Canoe Paddle Size Chart

How to choose your canoe paddle

You’ll likely have a paddle in your hands the entire time you’re canoeing, so picking the right one is critical. A paddle that fits you and your paddling style can make the difference between a fun, rewarding experience on the water or sore hands and shoulders.

Choosing that perfect-for-you canoe paddle depends upon several key considerations:

  1. Your canoe’s width and cross section.
  2. Type of paddling and length of outing.
  3. Your size.
  4. Types of paddles and features to look for.

1. Canoe style

  • If you have a general-purpose, family tandem canoe, your selection process can be streamlined. You’ll want to look at the sizing chart below to make your paddle selections.
  • For narrow tripping canoes, those with tumblehome (inward leaning) gunwales, or low seats, select a paddle with a shorter shaft (typically by one size).
  • Extra-wide, flared canoes and those with high seats require a slightly longer paddle so that you can easily reach the water with the blade and avoid hitting the shaft (or your knuckles) on the gunwale.

2. Type of paddling and length of outing

Lakes and rivers:

  • Straight paddles are the most commonly-used, all-around canoe paddles for the conditions you’ll find on lakes and rivers. The main variables to consider among these paddles are weight, comfort, and durability.
  • If you normally paddle in shallow water, you’ll be better off with a shorter, flat-bottomed paddle. The blade tip should be made with a resin to make it more durable in the shallows.
  • If, on the other hand, most of your paddling is in deep water, you might choose a more traditional paddle in a standard shaft length. These paddles enter and exit the water more quietly, and their longer length gives you more control.
  • A canoe paddle with an ovalized shaft (vs. a perfectly round shaft) will be far more comfortable, easier to hold, and less fatiguing.
  • In general, paddles with the classic rounded palm grip are more comfortable to paddle on lakes and rivers. Or try the symmetrical grips (freestyle type) which allow you to paddle using either face.

Extended trips on flat water or racing:

  • Bent-shaft paddles are more efficient (they move more water with less effort) and are best for long distances over flat water. Racers commonly use bent-shaft paddles.
  • The shape of bent shaft paddles generates powerful strokes but makes most maneuvering strokes and steering more difficult. Bent-shaft paddles allow the canoe blade to be kept vertical for a longer portion of the stroke, which is where the available power is greatest.
  • Keep in mind that bent-shaft paddles are generally four inches shorter than straight paddles forthe same size paddler.

Whitewater:

  • You’ll need a paddle that can take some hard knocks. Most serious whitewater paddlers follow the Straight Canoe column in the size chart bellow, but opinions abound.
  • Make sure that the paddle blade has a urethane tip to protect it.
  • Whitewater paddlers will typically choose a T-grip for the control it provides.
  • And a paddle with an ovalized shaft will be easier to hold.

3. Your size

There are many subtleties (and opinions) regarding the best paddle length. Many experienced paddlers have a collection of different paddle models and sizes for different conditions, but most people find the following chart to be effective in sizing new paddlers. The general rule: the shortest paddle that allows you to properly reach the water is best. In the middle of their stroke, most paddlers hold the grip so that their top hand is about the height of their nose, and the point where the paddle blade meets the shaft (the throat) is at the water line. Measuring the length of your torso is a good way to approximate that geometry. Here’s a simple and accurate way to measure your torso. Sit up straight – don’t slouch – on a flatchair. Measure the distance from the surface of the chair between your legs to your nose. Then follow the chart below.

Canoe Paddle Sizing Chart
Torso Size Straight Shaft Canoe Paddle Length Bent Shaft Canoe Paddle Length
20" Youth 36" N/A
22" Youth 42" N/A
24" Youth 48" N/A
26" 51" or 52" 48"
28" 54" 50"
30" 56" or 57" 52"
32" 57" or 58" 54"
34" 60" 56"
36" 62" N/A
38" 64" N/A

An easy way to measure in the field is to place the grip of the paddle between your legs while sitting. Mark where the shoulder of the blade (the point where the blade meets the shaft) hits you.The shoulder on a straight shaft should be at your forehead; the shoulder on a bent shaft should be at your nose.

4. Types of paddles and features to look for

Quick tips:

  • Laminated wood shafts are generally both stronger and stiffer than solid wood.
  • Blades with fiberglass resist splitting if they get caught between sharp rocks or piled under duffel bags in the back of your vehicle.
  • Particularly with wood, smoothness of the finish is critical for your comfort.
  • Some manufacturers offer high-grade resins along the entire edge of the paddle blade as well as on just the tip. If your paddle sees rough treatment or will be continuously exposed to water on a long trip, you’ll want this type of protection.
  • Spar varnish is recommended by some paddle manufacturers for continuous exposure to sunlight, but that gives a softer finish that can pick up fine grit and feel tacky. Polyurethane provides a harder and more durable finish.