We compared close to 125 different adjustable SUP paddles, then bought the 14 best models you can get in 2019 to test out side-by-side in our quest to find the best paddle of them all. We spent hours upon hours with these paddles on the water, rating and comparing their paddling performance, overall feel, ease of adjustment, and even their visual appeal. Whether you are looking for a top-of-the-line carbon model, a mid-range fiberglass paddle, or a budget alloy brand, we've tried them all so you don't have to. Take a look at the full review below to see which paddle reigns proudly above the rest, which is the best budget buy, and which is the most portable.
The Best Adjustable SUP Paddles of 2019
|Price||$291.99 at Backcountry|
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|$270 List||$135.99 at Backcountry|
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|$189.95 at Backcountry|
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|$198.95 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Lightweight, easy to adjust, high performance||Great paddling performance, lightweight, compact for traveling||Cuts cleanly through water, durable blade||Easy and sturdy adjustment, lightweight, high performance||Lightweight, strong, easy on the body to use|
|Cons||Pricey, blade can flutter||Slight paddle flutter||Heavy, looks like a toy||Smaller adjustment range||The handle allows excellent grip but can become uncomfortable|
|Bottom Line||The Trance is a breath of fresh air, with good performance and an unbelievably lightweight construction.||If you need a travel paddle and don’t want to sacrifice paddling performance, the Lock and Load is the right choice||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.|
|Rating Categories||Werner Trance 95 Performance||Hala Travel Lock & Load||Werner Vibe||Aqua-Bound Challenge 85||KIALOA Insanity|
|Ease Of Adjustment (20%)|
|Locking Mechanism (20%)|
|Specs||Werner Trance 95...||Hala Travel Lock &...||Werner Vibe||Aqua-Bound...||KIALOA Insanity|
|Paddle Weight||1.2 lbs||1.125 lbs||1.7 lbs||1.3 lbs||1.56 lbs|
|Offset||10 degrees||10 degrees||10 degrees||10 degrees||10 degrees|
|Blade Material||Carbon||Polycarbonate||Injection molded fiberglass||epX engineered polymer reinforced with carbon||Fiberglass fibrlite|
|Blade Dimensions||95 sq in||Unavailible||100 sq in||85 sq in||83 sq in|
|Shaft Material||Carbon||Carbon||Fiberglass||Carbon||Durable fiberglass|
|Length Range (inches)||70" - 78" | 74" - 82" | 80" - 88"||62"-78"||68" - 84"||70" - 80"||70"-86"|
|Number of Pieces||1-piece (available in 1, 2, or 3)||3-piece||3-piece (available in 1, 2, or 3)||2-piece||1-piece (avaliable in 1 or 3)|
|Warranty||1 year||3 years||1 year||2 years||1 year|
|Comes with cover||No||No||No||No||No|
|Locking Mechanism||Handle LeverLock||Handle LeverLock||Handle LeverLock||"Performance" Snap Button||Handle LeverLock|
Best Overall Adjustable SUP Paddle
Werner Trance 95 Performance
The Werner Trance 95 Performance thoroughly impressed us with its top-notch performance across the board in all of our tests. 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.
Regrettably, all this performance comes at a bit of a cost. Literally. This paddle is one of the most expensive models we have tested to date and its premium price tag may put it out of most people's budgets. If the price tag of the Trance is causing you to panic, then we would recommend checking out its sibling, the Werner Vibe. It scored just a bit lower overall but costs significantly less.
Read review: Werner Trance 95 Performance
Best Performance Travel Paddle
Hala Travel Lock & Load
If you are searching for a top-notch paddle that you can take on the go, then the Grafik Carbon Travel Lock and Load by Hala is our top recommendation. This sleek and stylish three-piece paddle performed similar to the Werner Trance on the water and is one of our all-time favorite go-to paddles. It has a locking mechanism that is very easy to use for both sections of the paddle and makes it incredibly easy to adjust its length while you are out paddling. On top of all that, this board breaks down to a mere 41", making it much easier to transport or even fit in a suitcase.
This paddle's blade is a little wider than the Trance's, which not everyone prefers, and it also doesn't have quite the same amount of catch that other models with a more pronounced dihedral angle on their blades. It isn't the most eye-catching paddle either but is still sleek and stylish if you prefer a more subdued look to your SUP paddle. All in all, the Hala Travel Lock and Load is our top choice for anyone who needs a highly portable paddle without sacrificing performance.
Read review: Hala Travel Lock and Load
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 a 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-tier performance. Still, the Vibe offers excellent performance for the best value, and we feel it's probably the right choice for most people.
Read review: Werner Vibe
Best for Endurance Paddlers
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 review: KIALOA Insanity
Best at Turning Heads
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 review: Bending Branches Balance
Best on a Tight Budget
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 review: Bullet Proof Surf Alloy
Why You Should Trust Us
Our Expert Panel of reviewers consists of Review Editors Shey Kiester, Megan Ferney, and Marissa Fox. 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. Marissa has spent most of her life excelling at board sports on the water (liquid or frozen), whether it is paddleboarding, surfing, or snowboarding. She is not only an avid stand-up paddleboarder but is also a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer and a former professional snowboarder.
We spent dozens and dozens of hours comparing and scoring the performance of these paddles head-to-head at locations in Idaho and northern California. We tried them out with different stand-up paddleboards on bodies of water ranging from tiny rivers to giant alpine lakes. Additionally, we also paddled in a variety of different wind and weather conditions, running the gambit from mirror-like water early in the morning to windy and wavy conditions where it was tough to remain standing. During this time, we also assembled, disassembled, and transported these paddles repeatedly to gain an understanding of how they performed out of the water, as well as judged their visual appeal and overall aesthetics.
Related: How We Tested SUP Paddles
Analysis and Test Results
In addition to our expert testers, we also had a variety of other paddlers try out these products and provide input, ranging from first-time SUPers to experts to river rats with a ton of boating experience who were new to the SUP world. We aggregated their opinions, allowing us to form a very well-rounded view of each product. We divided our testing process into five weighted rating metrics: Performance, Weight, Ease of Adjustment, Locking Mechanism, and Aesthetics. These metrics are weighted based on our opinion of their importance, which 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, even if it isn't one of our award winners.
Related: Buying Advice for SUP Paddles
While the Editors' Choice Werner Trance may have topped the charts in terms of overall performance, it is far from a great value. It pairs its top-notch performance with a premium price that is far more than many people want to pay for a paddle. The Hala Travel Lock and Load also earned an Editor's Choice award and does cost less than the Trance but it still retails at quite a premium price, though you do get more bang for the buck than with the Trance.
If you are shopping on a budget but don't want to make significant concessions in paddling performance, then the Best Buy Award-winning Werner Vibe is where you should start. This paddle costs quite a bit less than the top-tier paddles and holds its own — or even exceeds them — when it comes to paddling performance. It doesn't look as good and is a little heavier but will save you quite a bit of cash. If the price tag on the Vibe is still too high for you, then you should consider the BPS Alloy. It's a bare-bones paddle that has plenty of flaws but it can propel you through the water fairly well and retails at a fraction of the cost of the other award winners.
Our Performance metric is the most important of all our testing metrics, accounting for 30% of each adjustable SUP paddle's overall score. We were looking for paddles that excel for all-around use and scored them highest, compared to paddles that are specifically designed for performance SUP racing or surfing.
The paddles in this review cover the spectrum of different blade shapes and angles, ranging from rectangular or teardrop paddles, with flat, concave, scooped, or dihedral profiles. In particular, we looked at four key points to compare the paddling performance of each product: paddle catch or the initial slice into the water, power or the pull of the blade through the water, exit or the way the paddle feathers out of the water, and Recovery or how easy and comfortable it is to set up for the next stroke.
The Werner Vibe and the Aqua-Bound Performance topped the charts in this metric. 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, essentially eliminating flutter. The Aqua-Bound has a similar scooped profile, though maybe a slightly less aggressive dihedral. Both of these paddles enter and exit the water smoothly and firmly catch the water, allowing you to apply plenty of power.
The Werner Trance, the Kialoa Insanity, the Makai, the Hala Travel Lock and Load, and the Bending Branches all followed in terms of paddling performance. Both the Hala Lock and Load and the Trance have blades with slight dihedral angles but it is much less pronounced than the very visible scoop on the Vibe. These both feel great to paddle but we did notice a subtle flutter in the water with both of these paddles when pulling with maximum power. This is a very trivial issue and you may not even notice it but we never ran into this issue with paddles that had a more aggressive dihedral.
The Insanity enters the water smoothly and cleanly but has a smaller blade, limiting the power you can get out of the paddle. This can be beneficial to smaller paddlers or those going on endurance paddles but many of our testers missed the speed you can get with larger blades. The Makai feels a little more powerful than the Insanity but doesn't catch quite as well as the top models, most likely due to its lack of scoop.
The Bending Branches is a bit of an anomaly, as its blade design shouldn't necessarily make it one of the top-tier paddles but we found it was universally well-received by our testers. This paddle is very well balanced, leading to a cadence while paddling that feels almost effortless while propelling you forward.
The BIC Sport Fiberglass and the Super Paddles Elite 12K Bamboo Classic are both solid when it comes to paddling performance but do have some flaws that held them back from the top group. The BIC Sport feels weighty while paddling, which can make the recovery a little more work, while the Bamboo Classic's shaft feels a little bendier than desirable, most likely from its three-piece construction.
While the Bamboo Classic feels a little more flexible than desired, it was nothing compared to the BPS Adjustable or the BPS Alloy paddles. This pair both enter and exit the water well but we found them quite deficient when it comes to the power stroke, exhibiting a noticeable bend even when only putting mild to moderate amounts of effort into the paddle stroke.
There is often a direct correlation between lighter paddles and higher performing paddles. 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. Adjustable SUP paddles typically weigh between one to three pounds.
In general, carbon correlates to a lower weight and the Werner Trance and the Grafik Carbon Travel Lock and Load are no exception. Both weigh just over a pound and are some of the lightest products in the review. The iGK Pure Carbon is also made of carbon (obviously!) but is much heavier because of the additional weight of its lower locking mechanism, which is considerably more than the Hala's.
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. It was a similar consensus with the 1.5 pounds Bamboo Classic.In contrast, paddlers often commented on how hefty the 1.7 pounds Werner Vibe or BPS Adjustable Fiberglass 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 scratch. The well-made, wooden Balance or the fiberglass BIC Sport will likely last you a long time and handle wear and tear better. However, the BIC is one of the heftiest paddles of the group, tipping the scales at 2.25 pounds.
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.
The Werner Trance, the Vibe, the Kialoa Insanity, the Makai, and the Hala Travel Lock and Load use a LeverLock system. This system is sleek and easy to use, making it a breeze to adjust the length of these paddles on or off the water.
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 a 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, BIC Sport Fiberglass, 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 and the Super Paddles Elite 12K models. Confusingly enough, it is also sometimes referred to as 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, this system requires a screwdriver to adjust the clamping pressure which can take some amount of tweaking to get right. Even worse, some testers did find themselves out on the water with a clamp that refused to tighten down, making it significantly more difficult 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, Hala, 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 release 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. However, we have read reviews about these buttons rusting off. We've never experienced that ourselves but is something to consider if you live in a more corrosion-prone environment. 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 and can make on-the-water adjustments very difficult.
Aesthetics are about more 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, with the Elite 12K Bamboo being a close second. Other paddles that scored well in this metric are the NRS Rush, Werner Trance, Hala Lock and Load and Kialoa Makai. These paddles aren't quite as eye-catching as the wood grain paddles but are decently sleek and stylish, with clean lines and graphics.
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.
Purchasing an adjustable SUP paddle can be overwhelming, especially if you've never owned one before. 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, Megan Ferney, and Marissa Fox