The Perfect Paddle Size

At summer camp, sizing a paddle was as easy as grabbing one that stood at my toes and touched my nose. As adults with greater attention spans and finer attention to details, most of us now seek a more precise fit that combines hand position, the distance from the lower hand to the water and blade length.

Most people begin their quest using the bent arm technique: holding the paddle on your head with your arms at 90-degree angles. A better method is to go paddling and mark your most comfortable and com­mon lower hand position.

Your position in the boat, and the boat itself, changes the desired pad­dle length. For example, if you paddle with the boat heeled way over and your lower hand at water level; your hand will be at the top of the blade, or throat, of the paddle. In this case, the ideal paddle length is simply your bent arm length added to whatever blade size you prefer.

However, trippers generally prefer to paddle with their lower hands dropping just below the gunwale. Furthermore, whitewater paddlers ac­tually keep their lower hands above the gunwale. Not to mention that kneeling versus sitting, two weeks worth of gear, bow or stern positions and sitting low in a performance touring canoe all change the distance from your lower hand to the waterline.

The most precise sizing method I’ve found gets you in your canoe on the water with a broomstick. You pretend to paddle as you normally would. The part of the stick that remains dry is your ideal shaft length in this canoe. This method accounts for your hand position, seat height, depth of the canoe and paddling style, requiring only the addition of your preferred blade length.

I have different length paddles for whitewater C1, slalom, classic solo paddling and tripping. The only thing that remains pretty much the same is my hand position. In each case it took trial and error to figure out what works best for me.

This article originally appeared in Canoeroots & Family Camping, Spring 2011. Download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read it here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here