Correct Paddle Length for a Kayak

Canoeing and kayaking is something I’ve enjoyed many times, and in most cases, I’ve just been handed a paddle of whatever length was available. However, if I’m going to spend my own money, I thought I’d best find out how to get the correct paddle length for a kayak.

It turns out this isn’t the simple answer I thought it would. I assumed it would be a ratio of your height, and although that is a factor, there is more to it than that. We need to consider your body shape, your kayak’s design, and your preferred paddling method. Hopefully, this brief article will help you choose your perfect kayak paddle.

Getting the Right Kayak Paddle Length

To find the correct kayak paddle length, we need to consider several factors, some of which are more important than others.

Body Shape

Body shape is by far the most critical factor in determining the correct kayak paddle length. We say body shape, as many assume it is only your height that counts. However, next time you are out paddling with some friends, take a look at the different body shapes, particularly the ratio between torso and leg length.

You will quickly notice that although two people may be the same height, their torso and leg lengths can differ markedly. 

Someone with a short torso will sit lower in the kayak, may have shorter arms and a different overall torso shape.

Measure your Torso Length

Sit on a flat-seated chair, make sure you sit upright, not slouched, and measure the distance from between your legs to the tip of your nose. This gives you your torso length. Simply put, the longer your torso, the further you are sitting from the water, and the longer the paddle that is required.

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Torso HeightPaddle Length
22 inches180 cm
24 Inches180 – 200cm
26 Inches190 – 200cm
28 Inches200 – 220cm
30 Inches210 – 230cm
32 Inches220 – 240cm
34 Inches230 – 250cm
36 Inches240 – 250cm

Kayak Width

Taking into account the kayak width may be obvious, but it’s often overlooked. The wider the kayak, the further you need to reach to get good contact between the paddle and the water, and therefore a longer paddle is required.

Kayak Width and Torso Combination

Hopefully, you can now visualize how these two measurements will determine the ideal kayak paddle length? But there is another factor to add, which is more to do with style.

Stroke Preference

There are two basic stroke preferences, high angle and low angle, and depending on your preference, it will influence your paddle length. A high-angle style keeps the shaft vertical and is used by racers and whitewater rafting. Low-angle strokes are used by recreational paddlers or for longer trips. The shaft is held more parallel to the surface of the water.

High-angle paddlers will prefer a shorter shaft, while low-angle paddlers will prefer a longer shaft.

On the water test

While measuring your torso and kayak width is all good in theory, getting out on the water and trying different paddle sizes will give you a more direct comparison. In addition, an on-water test will allow you to use the paddle in the high or low-angle stroke type you naturally prefer without having to guess.

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Conclusion

Getting the correct kayak paddle length is a balance of several factors and is different even for people of the same height. Trying paddles on the water is the best method if you can arrange it, but the theory will get you quite close to the correct length.

This article was last updated on May 10, 2021 .

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