Looking for the best paddle on the market? After researching over 175 of the best adjustable SUP and two-piece kayak options, we picked 24 of our favorites to purchase and test side-by-side. Collectively, we spent over 200 hours testing each while adventuring on lakes, rivers, and oceans. We rated each for performance, ease of adjustment, weight, locking mechanism security, quality, and aesthetics. After spending six years testing on the water, we have the insight to help you find the best paddle for the next chapter of your water sports adventures.Editor's Note: This paddle review was updated on May 12, 2023, with updates to award winners.
10 Best Paddles of 2023
Best Overall Kayak Paddle
Wilderness Systems Pungo Glass
The Wilderness System Pungo Glass is our favorite two-piece kayak paddle which features a lightweight yet durable build. The lever-lock ferrule that joins both parts is easy to adjust even with clumsy or cold hands. It provides an effective and smooth stroke through the water. When pushing off gravel banks, the blade maintains its shape, without succumbing to flex, making it a durable and burly option for water adventures. The mid-sized blades are asymmetrical with a dihedral shape, making them suitable to use for a myriad of styles and experience levels, including beginners. Our testers always found themselves reaching for this winner for its excellent balance of performance.
The Pungo Glass was only upstaged in pure paddling performance by the most elite full-carbon models. No other product offered such a balance of performance across all metrics. The only feature we didn't love was the graphics, which you might love. If you're looking for the best of the best, look no further.
Read more: Wilderness System Pungo Glass review
Best Overall SUP Paddle
Werner Trance 95 Performance
We were thoroughly impressed by the performance of the Werner Trance 95 Performance SUP paddle. It is extremely lightweight, making long days on the water that much more enjoyable. The highly responsive rectangular blade makes maneuvering very easy, even in rough conditions. The carbon construction is durable with some of the best lever locks we've tested. With the locks on the handle, it's easy to adjust on the fly, locking it into place for the day. It also has a sleek look, matching its water-slicing performance.
As a favorite among our testers, the Trance 95 is well worth the investment, but be ready to empty a few extra bills from your wallet. If you're not seeking the best performance on the market, the casual water sports lover might get away with a more budget-friendly option. However, if you've invested in purchasing a high-quality option that does well across the metrics, do yourself a favor and check out this favorite.
Read more: Werner Trance 95 Performance review
Best Fiberglass SUP Paddle
Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass 2-Piece
The Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass 2-Piece is a top adjustable SUP paddle with fiberglass blades and an all-carbon shaft. This construction makes it very light. It has excellent performance that delivers a powerful and efficient stroke. This performance coupled with its lightweight design makes it a perfect compadre for long days on the water. The dihedral shape of the blade does not flex or bend, slicing efficiently through the water. The all-carbon shaft comes with a 10-degree offset which is easy to use for all experience levels. It's easy to adjust on the fly and comes in a few stylish colors.
One thing to consider is the single internal spring pin design used in the locking mechanism versus an internal LeverLock system. While it still earns top marks this design limits the range of length settings it can be adjusted for. If you're in the market for a lightweight and high-performance fiberglass SUP paddle, take a moment to consider this contender.
Read more: Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass 2-Piece review
Best Kayak Paddle for the Buck
We were pleasantly surprised by the Werner Baja kayak paddle for its excellent construction, durable materials, and notable performance. It integrates the features and attributes of a top performer while keeping the price affordable. It sports a fiberglass shaft and round fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene blades. The more durable and stiff materials lend to a powerful stroke through the water, without any notable flutters or flex. Its dihedral construction is a nice choice for paddlers at all levels, whether you're just starting out or have spent years on the water.
It's not surprising that as a well-built product with reinforced materials, the Baja feels heavy in hand. With a lower price also comes cheaper components. This includes the snap button locking system. When paddling, we had to readjust it as it has some play. Additionally, it can get jammed if particulates are not cleaned out of it regularly. If you're a kayaker looking for a deal that won't drain your wallet, consider this solid two-piece paddle.
Read more: Werner Baja review
Best SUP Paddle for the Buck
If you're a budget-oriented water sports lover who cares about excellent craftsmanship and performance, the Werner Vibe SUP paddle is one to consider. It is designed with a rectangular blade head that sports a dihedral ridge and scooped profile. This unique shape delivers stellar performance once you hone the skill of moving it through the water. It features 16 inches of adjustability with a spring-loaded system. It features a LeverLock system, keeping your preferred length locked in while you explore.
With a more robust design and slightly lower-quality materials, it is a little heavier than most. If you plan on long days on the water, you might want to consider a lighter option instead. For those seeking a high-performing SUP paddle with great performance at a fraction of the price, this is one to consider.
Read more: Werner Vibe review
Best Durable Kayak Paddle
Carlisle Magic Plus
If durability is a top priority, the Carlisle Magic Plus stands out above the rest. It features fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene blades and a fiberglass shaft. The blades don't bend or flex, even when pushing off the shore or while digging in while maneuvering in the river. We felt comfortable throwing it around the shore and into the truck, without having to worry about damage. We also appreciate that the shaft features a secure grip, which was helpful for slippery hands.
Before purchasing the Magic Plus you must consider that it is constructed with a snap-button locking system. In our testing, the two pieces became increasingly hard to dismantle or adjust, especially when in the sand. If you manage to keep it clean, this may be a non-issue. Additionally, given the burly materials used in its durable construction, it has a heavier design. Overall, this is best for those that tend to be a little rough on their gear and don't mind a few more ounces in hand.
Read more: Carlisle Magic Plus review
Best Lightweight Kayak Paddle
If you're in the market for a lightweight kayak paddle, there is not better option than the Werner Kalliste, weighing only 1.4 pounds. It features dihedral-shaped carbon fiber blades with a foam core that floats easily on the water. The asymmetrical shape slices through the water without any flutter or play. The lightweight design and buoyant blades make a winning combination that is effort efficient on the water. It is designed to make long tours easier and mellow floats that much more mellow.
While lightweight in design, it is not as durable as others constructed of heavier materials. Used as intended, however, it can be the last paddle you ever purchase. Another feature we didn't love was the push button adjustment which can be hard to manipulate with cold hands. That said the design is exquisitely balanced offering a powerful and smooth stroke each time. Built for the water lover at any level, this contender truly excels when the days are long and light gear is appreciated.
Read more: Werner Kalliste review
Best Kayak Paddle for a Tight Budget
Bending Branches Whisper
We gave the Bending Branches Whisper accolades as an economical paddle that allowed aspiring kayakers to get out on the water regardless of their budget. The polypropylene blades are durable and withstand significant use or abuse, even in rocky conditions. Despite the low price point, we still felt it delivered a dependable performance and would be willing to lend it to our friends for their first outings in a kayak.
The aluminum shaft made the Whisper much heavier than the top-performing options. However, compared to those of a similar price bracket, it falls in the lighter category. The flex in the plastic blades resulted in a less efficient transfer of power, which concerned the performance athletes in our testing group. Overall the design is nothing to write home about, but it is sufficient enough that you can use it on your kayaking adventures. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts who want to get out on the water to explore but are not concerned about having the highest performance will be grateful for such an affordable option.
Read more: Bending Branches Whisper review
Best SUP Paddle for a Tight Budget
Barrel Point Surf Alloy
The Barrel Point Surf Alloy is a rugged SUP paddle that is economically priced. Built with an aluminum shaft and tough nylon blades, it is durable. It also offers a wide range of length adjustments, which our taller testers appreciate. The collar clamp adjustment and the locking mechanism are solid, ensuring that all adjustments are locked in tight.
Because of its weight, the Surf Alloy is not the best option for paddling over longer distances. Although heavier than the lightest models tested, it is made to resist great amounts of wear and tear. If you want a useful, highly affordable SUP paddle that will last, this is a fantastic option.
Read more: Barrel Point Surf Alloy review
Why You Should Trust Us
Our team has spent six years testing over 50 two-piece kayak and SUP paddles. The kayak paddle review is headed by Sara James, a multi-discipline paddler, coach, and educator. With over 15 years of experience in water sports, she has taken to the rivers, lakes, and oceans while covering thousands of miles of water on trips in France, Nepal, California, and Zambia. Our Best SUP Paddle Review utilizes the expertise of testing leads Shey Kiester, Megan Ferney, and Marissa Fox. Shey has experience testing over 50 different SUPs for GearLab with a love for paddling in nature. Megan spent most of her childhood paddling Lake Coeur d'Alene, breeding a passion for water sports, which still continues today. Marissa has spent over 15 years excelling at high-performance board sports. Not only is she an avid stand-up paddleboarding, but also a former professional snowboarder and PADI Master Scuba Dive Trainer.
This review includes recreational two-piece kayak paddles and adjustable SUP paddles. They were tested across two different sets of metrics.Kayak two-piece paddles were tested across 5 test metrics:
- Ease of Adjustment
- Locking Mechanism Security
- Construction Quality
Adjustable SUP paddles were tested across 5 test metrics:
- Ease of Adjustment
- Locking Mechanism
Our team has collectively spent over 40 hours researching and evaluating more than 175 different products. Since 2018, we have hands-on tested over 40 different types of SUP and kayak paddles. During each trial, we purchased each product at retail price and put together objective testing plans to evaluate each option comparatively. When testing, we took to the water, logging over 200 collective hours. We went to several locations across the USA, including Idaho and northern California. We explored on water bodies ranging from choppy oceans and narrow rivers to beautiful alpine lakes. We had both SUP'ers and kayakers of different levels of expertise test each product in a variety of weather conditions. While testing, we kept detailed notes and observations regarding each performance metric. Finally, after evaluating each product using our metrics, we identify award winners. This review focuses on two-piece kayak paddles for recreational flatwater kayakers and SUP paddle options for all levels of expertise.
How to Choose a Paddle
So you've chosen a watercraft that you'd like to take out, but you need to also pick a paddle that suits you best. So where do begin? With so many options on the market, choosing the one best for you might seem daunting. You're in luck though, because that's where we come in. We break down the different parts of a paddle and highlight some key considerations before you make your purchase. We'll explore length, the design of the blade, the shaft design, and other key points. Let's begin.
Before you get out on the water, you should first consider the length of the paddle that you need. There are various types of watercraft and conditions that will warrant a different length. Considerations to make when thinking about length are the width of your boat, your personal paddling style, and the water conditions that you normally recreate in.
Recreational Kayak Paddle: When considering the length of a kayak paddle, you must know the height of the kayaker and the width of the kayak. Find the manufacturer's website for the kayak brand you will be using, and use the kayak paddle sizing chart as a guide for what to purchase. If you plan on more leisurely days on the water or prefer a more relaxed stroke, a longer length should be considered. If you are planning on taking a more aggressive pace, or if your boat is narrow, a shorter length should be considered.
SUP Paddle: When considering an adjustable SUP paddle length, it should be at least 4 inches longer than your height. The more relaxed your intended effort, the longer it should be, and the more aggressive, the shorter it should be. In general, if you're primarily into fitness and touring on your SUP, add six to ten inches to your height. If you plan on surfing whitewater, just add four to eight inches to your height. In addition, make sure to reference the manufacturer's sizing guides to make sure the size is perfect for your height and style.
In the world of paddle sports, there are many different types of blade shapes and sizes, constructed from a myriad of materials which translates to different uses and levels of performance. In this section, we discuss blade design which includes the materials it's constructed from, the size of the blade, and the different shapes you should consider.
A blade should be designed to be strong and durable. Your paddle blade will most likely be used to push off of banks, move water, and may come into contact with the odd rock that you can't see under the surface. The materials it is constructed of, directly impact its durability and price. Explore the types of materials to see which type you prefer.
Carbon fiber: Top-end paddles are made from carbon fiber composites. These are very light and responsive, and less likely to flex. These blades typically don't have a flutter and are efficient at slicing through the water. The only downside is they are quite expensive, but they will last you for a long time since they are very durable.
Fiberglass: A middle-of-the-road material that is less expensive than carbon fiber and less prone to flex than plastic-nylon blends. As a result, this material delivers good performance, but they aren't as durable as either carbon fiber or plastic-nylon blends. They are, however, lighter than plastic-nylon blends, but not as light as carbon fiber. If you chose a fiberglass paddle, you will have a nice balance of performance for the price, but be careful when tossing it in the back of your vehicle, as it can chip.
Plastic-Nylon Blends: If you're hard on your gear, the plastic-nylon blend is a very durable material. While it is much less expensive than both fiberglass and carbon fiber, it is also heavier with some flex. This makes for a less effective stroke. If you're looking for a paddle that is low-cost and durable , then seek out a plastic-nylon blend.
Another consideration to make before purchasing a paddle is the size of the blade.
Most blades come in small, medium, or large sizes. A larger blade has a larger surface area, which will deliver a more powerful stroke. A smaller blade will deliver a less powerful stroke since there is a smaller surface area to move water. While large blades are nice, they require more energy to move through the water. So, if you prefer easy paddling, a small to medium-sized blade is a better choice. However, if you like to move quickly with fast turns, you might want to consider a medium to larger blade size.
Different types of watercraft use different types of paddles, which also have different blade shapes. The different blade shapes offer different types of propulsion through the water.
SUPs: As you peruse the SUP paddle selection, you'll find that SUP blades have either a rectangular or tear-drop shape. You'll also notice that each blade has a kick-back angle with a scooped face. When paddling, the scooped face with a dihedral groove is called the power face. This should face your body as you move through the water. The arched face, the non-power face, should face away from the body.
Kayaks: When you're shopping for a kayak paddle, be sure to look for blades that have an asymmetrical dihedral shape. This means that one side of the blade is shorter on one side. The dihedral rib in the center should be smooth and cupped, which allows water to flow smoothly over the surface, reducing flutter and increasing performance.
When considering the design of the shaft, we must consider its materials, whether it is straight or bent, and the number of pieces it can break down into. The shaft design can make a big difference in weight, how it is stored, and how the paddle moves through the water.
Similar to the blade, the shaft is constructed of materials that offer different levels of performance. This includes carbon fiber, fiberglass, and aluminum. Pair a lightweight shaft with a lightweight blade, and you've got yourself a top-performing paddle. Let's explore the pros and cons of each material.
Carbon Fiber: If you're willing to pay top dollar for a very durable and lightweight paddle, look for a shaft that is built from carbon fiber. These shafts are sturdy with just enough shock absorbance to deliver a powerful stroke that isn't hard on the body.
Fiberglass: This is another lightweight option where the price tag falls into the reasonable range. While not as lightweight or durable as carbon fiber, it's a good choice if you're looking for a high-value option with decent performance across the board.
Aluminum: This type of shaft is very durable and serviceable. It's also inexpensive. The only downside is that it lacks shock absorbance. As a result, you might feel more vibration as you paddle, and it might feel more fluttery in the water than other material types. If you're looking for an inexpensive and durable material that doesn't need to deliver the best performance, consider aluminum.
Number of Pieces
When packing your paddle away, you need to consider how small you want it to get. For example, if you plan on hiking your boat a distance to or from the water, you might want to consider one that packs into smaller parts. Or, if you don't plan to pack it down at all, a one-piece might suffice. Kayak paddles, for example, can pack into as many as four pieces.
Two-Pieces: Having a paddle that breaks into two pieces seems to be the best of both worlds. It's still easy to store in this configuration, and there will be less shaky performance as it cuts through the water. All of the kayak paddles tested in this review have two-piece shafts.
One Piece: While this design is very sturdy and less likely to break, it is much harder to store. Unless you have a rooftop carrier or a vehicle with long storage in the back, we'd recommend a paddle that breaks into at least two pieces. That said, if you have the storage, and don't want any shake, the one-piece is the way to go.
Four Pieces: A paddle that breaks down into as many as four pieces is excellent for packing all the pieces into a backpack, or rolling it up into an inflatable boat. That said, the more pieces it breaks into means the many more places that it could break or fail. It can also translate to more shaking and bending through the shaft during each stroke. If packability is your priority, multi-piece options are the way to go.
Different shafts also have different shapes. SUP paddles tend to have a circular shaft shape for easy movement through the water. Kayak paddles, on the other hand, have elliptical shafts with "indexing" which allows kayakers to feel the angle at which they are held.
Kayak paddles come in two different shaft design varieties: bent or straight shaft designs. The bent shaft offers an ergonomic design that controls grip location, making it easier to explore for long distances. The straight shaft design is better for a mellow day on the water.
If you're looking to shave off a little weight, some manufacturers make their designs with a small-diameter shaft. Typically, these small-diameter options need to be ordered from the manufacturer. If the length between the base of your wrist and the top of your index finger is less than 6 inches, you may benefit more from this option, shaving off a few ounces for your trip.
Adjustable SUP Locking Mechanisms
Adjustable SUP paddles have a number of locking mechanisms that keep the length where you want it. Some mechanisms are made better than others. Here we'll explore LeverLock handles, LeverLock Shaft, TwinPin systems, and Single Pin systems.
This mechanism is built into the handle. This low-profile design allows you to simply lift up on the handle, releasing the tension of the blade, which allows you to adjust the length. There are no visible screws and it does not require adjustment out of the box. This mechanism is typically found in top-tier models.
With this design, you simply pull the lever open, which releases the tension on the shaft. You can adjust it to a desired length, ensuring that the blade is aligned with the handle grip. This allows easy adjustment on the water. This is a common locking mechanism in many SUP paddles. It's important to consider, though, that there are many moving parts that could eventually break, and the lines and arrows for measurement could wear off over time.
This simple system uses adjustment pins throughout the length of the shaft. This system is simple and easy to use, as you don't have to align the handle with the blade. It should be considered that these systems have more small parts, making them heavier than others. Also, it's difficult to see where the pins are. In cold weather, it can be difficult to push the pins down and adjust them on the fly. Additionally, there are specific lengths that you have to adjust to. That said, this system normally comes with budget-friendly products.
Single Pin Push
This system makes adjusting easy on the fly. Push in the stainless steel pin and move the handle to the length you need. This system is easy to use and will line up to the handle and blade automatically. It's also very lightweight.
Kayak Ferrule Systems and Blade Feathering
If you're a new kayaker, the term "ferrule" may be foreign to you. A ferrule is a mechanism used to join two halves of the kayak paddle together. When joining these two halves together, another thing to consider is the "feather" of the two kayak blades.
The feather is the angle difference between the two blades while paddling, or the angle of offset. The range of feathering can be from 0° to 60°, with most people's preference falling in the range of 30°to 45°. The angle that you use may offer some relief on the wrist when paddling in more difficult conditions. To figure out what you like, it's important to get out on the water and experiment to see which angle feels the best for your body.
There are several ferrule systems used in kayak paddles. Snap (or push) buttons are the simplest while LeverLock and Posi-Lock system systems are high performing, offering a wider range of offset for your kayaking experience.
Snap or Push Button
In this design, there are holes and one pin. Depending on the design, you can have two to three holes. You simply rotate one end of the paddle to your angle of choice. The three-hole design offers three angles of feathering which include: left or right control (45°) and flat blades (0°). This is typically sufficient for novice and intermediate paddlers but limits the angle to only three options. More advanced kayakers might want to consider a more advanced system that offers more incremental angles in its design.
This system is unique in that you can adjust both the length of your paddle and the angle of the feather between the blades. It is one of the easiest to use and a favorite among our testers. It is common in adjustable paddles, but manufacturers are starting to use it in kayaking as well. Simply flip the lever on the center of the shaft, and the two pieces telescope away from one another. You can easily extend the length, and change the angle using the metrics written on the shaft. These designs are ideal for cold conditions, offering easy adjustment on the fly. This system offers a full range of adjustability making it a high-performance ferrule system.
The Posi-Lok system used in the Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon is another ferrule system with excellent performance. This offers several angles for adjustment for both the left and right sides ( 0°, 15°, 30°, 45°, and 60°). Simply pinch two of the push buttons down, which releases the mechanism, then adjust to the desired angle. Our testers noted that the push buttons didn't get gummed up, even when sandy grit was present.
Smart View Adjustable
The Smart View Adjustable ferrule is used in the Werner brand and is similar to the Posi-Lok system, with high performance. It also offers several angles of adjustment on both the left and right (0°, 15°, 30°, 45°, and 60°) but only utilizes one single push to open. It offers the feel of a one-piece paddle, however, the Posi-Lok system offers easier adjustment, especially over time.
We hope that we've helped you on your journey to finding the best paddle for your needs. We offer you our personal insights after spending years on the water testing various adjustable SUP and two-piece kayak paddles. Considering your personal preferences and uses of your paddle are the first step in understanding what kind you might need. Whether you're leisurely exploring a new lake or paddling down the river for days on end, we have recommendations that will have you gliding at your own speed.If you enjoy getting out on the water, check out our best water gear review, which features paddling gear and other water-related products. Also, take a look at our hard-shelled boat reviews, including the best stand-up paddle boards and top kayaks. If you prefer a more packable boat, the best inflatable SUPs and top inflatable kayaks are a necessity for any water lovers' gear closet.
— Sara James, Shey Kiester, Megan Ferney, and Marissa Fox
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.Learn More