By Alan Kesselheim
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.
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?
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.
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.