BushLife - Canoe Paddle Hero

Canoe Paddle Sizing: A Beginner’s Guide

Do you want to take your paddling to the next level? Canoe paddle sizing is crucial to enhance your experience on the water. But with so many options available, it can be hard to know where to start. Do not worry – we have you covered!

In this beginner’s canoe paddle guide, we will scrutinize the key factors to ponder when sizing for your perfect paddle. From paddle length and weight to blade material and grip, we will take you through the essential aspects step-by-step. By the end of this guide, you will understand what to look for in a canoe paddle. As well as how to test and adjust to find the right fit. Let us dive in and get you paddling with confidence!

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How to Size for the Right Paddle Length

When considering the length of your canoe paddle, it is paramount to find one that matches your height, the nature of paddling you do, and the width of your canoe. A canoe paddle that is too long or too short can lead to discomfort and fatigue. Which ultimately impacts your performance on the water.

Sizing a Canoe Paddle by Height

BushLife - Sizing a Canoe Paddle
Sizing a Canoe Paddle Infographic

To determine the correct canoe paddle length, start by sitting inside the canoe and measuring the distance from your nose to the waterline. For those who do not have access to a canoe yet, a measurement can be taken in-store.

A secondary method is to:

  • Kneel with your bottom 6 inches off the floor.
  • Take a canoe paddle and place the paddle grip on the floor. The paddle throat (where the shaft meets the blade) should be between your nose and chin.

Canoe Paddle Size Chart

  • Standard canoe paddle length is between 52″ to 60″
  • Bent shaft canoe paddle sizing starts between 48″ to 54″. Once you have determined your fit from the above methods, deduct 2 inches from your measurement. This should be your ideal fit for a bent-shaft canoe paddle.

A longer canoe paddle is optimal for those who plan on covering more distance and those who will be paddling in larger bodies of water. A shorter canoe paddle is ideal for those planning on maneuvering in smaller bodies of water.

In addition to your height and style of paddling, consider the width of your canoe. A wider canoe requires a longer paddle, while a narrower canoe requires a shorter paddle. A good rule of thumb is to add two inches to the length of your paddle for wider canoes or if paddling from the stern.

Choosing the right canoe paddle length will enhance your comfort and performance on the water, enabling you to enjoy nature’s beauty.

RELATED: Introduction to Canoeing: A Guide for the New Canoeist

Canoe Paddle Weight and Material

BushLife - PaddleRonn The Stoney Paddle
(Photo courtesy of Paddle Ron)
The Stoney Paddle: Hand-Painted, Canadian-Made Paddle by Paddle Ron

Another factor to consider when selecting your perfect canoe paddle is weight and material. The heavier the paddle, the harder your arms will require to work, leading to fatigue and decreased performance. On the other hand, a too-light paddle may not provide enough power and control in the water.

When choosing a paddle, think about the materials. The most common materials are wood, aluminum, fibreglass and carbon fibre.

Wooden Canoe Paddles

There is something nostalgic about a wooden paddle that compliments a canoe. Many canoeists prefer wooden paddles over aluminum, fibreglass or carbon fibre. Wooden canoe paddles have so much character, especially when combined with different woods. Some upkeep is required to maintain the characteristics of the paddle. They are also relatively inexpensive and easy to repair. However, they can be heavy and not as durable as other materials.

Aluminum Canoe Paddles

Paddles made from aluminum are light, durable and affordable. Unfortunately, it comes at a cost, and that cost is comfort on longer trips. They are also very rigid.

Fibreglass Canoe Paddles

Fibreglass paddles are more expensive but offer a good balance of weight and durability. They are also available in various colours and designs to suit your style. Carbon fibre paddles are the lightest and most expensive option. Serious paddlers who value high performance and speed opt for fibreglass paddles. However, they can be brittle and require extra care when handling. Paddleboarders and whitewater canoeists usually use the fibreglass paddle.

The right paddle weight and material ultimately depend on your preference, physical ability, and budget. Consider testing out different weights and materials before making a final decision.

Canoe Paddle Blade Shape

Canoe Paddle Blades
The most common canoe paddle blades are: Square Tip (left), Beavertail (centre), Otter tail (right)

Choosing the correct canoe blade shape for your canoeing needs can be complex, but you can simplify the decision by considering the type of water you paddle. Traditional Otter tail canoe paddles offer leverage for smooth strokes and greater control. This long skinny blade design is ideal for lakes and calmer waters. The Beavertail canoe paddle is shorter and wider than the otter tail, making it an optimal paddle for rivers and shallower waters. The Beavertail paddle requires less effort and provides lightning-fast strokes.

As a side note, traditional names like beavertail and otter tail can be confusing. Each manufacturer (or anywhere you look) seems to have a different take on what a beavertail or an Otter tail paddle looks like. There are also variations on these shapes. So let us look at it as large (wide blade) vs narrow and what the differences are.

Larger canoe paddle blades have their advantages. They are efficient and provide optimal paddling leverage. Every stroke is more effective than with a narrower paddle blade. You can also accelerate faster and manoeuvre quickly, with plenty of bite for rolls and braces – where you lay the paddle blade horizontally on the surface to bring the canoe upright. The downside is that they can be tiring over long periods and tricky to control in windy situations. On the other hand, smaller paddle blades (long and narrow) are easy on your muscles and joints and provide less surface area to be pushed around by the wind. The downside is that you’ll need a faster cadence to maintain cruising speed, and making quick manoeuvres can be more difficult.

Canoe Paddle Blade Sizes

Today canoe paddle blades are often wider and shorter, with an average blade size of 20″ long and 8 ½” wide, offering greater versatility across various aquatic environments. Larger paddle blades also provide better stability when executing braces. Lastly, rounded corners and an arced or radiused tip allow for a quieter entry and exit from the water.

RELATED: Transporting a Canoe, the Right Way

Grip and Shaft Type

Canoe Paddle Grips
Featured are the two most common canoe paddle grips; the T-Grip (left) and the Palm Grip (right).

Your canoe paddle grip and shaft type are just as important as your blade shape when choosing the right canoe paddle. A comfortable paddle grip can reduce hand fatigue and increase control, while the right shaft type can provide the necessary flex and stiffness for efficient paddling. 

Canoe paddle grips are key when canoeing. It enables you to paddle with ease and confidence. The two most common paddle grips for paddlers are the T-grip and the palm grip.

T-Grip Canoe Paddle

The T-grip canoe paddle, preferred by whitewater paddlers, is a secure design that lets you wrap your fingers around the handle, thus allowing the paddler to know the exact blade position when executing different strokes. It also has a flat top and bottom for a defined shape, giving you the leverage to navigate challenging rapids.

Palm Grip

The palm grip canoe paddle is preferred for paddlers on diverse waters. This type of grip is more ergonomic and often has extra thickness added to the front and back to better fit the contours of your hand. Plus, it has enough shape to give you a firm grip but allows you to hold it loosely when desired.

When choosing a grip, ensure the grip is aligned with the blade and that the paddle is smooth and free from bumps, as these can lead to blisters. As you use the canoe paddle, you will notice that rough spots begin to form. Try to sand down these rough spots if possible, as leaving them unaddressed won’t be a pleasant experience and reduces the lifespan of your canoe paddle.

Discovering Shaft Types

The shaft type can also affect your performance on the water. A straight-shaft canoe paddle is excellent for beginners or those who prefer a classic feel. A bent-shaft canoe paddle, on the other hand, can provide a more ergonomic feel and reduce wrist fatigue during long paddles. A round paddle shaft tends to rotate in your grip when paddling hard. Some paddlers opt for an oval paddle shaft, which leads to less rotation, blisters and hand fatigue, making it easier to control.

Now that you understand how your blade shape, grip, and shaft type can affect your paddling experience, it’s time to test a canoe paddle to find the perfect fit.

Canoe Paddle Sizing Guide

BushLife - Stelios Canoeing
Stelios paddling down the Bonnechere River.

In conclusion, sizing the right canoe paddle is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable paddling experience. You can find your perfect match by taking the outlined considerations into account. Remember, it may take some trial and error before you find the right fit. So, test out different canoe paddles and make adjustments until you feel comfortable and find the perfect fit. 

Redtail Paddle Co. makes some beautiful canoe paddles or you could head over to Sail and check out some Bendingbranches canoe paddles in the various shapes we covered here. Until next time, happy paddling!

Comment down below if you have a favourite canoe paddle.

Please share this canoe paddle sizing guide with someone who could use some advice. Thank you!

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Katherine Widziak
Katherine Widziak

Fuelled by the boundless energy of my two adventurous children, my diverse repertoire extends beyond the realms of an ordinary mother. As a seasoned graphic designer, master of social media content, and savvy marketing strategist, I've sculpted my own entrepreneurial journey. My passion for the great outdoors defines me - from igniting fires to setting up camps, my skills are diverse and practical. Skilled in ATV riding, possessing sharpshooting accuracy, and a knack for out-fishing just about any man - even my husband, though that's our little secret.

When not working away at something creative, you'll find me enjoying the outdoors in one form or another. Hopefully, I can inspire many women and men alike to pursue their outdoor goals and embark on new adventures.

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