The 5 Best Kayak Paddles of 2023

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Searching for the best touring kayak paddle on the market? After researching the 50 most popular two-piece kayak paddles, we picked 14 of our favorites and spent over 100 hours rigorously testing them side by side. We toured for many miles with these paddles, analyzing their feel, performance, and quality of construction. We ventured across lakes, meandered through meadows, and endured high winds and waves. We pushed these paddles to their limits (and slightly beyond) to identify the pros and cons of each design. We got to know them exceptionally well and pass on our findings to help you select the best paddle for your next kayaking adventure.

Weight: 850 g | Construction: Carbon/fiberglass shaft, composite fiberglass blades

REASONS TO BUY

Adjustable length

Light-weight

Smooth performance

REASONS TO AVOID

Graphics

The Wilderness System Pungo Glass is a quality performance paddle with the added benefit of being exceptionally easy to adjust. Utilizing a carbon blend shaft and fiberglass blades, this paddle is lightweight and transfers a lot of power without being too stiff on the joints. The mid-sized dihedral blade suits various paddling styles and experience levels, making this paddle a popular choice among all our testers. The Pungo Glass was upstaged in pure paddling performance by only the most elite full-carbon models, which also retail for considerably higher prices.

The easy-to-use Lever Lock connection system offers the Pungo more adjustability than your average paddle and is one feature that helps this model stand out from the crowd. Users can choose the length of the shaft AND the feather of the blades, all with the easy flip of a lever. The Pungo is cost-effective, high quality, and serves a wide variety of kayaking needs.

The Werner Baja pleasantly surprised our testers, as we were not expecting such a well-designed paddle to be available at such an affordable price. Incorporating design aspects of Werner’s premium paddle models, the Baja contains more modest materials, including a fiberglass shaft and fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene blades. Unlike other blades constructed of similar materials we tested, the Baja is not prone to flex or flutter, resulting in an efficient paddle that is strong regardless of the conditions.

The fiberglass shaft is heavier than the carbon fiber option used in more expensive models; however, it still weighs less than most other paddles in this price bracket. The only indicator that this is a budget paddle is the snap button locking system used to connect the two pieces of this paddle. Although functional, this mechanism produces some play in the paddle shaft and is prone to jamming if not cleaned frequently. Robust, durable, and highly effective with some basic care, this paddle should keep you happy on the water for years to come.

Weight: 1050 g | Construction: Aluminum shaft, polypropylene blades

REASONS TO BUY

Affordable

Durable

REASONS TO AVOID

Heavy shaft

Play in the locking mechanism

We gave the Bending Branches Whisper accolades as an economical paddle that allowed aspiring kayakers to get out on the water regardless of their budget. The polypropylene paddle blades are durable and withstand significant use or abuse, even in rocky conditions. Despite the low price point, we still felt this paddle delivered a dependable performance and would be willing to lend it to our friends for their first outings in a kayak.

The aluminum shaft made the Whisper paddle much heavier than the top-performing paddles. However, compared to paddles of a similar price bracket, it falls in the lighter category. The flex in the plastic blades resulted in a less efficient transfer of power, which concerned the performance athletes in our testing group. Overall the design is nothing to write home about, but it is sufficient enough that you can use this paddle on your kayaking adventures. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts who want to get out on the water to explore but are not concerned about having a performance paddle will be grateful to have such an affordable option.

Weight: 634 g | Construction: Full carbon blades and shaft

REASONS TO BUY

Exceptional performance

Ultra light-weight

Buoyant blade construction

REASONS TO AVOID

Expensive

The Werner Kalliste took the lead for its exceptional performance, airy feel, and all-around high scores across all our testing metrics. The paddle boasts an ultra-lightweight full carbon construction coupled with a buoyant blade design. With this winning combination, it feels effortless to execute powerful, smooth paddle strokes, even after many miles of touring. The lightweight and efficient design will save you energy and keep you out on the water longer.

This paddle is worth treating well. The carbon construction is durable, but not immune to the impact of blunt force trauma. Used as intended, this can be the last paddle you ever purchase. It may cost almost half as much as your kayak, but if you take care of it, you will find the price justifiable. Beginners and experts alike will see an immediate difference in their kayaking style and enjoyment when using the Kalliste. The paddle is exquisitely balanced, encouraging a naturally smooth and powerful cadence in every stroke. The Kalliste is the paddle that makes you fall in love with kayaking all over again.

Weight: 1190 g | Construction: Fiberglass shaft, fiberglass/polypropylene blades

REASONS TO BUY

Durable shaft and blade construction

Affordable

REASONS TO AVOID

Heavy

Play in the locking mechanism

The Carlisle Magic Plus is a reliable performer, even in rough conditions or clumsy hands. The fiberglass shaft and fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene blades deliver a sturdy paddle stroke and, unlike other value models, the blades do not flex under pressure. The wrapped paddle shaft has a coarse texture, providing a secure grip that most testers appreciated, particularly if we had sunscreen on our hands. The fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene blades were some of the most durable we tested. We feel comfortable throwing this paddle in the back of a truck with our other gear without worrying about damaging the shaft or blades.

After using the paddle multiple times, we noticed that the two pieces became challenging to dismantle or adjust. The snap button adjustment point is often jammed and sensitive to any grit or sand. We noticed this issue on all the paddles with a similar snap-button locking system. Although this would not prevent us from using the Magic Plus, it is something to consider if you expect to dismantle it regularly for travel. Overall, this paddle provided a solid performance for almost half the price of our top contenders. It’s heavy, but if you are not concerned about additional weight and are looking for a reliable and affordable paddle, the Carlisle Magic Plus is the one for you.

The nylon plastic blades on this paddle stood out for their ability to perform and also withstand a beating, this is a paddle that you will lend your clumsy friends.

Credit: Sara James

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The Aqua-Bound Sting Ray FG paddle is a reliable option for your water-based adventure.

Credit: Sara James

Why You Should Trust Us

We research the most promising kayak touring paddles each year and purchase the best to put them to the test. Since 2018 we have tested 14 different kayak paddles and categorized our testing data and observations into five different performance metrics, making an effort to quantify metrics when feasible in order to be as consistent and objective as possible. For example, we tested locking mechanism security by handing paddles to blindfolded paddlers and allowing them to handle and use them without touching the center of the shaft; the paddles that felt like one piece scored higher.

Performance (40% of overall score weighting)
Ease of adjustment (20% weighting)
Locking Mechanism Security (15% weighting)
Weight (15% weighting)

Construction Quality (10% weighting)

Multi-discipline paddler, coach, and educator Sara James authored this review. She is a well-rounded adventurer with a 15+ year background in paddle sports, including touring kayaking, Class V whitewater kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and squirt boating. Sara has covered thousands of miles in different kayaks worldwide, including guiding and safety kayaking on river trips in France, Nepal, California, and the Zambezi, Zambia. Her other passion is education, and on top of working as a high school teacher, she is an instructor for California Watersports Collective. Having watched hundreds of kayakers learn to paddle, she is confident she has an eye for what works. She supplements her expertise with feedback from her adult and youth students as well as elite kayaking professionals. Sara also tests the best kayak, best PFDs, best life jackets, and best dry bags for GearLab.

Many testers noticed the slightly play in the shaft, however it was not enough to impact their enjoyment on the water.

Even if you come home empty-handed, a morning on the water with the Kalliste will always be enjoyable.

Analysis and Test Results

To formulate a well-rounded view of each product, we tested the paddles with different types of kayakers, ranging from novices to professionals. We also used the paddles in various conditions, including glassy, flat water touring sessions and multi-day trips with windy, choppy waves. We used these paddles for hours on end to get a crystal-clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of each paddle for different types of users and demands.

An Essential Note on Safety — US Coast Guard regulations require children under the age of 13 to wear a PFD. Depending on where you are kayaking, local agencies may have additional rules. Please check before planning to hit the water. Common sense dictates that adults (and their dogs) should also wear a PFD on any open body of water, even if they are strong swimmers. Conditions can change quickly, and the effects of cold water immersion can be rapid. For those looking to save money, consider purchasing a cheaper paddle or kayak rather than buying a used PFD or reusing the one you found in your grandma’s garage. PFDs deteriorate with time, sun, and pressure. Don’t compromise on this critical piece of safety equipment.

There are a variety of different PFDs available to suit all needs and sizes. Do not skimp on this essential pieces of equipment.

Credit: Sara James

Value

In our gear reviews, one of the metrics that we consider and compare, but don’t quantitatively score for is the product’s overall value. We are always trying to find the best paddle products possible; however, we recognize that this won’t work for everyone’s budget, as sometimes the best products are also the most expensive.

The Wilderness System Pungo Glass includes high-end materials, including durable fiberglass composite blades and a carbon-blend shaft, resulting in an excellent product, but a decent price tag. The Performance award winner, the Werner Kalliste, is even more taxing on the budget but engineered with the highest quality design and materials. In exchange, it delivers unrivaled performance and an exceptional feel. There are several options available if you need an option that will get you out on the water without making that big of a dent in your wallet. The Werner Baja stands out for its outstanding value coupled with a solid performance across all metrics. Chasing close behind the Carlisle Magic Plus, Bending Branches Whisper and Badfish Custom offer competitive value.

The aluminum shaft and fiberglass reinforced blades on the Badfish Custom kayak paddle keep it affordable yet stylish.

Credit: Sara James

Performance

We based 40% of each paddle’s score on performance, making it our most heavily weighted testing metric. If you are a beginner kayaker or use your kayak as a means to enjoy another hobby, such as birdwatching or fishing, this metric may not be as relevant to you, as weight or ease of adjustment. However, as you spend more time in your kayak, you will quickly feel the difference between a high-performance paddle and a budget option.

Get Lessons — During our testing, ongoing research, and collective experience on the water, one thing we consistently observe is recreational kayakers holding their paddles incorrectly. If you hold your paddle upside down or back to front, you will not get the best performance out of any kayak paddle. You could pay an extra hundred dollars to have a lighter, higher-performance paddle, but it won’t make a difference if you don’t use it correctly. Youtube videos can show you how to hold your paddle correctly, but a kayak lesson will pay dividends to your technique and efficiency on the water.

We evaluated the paddles’ performance in four key areas — the catch (the blade’s ability to slice into the water and grab a wedge of water), the power (the pull of the blade in the water), the flutter of the blade (how much it moved laterally during the pull), and the feel of the shaft (including how it feels to grip and if there is any flex under pressure). We switched from one paddle to another, ran timed sprint laps, and launched off gravel bars using the paddle to push ourselves, all to test the blades’ flex, power transfer, and how it succumbed to wear and tear.

The Sting Ray was light, durable and had a great feel when paddling.

Credit: Sara James

The design of the dihedral blades and high-end materials used in the Werner Kalliste, the Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon, and the Werner Camano enabled these paddles to perform exceptionally well in our tests. The Kalliste stood out for its ultralight carbon construction and buoyant blade design. None of these blades flexed under pressure, providing an efficient power transfer for the paddler. In addition, their materials provide the paddler with extra assistance to help them float across the water. Other paddles tested in this review (such as the WhisperSea Extreme and Pelican Poseidon) have basic plastic blades, which, although durable, flex under pressure and deliver a less efficient power stroke.

The Werner Baja’s fiberglass shaft delivers an efficient transfer of power for when you want to get moving on the water.

Credit: Sara James

Although flex in the paddle blade does not equate with higher performance, a slight flex in the shaft delivers a more comfortable stroke and improved efficiency. Therefore, we prefer paddles with a carbon or fiberglass shaft over those with a more rigid aluminum shaft.

The fiberglass shaft used on the Carlisle Magic Plus ensures it delivers superior performance to other paddles that use a heavier and more rigid aluminum shaft.

Credit: Sara James

Ease of Adjustment

All the paddles we purchased offer the opportunity to adjust the feather of the paddle blades to suit a left-handed, right-handed, or neutral paddler. Some paddles offer a greater degree of options for the more discerning paddler. The Wilderness System Pungo and Apex FG take this to another dimension with its additional feature that allows paddlers also to alter the paddle length. The Perception Outlaw stood out in this metric due to its unique ability to be converted to a SUP paddle. When considering how easy each paddle is to adjust, we also factor in how easy it is to dismantle it, experimenting with cold hands and under pressure (in choppy, white cap conditions when we really did not want to capsize).

Offering the option to adjust the feather of the blades and the length of the paddle, Wilderness Systems provides the ultimate adjustment system. The LeverLock employs a simple lever-lock mechanism that is adequately sized and easy for paddlers to use even when their dexterity is challenged. This system enables the paddler to release a plunger washer that keeps the paddle pieces locked tight together when tightened. The result is a paddle performance that feels uncompromised and exceptionally secure.

The Wilderness Systems Pungo Lever Lock system allows you to easily adjust the length of the paddle.

Credit: Sara James

The Werner Skagit FG and the Camano use a Smart-view adjustment system for their paddle connection. This is easier to adjust than the snap button systems, especially under pressure or with cold hands. In addition, the clear marking system makes it easy to identify the correct feather and right or left-handedness of the paddle. This feature is useful if you intend to share the paddle with other kayakers with different blade angle preferences or expect to change the feather angle during paddling sessions.

The male connection point of the Werner shaft is prone to drying out and can become stiff to adjust if not maintained properly.

Credit: Sara James

At first glance, the conventional snap button system (also called a push button) is obvious and easy to use. However, testers repeatedly found that this system is quick to jam after repeated use in sandy conditions and becomes difficult to adjust without help. In cold conditions, when we start to lose coordination and strength in our fingers, the snap button systems can be exceptionally difficult to use.

The snap button systems are more difficult to adjust, especially with cold hands.

Credit: Sara James

Aqua-Bound offers some of their touring paddles with the Snap Button option, or, for a little extra, you can get the significantly superior Posi-Lok system, which is considerably more secure and easy to operate. Based on our testing experience, we think it is easily justifiable to spend the extra ten dollars when this option is available.

A well designed and well-maintained paddle should be simple to adjust.

Credit: Sara James

Locking Mechanism Security

Although having a two-piece paddle has benefits for transportation purposes, it does result in a weak point in the shaft. Depending on the locking mechanism and how secure it feels, this may or may not impact the paddle’s performance.

The easiest adjustment systems to use also feel the most secure to paddle with. Good design can make a product user-friendly and improve performance. The security of each paddle’s locking mechanism accounted for 20% of its score.

The joining mechanisms in the Perception Outlaw, Aqua-Bound Sting Ray and Manta Ray as well as the Wilderness System Apex and Pungo provided the most secure feel of all the paddles tested. Under blind testing, paddlers identified these all as one-piece paddles. No one noticed any rotational or horizontal give.

The Posi Lok’s teeth helped to secure the two pieces of the paddle together and prevented instability or wobble in the paddle’s shaft.

Credit: Sara James

The Werner Kalliste, Skagit, and Camano also performed adequately well in this metric. Their Smart View internal locking mechanism provides a secure feel, resulting in no rotational movement in the paddle while kayaking. We did notice that out of the water, a horizontal pull resulted in some give, but we hardly felt this when using the paddle in the water.

The Perception Outlaw employs a reliable and easy-to-use system so that you can adjust your paddle length or feather quicky and even with cold hands.

Credit: Sara James

For its price point, the Perception Outlaw deserves mention, outperforming many more expensive paddles in this metric. Other paddles for a similar price point typically use a snap button system which allows the most give when paddling. After extensive use, these paddles tended to become even less secure over time, resulting in a less efficient paddle stroke and an overall less enjoyable paddling experience.

You can also change the Perception Outlaw from a Kayak paddle to a SUP paddle making it one of our more adjustable paddles.

Credit: Sara James

Weight

At first, kayakers may not notice the impact of the weight differences between paddles. However, once you are a mile into your journey, your arms will notice the extra weight. A lighter paddle also helps paddlers to maintain their form as they fatigue less quickly. This further enhances their overall performance as paddlers and can maximize the efficiency of each of their strokes.

Those looking to enjoy extended journeys in their kayak will want to consider the lightweight Kalliste, Pungo, Apex ], or Camano, with the Kalliste standing out in this field. These paddles are significantly lighter than other kayak paddles in this review fleet but are also more expensive. Heavier paddles tend to be more affordable, making them better choices for short, casual kayak tours.

The lightness of the Werner Kalliste makes it a joy for all to use, even beginners could appreciate the weight difference of these high-performance paddles.

Credit: Sara James

The Aquabound Sting Ray Carbon offered the best weight-to-value ratio and was considerably lighter than other paddles in a similar price bracket.

A heavier paddle like the Bending Branches Whisperer is not too much of an issue if you are just planning a leisurely float.

Credit: Sara James

Quality of construction

We noted wear and tear to each paddle during testing to get a sense of its durability over time. In particular, we focused on the construction quality of the blades and the joints. Your paddle is of no use to you if you can’t put it together or if the blades fall off the shaft.

The Carlisle Magic Plus is a top performer when it comes to quality of construction. The fiberglass-reinforced blades will handle anything you throw them and are not prone to dings, scratches, or dents like some paddles made of more fragile materials.

The Carlisle Magic Plus stood out for his winning combination of performance, quality construction and value.

Credit: Sara James

The Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon was also a top performer in this metric. The polished finish of the Posi-Lok’s internal shaft meant that it is not prone to collecting sand or grit. It was consistently easy to use. The abX Carbon Reinforced Nylon blades withstood use in rocky and sandy conditions with no evidence of wear on the blades. Running close behind for quality of construction, although we didn’t like the blade design of the Perception Outlaw, we felt it had a robust construction, particularly given its price points.

Somehow this joint just never seem to clog, unlike all the other designs tested.

Credit: Sara James

The fiberglass-infused nylon and polypropylene blades fared well in the gravel tests, showing how these materials can withstand quite a battering. Despite this durability, the snap button system in the paddles’ shaft lowered their overall quality of construction scores, as they are prone to jamming. Luckily, a frequent rinse and monthly application of silicone lubricant should help you extend the life of this component. Additionally, proper storage and transport will extend the life of all paddles considerably. Those that invest a couple of hundred dollars in a paddle may also consider obtaining a travel bag.

A frequent rinse, especially of the internal join, will keep your paddle in working order.

Credit: Sara James

Although the smart view system used in the Skagit and Camano was not immune to jamming with sand or grit, we found that it withstood these conditions better than the snap button system and was easier to use with cold hands.

We tested a variety of paddles side by side to find out which is best for you.

Credit: Sara James

Conclusion

We relished the opportunity to put these paddles to the test in a wide variety of conditions. Using this range of quality paddles side by side is a stark reminder of how a good paddle can make a big difference in your kayaking experience. Despite testers having different paddling backgrounds and experience levels, we unanimously agreed on all our award winners in this paddle review. If you want to hit the water in your recreational touring kayak, our write-up will help you select the very best paddle to suit your needs.

We’ve been back in the ring testing this year’s top water…

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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

You are viewing this post: The 5 Best Kayak Paddles of 2023. Information curated and compiled by Kayaknv.com along with other related topics.

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