The best paddle for packrafting or kayaking is really any paddle that gets you on the water. However, any paddle is probably not what you’re looking for, so in this post I’ll go over a few of the most popular paddles for packrafting, specifically.
It’s important to remember that paddles come in all sorts of different shapes, sizes and configurations. Not to mention there are also more customizable options available to you like feathering angles for the blades and various ergonomic shaft designs. Then you have different paddles for specific styles of paddling, such as high or low angle paddling and water conditions.
Let’s start with explaining the differences between paddle sizes and blade types. Then we’ll go over the various configurations available to you so you can make the most informed decision.
Read on to the bottom to see our top Best Packrafting Paddle.
The general rule is that the shorter paddles (=<200 cm) work better in whitewater than longer paddles (>200 cm). Taken at absolute face value, this rule is truly misleading because there are a lot of variables at play actually.
For the purposes of this post, let’s define short paddles to mean anything =<200 cm (commonly 194, 197 and 200 cm respectively) and longer paddles to be anything over 200 cm. The latter range being much wider but typical sizes range between 210 to 250 cm.
How to select the paddle right size
First there is size of the paddler in question. Contrary to the general rule above, larger paddlers may gain considerably more leverage and responsiveness out of a longer whitewater paddle. The same can even be said of the shorter paddler. So I’d advise anyone to steer clear of anything as small as 194 unless you are under 5’6″.
197 cm paddles are ok but 200 to 210 cm length paddles are even better for most average, high-angle whitewater paddlers over 5’7″.
Now, this is somewhat of a controversial topic in the boating community.
Some will claim that short paddles are best in whitewater regardless of your physical stature. I tend to disagree with that blanket claim. However, there is some glimmer of truth there. Having too long of a paddle could interfere with your maneuverability in whitewater since your paddle stroke is much more vertical or high-angle. However a 200 – 210 cm long paddle is not too long of a paddle for most paddlers.
For flat water touring, aim for paddles over 210-230 cm if you’re of average height. Look for a greater length if you are well above 6 foot. The reason you want a longer paddle here is because your paddle stroke will typically be more horizontal or low-angle in flat water.
Another variable that affects optimal paddle size is the width of your boat. Packrafts in particular tend to have wider hulls. So paddle lengths 200 cm and above will give you better boat clearance and less paddle drip.
You may be able to get away with a shorter paddle for whitewater or touring kayaks since they’re typically narrower. But I stand strong on recommending the 200-210 cm paddle for your average paddler. Some may be able to get away with the 197 cm. Heck even I have one and use it a lot but I would’ve preferred the 200 cm if it was available then.
Paddle blade shape
Believe it or not the shape of the paddle blade will vary depending on designed usage. Whitewater paddle blades tend to be wider than touring blades.
The reason for that is you don’t want your blade digging too far down in whitewater, where there are lots of entrapment hazards. However you want as much surface area to grab onto, so the shorter and wider blade makes the cut there.
Touring paddle blades are typically longer and narrower, so you take longer strides without fear of entrapment or hitting exposed hazards. This allows for greater speed at the expense of agility.
It all depends on where you plan to paddle.
Further confounding things is that each manufacturer designs their paddle blades differently. They’re like proprietary designs.
What the paddles are made out of matters
The cheapest paddles you’ll find on the market today are made out of aluminum and plastic. They are also the heaviest and most likely to crack under pressure (well the plastic blade is), so you should largely avoid them. They do however make great spare paddles — particularly if they split apart. You could store a split aluminum paddle on your kayak to serve as a back up. That’s really the only thing I’d recommend them for, unless you don’t plan to paddle very often at all. You will quickly grow out of them.
Wood is another material that is great for hard-shell canoe paddles but I wouldn’t recommend them for whitewater kayaking or packrafting. That is, unless their carbon or kevlar-reinforced. Wood paddles are heavy and more fragile than the recommended fiberglass and carbon fiber paddles.
Fiberglass and Carbon Fiber paddles
Most high quality whitewater and touring paddles today are constructed out of fiberglass or carbon fiber or some combination of the two.
Carbon Fiber is the lightest, most rigid and durable material used for constructing paddle shafts and blades. However, it’s also the most expensive, so you’ll often find it mixed with carbon-reinforced plastic materials and fiberglass.
The more rigid the paddle blade, the less flex under pressure. This makes a paddle more responsive.
Fiberglass is the second lightest, most rigid and durable material used in paddle construction. It is the material of choice for the paddler looking to get the most bang out of their buck.
You’ll typically find all fiberglass paddles or all carbon fiber paddles with carbon reinforced-injection molded nylon blades or with fiberglass blades.
Paddles may come with straight paddle blades that are parallel to one another, or at slight angles of each other. When the blades are offset to each other they are considered to be feathered. We typically talk of feathered angles when discussing the degree of separation between the left and right blade.
One-piece paddles will come prefigured with a feathered angle or none at all. Split paddles will have a ferrule locking system, with most quality paddles allowing you to make adjustments.
Typical adjustments are from 0º and 60º. If you’re looking for a whitewater paddle you will typically feather to R30º or R45º. Some touring kayakers may feather to as much to 60º. It all comes down to preference, personal style and the type of water/conditions you face.
Paddles are typically feathered to ease stress on the wrists, increase paddling speed or efficiency and to minimize wind resistance (hence why touring kayakers like greater angles).
Paddle shaft configurations
One-piece, two-piece, four-piece
If you can get by with a one-piece paddle, all the better. You will find the most comfort on the water with a one-piece paddle that is sized correctly.
However, unless you’re only roadside paddling, a split apart paddle may become necessary.
Split paddles are often preferred for packrafting since they’re easy to break apart and pack up. Even expedition kayakers may opt for a back up split paddle to stow away in their bulkhead.
That said, you may find you’re able to hike with a one-piece paddle in your hand, if so, that’s perfectly fine to do too.
You can choose between a two-piece split paddle or a four-piece. The two-piece paddle will cost you less than the four-piece when new.
For packrafting you can get by with either option. Though if you’re tight on space, or hike through thick vegetation, a four-piece is the way to go. You’ll barely even notice you’re carrying a paddle at all with the four-piece. Plus you won’t get the paddle stuck in the trees as you’re hiking.
If you have the money or desire to go packrafting regularly, I’d say invest in the four-piece. But keep in mind that you can inadvertently convert your four-piece into a two-piece without regular intervention. So make sure to always break apart your paddles after use otherwise the shafts will fuse. You can still break them apart if this happens but it takes deliberate action.
Straight or bent shaft
The default shaft on a paddle is straight. It’s what we all typically start with and many never move away from.
Paddle manufacturers also construct bent shafts for more ergonomic paddling. I’d say this feature is a nice to have but completely unnecessary for your first paddle. Plus the bent shafts are considerably more expensive.
I’d advise you to start with a straight shaft and try out a bent shaft from someone else. If you end up liking the bent shaft you can upgrade down the road.
Today you can find both split and one-piece paddles in straight or bent shaft configurations.
4 Most Recommended Packrafting Paddles – Best Packrafting Paddle
Ordered from the lowest to highest price (while the Werner Sherpa 4-piece split paddle would be the most expensive, the 1-piece shown below is not):
AQUA BOUND Shred Fiberglass
This the best bang for your buck paddle.
However, it only goes up to 198 cm, which is the length most recommended here.
- abX fiberglass resin blades
- Fiberglass shaft
- 30º offset
- 38.5 oz
- 192 to 198 cm
AQUA BOUND Shred Carbon-shaft Fiberglass Reinforced 4-Piece Breakdown Kayak Paddle
Slightly more expensive than the Aqua Bound all-fiberglass paddle.
However, this paddle offers some great bang and can be had at 200 cm.
This would be the best all round paddle.
- abX fiberglass resin blades
- Carbon shaft
- 0-30º offset
- 36.5 oz
- 192 to 200 cm
Werner Sherpa Fiberglass Straight Shaft Whitewater Kayak Paddle
This a highly recommended 1 or 4-piece whitewater paddle that still comes in priced lower than many other higher-end paddles.
Opt for this if serious performance is desired.
- Fiberglass blades
- Fiberglass shaft
- 1 or 4-piece
- R45/0/L45 or R30/L30 feather angle
- 40.75 oz
- 194, 197, 200, 203, 206, 209 cm
AQUA BOUND Shred Apart Carbon 4-Piece Packraft Paddle
More expensive 4-piece Aqua Bound paddle but fully carbon fiber.
Plus it can be split apart into a canoe paddle with two t-handle attachments.
Designed by Alpacka Raft explicitly for packrafting.
- abX Carbon-Reinforced Nylon blades
- Tight Weave Carbon shaft
- 4-piece/2 canoe paddles
- 0-30º offset
- 40 oz, 26 oz (ea paddle)
- 210, 220, 230, 240 cm
Read also: Best Shoes For Kayaking And Packrafting