When I was a kid my father would take us on fishing trips at a small local pond. It was always the old aluminum duck hunting canoe and some much-too-large paddles.
After having experienced many long canoeing trips and guided many more I can tell you with certainty that the paddle is one of the most important pieces of gear.
Today’s best canoe paddles can be made from wood, aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. Most are made from a combination of these materials to achieve the best balance of power, weight, and performance.
While there are canoe paddles that will empty your wallet, there are many which offer performance on a budget. Let’s take a look at what makes a great canoe paddle and which ones are available to you today.
For more of my top gear recommendations, have a look through these popular Outside Pursuits guide links:
Fishing Kayaks | Rods | Reels | Tackle Boxes | Fish Finders
Now I’m going to help you decide on a new canoe paddle and recommend some performers. Here is a feature overview of my top 3 picks with full reviews and our buying guide below.
Best Canoe Paddles
Canoe Paddle Reviews
With a bent shaft design canted to an 11-degree angle and beautiful fiber reinforced wood construction, this paddle is as beautiful as it is functional.
Most will use a bent shaft canoe paddle for cruising paddling on open waters where the angle of the blade can improve paddling efficiency. I love the reinforced tip with fiberglass laminated rock guard to protect the paddle from submerged objects.
They’ve put this paddle together with 7-layer blade and 18-layer shaft which creates a combination of aesthetics and function.
Layering the different wood materials allows the paddle to take advantage of each type of wood for its unique qualities.
Video: Overview of the BB Special canoe paddle.
The palm grip is another good choice for this paddle due to its overall ease of use and comfort.
I think the Bending Branches Special is the best canoe paddle under $100.
This canoe paddle is a straight shaft design with a carbon shaft and reinforced blade. They made the paddle centered on the beautiful wood sunburst pattern used to make the wide blade really pop to the eye.
It’s designed to be effective and durable in river situations. Wide blade and reinforced paddle tip make it perfect for these conditions.
I love that this paddle comes in right around the 16oz mark – depending on the length you choose of course. If you’re looking for a paddle that’s as beautiful as it is functional then this is the choice for you!
Video: Overview of the Sunburst canoe paddle.
The paddle grip is a bit of a hybrid between the T-grip and the palm grip so it’s a good happy medium if you’re not sure which you prefer.
Another paddle that’s nearly as beautiful as the first. This wood blade, wood shaft paddle is a bit heavier than the BB Special, but it’s designed a bit different.
It’s a more classic straight shaft, straight blade paddle with a palm grip. Meant for recreational paddling and deeper water due to the more skinny and longer blade. This type of paddle would be good for deep lake paddling.
Again, we’ve got a reinforced tip for protection from rocks and objects. This is really crucial for the life of a wooden paddle.
The wood will be prone to splintering and delamination if you manage to damage the tip so always keep an eye on the condition of your tip guard.
At an overall weight of 23 ounces and lengths from 54 – 63 inches it’s on the longer and heavier side.
Another paddle that’s nearly as beautiful as the first. This wood blade, wood shaft paddle is a bit heavier than the Sunburst ST but it’s designed a bit different.
With an 11-degree bent paddle angle it’s made to push more firmly against the water with each stroke. As we will discuss in the guide below, bent blade paddles are ideal for flat water and long distance paddling but sacrifice some control to achieve this.
Clear fiberglass reinforcement throughout the entire wrapped blade and an 18-laminate wood design create a blend of properties.
It’s durable, stiff, and beautiful which makes it a great choice in my book. The only thing that could potentially be improved is lightening the overall weight, but we won’t complain!
Available in lengths from 46 to 52 inches and made from carbon fiber laminates, this paddle is about as lightweight as they come.
Created with hand layup techniques, the Hawaii-type paddle seeks to achieve perfection in design. I particularly like the 16-ounce target weight of the paddle achieved with modern techniques and materials.
Z&J promises a finished weight of 15.9 oz +/- 1.7 which is really impressive overall. At just about a pound, you’ll be hard pressed to get a lighter paddle, especially at a good price!
This is a double-bent shaft, with T-handle design for efficiency balanced with control. If you’re looking for a great open water paddle at a weight that you can paddle for days, this is your choice for ultimate power and lightweight properties. I would say this is the best carbon fiber canoe paddle.
Another carbon fiber paddle made with precision and performance in mind. The ultimate goal here is lightweight and uncompromising performance.
What separates these paddles? This one is a 12-degree bent blade paddle with a T-handle grip. Remember that usually bent blade paddles are ideal for open water cruising and long paddling distances.
At almost exactly one pound of overall weight the paddle really does keep the weight down. It is possible to find lighter paddles, but considering the bent blade and the very reasonable price we’re certain this paddle will pull its weight on our list.
This is a good consideration for flatwater cruising although the weight savings compared to comparable beautiful wood designed paddles may make it a tough choice for some.
This is a departure from many of the paddles we’ve looked at in one major way. The long and skinny blade make it ideal for deep water paddling.
This would be a great choice for those who might be paddling deep Canadian lakes. On top of that, the comfortable palm grip is relaxing and meant for ergonomics.
Bending Branches makes some of the nicest paddles easily available to today’s buyers. That’s why we’ve seen a lot of their products make the cut. I like the oval shaft design.
While not uncommon, it is a good touch for a more ergonomic and comfortable grip, adding a bit of control and comfort. This is the paddle of choice for those who might be heading into deep lakes or open water.
I’m always a sucker for beautiful woodworking when it comes to canoe equipment. That’s one reason I just love the overall beauty of the Viper paddle with the vertical dark and light bands of wood.
As always Bending Branches includes their rock guard reinforced blade tip and edges, which is critical for longevity.
Featuring a 11-degree bent blade and bent grip (double bent) it’s ideal for cruising. However, the blade is short and wide which means it’s ideal for shallow water.
This would be a good paddle choice for shallow water cruising with a comfortable palm grip and bent paddle for efficiency. I would consider this an ideal paddle for a mixture of recreational paddling situations.
There are few makers creating lightweight carbon straight blade paddles but ZJ has a good one for us. Their paddle features a wooden shaft and carbon blade all on a totally straight frame.
The blade shape is somewhere between a shallow river control blade and a deep-water cruiser. However, with the straight design, we recommend this one for power and control on fast water.
At an overall 21 ounces, they’ve brought weight down by using foam cores and fiber materials. Hand layup is done around a CNC cut foam core to maintain shape, rigidity, and function.
I’d say this paddle belongs in the hands of those looking to paddle fast rivers with tons of control and bracing strokes.
Carlisle Standard is not a looker compared to the beautiful wood paddles we have looked at. Here we have simple, straight shaft that is your basic functional paddle suitable for most all conditions.
Unlike the wood and carbon fiber paddles above this one has a blade made from polyethylene. Its heavier, weighing almost 2 pounds so I wouldn’t want to use for long canoe trips but its fine for a trip around the lake.
The vinyl clad aluminum shaft almost guarantees us that it wont rust or corrode and will last a long time. The high impact polyethylene blade will take lots of abuse from rocks and pushing off.
The Carlisle Standard is a good choice for the paddler on a budget and I would say this is the best budget canoe paddle. Available in several bright colors, its easy to find!
How to Choose the Best Canoe Paddle for You
A canoe paddle is simple, right? You just choose the one that looks nice and has a cheap price. Not so much. Let’s figure out what’s important to know about canoe paddles.
It can be hard to find a great canoe paddle. The local shop only has the low-quality plastic and aluminum paddles. Ordering a fully custom paddle is expensive and difficult. So what’s to be done? Try one of these great paddles that’s easy to get started with!
There’s a lot to know about blade shape and, as you become more experienced, you’ll want to learn more about it. However, to get started buying a canoe paddle that works for you it need not be overcomplicated.
Generally speaking, the wider the paddle blade the better for shallow water or fast water such as rivers. The longer and skinnier paddle blades are usually best for flat, still water such as lakes. Don’t over complicate this until you’ve had a substantial amount of experience under your belt.
This is the most important factor for me when choosing a paddle for long trips. Since you’ll be picking the paddle up, stroking with it, and then repeating the process thousands of times it’s critical to get a lightweight paddle.
On my first ever canoeing trip I could not believe how sore my shoulders and back became after 5 straight days of paddling with a cheap aluminum paddle.
Unless you’re an extremely advanced level paddler, simply look for a lightweight paddle that meets your needs at the best price you can afford. Some flatwater paddlers might opt for a more flexible paddle, while whitewater paddlers usually opt for the most stiff and powerful paddle available.
To get the lightest paddles available you’ll want a composite paddle made with advanced carbon fiber and fiberglass components. These usually also have traditional lightweight wood components as well.
There are many ways to measure the length of a canoe paddle, but the most important is the shaft length. This is the length of the paddle excluding the length of the blade. To measure this at home without a paddle try this:
Squat down with your bottom about 6” off of the floor. Measure from the floor to your nose to find the proper shaft length.
When ordering your canoe paddle, be sure to add this measurement to the blade length in order to get the overall paddle length you’ll need. Paddle blades are usually about 20” long. So, if you measured 32” then you’d want a 52” paddle length overall.
Canoe paddle shafts come in two very simple patterns. Either straight or bent. Let’s break it down so you can understand when each one is useful.
Straight shafts are good for any situation and are by far the most versatile. They’re exceptionally good in river situations and allow for a greater number and type of paddle strokes.
There are really two main types of grip shapes and they vary mostly based on control and precision versus comfort.
Palm grips are wide, fan shaped grips that swell to fit the shape of your palm while paddling. They’re comfortable and provide plenty of power and control in gentle situations such as flatwater and lakes.
Second is the T-grip paddle handle which is thin and narrow. It’s made to allow the paddler to fully wrap their hands around the handle for total control and the absolute best precision. Often this type of handle is put on to beginner or children’s paddles to help improve grip.
Video: How to get the proper size canoe paddle.
There are tons of different types of canoe paddles on the market today. By and large I would encourage paddlers to simply invest in a good paddle right up front.
That was one of my biggest mistakes as a beginner. Your trips, whether day trips or long overnight trips, will be more enjoyable if your back and shoulders aren’t dying with each stroke!
Once you’ve committed to making the upgrade, it’s a matter of figuring out the right paddle size and design. If you’re not sure that a bent paddle is right for you, just go with the classic straight shaft.
They’re more versatile and user friendly in a variety of situations. Once you’ve decided on a paddle length and design, simply choose the lightest and highest quality paddle your budget can afford.
I hope this guide was helpful for finding the best canoe paddle to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a paddle I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.
Have fun and be safe out there!