Last updated: November 11

What Size Kayak Paddle Do I Need?

Apart from the Kayak and safety gear, the kayaking paddle is the most important piece of equipment you will need. Kayaking enthusiasts who have some experience know which paddles they should get.

However, beginners will find themselves facing a challenge when it comes to the paddle size that they should use.

Users’ preferences vary about what is the most efficient length for a kayak paddle. Determining the ideal kayaking paddle size is based on several factors, from the type of kayaking, you will do to the boat dimension, your body size, and stroke preference.

You should opt for a paddle that is comfortable to use and gives you better control of the kayak without exerting a lot of effort. Let’s take a look at some of the factors you should consider for choosing the kayak that is the right size for you.

Make sure you check out my picks for the best kayak paddle after you understand the size you need

Kayak size measurements

Before we consider what paddle size would be best for you, let’s clarify how kayak paddles are measured. The industry’s standard is to use the metric units to measure the size of paddles used for kayaking.

They start at size 200 cm and go up to 280 cm depending on the width that you need. If you are a little rusty on your metric system calculations, then here’s a list of centimeters converted to inches.

  • 250 cm kayak paddle – 98.4″
  • 240 cm kayak paddle – 94.5″
  • 230 cm kayak paddle – 90.5″
  • 220 cm kayak paddle – 86.6″
  • 210 cm kayak paddle – 82.7″
  • 200 cm kayak paddle – 78.7″
  • 190 cm kayak paddle – 74.8″
  • 180 cm kayak paddle – 70.9″

Your body size

Your body size is an important determinant for choosing the right paddle size. Taller people will find it easier to go with bigger paddles, while people with a smaller frame will do better with paddles that are on the lower end of the scale.

There are two other important factors to consider when it comes to your body size; the height of your torso and arms’ width. Two people who are the same height, say 6’, may have a different height for torso and legs.

One may have longer legs while the other may have a longer torso.

Although you will use your legs to generate push, it is the height of your torso that determines how big of a kayaking paddle you can handle with ease. Most table based charts that are used for finding the ideal paddle just take account of your overall height against paddles of different lengths.

We recommend taking your torso height into account as well because it can help you get a more accurate measure of the paddle size you should get.

The second thing to consider is the length of your arms, from fingertip to fingertip, when you have them outstretched. The wider your arm span, the bigger of a paddle you can use.

Your kayak design and purpose

The purpose and design of your kayak is another important factor. If you are going for an ocean trip, a longer kayak is more useful as it helps generate more stroke power.

On the other hand, a run through the rapids requires better control of your kayak, and a shorter paddle is more suitable for such an occasion.

The size and width of the kayak are also important to choose the right paddle size. On a wider kayak, you will need to use a longer paddle.

A longer paddle will help you maintain proper blade placement inside the water, which is necessary to reach over the gunwales of your kayak.

Longer paddles will also help maintain proper paddling form. You don’t want to be the deck with your knuckles while rowing.

You also do not want to exert too little or too much power to row the water with the paddle blades.

There are additional factors to consider here, some of which relate to your body size. A shorter person in a wider kayak may need to get the same size of a paddle that a taller person needs in that vessel.

Paddles that are used in tandem kayaks are usually longer than the ones used in solo kayaks

Lastly, you should also take account of the seat height in relation to the water surface. Two people of the same height may need to use paddles of different sizes in the same kayak if the seat height is different for them the boat.

Stroke angle preference

Another important factor to consider is the angle of paddling that you are comfortable with while kayaking.

In high angle paddling, you place the blade of the paddle almost vertical while shoveling through the water. This makes high angle paddling more powerful and moves your kayak forward much faster.

Since the strokes are almost perpendicular, your paddle should be shorter to lower fatigue. Whitewater kayakers and speed-lovers prefer to use high-angle strokes when kayaking.

In low angle paddling, the blade doesn’t go very deep into the water as you move forward. Low-angle paddling is more relaxed and preferred when you are going to spend a long day on the water.

Your paddle strokes are going to be more horizontal, so the paddle should be a bit longer. This stroke style is used by touring, fishing, and recreational kayakers to save energy and move through the water at a slow pace.

Paddle material

The paddle blade and shaft material must be lightweight but durable. Lightweight material will allow you to handle a longer paddle without tiring yourself out.

Since you will be raising the blade higher than the shaft with each left and right stroke, it is necessary to keep it light to raise performance and lower fatigue in longer tours. On the other hand, if you are using a shorter paddle, then you can get a heavier blade material that offers stronger stroke power.

How to size up a paddle

If you are buying a paddle at a shop, there are a couple of quick and easy ways to size up the length of the paddle. Both methods are fairly accurate and will come in handy if you don’t have much time or measuring scale.

Method 1

Hold the paddle upright with one of its ends firmly placed on the ground next to you. Extend your arm up fully and curl your fingers over the tip of the paddle blade.

You shouldn’t be able to wrap more than one finger joint over the top. If you can wrap more than the first finger joint, or your fingers can’t reach the top, then get a different sized paddle.

Method 2

Hold out your arms at an angle in front of you with your elbows bent at roughly a 90-degree angle as you do in a normal paddling position. Take hold of the paddle in both hands with a strong grip.

Your hands should be about two-thirds of the way from the middle of the kayak paddle to each end where the paddle shaft meets the blades. If you have to move your arms to get to the right position, then try out a different paddle.

Kayak paddle size guide based on usage and angle

Low angle kayak paddle size guide

This paddle size guide is for people who will be kayaking for a recreational, fishing or touring purpose and use a low-angle paddling style.

Kayak Width Under 24″ 24″ to 28″ 29″ to 33″ Over 33″
Paddler Height Paddle Length
5’0″ or less 210cm 220cm 230cm 240cm
5′ – 5’6″ 215cm 220cm 230cm 240cm
5’6″ – 6′ 220cm 220cm 230cm 250cm
6′ or more 220cm 230cm 240cm 250cm

High angle kayak paddle size guide

You can use this paddle size guide if you intend to use a high angle paddling for an ocean or sea tour.

Kayak Width 17” to 23” 23” to 25” Over 25”
Paddler Height Paddle Length
5’0″ or less 200cm 210cm 220cm
5’0″ – 5’6″ 210cm 220cm 230cm
5’6″ – 6’2″ 220cm 230cm 240cm
Over 6’3″ 230cm 240cm 250cm

Whitewater kayak paddle sizing guide

If you are going to go for whitewater kayaking or recreational kayaking, then use this paddle size guide.

Paddler Height Paddle Length
Under 5’2” 188cm – 194cm
5’2” – 5’8” 190cm – 196cm
5’8” – 6’1” 192cm – 200cm
Under 6’1” 196cm – 204cm

Summary

Use each of the guideline tips that we covered here to figure out the ideal size of kayak paddles that you should buy. Take account of your height, especially torso height, your kayak’s width and design, your stroke style, and paddle material to figure out what you should buy.

You should also take the paddle in your hands to get an idea of how it feels like and checks its height with the two sizings up methods that we discussed. Finally, refer to the sizing guide to get the kayak paddle size that will meet your specific needs.


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