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

The Best Kayak Paddles

Kayak
By Sara James ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday November 21, 2018
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Ready to hit the water? Let us help you find the right paddle for your needs. After researching 40 popular two piece kayak paddles, we selected 6 promising designs and spent over 100 hours testing them side-by-side. We toured hundreds of miles with these paddles, analyzing the glide, swing and overall feel of each. We adjusted the blade angle and dismantled each paddle compulsively to see which offers the best performance and which will hold up over time. We ventured across lakes, meandered through meadows, and endured high winds and waves. We paddled for long days, camped, and then paddled some more. We did it all to push these paddles to their limits to truly identify the pros and cons of each. We got to know these paddles very well and here we pass on our comprehensive findings to help you select the right paddle for your needs. If you are also looking for a kayak, you might be interested in our Inflatable Kayak Review.


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Awards Editors' Choice Award   Best Buy Award Top Pick Award 
Price $179.95 at MooseJaw
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$274.95 at MooseJaw
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$135.00 at Amazon
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$64.99 at Backcountry
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$64.95 at REI
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Pros Very sturdy and durable locking mechanism, smooth blade performance, easy to adjust, lightweightLight weight, secure locking mechanism, high performance bladesSecure locking mechanism, light weight carbon blend shaftDurable shaft and blade construction, wrapped fiberglass shaft provides textured gripAffordable, durable blade construction
Cons In the more expensive rangeExpensive, blades prone to wear if not treated well, locking mechanism can get stickyHeavier than some models available, locking system can become stiff to adjustHeavy blades, play in snap button locking systemHeavy aluminum shaft, play in locking mechanism
Bottom Line This paddle consistently was a top performer across all metrics and it was not hard to select this paddle as a winner.This paddle is designed for those looking for a higher performance option.Don’t be fooled by the bland rental paddle look, the Skagit FG has premium quality features and is able to perform.The Magic Plus has a lightweight shaft and durable blades that deliver powerful strokes at an affordable price.This is an affordable entry level paddle that you can rely on.
Rating Categories Sting Ray Carbon Werner Camano Werner Skagit FG Carlisle Magic Plus Whisper
Performance (40%)
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6
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4
Ease Of Adjustment (20%)
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Locking Mechanism Security (15%)
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Weight (15%)
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Durability (10%)
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6
Specs Sting Ray Carbon Werner Camano Werner Skagit FG Carlisle Magic Plus Whisper
Measured Weight 850g 820g 1000g 1190g 1050g
Shaft Material / Construction Carbon Carbon blend Carbon blend Fibreglass Aluminum
Blade Shape Dihedral, asymmetrical Dihedral, asymmetrical Dihedral, asymmetrical Asymetrical Dihedral, asymmetrical

Best Overall Kayak Paddle


Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon


Editors' Choice Award

$179.95
(10% off)
at MooseJaw
See It


Weight: 850g | Construction: Carbon shaft, carbon/nylon blades
Very easy to adjust or dismantle
Light-weight
Smooth performance
No play in locking mechanism
Expensive

The Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon was chosen for the Editors' Choice award due to its top performance across all our testing metrics. The paddle's light-weight construction and sleek blade design delivered a powerful and fluid paddle stroke, even after many miles of touring. What really helped this paddle stand apart from its competitors is the bombproof Posi-Lok ferrule system used to join the two pieces together. This feature, unique to Aqua-Bound paddles, lets the kayaker easily adjust the paddle's feather angle, even in the toughest conditions. After extensive use, all the other tested competitors became difficult to adjust or dismantle, often requiring the help of an additional person. The Aqua-Bound, however, continued to perform.

Thanks to the carbon shaft, the Sting Ray is considerably lighter than most of the models tested, only the Werner Camano is lighter (by just 30 grams). Other models on the market claim to weigh in under 600 grams, but these options are all priced over $375. Because of this, we think the performance/weight/cost combination of the Aqua-Bound is superior for recreational touring kayakers.

Read review: Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon

Best Bang for your Buck Kayak Paddle


Carlisle Magic Plus


Best Buy Award

$64.99
(35% off)
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 1190g | Construction: Fiberglass shaft, fiberglass/polypropylene blades
Durable shaft and blade construction
Affordable
Heavy
Play in the locking mechanism

The Magic Plus is a reliable performer, even in rough conditions. The fiberglass shaft and fiberglass reinforced polypropylene blades delivered a sturdy paddle stroke, and the blades do not flex under pressure, unlike other value models like the Bending Branches or the SeaSense. The wrapped paddle shaft has a coarse texture that provides a secure grip which testers appreciated, particularly if they had sunscreen on their hands. The fiberglass reinforced polypropylene blades are very durable. We feel comfortable throwing this paddle in the back of a truck with our other gear, without worrying about damaging it.

After using the paddle multiple times, we noticed that the two pieces of the paddle became challenging to dismantle or adjust. The snap button adjustment point is sensitive to any grit or sand and often jammed. We noticed this issue on all the paddles with a similar snap button locking system. Although this would not prevent us from using the Magic Plus, it is something to consider if you are expecting to regularly dismantle it or adjust the feather of the blades. Overall this paddle provided a solid performance for almost half the price of our top contender. It's heavy, but if you are not concerned about additional weight, and are looking for an affordable, and reliable paddle, the Carlisle Magic Plus is the one for you. Kayakers looking for a lighter paddle should consider the Skagit, Camano or Sting Ray.

Read review: Carlisle Magic Plus

Best Budget Buy Kayak Paddle


Bending Branches Whisper


Weight:1050 g | Construction: Aluminum shaft, polypropylene blades
Affordable
Durable
Heavy shaft
Play in the locking mechanism

We gave the Whisper our Best Budget Buy accolade as it is an exceptionally affordable paddle, enabling new kayakers to get out on the water regardless of their budget. The polypropylene paddle blades are durable and will withstand significant use or abuse, even in rocky conditions. Despite the low price we still felt this paddle delivered a dependable performance and we would be happy to lend it to our friends.

The aluminum shaft made the paddle heavier than some of the other top performing paddles. However, when compared against paddles of a similar cost it actually would fall in the lighter category. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts, who want to get out on the water to explore, but are not concerned about having a high-performance paddle, will be grateful to have such an affordable option available.

Read review: Bending Branches Whisper


Side-by-side comparison of the selected kayak touring paddles.
Side-by-side comparison of the selected kayak touring paddles.

Analysis and Test Results


To formulate a well-rounded view of each product, we tested the paddles with different types of kayakers, ranging from novices to professionals. We also used the paddles in a variety of conditions, including glassy flat water touring sessions and multi-day trips with windy, choppy conditions. As a result, we were able to get a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of each paddle for different types of users and situations.

A Note on Safety — US Coast Guard regulations require children under the age of 13 to wear a PFD. Depending on where you are kayaking, local agencies may have additional rules. Please check before hitting the water. Common sense dictates that adults should also wear a PFD on any open body of water, even if they are strong swimmers. Conditions can change quickly. For those looking to save money, consider purchasing a cheaper paddle or kayak, rather than buying a used PFD, or reusing the one you found in your granddad's garage. PFD's do deteriorate with time and sun exposure. Don't compromise on this critical piece of safety equipment.


Value


In our gear reviews, one of the metrics that we don't quantitively score for, but do consider, is the overall value of a product. We are always trying to find the best products possible, however, we recognize that this isn't going to work for everyone's budget, as sometimes the best products are also the most expensive.

Our Editors' Choice winner, the Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon, uses high-end materials including abX carbon reinforced nylon blades and a full carbon shaft to deliver an excellent product, but that comes with a heavy price tag. If you need an option that will get you out on the water without making that big of a dent in your wallet look to our Best Buy winner, the Carlisle Magic Plus. The Sea Sense X-Treme and the Bending Branches Whisper are also good options.

Paddle performance really matters when you're covering long distances.
Paddle performance really matters when you're covering long distances.

Performance


We based 40% of each paddle's score on paddle performance, making it our most heavily weighted testing metric. If you are a beginner kayaker or using your kayak as a means to enjoy another hobby such as birdwatching or fishing, this metric may not be as important to you as ease of adjustment or weight. However, as you spend more time in your kayak, you will quickly feel the difference between a high-performance paddle and a budget option.

Watch a YouTube Tutorial — If you hold your paddle upside down, or back to front, you are not going to get the best performance out of any kayak paddle. During our testing and research, one thing we consistently observed was other kayakers holding their paddles incorrectly. You could pay an extra $150 to have a lighter, higher performance paddle, but it won't help if you don't use it correctly. Youtube has many instructional videos available that explain effective paddle stroke techniques. A kayak lesson through your local outdoor outfitter or community college may also pay dividends.

Flutter in the blade reduces a paddle's performance.
Flutter in the blade reduces a paddle's performance.

We evaluated the paddles' performance in four key areas — the catch (blade's ability to slice into the water and grab a wedge of water), the power (the pull of the blade in the water), the flutter of the blade (how much it moved laterally during the pull), and the feel of the shaft (including how it feels to grip and if there is any flex under pressure). We switched from one paddle to another, ran timed sprint laps, and launched off gravel bars to test flex, power transfer and wear and tear.


The quality dihedral blade design and high-end materials used in the Aqua-Bound and Werner Camano helped these paddles perform well in our tests. The blades did not flex too much under pressure, providing an efficient transfer of power for the paddler. Other paddles tested in this review (such as the Whisper) have basic plastic blades, which although durable, flex under pressure and deliver a less efficient power stroke.

Although flex in the paddle blade does not equate with higher performance, a slight flex in the shaft delivers a more comfortable stroke and improved performance. Therefore we prefer paddles with a carbon or fiberglass shaft were over those that used a more rigid aluminum shaft.

Separating a two piece paddle on your own can be more difficult than you think.
Separating a two piece paddle on your own can be more difficult than you think.

Ease of adjustment


Each paddle we purchased is adjustable, but some paddles offer more options than others. When considering how easy each paddle is to adjust, we also factored in how easy it is to dismantle the paddle, experimenting with cold hands and under pressure (in choppy, white cap conditions when we really did not want to capsize).

Cold Conditions — After a cold morning solo paddling, you may find that you struggle to dismantle your paddle or change the feather of your blades mid-session to account for changing conditions (e.g., wind). For the average fair-weather paddler, this is unlikely to be much of a concern, especially if you always paddle with another person who can help.

At first glance, the common snap button system (also referred to as a push button) is obvious and easy to use. However, after repeated use in sandy conditions, it's quick to jam and becomes difficult to adjust without help. In cold conditions, when we start to lose coordination and strength in our fingers, the snap button systems are very difficult to use.


The Werner Skagit and the Camano use a Smart-view adjustment system for their paddle connection. This is easier to adjust than the snap button systems, especially under pressure or with cold hands. In addition, the clear marking system makes it easy to identify the correct feather and right or left-handedness of the paddle. This feature is useful if you intend to share the paddler with other kayakers with different blade angle preferences, or if you expect to change the feather angle during paddling sessions

The Posi Lok's teeth helped to secure the two pieces of the paddle together and prevented instability or wobble in the paddle's shaft.
The Posi Lok's teeth helped to secure the two pieces of the paddle together and prevented instability or wobble in the paddle's shaft.

Aqua-Bound offers their touring paddles with the Snap Button option or, for an extra $10, you can get the significantly superior Posi-Lok system. When compared against the other paddles, we consistently found this system easiest to use.

During our Lake Tahoe crossing, we originally intended to change paddle every 20 minutes so that we could consistently test the paddles side-by-side. When the winds picked up, and the white caps started for form, conditions forced us to ditch our testing protocol and reaching for the best paddle, quickly assembling it and digging in for a powerful stroke. In this scenario, the difference in performance of the adjustment systems was immediately apparent and at that moment, we were grateful to be stashing away the Bending Branches and quickly reassembling the Aqua-Bound with the Posi-Lok.

The Bending Branches paddle uses a snap button and a ribbed shaft to maximize the paddle's security.
The Bending Branches paddle uses a snap button and a ribbed shaft to maximize the paddle's security.

Locking Mechanism Security


The adjustment systems that are easiest to use, also feel the most secure to paddle with, emphasizing how good design can make a product easier to use and improve performance. The security of each paddle's locking mechanism counted for 20% of its score.

The Aqua-Bound's Posi-Lok mechanism provided the most secure feel of all the options. Under blind testing, paddlers identified this as a single piece paddle. No one noticed any rotational or horizontal give at all.


The Skagit and Camano also scored well in this metric. Their Smart View internal locking mechanism provides a secure feel, resulting in no rotational movement in the paddle while paddling. We did notice that a horizontal pull did result in some give, but we hardly ever felt this when using the paddle on the water.

The snap button system used by the Bending Branches, Sea Extreme and Carlisle Magic Plus, allowed the most give when paddling. After extensive use, these paddles tended to become even less secure over time.

Kayaking is a great way to see the local sites.
Kayaking is a great way to see the local sites.

Weight


At first, the weight differences between the paddles may not appear to have a significant impact on performance, especially for beginners. However, once you are a mile into your journey, your arms will notice the extra weight.


Those looking to enjoy extended journey's in their kayak will want to consider the lightweight Camano or Aqua-Bound. These paddles are both significantly lighter than other kayak paddles in this review fleet. They are also more expensive. Heavier paddles tend to be more affordable, making them better choices for short, casual kayak tours.

Testing the adjustability of the Werner Skagit.
Testing the adjustability of the Werner Skagit.

Durability


We noted wear and tear to each paddle during testing to get a sense of its durability over time. In particular, we focused on the durability of the blades and the joint. Your paddle is no use if you can't put it together.


Aqua-Bound was again a top performer in this metric. The polished finish of the Posi-Lok's internal shaft meant that it's not prone to collecting sand or grit. It was consistently easy to use. The abX Carbon Reinforced Nylon blades of the Aqua-bound withstood use in rocky and sandy conditions, with no evidence of wear on the blades. The fiberglass Camano blades were not as durable, and users should be considerate with how they store and travel with these paddles.

Somehow this joint just never seem to clog  unlike all the other designs tested.
Somehow this joint just never seem to clog, unlike all the other designs tested.

The fiberglass infused nylon and polypropylene blades fared well in the gravel tests, showing how these materials can withstand quite a battering. However, the snap button system in the paddle's shaft lowered their overall durability scores, as they are prone to jamming. Luckily a frequent rinse and monthly application of silicon lubricant should help you extend the life of this component. In addition, proper storage and transport will considerably extend the life of all paddles.

We always appreciated it when we don't have to handle our paddles too carefully.
We always appreciated it when we don't have to handle our paddles too carefully.

Although the smart view system used in the Skagit and Camano was not immune to jamming with sand or grit, we found that it withstood these conditions better than the snap button system. It was also easier to use with cold hands.

Paddling towards Mount Tallac we wanted to focus on the view  not our paddles.
Paddling towards Mount Tallac we wanted to focus on the view, not our paddles.

Conclusion


We enjoyed the opportunity to put this range of quality paddles to the test in a variety of conditions. Despite testers having different paddling backgrounds and experience levels, we were in unanimous agreement about our award winners. If you want to hit the water in your recreational touring kayak, we are confident that our review will help you select the best paddle to suit your needs.


Sara James