How to Determine Proper Kayak Paddle Length

Choosing the right length of your paddle is an easily overlooked, but essential, part of making sure you have a good time on the water. Determining the right kayak paddle length can even improve your ability to paddle and reduce aches and pains.

You can determine your proper kayak paddle length by measuring the width of your kayak and your torso size:

Kayak Width

Torso HeightUnder 23”23” to 28”28” to 32”Over 32”

However, choosing a paddle size isn’t always down to simple measurements. More often than not, you may prefer a longer or shorter paddle depending on many other factors. We’ll detail the basic proportions you should look into and offer suggestions on customizing the paddle length to best suit your preferences. 

Different Kayak Sizes Need Different Paddle Lengths

As the first point of reference, let’s break down the types of kayaks and go over a summary of what sizes are generally considered.

The first measurement we’ll need is the width of the kayak. Measure the kayak at the widest point of the hull with a measuring tape. We will order these from the smallest kayaks to the largest, but you’ll see their widths can vary between them. 

Whitewater Kayaks

These kayaks vary in width more than others, and often their width isn’t as big of a variable in sizing a paddle moreover the kayaker’s height. They come in a variety of sizes due to the nature of their rafting, but they can come between 19″ and 30″. 

This means they can size paddles from 200 cm to 250 cm.

Recreational Kayaks

These will be your general, small kayaks. They often measure wider due to the more casual nature of their rides versus kayaks focus on greater speed or ease of cutting through the water. Their widths can vary between 26″ and 30″.  

These kayaks require a paddle length a bit longer than normal, between 210 cm and 240 cm.

Touring Kayaks

These kayaks are focused more on long distances and to let the rider to be more comfortable for these long hauls. The width reflects this of between 22″ and 25″, which require a paddle length on the shorter end between 200 cm to 230.

Performance Kayaks

This is where paddle lengths become a bit skewed. These racing, high-performance kayaks are focused on cutting through the water as fast as possible, so their widths are on the smaller size between 19” and 22”. 

If we go off scaling, we’d size paddles between 200 cm and 220 cm. However, as we’ll see, there may be other factors which affect your choice of paddle length.

Kayaker Measurements

From determining the width of your kayak, a simple method is to measure a person’s height and sort through which kayak length would best suit a person.

However, as many people can attest, our arms and torso length can vary within our height category. If someone is very tall, with long legs but a shorter arm span, a paddle sized to their height can be too long. The opposite is possible—if someone is short but has long arms, in which case a short paddle can hinder them. 

That’s why we suggest measuring your torso height.

Here’s how to measure your torso:

  1. Find your top vertebra by leaning your head forward. Feel behind your neck for the first vertebra that doesn’t bend with your neck. That’s your first point of reference.
  2. Find your lumbar region. First, place your hands on your hips and find your hip bones. Feel back towards your spine, focusing on your lumbar. Mark the point where your lumbar meets your spine. That’s your second point of reference.
  3. Stand tall, back straight, and ask someone to measure from your first vertebra and that point on your lumbar.
  4. Mark down that measurement as that’s your torso height

Take that figure and round it off to the nearest even inch to get a close approximation of your torso height. If you feel your measurement might not be perfect, judge the number the best you can and adjust to what you consider is your arm length.

Here’s a quick graph:

Kayak WidthIn CM

Torso HeightUnder 23”23” to 28”28” to 32”Over 32”

As you can see from the graph, there are some very small paddle lengths for those with a shorter torso. If you have a hard time finding paddles in that length, you might want to check the youth section. For people who have a very tall torso, paddle lengths start to max out around 250cm.

The Quick Adjusting Method

While numbers can be a quick assessment of how to size a paddle to your body, they might not always be accurate due to variables in measurements and how you paddle. To combat this, there’s the old “quick” method of checking for paddle sizes. 

This is also a good tool to keep in mind if you borrow a paddle from someone.

  1. Stand up tall and hold the paddle above your head. Try to angle your arms at a 90-degree angle on the paddle’s shaft.
  2. Ask someone to check the length of the shaft from your hands. You want to work in thirds from the center of the shaft: 2/3rd from the center of your head to one hand, and 1/3rd from your hand to the base of the paddle.
  3. If these variables are off between your hands and the paddle base, the paddle isn’t the right size for you.

This method can be a little tricky and requires someone or a mirror to compare the sizes, but can be worth it in the field or to double-check your measurements.

Benefits to Proper Paddle Length

There are great benefits to properly sizing a paddle for you and your kayak. With the proper size, you can enjoy the experience without suffering from unnecessary issues.

  • Control: With the right paddle size, your ability to control the kayak will improve greatly. If the paddle is too long, a kayaker might experience less control in the paddle’s head. If the paddle is too short, the amount of power a kayaker could push against the water is diminished. A proper paddle length can help you better control the kayak to avoid issues and dangerous areas.
  • Comfort: A properly sized kayak paddle increases the comfort of kayaking greatly. If a paddle is too long, a kayaker might stretch their arms and stress their torso too greatly. If a paddle is too short, the kayaker might feel constricted in their movement and muscle strain can become a major issue. 
  • Ability: Once a paddle is sized to your needs, your ability to control the kayak confidently will improve. Knowing when, where, and how fast you can maneuver in your kayak is key in becoming a pro.

Keep on Paddling

We hope we’ve given you the knowledge to determine the best length of paddle so your kayaking experience is a comfortable and fun one without the pain and fuss. It can be a little hard to figure out at first, but you only need to size your paddle once and then you’re off to kayaking! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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