A paddle is to canoeing what a pair of hiking boots is to backpacking—the wrong choice becomes painfully obvious about ten minutes into the trip, and no matter how long you keep slogging, it won't let you forget. Not for a minute.
Spending time bandaging blisters instead of enjoying your surroundings is a bummer, especially when you're stuck with the same sorry stick for days or weeks in the wilderness.
Too many paddlers overlook this essential piece of gear, seduced instead by new-age boat design or the latest lightweight techie gadget. Don't make that mistake. Choose wisely before your next multi-day adventure.
The straight-shaft Venture is stable, powerful and balances nicely in the hands. The tip and sides are reinforced with Dynel—a smoother version of Kevlar—and the western red cedar blade is overlaid with fiberglass for durability. The contoured barrel grip is reminiscent of the old "football grip" shape and feels just as good, but doesn't look like a football stuck on the end of the shaft.
UPSIDE: best bang for the buck in the mix
DOWNSIDE: not as comfortable as some other models
Choosing a Touring Blade
A few points to consider when picking up your next stick.
The bent shaft crowd touts stroke efficiency, especially on flat water. The straight shaft traditionalist likes maneuvering control, particularly in current. Test both.
If you paddle mostly flatwater and slow-moving current, go for a narrower blade that will demand less energy/stroke. For faster water, beef up the width.
Get a grip
Choose a grip that really fits your hand. A bad match is like the boot that always gives you blisters.
The bent-shaft Guide is a sweet paddle, especially for those who like a smaller grip. The tear-shaped blade has good stroke power, but is prone to flutter at top speed. The glass tip adds to longevity and the oval shaft is easy on the hands.
UPSIDE: great attention to fine details
DOWNSIDE: going all out, the paddle flutter is distracting
The bent-shaft Boundary Waters is a cruiser—the slender, tapered shape is made for steady stroking. It encourages short, fast strokes that can propel you across flat water all day, and the urethane-tipped, fiberglass-reinforced blade will hold up through the years.
UPSIDE: long-lasting comfort for extended trips
DOWNSIDE: gives up some power for the cruising bliss
The bent-shaft Pacer's wide blade efficiently powers up against a headwind or handles whitewater. The larger, curved-palm grip accommodates a range of hand sizes and the reinforced tip and a thin sheet of glass over the blade add durability.
UPSIDE: balanced feel
DOWNSIDE: the wide blade requires more effort on flat water