Do you already have your kayak picked out and need to find the best whitewater kayak paddle? You’re in good hands. With over seven years of kayaking experience, I’ll help you find the right paddle for your adventures. There are a few things you need to keep in mind when picking out your new whitewater kayak paddle. As you can imagine, riding the rapids puts a lot of stress on your kayak and if you plan on staying in control, it will put stress on your paddle as well. Because of this, the shaft of the paddle needs to be of premium quality, sturdy, and remain lightweight. If you’re going after a class IV, V or VI whitewater rapid, having a reliable whitewater kayak paddle is of the utmost importance.

The Blades

The blades are the part of the paddle used to push the water. These are the most important piece of your paddle, and probably the most important piece of your gear set, excluding the kayak itself. Most affordable blades are made of polypropylene (plastic) and/or fiberglass. Some high-end paddles are made of carbon fiber — this is what I would recommend for the tough currents of whitewater kayaking. A few companies boast a gain of 30% more power with their carbon fiber blade when compares to plastic blades.  Not all, but some whitewater kayak paddles have interchangeable blades. If one cracks or chips you just need a new blade instead of a whole new paddle. Most blades have a slight curve to the inside providing better pulling strength and being more water resistant. Some have a slight twist, providing more support for the high angle paddlers.

The Shaft

Certain paddles come all in one piece, so the shaft is the same or similar material as the blades to reduce production costs. Some paddles come in three pieces – two paddles and a shaft. Most quality kayak paddles have just two pieces and disconnect in the middle of the shaft. I prefer for my shaft to be modular or semi-modular, meaning two or three pieces. Your paddle should be resizable and this usually happens at the shaft. If your blades detach, make sure they attach securely without any chance of coming loose. Carbon fiber is the preferred material for whitewater kayak paddles. This provides the necessary durability for the least amount of weight. Make sure the grip on the shaft is not slippery, even when it gets wet. Some shafts are ribbed or coated in comfortable rubber material.

The Weight

You’re going to be carrying your paddle for hours at a time, and hopefully for years to come. Weight is very important. The lighter the better, but you can’t give up quality or durability to slice off a few ounces. Anywhere from 1.8 to 2.2 pounds (ca. 998 g) is ideal. It’s a rider preference, if you like a bit more of a workout, the extra few ounces won’t hurt. But if you’re going for endurance, you want your kayak paddle to be as light as possible.

The Brand

I have to tell you something about myself here. I’ve never been big on brand name items. For example, I prefer my knock-off Raman noodle shirt over my Nike shirt any day. For me, it’s all about comfort and quality. My wife bickers because I consider the quality of most things I buy. Let her tell the story, and she’ll admit I consider the quality of too many things. I think quality is more important than a brand name or even brand recognition. That being said, there are a few brands I feel strongly about in the world of whitewater rapid kayak paddles. I have no affiliation with the brands I recommend in this article. I’ve just come to find the best brands after many years of kayaking and many conversations with kayakers much better than myself. The few top brands you’ll hear 90% of the time are Werner, Aqua Bound, and Bending Branches. I’ve personally tested all three of these manufacturer’s paddles and couldn’t recommend these brands enough.

Choosing the Right Whitewater Kayak Paddle Size

Before picking from the top five paddles below, you’ll want to know what size you need. There are just a few factors you should consider when picking your paddle. The kayak width is important to know how much clearing room you’ll have as you’re swinging your paddle. Your height is the other important factor. With these, we can determine the best kayak size. See the chart below for reference or reach out to us anytime if you need help.

Width of Kayak Under 23″ 24″ to 28″ 29″-33″ 34″+
Paddler Height Recommended Paddle Size
Under 5’6″ 210 cm 220 cm 230 cm 240 cm
5’6″ to 5’11” 220 cm 230 cm 240 cm 250 cm
6’+ 220 cm 230 cm 250 cm 260 cm

 

Time for the meat and potatoes, the top 5 whitewater kayak paddles!

Werner Skagit Hooked Kayak Paddle


The Skagit Hooked is my favorite paddle of all time. I’ve had mine for three years. We’ve been on many journeys together, and she never fails to amaze. Yes, she’s a girl and her name is Daisy. The Werner Skagit Hooked is of premium quality made of nylon and a continuous woven carbon shaft. It comes in two pieces and separates in the middle. Each side has a solid drip ring to keep water from the blades from dropping down to your grip. It includes a year-long manufacturer’s warranty (you won’t need this), and weighs a measly 2.8 pounds (ca. 1,270 gram)! The color choices aren’t overwhelming with just two to choose from, both are great. The grip on this paddle is flawless — doesn’t fatigue the hands and evenly distributes the pressure points. It bends in all the right places. I couldn’t more highly recommend this paddle. I hope I have my Daisy for many years to come.

  • Primary Material: Carbon Shaft, Reinforced Fiberglass, Nylon Blades
  • # of Pieces: 2
  • Colors: Brown & Black or Orange & Black
  • Warranty: 1-year
  • Weight: 2.83 pounds (ca. 1,284 gram)

Werner Camano


The Camano paddle is a thing of beauty. If you need color and size options, you get them all with the Werner Camano. It has 14 design patterns to choose from including my favorite, Lime Drift, to Gradient Sunset and Charcoal. The staff is straight and sturdy. This is the first Werner model to boast an easily adjustable ferrule. This is the first paddle that really starts to reach the ranks of a paddle snob, but that’s a good thing. As I mentioned, the paddle is a very important piece and buying one that fits your needs is almost as important as the kayak itself. Take your time with this decision. Save up until you have enough to get the paddle you want. This should be a once in a lifetime decision, not something that had to be updated or renewed every year. Check out our in-depth review of the Camano paddle to learn all about it (including how it’s pronounced!)

  • Primary Material: Carbon Blend Shaft, Premium Fiberglass Blades
  • # of Pieces: 2
  • Colors: 14 options to choose from
  • Warranty: 1-year
  • Weight: 2.12 pounds

Bending Branches Angler Ace

The Angler Ace by Bending Branches is a premier paddle for whitewater rafting. If you don’t need all the color options of the Werner Camano and don’t mind the all-black paddle, then consider this one. Along with the other paddles, it’s quality made in the USA. This paddle is targeted towards fishermen with the built-in hook retrieval system for help with snagged hooks, or lost lures. It has an ovalized grip for comfort and measuring units on the shaft. This paddle also has a 3-hole snap-button ferrule adjustment. The chart on the page linked above is a nice guide to help you choose the proper paddle length.

  • Primary Material: Carbon Shaft, Carbon Reinforced Blades
  • # of Pieces: 2
  • Colors: Black
  • Warranty: 1-year
  • Weight: 2 pounds (ca. 907 gram)

Aqua Bound Manta Ray Carbon Paddle

Here we introduce a top contender from another popular kayak paddle manufacturer. The Aqua Bound brand is known for its dependable whitewater kayak paddles. The Manta Ray model is a true feat of flawless ergonomics and maneuverability. The shaft is pure carbon fiber which makes it ultra-lightweight and sturdy. Some shafts are fiberglass with an outer layer of carbon fiber, not the Manta Ray. The paddle comes in two pieces and two different locking designs: Posi-Lok or Snap Button ferrule. This is a great alternative to test out along with the other premium kayak paddles mentioned above. At just over 1.8 pounds (ca. 816 gram), this is the lightest paddle in this review. If weight is your main concern, you can’t go wrong with the Manta Ray.

  • Primary Material: Carbon Fiber Shaft, Carbon Reinforced Nylon Blades
  • # of Pieces: 2
  • Colors: Black
  • Warranty: 1-year
  • Weight: 1.84 pounds (ca. 835 gram)

Aqua Bound Sting Ray Hybrid

The Sting Ray Hybrid paddle offers similar features as the Manta Ray but comes with smaller blades which can reduce fatigue if speed isn’t your objective. It also comes in the creamy white color blades which in my opinion is more appealing.

  • Primary Material: Carbon Fiber Shaft, Carbon Reinforced Nylon Blades
  • # of Pieces: 2
  • Colors: Black/Black or White/Black + Orange
  • Warranty: 1-year
  • Weight: 1.9 pounds (ca. 865 gram)