Choosing a Portable Breakdown Paddle for Inflatable Kayaks

So you’ve made the decision on an inflatable kayak. You’ve researched yourself to death, and have finally narrowed it down to the one that’s perfect for you. A sigh of relief – the hard part is over – until you find there are just as many choices, styles and incomprehensible terminologies for breakdown paddles.

Choosing a breakdown paddle

Paddle lengths, materials, paddling styles, techniques – where to start?

Assuming that portability is the highest priority, AirKayaks has partnered with Accent and Cannon Paddles to help demystify the process of choosing a breakdown (or take-down) kayak paddle.

First of all, what is a breakdown kayak paddle?

Unlike a canoe paddle, which has one blade, shaft and handle grip, a kayak paddle features two blade heads (left hand and right hand) and a shaft.

Canoe versus kayak paddle

The paddler grips the shaft with both hands, and dips one blade into the water and pulls, then dips the other side into the water and pulls. This is a more efficient method of paddling when sitting lower in the water.

Four-pc breakdown paddle

While there are 2-pc breakdown paddles on the market, the most portable paddles are the 4-pc breakdown paddles consisting of two shaft lengths that connect into one, and two blades – a left hand and right hand – that attach onto the shaft. 4-pc breakdown paddles for inflatables typically have a longest shaft length of 25 to 30 inches in length, making them easily storable, often in the kayak carrying case.

What length should I look for?

Since inflatable kayaks are typically wider than hardshell kayaks, a 230 or 240cm paddle is considered a good length. For those confused with the measurement system, a 230cm paddle is 90.55 inches in length while a 240cm paddle is 94.5 inches in length (2.54 cm per inch).

The choice of either is a personal preference, but you should consider your height, paddling style and typical paddling conditions. In general, 230cm is good for persons under 6 feet, high-angle paddlers, and those in fast moving paddling conditions. Paddlers over 6 feet, low-angle paddlers and those in calmer touring conditions may be more comfortable with a 240cm, though our largest-selling paddle for inflatable kayaks is the 230cm size.

What is low and high angle paddling?

Low angle paddling keeps the blade more horizontal and can be less fatiguing.

Low-angle paddling

It is often used for long-range touring, to save energy, in calmer waters and in wider kayaks.

With high angle paddling, the kayaker is lifting the blade up more perpendicular to the kayak.

High-angle paddling

This uses up more energy, but there is more power in each stroke, propelling one faster, making one more maneuverable and getting a solid workout. It is more aggressive but much more fatiguing.

Which material should I choose?

Our breakdown paddles are typically constructed of aluminum, fiberglass, carbon or a carbon hybrid shaft with fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene blades. Here are the pros and cons of each.

Shaft materials

Aluminum shafts: Least expensive, very durable, typically weighs more than a comparable carbon paddle. More corrosive in salty or brackish water and should be rinsed/dried after each use. Heats up faster (hotter in feel) in warm weather, and colder to touch in more frigid weather.

Fiberglass: Middle price range, durable, stiff and fairly maintenance-free, typically weighs more than a comparable carbon paddle. Less affected by salty or brackish water. Does not heat up or cool down with varying temperatures, making it more comfortable to hold.

Carbon fiber: Most expensive, lightest in weight. Less affected by salty or brackish water. Does not heat up or cool down with varying temperatures, making it more comfortable to hold. While they cost more, the weight savings can make it less tiring if paddling over long periods of time. Slightly less durable than fiberglass.

Please note that the pros and cons listed above pertain to comparison of similar paddles. A carbon paddle with a larger blade may weigh the same amount – or more – than an aluminum paddle with a smaller blade. A 4-pc paddle will weigh more than the same one-pc version, as more materials are used in construction – same for comparable paddles with longer shafts. (Airkayaks note. For illustrative purposes, we compared three 230cm Cannon Nokomis paddles with the same blade, length and shaft in different materials. The weights were 2.8 lbs for aluminum, 2.8 lbs for fiberglass and 2.3 lbs for carbon. We then compared the 230cm fiberglass Cannon Nokomis (longer, thinner blade) with the 230cm fiberglass Cannon Wave (fatter blade). These measured 2.8 lbs and 2.9 lbs respectively.)

So here’s our next point, what about blade size and shape?

Many “touring” (low angle paddles, such as the Nokomis) feature longer, thinner blades, making it less fatiguing to paddle over long distances.

Blakde shapes

Larger blades (such as the Wave) will push more water, propelling one along faster – they are also useful in larger wave situations.

What is feathering?

Blades are either feathered or non-feathered. In the non-feathered mode, the kayak blades are positioned all on the same plane.

Feathered blade.

In the feathered mode, the blades are rotated at an angle to each other, which reduces wind resistance – when one blade is pulling on water, the other is parallel to the air.

Unfeathered blade

Many recreational paddlers use the non-feathered mode, as it is easier on the wrists. Those out for long paddles often choose the feathering mode as it increases efficiency, thus reducing paddling fatigue.

Example of adjustable feathering ferrule

While many breakdown kayak paddles exhibit three feathering positions – 65 degree left hand, un-feathered and 65 degree right hand – some higher-end paddles utilize an adjustable ferrule offering a much wider range of feathering.

Drip rings – what to do with those “little round circles?”

The drip rings are typically rubber rings that are placed at the base of the blade.

Drip rings

When the paddle is lifted into the air, as the water starts to run off the blade, it meets the drip ring and falls into the water – and not on your lap. While some water may still run down, keeping a “low angle” paddling technique will minimize this.

Some questions to ask yourself when choosing a kayak paddle

1) What type of water conditions will you typically encounter. Whitewater, waves, calm waters or a mixture. Salt or fresh water.
2) Do you plan on long excursions, recreational use, core workouts or just “hanging around”.
3) How much do you want to spend.

The bottom line – the best paddle is the one that fits your budget and recreational style.

To see varying breakdown paddles, visit our Paddle page on the website at

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