Summary: Broken paddles currently seem to be a rare problem, but it feels anything but rare when it happens to you on the wrong side of a river, so I thought this should have its own section.
Aquabound Splat & Manta Ray paddles have a solid history with (1) known freak break (sounds like a defect) that was warranted, and a known capacity to fatigue over their lifespan and eventually break.
Sawyer paddles have a very good general history, and were beefed up after a brief, odd spate of breaks immediately after introduction, probably attributable to 1-2 early production runs.
Pacific Designs (oars & ultralight) have a solid history on flatwater, except when exerted to extreme rigor, but don’t appear to be river suitable (which also isn’t in their design spec).
Werner, Lendal, etc: Insufficient forums data / personal knowledge for conclusions.
Aquabound: http://www.alpackaraft.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=826 Generally a very good history; will eventually fatigue. I’ve only heard one “freak” break of them on a new paddle; the other breaks I’ve heard about sound like older, fatigued paddles - but they do seem to accumulate fatigue over long use in the central ferrule, so heads up if you do lots of whitewater, you may eventually “break it in half.” If you’ve had a freak break, PM me. The freak incident:
russellnyberg had this happen: > Whoa dude…just got off of a 4 day bike/packraft trip on the deschutes, from bend to maupin. My carbon fiber aqua bound paddle stapped in half 14 miles in!! Just ferrying away from a hole and it broke right in the center, the piece that enters the hollow shaft. Bummer man. I wraped a bunch of sticks around them and it worked awsome for the rest of the trip, as long as I rewrapped them in the morning. Anybody have a problem with their paddles? I never abused it, i am awfuly burly though…
And Aquabound/Bending Branches made it good:
Nice! Brandnew paddle! No problem, i showed them a video of the broken paddle and some pics and now I have a new paddle!
Sawyer History: From this thread: http://www.alpackaraft.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=175 Based on forum commentary, boater feedback to Alpacka, etc., the Sawyer has been solid in general use after the initial construction speck was beefed up.
The early situation was summarized by Alpacka as such:
Alpacka Raft LLC> Following on what’s been a very good service record, several of our users have broken Sawyer paddles within the last few weeks. Most or all of these breakages appear to be on new paddles. Obviously can’t happen. We’re working with Sawyer to figure out what’s going on
Which was occurring at the same time as this:
Hig: > Overall we loved these paddles. We were a little skeptical of those cedar cored blades and the clamp when we started, and then we beat the crap out of them for a year and were amazed at how well they did. They aren’t perfect, but they’re very good.
How we used them: We’d shove off beaches, run rocky rapids, and put our all into hard paddles around points against the tide. We also shoveled snow and sand, used them for shelter support, and packed them tight in our packs.
Sawyer got on it (commentary by them is also in the thread), and the construction was beefed up. It almost sounds like there was an initial inconsistency of some kind in one lot. Brad summarized the following mood pretty well, as the updated Sawyer went through the trials:
bradmeiklejohn:> After my first Sawyer paddle broke on its second day on the water, I’ve been hesitant to tout this paddle for hard and rocky whitewater. Last year the Sawyer stayed home on the harder and longer trips, displaced by my trusty fiberglass Manta Ray. This year, though, I’ve been taking the Sawyer more often, including a two-week outing to the western Arctic, down the rocky Happy River, and some other bony Class IV rivers. I am starting to trust it more, though, as it has been taking a pretty good beating with no damage yet. I still use the Sawyer with some trepidation, which is awkward when faced with a “must-make” move on a rocky river. But I am slowly gaining confidence that this beauty will stand up to the beast.
Shaggy added [referencing the fact that he was doing customer service for Alpacka at the time: > earing boater feedback, and watching the record of the paddle is that the changes Sawyer made to it have been very good. My overall impression, from the information I get, is that the Sawyer is a beautiful mixed-water paddle, but if you’re consistently doing hard water, a more robust Manta Ray or Splat is a good choice. That said, I haven’t personally heard of anything more than Sawyer cracks for about eight months.
And Roman summed it up well:> Brad’s hit the current with the blade on the Sawyer: It’s remarkably durable and its adjustability is great. I bought one for my wife but have been using it more frequently for camping trips as it makes a superb central pole for my pyramid style tents.
I am afraid to use it when steep creeking, but have other paddles for that. But for any trip that’s Class III and involves walking and especially camping, it’s going with.
Speaking as personal myself but with knowledge gleaned from Alpacka & Sawyer, as of Mar 2010, its record appears to be very good for this use envelope. Some non-performance-affected paddle cracks that can be epoxied, and inner ferrules getting loose over time (not sure if there’s any solution for this other than a new ferrule; I believe it comes from either natural abrasion of the ferrule, or natural relaxation of the clamp… need to send mine in to Sawyer, and maybe they can tell me).
Fjord Explorer / Dory Oars: Note: these have the same basic construction as the Ultralight Paddle, so the same durability commentary should apply.
Richard295 sums it up well:
am responding to your paddle question from the perspective of a pack rafter, sea kayaker, and WW kayaker and I use a wide range of paddles. The Pacific Design’s paddles are a good option for recreational paddlers but are not rugged enough for expedition use. Pacific Design’s was/is? the OEM supplier of the Dory convertible rowing and kayaking paddle sold by Alpacka. Five people I pack raft with purchased Alpacka dories in combination with a Pacific Designs rowing/paddling convertible paddle.
I did two packraft trips last year with group members who broke Pacific Designs paddles. The first failure occurred on the Upper Sacramento River in CA. The shaft snapped from just powering a packraft during an up river ferry; the paddle did not hit a rock. That paddle set and the other sets owned by fellow pack rafters I know were then modified by the manufacture to add a reinforcing sleeve to the inside of the shaft about at the midpoint. After those modifications the shafts held up but the ABS plastic blades that are riveted to the shaft tore on a couple of blades that were next used on a SF Flathead river trip in Montana’s Bob wilderness. They have now all switched over to beefier paddles.
General observations I’ve encountered suggest the Pacific Designs paddles (FE oars, ultralight) are flatwater suitable but a significant fraction have a problem sooner or later when used in rivers. Personal observation / highly subjective, but I don’t use them on rivers: it’s not what they’re built for.
Additional Paddle Durability Commentary: Additional commentary on the Sawyer (inc. the initial period) is in the main “Paddles” thread, as well on other paddles, including the old Manta Ray Carbon Fiber (which is different from the Manta Ray Fiberglass) and I believe on the Explorer Oars. The primary thread also has commentary on Werner and Lendal paddles.