The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Bending Branches Whisper Review

This is an affordable entry level paddle that you can rely on.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $65 List | $64.95 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Affordable, durable blade construction
Cons:  Heavy aluminum shaft, play in locking mechanism
Manufacturer:   Bending Branches
By Sara James ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 23, 2018
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49
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 6
  • Performance - 40% 4
  • Ease of adjustment - 20% 5
  • Locking Mechanism Security - 15% 6
  • Weight - 15% 5
  • Durability - 10% 6

Our Verdict

The Bending Branches Whisper kayak paddle is popular with rental shops for good reasons. Although it is not a top scorer for performance, it has the alternative benefit of being very affordable and durable. For that reason, it won our Best Buy on a Budget Award. Frequent careless users are not likely to cause damage that significantly impacts the performance of this paddle. Although the plastic blades are slightly more flexible than higher quality paddles, their durable polypropylene construction means that the paddle is not easily damaged. This paddle is perfect for the introductory touring kayaker on a tight budget. Families will be happy buying a couple of these so that you can get everyone out enjoying the water.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Whisper won the Best Budget Buy as testers felt it was very affordable and still delivered an acceptable performance.

Performance Comparison


Lower Lake Scott provided a beautiful spot to test out the Whisper.
Lower Lake Scott provided a beautiful spot to test out the Whisper.

Performance


The Bending Branches paddle blades lived up to their name. Constructed from polypropylene, they were noted to be quiet bendy, delivering a slight flutter when kayaking at speeds. This issue was also evident when trying to use the paddle to launch from the shore. In the gravel bank push-off test, testers visibly observed the paddle flexing under pressure. Paddles such as the Carlisle Magic Plus utilize fiberglass to reinforce their polypropylene blades, resulting in a more rigid blade that delivered a higher performance stroke.

Sit on Top kayakers are likely to be attracted to the Bending Branches.
Sit on Top kayakers are likely to be attracted to the Bending Branches.

Despite these drawbacks, the Whisper was able to perform adequately in the time trials, indicating that it is functional. A novice paddler is unlikely to notice the difference when they first get used to maneuvering their kayak. If you are not focused on covering long distances (i.e., you just want to paddle out to a nearby fishing spot), the performance of the Bending Branches may be entirely suitable for your needs.


A kayaker looking for a slighter better-performing paddle may consider the Carlisle Magic Plus, which delivered less blade flex for only an additional $25. Kayakers looking for lighter weight and high-performance paddles will have to invest at least an extra $125 to get a product that uses higher quality materials that suits their needs, such as the Aqua-Bound or Camano.

The snap button system is coupled with a grooved internal shaft to make a fairly secure system.
The snap button system is coupled with a grooved internal shaft to make a fairly secure system.

Ease of Adjustment


Due to its simplicity, even first-time paddlers were able to use the snap button system on the Whisper without guidance. However, testers noted that as you get cold hands, or as grit builds up in the system over time, it becomes challenging to use and you will likely need to get a friend to lend a hand if you want to dismantle or adjust the paddle. Regularly rinsing the paddle's snap button ferrule, especially after kayaking in salty or sandy conditions, will help maintain ease of adjustment in this paddle.


The paddle offers three different blade angle options — a 0-degree offset, a left bias 45-degree angle, and a right bias 45-degree angle. All testers agreed that this is perfectly adequate. Some did prefer the multitude of options provided by the Werner and Aqua-Bound paddles, as it enabled them to further adjust the angle of the paddle to suit their kayaking style and weather conditions.

Here is a close up on the joint of the two-piece paddle.
Here is a close up on the joint of the two-piece paddle.

Locking Mechanism Security


The basic ferrule locking system used in the Whisper's adjustment point made the paddle more secure than those that just used the snap button, such as the Carlisle and SeaSense. However, testers still felt a slight give in the locking mechanism when it was torqued under pressure. This affected the overall performance of the paddle.


The Werner Smart-view adjustment system and the Aqua-Bound Posi Lok were observed to deliver a significantly more secure connection point due to the advanced ferrule locking components utilized by these designs.

Here is the internal portion of the paddle shaft.
Here is the internal portion of the paddle shaft.

Weight


Weighing in at 1,050 grams, the Whisper can be considered a heavy paddle in comparison to our top performers. However, when compared to other paddles of a similar cost (i.e., the Carlisle Magic Plus), the Whisper came out a winner in terms of weight.


The Whisper utilizes an aluminum shaft, which is considerably heavier than the fiberglass and carbon shafts of some other paddles. Many paddlers observed that the Whisper feels heavier than the Carlisle Plus weighing less. This can be attributed to the distribution of weight within the paddle design, which can affect the feel of the paddle in the water.

Kayakers seeking a significantly lighter weight option may consider the Camano or Aqua-Bound Sting Ray, both which use a lighter shaft composed of carbon.

The aluminum shaft made this paddle heavier than testers preferred.
The aluminum shaft made this paddle heavier than testers preferred.

Durability


The Whisper paddle is designed to be able to withstand being thrown in the back of your truck or U-Haul. Although the plastic blades make the Whisper quite durable in terms of breakage, the flexibility is likely to bring additional wear to the blades. Testers noted the paddles tended to develop a permanent curve to the blades after extended use. The Werner Camano and Aqua-Bound Sting Ray, Skagit and Carlisle were not observed to have this problem.


The black grips on the aluminum shaft started to peel off after multiple hours spent traveling in a roof box with other equipment. However, aside from reducing the transfer of cold from the paddle, testers didn't find that these grips actually provided much grip to the paddle and were not concerned about losing them.

The plastic blade can feel bendy at times.
The plastic blade can feel bendy at times.

Best Applications


If you are going to be using your kayak a handful of times a season, or you are more interested in lazy floats than journeying with your kayak, the Bending Branches would be a great choice for you. Fisherman and bird watchers looking to expand their hobby further by venturing out in a kayak may be especially attracted to this paddle. Affordable and reliable, it will get the job done without compromising your enjoyment or bank balance.

Kayakers looking to cover long distances quickly would be better suited to purchase a lighter, higher performance paddle such as the Camano or Sting Ray.

Touring Lake Tahoe with the Bending Branches.
Touring Lake Tahoe with the Bending Branches.

Value


This paddle will enable frugal kayakers to get on the water. It is a paddle that the whole family can enjoy. It would be difficult to find a cheaper paddle that also performs to this standard. The SeaSense is cheaper, but the Bending Branches is a better option for anyone who wants to kayak properly. Those looking for a substantially lighter paddle will also have to pay substantially more to beat the weight/price value of this product.

Foward paddle.
Foward paddle.

Conclusion


This entry-level paddle delivers solid performance at a very affordable price. It is an easy choice for those looking to take their first plunge into the world of recreational kayaking. Intermediate or advanced paddlers may choose to have this paddle as a spare for longer journeys. You won't be embarrassed to lend this to a friend when they join you out on the water.

Kayakers looking for a slightly higher performing paddle without spending much more money will want to consider the Carlisle Magic Plus. For those looking for a top performing paddle, the Aqua-Bound should be a consideration, although this will cost an additional $100.

Those looking for a high performance paddle may want something better performing than the Whisper
Those looking for a high performance paddle may want something better performing than the Whisper

Other Versions and Accessories

  • This paddle is available in lengths 210m, 220cm, 230cm and 240cm.
  • Bending Branches offer a few other blade designs using higher quality materials for construction. Intermediate and advanced paddlers may want to explore these options.


Sara James