Choosing the Perfect Canoe Paddle Length

Selecting the right canoe paddle can be a complex process. To simplify things, we have a rule of thumb: for trips of 6 hours or less, economical options are suitable, and added features are less necessary. However, for longer trips or expeditions, weight, durability, and performance become crucial factors.

Which paddle length is right for me?

Determining the ideal paddle length involves various subtleties and opinions. Many experienced paddlers have different paddle models and sizes for different conditions. However, we offer a sizing chart that most new paddlers find effective. The general rule is to use the shortest paddle that allows you to reach the water properly. In the middle of your stroke, hold the grip so that your top hand aligns with your nose, and the paddle blade meets the waterline.

Measuring your Torso

To approximate the ideal paddle length, measure the length of your torso. Sit upright on a flat chair and measure the distance from the surface of the chair between your legs to your nose. Then, refer to the chart below for guidance.

Quick Measuring

Alternatively, you can measure in the field by placing the grip of the paddle between your legs while sitting. Mark where the shoulder of the blade hits you. For a straight shaft, the shoulder should be at your forehead, and for a bent shaft, it should be at your nose.

Canoe Style Notes

Here are a few considerations based on different canoe styles:

  • For general-purpose, family tandem canoes, refer to the sizing chart below.
  • For narrow tripping canoes with tumblehome gunwales or low seats, select a paddle with a shorter shaft.
  • Extra-wide, flared canoes and those with high seats require slightly longer paddles to reach the water easily and avoid hitting the shaft or knuckles on the gunwale.
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What features should I look for in a paddle?

When choosing a paddle, consider the following features:

  • Shaft Material: Laminated wood shafts are stronger and stiffer than solid wood ones.
  • Blade Material: Fiberglass blades resist splitting and are ideal for rugged conditions.
  • Smooth Finish: Smoothness of the finish is critical for comfort, especially with wooden paddles.
  • Resin Protection: Look for paddles with high-grade resins for increased durability, particularly along the blade’s edge.
  • Varnish vs. Polyurethane Finish: Spar varnish is recommended for continuous exposure to sunlight, while polyurethane provides a harder and more durable finish.

How do I know if I need a bent or straight shaft paddle?

Straight shaft paddles are versatile and suitable for all-around paddling and maneuvering strokes. They offer greater control and maneuverability, making them perfect for technical waters like narrow rivers or whitewater. Solo paddlers or those in the stern of the canoe prefer straight shafts as they are considered the steering wheel for the canoe.

On the other hand, bent shaft paddles are designed for efficiency and power. The blade’s angle allows it to remain vertical in the water during the most powerful part of the stroke, reducing energy expenditure. Bent shaft paddles excel in flatwater cruising, long-distance expeditions, and racing. They are popular among bow paddlers or those in the front of the canoe as they focus less on steering.

Why is the grip shaped like that?

The grip of a canoe paddle plays a crucial role in comfort and control. Most paddles have a palm grip for overall comfort and function, while the T-grip is designed for additional control.

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Palm Grip

The palm grip is engineered to fit the palm of your hand, providing excellent comfort for long trips. Straight shaft paddles usually have a symmetric grip, allowing them to be used on either side effortlessly. This versatility reduces the strain associated with switching sides. Bent shaft paddles, which can only be used in one direction, typically have an asymmetric grip or classic palm grip.


The T-grip allows canoeists to wrap their fingers around the handle, providing greater control. By pushing the thumb against the outside end of the grip during maneuvers, you can apply leverage to rotate and pry the canoe, enhancing directional control. The T-grip is primarily available on paddles designed for whitewater and expeditionary trips. If you prefer a smoothed version of the T-grip, the Sunburst paddle offers a T-grip blend that provides control leverage without sharp angles.

What is the difference between blade shapes?

The shape of the paddle blade impacts its performance in different water conditions. Two common blade profiles are the Sugar Island and Beavertail shapes.

Sugar Island

The Sugar Island shape, employed in the majority of our paddles, combines a tear-drop shape with elements of a square tip. This design offers smooth, quiet, and efficient entry and exit, making it ideal for most flatwater canoeists. The profile maximizes propulsion efficiency, utilizing every square inch of the blade surface.


Beavertail blades have long and slender profiles, providing excellent maneuverability. They offer great control and enjoyable entry/exit. However, they are not suitable for shallow water conditions, as they are prone to breakage. Beavertail paddles are best suited for deep water or lakes. It’s worth noting that larger blade surfaces generate more power, while smaller ones reduce wind resistance, resulting in less fatigue.

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Materials: Durability vs. Weight

The choice of materials for a paddle involves a trade-off between durability and weight. Wood paddles provide a traditional look and feel while being buoyant, flexible, and warm to the touch. Darker woods are denser, more durable, and rigid but also heavier and more expensive. Lighter woods are functional, value-oriented, and lightweight, making them suitable for solid shafts.

For lightweight paddles suitable for long trips or racing, carbon fiber is an excellent option. Foam core composite materials, like those used in the Black Pearl II, offer high performance, stiffness, durability, and lightweight properties. For a blend of materials, the Sunburst paddle features a handcrafted wood blade, a carbon shaft for weight savings, and a combination palm/T-grip.

To enhance durability, we use Rockgard® edge protection, which absorbs shocks and protects vulnerable areas like the tips and edges. Paddles with more Rockgard® layers provide additional protection against rocks and other elements. Our paddles are available in four levels of Rockgard® protection: tip, partial, full, and extended.

Solo Canoe Paddles

In general, we recommend the same paddle size for both tandem and solo canoes. For example, if your torso length is 32″, the average straight shaft size would be 58″, regardless of whether you’re in the stern, bow, or paddling solo or on your knees.

  • Size longer if paddling in narrow creeks/rivers or whitewater and if you perform more maneuverability strokes.
  • Size shorter for tumblehome canoes or sleek/narrow designs.
  • For double-bladed canoe paddles, use the provided sizing chart.

Remember, choosing the right canoe paddle is essential for optimizing your paddling experience. So take your time, consider the various factors, and select the paddle that suits your needs. Happy paddling!