Canoe Paddles Guide – How to Choose a Canoe Paddle?
If you are wondering how long a canoe paddle should be, you have come to the right place. Today we are talking all about canoe paddles and their right sizes, because…
“Getting your canoe paddle right is just as important as the canoe you are using.”
Having one that is too long or too short will remind you of just how important this rule is. In order to help you figure this all out, I have done my fair share of research on canoe oars and the right size based on your body measurements and the oar type. So, without further ado, let’s get to all the canoe paddles.
In this article, you will learn all about:
The general lengths of canoe paddles
What’s the right length for your canoe paddle
Canoe paddle sizing guide chart
The main parts of a canoe paddle
Types of canoe paddles
How to measure your canoe paddle the right way
How to Quickly Determine If a Canoe Paddle Fits You?
In the water
In the store
The best canoe paddle options
The General Lengths of Canoe Paddles
Canoe paddles for sale on the market can be found in length increments of 2 to 3 inches in general, so you are guaranteed to find the one that suits you best.
When talking about straight canoe paddles, they usually range between 52″ and 60″ for most people, whereas bent-shaft canoe paddles go from 48″ to 52″ long because, by design, they have shorter but wider blades.
When searching for canoe paddles for sale, the most common ones will range from 57″, 60″, and 54″ in length, and this is something that in general is used by most people.
However, when you want the most comfortable slide over water in your canoe, I cannot possibly let you go off with just general measurements of canoe oars that might or might not work for you.
So, let’s dwell a little deeper into the science of canoe paddle sizing.
What’s The Right Length for Your Canoe Paddle?
The reason why I can’t just tell you what is the right canoe paddle size for you, but rather, we should go in-depth and explore the science of it all is that there are many different variations of canoe paddles available on the market.
Surely, you have googled canoe paddles for sale and have seen the variety of choices they have. So much that it felt intimidating, so you are now here to do your research to help you narrow that wide range and pick the best one for you. Am I right? Spot on.
So let me first start by saying that when choosing a canoe paddle, you want to pick the shortest one possible that lets you submerge it fully in water but without you having to bend unnaturally to stroke and paddle.
And I say the shortest possible because a taller canoe paddle will also allow you to do that, but it will have all that unnecessary length sticking out, making it heavier than it should be and tiring your hands.
More in-depth regarding this, you should paddle with your upper grip hand at about chin to nose level. And the fastest way to calculate how much you have from your chin or nose to the throat of your paddle where it enters the water is by measuring your torso length.
HOW TO MEASURE YOUR TORSO LENGTH: Sit in a chair with your head up straight like you normally hold it, and with a measuring tape, take the distance from the flat surface of the chair past between your legs to your chin. You can also measure to your nose, but that depends entirely on you, whether you want to hold your hand a little lower in front of you when you paddle or not.
Now, with that measurement in store, here’s a quick go-to guide for recreational canoe paddle lengths.
Canoe Paddle Sizing Guide
“Straight” paddle or “bent” paddle? What is that anyway?
Before moving on, let’s circle back to those terms and explain to them because they are quite important in all this.
The parts of a canoe paddle
The Grip The grip is the top of the paddle where you grip with your upper hand.
You have 2 types of canoe grips, the palm grip, and the T-grip.
The palm grip is shaped like a wedge or triangle and is designed to fit comfortably in your hand and to feel nice when paddling for a lengthy paddle trip.
The T-grip is in the shape of a “T,” hence the name. The design allows you to control the paddle better when paddling on whitewater and challenging paddling trips.
The Shaft The shaft is that long, skinny length of a canoe paddle that you grip with your lower paddling hand. You have two main types of canoe shafts at all canoe paddles for sale:
The straight Shaft – As the most common ones, this is what you usually see the most anywhere you go canoeing. However, using the straight shaft for just summer canoeing trips, or random weekends at the lake or calm-water canoeing is wrong because these canoe oars are made for hard maneuvering and bracing strokes typical in whitewater canoeing.
The bent shaft is what is designed for recreational and touring canoeing. This type of model puts the blade of your paddle as close to vertically as possible during the most powerful part of your stroke, and by doing so, you are provided with higher efficiency and more power when paddling. In general, when going for the bent shaft canoe paddle instead of the straight shaft paddle, keep in mind that the latter is usually made to be 2″ longer than the bent shaft canoe paddle for the same size person and canoeing.
Additionally, the canoe paddle shaft can have either round or oval diameter. And if you have the freedom of choice, I suggest going for the oval shaft, which makes it much easier for you to grip the paddle firmly and hold it a lot steadier than what you can with a round shaft.
The Throat The point where the shaft meets the blade.
The Shoulder The widening section between the throat and the main blade of the paddle.
The Blade The flat, wide lower section of a canoe paddle is the blade. There are three basic shapes of canoe paddle blades, and the rest are just some variants of either one of those. Here they are:
Beavertail Canoe Paddles In this type of canoe paddle blade shape, the blade is wider at the throat in comparison to the tip. And these are the average length mentioned above.
In the Ottertail canoe paddles, the blade starts out wider at the throat and then ends off with a narrower tip. The Ottertail canoe paddles usually have longer bodies overall when compared to the other 2 types because of their longer and narrower blade.
Square-tipped Canoe Paddles These types of paddles have blocky-shaped canoe tips with an only slight rounding at the end. They are shorter than average because of their short, stubby blade design that they have.
Now that you know more about these blade types and you can sort of making the distinction, you might find yourself wondering, if the length is all that matters, then how come it is largely determined by the different types of canoe paddles and their blades?
And I won’t blame you for asking since all those types of canoe paddle blades above
DO come with their own set of suggested lengths.
To what I would say both matters because on one side, you have the ideal length that will allow you to comfortably paddle with the blade fully in the water, up to the throat, but on the other side, you also have the blade dimensions that not only affect canoe paddle length but also where you paddle and how you paddle.
Basically, when you have a longer and narrower blade for your paddle, you will need a longer paddle overall to match that elongated blade. Shorter and wider paddle blades can handle shorter paddles in length because, with them, they fit better overall.
The Tip of the Paddle The very bottom of a canoe paddle is called the tip. The shape of the tip affects how smoothly a paddle enters and exits the water.
With that said, I have seen many people mistreat this part of the canoe paddle, and it breaks my heart! Namely, they push themselves off from shore or pole in shallow water while in the canoe, and this is very harmful to the blade because it can eventually crack or break open your paddle. And you surely don’t want this happening to you since canoe equipment can be a considerable investment.
Types of Canoe Paddles
As with every piece of water-sport equipment I have ever reviewed on the blog, the type of paddle you buy or any gear for that matter, will depend on how you will use it and where.
With canoe paddle specifically, they can be either broken down by purpose or type, and for the sake of clearer explanation, here I will break down the most common types of canoe paddles for sale anywhere on the market so that you know what you are buying and why you’re buying it.
Recreational Paddles These types of canoe paddles are designed for relaxed group canoeing like when on a family trip for a day or when you want to relax by paddling in the calm waters. Or even for occasional overnight trips and exploring the water.
These types are fantastic for beginners and light canoers who want to have a recreational paddle once in a while.
Touring Paddles Touring paddles are more rigid models that give you a greater stroke efficiency. I would recommend them for cruising lakes and rivers for weekends and multi-day trips. They are sturdy and robust and can take rougher waters with good efficacy.
When you want to have a multi-day touring canoe trip, it’s best to have one of these good-quality bent-shaft touring paddles.
Expedition Paddles Built for long canoeing excursions, the expedition paddles are great for the wilderness or paddling along long rivers. They are sturdier than the touring paddles and have protected blade edges to stand up to a day in and day out rough handling.
If you are a fan of multiple-day touring trips and excursions into the wilderness and you need a piece of gear that is guaranteed to take you there and back, then an expedition paddle is what you need!
Solo Paddles The solo paddles are for canoers who like to paddle by themselves. Their design resembles a kayak paddle design, and they are closer to that than to other canoe paddles.
Their design is cleverly made so that an individual can take it and maintain a balanced hand position while alternating strokes in order to track straight in the water with the canoe.
Whitewater Paddles These paddle, on the other hand, have short, square blades that enable you to paddle quickly and powerfully in shallow(er) waters. They have a well-known T-grip, which will help you stay in control and maintain better maneuverability.
If you are an experienced canoer and you want to go fast and hard on swift-flowing rivers, then get a whitewater canoe paddle. It is the sturdiest and most resilient for all types of canoeing trips.
How to Measure Your Canoe Paddle the Right Way
When it comes to finding the right canoe paddle length, there are several methods and guidelines to make your measurements more correct and help you determine what you need exactly.
By following these guidelines, you will be able to put the whole blade in the water during the power phase of your stroke while leaving your body in a comfortable upright paddling position.
This way, you are powering through the water without wasting a lot of energy away.
The Proper Grip The right way to hold a canoe paddle is to take your upper hand and grasp the grip part of your canoe paddle. You should have your palm on the wide part of the paddle grip and the joint between your palm and fingers on the very top of the paddle grip.
Then with your lower handgrip at a point on the shaft just above the throat of the canoe paddle.
How to Quickly Determine If a Canoe Paddle Fits You?
To follow it through with the grip, you have another way of determining if a canoe paddle fits you, and that’s through the grip again.
Grab the paddle by the grip with one hand
Then grab the shaft of the paddle just above the throat with your other hand
Put the paddle over your head with the shaft section centered above you
Then lower the paddle shaft onto your head
Look at the angle of your arms at the elbow
Both of your arms/elbows should be at 90º angles
Smaller than 90º angle means the paddle’s too short. More than 90º angle means it’s too long.
How to Size a Canoe Paddle on the Water
Theory aside, the best way to size a canoe paddle would be to do it in practice. Namely, try the paddle out in the canoe, and on the water, you plan to paddle. By trying out several canoe paddles with the right grip that we have talked about before, you will have a much better idea as to what fits you and whatnot.
Sit in your canoe
Measure the distance from your nose to the waterline. (The vertical distance). This measurement is the length you want a paddle to be from the grip to the throat
Now paddle naturally for a while. Pay attention to where your top grip hand settles while you paddle. Note that you should keep this hand even with your shoulder throughout your paddle stroke.
However, if this hand drops below horizontal with your shoulder during your stroke, your paddle’s too short. And, if it goes above your shoulder and then dips back down to horizontal with your shoulder, you need a shorter paddle.
How to Size a Canoe Paddle in a Store
When you are in the store shopping for canoe paddles for sale, you surely cannot sit in a canoe or dip your paddle in the water to try out the length. This can be a tricky one, but I have a solution for a situation like this as well.
Get on your knees with your butt raised up about 6″ off the floor to simulate what height your canoe seat would be at.
Turn the paddle upside down and put the grip on the floor. Ideally, the paddle’s throat should be between your chin and your nose.
Sizing When Shopping Online for Canoe Paddles
When measuring for the perfect canoe paddle size but you are in an online store instead of in a physical one, you can base the right length on you being seated on a flat chair. Then, take a measurement from the chair, between your legs, to a certain point on your face.
Many experts will have dividing opinions as to where to measure to, but it will depend on your personal preference since there won’t be that much of a difference, anyway.
Namely, you can take the measurement up to your chin, to your nose, or even to your eyes. These will all be correct, but the final sizing will depend on what you prefer and what type of canoeing you do.
With that said, here’s how you take that measurement:
Sit on a flat chair and measure from the flat surface of the chair to your chin. (I prefer the chin measurement because I don’t want the grip of my paddle in front of my eyes when I stroke. As I mentioned above, you should focus on the paddle at shoulder height throughout your stroke)
Add the distance from your boat seat to the water. If you don’t know what that is, use 6″ as the most common average distance.
Now, add the length of the paddle’s blade. Because, as we mentioned, paddle blade lengths vary from type to shape of a paddle and this will cause the paddle you need to vary from one type of paddle to another.
Canoe Paddle Blade Length Example
Let’s use a random canoe paddle I found for sale online as an example for blade length.
Random canoe paddle blade dimensions: 6.75 x 19 in / 17 x 48 cm
Adding my torso measurement of 31″, plus our seat height of 6″, plus the paddle blade length of 19″ gives us 56″. This is a measurement right in the middle of our straight canoe paddle sizes above, so it makes sense.
Now, since most of the paddles come in 2 to 3″ increments, the closest one to my length would be either 55” or 57″, so that’s the paddle I should choose. (Coincidentally, 57″ canoe paddles are the most popular length.)
Additional Paddle Sizing Method Without the Canoe Paddle
Pick a paddle you’d like to buy online and look for its measurements.
Get on your knees with your butt about 6″ off the floor, simulating the height of a canoe seat
Measure from the floor to your chin or nose, whichever you prefer
Add this measurement to the blade length you got from the specifications page above
Sizing a Bent Shaft Canoe Paddle
And finally, we get to the sizing of the bent shaft canoe paddles. And the best way to size a bent shaft paddle is just like a straight shaft, to get out on the water and try it out in your canoe for a few paddle strokes to see what fits.
However, if you are buying a bent shaft canoe paddle online, then here’s what you can do:
Sit upright in a chair, keeping your back straight.
Turn the paddle upside down between your legs and on the seat of the chair.
Hold the shaft in front of your face.
The throat of the shaft should come to just about eye-level.
This should be the right size canoe paddle for you.
The most common overall lengths of bent shaft paddles are 50” and 52”.
Even the sturdiest inflatable canoes will need a good paddle to guide them over the water. So, after sharing all my research and knowledge on sizing canoe oars, here are some canoe paddles for sale you can get today.
They are all personally handpicked as the best and most reliable out there, and you can quickly determine the wanted length as such.
If you are looking for a basic canoe paddle for sale and you are a newbie, or you simply stick to recreational one-day trips, then Carlisle Standard is what you need. It’s a reliable classic with a T-grip and vinyl-clad shaft to keep it from slipping through, freezing, or burning your fingers in changing conditions. At the price that it currently is, you can always grab an extra as a spare or one for a companion.
If your canoeing trips often include fishing or you like to canoe in rivers more often, then the Marine Twin Stripe paddle is a decent wood model for the price. They use their signature wedge insert with a finish to reinforce the blade because pushing up against the river bottom and rocks is inevitable.
When it’s time to hang the paddles up for the season, the striped blade looks cool mounted on the wall. In fact, many enthusiasts seek out Caviness for their paddles because of both their practical use and their decorative quality.
You know, the only complaint that I often get for this canoe paddle is that it’s often out of stock. And with its quality and efficacy, I’m definitely not surprised it sells very well.
This is a solid recreational canoe paddle for all your trips to the lake or summer camp. It won’t break your budget, and it has that old-school simplicity and functionality to it that appeals to canoe minimalists. Also, if your children come to paddle with you, the small size of this paddle will be just perfect for them.
Rubberized Sleeve on the shaft (for a better grip)
Hybrid grip (conforms to your hand for comfort)
Floats on Water
High-Impact blade (extra durability for rocks and debris)
When I was searching for a great budget paddle that also had an excellent quality to boast with, I wasn’t expecting to stumble upon such a find. With all its ratings and feedback to back the claims, this durable plastic blade stands up to rocky underwater conditions like no other.
Its rubber gripper and hybrid handle keep your hands happy during your travels, and you won’t feel overly tired even after a long day of paddling. Forget the warping or refinishing because, with these long-lasting materials, you can count on years of service.
And there you go; I hope you are now fully knowledgeable about choosing your perfect-sized canoe paddle trailer for your canoeing adventures. If you have any questions or additional tips, do not hesitate to leave me a comment below so that we can all get better informed together.
In the meantime, I’d love to connect with you on my Facebook and Instagram account for more cool tips and recommendations on paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks.
Here at Stand Up Paddle board world I try to show you as many different paddle boards as I can. I’m a true water sports fanatic and I would love to get everyone enthusiastic about my passion as well. Read my different reviews and find out which paddle board is the best to get you started with this amazing sport!
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