Not all canoe paddles are created equal and when it comes to your time on the water, having a paddle that fits your size and paddling style is essential to a comfortable and enjoyable time. Canoe paddles come in many shapes, sizes, and styles, but there are a few common features all paddles share . . . Grip, Shaft Angle, Length, Blade Shape, and Blade Design. The best paddle available is the on that is the best fit for you and allows you to paddle longer with less fatigue and pain.
The style of grip on a canoe paddle is one of the most important features to think about before purchasing a paddle. You will be holding onto this grip all day long, so a grip that fits your hand and paddling style is essential to comfort and reducing the risk of painful blisters and muscle cramps. There are many variations of grips available with some of the most common being T Grip, Asymmetrical Grips, Palm Grips, and Guide Style Grips. There are also many variations of these that have different names.
Each grip has its own advantages and disadvantages. However, some advantages for the paddle maker (ex. saving time) can be a disadvantage to your comfort. Choose a grip that fits your inflatable paddle board hand and style of paddling. If you like to have a tight grip, a T Grip may be your best choice. If you like to have a larger, looser grip one of the other styles may be the best choice. Personally, I have found that the T Grip, Front Facing Asymmetrical, and Back Facing Asymmetrical Grips are the most comfortable and ergonomically correct grips.
Straight shaft paddles had been the only game in town for a long time, and as the name indicates, it is a straight paddle. This is a very functional paddle, but as techniques advanced, there are now more options in shaft angles. A Bent Shaft Paddle has a slight bend at the throat of the paddle where the blade starts and the shaft ends. With a bend in the paddle, the blade stays perpendicular to the water for a larger portion of the paddle stroke, which makes it a more efficient paddle stroke.
The angle can vary, but most are between 5 & 20 degrees. Basically, the steeper the angle, the more power is transmitted in the paddle stroke. However, shaft angle is greatly dependent on your size and the style of canoe you will be using, along with your stroke preferences. A good fit for most is somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 degrees. There are also Double Bend Paddles available. These have the bend at the blade as well as a second, smaller bend in the opposite direction just before the grip. This design brings the grip back in line with the paddle blade and can make for a more comfortable paddling experience.
Paddle length is also a very important factor in having an enjoyable experience. There are many ways to determine the proper length (you can read more in my article “Canoe Paddle Length – Choosing the Proper Fit). You want to make sure you have a paddle that has a long enough shaft that you can have a comfortable paddling stance, but not too long that it adds extra weight and creates more work. Typically, bent shaft paddles are a few inches shorter than their straight shaft cousins.