Kayaking is an easy and fun water activity that people of different fitness levels can enjoy and appreciate. Like a lot of physical activities, it also has numerous health benefits.

To be able to go kayaking, you will need a kayak and a paddle. Kayaks and kayak oars come in various sizes. Choosing a paddle usually depends on the kayak and kayaker. Using the right kayak and paddle size can significantly affect the ease of which you can do this activity, as well as help you fully enjoy it.

How to Get the Right Kayaking Paddle Size

Having the right type and the right size of a kayak is crucial to make your kayaking experience a pleasant one. The same goes for kayak paddles. There are two primary factors in choosing the right kayak paddle – the size of the kayak and the paddler height.

The kayak width’s measurement is usually in inches and the paddle length is usually in centimeters. Aside from these two things, there are also other factors you need to consider before you buy a kayak paddle.

1.      Kayaker or Paddler Height

The primary thing to consider in kayak paddle sizing is your height. The taller the paddler is, the longer the kayak is required. If you are in-between sizes, it might be better to get a shorter one. The lighter and shorter paddle will make your paddling strokes easier. But if you have a smaller torso, you may want to get a longer paddle for added reach.

Also, longer paddle sizes are better when kayaking on running rivers and creeks. However, when playboating or freestyle kayaking on whitewater, paddlers often use shorter paddle sizes. When using a whitewater kayak, you may use the following paddle size guide to choose the suitable size for you:

Paddler height is below 5’2”

188 – 194 cm paddle length

Paddler height is between 5’2” and 5’7”

190 – 196 cm paddle length

Paddler height is between 5’8” and 6’1”

192 – 200 cm paddle length

Paddler height is above 6’1”

196 – 204 cm paddle length

2.      Width of the Kayak

Another primary consideration in choosing the right paddle size is the width of your boat. The wider your kayak, the longer paddle you will need. If you are not sure of the right sizing of the kayak, you can measure it at its widest point. For reference, below are the typical sizes of various kayaks:

Recreational Kayaks

These boats are 6 to 12 feet long with a width ranging from 26 to 30 inches.

Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks are typically 12 to 15 feet long, with a width of 22 to 25 inches.

Performance Kayaks

These kayaks are a little bit longer than other kayaks at 15-18 feet and with a width size of 19 to 22 inches.

Whitewater Kayaks

Kayaks for whitewater use are usually seven to 11 feet long. When choosing a whitewater paddle size, the width of the kayak isn’t as significant as to the height of the kayaker.

Although manufacturers may produce paddles slightly different than others, the above two factors are the usual primary considerations. If you’re going to buy kayak paddles based on these things alone, you may use the table below as sizing guide:

Kayak Width
Under 23 inches23 to 28 inches29 to 32 inchesOver 32 inches
Paddler HeightRecommended Kayak Paddle Length
Under 5′ tall210 cm220 cm230 cm240 cm
5′ to 5’5″ tall215 cm220 cm230 cm240 cm
5’6″ to 6′ tall220 cm230 cm240 cm250 cm
Over 6′ tall220 cm230 cm250 cm260 cm

Other Things to Consider in Choosing Kayak Paddle Sizing

The other factors to consider when choosing a paddle size will depend on your paddling lifestyle, paddle materials, and designs.

1.      Height of Kayak Seat

Some sit-on-top kayaks have high seats while fishing kayaks can come with both high and low seating positions. If you are using a kayak with a high seating position, you can add another ten centimeters to the size of your paddle. The additional paddle measurement will compensate for the increased distance between your body and the water.

2.      Paddle Strokes

Paddle sizes will also differ according to the two styles of paddling strokes.


Low angle paddling is the most common style of paddling stroke for touring and recreational kayaking. Paddlers have a slightly tilted shaft wherein the hands stay below the shoulders. The strokes are more relaxed and not overpowering; thus, they will not tire the paddlers quickly. A long paddle with thin blades is ideal for low-angle paddling.


High-angle paddling is necessary for more demanding conditions like on rough waters that require more powerful strokes.  In this condition, the paddlers need to keep the shaft perpendicular to the ocean or river. This kind of high-angle paddling necessitates shorter paddle with wide blades.

Here is a simple tip if the manufacturer does not specify whether a paddle is for low- or high-angle paddling stroke. Commonly, the charts given by manufacturers are for low-angle paddling. Therefore, you may subtract 10 centimeters if you need a paddle for high-angle strokes.

No matter what paddles are available, it is best to first try out a few paddle sizes to make sure that you are comfortable with the kayak paddle before you spend money on it. Take advantage of on-water demonstrations held by some retailers to be able to try different types and sizes of paddles.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.      What happens when you use too long of a paddle for kayaking?

Using a kayak paddle that you can hold comfortably will help you avoid getting tired quickly. If you have a paddle that is too long or too short, you’ll most likely exert more effort to keep your kayak stable. Using the wrong length of a paddle can cause painful blisters to develop on your hands. Blisters are one of your worst enemies if you plan to have an extended kayaking activity.

Below are the problems you may encounter if you are using the wrong paddle size:

  • Your hands and knuckles can hit the sides of the kayak.
  • The paddle blades may not reach the water and you will need to lean over.
  • The paddles can be much heavier.
  • You can have less control which can make your kayak zigzagging on the water.

2.      What paddle size do I need for a ten-foot kayak?

Typical kayak dimensions will show that whitewater kayaks measure less than ten feet in length. Therefore, ten-foot kayaks will typically be recreational, touring, or fishing kayaks, which can range from nine to 20 feet. However, different types of kayaks come in various lengths and widths, so it is also necessary to know the exact width of a kayak to know what paddle size you need. Make sure to determine the exact width of a kayak for you to get the perfect paddle size.

3.      Do kayak paddles make a difference?

After the kayak, the paddle is the next most crucial equipment you need on the water. It has a significant effect on your performance and control of the kayak. Different types of water will require varying kinds of paddles to ensure that your kayak will stay on track.

Lakes and rivers

When kayaking for long hours on lakes and rivers with slow current, a touring paddle will be perfect. It is ideal for exploring, camping, river-tripping, and river-running. A paddle with carbon or fiberglass shaft is better than aluminum since it is lightweight and warmer. For short water trips, exercise, or pure water exploration near the shore, you can use a recreational paddle. It is heavier but very durable and affordable.


Whitewater paddles are durable, efficient, and ideal for more challenging currents. These paddles are made of carbon or fiberglass to provide strength and last longer, even in rugged conditions.

Blade Material

The blade material of your paddle influences your paddling stroke. A plastic or nylon blade is affordable but quickly degrades when exposed to the sun. Carbon blades are ultra-durable, lightweight, and gives the best performance, but are expensive. Fiberglass blades are in the mid-price range, more lightweight than plastic, and are also efficient for kayak paddling.

Shaft Design

o   Straight or Bent

Straight shafts are the most popular ones among kayakers, especially for newbies. A bent shaft gives your hand a more comfortable position giving them less strain and discomfort. However, the bent-shaft paddles are quite expensive.

o   Diameter

Kayak paddles have either standard or small-diameter shafts. Most kayakers prefer the standard ones. However, for those with tiny hands, they can get paddles with small diameter shafts.

o   Two-Piece or Four-Piece

The standard paddles can be broken down into two pieces. The four-piece paddles are ideal if you are traveling or hiking for easier storage. You may also want to consider getting paddles with adjustable length. Adjustable paddles can be used by kayakers who have varying heights. It is advisable if you have different types and width-size of kayaks or if your kayak has adjustable seats, too.

The two most important items when you go kayaking are the kayak and the paddle you will use. The kayak paddle has a significant impact on how you and your kayak will perform on the water. You will be doing a lot of paddling strokes when you go kayaking. Therefore, using the appropriate paddle can make a big difference in your performance and experience on the water.