• Happy Discovery of the Rosetta Stone (1799)! 𓋹𓂀𓀮𓀛𓀾𓁀 𝞹βδΔ

How many paddles do you bring on a canoe trip?

Glenn MacGrady

Staff member
Oct 24, 2012
Reaction score
We all, of course, are advised to bring a spare paddle in case we lose or break our primary paddle. But I think some folks don't. Personally, I've never broken a paddle, but I have lost a couple in capsizes in hard whitewater.

So, I've always taken at least two paddles. But I've never really considered one a "spare". All the paddles I take are primary for different conditions or applications.

For 40 years I've always carried a straight paddle and a bent shaft paddle on all trips, whether day or overnight trips. When those trips included whitewater, I sometimes carried a third whitewater paddle, longer and stronger than my flat water straight paddle. However, I found that carrying three paddles was too inconvenient on portages. So, when I discovered all carbon paddles, I eventually settled on a 48.5" ZRE bent with an outrigger blade and a 57" ZRE straight paddle with whitewater blade for my extended trips. This lightweight combo handles flat water and whitewater conditions.

On day trips, I have often brought along three to five paddles. I own so many of them, so why not use them? I switch them off during a day trip just for variety or to compare their efficiencies in different canoes. On this trip, for example, I brought along (left to right) a Bruce Smith ottertail, a Brad Gillespie Free (designed by me), a Sawyer Manta single bent shaft with double scoop power face, and a Mitchell double bent shaft Leader. None was a "spare". All were used and enjoyed, providing different "water feels", propulsion forces, and manipulation characteristics.

Lillinonah paddles.jpg

Using different combinations of paddles in different types of canoe hulls is one of the mental, intellectual, endorphin and spiritual joys of canoeing. Not just the same kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk with the same paddle in the same boat every day, every year, every decade.

"Variety is the spice of life." — Casanova and Cleopatra
When I was working with college students we always had one extra paddle per 5 people. Not sure why I used that ratio but it never was an issue so I didn't think about it. Now, I typically bring an extra paddle when I'm out solo but that's more out of habit than any "need" that's been demonstrated over the years. I've been paddling since I was 16 (71 on my next birthday) and I've yet to break a paddle; although I did see one bite the dust when someone stepped on it.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.

My wife and I were on a local canoe club trip years ago, mid 1980s, I'm sure, on the North Fork of the John Day in Central Oregon. It was a fairly well-attended trip over Fourth of July Weekend, so the river level was down, probably near lower limit of running. It was a long weekend, so two nights on the water if I remember right, about a 40-mile run. There were at least six boats along, likely more, no longer remember. For the heck of it, I threw some extra paddles I had in our car into the canoe before we did the shuttle and pushed off on our merry way. The trip leader was aghast at all the paddles in our boat. I just told him I always traveled with a few spares (I always have at least two), but I'm pretty sure there were at least six extra paddles sticking willy-nilly out of various spots in our canoe. We had a good lightning storm with little rain one night which started several small fires, a couple of which we helped put out. And, yes, the water was low and bony. Broken paddles, lost paddles. By the end of the run, every one of those extra paddles I'd thrown into the caone my wife and I were paddling was in use, and I'm not sure now if I had a spare left for us. It sometimes pays having spares along. I'd thrown the extras into the boat because of the low water, but didn't plan on actually having to need them. Just serendipity.
I normally take two paddles, one for whitewater and an ottertail for flats and/or when I'm lillydipping.

On long solo trips I will often take a third (a salvaged piece of junk Mohawk or a semi-broken old ww paddle).
I usually take a Double blade and a light bent shaft .... the bent shaft as a backup and for any short runs requiring greater finesse, the double to cover ground and handle bad weather
As long as I remember to bring any, there was one time I left the paddles at home, I always have a spare unless I'm testing out a new style on a short weekend paddle then it's 3
I always took two, one short for seated paddling and one 72" for standing. I still take two but use the long one less for standing and more for extra leverage in wind.

I recently started taking a third on day trips. It was extra short and light for very calm conditions. Since getting my 57" sassafras Badger otter tail I no longer need the lighter paddle so I'm back to two.
I take 2 because, in addition to liking a spare, I need 2 for my portage set-up. I'm hoping to make a paddle or two this winter and, if I do, I'll probably take 3 on the next trip in case the homemade one isn't up to the task or I decide mid-trip that it would feel better as kindling.
I take 2 ... always. Day trip on local lakes and backwaters of river ... or long wilderness trip - always take 2. I paddle solo. On rare occasion paddling tandem - 3.

I always take 2 when tripping. A carbon bent shaft ZRE as well as a longer straight shaft for whitewater or heavier conditions. I've used both a carbon straight shaft as well as a wood straight shaft. The wooden one is the only one that's received significant damage.

For day trips I usually only take 1 paddle unless I feel like playing around. Although there was one time, when paddling the local river, where I was using the paddle as a pole to push myself over a shallow mud bar. Just as I planted the paddle and gave a large shove the canoe suddenly broke loose from the bottom and shot ahead. The paddle remained vertically planted in the mud while I smoothly slid downstream. Thankfully that was a day I had brought along an extra.

always 2 but never a spare- I generally bring a beavertail or sugar island depending on how bony the shallows are and how strong the wind is, and an otter tail or willow leaf for high-cadence deep water.