Canoe Paddles for the Long Haul

Alan Kesselheim puts four tripping paddles to the long-distance test

Left to right: Bending Branches Cruiser Plus; Badger Paddles Tripper; Sawyer Ranger-X; Harmony Vapor. Photo by J.P. Van Swae

Left to right: Bending Branches Cruiser Plus; Badger Paddles Tripper; Sawyer Ranger-X; Harmony Vapor. Photo by J.P. Van Swae

By Alan Kesselheim

Harmony Vapor

19 oz., $160 – harmonygear.com
An eloquent all-around straight-shaft paddle (also available in bent-shaft). The Vapor combines a blend of lightness and toughness, delivered through a carbon power face layered over a cedar laminate with a protective fiberglass sheet over everything. The rolled palm grip feels like a compromise between the control of a t-grip and the comfort of the rounded grip. Overall, the Vapor is light and comfortable enough for the all-day cruise, and emphatic and tough enough for the grind through whitewater.

Bending Branches Cruiser Plus

23 oz., $110 – bendingbranches.com
Some paddles have that intangible quality that just feels good; a blend of heft and balance, action in the water, feel in the palm that adds up to sweetness, stroke after stroke. The Cruiser Plus is that paddle. It’s ergonomically comfortable – the palm grip rides well in the hand and the 14-degree bend is easy on the bod. The blade is powerful enough to be effective in whitewater, while the blend of laminates – alder, basswood and butternut – create both flexibility and stiffness for all-day cruising. Throw in the fiberglass, Rockgard tip for long-term wear, and it adds up to the one paddle you go to over the years. Oh yeah, did I mention that it’s affordable?

Sawyer Ranger X

27 oz., $100 – paddlesandoars.com
You feel like you can really do something with the Ranger. It’s an action blade. Fiberglass/carbon wrap on both blade and shaft gives the Ranger a stiffness and power in the water that generates confidence. The control afforded by the t-grip adds to that effect.  Without the wrap, a fir/pine paddle would be questionable. With that protective layer and the stiffness it adds, this paddle is both durable and affordable, checking in at $100. In whitewater the Ranger has the control and power you want, and the reinforced, teardrop blade has a surprisingly smooth quality on flatwater.

Badger Paddles Tripper

Approx. 30 oz. (weight varies with wood type), $130 — (comes with protective paddle sock), badgerpaddles.com
If you like cane seats, wood gunwales, wood/canvas boats, the Tripper will complete the package. It’s a traditionalist’s dream, fashioned in the Voyageur style – triangle grip, narrow, tapered, oval-shaped blade, rounded edges. It lends itself to northwoods-style tripping. I fell for the action on stretches of lake, and if you like underwater return strokes, this is your baby. A slight dihedral ridge on the blade face tamps down the tendency to flutter. In whitewater, it takes some getting used to.  Crafted from a single piece of ash, cherry or walnut, the Tripper has the potential for heirloom status.

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Add a Comment

  • Tom Cook

    Interesting combination of paddles. Nice to see a small maker like Badger in the mix. I can’t figure out why companies are making asymmetrical straight shaft paddles. The power face should be both sides and the top grip should be symetrical.

    • Cranny

      I disagree. I guess that’s why companies do it.

  • Old Guy

    They all seem too heavy to me.

    • Tom Cook

      Traditional solid hardwood paddles can weigh a lot. I have a Turtle Stylus in cherry that weight a ton, but when using doing in water returns the woods buoyancy mitigates the weight. Also you don’t have to lift a long blade out of the water every stroke. All four of these paddles are pretty different, but combine them together and they make a nice quiver of options.

  • Preston Ciere

    I’ve always like using my Badgers. They’re light, have a nice feel to them and are very durable. I just re-oiled mine after sanding out some scratches and they look brand new again.

  • JR

    I tend to paddle mostly flatwater, and use Zaveral bent shaft paddles. With a very comfortable palm grip, a 12 degree bend, and a weight of roughly 8.5 oz., they are very hard to beat. Even the whitewater models are light and tough. I think they went for $175+, back almost 20 years ago, but they still look and work like like new.

Buyer's Guide

Buyer's Guide