How to Choose the Size of Kayak Paddle [year]


The size of the kayak paddle is really important.

If you buy the wrong size, you can get sore and won’t be able to maneuver the kayak effectively.

You can’t enjoy the ride when you are uncomfortable or can’t control the kayak.

So picking the right size is crucial.

This step-by-step guide will help you pick the right size.

The Risks of Choosing the Wrong Size

Some people hold the opinion that paddle size isn’t much of a big deal. However, chances are, they have not tasted their own medicine.

The wrong paddle size can cause pain in your shoulders and wrists. The pain can stop you from paddling the next time, so it isn’t worth it.

Here are the three risks you take when you buy the wrong paddle size:

A. Comfort

Simply put, the wrong size means you may have to lean too far over or move your hands in an awkward way to make a half-decent paddle stroke.

Paddles too long can’t be lifted easily, nor you can move them with ease. If the paddles are too short, you will have to overextend yourself to harness forward momentum and your knuckles may bang against the kayak deck leading to bruises. It may also lead to back pain.

B. Control

If the paddle is too short or too long, you won’t be able to maneuver the kayak effectively. Your strokes will lack power and precision and you will overcompensate with awkward movements and form. Only with an accurate-size paddle can your strokes have power and accuracy.

C. Type of User

Paddles can be of different types based on their intended use. For example, white water kayakers who usually paddle in rapids use different paddles than those who primarily use the paddles for recreational kayaking. If you are an angler, you might choose different paddles than a paddler who is a complete beginner.

How to Choose the Right Paddle Size

Key Metrics to Size a Kayak Paddle

The size of the paddle depends on two key metrics – the width of the kayak and the paddler’s height.

The wider your kayak is, the longer a paddle you would need. But if you have a bigger torso because you are tall, it would also factor in and would require a longer paddle.

The height is crucial – A shorter paddler in a wider kayak may need the same paddle length as a taller paddler in a narrower kayak. It is also worth noting that paddles for tandem (2-person or 3-person) kayaks are usually longer than those for solo kayaks.

The paddle you buy should clear the kayak’s gunwales and be long enough so that you can sit in a comfortable posture. You don’t want too much or too little of the power face of the blade in the water. Also, it should be long enough such that your knuckles don’t hit the sides while paddling.

Here is a size chart you can follow while buying a paddle:

The above chart can help you pick the right size. But say if you use the above chart and fall between two size bands, then what to do? There are two options- you can pick either of them if your aim is performance. But if you just want to save money – you can buy the smaller paddle.

There is another way of choosing a paddle size – based on your torso size. This requires you to sit in a straight back chair to measure your torso. While sitting straight in your chair, measure the distance between the seat and your nose. Once you have the size, match it according to the chart below.

Angle of Paddling Stroke

The type of paddling stroke you use also determines the size of the paddle you should choose. Paddling stroke can be either low-angle or high-angle.

A high-angle paddling stroke requires tilting the paddle shaft more than usual. This brings the paddle blade close to the kayak body, harnessing more momentum with each stroke. If you usually use high-angle paddle strokes, you need a shorter paddle with a wider blade.

While high-angle strokes are powerful, they can cause a lot of fatigue when sustained over a period of time. They need you to concentrate more and take more stamina.

Low-angle paddle strokes require less tilt and allow you to sit back and relax. Your upper hand stays below the shoulder level. Low-angle strokes are well-suited for recreational kayaking.

Take a Demo

The best way to determine if a paddle size is right for you is to test it out by paddling on water. Use proper form and technique and you would find the ideal size you need. You can experiment with multiple sizes until you find the one that works for you. If you visit a store, the representative will also give you a recommendation to buy a paddle.

It is also important that you learn the proper paddling form while trying the size of the paddle. Proper paddling form requires you to slightly bend your torso while sitting upright, hold the paddles in appropriate positions and move the paddle with proper forward and sweeping strokes.

Also, note that learning proper form can take a while if you are a beginner. So be kind toward yourself and patient with the process.

Quick Pick Technique

Let’s say some friends invited you over to kayaking and you didn’t have time to pick the size. What can you do on the spot to choose the right size? Fortunately, there are two ways to assess the size then and there:

The first way goes like this:

1. Pick up the paddle and hold it in front of you with both hands. Your elbows should be at a right angle and your fingers should be holding the paddle as you do normally when paddling. The center of the shaft should be aligned in the front of your head.

2. Now check the distance. Your hands should be two-thirds away from the center of the shaft with another one-third of distance between your hands and the point where blades start. If the distance is longer than 2/3rd, you have a shorter paddle. If it is smaller than 2/3rd, you have a longer paddle.

Here is the second quick way to find your right size:


1. Pick a paddle that looks like the right size to you. Now put it vertically alongside you – stand next right to it. Now put your hand on the top of the blade above you. Your finger should be over the top edge of the paddle.

2. With this technique, the first joint of your fingers should just sit over the top edge of the blade. If it goes father over to the other side or can’t reach the top, you need a paddle of a different size.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens when you use too long of a paddle for kayaking?

Choosing a paddle too long or too short can affect your paddling form, make you tired sooner because it gets harder to build forward force and make the experience uncomfortable. Your knuckles may also bang against the sides and can suffer bruises over time.

What size of kayak paddle do I need?

The size of the paddle is based on how wide your kayak is, how tall you are and how big of a torso you have. Once you have all the three measurements, use the size chart in this guide to get the precise size. The wider the kayak, the longer the paddle should be. The taller you are and the bigger your torso is, the longer a paddle you need.

How long should a kayak paddle leash be?

A kayak paddle leash should be at least six feet long when stretched and at least four feet long when not stretched. The leash should be fairly long so you’d not notice there is a leash.

How do you size a paddle?

Hold the paddle out in front of you with elbows bent at right angles to the paddle and the center of the paddle in front of your head. Hold it as you would do when paddling. With this position, check if your hands are 2/3rd of the distance away from the center and 1/3rd way from the shoulder of the blade. If they are more than 2/3rds away, you need a longer paddle, if they are less than 2/3rds away, you need a shorter paddle.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to pick the right paddle size. But the most common way is to judge it based on the width of the kayak, the paddler’s height and their torso size.

Choosing a paddle that is slightly smaller or bigger can seem like a negligible thing, but its effect adds up as you paddle over time. It leads to poor form, banged knuckles, inefficient forward momentum and so on.

So pick the right paddle size and have fun!