Best Paddle Board Paddle of 2020
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 SUP 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. In our minds, it's an undeniably excellent and high performing paddle — our all-time favorite — and can be well worth the investment for SUP aficionados but is a bit costly for the casual paddler.
Read review: Werner Trance 95 Performance
Outstanding Buy for Performance
Designed for middle-of-the-road paddlers who are looking for good performance and sturdy craftsmanship, the Werner 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.
However, the Werner Viber is made of slightly lower-quality materials than some of the top-tier options and is just a bit heavier. While these might significant flaws to expert paddlers making very long trips, we feel the Vibe is the best paddle for most people, offering excellent performance at a much more reasonable price tag.
Read review: Werner Vibe
Best at Turning Heads
Bending Branches Balance
The Bending Branches 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 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 options. 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 outstanding value, 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 gamut 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' favorite 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.
If you are shopping on a budget but don't want to make significant concessions in paddling performance, then the great value 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 excelled 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 Makai, and the Bending Branches all followed in terms of paddling performance. The Trance has blades with slight dihedral angles, but it is much less pronounced than the Vibe's very visible scoop. 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 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 Super Paddles Elite 12K Bamboo Classic is solid when it comes to paddling performance but does have some flaws that hold it back from the top group — mainly that its 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.
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 feels like it generates momentum while paddling. 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 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 should last you a long time and do a better job at holding up to everyday use without suffering damage, compared to some of the top-tier options.
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, and the Kialoa Makai 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 Aqua-Bound Challenge and the Bending Branches Balance both rely on a spring-loaded stainless steel button and a set of adjustment holes as a locking mechanism, called a snap-button adjust. You depress the button and slide the paddle to the length you want. It locks into position when the button snaps into one of the adjustment holes. Unfortunately, you are limited to the lengths corresponding to the different adjustment holes, and the button sticks out from the paddle a bit, which can be a small nuisance while paddling.
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 Super Paddles Elite 12K. 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 has paddler height markings.
Our next round of tests focused on the locking mechanisms on each paddle. We looked for paddles with mechanisms that both securely held each paddle at the desired length and are smooth and easy to operate.
Of all the paddles we have tried, we like the LeverLock system the most. This locking mechanism is present on the Werner Vibe, Werner Trance, and the Kialoa Makai. This mechanism has a lever that flips out from the paddle when you want to adjust the length and then folds back when you want to lock it into position. This makes it very easy to use, all while maintaining a low profile and securely clamping the paddle at the length you want.
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 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, and the 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 SUP paddle can bring joy to its paddler and 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.
Hopefully, this has been a helpful review and analysis of the side-by-side performance of all the top paddles currently available, whether you are a beginner looking for an all-around paddle on a budget or an expert looking for a top-tier high-performance paddle.
— Shey Kiester, Megan Ferney, and Marissa Fox