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How many paddles do you bring on a canoe trip?

I always have two canoe paddles with me (and if tandem, two more for them) but the two I bring depend on the canoe and the conditions. Whichever paddle doesn't break is the spare.* 🫣

Sport solo 13.5' - river or flat water: Wood - straight lightweight & wood - straight dependable
Touring solo 14.75' - flat water: Wood - straight lightweight & carbon - bent dependable
Tandem 16.0' - river or flat water: Wood - straight dependable & carbon - bent lightweight
Tandem 18.5' - flat water: Carbon - bent lightweight & carbon - bent dependable

* I don't do tough multiple day trips anymore so I don't rely on a true spare paddle.
 
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Always 2 with me as well, both Grey Owls: an ash beavertail for deep/flat water and a laminated voyageur for shallow/moving water. Both are over 20 years old and the voyageur has been epoxied several times.
 
If I'm in my Nessmuk XL, just the one double paddle... it's got a solid ferrule, spruce shafts, and carbon-fiber blades, and I can pretty much fix anything that breaks, or rig up any wreckage to use one blade if it's that bad.

If I'm in my other canoe (Chum), I bring two paddles (both ash), mostly because I need two for portaging, but if I happen to break one, I'll have another. I carry the tools, and have the skills, to make a paddle (saw, hatchet, knife), but it's a lot of work, and I'd rather just have the spare.

I don't do whitewater, so the chances of breakage are low.
 
Always bring two paddles each on an extended wilderness trip. ‘Just In Case’ could happen to you, someday, even though you are more likely to forget a paddle on a portage. In over 40 years of paddling, only broke one paddle myself, and watched a fellow paddler pull a micro blade out of the Flon du Lac River, after snapping the Mohawk on a sharp hidden rock. More paddles are broken by being stepped on around the campsite or chewed on by a critter.
 
2 solo, 3 tandem. Haven't needed the spare yet. Been carrying a multi tool in my day pack for 13 years and haven't used it yet. By now if I needed it I probably wouldn't remember that I had it. Dave
 
When I learned to canoe and, later, led wilderness trips, we carried one spare paddle per canoe, and I have always followed that guideline since. Besides the obvious benefit of having a spare in case a paddle gets lost or broken, when paddling with beginning canoeists it is useful for the spare to be a different length than the paddles the canoeists choose so that they can swap if they start to find their chosen length uncomfortable. I fortunately have yet to break or lose a paddle, but paddle swapping for comfort has happened several times.

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.
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
I currently own three functional paddles, and I often bring all of them with me for the same reasons as @Glenn MacGrady. It is fun to switch among them and compare how they feel in the water!
 
Depends on the trip or race. After probably 10K miles of training and racing, I have broken only one paddle. It was during a race with broken shale slabs of rock on the bottom. I must have slipped the paddle between a couple of slabs and boke the carbon blade in half. Luckily I was in the habit of carrying a spare during races, so no big deal. The Manufacturer later fixed it with a layer of glass and epoxy to use as a backup spare. When canoe racing C2, each paddler has their own paddle, plus one spare for the boat. When in a C4, especially on long wilderness trips or marathon races, we might have two extra carbons, since we do have the room. Voyageur races (Yukon) demands two extras with us.

When I am recreational tripping solo, I usually have my carbon racing paddle, plus a slender wood ottertail. I may switch off using each, depending on if I need to cover distance in open water, or just comfortably cruising along for fun.
 
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UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_566.jpgKathleen and I always took four paddles on our wilderness canoe trips. We each had our own light, flexible wooden, otter tail paddles for lake water and easy moving water. Easy on the shoulders. Not tiring, even after paddling all day. Here we are in 2017, ready to begin paddling in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.



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We also each had our own rigid, heavy paddles for more challenging whitewater, as here in 1990, in the Rock Gardens on the South Nahanni River. I actually don't remember for sure what these paddles were. We bought them in 1989. I think they were Harmony Perception. They came in two parts, so that one could adjust the length appropriately. I don't remember what they are made of. Can anyone help me with this?

Common advice is that one should always take a spare paddle, in case one is lost or broken. We have never lost or broken a paddle. In fact, we have found a paddle on two occasions. Once on the Klondike River in 1989. And once on the Yukon River in 2019, just upstream from Five Finger Rapids.
 
At least half the paddles I own are on the river salvage!

Back in the days when I used to dump at least once on every trip and frequently more often I was known for never letting go of my paddle. Unfortunately all of the nice paddles I've found were dropped by one of my companions so I had to give them back.

I recall one early incident where my partner (it was the tandem days) lost his paddle, two days later we were just setting up camp when another canoe came by and showed us the paddle they had found upstream....yes it was that paddle coming back to it's rightful owner.

I always wondered if they believed my partner when they pulled out the paddle they had found and my partner exclaimed "hey that's my paddle".
 
At least half the paddles I own are on the river salvage!

Back in the days when I used to dump at least once on every trip and frequently more often I was known for never letting go of my paddle. Unfortunately all of the nice paddles I've found were dropped by one of my companions so I had to give them back.

I recall one early incident where my partner (it was the tandem days) lost his paddle, two days later we were just setting up camp when another canoe came by and showed us the paddle they had found upstream....yes it was that paddle coming back to it's rightful owner.

I always wondered if they believed my partner when they pulled out the paddle they had found and my partner exclaimed "hey that's my paddle".
Me too, in terms where I acquired my collection of used paddles. I always tried to return any found paddles if they were marked with the owner’s contact information. Incidentally, I also have a large collection of used tent stakes I have found in the Sylvania Wilderness in the UP where camping has to be done at established sites. I started canoe camping there in 1974 so I probably have 3-4 dozen stakes.
 
I think they were Harmony Perception. They came in two parts, so that one could adjust the length appropriately. I don't remember what they are made of. Can anyone help me with this?

The Harmony paddles I recall and had from the mid-80's didn't come in two parts, although perhaps that was a later option. The ones that were popular in the northeast has white fiberglass blades and a black shaft. The big selling point was that the shafts were "pole vault shafts," which I always assumed was mainly a fiberglass composite.
 
The Harmony paddles I recall and had from the mid-80's didn't come in two parts, although perhaps that was a later option. The ones that were popular in the northeast has white fiberglass blades and a black shaft. The big selling point was that the shafts were "pole vault shafts," which I always assumed was mainly a fiberglass composite.
I think that’s it, Glenn. Our blades are white. The lower shafts are yellow. The upper black shafts, which I cut to length, and then inserted and secured with a pin in the lower shaft. If I remember correctly, I also positioned the grips before glueing them into the upper shafts. Thanks for your help.
 
Solo tripping I always use two - but bring one each of two different shapes - either a stright and bent shaft, or these days an ottertail and a beefier build for shallow waters like a BB paddle / "Huskytail" shape...
 
I normally take 2 when solo or 4 in my 3-seat Polaris with two kids. My extra is and isn’t a spare, as I don’t really have duplicates. If I’m in my Prism where I’m more likely to sit and switch, I’ll take a bent shaft and the Bruce Smith ottertail. If in my Phoenix or Polaris, the Bruce Smith and an old Clement I shaped to my preference, which is honestly a tie with the BS for favorite. They’re different shapes so both tops in their categories. I have a Fishell that I enjoy but it’s mostly too long, so it only goes along if I know the water depth will allow it. The kids use any of a few short paddles I have, including a Grey Owl bent shaft, another Clement, and a silver & black aluminum & plastic.

From L to R - Bruce Smith, reshaped Clement, unaltered Clement:

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All Teh Paddles! I sometimes bugs my family.

Like some others, I tend to experiment. My collection isn't as extensive as some, but currently:

  • Short-shaft, oversize otter tail. Nicest paddle I own in terms of fit and finish. Cedar, cherry and some maple laminated. Glassed, very fine blade. T-grip to just above the blade is my ideal comfortable grip distance, and the blade isn't much shorter. It's a great "Moseying" paddle in gentler conditions. Mostly in-water recovery, lower hand actually gets wet part of the time. Smooth and quiet. No so great if I have to get up on my knees to pick up the cadence.
  • ~36" shaft with 18"x5" rectangular blade - Ash and cedar, glassed blade. Built like a tank. Rather clunky, this was my first attempt at a paddle, and I haven't gotten around to replacing it yet. Still not quite right for kneeling, but it makes a great boat pole. If someone manages to break it, we've probably got may other worse problems.
  • ~30" shaft, 15" oval/narrow teardrop blade. Cut down from a paddle that started larger than #2 (Hey, I was a kid that didn't know anything at the time!) Of the single blades, this is the one that's most likely to get left behind.
  • Aluminum-and-plastic sectional double blade (Gasp! Clutch pearls!) somewhere in the 90"-95" range. Gets left home because it's far too short to be used over the gunwales of my tandem. Was an interim solution anyway.
  • Cherry laminate sectional double blade, ~114" or so. Monster paddle, currently in the shop getting some grip adjustment and the addition of drip points on the blades. This one is intended for power windmilling when I just need to get somewhere. It's reasonably well balanced, and isn't a strain to hold, but it's definitely a different type of workout to actually paddle with the thing.
When I have a bowman, they mostly use #2 or #3. Double blade is new enough that we're still figuring what's the best use to make of it. (Not all of my paddle companions are able/interested in picking up better technique. Best to get them a tool that works "Well enough" in the conditions that they're going to be out in.
 
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
I do the same. My ZRE bent stows nicely under the seat and thwart, doesn’t add to the portage load. If I’m daytripping on a river. The double stays stowed and I use a wooden single, until my wife gets too far ahead 🥴.
 
For day trips, I take two paddles (solo). Sure, if something happened I could call someone to rescue me, but do I really want that embarrassment? For wilderness tripping I take three (solo). I have broken a paddle in white water, but as we (tandem) took three paddles, we were fine.

I've also found it useful to change paddles when the shoulders are tired. I'll start the day with the 5 pound wilderness paddle and then switch up to the ZRE 10 ounce and WOW I practically fall over myself with the first few strokes.
 
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