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Aqua-Bound Challenge 85 Review

The Aqua-Bound Challenge has a a high-performance paddle for serious paddlers.
Aqua-Bound Challenge 85
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Price:  $190 List | $189.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Easy and sturdy adjustment, lightweight, high performance
Cons:  Smaller adjustment range
Manufacturer:   Aqua-Bound
By Shey Kiester ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 18, 2019
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84
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 14
  • Performance - 30% 9
  • Weight - 20% 9
  • Ease of Adjustment - 20% 8
  • Locking Mechanism - 20% 8
  • Aesthetics - 10% 7

Our Verdict

There are no two ways about it: The Aqua-Bound Challenge 85 is a high-performance paddle. With a shaft constructed from carbon and a blade made of polymer-reinforced carbon, this model is both light and durable. A long, rectangular blade allows this product to maneuver quickly and nimbly. Plus, the Performance adjust system makes the paddle quick, intuitive, and simple to change lengths. We liked that the locking mechanism on the Challenge 85 does not get in the way of the user's hand during paddling or while changing hands.


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Awards  Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award 
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Easy and sturdy adjustment, lightweight, high performanceGreat paddling performance, lightweight, compact for travelingLightweight, easy to adjust, high performanceCuts cleanly through water, durable bladeLightweight, strong, easy on the body to use
Cons Smaller adjustment rangeSlight paddle flutterPricey, blade can flutterHeavy, looks like a toyThe handle allows excellent grip but can become uncomfortable
Bottom Line The Aqua-Bound Challenge has a a high-performance paddle for serious paddlers.If you need a travel paddle and don’t want to sacrifice paddling performance, the Lock and Load is the right choiceThe Trance is a breath of fresh air, with good performance and an unbelievably lightweight construction.The Vibe is a great all-around paddle that moves water well and is easy to manage.This is a high-performance paddle that is easy to pull through the water.
Rating Categories Aqua-Bound Challenge 85 Hala Travel Lock & Load Werner Trance 95 Performance Werner Vibe KIALOA Insanity
Performance (30%)
10
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9
10
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8
10
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8
10
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9
10
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8
Weight (20%)
10
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9
10
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10
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10
10
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6
10
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6
Ease Of Adjustment (20%)
10
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8
10
0
10
10
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10
10
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10
10
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10
Locking Mechanism (20%)
10
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8
10
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10
10
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10
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10
10
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10
Aesthetics (10%)
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7
10
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8
10
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8
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6
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8
Specs Aqua-Bound... Hala Travel Lock &... Werner Trance 95... Werner Vibe KIALOA Insanity
Paddle Weight 1.3 lbs 1.125 lbs 1.2 lbs 1.7 lbs 1.56 lbs
Blade Design Dihedral Dihedral Dihedral Dihedral Dihedral
Blade Shape Rectangular Teardrop Rectangular Rectangular Teardrop
Offset 10 degrees 10 degrees 10 degrees 10 degrees 10 degrees
Blade Material epX engineered polymer reinforced with carbon Polycarbonate Carbon Injection molded fiberglass Fiberglass fibrlite
Blade Dimensions 85 sq in Unavailible 95 sq in 100 sq in 83 sq in
Shaft Material Carbon Carbon Carbon Fiberglass Durable fiberglass
Adjustablility (inches) 10.5" 16" 8" 16" 16"
Length Range (inches) 70" - 80" 62"-78" 70" - 78" | 74" - 82" | 80" - 88" 68" - 84" 70"-86"
Number of Pieces 2-piece 3-piece 1-piece (available in 1, 2, or 3) 3-piece (available in 1, 2, or 3) 1-piece (avaliable in 1 or 3)
Compact Size 66" 41" NA 34.5" NA
Warranty 2 years 3 years 1 year 1 year 1 year
Comes with cover No No No No No
Locking Mechanism "Performance" Snap Button Handle LeverLock Handle LeverLock Handle LeverLock Handle LeverLock

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Aqua-Bound Challenge was among the top contenders regarding performance, with lightweight construction and a well-designed blade. This paddle is best for serious users who appreciate a paddle that can help them push their limits, even if it means paying a bit more for initially.

Performance Comparison


The Challenge is a high-performing paddle that's lightweight and easy to adjust.
The Challenge is a high-performing paddle that's lightweight and easy to adjust.

Performance


This paddle is lightweight and agile, and users felt that it was easy to manipulate their crafts when paddling, and quick motions were not a problem. Because of the paddle's 10-degree offset, backstrokes are also easy. Unlike other lightweight paddles, this model's balance was not thrown off by its heavier locking mechanism.

This SUP paddle has a great catch and powers through the water easily. The Challenge 85 enters and exits the water very smoothly, all while being very light and making it easy to set up for the next paddle stroke. We didn't have any flutter issues even at maximum power, with the blade shedding the water evenly and failing to create any undesirable vortices.

The Aqua-Bound's blade.
The Aqua-Bound's blade.

Weight


While not the lightest product in the test, this model weighed in at just 1.3 pounds, which is much lighter than the heavier and less nimble models in the test.


Ease of Adjustment


This paddle features a Performance adjustment system, which makes it one of the easiest-to-adjust paddles in our review. The paddle has six adjustment holes and a small steel button that you compress to lengthen or shorten the paddle. It's simple to do and allows a group to share one paddle easily. This model has an adjustment range of 10.5 inches, which was not the highest in our test. If you plan on sharing your paddle between multiple users, consider an easier-to-adjust model with a wider range of possible lengths.

Locking Mechanism


The Aqua-Bound featured our testers' second-favorite locking mechanism. The adjustment mechanism features six holes spaced along the shaft of the paddle. Just press a metal button and extend or contract the paddle. After it's adjusted there is very little play in the handle and the connection feels quite solid.

However, this locking mechanism can be more prone to corrosion than other models or can become much more difficult to operate if dirt or grime gets inside. This isn't a huge issue but you do want to make sure you take the time to rinse it off after you are done paddling, particularly if you were paddling in saltwater.

Here are two "performance" adjustment systems. The Aqua-Bound paddle is at the top  the older version of the Trance is on the bottom.
Here are two "performance" adjustment systems. The Aqua-Bound paddle is at the top, the older version of the Trance is on the bottom.

Aesthetics


For our last testing metric, we rated and compared how each paddle looked, since everyone wants to look at least a little stylish while they are SUPping. Unfortunately, the Aqua-Bound Challenge 85 is a paddle first and a style statement second. It has an overall generic and uninspiring look, but we did appreciate the accent graphics on the blade.

Value


This model packs a lot of performance in a relatively affordable package. While it is slightly less high-performance than the top-tier models, it is also a lot easier on your pocketbook.

Conclusion


The Aqua-Bound Challenge 85 is a high-performance model with an easy locking mechanism and lightweight construction, making it a good paddle for serious users who want performance for their dollar.


Shey Kiester