How to Size a Canoe Paddle

Photo Credit: Clay Banks/Unsplash

Since paddlers come in all shapes and sizes, it makes sense that canoe paddles do also. It would be silly to expect a 5’4” person to use the same canoe paddle as a 6’3” person. While this does seem like common sense, more often than not people just grab the most convenient canoe paddle at their disposal and use it without any regard for ergonomics and what is best for their body type. While this might be ok when renting a canoe from a county park, any person who endeavors to canoe with a little more serious should take care to properly size their canoe paddle.

It could be the difference between enjoying the day on the water or requiring an anti-inflammatory to ward off a stiff and sore back. When choosing a canoe paddle, always err on the side of a larger paddle until you find one that feels comfortable and easy to use.

The optimal canoe paddle size is such that when a canoeist is in his or her canoe that the paddle blade is in the water and the top of the paddle comes up to mid-face around the nose. So the grip and shaft should go from the nose to the surface of the water and the paddle blade should extend fully into the water. Of course, this is not always easy to measure. Here are four different ways to size a canoe paddle depending on where you are when you do it.

In a Canoe on the Water

Obviously, the best way to size a canoe paddle is to do so in a situation that most closely resembles paddling a canoe. If you have the luxury then to actually sit in a canoe to test out the paddle that you are considering that would be ideal. Sit comfortably in the canoe seat. Place the paddle in the water up to where the blade meets the shaft. Hold the canoe paddle as you would during the forward stroke. The grip of the canoe paddle should come up to your nose.

In a Canoe On Land

If you are able to sit in a canoe on land or in a store you can also measure fairly accurately the size paddle you’ll need. Sit comfortably in the canoe. Turn the canoe paddle upside down and place the grip on the floor outside of the canoe. The part where the blade meets the shaft should come up to about level with your nose.

On Land With a Paddle

You can do a similar test even without a canoe as long as you still have the paddle you are considering. Kneel on the floor with your rear end about 6-10 inches from the floor. This will simulate sitting on a canoe seat. Flip the paddle over and place the grip on the floor next to you. The part of the paddle where the blade meets the shaft should be about nose level.

On land Without a Paddle

If you don’t have either a canoe or a paddle at your disposal or if you are looking to get an actual dimension you can do so this way. Kneel on the floor with your rear end about 6-10 inches from the floor. Use a tape measure to measure from your nose down to the floor next to you. That will represent the shaft plus the grip length. Then add the length blade you want to that dimension for an overall paddle length.

Other Considerations

Of course, the first method covered is the most accurate. When sizing your canoe paddle keep in mind that this guide is a rule of thumb. If your canoe seat is higher or lower that will affect the length of the shaft you need.

If the canoe is wider or narrow that will affect how far the paddle has to reach to get to the water which also affects shaft length. And lastly, proper form will also play a role in the length of paddle you need.