Kayak paddles come in a bewildering array of lengths, styles, and prices. Here are some shopping tips:
To quickly gauge the right length for you, center and balance the paddle on your head, parallel to your shoulders. With your elbows bent at right angles, grasp the shaft with both hands. Your hands should be approximately 4 inches from the paddle blades.
Note that a shorter kayak paddle offers increased maneuverability, while a longer paddle works better for wider boats and requires less paddling effort over longer distances.
Asymmetric paddle blades are more efficient than their symmetric kin. The fatter part of the blade should be on top. Feathered paddles—with the two blades offset by 45 to 90 degrees—reduce or eliminate the need to rotate the shaft as you paddle, but are not essential.
Fiberglass paddles ($75 to $150) are durable, relatively lightweight, and a good all-around choice. Carbon-fiber paddles shave ounces at a considerable price ($200 to $400-plus). Aluminum/plastic paddles are inexpensive ($40 to $60) but heavy and cold to grasp in chilly conditions.
Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.