After examining over 100 of the best adjustable SUP paddles you can buy in 2019, we purchased the most promising models and tested them back-to-back. Options abound - do you prefer featherweight carbon or more durable fiberglass? How packable and adjustable do you need your paddle to be? We tested all of these options on glassy Tahoe mornings, blustery alpine lakes, and swiftly moving streams and rivers, taking note of efficiency, comfort, and ease of adjustment. The results are in, read on to find the best trusty sidekick for all your SUPing needs.
The Best Adjustable SUP Paddles of 2019
|Price||$364.00 at REI|
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|$170.00 at REI|
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|$189.95 at Backcountry|
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|$199.00 at REI||$128.95 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Lightweight, easy to adjust, high performance||Cuts cleanly through water, durable blade||Easy and sturdy adjustment, lightweight, high performance||Lightweight, strong, easy on the body to use||High performance, relatively inexpensive|
|Cons||Pricey, blade can flutter||Heavy, looks like a toy||Smaller adjustment range||The handle allows excellent grip but can become uncomfortable||Heavy, not adjustable|
|Bottom Line||The Trance is a breath of fresh air, with good performance and an unbelievably lightweight construction.||The Vibe is a great all-around paddle that moves water well and is easy to manage.||The Aqua-Bound Challenge has a a high-performance paddle for serious paddlers.||This is a high-performance paddle that is easy to pull through the water.||The high-performer Makai was a favorite among some of our testers, while others felt it was too heavy.|
|Rating Categories||95 Performance||Werner Vibe||Challenge 85||KIALOA Insanity||KIALOA Makai|
|Ease Of Adjustment (20%)|
|Locking Mechanism (20%)|
|Specs||95 Performance||Werner Vibe||Challenge 85||KIALOA Insanity||KIALOA Makai|
|Weight||1.2 lbs||1.7 lbs||1.3 lbs||1.56 lbs||2 lbs|
Best Overall Adjustable SUP Paddle
Werner Trance 95 Performance
The Werner Trance 95 Performance ran away with the high score in our testing metrics, and it also ran away with our hearts. This paddle is designed carefully, and the details are all well-crafted with ease-of-use in mind. The lightest paddle in our test, with a carbon fiber shaft and blade, this model slices through the water. Plus, the highest scoring adjustment system is easy to use and doesn't get in the way of paddling.
The only downside to this model is its price. It's the most expensive paddle in our review fleet. But this is a classic case of you get what you pay for. We'd still steer most folks towards our Best Buy winner, the Werner Vibe. You lose a little paddle performance, but you gain a few hundred dollars.
Read full review: Werner Trance 95 Performance
Best Buy for Performance
Designed for middle-of-the-road paddlers who are looking for good performance and sturdy craftsmanship, the Vibe features a rectangular blade with a scooped profile and dihedral ridge. We found that this shape allowed for a gentler catch than other models while at the same time providing stable forward pull. Also, the Vibe features our favorite locking mechanism on the market. As a result, the Vibe is one of the highest performing paddles, with an easy-to-use adjustment system, average weight, and one of the best price points in the review.
The Trance has higher quality materials than the Vibe and is far lighter. For that reason, we recommend the Trance if what you want is top level performance. Still, the Vibe offers excellent performance for the best value, and we feel it's probably the right choice for most people.
Read full review: Werner Vibe
Least Tiring to Paddle
One of our Top Pick winners is the fantastic Kialoa Insanity adjustable paddle. We tested the size small Insanity, which has an 83 square inch blade. This is the smallest blade in the test and is the easiest to pull through the water. Testers felt less fatigued at the end of the day when using this paddle. Its shaft is light and comfortable to grip, and it features a durable impact resistant fiberglass blade made out of recycled material. We appreciate this thoughtful innovation.
Some testers found the ridges built into the handle made it less comfortable than other handles during long paddles. But that's our only complaint. The Insanity is a lightweight, high-performance paddle that allowed our testers to make quick and decisive movements while on the water.
Read full review: KIALOA Insanity
Best at Inspiring a SUP Session
Bending Branches Balance
The Balance is a gorgeous, lightweight and adjustable paddle crafted from beautiful basswoods and red alder. It features a pure carbon shaft. The perfect balance of beauty, comfort, and function, this paddle is a joy to pull through the water. Most of the paddle's weight is in the blade, which often creates a metronome rhythm while paddling. The blade is weighty enough to seek out the water but light enough to handle with ease. The Balance has a shaft made of aviation-grade T700 carbon which is lightweight and has very little if any flex. This means that you don't lose power lost on each stroke, which lessens fatigue and increases forward motion.
Its solid wooden handle and wooden blade make it a tiny bit heavier than our lightest-weight paddle, but it's a bit more affordable than the uber-light all carbon Werner Trance. Quality craftsmanship and attention to detail shine through on this piece of functional art.
Read full review: Bending Branches Balance
Best Basic Buy
Bullet Proof Surf Alloy
The Best Buy award-winning Bullet Proof Surf Adjustable Alloy is a rugged product with a tough nylon blade aluminum shaft. A collar clamp adjustment and locking mechanism, also known as the TwinPin system, and solid scores across our scoring metrics earned this model a special place in our testers' hearts. All of this comes at an extremely affordable price, making the Alloy the most budget-friendly SUP paddle we tested.
It's a hefty paddle, so it isn't the best choice if you're paddling for longer distances. Although heavier than the lightest models in our test, this product is built to withstand more wear than paddles built entirely from carbon. If you want a functional, highly affordable paddle that will last, this is a great choice.
Read full review: Bullet Proof Surf Alloy
Why You Should Trust Us
Our Expert Panel of reviewers consists of Review Editors Shey Kiester and Megan Ferney. Shey has tested over 50 paddleboards for OutdoorGearLab and holds a degree in creative writing and English rhetoric from the University of Alaska. Additionally, she is an accomplished alpine climber and has written for Alpinist, American Alpine Journal, and Backpacker, among others. Megan grew up paddling the waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene, and is a rock climber, equestrian, backpacker, and outdoor educator. She holds a Bachelor's degree in education and a Master's in Organizational Leadership.
6 factors weighed into our consideration while testing these paddles - Performance, Weight, Ease of Adjustment, Locking Mechanism, Aesthetics, and Compactibility. Testing took place over a period of months at locations in Idaho and northern California, including rivers and stillwater. During this time, we assembled, used, disassembled, and transported these paddles repeatedly to gain an understanding of their relative strengths and weaknesses.
Related: How We Tested SUP Paddles
Analysis and Test Results
Our testers varied widely, from first-time SUPers to experts to river rats with a ton of boating experience who were new to the SUP world. We formed a well-rounded view of each product as a result.
Related: Buying Advice for SUP Paddles
We compared the SUP paddles based on their performance (worth 30% of the final score, their weight, ease of adjustment, and locking mechanism (all weighted at 20% each), and their aesthetics (worth 10%). We didn't initially consider aesthetics to be very important in a SUP paddle, but with everyone fighting over the Bending Branches Balance constantly, we changed our minds. These percentages may not align exactly with your needs. If a paddle performs well in an area of interest for you, it could be a great choice.
Now that we've shown you how the paddles scored in performance, we'll put that in context of cost. The Werner Vibe offers the highest paddling performance in the review for a merely average price. The Aqua-bound Challenge 85 and Kialoa paddles also offer excellent price to performance ratios. And we don't want to belittle the respectable Bullet Proof Surf option. It'll get you where you want to go for less than half the cost of most models.
This is the most heavily weighted metric, at 30 percent of a model's overall score. If you are a serious SUPer who wants high performance, paddles that score well here are the ones for you. For some beginner users though, this metric might not be as important as other factors like cost or ease of adjustment, especially if you're planning on sharing your paddle between multiple users.
- Paddle catch, or the initial slice into the water
- Power, or the pull of the blade through the water
- Exit, the way the paddle feathers out of the water, and
- Recovery, how easy and comfortable it is to set up for the next catch
Paddle performance relates directly to the blade's design. In this review, we tested paddles that had rectangular or teardrop shapes with flat, scooped and dihedral profiles. These design choices affect each paddle's ability to catch, pull through, and exit the water. For example, the Werner Vibe features a rectangular shape that is slightly curved at the bottom and has a scooped profile, which is split by a ridge to make a dihedral shape. The ridge helps the water to flow evenly across both sides of the paddle, reducing flutter. The highest scorers in performance are the Vibe, the Aqua-bound Performance, and the Kialoa Insanity. All of them have dihedral blades.
The Werner Trance also has a dihedral blade. But we detect a subtle flutter in the water when pulling it through the stroke. The blade feathers back and forth slightly, which reduces power. We didn't notice this with the Vibe and the Trance receives a lower performance score as a result.
While our testers' favorite pulling paddles usually have a dihedral blade profile, if the dihedral angle is too aggressive, the paddle loses power. Power is also affected by the blade's offset, or how many degrees the tip of the blade is rotated away from the base of the blade where it attaches to the shaft. All of our favorite paddles have a 10-degree offset, which is ideal for all-around use.
The paddle shaft is also important. Paddles that are lightweight and feature shafts constructed from either carbon or fiberglass often have a bit of flex in their shaft, which usually equates to higher performance. The top-performing Insanity, Vibe, and Aqua-bound all feature a soft flex in the shaft and are comfortable to handle and paddle. They slice through water easily and efficiently. They are all surprisingly efficient at moving water, propelling testers across the lake at rapid speeds with little effort.
Paddle exit can be hard to notice for beginners. It depends on both the blade design and the degree of blade offset. Finally, paddle recovery primarily depends on how well the paddle's weight is balanced and how comfortable the handle and shaft are to hold. Lighter paddles and lower profile handles tend to be easier to recover.
Here we rate the paddles based on all-around, recreational performance. Their relative strengths and weakness also depend on what type of paddling you want to do. Smaller or rectangular paddles offer efficient paddling for longer days on the water. Teardrop shapes, particularly those with less offset, can demand a lot of power to move. The former work well for recreation, the latter are great for surfing.
There is often a direct correlation between lighter paddles and higher performing paddles. (One exception is the Vibe, which is heavier than other top performance scorers). There is more than a pound of difference between some of the models in this test. This extra weight might not seem like much now, but trust us, once you're a mile into your paddle, your arms will notice the extra weight. If you are planning on longer missions or want to save your strength for speed, keep this metric in mind. Also, remember that lower weights usually correlate with higher prices.
The paddles we tested vary from 1.2 pounds to 2.2 pounds. The pricey, carbon Werner Trance is the lightest paddle we tested. Its featherweight is a big reason our testers liked it best. It feels like nothing to hold but provides plenty of power in the water. The iGK Pure Carbon is also made of carbon but is much heavier because it breaks down into three pieces. The weight might be worth if you plan to travel with the paddle often.
Not all weight is created equal. The wooden Bending Branches Balance paddle weighs 1.6 pounds, but testers didn't complain about it. Since the weight is in the blade, the paddle seemed to create its own momentum. In contrast, paddlers often commented on how hefty the 1.7 pound Werner Vibe felt. We don't think the 0.1 pound is what made the difference.
As a rule, fiberglass and carbon constructed models weigh less than models made with aluminum or nylon. However, heavier materials often offer more durability throughout the product's lifespan. You may be willing to sacrifice performance for a product that may last longer. The Vibe, Insanity, and the Makai are made of fiberglass. The Trance is an expensive carbon option that would be frustrating to break or loose. The well-made, wooden Balance will likely last you a long time.
Ease of Adjustment
All the paddles in this review are adjustable, meaning that the user can change their height to suit their needs and personal comfort. The paddles in this review have an adjustment range spanning from 8 to 18 inches. Different paddles use different adjustment mechanisms, which we discuss in detail in the locking mechanism metric. Some of these paddles offer several sizes that you can then adjust further. Check out our Buying Advice to make sure you get the right size range for your height.
The Werner Trance and Vibe and Kialoa Insanity and Makai use a LeverLocksystem, which hides the adjustment lever in the handle. It is sleek and easy to use. These models were our favorites to adjust.
The Bending Branches Balance and the Aqua-Bound Challenge both have a series of adjustment holes and a stainless steel button. You compress the button and slide the inner and outer shafts to the desired height. This adjustment system is called snap-button adjust. The adjustment button doesn't have the lowest profile, making it a small nuisance when paddling, as it often got in the way of testers' hands.
Paddles with a TwinPin, mid-shaft lever are also considered easy to adjust, mainly because this model does not require a screwdriver to tighten it. The Own the Wave and BPS models featured this technology, which operates by pushing out a "C" shaped collar clamp that releases an attached stainless steel pin from its adjustment hole. This allows you to adjust the handle end of the shaft. When you've reached your desired length, you push the clamp back in towards the shaft, and the pin goes into the nearest hole.
The final adjustment system is found on the iGK model. It is, confusingly, also called the LeverLock system. This system operates by lifting a lever located on the shaft that releases tension and allows you to move the handle end of the shaft. However, we had to tighten these adjustment systems with a screwdriver when we pulled them out of the box, and several required further adjustments throughout testing. Some testers found themselves out on the water with a clamp that refused to tighten down, making it nearly impossible to paddle.
Some of the paddles are marked with height measurements to help you adjust them correctly for your size. The Aqua-Bound and Kialoa Makai paddles do not have any such markings. Own the Wave and BPS have a number system to help you and the Werner, Kialoa Insanity, and IGK models have paddler height markings.
Some adjustment locking mechanisms are more secure than others. The LeverLock on the Werner and KIALOA paddles is our testers' favorite system. This features a lock mechanism that flips up from the handle of the paddle and is thus low profile and has fewer moving parts than other designs. This feature is by far the most solid locking mechanism and the easiest to use.
The second-best system is the snap-button adjust, which features a button that you push to releasing the handle. This system has adjustment holes that are 1.5- 2 inches apart. It is intuitive, quick, and has few moving parts, meaning that it is likely to last a while. Though we've read reviews about these buttons rusting off, we've never experienced that ourselves. This system is found on the Bending Branches Balance and the Aqua-Bound Challenge.
The Family Adjustable, TwinPin, and EasyClip systems on the rest of the paddles all work similarly, using an adjustment lever on the shaft. When it is flipped out, it releases the tension of the handle end of the shaft inside the blade end. The handle end can then be moved up or down to the desired paddler height. This was our testers' least favorite system, as it often required a screwdriver to fine-tune.
Aesthetics are about than just looking pretty. A high rating in aesthetics can mean the paddle is meticulously constructed with high-quality materials. It can mean the designer paid extra attention to detail. It can also just mean our testers enjoyed using a paddle even more because it is beautiful and fun to use.
Some paddles are just paddles, and some are works of art. The Bending Branches Balance is one of the latter. We basically had to add this rating metric to account for its exquisite construction. Other paddles that scored well in this metric, the NRS Rush, Werner Trance, and Kialoa Makai are also high-quality paddles that are made to last.
The extra attention to detail in a paddle can bring joy to its paddler and is reflects its craftsmanship and value. Although aesthetics doesn't necessarily affect performance, paddling is supposed to be fun, and a beautiful paddle can make a good time even better.
Some of these paddles are compactable, meaning that they break into either two or three pieces. These models can come in handy for users who drive smaller cars or for those looking to travel with their setup.
The iGK model earned the highest score in this metric, as it was the only paddle tested that broke down into three pieces and stowed in its own bag. Because it packed into its own bag, it also featured blades with the smallest offset of any of the test fleet. The Werner Trance, Werner Vibe, Kialoa Insanity, NRS Rush, and Own the Wave paddles are also available in 3-piece versions.
The majority of the paddles in this review had a range of adjustability from 8 to 12-inches, which gives you enough room to shove them into your car, but not enough to easily check them on an airplane.
Best for Specific Applications
The Werner Trance is the best option for experienced paddlers who can appreciate the highest levels of performance. The Vibe offers an excellent performance to cost ration. The Aqua-Bound Challenge, KIALOA Insanity and the KIALOA Makai are also great all-around paddles for users who are focused on performance, but the Wener options are a little better. The Bending Branches Balance is another great all-around paddle that combines beautiful craftsmanship with lightweight materials.
More experienced paddlers who are interested in surf SUPing may consider the KIALOA Insanity and the NRS Rush. We recommend the Bullet Proof Surf Alloy for those needing a product that can adjust to a wide range of paddler heights and that can take a beating. It's also easy on the pocketbook.
Purchasing an adjustable SUP paddle can be overwhelming, especially if you've never owned one before. If you're still having difficulty deciding, check out our Buying Advice article. Think about what kind of SUPer you are, what kind of paddling you want to do, and what kind of use you'd like to get out of your paddle. Are you a beginner who might benefit from a less expensive model that isn't a high performer? Or perhaps you're planning on longer missions and need a lightweight high-performer. Maybe you're planning on using one paddle for a range of users and require max adjustment height. Or maybe you're taking your SUP overseas and need a paddle that can be easily checked. All of these things are important to consider before you decide.
— Shey Kiester and Megan Ferney