Reviews You Can Rely On

The 6 Best Kayak Paddles of 2024

We bought and tested kayak paddles from Werner, Wilderness Systems, Aqua-Bound, Bending Branches, Carlisle, and others to help you find the best for your next float
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Best Kayak Paddle Review
Credit: Abriah Wofford
By Sara James ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 6, 2024

The Best Kayak Paddles for 2024


Searching for the best kayak paddle on the market? After researching the most popular options, we picked 17 to test side-by-side, spending over 200 hours paddling and inspecting every nook and cranny. We toured for many miles with these paddles, analyzing their feel, performance, and quality of construction. We ventured across lakes, meandered through meadows, and endured high winds and waves. We pushed these paddles to their limits (and slightly beyond) to identify the pros and cons of each design. We got to know them exceptionally well and pass on our findings to help you select the best paddle for your next kayaking adventure.

If you love getting out on the water, check out our best water gear list, which features paddling gear and more. We've field-tested the best PFDs, and we've also put several types of water vessels to the test, from the best kayaks to our favorite stand up paddle boards and more transportable options like the best inflatable SUPs and inflatable kayaks. Grab your favorite life jacket, be safe, and have fun!

Editor's Note: We updated our kayak paddle review on May 6, 2024, to include more favorite recommendations in our award section and to share additional info on our testing process.

Top 17 Kayak Paddles - Test Results

Displaying 1 - 5 of 17
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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $375.99 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$224.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$335 List
$267.99 at REI
$74.99 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$275 List
$255.95 at Amazon
Overall Score
89
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83
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58
Star Rating
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Pros Featherweight, sleek blade design, enhanced paddling styleVery sturdy and durable locking mechanism, smooth blade performance, easy to adjust, lightweightLightweight, secure locking mechanism, high-performance bladesVery durable blade material and paddle construction, ribbed fiberglass shaft provides textured gripWooden laminate, comfortable feel, aesthetically pleasing
Cons Very expensive, not for the careless userA bit pricey, only comes in plain blackExpensive, blades prone to wear if not treated well, locking mechanism can get stickyHeavy blades, slight play in snap button locking mechanism systemExtra thick shaft, heavier than some, requires maintence over time
Bottom Line A featherweight, fully carbon paddle engineered to provide you with an exceptionally smooth and powerful performanceThis enjoyable and effective paddle is a top performer across all metrics with a very approachable price point for carbon componentsThis award-winning kayak paddle is designed for those looking for a lightweight and high-performance optionThis paddle features durable blades that deliver powerful strokes at an affordable priceThis wooden laminate finish kayak paddle has a unique and comfortable feel and is a beauty to behold
Rating Categories Werner Kalliste Aqua-Bound Sting Ra... Werner Camano Carlisle Magic Plus Bending Branches Im...
Performance (30%)
9.5
8.5
7.5
5.5
6.5
Ease of Adjustment (20%)
8.0
9.5
8.0
6.0
6.0
Locking Mechanism Security (20%)
9.0
9.5
9.0
5.0
5.0
Weight (20%)
8.5
8.2
9.0
4.2
4.2
Quality of Construction (10%) Sort Icon
9.0
9.0
8.5
8.0
8.0
Specs Werner Kalliste Aqua-Bound Sting Ra... Werner Camano Carlisle Magic Plus Bending Branches Im...
Measured Weight 28.8 oz 30.1 oz 27.2 oz 44.5 oz 43.6 oz
Shaft Material Carbon fiber Carbon Fiberglass Fiberglass Solid basswood
Shaft Shape Round Round Round Round Round, oval
Blade Material Carbon fiber/foam core abX Carbon reinforced nylon Fiberglass laminate Fiberglass reinforced polypropylene Basswood, red alder
Blade Shape Dihedral, asymmetrical Dihedral, asymmetrical Dihedral, asymmetrical Asymmetrical Asymmetrical
Adjustment Style Push button Posi-Lok ferrule system Smart view adjustable Push button Push button
Blade Offset Settings 0, 15, 30, 45, 60 L and R 0, 15, 30, 45, 60 L and R 0, 15, 30, 45, 60 L and R L60, 0, R60 L60, 0, R60
Length Options 220, 230, 240cm 200 to 260cm in 5cm increments 220 to 260cm in 10cm increments 220, 230, 240cm 210 to 240cm in 10cm increments
Length Tested 230cm 230cm 230cm 230cm 230cm
Style Low-angle Low-angle Low-angle Low-angle Low-angle


Best Overall Kayak Paddle


Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon


89
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Performance 8.5
  • Ease of Adjustment 9.5
  • Locking Mechanism Security 9.5
  • Weight 8.2
  • Quality of Construction 9.0
Weight: 30.1 oz | Construction: Carbon shaft, carbon-reinforced injection molded blades
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight
Easiest to use ferrule system
Quality construction that lasts
REASONS TO AVOID
Only available in black

The Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon is a high-quality 2-piece kayak paddle that stands out for its performance, ease of use, and durability. Utilizing a full carbon shaft and redesigned carbon-reinforced nylon blades, this paddle is well-balanced and delivers a powerful flutter-free stroke without putting excessive strain on your body. The mid-sized dihedral blades suit various paddling styles and experience levels, making the Sting Ray a popular choice among all our testers.

Press the orange buttons, and with a gentle twist, this secure paddle easily adjusts or dismantles. Testers agreed that the Aqua-Bound Posi-Lok connection system is the easiest join system we used, offering the most precise fit. In contrast to all the other paddles we reviewed, it has withstood the test of time well. To get a paddle that is any better than the Sting Ray, expect to pay quite a bit more. This is a high-value purchase that will serve you well. If you're looking for the best money can buy, the premium Werner Kalliste scored even better in paddling performance — just know that it will cost you big bucks.

Read more: Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon review

Aqua-Bound's Posi-Lok ferrule is a cinch to adjust.
Credit: Sara James

Best Bang for your Buck


Werner Skagit FG


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Performance 6.0
  • Ease of Adjustment 8.0
  • Locking Mechanism Security 9.0
  • Weight 6.8
  • Quality of Construction 8.0
Weight: 34.7 oz | Construction: Carbon blend shaft, fiberglass-reinforced injection molded nylon blades
REASONS TO BUY
Dependable construction
Excellent design
Secure locking mechanism
REASONS TO AVOID
Injection molded nylon blades are heavier
Locking system can get stiff

The Werner Skagit FG follows Werner's well-established tradition of premium designed and constructed kayak paddles but uses more modest materials in the blades so they can deliver this at an introductory price. The fiberglass-reinforced injection molded nylon blades offer remarkable durability against impacts and wear. Unlike other blades constructed of similar materials we tested, the Skagit is not prone to flex or flutter, resulting in an efficient paddle stroke that is smooth regardless of the conditions.

The carbon blend shaft is the same that you'll find in Werner's higher-end models, as is the Smart View adjustable ferrule. This Werner patented join offers a precise fit, and testers agreed it gives the solid feel of a 1-piece paddle. If you struggle with dexterity, the Smart View system can be challenging, particularly in cold conditions. However, this is superior to the common snap button system on most introductory-priced paddles. Robust, durable, and delivering smooth, stable strokes, the Werner Skagit paddle should keep you happy on the water for years to come. We also like the locking mechanism on the Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon, which performed just slightly better. Not only is it easy to adjust and dismantle, but it also has a precise fit.

Read more: Werner Skagit FG review

kayak paddle - the werner skagit has a carbon shaft and nylon injection molded...
The Werner Skagit has a carbon shaft and nylon injection molded fiberglass reinforced blades.
Credit: Sara James

Best on a Tight Budget


Bending Branches Whisper


56
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Performance 4.5
  • Ease of Adjustment 6.0
  • Locking Mechanism Security 6.0
  • Weight 6.0
  • Quality of Construction 6.5
Weight: 37.0 oz | Construction: Aluminum shaft, polypropylene blades
REASONS TO BUY
Affordable
Durable
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy shaft
Play in the locking mechanism

The Bending Branches Whisper stands out as a robust and economical paddle that can get aspiring kayakers out on the water regardless of their budget. The polypropylene paddle blades are durable and can withstand significant use and abuse, even in rocky conditions. Despite the low price point, we still felt this paddle delivered a dependable performance and would be a great option for a friend getting into water sports.

The aluminum shaft of the Whisper makes it much heavier than top-performing paddles. However, it falls in the lighter category compared to paddles of a similar price bracket. The flex in the plastic blades results in a less efficient transfer of power, which the performance athletes in our testing group noticed. Overall, the design is nothing to write home about, but this paddle is still great for basic kayaking adventures. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts looking to get out and explore and who do not need a performance paddle will be grateful for such an affordable option. If you have some wiggle room in your budget, check out the Werner Skagit FG. This value buy has plenty to offer, including a secure locking mechanism, lighter weight, and better performance.

Read more: Bending Branches Whisper review

kayak paddle - if you are going to be using your kayak a handful of times a season...
If you are going to be using your kayak a handful of times a season, or you are more interested in lazy floats than journeying with your kayak, the Bending Branches Whisper would be a great choice for you.
Credit: Sara James

High Value and Bomber Construction


Carlisle Magic Plus


55
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Performance 5.5
  • Ease of Adjustment 6.0
  • Locking Mechanism Security 5.0
  • Weight 4.2
  • Quality of Construction 8.0
Weight: 44.5 oz | Construction: Fiberglass shaft, fiberglass/polypropylene blades
REASONS TO BUY
Durable shaft and blade construction
Affordable
REASONS TO AVOID
Quite heavy
Locking mechanism has some play

The Carlisle Magic Plus is a reliable performer, even in rough conditions or clumsy hands. The fiberglass shaft and fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene blades deliver a sturdy paddle stroke, and unlike other value models, the blades do not flex under pressure. The wrapped paddle shaft has a coarse texture, providing a secure grip that most testers appreciated, particularly if we had sunscreen on our hands. The reinforced blades were also some of the most durable we tested. We feel comfortable throwing this paddle in the back of a truck with our other gear without worrying about damaging the shaft or blades.

After using this paddle multiple times, we noticed that the two pieces became challenging to dismantle and adjust. The snap button adjustment point was often jammed and is sensitive to any grit or sand. 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 expect to disassemble it regularly for travel. Overall, this paddle offers solid performance for considerably less than our top contenders. It's heavy, but if you are not concerned about additional weight and are looking for a reliable and affordable paddle, this might be the one for you. On the other hand, if you're looking to go light and money isn't a major purchasing factor, the ultralight Werner Camano is worth a look.

Read more: Carlisle Magic Plus review

kayak paddle - the nylon plastic blades on the carlisle magic plus kayak paddle...
The nylon plastic blades on the Carlisle Magic Plus kayak paddle stand out for their ability to perform and also withstand a beating - this is a paddle that you can lend your clumsy friends.
Credit: Sara James

Top-Tier Performance


Werner Kalliste


89
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Performance 9.5
  • Ease of Adjustment 8.0
  • Locking Mechanism Security 9.0
  • Weight 8.5
  • Quality of Construction 9.0
Weight: 28.8 oz | Construction: Full carbon blades and shaft
REASONS TO BUY
Exceptional performance
Ultra lightweight
Buoyant blade construction
REASONS TO AVOID
Very expensive

The Werner Kalliste rose to the tippy top of our lineup for its exceptional performance, airy feel, and all-around high scores across all our testing metrics. This paddle boasts an ultra-lightweight and full-carbon construction coupled with a buoyant blade design. With this winning combination, it feels effortless to execute powerful, smooth paddle strokes, even after many miles of touring. The lightweight and efficient design will save energy and keep you out on the water longer.

This paddle is worth treating well. Though the carbon construction is durable, it's not immune to the impact of blunt force trauma. Used as intended, this can be the last paddle you ever purchase. It may almost cost half the price of your kayak, but with proper maintenance, the paddle's longevity will justify the price. Beginners and experts alike will see an immediate difference in their kayaking style and enjoyment when using the Kalliste. The paddle is exquisitely balanced, encouraging a naturally smooth and powerful cadence in every stroke. The Kalliste is the paddle that will make you fall in love with kayaking all over again. But if you're rough on your gear and don't want to invest as much, check out the Bending Branches Whisper. It is a durable and affordable option you won't mind lending out.

Read more: Werner Kalliste review

kayak paddle - the ultralightweight feel of the full carbon werner kalliste paddle...
The ultralightweight feel of the full carbon Werner Kalliste paddle helps to reduce fatigue on your joints, enabling you to maintain form and paddle effectively for longer.
Credit: Sara James

Excellent Ultralight Performance


Werner Camano


83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Performance 7.5
  • Ease of Adjustment 8.0
  • Locking Mechanism Security 9.0
  • Weight 9.0
  • Quality of Construction 8.5
Weight: 27.2 oz | Construction: Fiberglass shaft, fiberglass/polypropylene blades
REASONS TO BUY
Very light
High-performance blades
Locking mechanism is secure
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Blades prone to wear if you're not careful

The Werner Camano stands out for its lightweight performance. The carbon blend shaft delivers a perfect balance of power and flex, resulting in a smooth and stable cadence. The translucent fiberglass laminate blades are mid-sized and are well integrated into the shaft, reflecting the superior engineering Werner paddles are well known for. At just 27.2 ounces, this is currently the lightest paddle in our lineup.

Repeated exposure to abrasive conditions (i.e., sand, rocks, shale ) may lead to gradual wear on fiberglass blades, and extreme blunt force impacts may also chip small corners. However, don't expect one bump to knock you out of the game, as this paddle will continue to deliver power even as it ages. For those that can take care of their paddle, particularly during transport, the Camano will deliver outstanding performance at a great weight and — while still expensive — it comes in at a significantly more reasonable price than many others of similar caliber. Those who want more durable blades should consider the Werner Skagit FG. The blades can withstand some abuse, and the paddle comes at a more affordable price.

Read more: Werner Camano review

kayak paddle - the camano is gorgeous to behold and a joy to paddle with thanks to...
The Camano is gorgeous to behold and a joy to paddle with thanks to its ultra lightweight and impeccable design.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
89
Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon
Best Overall Kayak Paddle
$230
Editors' Choice Award
89
Werner Kalliste
Top-Tier Performance
$470
Top Pick Award
85
Wilderness Systems Apex FG
$400
84
Wilderness Systems Pungo Glass
$350
83
Werner Camano
Excellent Ultralight Performance
$335
Top Pick Award
74
Werner Skagit FG
Best Bang for your Buck
$175
Best Buy Award
70
Sawyer Station Sea Feather V-LAM
$435
62
Perception Outlaw
$120
60
Aqua Bound Sting Ray FG
$130
58
Bending Branches Impression
$275
56
Bending Branches Whisper
Best on a Tight Budget
$75
Best Buy Award
55
Carlisle Magic Plus
High Value and Bomber Construction
$125
Best Buy Award
53
Bending Branches Bounce X-Grip
$90
51
Badfish Custom
$99
50
Overmont Aluminum Alloy
$35
49
Pelican Poseidon
$50
41
SeaSense X-Treme II
$60

kayak paddle - the aqua-bound sting ray fg paddle is a reliable option for your...
The Aqua-Bound Sting Ray FG paddle is a reliable option for your water-based adventure.
Credit: Sara James

How We Test Kayak Paddles


We research the most promising kayak touring paddles each year and purchase the best to put to the test. Since 2018, we have tested dozens of different kayak paddles, categorizing our testing data and observations into five different performance metrics, staying as consistent and objective as possible. For example, we tested locking mechanism security by handing paddles to blindfolded paddlers and allowing them to handle and use them without touching the center of the shaft: the paddles that felt like one piece scored higher. We also paddled under pressure while paying attention to any flex, weighed each one to assess weight distribution and balance, and put them through rigorous tests to see how well they held up.

Our testing of kayak paddles is divided into five key metrics:
  • Performance (30% of overall score weighting)
  • Ease of Adjustment (20% weighting)
  • Locking Mechanism Security (20% weighting)
  • Weight (20% weighting)
  • Quality of Construction (10% weighting)

Why Trust GearLab


This review was headed up by multi-discipline paddler, coach, and educator Sara James. Sara is a well-rounded adventurer with a 20+ year background in paddle sports, including touring kayaking, Class V whitewater kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and squirt boating. She has covered thousands of miles in different kayaks worldwide, including guiding and safety kayaking on river trips in France, Nepal, California, and Zambia. Her other passion is education, and on top of working as a high school teacher, she is an instructor for California Watersports Collective. Having watched hundreds of kayakers learn to paddle, she is confident she has an eye for what works. She supplements her expertise with feedback from her adult and youth students and elite kayaking professionals. Sara also tests kayaks, SUPs, life jackets, and dry bags for GearLab.

Many testers noticed the slight play in the shaft, however it was...
Many testers noticed the slight play in the shaft, however it was not enough to impact their enjoyment on the water.
Even if you come home empty-handed, a morning on the water with the...
Even if you come home empty-handed, a morning on the water with the Kalliste will always be enjoyable.

Analysis and Test Results


To formulate a well-rounded view of each product, we tested these kayak paddles with varying levels of kayakers, ranging from novices to professionals. We also used the paddles in various conditions, including glassy, flat water touring sessions and multi-day trips with windy, choppy waves. We used these paddles for hours on end to get a crystal-clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses for different types of users and demands.

kayak paddle - there are a variety of different pfds available to suit all needs...
There are a variety of different PFDs available to suit all needs and sizes. Do not skimp on this essential pieces of equipment.
Credit: Sara James

An Essential Note on SafetyUS 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 planning to hit the water. Common sense dictates that adults (and their dogs) should also wear a PFD on any open body of water, even if they are strong swimmers. Conditions can change quickly, and the effects of cold water immersion can be rapid. 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 grandma's garage. PFDs deteriorate with time, sun, and pressure. Don't compromise on this critical piece of safety equipment, as it can save your life.


Value


In our gear reviews, one of the things that we consider and compare but don't quantitatively score is the product's overall value. We always try to find the best paddle products possible; however, we recognize that some won't work for everyone's budget, as sometimes the best products are also the most expensive.

If within your budget, there are some notable products to mention on the pricier side. The Wilderness System Pungo Glass has high-end materials, including durable fiberglass composite blades and a carbon-blend shaft, resulting in an excellent product at a fair price for these materials. The impeccable Werner Kalliste is even more taxing on the budget but engineered with the highest quality design and materials. In exchange, it delivers unrivaled performance and an exceptional feel. If taken care of, it will last you for years, a consideration when assessing long-term value. These stunners aside, there are several great options if you need a product that will get you out on the water without making a big dent in your wallet. The Werner Skagit stands out for its outstanding value and solid performance across all metrics. If you need to spend even less, the Carlisle Magic Plus, Bending Branches Whisper, Bending Branches Bounce X-Grip, and Badfish Custom all offer competitive value. But the best balance of price and performance in our current lineup is the Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon. It rose to the top, performing stunningly well across the board for a price we could hardly believe.

kayak paddle - the aluminum shaft and fiberglass reinforced blades on the badfish...
The aluminum shaft and fiberglass reinforced blades on the Badfish Custom kayak paddle keep it affordable yet stylish.
Credit: Sara James

Performance


We based 30% of each paddle's score on performance, making it our most heavily weighted testing metric. If you are a beginner kayaker or use your kayak to enjoy another hobby, such as birdwatching or fishing, this metric may not be as relevant to you as weight or ease of adjustment. However, as you spend more time in your kayak, you will quickly feel the difference between a high-performance paddle and a lower-budget option.


Get Lessons — During our testing, ongoing research, and collective experience on the water, one thing we consistently observe is recreational kayakers holding their paddles incorrectly. If you hold your paddle upside down or back to front, you will not get the best performance out of it. You could pay an extra hundred dollars for a lighter, higher-performance paddle, but it will only make a difference if you use it correctly. YouTube videos can demonstrate proper technique, such as showing you how to hold your paddle correctly. Still, a kayak lesson will pay dividends to your technique and efficiency on the water.

We evaluated each paddle's performance in four key areas — catch (the blade's ability to slice into the water and grab a wedge of water), 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 felt to grip and if there was any flex under pressure). We switched from one paddle to another, ran timed sprint laps, and launched off gravel bars using the paddle to push ourselves, all to test the blades' flex, power transfer, and how it succumbed to wear and tear.

kayak paddle - the aqua bound sting ray carbon is light, durable and well balanced...
The Aqua Bound Sting Ray Carbon is light, durable and well balanced, delivering a great feel when paddling on the water.
Credit: Sara James

The design of the dihedral blades and high-end materials used in the Werner Kalliste, Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon, Sawyer Station Sea Feather V-LAM, and Werner Camano enabled these paddles to perform exceptionally well in our tests. The Kalliste stood out for its ultralight carbon construction and buoyant blade design. None of these blades flex under pressure, which provides an efficient power transfer for the paddler. In addition, the materials provide the paddler with extra assistance to help them float across the water. While durable, paddles with basic plastic blades flex under pressure and deliver a less efficient power stroke.

kayak paddle - the sawyer station sea feather v-lam carbon shaft delivers an...
The Sawyer Station Sea Feather V-LAM carbon shaft delivers an efficient transfer of power for when you want to get moving on the water.
Credit: Sara James

Although flex in a kayak paddle blade does not equate with higher performance, a slight flex in the shaft delivers a more comfortable stroke and improved efficiency. Therefore, we prefer paddles with a carbon or fiberglass shaft over those with a more rigid aluminum shaft. The Wilderness Systems Apex FG and Wilderness Systems Pungo Glass both have a 50/50 carbon and fiberglass shaft. The Apex is perfectly stiff, delivering an excellent power transfer with each stroke, and the foam core inside the blades (which have carbon-reinforced edges and a fiberglass outer) provides a nice buoyancy. The Pungo offers excellent adjustability, and the gentle curve of the blades aides with smooth and flutter-free strokes.

kayak paddle - the pungo glass (front) is an impressive paddle with excellent...
The Pungo Glass (front) is an impressive paddle with excellent performance on the water.
Credit: Sara James

Ease of Adjustment


All the paddles we purchased offer the opportunity to adjust the feather of the blades to suit a left-handed, right-handed, or neutral paddle position. Some have a greater degree of options for the more discerning user, and some make this task much simpler than others.


The Wilderness Systems paddles take adjustability to another level, with the additional feature of allowing paddlers to adjust the paddle length. The system employs a simple lever-lock mechanism that is adequately sized and easy for paddlers to use, even if their dexterity or hand strength is challenged. This system lets the user release a plunger washer that keeps the paddle pieces locked tightly together when tightened. The result is an adjustability performance that feels uncompromised and exceptionally secure.

The Lever-Lok system on the Wilderness Systems Pungo paddle.
Credit: Sara James

Similarly, for an additional cost, you can upgrade most Aqua-Bound bound paddles to the Versa-Lok ferrule system, which also allows you to add up to 15cm onto the length of your paddle. Aqua-Bound's Posi-Lok ferrule (which we tested on the Sting Ray Carbon) is slightly cheaper but does not compromise on quality; we found this system one of the easiest to use when we had cold hands, and we also found it to perform consistently despite years of use.

The Perception Outlaw stood out in this metric due to its unique ability to convert to a SUP paddle. When considering how easy each paddle is to adjust, we also factor in how easy it is to dismantle, experimenting with cold hands and under pressure (in choppy, white cap conditions when we really did not want to capsize).

kayak paddle - you can also change the perception outlaw from a kayak paddle to a...
You can also change the Perception Outlaw from a Kayak paddle to a SUP paddle making it one of our more adjustable paddles.
Credit: Sara James

The Werner Kalliste, Skagit FG, and Camano use a Smart-View adjustment system for their paddle connection that 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 paddle's correct feather and right or left-handedness. This feature is helpful if you intend to share your paddle with other kayakers with different blade-angle preferences or expect to change the feather angle during paddling sessions. As with all of these, if you want this system to stay in tip-top shape, some basic maintenance is highly recommended.

kayak paddle - the male connection point of the werner shaft is prone to drying out...
The male connection point of the Werner shaft is prone to drying out and can become stiff to adjust if not maintained properly.
Credit: Sara James

At first glance, the conventional snap-button system (also called a push button) is obvious and easy to use. However, testers repeatedly found that this system quickly jams after repeated use in sandy conditions and therefore becomes difficult to adjust without help. In cold conditions, when you start to lose coordination and strength in your fingers, the snap-button systems can be exceptionally difficult to use. If you buy a paddle with this locking system, you will need to clean it out frequently.

kayak paddle - the snap button systems are more difficult to adjust, especially...
The snap button systems are more difficult to adjust, especially with cold hands.
Credit: Sara James

Aqua-Bound offers some of their touring paddles with the snap button option, or, for a little extra, you can get the significantly superior Posi-Lok system mentioned above, which is considerably more secure and easy to operate. Based on our testing experience, spending just a little more is easily justifiable when this option is available.

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

Locking Mechanism Security


Having a two-piece paddle has benefits for transportation purposes, but it does cause a weak point in the shaft. Depending on the locking mechanism and how secure it feels, this may or may not impact the paddle's performance. The easiest adjustment systems to use also feel the most secure to paddle with. Good design can make a product user-friendly and improve performance.


When new, the joining mechanisms on the Aqua-Bound Sting Ray, Wilderness Systems Apex, and Wilderness Systems Pungo provided the most secure feel of all the paddles we tested. Under blind testing, paddlers identified all of these as one-piece paddles. No one noticed any rotational or horizontal give. The Aqua-Bound paddles maintained this high level of performance over time, but the Wilderness System's Leverlock became less effective as the paddle got used.

The Werner Kalliste, Skagit, and Camano also performed very well in this metric. Their Smart View internal locking mechanism provides a secure feel, with no rotational movement in the paddle while kayaking. We noticed that out of the water, a horizontal pull resulted in some give, but we hardly felt this when using the paddle in the water.

kayak paddle - the hardest part of using the smart view adjustment system is...
The hardest part of using the Smart View adjustment system is finding the discreet and non-protruding button.
Credit: Sara James

For its price point, the Perception Outlaw deserves mention, outperforming many more expensive paddles in this metric. Other paddles of a similar price point typically use a snap button system, which has a lot of give when paddling. And, after extensive use, snap button systems tend to become even less secure, resulting in reduced efficiency and an overall less enjoyable paddling experience. The system on the Outlaw is impressively solid.

kayak paddle - the perception outlaw employs a reliable and easy-to-use system so...
The Perception Outlaw employs a reliable and easy-to-use system so that you can adjust your paddle length or feather quicky and even with cold hands.
Credit: Sara James

Weight


At first, kayakers may not notice the impact of weight between paddles. However, once you are a mile into your journey, your arms will feel the extra weight. A lighter paddle also helps to maintain form and ward off fatigue. This further enhances overall performance, as paddlers can maximize the efficiency of each stroke. While lighter paddles are often more expensive, you might find it worth it if you plan to go on longer ventures or are prone to joint pain.


Those looking to enjoy extended journeys in their kayak will want to consider the lightweight Camano or Kalliste. These paddles are significantly lighter than others in this review fleet — but they are also more expensive. Heavier paddles tend to be more affordable, making them ideal for short, casual kayak tours when weight doesn't matter so much.

kayak paddle - the lightness of the werner kalliste makes it a joy for all to use...
The lightness of the Werner Kalliste makes it a joy for all to use, even beginners can appreciate the weight difference of a high-performance paddle like this one.
Credit: Sara James

The Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon offers the best weight-to-value ratio in our lineup — it is considerably lighter than other paddles in a similar price bracket. Typically, heavier paddles are also more durable. However, the Sting Ray Carbon stands out for maintaining high durability and low weight.

kayak paddle - a heavier budget paddle like the bending branches whisper is not too...
A heavier budget paddle like the Bending Branches Whisper is not too much of an issue if you are just planning a leisurely float.
Credit: Sara James

Quality of Construction


While we can't use every product for years, we assess each paddle's wear and tear during testing to get a sense of its durability over time. In particular, we focus on the construction quality of the blades, where these join the shaft, and the ferrule between the two pieces of the paddle. Your paddle is useless if you can't assemble it or if the blades fall off.


The Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon is a top performer in this metric. The polished finish of the Posi-Lok's internal shaft isn't prone to collecting sand or grit and was consistently easy to use. The abX carbon-reinforced nylon blades withstood use in rocky and sandy conditions with no evidence of wear. Additionally, though the Smart View system used on the Werner Kalliste, Skagit, and Camano was not immune to jamming with sand or grit, we found that it withstood these conditions better than any snap button system and was easier to use with cold hands.

kayak paddle - somehow aqua-bound&#039;s posi-lok ferrule system just never seemed to...
Somehow Aqua-Bound's Posi-Lok ferrule system just never seemed to clog, unlike almost all the other designs we tested.
Credit: Sara James

The kayak paddles with fiberglass-infused nylon and polypropylene blades fared well in our tests, showing how these materials can withstand quite a battering. Despite this durability, those with a snap-button system on the paddles' shaft received lower overall quality scores, as they are prone to jamming. Luckily, a frequent rinse and monthly application of silicone lubricant should help you extend the life of this component. Also, proper storage and transport will considerably extend a paddle's life. Those that invest a couple of hundred dollars in a paddle may also consider obtaining a travel bag, as it aids in the longevity of your purchase.

kayak paddle - a frequent rinse, especially of the internal join, will keep your...
A frequent rinse, especially of the internal join, will keep your paddle in working order.
Credit: Sara James

The Carlisle Magic Plus doesn't have an elite blade design but stands out for the durability of its materials and the resulting quality of construction. The fiberglass-reinforced blades are securely attached to the shaft, and this robust paddle can handle anything you throw at it. It's made of thicker plastic than almost all the other paddles we tested and is not easily susceptible to dings, scratches, or dents like those made of more fragile materials. Similarly, despite its slightly below-average blade design, we felt the Perception Outlaw was noteworthy for its robust construction, particularly given its price point.

kayak paddle - we tested a variety of paddles side by side to find out which is...
We tested a variety of paddles side by side to find out which is best for you.
Credit: Sara James

Conclusion


We relished the opportunity to put these paddles to the test in a wide variety of conditions. Using paddles ranging in quality side by side is a stark reminder of how a good paddle can make a big difference in your kayaking experience. Despite testers having different paddling backgrounds and experience levels, we unanimously agreed on all our award winners for this review. If you want to hit the water in your recreational touring kayak, our write-up will help you select the very best paddle to suit your needs. See all our top-rated paddles for all your water sports needs.

kayak paddle - paddling around skunk harbor, lake tahoe.
Paddling around Skunk Harbor, Lake Tahoe.
Credit: Eric Gillespie

Sara James