So you’ve decided to gear up with a new packraft and take up this exciting sport. It’s a fun and thrilling way to experience the backcountry from a different perspective and paddling downriver with all your gear in a raft is a lot less exhausting than hauling it on foot over rough terrain. Now it’s time to choose the right packrafting paddle.
But is there a such thing as a packrafting paddle? And what makes it different from a regular paddle? Great question.
Most packraft paddles are double-bladed, kayak-style paddles, designed to as light and packable as possible – in keeping with this unique mode of travel’s main theme. But depending on the exact style and size of raft being used – and the amount of weight – being hauled, there might actually be another style of paddle that works better.
Let’s look at what makes a true packraft paddle (or just a good one).
As mentioned, most packrafters use general ocean or river kayak paddles, with a few special considerations to fit the packraft’s needs.
Kayak blades come in a variety of shapes and styles. Most belong to one of two categories: High-angle and Low-Angle Paddles.
High Angle paddles enter the water at (you guessed it) – a higher angle than low angle paddles. This is because of their shorter shafts, and you must row with them at an almost-vertical angle. They also generally have larger blades. Together, large blades and steep angles result in a more powerful stroke, that propels the raft forward faster. They’re also good for navigating through obstacles, which is why they are often used for whitewater kayaking. Most packraft paddles are high-angle paddles.
Low-Angle paddles have longer shafts than their high angle counterparts, which allows them to create longer, smoother, more sweeping strokes than a shorter paddle. Thus, low-angle paddles cannot move as quickly as high-angle models, and don’t create as much power with each stroke. They make up for that, however, by requiring less effort and upper-body motion, and many sea and lake kayakers on calmer waters prefer them. Low-angle paddles are also often made from lighter-weight materials than high angle paddles, as they don’t need to move as much water or take on any Class III rapids.
Which one do you need? It generally depends on kind of paddling you prefer, as well as how much weight you’ll be moving. Most packrafters prefer the added strength of high-angle paddles, and most of our models follow that lead.
Length is another major factor in choosing a paddle. The extra width of the packraft often requires more length than you’d need with a kayak or canoe. Your height is also important; you want a paddle long enough to be comfortable, but not
If you’re looking for a high-angle paddle, you’ll probably want to go with one measuring 190-205mm. For a longer, low angle paddle, you’ll want one a bit longer – somewhere between 220-240mm will work. If your boat is over 30”, you’ll definitely want to opt for one at least 240mm. If you’re 6 feet or taller with a wide boat, you might even go one 250mm long.
Another alternative might be an adjustable-length paddle, so you can tweak it to your own liking as time goes on.
Kayak paddles come in one-piece, two-piece, three-piece and even four-piece configurations. The most common for kayaking are one-piece and two-piece paddles. The most common are packrafting is 4-piece paddles.
One-piece paddles are one solid piece from oar tip to oar tip, which means they are the sturdiest option.
Two-piece paddles are two identical ends that come apart and screw together, giving you the ability to easily take the paddle apart for transporting to or from the water. They won’t be as sturdy as a one-piece, but the added portability might be worth it.
Three-piece paddles usually have the middle section of pole, with two oar heads that screw onto the end. As a result, they’re not quite as easy to pack as two-piece paddles, as the middle section of pole is still long and won’t fit into a backpack very well.
However, when people really talk about packraft paddles, they talk about 4-piece paddles. Packability, light weight and convenience are vital to packrafting. Four-piece paddles are the best bet for nailing all those requirements. They come apart into the most and smallest components, and fit most easily into your pack when moving over land. When most people talk about packrafting paddles, they are usually talking about 4-piece models.
Cheap packraft paddles are often made of cheap plastic. Avoid those.
Instead, look for a paddle made from fiberglass, nylon, or ideally – if you can afford it – carbon fiber.
Nylon is a step above plastic; it’s tough and relatively durable, though it can crack over time. It can also degrade if left in the sun. It’s heavier than fiberglass or carbon fiber, and many thinner paddles are flexible. This makes it harder to move and push through water.
Fiberglass offers a great balance of weight and durability. It’s lighter than plastic or nylon, but doesn’t flex in the same way, making it more efficient and powerful when cutting through water. They’re also more durable, and much less likely to crack.
Carbon fiber paddles are usually the most expensive, but they’re also the best. Carbon fiber is super lightweight, meaning it is easy to paddle with. It’s also harder and stiffer than nylon or fiberglass, so it works through water efficiently. It’s also super durable.
So, what makes a good packrafting paddle?
Our ideal packraft paddle is a four-piece, lightweight carbon fiber paddle with a high-angle blade. It has a pole shaft long enough work comfortably with the the raft’s extra width, but one short enough to take good, tall, vertical strokes with.
That sounds a lot like the Aqua-Bound Manta Ray – one of the most popular – if not THE most – packraft paddles.
The Manta Ray boasts a 4-piece carbon fiber construction, and Aqua-Bound’s Posi-Lock system. This helps lock blade and shaft together firmly, for stiff, confident paddling. Posi-Lock connectors are also designed to be corrosion-resistant.
The Manta Ray’s high-angle blades are large and wide, creating a powerful stroke that propels the raft forward efficiently. It’s a heavy-duty and reliable piece of gear, but carbon fiber means that the whole setup weighs a minuscule 29.5 ounces – less than 2 pounds.
Aqua-Bound paddles are also made right at home in Osceola, Wisconsin, which automatically boosts them in our book.
Our next choice would be the Oro Carbon Paddle. Another 4-piece paddle built from durable carbon fiber, the Oru Carbon weighs even less than the Manta Ray,: just 1.45 pounds.
Unlike the Manta Ray, however, it’s completely adjustable – both in length and in blade pitch. You can set it at 220m or at a max of 230mm, and it comes with handy carrying case with strap for transporting around. Oru makes reliable and durable paddles and raft gear, and this carbon fiber paddle is no different. Whether you’re moving on calm or rough water, it’ll keep you steady and moving.
Another carbon paddle we really like is the Werner Ikelos.
Named after Ikelos, the assistant to Morpheus – the Greek God of Dreams – this is a top-of-the-line high-angle paddle, with all the quality, finish and design to boot: the Ikelos weighs less than 1.5 pounds, making it one of the lightest paddles in existence;the full-sized blades cut effortlessly through the water; and the dihedral blade shape means each stroke is stable and efficient. The blade also features Dynel finishing on the edges; Dynel is a fabric laminate that provides impact and abrasion-resistance. It adds some durability and strength for extended use and navigating rough, rocky waters.
The Ikelos is easily one of the best paddles out there, which is why it’s also probably one of the most expensive – clocking in at over $400. You can get it in both straight and bent shaft options.
If you plan on doing some whitewater rafting, you may want to look at the Shred Carbon. Designed for ultralight performance in rough waters, the Shred Carbon features abX carbon-reinforced nylon blades, paired with an ovalized “aerospace-grade” carbon shaft. So, while it’s not as light as some of it’ pure-carbon counterparts (coming in at 34.5 ounces) it does provide a good balance of ruggedness and responsiveness. The short length helps with that too; you can pick one up at 192cm, and it tops out at 200cm. Another solid choice for a packrafting paddle.
We had to include this beauty in here. Sawyer is a long-time, well-known paddle and oar maker – whether kayak, canoe, whitewater – and few brands know how to do it as well as they do. The Cedar Surge II is exclusive to Alpacka Raft: a 4-piece, carbon paddle that checks all the boxes we look for in a paddle – light weight (29 ounces), packability and convenience, and durability (carbon fiber and fiberglass reinforcements, Sawyer’s TouchEdge Dynel edge protectant). It’s adjustable from 205cm to 230cm, too.
But what really sold us on this packrafting paddle that beautiful cedar look. The blades are actually laminated Western Red Cedar, paired with carbon and fiberglass reinforcements. If that’s not worth splurging, we don’t know what is. (The paddle is designed to handle the all-day demands of packrafting, but the cedar blades limit its viability over rocky waters and rapids).
You might say the Werner Skagit is our “budget” option; it’s a bit cheaper than all the rest, which is why it continues to be one of the most popular recreational kayak paddles amongst beginners and pros (who like the price and reliable performance) alike. But it still delivers, with a 2-piece carbon and fiberglass shaft that combines durability and light weight, an adjustable ferrule for tweaking the feather angle (from 0-60 in 15 increments) and injection-molded and reinforced nylon blades. It’s got low-angle blades, but the dihedral shape is good for efficient, forward paddling; this shape helps reduces torque, allowing you take smoother, longer strokes and not tire yourself out as quickly.
At 34 ounces, it’s the heaviest of our picks – but we don’t think you’ll notice the extra weight if using it properly. As a 2-piece, it doesn’t break down as small as a 4-piece and can be a bit clunky to fit in your backpack when moving over land.
Still, it’s a less-expensive option than other Werner paddles, and can frequently be found for a good deal. If you’re on a budget but don’t want to compromise your packrafting paddle’s durability or performance, you’re in luck.
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