1. Grey Owl Paddles C-1
In 1991, Grey Owl Paddles owner Brian Dorfman was convinced the world needed a beefed up spoon version of his popular Hammerhead. I must have purchased one of the first couple hundred of the new Grey Owl C-1. I know this because I’m still using it 27 years later. Why? Because until last year nobody could get a new one; Dorfman had taken it out of Grey Owl’s catalog in 2005. Now it’s back, and here’s why.
This is a tough whitewater canoe paddle. The C-1 has a big blade by today’s standards, but I don’t care who you are, when you need to move a fully loaded tandem tripping you want a blade to put out. The cambered spoon is seven-ply laminated butternut, walnut and basswood with a four-ounce fiberglass cloth overlay on each face and a casting epoxy tip wrapping the entire blade. Call me whatever names you want, but I pry off the gunwales. Lucky for me Grey Owl wraps the bottom half of the shaft in a protective Dynel sleeve. To top it all off, I love the oiled walnut mushroom grip.,
$160 USD; $180 CAD | www.greyowlpaddles.com
2. Werner Paddles Bandito
At the time of writing, Werner Paddles announced the signing of adventurer Jim Baird as their first canoe athlete. Jim’s a monster of a man most often found on remote wilderness rivers or YouTube with a Werner Bandit in his hands. Anyone who’s beaten the shit out of Werner’s staple whitewater canoe paddle knows it’s tough. They also know it’s big. Fine for Jim Baird.
For wilderness travel I like softer wooden paddles and full-sized blades, but for solo boating and C1, I prefer lighter and stiffer composite shafts and blades with smaller surface area for less power and faster stroke rates. The new Werner Bandito is more than a long-awaited trimmed down Bandit. Werner borrowed from their standup paddles and integrated a LeverLock adjustable T-grip allowing the Bandito to range from a 54-inch paddle to a 62-inch paddle. Cool if you’re still growing, you paddle different boats with different seat heights, if you loan your paddle, or if you’re a paddling school or rental shop. It is also available in a $175 range of fixed lengths and a LeverLock three-piece travel version at $225.
$215 USD | www.wernerpaddles.com
3. Bending Branches Expedition Plus Paddle
Anybody who says nothing ever changes in canoeing has not been keeping tabs on Bending Branches over the last couple years. In 2015, a black willow shortage left the in-house team of paddlers and craftsmen to rethink many of their premium paddles, like the Expedition Plus. Bending Branches’ most durable canoe paddle now sees a new laminate of red alder, basswood and roasted basswood at the business end of a laminated basswood shaft. The most noticeable difference is the newly tapered bottom corners of the blade.
Even though the Expedition Plus has Bending Branches’ trademarked Rockguard edge protection all the way around the tip and six inches up the shaft, we all know the bottom corners take the brute of the abuse over time. So Bending Branches removed the problem altogether. And while they were at it, they narrowed the blade approaching the throat. What’s left is a shockingly light wilderness tripping canoe paddle, with a moderate blade size, capable of class I-III whitewater. So don’t think of the Expedition Plus as just a whitewater paddle, it’s light enough and smooth enough you won’t have to pack a lakewater blade for the flats.
$149.95 USD; $199.95 CAD | www.bendingbranches.com
4. Freefall Paddles Cutback Re-Paddle
I met Freefall Paddles owner Peter Reid at Germany’s PADDLEExpo. In one hand he had a Coolest Gear of the Year Award and in the other hand he held the most unique whitewater open canoe paddle I’d ever seen. So I ordered one for review, which wasn’t easy. Each one of his custom Cutback Re-Paddles is different, made from whatever hardwood he has available. In this one he used recycled rosewood and fallen Arabian acacia, which he says, “Has lots of knots and colors making it slightly heavier but a solid and beautiful paddle.”
I had to Google acacia. I got the full treatment including a crank shaft with carbon top section and a massive custom T-grip Reid pitched to me as, “I made this grip tonight from bits and bobs, its very unique and if you like it, I can fit it to your paddle.” Are you getting the idea? Then I had to confirm if I was a righty or a lefty because the unique blade is cut out on the inside, allowing the paddle to run closer to the boat. Even the epoxied tip is uniquely shaped. The Cutback Re-Paddles are one of a kind and custom made in Poland or Ireland.
$220-$250 USD | www.freefallpaddles.com