When you are out on the water in a canoe, the sights and sounds are amazing. The canoe lets you get up close and personal with some of the most beautiful shorelines and features you can see.
Canoes have the ability to maneuver through shallow waters or deep-running currents. The best part about them is that on a canoe you can approach wildlife virtually silently—a feature unavailable on other motorized boats.
The only hard part about canoeing is the rowing. There can be an intense amount of upper body strength that is required for long canoe treks. If you have the wrong paddle, the amount of energy you exert becomes even higher.
Choosing the right canoe paddle for your lake or river conditions, as well as your body height can be crucial when planning a long canoe trip.
The problem is when you go to the store, or look online, there are a million paddles, and no one lets you know which one is going to work for what you need. How are you supposed to choose a paddle when you cannot lift the paddle or get a feel for it in the water?
This guide will take you through all the elements of canoe paddles and make sure you have all the knowledge that you need to make the best choice.
There are lots of options, and you may need some help navigating all of the features available in the world of canoe paddles. Let’s get started.
Canoe Paddle Buying Guide
A good Canoe Paddle can make your entire trip more enjoyable. Making sure that you have the right canoe and equipment will allow you to stay out on the water longer and just have more fun with your canoe.
Here are some basic construction elements, or design features, that you want to consider before you purchase a canoe paddle.
Canoe panels can be made out of many different materials. The materials include wood, plastic, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. Each of these materials is going to perform differently than the other.
Let’s take a look at how each one of these materials may impact your canoeing trip.
Wood may be one of the more aesthetically pleasing materials that canoe paddles are made from. But aside from the way the wood looks there are many other reasons to purchase a Wood Canoe Paddle.
Wood laminates does have high-performance capabilities because they combine different elements of soft and hardwood features. Many would canoe paddles feature a varnish or fiberglass layer to ensure lasting durability.
One of the drawbacks of choosing a Wood Canoe Paddle is that wood tends to be the heaviest choice in canoe paddles. There is simply no way to make wood lighter than what it is naturally.
So, if you are planning a long canoeing trip, a wood paddle may not be your first choice unless you have trained with that paddle the whole time.
Plastic and Aluminum
Plastic and aluminum canoe paddles offer a lightweight alternative to wood canoe paddles. They may not feature the aesthetic beauty that a wood paddle has, but they make up for it by being lightweight and affordable.
Typically a plastic and aluminum canoe paddle will feature an aluminum handle with a plastic fin. Sometimes these paddles are height adjustable which makes them a good choice for beginners.
If you are a more experienced canoeist, you may notice that a plastic and aluminum paddle is less responsive than a wood paddle.
Fiberglass is typically not seen as the entire construction of a canoe paddle unless it is for Whitewater canoeing. These paddles are reserved for intense canoeing.
You will, however, see fiberglass featured as added material to would and even plastic canoe paddles. Fiberglass tends to reinforce the already durable materials.
For competitive canoeists, there is an option for carbon fiber canoe paddles. These canoe paddles are extremely lightweight measuring in just grams.
They are very expensive compared to wood and even plastic canoe paddles. They are designed for competitive sport or those with an elite taste for equipment.
There are a few options when it comes to the shape of a canoe paddle. First, you can have a straight shaft or a bent shaft. The second option is the shape of the fin.
Each of these provides a different function for the canoeist. Let’s take a look at them in a little more detail.
Straight or Bent Shaft?
Traditional canoe paddles are going to feature straight shafts. This is the most common type of canoe paddle available on the market. It is designed for all-around rafting adventures and excels on rivers because it allows for great maneuverability.
In addition to the increased maneuverability of a straight shafted canoe paddle, you have increased bracing ability which is preferred by those in Whitewater or rapid flowing conditions.
A bent shaft is best for flatwater canoeing or cruising. The bent shaft will help the canoer position the blade for maximum stroke efficiency allowing you to Max your speed. The bend in the shaft is designed to you enter and exit the water smoothly.
Bent shaft canoe paddles are ideal for those who race or who experience flatwater conditions regularly.
Fanned or Straight Fin?
The shape of the fin that you want depends on the type of canoeing you will be doing. A straight fin is ideal for cruising on lakes.
If you want to get a lot of speed and are going to be doing a lot of maneuvering, the long skinny fin, and the beavertail sun, are going to be perfect for you.
The short fat fins are best used in rivers and shallow waters. In rapid moving water you need the most amount of contact to assist with steering, and a wide fin is going to provide that for you. Also, shallow water needs a shallower fin so that you don’t get stuck.
You may decide that you want to purchase a variety of canoe paddles for varying water conditions this will help you get the most out of each canoeing adventure you take.
The length of a canoeing paddle should always be determined by your height and by the width of your boat.
Make sure that if you are seated and your rear is 6 inches above the ground, that you can reach the neck of the paddle while the handle is firmly on the floor, typically, this is what will work when sizing a canoe paddle.
If you have a canoe paddle that already works consider purchasing a new one at the same size.
Choosing the handle for your canoe paddle is just as important as choosing the other elements of your paddle. The shape of the handle is going to determine how well you are able to handle your paddle. There are two main shapes for a canoe paddle the shape and the T shape. Let’s go over what shape will function best in which situation.
The T-grip paddle allows you to grip the canoe paddle firmly by wrapping your fingers all the way around. Wrapping your fingers around the paddle enables you to have full control over the canoe paddle.
The amount of control provided by the T-grip is ideal for beginning canoeists as well as those who will be battling heavy currents or Whitewater conditions.
The A-Palm grip, also known as a pair grip or teardrop grip, offers flatwater canoeists great comfort and control because it fits naturally in the palm of your hand.
The level of comfort provided by the shape of this canoe paddle is excellent for those on long canoeing trips. Assuming you have good control over your canoe paddling ability, this shape of the handle is going to give you much more comfort than the T-grip handle.
Best Canoe Paddle Reviews
Z and J sport have gone above and beyond to give you a high-performance canoe paddle. The paddle ranges in length from 44 inches all the way up to 52 inches. It features a T grip handle designed to give you the most control over the paddle.
Unlike most T grip handles this one features a slight curve to better fit in the palm of your hand.
The materials used to make this paddle are; carbon fiber and PMI foam. Using these materials has created an ultralightweight canoe paddle weighing in at 360 g.
If you are looking for a lightweight paddle that you can use all day this paddle will give you that performance. The construction and design of the straight blade paddle gives you ultimate control over your canoe. This is a great paddle for any serious canoeist.
- T grip handle
- One Year Warranty
- 360 g
- High Price
As you may know, Bending Branches is perhaps the best-known brand on our list. They’re fully made in the USA (Wisconsin) using Wisconsin softwood and then sealed with highly-protective commercial-grade varnishes. It’s a sleek and buoyant paddle that we believe is really engineered for ultimate efficiency in each stroke.
The blade protection is remarkable given that the Rockgard technology protects the tip of the blade from any damage, cracking or abuse. Typically, the life of the paddle is extended by about SIX times!
The paddle looks gorgeous (a bit more appealing than an average, EXPENSIVE carbon paddle), and this paddle is straight as an arrow which is excellent if you’re a beginner or learning new strokes. It’s a much more versatile blade than a bent-shaft blade which is a bit more efficient for long tours, but lacks the versatility of a straight shaft.
- Straight Shaft for maximum versatility
- Excellent blade protection
- Backed by one of the best names in the industry and made here in the USA!
- 600 g (which is about 150 grams heavier than a typical carbon model)
The Carlisle wooden canoe paddle is made of solid basswood and comes in sizes from 48 inches to 72 inches. Some found that when ordering the Carlisle, the sizing was incorrect and off by as much as 2 inches. However, that did not interfere with the performance or quality of the canoe paddle.
This paddle features and A-Palm handle and a straight blade with slight flair. The Max weight on the paddle is 28 ounces for this 72-inch paddle. Making it lightweight and ideal for those who like to canoe on longer trips.
The clearcoat and sending are a little rough on this canoe paddle. If you prefer an ultra-smooth finish, then you will want to make sure that you sand and re-varnish this paddle when you get it. The initial lacquer is a little thin and it may need an extra coat early in the life of the paddle. Altogether it was a high-performing paddle for the price.
- Variable Sizing
- 28 ounces
- May Need Additional Varnish Early on
- Rough Sanding
- Sizing May Be off
Z and J sport continue to deliver high-quality canoeing equipment with this hybrid Outrigger. It is designed for those who prefer the feel of a wooden shaft in their hands while still enjoying the freedom of a carbon fiber blade.
The total weight for the canoe blade is just at 500 g (+- 50 g). Considering the handcrafted wood shaft the weight is still very low and gives ultimate maneuverability. The wood shaft ends in an ergonomic T grip handle that is slightly curved to fit in your palm.
Lengths are 47″ to 54″ in 1-inch increments.
As with any composite type blades and paddles be careful to watch where the wood and the carbon fiber meet. This can be prone to wearing out much faster than a solid construction paddle.
- Solid carbon fiber Blade
- Handcrafted Wood Shaft
- 500 g
- Composite Materials
Bending Branches (BB) is perhaps the best-known name in the U.S.A. when it comes to high quality, wood canoe paddles. I’ve personally known about them for about 20 years since they show up in every canoe magazine in North America (and the world actually) every single month. They’re BIG!
Made in the middle of canoe country in Osceola, Wisconsin, they’re truly a Made in the U.S.A. success story. All kinds of little tweaks and details set this iconic brand head and shoulders above the rest. Take for instance BB’s patented ROCKGARD® tip which makes the paddle last around 6 times longer than without the protection. The ergonomics of all Bending Branches paddles are taken into consideration and details matter! Many wood paddle companies make paddles with a shaft shape that is exactly the opposite to what it should be, but it’s easier to make. Not so with BB.
Can you imagine 7 layers of wood in the blade and 18 layers in the shaft? That’s what we’re talking about here! It’s arguably the best paddle on the list (and hands down the best wood paddle) and only because of price did this fall below #1 on our list. It’s a strong “BUY” if you have the budget.
- Incomparable quality
- warm and comfortable
- aesthetically unmatched
- Most iconic name in the industry
The Crooked Creek Canoe Paddle is available in sizes 3 ½ feet all the way up to 6 feet. This paddle is designed to withstand some decent water current because of its solid construction.
The grip on this canoe paddle is the traditional A-Palm grip giving it a nice feel in your hand. It features a straight blade for fast paddling. The blade is lightweight and is made with a multiply technique to ensure better performance.
- Variable Sizing
- Multi-Ply construction
- epoxy blade tip
- Finish May Chip
- Blade Tip May Chip
The Atwood telescoping paddle is a compact and lightweight option for those who are looking for a backup or spare paddle. This canoe paddle is probably not going to work for your primary paddle because of the length. The paddle only extends out to 42 inches meaning that it is going to be far too short for most paddlers and canoeists. However, if you’re looking for something that is compact to fit in your boat in case you lose the paddle, your trolling motor dies, or you just have an emergency, this paddle is going to be perfect for you.
At 1 lb. 5 oz. the Atwood telescoping paddle is very light, meaning it’s not going to add a ton of weight to your boat when you keep it on board as a backup. If you do use it to paddle keep in mind that the seals around the telescoping aluminum are not designed for vigorous paddling. So, if you’re going to use it make sure that you are using it gently.
- Only goes to 42 inches
- Not for Vigorous paddling
- More of a backup
The Carlisle Polyethylene Canoe paddles are 51″ to 66″ long (increasing by 3-inch increments) and feature a T-grip handle. The shaft is made of vinyl-clad aluminum, while the blades are made of high impact polypropylene (as is the handle). The 60″ version weighs in around 34 ounces, and it comes in a wider-than-expected variety of colors including black, green, red, yellow, olive, and yellow blade & grip with blue shaft.
These paddles feature some fairly thin plastic on the blades so if you are going to be paddling in rough or fast-moving water they may not work well for you. The thickness of the plastic on the blades is why they are so lightweight, but means that they are best used in calm and placid waters. Having said that, there were no major complaints online pertaining to their breakage.
Remember, this is not a serious wilderness touring paddle but is best reserved for recreational use near the cottage docks or perhaps as an extra paddle. It makes our list because it has some excellent reviews on Amazon though most reviews are praising its value – since it only costs as little as $30.
- Good versatility
- Aluminum Shaft
- Excellent value for the dollar
- Heavier than an efficient paddle
- Not for serious wilderness trip paddlers
The Caviness Marine twin stripe paddle is available in lengths of 36 inches through 6 feet. This is great because it gives a wide variety of height for different age groups. The paddle construction features A-Palm grip, a long straight blade and solid wood construction. There are two stripes down the blade adding to the overall look of this paddle.
While the paddle construction itself is solid the finish leaves room to be desired. When the paddle arrives, there is still much need for sanding and even in an additional coat of varnish. If you do not want to sand the paddle or apply varnish then this is not the paddle you should choose. Some people found that providing this additional care to their paddle was an enjoyable experience and lead to a greater fondness for their canoeing sport.
- Variety of Length
- A-Palm Grip
- Straight Blade
- Rough Varnish
- No Sanding
The Atwood wood canoe paddle is available in a variety of sizes which makes it convenient for those who are looking for paddles were younger canoers. The overall design is a solid wood construction that features a lacquer coating and in A-Palm grip.
The lacquer coating may not be the highest quality. On this paddle, you may want to apply your own coat of lacquer to make sure that it withstands the water for a longer amount of time. Also, the lacquer on the handle can be a bit rough and may require sanding to make sure that you don’t experience any chafing or discomfort when paddling.
- Solid Wood Construction
- A-Palm Grip
- Week Lacquer
- Rough on the Palm
Conclusion & Recommendations
If you have a budget of over $200 and want a paddle that turns heads for its beauty while not sacrificing one ounce of quality, we highly recommend the Bending Branches Sunburst 11. It’s built to the exacting standards of Bending Branches, but it’s injected with a very generous dose of “classy” and “gorgeous”. It’s kind of like paddling in a cedar strip canoe instead of a plastic Coleman canoe. BIIIIIG difference! Check out this gorgeous hunk of softwood right HERE!
When it comes to canoeing, you are simply going to have to find the paddle that’s right for you. Many people absolutely love the high-end Canoe paddles by Z and J sport and will not go with any other paddle on the market. For others, it’s far too much performance and they know that they wouldn’t understand the difference between that and an Atwood Canoe Paddle.
If you’re an experienced paddler who is going to be able to tell the difference on the water, go for any of the Z and J sport models. They are superior quality, construction, and design. If you are looking for something a bit simpler, or you’re just starting out the Atwood, Caviness, or Sun Dolphin will all work well for you. As you gain more experience you may find that you’d like to elevate your paddling to a sport line like that offered by Z and J.
Either way, get your canoe, get your paddle, and hit the water.