Paddle options abound, with different materials, blades, and locking mechanisms. To narrow the field, we researched more than 75 options, purchasing 7 of the best to test ourselves. The selection included paddles constructed from aluminum, fiberglass and carbon and featured a variety of locking mechanisms and compactibility ratings. Our team of experts paddled in all conditions, from glassy to choppy to windy. To test each model's versatility, we took them down the streams and rivers of Northern California, which helped to further analyzed each model's performance. After compiling all of the data, our review serves as a reference point to help you cut through the multitude of options available and get the paddle that's right for you and your needs.
The 7 Best Adjustable SUP Paddles
Analysis and Award Winners
This spring and summer, we paddled with all of our might, putting the seven top adjustable SUP paddles through a series of grueling tests. What did we find? The Werner Trance 95 Performance keeps its Editors' Choice title, while the Top Pick and Best Buy award winners also remain as reigning champs.
Best Overall Adjustable SUP Paddle
Werner Trance 95 Performance
Throughout our tests, one paddle consistently stood head and shoulders above the others. 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 were 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 adjustability system was easy to use and didn't get in the way of paddling. The only downside to this model is its price: At $349, this model is the most expensive in our review fleet, but this is a classic case of you get what you pay for.
Read full review: Werner Trance 95 Performance
Best Bang for the Buck
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 snap clip collar clamp adjustment/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. Although heavier than the lightest models in our test, this product is built to withstand more wear than paddles built entirely from carbon. All of this comes at an extremely affordable price, making the Alloy the most budget-friendly SUP paddle we tested.
Read full review: Bullet Proof Surf Alloy
An Editors' Choice award winner last year, the KIALOA Insanity is cheaper than our current Editors' Choice recipient, and it offers nearly as much performance. While this model is slightly heavier due to its fiberglass construction, it is also a bit more durable, so if you plan on many trips where accidental bangs against rocks are possible, this might be the product for you. This year, the Insanity was beaten out by the Werner Trance because it lacked adjustability and the glue that held the handle in place proved to have less staying power than necessary. However, if you're looking for high performance and don't want to sacrifice all of your spending money, this paddle is a good option.
Read full review: KIALOA Insanity
Analysis and Test Results
Our tests took place over several months and occurred at the same time as our test for Inflatable SUPs. This overlap allowed us to try each of these paddles with a variety of boards, ensuring that any bias that may have been present because of the type of board we were paddling was not inserted into our paddle reviews. We tried these products with very heavy boards, like the Tower Adventure, and lighter models, like the ISLE Inflatable. This variance helped inform our metrics.
Throughout the test, a variety of users paddled with us, from first-time SUPers to experienced users to river rats with a ton of boating experience but who were new to the SUP world. Compiling all of their information allowed us to get a more well-rounded view of each product. Prior to compiling this review, our experts sat down and decided upon five metrics that are most important when selecting a paddle that works for you. Each of these metrics is weighted within the review, depending on how important the metric is to the paddle's overall performance. These scores combine to form the product's overall performance score. It is important to take the overall performance score with a grain of salt if you are looking for a specific kind of paddle and you have specific needs. A product may have performed very well in one metric but poorly in others, giving it a lower combined score, but if it's a high-performer in the area of interest for you, it could be a great choice for your needs.
The metrics chosen by our team that served as a comparison point between models are as follows: ease of adjustment, compactability, locking mechanism, performance, and weight. Performance accounted for 30 percent of a product's score. Ease of adjustment accounted for 20 percent of a product's score as did locking mechanism, and weight. Compactability accounted for 10 percent of the product's overall score.
Ease of Adjustment
All but one of the paddles in this review are adjustable, meaning that the user can change the overall height of the paddle according to their needs and personal comfort. Some paddles come with different initial sizes that can be adjusted, so check out our Buying Advice to make sure you get the right paddle for your height. The paddles in this review have an adjustment range spanning from eight inches to 18 inches. Additionally, the different paddles have different adjustment mechanisms, which we discuss in detail in the locking mechanism metric.
For the second year running, the Werner paddle was the easiest of all the paddles to adjust. the Werner Trance has a series of six adjustment holes that a stainless steel button slips into, earning a high score of 9 out of 10. This adjustment system is called Performance adjust. The Aqua-Bound model also featured this adjustment system, but it did not perform as well because its adjustment button was less low profile, making it a small nuisance when paddling, as it often got in the way of testers' hands.
Paddles with a TwinPin were considered to be the second easiest in adjustment, mainly because this model did not require a screwdriver to tighten. 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 and allows the handle end of the shaft to be adjusted up or down. 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 and Super Paddle models and is called the LeverLock system. This system operates by lifting a lever located in the handle that releases tension and allows the handle end of the shaft to be moved to create a longer or shorter distance. However, we discovered that each of these adjustment systems needed to be tightened out of the box with a screwdriver, and they often required further adjustments. Several testers found themselves out on the water with a clamp that refused to tighten down, making it nearly impossible to paddle.
The KIALOA Insanity was the only paddle that did not feature any adjustment. The paddles varied in how their adjustment was marked, which can provide significant assistance when quickly adjusting for different people or different uses. Aqua-Bound, KIALOA, and Werner paddles do not have any kind of marking to delineate adjustment. Own the Wave and BPS have a number system to help adjust, and Super Paddle and IGK models have a height marking.
All but one of the models in this review (the KIALOA Insanity), 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 (which would most likely necessitate purchasing a three-piece model for maximum packing efficiency).
The IGK and Super Paddle models earned the highest score in this metric, as they were the only paddles tested that broke down into three pieces and stowed in their own bag. (These bags were similar, with the only difference being that the IGK Paddle bag featured separate compartments for the shaft pieces.) Because these models packed into their own bags, they also featured blades with the smallest offset of any of the test fleet.
On the other end of the spectrum was the KIALOA model, which did not feature an adjustment system and was therefore not compactable. At a set height, reviewers did find that this paddle could be tough to fit into smaller cars, like a Honda or Subaru. The rest of the paddles in this test did not stand out in any way in terms of their compactibility, whether it was negative or positive. The majority of the paddles in this review had a range of adjustability from 8"-12", which gives you enough room to shove them into your car, but not enough to easily check them on an airplane.
Although one paddle, the KIALOA Insanity, was not adjustable, among the remaining six paddles there was variation in how easily their adjustment was, how secure the locking mechanism was, and how intuitive the entire system was to use.
There were three different types of locking mechanisms that came with the paddles that we tested: The LeverLock (a.k.a. Family Adjustable), the TwinPin and the Performance adjustable. LeverLock works through an adjustment lever in the handle. When it is flipped up, 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 for fine tuning. IGK and Super Paddle models used this system.
The best system of the three was Performance adjust, which features a button that can be pushed, releasing the handle to move until the button reaches the next hole. The only moving part is a stainless steel button on the handle end of the shaft. This system has six adjustment holes that measure 1.5" apart. This system was intuitive, quick, and had the fewest moving parts (meaning that it is likely to last the longest).
TwinPin collar clamp push pin adjustment system is found on the BPS and Own the Wave models. This snap clip collar clamp locking mechanism/adjustment system adjusts the length of the shaft by pulling the plastic clip out, away from the shaft, which disengages a stainless steel peg from the adjustment hole. The handle end of the shaft is now ready to pull up or down to your desired paddler height. Once adjusted, push the plastic clip back in which snaps the peg back into one of the adjustment holes. Although our testers liked the TwinPin system, it can be difficult to use, as it requires some guess work as to win the pin is above the hole.
For some beginning users, this metric might not be as important as locking mechanism or ease of adjustment. If that sounds like you, keep in mind that this was the most heavily weighted metric, at 30 percent of a model's overall score. However, if you are a serious user who wants high performance from their paddle, keep an eye out for models that scored well in this metric.
Performance can vary widely based on what type of paddling you plan on doing. Some paddles will perform in calm water and do poorly in choppy seas, while others might do the opposite. It is important to take into consideration the conditions that you will likely be seeing most often. Additionally, it is important to note that higher-performing paddles are generally more expensive because their materials are premium. If you aren't looking to break the bank, a high-performance paddle might not be the right choice for you, as these models often run one or even two hundred dollars more than lower-performance models.
This metric was judged on how the paddle felt in the hand, how easily it sliced the water, and how efficiently it moved the water. Paddles that are lightweight and feature shafts constructed from either carbon or fiberglass often have a bit of flex in their shaft, which often equates to higher performance.
In our test, there was also a direct correlation between paddles that weighed less and performed better. The highest scorers were the Werner Trance and the KIALOA Insanity, which had the lightest and second lightest weight, respectively. These models also featured a soft flex in the shaft, and they were comfortable to handle and paddle, slicing through water easily and efficiently. They were both surprisingly efficient at moving water, propelling testers across the lake at rapid speeds with little effort. Despite these two paddles' close performance, we felt that the Werner slightly edged the KIALOA, thanks to its paddle shape. The teardrop shape of the paddle simply couldn't live up to the longer, wider Werner model.
While weight might not impact beginners as much as more serious users, it is important to consider, as 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 start to notice the extra weight. If you are planning on longer missions or looking for performance, keep this metric in mind (but also remember that lower weight usually correlates to higher price).
The contenders we tested have weights that vary from 1.2 pounds to 2.5 pounds. As a rule, fiberglass and carbon constructed models weigh less than models made with aluminum or nylon. However, it is well known that the heavier materials offer more durability throughout the product's lifespan. It is important to consider whether you value performance and are willing to toss a coin as to how long your product will last, or if you value your money and are willing to sacrifice performance for a product that may last longer.
Best for Specific Applications
The KIALOA Insanity is an awesome all-around SUP paddle that we love. It won't tire you out too quickly and it's easy to adjust. The dihedral blade slices through water easily and smoothly and whether you are pushing for a quick cadence or leisurely paddling a more relaxed one, you'll love the slight flex of the fiberglass carbon wrapped shaft that is easy on the body.
The Aqua-Bound Challenge 85 is a great all-around paddle as well for users who are focused on performance. It's light, easy to adjust and paddling with it is very comfortable. It has an excellent range of adjustment and the nylon blade is extremely durable.
The Bullet Proof Surf Alloy we recommend for those needing a product that can adjust to a wide range of paddler heights and can take a beating. It's also easy on the pocketbook.
The Own the Wave Alloy is easy to adjust and light. It might take a couple extra strokes to get where you are going as it didn't score very well in performance. The handle on this paddle is really comfortable.
Purchasing an adjustable SUP paddle can be overwhelming, especially if you've never purchased or owned one before. We hope the above information and the analysis from our side-by-side testing will help you make a more informed decision and assist you in getting the product that is right for your particular needs. If you're still having difficulty deciding, check out our Buying Advice article as well. It is important to take stock of your own needs before diving into our review. Think about what kind of user you are, what kind of paddling you'd like to be doing, 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 doing 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 take into consideration before you decide.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.