It might not be the most intriguing piece of your kayaking equipment – but that doesn’t make kayak paddles any less important than, say, your ‘yak.
I mean, it’s what gets you from point A to point B. Without one, all you’ll do is float around with no real way to get anywhere. Plus, an incorrectly sized kayak paddle is a sure-fire way to turn a fun kayaking trip into an uncomfortable, blistery, fatiguing disaster.
Now, you might be wondering: What size kayak paddle do I need?
Keep reading; we have a lot to discuss!
Spoiler alert – we have even thrown in a kayak paddle sizing chart, or two, to help you pick the right size paddle.
Benefits Of Right-Sized Paddles: Why Kayak Paddle Size Matters?
I’m often asked, is kayaking hard? No it isn’t – as long as you don’t make it so with poor decisions!
Your choice of kayak paddle is one biggest decision you will need to make – yet many new kayakers end up with an unsuitable paddle. An appropriately sized paddle – that you can hold – and use – comfortably helps keep the fatigue at bay and makes you a more efficient paddler in general.
Knowing what size kayak paddle you need, and then choosing the right size paddle, does wonders for your overall kayaking experience – in more ways than one.
Here are a few reasons why choosing the right kayak paddle length matters:
- Improved Control Over Your ‘Yak – Suitable paddle size makes it possible to utilize your paddle better. In return, that makes navigating the waters, controlling and steering your kayak, and maintaining balance easier, even for less experienced paddlers.
- More Comfort, More Fun – Comfort is an essential part of an enjoyable kayaking trip – and having the right paddle plays a major role in it. When you choose a proper paddle length, you minimize your chances of blisters, muscle strains, and fatigue. In short, you’re in for a more pleasant experience overall.
- Better Efficiency & Longer Paddling Sessions – Using the right type – and more importantly, size – of paddle ensures better efficiency with each stroke. You won’t need to put in as much effort into paddling and won’t experience fatigue as often. It can help you improve how long and how far you can go.
What Happens When You Use A Paddle That’s Too Long Or Too Short?
Not knowing what size kayak paddle you need could result with you ending up with a paddle that’s either too long or too short for you – as a result, comfort is typically the first thing to fly out the window.
Here are some common problems you might encounter with a wrong paddle size:
- Having less control over the kayak, making it go zig-zag, rather than tracking straight
- Experiencing fatigue and muscle soreness often
- Struggling to reach the water with the paddle blade and having to lean over to compensate for it
- Dealing with the additional weight of the paddle
- Hitting the sides of the kayak’s hull with your knuckles
- Having to put in more effort to maintain stability
- Developing blisters during longer paddling sessions
Making Your Choice Easier: Factors That Determine Kayak Paddle Size
The general guidelines for determining what size paddle for kayaking you need are pretty straightforward:
The taller you are – and the wider your kayak – the longer your paddle.
Still, deciding what size kayak paddle you need is a highly subjective thing. Your height and torso length, your kayak’s width, and even the type of kayaking you do are all factors that have to be considered.
- Your Body Size – Your body size, namely your overall height and torso length, is arguably the biggest factor in kayak paddle size. As I said, the taller you are, the longer the paddle you need. Most paddle size charts will include paddler’s height as the leading factor, but as you’ll see later, your torso height makes for a more accurate match.
- Kayak Width – The width of your kayak’s hull will be the second most important consideration when determining the correct of a kayak paddle. The wider your ‘yak, the longer your paddle; it’s that simple. Always measure the kayak’s widest point for the most accurate reading.
- Stroke Preference and Paddling Style – Stroke angle preference plays a major factor in kayak paddle selection – the high angle vs low angle debate. Do you prefer a high-angle paddling stroke that keeps the blade closer to the kayak’s side and generates more force? Or do you like using a more horizontal, low-angle paddling stroke for longer days on the water? All else being equal, you would need a shorter paddle in the first scenario, with a shorter and wider blade shape. And, a longer paddle in the second, with a longer and narrower paddles blades.
- Type Of Kayaking You Do – Another way to narrow down your paddle size options is to factor in the kind of kayaking you plan on doing – recreational, touring, performance, or whitewater. For instance, in rough waters and whitewater rapids, control is a priority; a shorter paddle fits the bill. Longer touring kayaks call for longer paddles, as they help generate more stroke power. Recreational paddling falls somewhere in between.
- Seat Height – If you prefer a higher seating position – as kayak anglers typically do because it increases visibility and casting ability – know that it will affect your paddle angle and as a result your paddle’s size, as you will require a longer paddle. Determine the recommended paddle size for you based on the factors discussed above, and then add roughly 10 centimeters. That will compensate for the extra distance from the water when kayak fishing.
Let’s Talk Actual Numbers: How Do You Size A Paddle?
When it come to question of what size kayak paddle do I need, there are two common ways to size your paddle:
One is a quick-and-easy method, perfect when you have to size a paddle out in the field, though. The other involves measuring tape and writing down numbers – but the more meticulous approach does make for more accurate results.
Method #1: How To Size A Kayak Paddle (Quick & Easy Way)
If want a simple way of knowing what size paddle you need, and you can’t bother searching for your measuring tape right now or you’re short on time, you’ll love this quick kayak paddle sizing method.
Here’s one way to size your paddle in a matter of seconds:
- Stand the paddle straight up next to you.
- Extend your arm fully and reach for the top edge of the paddle’s blade.
- See if you can hook the first joint of your fingers over the blade’s tip.
If you can’t even reach the top of the paddle or, conversely, you can wrap your fingers – not just the first joints – around it, you need a different-sized kayak paddle. But remember this method does not take into account kayak width or paddling style – such as low angle or high angle paddling
Here’s another thing you could try:
Grab the paddle with both hands and assume your normal paddling posture, with elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Your hands should sit approximately two-thirds of the way from the middle of the paddle shaft to the paddle blade shoulders
If they’re not, I’ve got bad news:
Your paddle likely isn’t right for you, and it’s time for an upgrade.
Method #2: Choosing the Size of Kayak Paddle Based On Actual Measurements
Want to know what size paddle you need and you’d like to make your choice based on actual numbers – which I highly recommend – grab your measuring tape, and let’s get down to work.
Measure The Width Of Your Kayak
Hull width is a major factor; together with paddler height, it can give you an accurate idea of what size kayak paddle you need. That’s why it’s best to start by noting down this simple – but oh-so-important – dimension of your kayak.
Kayak design varies so to get the most accurate measurements of your kayak’s width, measure the kayak’s hull at its widest point, and note it down. You can also look it up online – preferably directly on the manufacturer’s website – for the best possible fit.
Also, here are the typical sizes of different kayak types for reference:
- Recreational Kayaks: 26 to 30 inches
- Touring Kayaks: 22 to 25 inches
- Performance Kayaks: 19 to 22 inches
- Fishing Kayaks: 30 to 42 inches
- Inflatable Kayaks: 28 to 40 inches
- Whitewater Kayaks: The width of the kayak isn’t a significant factor.
Take Your Body Measurements: Height & Torso Length
Your overall height could be a useful – although general – indicator, pointing you in the right direction. Round it up to the nearest inch, factor in your kayak’s width, and find the corresponding length of kayak paddle.
There’s one issue with relying on height alone, though:
Everyone’s built differently.
Maybe you carry most of your height in your legs, perhaps it’s mostly in your torso – or it might be more evenly distributed. Whatever the case, torso height can help you assess the situation more accurately.
Here’s one way to measure your torso height:
- Tilt your head down and locate your C7 vertebra – the one that sticks out at the back of your neck when you’re bending your head down.
- Place your hands to your hipbones and have your thumbs pointing backward; that’s considered the bottom of your torso.
- Stand tall and have a friend measure the distance from the C7 vertebra, down your back, and to the imaginary line running between your thumbs across the lumbar region.
- If needed, round up the number to the nearest inch and use it as a starting point for determining kayak paddle length.
Again, you’re free to rely on either your height or your torso’s length. But for best results, measure both and find a corresponding kayak paddle size.
Bonus Tip: What If I Fall Between Two Sizes?
Technically speaking, both options would work. However, if you fall somewhere between two kayak paddle sizes, it’s generally recommended that you go with the shorter one.
One exception will be if you have a comparably shorter torso, as you might benefit from the added reach of a longer paddle. Other than that, you have a chance to shave off a few ounces by going with a shorter paddle; take it.
Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide: Quick Reference Charts
Remember that the industry standard is to use metric units when talking about the length of a kayak paddle. I mean, you could technically say you’re using a 90.5-inch paddle, but expect to get a few strange looks from fellow paddlers.
If your metric system conversion is a bit rusty, 2.54 centimeters equals 1 inch; that’s all you need to know.
Typically, kayak paddles are available in size range from 180cm to 260cm, with kayak paddle sizing increasing in 10cm increments – so it shouldn’t be too difficult to dial in you prefect paddle.
Note; if viewing the kayak paddle size guides on a mobile device, rotating the screen to landscape may provide a better viewing experience
Kayak Paddle Size Guide Based On Paddler Torso Height
Use the following kayak paddle size guide to determine the approximate paddle sizes suitable for a given body size / torso height. The 20cm tolerance is to allow for a longer length paddle for high angle paddling and a shorter length paddle for low angle paddling, and differences in boat width.
|Paddler Height (Torso)
|Recommended Paddle Lengths
|180 cm – 200 cm
|190 cm – 210 cm
|200 cm – 220 cm
|220 cm – 240 cm
|230 cm – 250 cm
|240 cm – 250 cm
Bonus Tip: Nothing Beats Hands-On Kayak Paddle Sizing
All these different measurements can tell you a lot about what length kayak paddle you need – but nothing beats the hands-on approach:
Hop in your kayak, try a few different paddle sizes, and see which one feels “right.” It’s a matter of trial and error.
Be sure to watch your form when testing a paddle, though. Choosing a paddle size based on poor posture doesn’t make much sense – and only encourages other bad paddling habits.
Low-Angle Paddle Size Guide
Use the following kayak paddle size guide to determine the approximate length of paddle for a given paddler height and width of kayak. This guide is suitable for recreational and touring kayaks only, and kayakers with low angle paddling stroke.
|24 – 28“
|29 – 33“
|5’ and under
|5’ – 5’6’’
|5’6’’ – 6’
|Recommended Paddle Length
*Guide not suitable for a whitewater kayak
High-Angle Paddle Size Guide
Use the following kayak paddle size guide to determine the approximate length of paddle for a given paddler height and width of kayak. This guide is suitable for recreational and touring kayaks only, and kayakers with high angle paddling stroke.
|17″ – 23″
|23″ – 25″
|5’ and under
|5’ – 5’6’’
|5’6’’ – 6’2’’
|Recommended Paddle Length
*Guide not suitable for a whitewater kayak
Whitewater Kayaking Paddle Size Guide
Use the following kayak paddle sizing guide to determine the approximate length of paddle required, when using a a whitewater kayak, based on paddler height.
|Recommended Paddle Lengths
|188cm – 194cm
|5’2’’ – 5’8’’
|190cm – 196cm
|5’8’’ – 6’1’’
|192cm – 200cm
|196cm – 204cm
The 6cm – 8cm tolerance is to allow for small variations in paddling style, requiring a slightly longer paddle or shorter paddle, and minor differences in the width of a typical white water kayak.
Bonus Tip: What Size Kayak Paddle For Kids?
Many kayaks for kids already come with kid-friendly kayak paddles included. If not, choose your child’s paddle with as much care as you would your own and be sure to factor in ease of use, weight, and size.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Kids under 4’ tall: 182 centimeters or less
- Kids from 4’ to 4’6’’ tall: 182 to 190 centimeters
- Kids from 4’6’’ to 5’ tall: 190 to 210 centimeters
- Kids over 5’ tall: Follow the same sizing guidelines as for adults
Bonus Tip: What If I Paddle Two Different Style Kayaks?
If you own more than one kayak – and they are of different widths – or plan to share the paddle with others, consider kayak paddles with a telescopic paddle shaft.
These will typically give you around 15 centimeters of room for additional adjustments, which should ensure a proper fit – even as you switch from one kayak to the next.
Need help picking the right paddle? Then check out our best kayak paddle post for an in-depth buying guide and reviews of the top kayak paddles currently on the market
Let’s Wrap It Up – What Size Paddle Do I Need?
I hope this answers the all-important question of what size kayak paddle do I need and eliminates any confusion you might’ve had before.
Certainly, when it come kayak paddle size there are many different factors at play – but that doesn’t mean that it has to be confusing. As long as you’ve got a tape measure at hand, stick to the guidelines, and use the paddle sizing guide for reference, it should be a pretty straightforward process.
I’ll leave you with this:
Having the right type and size of kayak paddle will do wonders for your on-the-water experience – and quite possibly make you a better paddler, too. Do the math, and you’ll be more than happy with your choice!