How Long Should A Canoe Paddle Be?

Canoe paddling is a calming and meditative sport.

And depending on where you choose to do it, it can also be exhilarating.

It’s got other health benefits, too, such as providing a cardio workout and improving muscle strength.

But have you ever used a paddle that’s too long or too short? It’s a whole new ballgame.

A wonderful canoeing experience can quickly turn sour.

What you need to avoid ruining your experience is a canoe paddle that fits your size and paddling size.

However, paddle sizing is not always easy.

It can be frustrating and confusing, especially if you’re a casual paddler or a novice.

This article discusses the different aspects of canoe paddle sizing that determine the correct length and how to measure paddle length correctly. 

couple in canoe

Canoe Paddle Sizing Guide

Several factors go into choosing the ideal canoe paddle length for you.

With so many canoe paddles available, you want to get the shortest paddle that will allow you to dip the blade of your paddle into the water without having to bend oddly to stroke and paddle.

People often paddle with their upper hand at about nose to chin level.

You can estimate the distance from your nose or chin to the throat of your paddle at the point it enters the water by measuring your torso.

Let’s first segue into these paddle parts:

  • Throat: The lower section of the shaft that meets the blade.
  • Shaft: The long slender part that your hand grips. It runs from under the grip to the throat.
  • Blade: The wide part that gets submerged while you’re paddling and propels a canoe forward when you push or pull against the water.
  • Grip: The upper section of your paddle, which you grip using your upper hand. 

So how do you measure your torso?

Sit upright on a flat chair, and from the chair’s flat surface, measure the distance to your nose or chin.

This measurement will vary depending on whether or not you want your hand a bit lower in front of you when paddling.

Now that you have your ideal paddle length,  you can use the quick sizing guide below.

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

Shaft Type

There are two main types of canoe paddle shafts:

  • Straight shaft: These are the most common paddles. Lately, these paddles are being constructed such that you can use them for bracing strokes and tricky maneuvering, which are popular in whitewater canoeing.
  • Bent shaft: This type of shaft is popular with touring and recreational canoeing. During that most powerful part of your stroke, a bent shaft is going to position your paddle’s blade as close to vertically as possible, resulting in increased efficiency and greater power.

Canoe Paddle Blades

Canoe paddle blades fall under the three basic shapes outlined below.

Other shapes you’ll find are variations of these three.

  • Beavertail Canoe Paddles: These are paddles whose blade widens from the throat to the tip.
  • Square-tipped Canoe Paddles: These paddles have a block-shaped shaft with some slight rounding at the tip. They have stubby blades, making them shorter than your average paddle.
  • Ottertail Canoe Paddles: These paddles have blades wider at the throat but taper off to a narrower tip. Due to their longer and narrower blade, Ottertails are usually longer than the Beavertail and square-tipped types.

Types of Canoe Paddles

To figure out your ideal paddle length, you need to understand the various paddle types and paddle blade shapes available as these determine the paddle length.

Depending on how you intend to use a canoe paddle, different paddles function best on specific types of water.

1. Recreational Paddles

These are for day trip paddling, family canoeing, or exploring flat calm waters leisurely.

Nevertheless, they are still capable enough for some light exploring and overnight trips as well.

2. Expedition Paddles

Expedition paddles are built for long canoeing adventures along rivers or into the wilderness.

They’re built with protected blade edges to persevere day-after-day use, making them more robust.

3. Touring Paddles

These paddles are a little tougher than recreational paddles, providing more stroke efficiency.

You can use touring paddles for cruising rivers and lakes for a weekend as well as multi-day trips.

They’re rugged tools that can handle long-trip paddling in the wilderness.

4. Whitewater Paddles

These are paddles with short, square blades, allowing you to quickly and powerfully paddle in shallow waters. 

They have T-grips, which give them better maneuverability and more control.

5. Solo Paddles

Solo paddles are specifically designed for individual canoeing.

They’re more like kayak paddles, a feature that enables a paddler to maintain hand position when alternating strokes to keep the canoe straight.

Canoe Style

The canoe style plays a significant role in determining your paddle length.

If yours is an extra-wide canoe, a flared canoe, or a canoe that has high seats, then it’s likely you’ll need a canoe paddle that’s a bit longer.

A longer canoe paddle allows the blade to reach the water, at the same time preventing it from smashing against the shaft on your canoe’s gunwale.

It also minimizes the probability of your hitting your knuckles.

On the other hand, you may have a narrow tripping canoe, a tumblehome (inward leaning) gunwales, or a canoe with low seats.

In this case, select a paddle with a shorter shaft.

Usually, this means getting yourself a canoe paddle whose length is one size smaller than you would choose otherwise.

How to Measure a Canoe Paddle

There are several methods and guidelines to help determine the correct canoe paddle length.

Of course, all have the same ultimate objective, which is to help provide you with a canoe paddle that dips the blade entirely in the water while you’re in the power stage of your stroke.

At the same time, your body should be in an upright paddling position in which you’re comfortable to allow you to paddle your canoe efficiently through the water.

If you can, try each of the methods listed below and then get the average measurement before settling on the canoe paddle length that best suits you.

1. Quick Sizing of a Canoe Paddle (Bent-arm Method)

To properly grip your canoe paddle, your upper hand should grasp the grip part of the paddle.

And speaking of grip, follow these steps to size a canoe paddle using the bent arm method:

  • Using one hand, grab the paddle by the grip.
  • With your other hand, grab the shaft of the paddle just above the throat.
  • With the shaft section above you, place the paddle over your head.
  • Now, bring the paddle shaft a little down until it’s on your head, keeping an eye on your arms’ angle where your elbow is.
  • Your elbows/arms should form a 90-degrees angle. If the angle is smaller than 90 degrees, then it means the paddle is too short. Similarly, if it’s more than 90 degrees, it means the paddle is too long.

2. Sizing a Canoe Paddle on the Water (In-Canoe Method)

The most reliable way of sizing a canoe paddle is to try the paddle on the water and the canoe you plan to paddle on.

Doing so gives you a more accurate idea of the canoe paddle length for you.

Here’s what to do to size a canoe paddle using the in-canoe method:

  • Sit in your canoe.
  • Measure the vertical distance between your nose and the waterline. This measurement gives you the shaft or handles length that best suits your needs.
  • Now, you can paddle naturally for some time, paying attention to the position of the top grip of your hand as you paddle.

Throughout your paddle stroke, you’ll need to keep your hand even with your shoulder.

If your hand falls below your shoulder line during the stroke, it means the paddle is too short.

And if you notice that your hand rises above the shoulder and then falls back to level with your shoulder, it means the paddle is too long, and you need a shorter one.

3. Sizing a Canoe Paddle at a Store (Kneeling-down Method)

Well, it’s not possible to dip the blade in water or measure it by sitting in a canoe while you’re out shopping for a paddle at your local store.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean you must go home with a shorter or longer paddle.

Follow these steps to size a canoe paddle correctly while at the store using the kneeling down method:

  • Kneel with your butt raised approximately six inches off the floor, which is approximately a canoe’s seat height.
  • With the paddle turned upside down, place the grip on the store’s floor.
  • The ideal position of the paddle’s throat should be between your nose and your chin, and that’s the canoe paddle length that best suits you.

4. Sizing Without a Canoe Paddle (Seated-down Method)

Believe it or not, it’s possible to estimate your ideal canoe paddle length without using the paddle itself.

Follow these steps to size a canoe paddle using the seated-down method:

  • Sit on a flat chair and measure the vertical distance from the chair’s flat surface to your chin, nose, or eyes.
  • The point on your face (chin, nose, or eyes) you settle on should be based on an expert’s opinion as well as your personal preference. I wouldn’t want the grip of my paddle blocking my eyes as I stroke, and that’s why I prefer the chin measurement. I want the paddle to be at shoulder height throughout my stroke.
  • To this measurement, add the distance from your canoe seat to the water. You may not know what that distance is, in which case you can use six inches, the most common average distance.
  • Finally, add the paddle’s blade length. 

Paddle blade lengths vary depending on the type and shape of the paddle.

That means paddle length will vary depending on the paddle type.

5. Paddle-less Sizing (While Kneeling)

Here’s another method you can also use to determine the canoe paddle you need without the paddle.

Follow the steps below to size a canoe paddle without a paddle using the kneeling method:

  • Pick your preferred paddle online and determine its measurement specifications.
  • Kneel and lower your butt to approximately six inches off the floor to simulate the height of your canoe seat.
  • Measure the distance from the floor to your nose or chin. Either can work.
  • To the blade length, add this measurement.

Sizing a Bent Shaft Canoe Paddle

Like with the straight shaft, the best method you can use to ensure you get the best size of this type of paddle is by getting out and trying out a number of them.

But if that’s not an option, you can follow these steps to size a bent shaft canoe paddle:

  • Sit upright on a chair with your back straight.
  • Turn the paddle upside down on the chair’s seat and between your legs.
  • Hold the bent shaft in front of your face.
  • The shaft’s throat should come to just around your eye level, and this should be the ideal canoe paddle length for you.

Most bent shaft canoe paddles are 50 and 52 inches.

Take Away

Now you understand better how to get the correct paddle length.

Armed with this information, you can now accurately select a paddle length that fits your paddling style and your size.

With a correctly sized paddle, you’ll not only enjoy the experience but you’ll be more efficient with your time on the water.

With each paddle stroke, you’ll get more, and the fatigue will be less. 

So go ahead and hit the waters with the most appropriately sized paddle.

There’s nothing to stop you now from enjoying a beautiful canoeing experience.

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