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Bending Branches Balance Review

If you appreciate beauty and craftsmanship in a lightweight, high performing paddle this could be for you.
Bending Branches Balance
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $285 List | $284.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Beautifully crafted, lightweight, well-balanced
Cons:  Snap-button adjustment system isn't the easiest to use
Manufacturer:   Bending Branches
By Megan Ferney ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 6, 2018
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74
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 10
  • Performance - 30% 8
  • Weight - 20% 6
  • Ease of adjustment - 20% 7
  • Locking Mechanism - 20% 7
  • Aesthetics - 10% 10

Our Verdict

The Balance is a gorgeous, lightweight, and adjustable paddle from Bending Branches. The blade is made of beautiful basswoods and red alder, and it features a pure carbon shaft. The perfect balance of beauty, comfort, and function, this paddle is a joy to pull through the water. Quality craftsmanship and attention to detail shine through in this piece of functional art. It's a sturdy paddle crafted in Northwestern Wisconsin. Its solid wooden handle and wooden blade make it heavier than the lightest-weight paddles we tested, but it's also a little more affordable than the uber-light, all carbon Werner Trance.

If you're looking for something a more budget-friendly, the Kialoa Insanity is a top pick for performance and is about $85 less. The Werner Vibe is also easy on the wallet and scored well overall.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


The Balance blade has a versatile 10-degree offset.
The Balance blade has a versatile 10-degree offset.

Paddling Performance


The Balance is true to its namesake and has a smooth and efficient stroke from catch to exit with very little flutter. It has a 10-degree blade to shaft offset, which is perfect for versatility. It works for a wide range of paddling styles. The paddle weighs 1.6 pounds (26 ounces), and because most of its weight is in the blade, it's easy to get a metronome feel while paddling. It's just heavy enough that it pulls itself into the water, and is light enough that the exit out of the water feels effortless.


The blade is rectangular with an area of 85 square inches. Fitness paddlers will appreciate the high cadence stroke that works well with the larger blade. Recreational users will enjoy how effortless it is to pull through the water. The contoured wooden palm grip is solid, secure and fits hands perfectly. It was the favorite among testers.

The Balance is large enough to support powerful  high cadence strokes but is smooth enough for the casual paddler to enjoy.
The Balance is large enough to support powerful, high cadence strokes but is smooth enough for the casual paddler to enjoy.

Because the Balance has a flat blade profile, we weren't sure how it would compare to the contoured and dihedral profiles of the other paddles but were pleasantly surprised. Although the whitewater river surfers wouldn't choose this paddle (their first choice was the Kialoa Insanity) almost all the flatwater paddlers found the performance on par with its rivals.

The beautiful red alder and basswood construction is reinforced with Fiberglass and protected by a special rock guard which prevents chipping. The Balance has a shaft made of aviation-grade T700 carbon, which is lightweight and has very little, if any flex. This means that you lose very little power on each stroke, which lessens fatigue and increases forward motion.

Unlike the contoured Werner Vibe and Trace and the Kialoa Insanity  the Balance is has a flat blade profile. It still pulls smoothly through the water.
Unlike the contoured Werner Vibe and Trace and the Kialoa Insanity, the Balance is has a flat blade profile. It still pulls smoothly through the water.

Another high performing paddle worth considering is the featherweight Werner Trance. This model is the opposite in aesthetics as its all black carbon fiber construction has an ultra-modern feel. It's more expensive, but if you're a serious user who wants a lightweight paddle first and foremost, we recommend looking at it. If you are looking for high performance on a budget and don't mind a slightly heavier paddle, look at the Best Buy-winning Werner Vibe.

The “old school” snap-button adjustment system.
The “old school” snap-button adjustment system.

Ease of Adjustment


This is where the Balance struggled against the competition. It has the more old-fashioned snap-button adjustment system. Most of the other paddles had the ultra sleek lever-lock.


It is not hard to adjust, you push the metal button in and slide the handle up or down until the button snaps up into the next hole. These are spaced 2-inches apart. The problem is that if you don't keep things lined up, the button can disappear and you have to keep turning and sliding the handle until it finds a hole.

The snap-button system often positions your lower hand over the adjustment holds.
The snap-button system often positions your lower hand over the adjustment holds.

Locking Mechanism


Again, this is where the Balance fell short. The snap-button adjustment system can't compete with the lever-lock. However, the snap-button system of the Balance is excellent for what it is. The button is easy to push in, the handle shaft slides freely, and when the button locks in place, it is solid. There is no give or wiggle room. Once it's in place, it feels like a solid, one-piece paddle.

The Balance grip.
The lever-lock system.

The advantage to the snap-button system is that there is not a locking mechanism built into the handle. You can see the difference in the photos above. The Balance handle is on the left, and the LeverLock system found on the Werner handles is on the right. The Balance handle has no indentations or holes. As a result, the solid wood handle is the most comfortable of the bunch.

On the other hand, the adjustment holes run in 2-inch increments down the shaft, right where your hand grips. You end up gripping the shaft over the holes. It's not a big deal, but we don't love it either.


Although it's snap-button system is stable and easy to use, it feels quite old-school compared to the sleek new lever-lock systems. The snap-button system felt almost out of place on this paddle that excels in so many other areas. It was the reason some testers didn't choose it as their top choice.

Our official tester canine tester contemplates the differences between the Insanity and Balance paddles.
Our official tester canine tester contemplates the differences between the Insanity and Balance paddles.

Weight


The Balance is surprisingly light for its looks. It weighs in at 1.6 pounds and feels even lighter. It saves weight by sporting a 100% carbon shaft.


That puts it in the middle of the paddles we tested, but it carries its weight well. It feels very well balanced, with the weight distributed in just the right places, making each stroke feel effortless. The featherweight Werner Trance is 0.4 lbs lighter, and the Kialoa Insanity is similar in weight.

Beauty and craftsmanship.
Beauty and craftsmanship.

Aesthetics


The Balance is beautiful. When we presented the paddles to a group of testers, this was the one everyone reached for.


After the lucky person who reached first claimed their prize, they spent quite a bit of time admiring the craftsmanship of the blade. It features a feather pattern of basswoods and red alder. The carbon shaft looks black at first, but then you notice it seems to glow from within where the light hits it. The solid wooden grip with its asymmetric palm looks inviting to hold.

Compactability


We tested the 1-piece Balance, which doesn't break down into smaller pieces and is not a compact paddle. However, we didn't have any trouble fitting it in cars. Even with the smallest two-door hatchback, it fit fine although did reach up between the front seats.

The Balance is available in a 2-piece version that is more compactable. The 1-piece adjustable Balance comes in two lengths. We tested the 70"-80" version, and it also comes in a 76"-86" version. You can also purchase this paddle in fixed lengths in two-inch increments ranging from 70"-86".

We tested the one-piece version of the Balance paddle.
We tested the one-piece version of the Balance paddle.

For a more compact paddle, consider the Kialoa Insanity Adjustable Three Piece Travel model. This paddle has the same features of the Insanity we tested but breaks down into three pieces for a 38-inch length. It costs $50 more. It also adds 4 ounces of weight. It's ideal when you need an extremely compact paddle and is especially nice for airplane travel. Kiaola warns that this 3-piece paddle is not recommended for whitewater or heavy surf environments.

Best Applications


The Balance is the perfect recreational paddle for those who appreciate aesthetics and quality. If you are someone that finds joy in beauty and appreciates state-of-the-art construction this paddle is a great option. Our testers had fun just looking at this paddle. They had even more fun pulling it through the water.

Value


For $285 you get a high performance, functional piece of art that's lightweight and sturdy. Its beautifully balanced, crafted in Osceola, Wisconsin, and won't wear you out. It should last you too — Bending Branches claims that that only 0.03% of their paddles break.

According to their website, the breakage rate on Bending Branches paddles is a mere 0.03%.

The Balance is comfortable to paddle.
The Balance is comfortable to paddle.

Conclusion


We loved the Balance and recommend it to those that find joy in beauty and appreciate state-of-the-art construction. As pretty as it is, we enjoy paddling it even more than we enjoy looking at it.

Other Versions and Accessories


The Bending Branches Balance has an 85 square inch blade measuring 7.3 x 17 inches. You can buy it as a 1-piece or a 2-piece. It comes in two adjustable lengths, 70"-80" or 76"-86". It is also available as a fixed length paddle ranging from 70"-86" in 2-inch increments.

The Balance's big brother, the Bending Branches Amp sports a 100 square inch blade measuring 8.3 x 17 inches and weighs 1 ounce more. It has the same sizing options as the Balance.



Megan Ferney