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Choosing a paddle size.

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I've been on a paddle buying binge. I've ordered four canoe paddles in the last few weeks. That brings my total to around a dozen.
I wanted to make sure I didn't waste money by buying the "wrong" size, so I researched sizing methods.
When you shop for a paddle, the paddle size is the entire length of the paddle.
What you are interested in is the shaft length. Find your correct shaft length and add the blade length to that to get your correct paddle size.
Any method that uses your height should be avoided. I'm over six feet, but I have a short torso. If I picked a paddle based on my height, it would be too long.
For most methods, you need to sit on something like a bench or hard chair. I use a large Igloo cooler. Then measure from the surface, between your legs, to either your nose, eyes or chin and they may ask you to add a certain number of inches to that then look at their chart to see what size paddle you need. My measurement from the cooler to the tip of my nose is 29".
Badger takes a different approach. They use a similar method to that used to size a kayak paddle. Hold the paddle by the grip and the throat and rest it on top of your head. Your elbows should be at, or slightly less, than 90 degrees. But I came up with the same length I did for most of the other methods. I don't know if it would come out that way for most people or I'm unusual.
I came up with 32 to 33 inches for Gray Owl, Badger, Sanborn, and Outdoor Play's chart for the Werner Journey paddle. Werner's website refuses to give sizing recommendations. So about three to four inches over the measurement to my nose is supposed to be the right shaft length for me.
Seat height should fit into the equation. If you have a high seat, you might add to that, if you have an especially low seat, you might subtract from that.
Bending Branches is the only one that wasn't in the 32-33 range. They said I should have a 36" shaft.
I tend to think that Bending Branches method gives a result that's too long, since they differ from everyone else.
For a bent shaft or beavertail, I'd go a couple inches less.
None of this is written in stone. I'm sure there are experienced paddlers that go longer or shorter. There is no absolute right length.
 
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I usually use and tell others about the chair to nose method as well as the 90 degree elbow method, as you have found. Either seems to work pretty well for most people. But what really matters is what happens when you use the darn thing in the water. I have several multiple sizes in one inch increments of racing paddles that I use, depending on what canoe I am in, how high the seat is from the level of my foot rest, how high the gunwale is relative to the seat, which seat I occupy in the canoe, and how I might feel on any particular day. In each case I choose the paddle length that will give me the correct positioning for best application of power. I am far less fussy when I choose which straight shaft recreational paddle to use, but many of the same criteria can still apply, especially for a lengthy paddling trip. A very short but strong female paddler who I often race paddle with in a C4 or a voyageur, if she sits in a centered mounted non moving middle seat, she has to use a longer than average paddle to clear the gunwale, resulting in wasted energy in a partial sweep stroke. Hence we most often use a stock canoe with custom seats that slide gunwale to gunwale, allowing use of a proper length power paddle for her.
 
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chair to nose is actually wildly inaccurate because it doesn't take your torso to arm ratio into account, neither does it allow for your arm length. The absolute best is an actual test paddle, followed by a high seat with an imaginary waterline and space below that line for the blade so you can actually use your regular paddling position. Third best is the 90% method which while not considering your paddling position or torso ratio, does take your arms into consideration and will at least get you in the ball park.
 
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I've always used the one hand on the paddle throat, other on the handle, rest on the head and the arms should form goal posts, with a 90 degree bend. For me that equates to a 33"-34" shaft length
But as stated a bent shaft needs to be quite a bit shorter, to feel comfortable.
 
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I use the duct tape method. Most paddlers already have a paddle. All they have to do is duct tape a strip at the junction of the wet and the dry part of the paddle when they hold it in the plant position. It's likely they can find a paddle..any paddle to do this in a boat. It is an approximation as it might not be THEIR boat but its very close. In a pinch they can use a dowel or even a branch ( I taught a paddling class using a straight length of tree branch)

BB is notorious for having overly long shafts for any given paddle length. Its one reason I avoid them unless I can measure in person. My shaft length is 33.5 inches. I have that burned in my mind. I take a tape measure with me if shopping.
 
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Choosing the right paddle length is also situational. I need a longer paddle for big boats and wind. A comfortable size for me is 57” but I need 60 for 16’ boats and up. On a windy day I may go for a 63 or 66”. An extra three inches in length gives me a lot more leverage against the wind.
 
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chair to nose is actually wildly inaccurate because it doesn't take your torso to arm ratio into account, neither does it allow for your arm length. The absolute best is an actual test paddle, followed by a high seat with an imaginary waterline and space below that line for the blade so you can actually use your regular paddling position. Third best is the 90% method which while not considering your paddling position or torso ratio, does take your arms into consideration and will at least get you in the ball park.
What is the 90% method?
I have considered the issue of having long arms and a short torso, but the important thing seems to be how high your upper hand is, and that is strictly a torso length issue.
The best method would be to put your loaded canoe in the water and try and get a measurement of the distance from your eyes to the water.
But paddling season is over, so that is out of the question, plus there is the issue of having more than one boat.
 
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Choosing the right paddle length is also situational. I need a longer paddle for big boats and wind. A comfortable size for me is 57” but I need 60 for 16’ boats and up. On a windy day I may go for a 63 or 66”. An extra three inches in length gives me a lot more leverage against the wind.
I'm thinking that is more of a blade issue than a shaft issue. Change the blade size and shape to fit different situations, rather than make significant changes to shaft length. To avoid injury, you don't want your upper hand too high. For leverage, you don't want it too low.
When the blade is inserted all the way, you want your upper hand to be somewhere around eye level. Since I can't put a canoe in the water right now, I'm trying to figure out the best way of calculating the right shaft length while in my living room.
It is far too easy to get used to a shaft that's the "wrong" length and then that length is the one that feels right.
I've paddled so much with a variety of shaft lengths that I've never come to a conclusion about what length I prefer. At the end of a trip, whatever paddle I've been using is what feels right to me.
I don't plan on doing significant white water, so I'm not too worried about figuring out what's best for that.
 
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What is the 90% method?
I have considered the issue of having long arms and a short torso, but the important thing seems to be how high your upper hand is, and that is strictly a torso length issue.
The best method would be to put your loaded canoe in the water and try and get a measurement of the distance from your eyes to the water.
But paddling season is over, so that is out of the question, plus there is the issue of having more than one boat.
it was supposed to say 90 degrees. and the spread between your arms defines where your upper grip will be in relation to your lower grip, your torso doesn't change that. and I freely admit it doesn't take your torso into consideration and state that in my comment, that's why it's #3 not #1, but the floor to nose, chin, forehead, etc doesn't take the length of the blade into consideration at all- with that method my ottertail is about 10" too long and would require a ludicrously short shaft because of the 34" long blade, while my sugar island would require a shaft length of about 4' because the blade is only 13" tall.
 
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I think some may misread and be confused with the chair method as is being described in the above posts. Just to be clear, it is performed by sitting on a solid chair with the paddle upside down, gip between your legs on the chair surface. It has nothing to do with blade length. The measurement is done at the throat of the shaft (where the shaft ends and blade begins) being at your chin or nose. it does not take into account the length or shape of the blade itself, which is selected for an entirely different performance and preference purpose. As stated, this method does not take into account differing arm lengths in differrent people. As always it is always best to make actual measusrements by trying any given paddle while in use by the paddler in the boat/seat configuration it intended to be used. Alllow sufficient time with paddle in hand and on the water to decide on shaft and overall paddle length, depending on your paddling style and preference.
I paddle in many different boats with many different seat configurations, racing and recreational, so I have a nice collection of paddles of different sizes and types.
 
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I am making a run of 10 paddles just now
Not sure of the length needed for some of the recipients so I have a assortment of lengths
48’s, 50’s and 52” OAL
 

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Shaft length can vary if you have a variety of boats. All you want is not to submerge the shaft as that is inefficient.
Nor to not have the blade all the way in the water. My boats are all pretty much the same distance seat to water so I have my shaft length memorized.
Sweeps are the bane of most paddlers.. Most carry the stroke too far in back of the hip and do a sweep with every stroke which then has to be undone with a corrective stroke. J strokes should not be the rule or goon strokes.
 
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My method is not very scientific but it came from years of experience. Picking a paddle length is greatly dependent on your body size, the canoe you paddle (solo, tandem, wide, narrow, high seat, low seat, kneeling) your own personal paddling style, and how picky you want to be.

To begin with if you don't have a pretty good idea of what length paddle you need then just pick what most people use and learn to use it. It will be fine even if it's a little too long or too short. Lots of people have a lot of fun and success paddling with paddles that are probably longer or shorter than they should be. Most happily use them for a lifetime.

Once you get some experience and start to figure out your own paddling style you might think it would be more comfortable for you to have a longer or shorter paddle. So get one and see how it works. It will take a while for your paddling style to adapt to the longer/shorter paddle so you'll need more than a quick test paddle to know. Give it a couple weeks of consistent paddling. Then go back to your old paddle and see how it feels in comparison.

Repeat until you're tired of trying different paddles. You'll know what's too long and what's too short and you'll probably find that you're close to the paddle length most people use for your particular style of paddling. Over the years your paddling style will probably change and so might your preferred paddle length.

And that's pretty much all their is to my method. It's very accurate but it takes a while.

I can well remember when I started canoeing and researching to death paddle length and style. I've run the gamut from long to short. I've had some specialty boats and circumstances that called for longer/shorter paddles but eventually I realized that the most popular paddle lengths are the most popular for a reason. I started with a 54" straight and a 52" bent based on the recommendations I got online and after just a couple outings decided they were definitely the wrong length. After a few years trying multiple paddle lengths and eventually figuring out how to actually paddle a canoe I was back to using a 51" bent and a 54" straight for most of my paddling, pretty much where I started. I can also comfortably use a 49" bent or a 56" straight in the same boats and could get along fine if that's all I had.

Alan
 
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Alan’s story is similar to mine except since I paddle big tandems I’ve settled on a longer paddle. 57” is a good size for me but I take a 60” for the extra leverage I need.

I usually take a 60” and a 72” but since I don’t stand as often as I once did I may take a 57” and a 63 or 66 as my backup and to use if the wind picks up.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Blade shape and shaft length are two different considerations and decisions.

Focusing just on shaft length and assuming the same blade shape, I prefer the following three shaft lengths for three different situations:

1. If I'm paddling with a straight paddle on relatively calm flat water, which is mostly just forward stroking, I like my top (grip) arm to punch out straight from my shoulder, not upwards or downwards. This will be about a 54" paddle for me at 5-9. (However, if I were in strong winds and big waves on flat water, I would prefer the much longer paddle shaft #3 below for sweep leverage.)

2. If I'm paddling the same kind of relatively calm flat water with a 10°-12° bent shaft, I want my top hand to punch downward in a short stroke as my abdomen does a crunch. This ends up being a paddle with a 4"-5" shorter shaft than paddle #1. This will be about a 49" paddle. This bent paddle is my primary forward traveling paddle.

3. If I'm paddling whitewater, I want a paddle about with a shaft about 4"-5" longer than paddle #1. About a 59" paddle. This longer length is necessary for reaching Duffek strokes into eddies for eddy turns, reaching into current for peel outs, enabling strong leverage from low braces, and leveraging strong rudders when surfing waves and holes.

How do I know what shaft length in inches is appropriate for all three scenarios? I don't know what I did originally -- probably just experimented with a lot of different paddles as Alan Gage has described -- but I now can tell just by eye.

When portage tripping I only want to carry two paddles, not three, so I usually take my situation #2 bent shaft as my primary foward travel paddle plus a compromise length 56.5"-57" straight paddle for situations #1 and #3. For day trips, I take two, three or four different style paddles just to play with for variety.
 
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Great topic, and timely as I’m interested in a couple straight paddles. I’m 6’3” and long of appendage but shorter of torso, 35” inseam. I’ve got bent shafts in a variety of sizes up to 54” and usually take a 52 and a 54. Either is comfortable. I like the 52 best. I think it’s lighter too. It doesn’t seem to matter much (yet) if I’m in my Prism or Polaris; the Polaris middle seat is set up for kneeling so it’s pretty high for sitting. The 54 bent shaft did fine in a seated position. I just received a 66” Fishell Ray Special (discussed length with Greg before buying) but can’t play with it til Christmas. I’ve got a couple longer straight Clement Aviron to try too, but I defiantly want to be sure of my shaft length before I buy something “fitted”. I think I’ll figure this out only with “time in boat”.
 
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