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

How We Tested Kayak Paddles

By Sara James ⋅ Review Editor
Tuesday January 14, 2020
The performance of each paddle was analyzed side by side.
The performance of each paddle was analyzed side by side.

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, 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 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.
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.

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.

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 we had used the paddle extensively over the course of a few months in order to see how normal wear and tear affected its performance.

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.
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.

We also timed how long it took to dismantle each paddle, mimicking what it would be like if we wanted 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.

Locking Mechanism Security


We blindfolded paddlers and asked them to identify which paddles were one solid piece, and which were too. 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.

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.
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.

Weight


We measured each paddle using calibrated scales. However, the distribution of hte weight across the paddle ( blade / shaft), effects the balanced 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 try to order the paddles by weight. We allowed them to take strokes with each paddle, analyzing how it felt.

We tested this paddle in rough conditions and were not disappointed.
We tested this paddle in rough conditions and were not disappointed.

Durability


We evaluated the durability of the paddles using a series of tests designed to expose each paddle to various stresses. We took notes of any wear and tear that we observed on the kayak paddles. 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 blade scrapes across a gravel bar.
It's nice if you don't have to stress out every time your paddle blade scrapes across a gravel bar.

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

After all this fun and challenging fieldwork, we assigned scores to each paddle and explained each of the scores in our main review text. We hope our hard work makes your kayaking experience the best it can be!