Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Kayak Paddles

By Sara James ⋅ Review Editor
Monday July 19, 2021
The performance of each paddle was analyzed side by side.
The performance of each paddle was analyzed side by side.
Photo: Sara James

Performance


We analyzed each blade's catch, and the power it delivered when pulling through the water. We took note of any flutter that we experienced during paddle strokes, purposefully putting the paddle under pressure, including paddling in powerful waves and rapids (which these paddles are NOT designed for). We took the responsiveness of the shaft into account, including how it felt to grip in our hands and whether the shaft felt too flexible or too rigid.

Using effective forward strokes can make a huge difference to your...
Using effective forward strokes can make a huge difference to your kayaking. The fastest strokes do not make the fastest kayaker. Couple good technique with good blade design and you are in for a great paddling experience.
Photo: Sara James

To review the power of each blade, we conducted repeated timed sprint tests. We also had kayakers with a range of experience levels complete these tests to help us find out if less experienced paddlers would notice performance differences.

The Pungo was simple to adjust.
The Pungo was simple to adjust.
Photo: Sara James

Ease of Adjustment


We tested how easy each paddle is to adjust by timing ourselves adjusting the feather of the paddle multiple times. We did this immediately after we first unwrapped each paddle and again after using the paddle extensively over the course of a few months to see how normal wear and tear affected its performance.

Adjusting a two-piece paddle can be much more challenging than you...
Adjusting a two-piece paddle can be much more challenging than you would originally think. Add cold hands and now you may have a problem.
Photo: Sara James

We also timed how long it took to dismantle each paddle, mimicking what it would be like to regularly transport the paddle in two pieces. We noted how easy each paddle is to adjust and dismantle with cold hands and how easy it is to identify which setting the blades were adjusted to.

A well designed and well-maintained paddle should be simple to adjust.
A well designed and well-maintained paddle should be simple to adjust.
Photo: Sara James

Locking Mechanism Security


We blindfolded paddlers and asked them to identify which paddles were one solid piece and which were two. We let our testers shake the paddle and take a few strokes but did not let them feel the center of the shaft.

After this, we allowed testers to paddle around extensively with each paddle. (Not blindfolded.) We took note of their experiences, encouraging them to experiment with horizontal and rotational pull on the shaft to see how secure each paddle locking mechanism felt. During our extensive testing, we observed how prone the locking mechanism is to sticking, noting down how many hours of use passed before problems started to arise and what conditions the paddle was used in.

The ultralightweight feel of this full carbon paddle helps to reduce...
The ultralightweight feel of this full carbon paddle helps to reduce fatigue on the paddler's joints., enabling you ton maintain form and paddle effectively for longer.
Photo: Sara James

Weight


We measured the weight of each paddle using calibrated scales. However, the distribution of the weight across the paddle (blade/shaft) affects the balance of a paddle. As a result, a balanced paddle will *feel* lighter than a poorly balanced paddle of the same mass. Therefore, we also asked our blindfolded testers to identify the order of the paddles by weight.

We tested this paddle in rough conditions and were not disappointed.
We tested this paddle in rough conditions and were not disappointed.
Photo: Sara James

Durability


We evaluated the durability of the paddles using a series of tests designed to expose each paddle to various stresses physical and environmental. We took notes of any wear and tear observed on the blades and shaft ( including the connection point). We purposefully selected testers who we know can be very tough on gear, and we did not encourage them to be careful with the paddles. We repeatedly dismantled and adjusted each paddle, often in very sandy conditions, analyzing how the components stood up to the abuse.

It's nice if you don't have to stress out every time your paddle...
It's nice if you don't have to stress out every time your paddle blade scrapes across a gravel bar.
Photo: Sara James

We also conducted a series of tests pushing off gravel banks and observing whether this caused any wear and tear to the kayak paddle blades.
Each of these paddles stood up to extensive (ab)use in the hands of...
Each of these paddles stood up to extensive (ab)use in the hands of our testers.
Photo: Sara James

After all this fun and challenging fieldwork, we went back into the office and assigned scores to each paddle, and explained each of the scores in our main review text. We hope our hard work enables you to select the right paddle and helps make your kayaking experience the best it can be!