You can't do good work without the right tools. A paddle that's too long is awkward, while one that is too short is inefficient. You don't determine paddle length by a "nose to toes" or "arm span" measurement. Overall length depends on the height of your canoe seat, whether you to sit or kneel (or do both), and how you prefer to paddle (sit's switch or classic Canadian). It also depends upon the kind of water you paddle (calm lakes, big waves, technical rapids) and the responsiveness of your canoe. It's not rocket science but there are some loose rules:
That's the correct paddle length for you. Note that the overall length of the paddle is in part programmed by the blade length.
Bent paddles can be an inch or two shorter; whitewater sticks may be somewhat longer.
Add an inch or two to this measurement if you prefer to kneel in your canoe.
Sit-down paddlers should start with the formula measurement.
A loaded canoe sits lower in the water than an empty canoe, so technically, you should use a shorter paddle. But unless you own a shed full of different length paddles - and can magically switch them with changing loads - best size your paddle with the lightest load you plan to carry - which means go slightly longer rather than short.
When you take all the above into consideration, maybe it IS rocket science!
The formula says that I should use a 54 inch straight paddle (52 inch bent) in my high volume Dagger Venture-17 canoe. But I prefer a 56-inch straight and a 54-inch bent.
Formula length for my Kevlar Bell Yellowstone Solo, is 52 and 50 inches. I prefer 57 and 54. Why the big difference? Because longer paddles provide greater power and control and more effortless steering (solo-C stroke). And when I'm running the YS in a rocky rapid where quick turns mean missing rocks, a longer paddle saves the day.
Cliff Jacobson is a professional canoe guide and outfitter for the Science Museum of Minnesota, a wilderness canoeing consultant, and the author of more than a dozen top-selling books on camping and canoeing. Visit his website at: www.cliffcanoe.com
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