What size kayak paddle you need is almost an afterthought to most beginning paddlers. But the right size kayak paddle will make all the difference when you’re out on the water paddling.
What size kayak paddle do I need? In general, a 230 cm kayak paddle is perfect for average size and height kayakers. It’s a great size for paddlers that use a low-angle, relaxed and smooth style of paddling. For a more aggressive, high-angle of attack style of paddling a 220 cm or 210 cm kayak paddle with stiffer blades is better for the average paddler.
That being said, the size paddle you need is a bit subjective. But it’s still important to get it right, because if your paddle’s too long you’ll add extra work for your shoulders and torso. Too short, and you’ll scrape the sides of your kayak with each stroke.
Of course, the specific size kayak paddle you need depends mostly on your torso height and the width of your kayak. So, by the end of this article we’ll show you all you need to find exactly which size kayak paddle is right for you.
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What Size Kayak Paddle Do I Need in Inches?
First things first.
Regardless of country or whether you use the Imperial or Metric measurement system, kayak paddles are measured in cm not inches. Enter any store in the US, UK, Canada… Doesn’t matter, you’ll be speaking kayak paddle size in terms of centimeters—cm.
So, for all my Imperial system holdouts, here’s a quick kayak paddle sizing chart to help you visualize kayak paddles in inches.
Paddle Lengths Converted to Inches:
- 250 cm kayak paddle – 98.4″
- 240 cm kayak paddle – 94.5″
- 230 cm kayak paddle – 90.5″
- 220 cm kayak paddle – 86.6″
- 210 cm kayak paddle – 82.7″
- 200 cm kayak paddle – 78.7″
- 190 cm kayak paddle – 74.8″
- 180 cm kayak paddle – 70.9″
You’ll notice that as kayak paddles go up or down in increments of 10cm, you’ll lose or gain about 2″ on each end of your kayak paddle. This might not seem like a big difference, but multiply a kayak paddle that’s miss-sized only a couple of inches by thousands of strokes on an extended kayaking tour…
The inefficiencies will accumulate over time and wear you out much quicker.
How to Size a Kayak Paddle … Fast
There are a couple of quick and dirty ways to size a kayak paddle. They’re pretty accurate and perfect if you’re short on time. Use them both if you don’t know the actual size of a kayak paddle you happen to have on hand or one that someone’s letting you borrow.
Quick Kayak Paddle Sizing
- Hold your arms out in front of you with your elbows bent about 90 degrees in a normal paddling position. Grab the paddle with both hands. Your hands should be about 2/3 the way from the center of the paddle to the shoulder of the kayak paddle blade (where the paddle blade meets the shaft).
- Stand the paddle up next to you. Fully extend your arm up in the air and wrap the first joint of your fingers over the tip of the paddle blade. You shouldn’t be able to wrap more than one finger joint, nor should you be unable to wrap the first finger joint. If you can do either, get a longer or shorter paddle.
NOTE: In the example image above, even though the 2 quick methods suggested my 5’0″ daughter needed a 190-200 cm length paddle, her kayak is 29″ wide, she paddles low angle, and we all share paddles, so she uses a longer paddle. (We may have to fix that…)
Paddling Style and Paddle Sizing
There are two distinct kayak paddling styles:
- Low Angle – Low angle paddling strokes are done with the paddle only slightly tilted in relation to the surface of the water. The average height, low angle recreational paddler needs a 230 cm kayak paddle.
- High Angle – High angle paddling strokes are done with the paddle tilted more toward vertical in relation to the surface of the water. The average height, high angle recreational paddler needs a 210 cm to 220 cm kayak paddle.
Low Angle = Longer Paddle
Low angle paddling is generally more relaxed and slower cadence paddling. This is a very common style of paddling for most recreational and touring kayaking you’ll do. It’s fun, forgiving on your shoulders, and reduces fatigue on those long touring paddle trips.
The downside to this style of paddling is that unless you have the correct length kayak paddle you can end up scraping along the side of your kayak with each stroke. And you could create a zig-zagging effect in your kayak’s tracking as you paddle. That’s why a little bit longer size kayak paddle is better for a lower angle paddling style.
High Angle = Shorter Paddle
High angle paddling is a more aggressive and faster paced style of paddling. High angle paddling is generally used to move your kayak quickly and aggressively.
Use a shorter size kayak paddle if you like to paddle hard and use a fast-paced cadence. It will be easier on your shoulders and will reduce zig-zagging.
Kayak Paddle Sizing Guides
Let’s begin with a low-angle kayak paddle size guide to give you a starting point. We’ll refine what specific size kayak paddle you need as we go, but in general the length kayak paddle you need is determined by two measurements. And those are:
- Kayak Width – The wider your kayak the longer size kayak paddle you’ll need
- Your Height – The taller you are the longer size kayak paddle you’ll need
LOW ANGLE Kayak Paddle Size Guide
Use this paddle size guide if you have a recreational, touring, or fishing kayak and you use a low-angle paddling style.
|24″ to 28″
|29″ to 33″
|5’0″ or less
|5′ – 5’6″
|5’6″ – 6′
|6′ or more
HIGH ANGLE Kayak Paddle Size Guide
Use this paddle size guide if you have a touring or sea kayak and you use a high-angle paddling style.
|17″ to 23″
|23″ to 25″
|5’0″ or less
|5’0″ – 5’6″
|5’6″ – 6’2″
WHITEWATER Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide
What size whitewater kayak paddle do I need? Use this paddle size guide if you have a recreational, touring, or fishing kayak and you use a low-angle paddling style.
|188cm – 194cm
|5’2″ – 5’8″
|190cm – 196cm
|5’8″ – 6’1″
|192cm – 200cm
|196cm – 204cm
Torso Height Kayak Paddle Sizing Guide
Overall height is a pretty accurate, though general, way to help determine the correct kayak paddle size that you need. But everyone’s body is designed a little differently—one person’s height may be mostly in their legs and another person’s “height” may be mostly in their torso.
For kayak paddle size, the torso height is actually more accurate predictor than overall height.
Your torso is measured from a sitting position and it’s the distance from between your legs at the crotch to the tip of your nose. And torso height’s important because it’s the measurement that actually determines how high your arms are above the sides of your kayak.
|210cm – 215cm
|215cm – 220cm
|220cm – 230CM
Kayak Paddle Sizing Example
Use each of the above guides to figure out what size kayak paddle you need. Measure your height, your kayak’s width, and your torso height. Then refer to each sizing guide and find the common kayak paddle size for your particular measurements.
For instance, I’m 5’9″, have a 29″ wide kayak, and a 30″ torso height and I paddle recreationally at a low angle. The common number for all of those measurements suggests that a 230 cm kayak paddle is the right size for me. Which, not coincidentally, is exactly what I paddle with.
And it also coincides with that same 230 cm “average” kayak paddle size we mentioned at the very beginning of this article.
Hands on Kayak Paddle Sizing
As with figuring out all the other important kayak measurements—length, width, volume—sizing a kayak paddle is best done by simply getting inside your kayak and trying out a few different sized paddles.
Most good kayak shops will either know what size kayak paddle you need right away, or be able to put you in a kayak and let you try out a couple different paddle sizes to see which one feels the best.
The other reason to go get a demo at a dedicated kayak shop is that they’ll be able to see if you have any bad paddling habits. No sense getting the right size kayak paddle for a very “wrong” kayak paddle stroke.
Kayak Paddle Size Summary
One thing I forgot to mention is that many entry-level, beginner kayak brands come as a kit with a kayak paddle included. These are usually pretty decent paddles that get the job done, and many times they’re adjustable. But very quickly you’ll realize their limitations and want to get a paddle sized right for you.