight and longevity of your canoe paddle, as well as how stiff it is. The stiffer the paddle, the more effective your strokes will be. For canoe paddles, there are four main materials that you'll find: wood, fiberglass, aluminum, and carbon.

Wood Paddles

Wood paddles are a cult classic in canoeing, and for good reason. Their natural beauty, warmth, and comfort make every stroke a pleasure. Thanks to the softer material, they're really comfortable on the hands and shock-absorbent. This does mean that they need a little more care, and over time, you may need to refinish them. Don't forget, they actually float. So, if you accidentally drop one overboard, no worries, you can easily scoop it back up.

Fiberglass Paddles

Next up, we have fiberglass. Fiberglass is a lot more lightweight and stiffer than wood paddles, which means you're getting a more efficient stroke and not working as hard. Fiberglass is really popular for paddlers in the recreational community, but they can be a bit more delicate, so it's important to be careful when pushing off. We stock canoe paddles that have fiberglass blades and shafts, maximizing your weight savings and efficiency.

Aluminum Paddles

A popular budget option is aluminum shafts paired with a plastic or fiberglass blade. These are popular because of their price point but are by far the heaviest. One of the major advantages of aluminum canoe paddles is durability. They are highly resistant to impact, making them suitable for paddling in rocky or shallow waters without worrying about damage. They can withstand rough handling and are less likely to break or crack compared to other paddle materials. Aluminum paddles have natural buoyancy too, which can be advantageous in certain situations.

Carbon Paddles

Last up, we have carbon. Carbon can be found in both the blade and the shaft and is the most lightweight, stiff, and efficient material in a canoe paddle. Due to the lightweight and stiffness of the material, carbon is perfect for long tripping days or high-performing paddlers. Carbon doesn't break down or chip over time like wood or fiberglass paddles, but it does come with a higher price tag.

Styles of Canoe Paddles

Next, we're going to talk about styles of canoe paddles. This includes the grip, the blade shape, and the shaft style.

Paddle Grips

Canoe paddle grips come in two different options: the T grip and the palm grip.

T Grip

The T grip is really effective for river paddling or a situation where you want a really good grip on your paddle. You can wrap your thumb underneath and then bring your fingers over top, meaning that you're not going to lose your paddle. Having a stronger grip on your paddle also helps you get a bit more leverage in the river.

Palm Grip

The palm grip is a less aggressive style and a lot more comfortable. It's designed to slip into the palm of your hand and can be more versatile for different grips for longer days on the water.

Blade Shapes

Blade shapes come in sugar island, square with rounded tips, and beaver tail.

Sugar Island Blade

Sugar Island is a classic blade shape and really versatile. They're extremely maneuverable and great for bracing.

Square with Rounded Tips

Our last blade shape is a little wider and shorter, which makes it best for really active or shallow water. This means that you're not going to be scraping on the bottom, hitting rocks, and damaging the blade as much. It is important to note that once you get into extremely active white water, your needs as a paddler will change. So this is aimed at recreational canoeists. Bending Branches’ Expedition Plus is a great example.

Beaver Tail Blade

The Beaver Tail blade has a larger surface area, and pulls a higher volume of water; they are great in deep lakes.

Shaft Styles

Most canoe paddles seen on the market are straight shafts, but there are bent shafts out there.

Bent Shaft

The main advantage with bent shaft canoe paddles has to do with your angle of entry and exit when your blade is going through the water. Bent shaft paddle blades are angled so that they're further away from you. This gives you a longer, more efficient paddling stroke, so you're not working as hard.

Shop All Bent Shaft Canoe Paddles >

Straight Shaft

Straight shaft paddles also have their advantages. First off, they're a little less expensive than their bent shaft counterparts, and they can be a bit more maneuverable and versatile. These are great for more technical water when you need to make quick adjustments on the fly, and they help you keep a cadence with your partner.

Shop All Straight Shaft Canoe Paddles >

How to Properly Size a Canoe Paddle

There are a lot of different methods when sizing a canoe paddle, but the simplest rule to follow is to aim for the shortest length that still allows you to comfortably reach the water. In the middle of your stroke, your top hand should be roughly level with your nose, and the entire paddle blade should be submerged just below the water's surface.

My Preferred Method

What I recommend in-store is taking one end of the paddle and placing it on the top of your foot, and the other end should be positioned somewhere between your chin and your nose. This technique always offers a reliable way to gauge the ideal length, just remember to stand upright.

Sitting Technique

Another popular method involves sitting in a chair and placing the paddle upside down between your legs, with the handle resting on the seat. In this position, the throat or neck of the paddle (where the blade begins on the shaft) should align with the hairline on your forehead.

Measuring the Torso

For those without a paddle on hand or who are sizing for someone else, measuring the paddler's torso can provide a useful estimate. This measurement should roughly match the distance from the seat to the paddler's nose when seated in a canoe.

Adjustable Options

If you're unsure about the perfect length or anticipate multiple users for the same paddle, consider opting for an adjustable model like the Werner Bandito Glass 2pc Adjustable Canoe Paddle. This versatility ensures that you can customize the length to suit different paddlers or preferences.

The Consequences of an Improperly Sized Paddle

When Your Paddle is Too Short

If you end up with a paddle that’s too short for you, you’ll be leaning further over the side of your canoe, throwing off your balance, and potentially scraping the side of your canoe and paddle shaft. Not only can it be damaging both for your paddle and your boat, but it can also be strenuous on your body.

When Your Paddle is Too Long

On the flip side, a paddle that’s too long means more resistance on every stroke and you may have difficulties fully lifting the canoe blade out of the water. This throws off your leverage and means you're working a little bit harder than you need to when putting in your paddle strokes.

The Benefits of the Right Paddle

Having the right canoe paddle, both in terms of size and style, is crucial for an enjoyable and efficient paddling experience. Whether it's the materials, the style, or the size, each element plays a significant role in your overall performance and comfort on the water. We always recommend that you come in store so we can make sure that you have the best fitting paddle for your needs.