Kayak paddles come in so many shapes, styles, and…sizes? That’s right! Since the length of your paddle will influence how easily you can maneuver in your kayak, you have to know the ideal paddle length for you. How do you do that?
Here’s to size your kayak paddle:
- Measure your kayak’s width
- Then measure your torso and height
- Choose the appropriate paddle size
In this guide, we’ll explain the above steps in a lot more detail, including many charts so you can correlate your measurements to the right paddle length. We’ll also talk about why it matters so much that your paddle is correctly sized, so make sure you keep reading!
How to Find Your Perfect Kayak Paddle Length
Although the method for measuring your kayak paddle length that we mentioned in the intro is the better way of doing it, that’s not your only option. You can also use a less precise method that will tell you ASAP whether you need a longer paddle.
Let’s talk about that method first and then detail a more precise way of going about it.
Measuring Your Kayak Paddle Length the Fast Way
If you only have a couple of minutes before you’re heading to your favorite kayak supply store and you need to know if you should buy a new set of paddles, you can kind of wing it. We do want to note that this method isn’t precise at all, but it can work in a pinch.
All you have to do is stand up and put your paddle beside you. Keep the paddle completely straight. Then reach one arm out until you touch the paddle blade’s top edge. If you can reach your index finger and wrap it around the tip of the blade, that’s good.
And that’s it. If your finger can touch the tip of the paddle blade, then your paddle is the right size. If you can’t reach it, then you need a bigger paddle.
Measuring Your Kayak Paddle Length Through Height and Torso Length
You can see where there’s plenty of room for error in the above method, but we wanted to share it with you in case it ever comes in handy.
What many more kayakers will do is grab a buddy, find some flexible measuring tape, and measure themselves. Here’s how you do that.
Step 1: Before you get started measuring yourself, you need to know the size of your kayak. If yours is an inflatable kayak, it might be 28 to 44 inches long. Fishing kayaks are around 42 inches at the longest. A touring kayak is between 22 and 25 inches and a recreational kayak is anywhere from 26 to 30 inches.
The part of your kayak you want to measure is the hull’s widest point. We recommend comparing your measurement with the specs for the kayak on the manufacturer’s site. If your number is not quite the same, then defer to the manufacturer’s number.
Step 2: If you don’t know your exact height, then it’s time to measure that next. Round up your height.
Step 3: Next, you need a measurement of your torso length. Stand up straight and tilt your head down until you can feel the vertebra in your neck that protrudes when you’re at that angle.
Then put your hands on your hips with your thumbs backward. Your friend should extend their measuring tape from the top of your vertebra to where your hands are. Again, round up if need be.
Here’s a handy chart that correlates your height and your boat’s width to the correct paddle length. Do keep in mind that kayak paddle lengths are usually represented in centimeters, but we’ll convert all the measurements to inches for you.
|Kayaker Height||23-Inch Kayak or Less||23 to 28-Inch Kayak||28 to 32-Inch Kayak||32+ Inch Kayak|
|5 feet or less||210 centimeters or 82.7 inches||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches||230 centimeters or 90.6 inches||240 centimeters or 94.5 inches|
|Up to 5 feet, 6 inches||215 centimeters or 84.6 inches||220 centimeters or 86.8 inches||230 centimeters or 90.6 inches||240 centimeters or 94.5 inches|
|Up to 6 feet||220 centimeters or 86.8 inches||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches||230 centimeters or 90.6 inches||250 centimeters or 98.4 inches|
|Over 6 feet||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches||230 centimeters or 90.6 inches||240 centimeters or 94.5 inches||250 centimeters or 98.4 inches|
If you just want to use your torso height to determine the length of your kayak, that’s another option. Here’s a chart that correlates the two measurements.
|Torso Length||Paddle Length|
|22 inches||180 centimeters or 70.9 inches|
|24 inches||180 to 200 centimeters or 70.9 inches to 78.7 inches|
|26 inches||190 to 210 centimeters or 74.8 inches to 82.7 inches|
|28 inches||200 to 220 centimeters or 78.7 inches to 86.6 inches|
|32 inches||220 to 240 centimeters or 86.6 inches to 94.5 inches|
|34 inches||230 to 250 centimeters or 90.6 inches to 98.4 inches|
|36 inches and up||240 to 250 centimeters or 94.5 inches to 98.4 inches|
What if you have children and they’re into kayaking as well? Although kids’ kayaks often include paddles as part of a package deal, that doesn’t mean the paddle is the right size for your child. Here’s a chart to guide you in sizing your child’s kayaking paddle.
|Child’s Height||Paddle Length|
|4 feet or under||182 centimeters or 71.7 inches|
|4 feet to 4 feet, 6 inches||182 to 190 centimeters or 71.7 inches to 74.8 inches|
|4 feet, 6 inches to 5 feet||190 to 210 centimeters or 74.8 inches to 82.7 inches|
|Over 5 feet||210 centimeters or 82.7 inches|
If you’re into whitewater kayaking, the streamlined shape of these boats calls for unique paddle sizing. This chart will help you figure out which paddle length you need.
|Kayaker Height||Paddle Length|
|5 feet, 2 inches or under||188 to 194 centimeters or 74 inches to 76.3 inches|
|5 feet, 2 inches to 5 feet, 8 inches||190 to 196 centimeters or 74.8 inches to 77.2 inches|
|5 feet, 8 inches to 6 feet, 1 inch||192 to 200 centimeters or 75.9 inches to 78.7 inches|
|6 feet, 1 inch and taller||196 to 204 centimeters or 77.2 inches to 80.3 inches|
For high-angle recreational kayakers, make sure you follow this chart.
|Kayaker Height||17-Inch to 23-Inch Kayak||23-Inch to 25-Inch Kayak||25+ Inch Kayak|
|5 feet or less||200 centimeters or 78.7 inches||210 centimeters or 82.7 inches||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches|
|5 feet to 5 feet, 6 inches||210 centimeters or 82.7 inches||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches||230 centimeters or 90.5 inches|
|5 feet, 6 inches to 6 feet, 2 inches||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches||230 centimeters or 90.5 inches||240 centimeters or 94.5 inches|
|Over 6 feet, 2 inches||230 centimeters or 90.5 inches||240 centimeters or 94.5 inches||250 centimeters or 98.4 inches|
Finally, if you’re more of a low-angle recreational kayaker, the information here will ensure you buy a paddle that works with you, not against you.
|Kayaker Height||24-Inch Kayak or Under||24-Inch to 28-Inch Kayak||29-Inch to 33-Inch Kayak||33+ Inch Kayak|
|5 feet or less||210 centimeters or 82.7 inches||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches||230 centimeters or 90.5 inches||240 centimeters or 94.5 inches|
|5 feet to 5 feet, 6 inches||215 centimeters or 84.6 inches||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches||230 centimeters or 90.5 inches||240 centimeters or 94.5 inches|
|5 feet, 6 inches to 6 feet||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches||230 centimeters or 90.5 inches||250 centimeters or 98.4 inches|
|Over 6 feet||220 centimeters or 86.6 inches||230 centimeters or 90.5 inches||240 centimeters or 94.5 inches||250 centimeters or 98.4 inches|
Is It Better to Have a Longer Kayak Paddle or a Shorter Paddle?
Some people are what you’d call tweeners, in that they’re between two kayak paddle sizes. What do you do in that situation? Should you go for a longer kayak paddle or a shorter one?
Assuming that your torso is shorter as well as your stature, a shorter paddle is the smarter option!
Why Using a Kayak Paddle of the Correct Length Matters
All those charts from the earlier section sure were complex. Is it really that important that your kayak paddle be sized so approximately?
Yes, it is. Here are the issues you can face when you go kayaking with a paddle that’s too small or too large!
You’ll Get Blisters
When you don’t feel like you have a good grip on your paddle because it’s the wrong size, you’re going to grasp it harder than you would if the paddle was sized for you. The paddle also won’t feel as fluid in your hands because it’s not a good fit.
The extra effort you put into paddling can leave your hands raw and blistered by the time you wrap up a day of kayaking. You’ll have to go home and carefully disinfect and bandage your damaged digits.
You’ll be in so much pain that you might have to stop kayaking for a few days or even a week or longer. Yet the next time you ride in your kayak, the same thing will happen since you never addressed the core issue: that your paddle is the wrong size!
You Need to Work a Lot Harder
Another reason you can end up with blisters when kayaking with an ill-sized paddle is that you have to work so much harder. You won’t feel very stable on the water, especially if your paddle is bigger than what you need. One wrong shift in your weight could cause you to capsize.
Even if your paddle is too small, stability will elude you. You’ll struggle to feel secure the entire time you’re on your kayak, which robs you of the ability to enjoy the experience and the gorgeous sights around you.
You’ll Bang Your Hands into the Kayak
If you thought we were done with the hand pain, we’re just getting started! Another painful issue that afflicts kayakers when their paddle is too small is that they rap their knuckles against the hull of the boat. This happens a lot.
Unless yours is an inflatable kayak, then all this knocking and banging is going to be painful. You could tear up your knuckles on the fiberglass or plastic hull, ending your day with bloody, open sores.
You Could Strain Your Lower Back
This is an issue that especially affects kayakers with a too-small paddle. You have to constantly lean forward to push the blade’s edge into the water. All that angling and leaning is going to hurt your lower back, especially if you’re someone who enjoys kayaking for hours.
Sure, you can take a break, but until you get a bigger paddle, anytime you go kayaking will end in pain.
Reduced Kayak Control
Finally, you’re relinquishing control of your kayak when you choose a paddle that’s too long or too short. You won’t be able to track straight compared to a kayaker with a paddle that’s correctly sized. You might find yourself zigzagging often, which can be scary if you’re trying to avoid hitting other boaters (or a dock or anything, really).
Measuring your kayak’s paddle length is crucial before you go kayaking for the first time. An incorrectly-sized paddle reduces your control and handling, forces you to overcompensate, and can leave you riddled with back and hand pain.
Further Reading: Kayak Selection Guide
We hope this guide helps you choose the perfect kayak paddle!