Canoe Paddle Sizing and How to Choose the Right Paddle [Complete Guide]

Buying your own canoe is a great investment in a sport that is so fun. But having one is only the first step. Your canoe paddle sizing is very important, and this complete guide will teach you how to choose the right one.

Finding a good paddle is just as important as getting the right canoe, and making sure that the paddle fits you is crucial to how you will enjoy your canoe adventures.

When you buy a paddle, you are going to be using it for years to come. It is important that you buy a paddle that fits you and your canoeing style.

There are many differing ways when it comes to how to size a canoe paddle. If you take into account all my suggestions when choosing your paddle, you will have a better experience because of it.

When the paddle is not the right size, your paddling will not get full power, your body will suffer, as the right sizing helps your posture and your stroke style.

You don’t want to pull a muscle or injure yourself for not taking the time to size your canoe paddle. I’ll start you off explaining how to size a canoe paddle.

How do you size a canoe paddle?

Follow these three scenarios below to find out how to size a canoe paddle. This is where you want to start when you need to figure out what size of paddle you need to buy.

Scenario One: You have a canoe, are on the water, and are trying to figure out what length of paddle to buy.

Take a measuring tape, or some other means of measuring distance, and measure the length from your nose to the waterline.

This measurement is the length that the shaft of the paddle should be. Not the overall length, just from the grip to the throat of the paddle; where the blade meets the shaft.

Add the length of the blade to the shaft measurement, and you have your overall paddle length. Simple, right?

Scenario Two: You are in a store with paddles, but there is no canoe or water.

All you have to do is kneel with your bum about six inches off the ground (like you were sitting in your canoe), and hold the paddle upside down, with the handle touching the floor.

The throat of the paddle (where the blade and shaft meet) should be between your nose and chin. Have a friend look for you if you have a hard time telling where the throat of the paddle lines up on your face.

Scenario Three: You are at home, and don’t have any paddles, canoe, or anything else.

This is still doable with a bit of help. Kneel, again with your bum about six inches off the ground, and measure from the ground to your nose. That would be the shaft.

Add the length of the blade (the part that goes in the water) to your measurement, and you will know what size of paddle to order.

Clearly, this third situation has the most room for error, and if you can, it would be better to get to a store where you can size a paddle in person, even if you end up buying one online.

Would be best to take them for a spin, but not that easy as it sounds. You can check our suggestions of best canoe paddles here, maybe you get lucky and find the right one for you.

Every person has a unique shape, and everyone has different needs and preferences when it comes to paddling.

Until you get a paddle in your hands and are out on the water, you are not going to know for sure whether or not it is the paddle for you.

Canoe Paddle on water

Every paddle is going to be a little bit different, and because we all use slightly different motions when we stroke, it is almost impossible to know if a paddle is right for you just by looking at some numbers or handling it in a store.

But this is not always possible, so your best bet is to follow one of my three scenarios.

Choosing the Right Paddle

You know what length your paddle should be, but when it comes to shopping for paddles, you should know that paddles are not made in every size.

More so, every manufacturer has their own ideas about what size of paddles to make, and what increments they are sized in.

If your ideal paddle length is not made by a certain manufacturer or the kind of paddle you want to buy is not made for you, you are going to have to compromise.

Or you can make it yourself, if you’re good with wood work and follow these steps on my previous article about DIY canoe paddle.

In most cases, you are going to want to buy a paddle that is the next larger size to your ideal length.

If your paddle is too short you are going to be struggling with every stroke, and you are going to get sore and possibly strain a muscle. You will also be off-balance, and this is really not ideal in a canoe.

The good news is that for the vast majority of canoe users if you have to buy a paddle that is just a little too long for you, it’s no big deal.

We are talking about an inch or two, and unless you are doing a lot of paddling in really shallow water, that extra length is not going to make much difference at all.

For example, if your ideal measurement is 55 inches, and you have to choose between a 53-inch paddle and a 56-inch model, you would want to buy the 56-inch paddle.

When the paddle is slightly too long, you will still be able to balance yourself correctly, and also stroke in the way that is ideal for you.

The downside to a longer than ideal paddle is that in shallow water, you may scrape it against the bottom of the lake, and also it may be slightly heavier than your ideal paddle would be.

Bent shaft paddle sizing

When looking at bent shaft paddle sizes, you will want to add 2 to 3 inches to the overall length (shaft plus blade) that you would normally buy, if you were sizing a standard paddle.

As you can see, the sizing requirements of a bent shaft paddle are a bit different. “Bent shaft” does not refer to the shaft itself, but where the blade meets the shaft.

A bent shaft paddle is ideal for flatwater paddling, and if you don’t plan on doing anything besides paddling around still water, or going on a lazy river, you should really consider a bent shaft paddle.

The blade of the paddle is manufactured at an angle, usually between 7 and 14 degrees, and this allows you to keep the paddle at a near-vertical position at all times.

The bent blade also allows you to maximize your power transfer, and get the most out of every stroke, giving you more endurance and you’ll get less fatigued.

Other factors to consider

Once you have decided on the length of your paddle and the style, you are half way done. There are lots of canoe paddle designs and features you should consider.

The weight of the paddle is very important as well, and that depends on the material you choose.

Make sure you have the right paddling techniques, too. Read our informative article on the correct way to paddle a canoe for more details.


Wooden: A wooden canoe paddle is a classic piece of gear. They are beautiful to see and handle. Usually, they are made from laminated layers, which allows the paddle maker to use a mix of woods and take advantage of their different characteristics.

Wooden Paddle

While they are nice to use, they will require more upkeep, like sanding and sealing. When you buy a wooden canoe paddle you are committing to servicing it every year or so.

Another thing to consider is that wood is somewhat more fragile, so look for one that has a blade that has been reinforced to prevent wear.

Wooden paddles tend to be a bit heavier than the other options, but many people prefer their feel and look, and don’t mind the extra weight.

Aluminum and plastic: Generally this type of paddle has a plastic grip and blade, and aluminum shaft. The upside to this design is that they are much cheaper, and very rugged as well.

They are a great cheap option, if you’re looking for one, and it never hurts to keep one in your canoe as a backup. They never need maintenance, and the plastic blade is far more resilient to damage than a wooden one.

plastic paddle

Fiberglass: While fiberglass canoes are pretty common, fiberglass paddles are not. You are probably not going to see many out on the lake, and they are certainly a rarity.

Fiberglass paddles are generally used by people who need a tough, light, and rigid paddle, and don’t mind paying good money for one.

They are more expensive and really are made for whitewater canoeing. Like the aluminum and plastic paddles, they are maintenance free, unless seriously abused, will last a very long time.

Shaft Diameter

One feature that you should be aware of is the shape of the paddle shaft. While most people think of a canoe paddle as having a round shaft, it is actually better to have an oval shaft.

The oval shape is easier for your hand to grip, and many paddles that are not oval over the entire length have a section that is oval, for the canoeist to grip.

If you plan on being out in your canoe a lot, looking for a paddle with an oval shaft is a good idea. While they generally cost a bit more, it is better for your hands, and you are less likely to experience any kind of cramping and fatigue.

Many of the higher-end wooden paddles have shafts that are milled to a specific oval shape, and this is really ideal.

Grip Shape

Paddles grip

The top of the paddle, or the end opposite the blade, is the grip. There are two main styles of paddle grips, and you should familiarize yourself with them before you buy a paddle.

Palm Grip: This grip shape is the most common form that you will find for canoe paddle grips, and is also called a “pear” or “teardrop” grip. It is large and gives the paddler a comfortable grip best used on flat water.

T-Grip: This form of grip is less common and is designed for those paddlers who need to keep a tight grip on their paddle and exercise precise control.

This type is more common on whitewater or adventure paddles. It is not ideal for flatwater conditions and is not as comfortable in the hand.

Intended Use

Now that you know how to size a paddle, and what options are available, you can begin looking for a paddle that fits you best.

If you plan on being in your canoe a lot, paddling for hours, or even touring, it makes sense to invest in a really nice paddle. One you can use for years to come and will be easy to handle when you are out on the water.

If you are more of a Sunday afternoon paddler, and you are going to go out with the kids for an hour or two before the bonfire, you really don’t need to spend a fortune on paddles.

A set of plastic paddles will be more than enough, and if they get dropped into the river and lost, you won’t lose too much money.

What is the best wood for a canoe paddle?

The best wood for a canoe paddles should be sitka spruce. It needs to be stiff, strong and lightweight, and that’s exactly how sitka spruce is..

For structure you can get canoe paddles made of mapple or ash, but they are a bit heavy for long use on the water, and definitely not for beginners. Spruce is lighter and easier to shape.

Wrapping up

If at all possible, it makes sense to go to a store to handle the paddles you are interested in, as there is no better way to get a feel for a paddle.

Or take a paddle out in your canoe, and see if it works for you. You can have a better feel of how good the paddle is on water.


6 thoughts on “Canoe Paddle Sizing and How to Choose the Right Paddle [Complete Guide]”

  1. This article is super helpful. I thought that I had been figuring out what size I needed fine, but there are factors to take into here that I had never even thought about, such as the shaft diameter. Will most types and lengths of paddle be offered in both regular and oval shapes, or do oval diameters tend to be used in specific types?

  2. I think Greg you must take into consideration your particular need. Oval shafts are better and easier to use, with some paddles which are not oval in shape have a section that is oval for better grip. When you plan to be out on your canoe a lot – and paddling for hours, then oval shapes are your best option – try it out!

  3. I remember my first time trying to paddle a canoe I was pretty awkward but once I got it down, it was really pretty fun. I enjoy canoeing,I could probably do it all day. Except I have to work and stuff. Always getting in the way of having fun! And I agree, Greg, the oval shape is best.

  4. Canoeing is really relaxing. I found that once I was able to pick a good size and shape paddle for my grip I was able to go for hours and hours, a couple days in a row. It was really good exercise and very relaxing. It’s something I could probably do daily if I lived on a lake. Absolutely love canoeing.

  5. It’s a great workout – your arms and abs will thank you for it! I also love the scenery and peacefulness of just rowing your way on the water. My brother lives near a magnificent lake and the view is majestic! I often see him as often as I can.
    He also made me a canoe paddle as one of his DIY projects and it was amazingly good! Of course, he has to sand it and seal it once a year or so but it’s a classic piece of gear!

    I also love canoeing and good company! If we all live near a lake, we’ll all be happy and relaxed. 🙂

  6. Hi Tyler! It seems a lot of users prefer the oval shape since it can be handled with ease. When you’re a newbie, paddling takes a little getting used to, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

    The right shape will also help you get accustomed to the rhythm faster. My brother used to say that rowing is just like dancing. You need to find your groove, improve on it and just dance ( in this case paddle up!).


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