The Perfect Packraft Paddle for You?

Hey y’all, Steve Fassbinder and I run a multi-sport adventure guide service (and I’m now on the board of the APA). We get SO many clients and random packrafters we meet all the time asking us about paddles, the best length, the best style for bikerafting or whitewater, etc, etc. So we decided to commission Swiftwater Safety Instructor and Class V boater Dan Thurber to write an article for us on the subject. It’s super comprehensive. But I’m sure there are things we haven’t thought of. So we wanted to ask you, “Did we miss anything?” and “What’s your favorite paddle.” Please chime in! Thanks!

Article here: The Perfect Packraft Paddle: How Do You Figure It Out?


Hey Steve,

Thanks for answering one of those random questions from me!

As a new packrafter and experienced bikepacker with an Alpacka Caribou on the way I reached out to Steve for his opinion on paddles a couple days ago and he gave me an abbreviated version of the advice that Dan lays out in the article above. I’m going to be doing most of my packrafting on lakes/flatwater and Class I moving water until I get a solid idea of my capabilities as a boater.

Doing a little research while my boat is on order I got the following advice.

Steve recommended a 200 or 202 paddle.
Aqua Bound sizing guide for packrafts recommends a 205 for all purpose paddling.
Alpacka bills the 210 Manta Ray Carbon as the favorite all purpose paddle and their best seller.
Nice guy at the local paddling center recommended a 230 or 240 while acknowledging that he had a lot of kayak experience and no packraft experience.

I was able to put hands on a 230 Manta Ray Carbon Posi Lock at the paddling center and thought that it felt good in hand, and felt more stiff and stable compared to the cheaper snap button 4 piece paddles I was able to handle.

In the end, I ordered a 4 piece Manta Ray Carbon Posi Lock in 205 from Aqua Bound and it should be here at the start of the year. 205 seemed like a reasonable compromise in recommended length and $250 is about the max I’m willing to pay. I’m happy to have the ability to change feather angles while I’m learning before I commit to a paddle with a fixed feather angle, I’ll be able to pack the paddle on a bike or in a pack, and if I end up wanting something else this should be a great spare/backup/loaner paddle. I am also glad to have a little more blade in the water than something like the Sting Ray if I’m paddling with a bike on the bow.

If this article would have come out a couple days ago I might have looked harder at the Shred, but I’m hoping that for my use the Manta Ray will be a good all purpose paddle while I learn.


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I think that Manta Ray will treat you super well, especially for mostly calmer water. That advice you got for a 230-240 is expected for someone paddling a boat with speed and a skeg. 205 is much more appropriate for a packraft and will help you develop good technique. Congrats on getting the new kit put together!


Thanks for the input Danno. Makes sense that a longer paddle would be too much leverage for a 5lb boat with no keel. Very excited to get out on the water. Have a couple friends with boats nearby and we already have some day trips planed.

Curious what other folks are using for paddles?

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I have been using my kayak paddle which is a Werner showgun bent shaft 197cm or a Werner 3 piece straight shaft 197cm also. I am fine on whitewater with that length and personally would not go higher than 200 cm (but I guess it’s a matter of preference).
My problem is: I’d like to find a 3 or 4 piece BENT SHAFT whitewater paddle as I have wrist issues. I have searched the internet not to avail… anyone knows who makes those?
Thank you

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Hey @lizzyscully,

Great article y’all put out. Really enjoyed the pictures which augmented the information quite well.

Only thing I would add that might be helpful is if y’all could elaborate a bit more on the benefit of a shorter vs longer paddle for packrafts. Almost all the beginner packrafters I talk and explain this concept to have difficulty grasping this concept, and rarely take the advice on it. So if you were able to further punch that home and get that message to start to spread more, I think it’d be incredibly helpful for the community.

Great work + thanks for this!

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Thanks for the input, Adam. I’d be happy to ask a few folks that and add an addendum to the article.

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Hey sorry for the late reply. Here’s an answer to your question from Ben Phillips, one of our intermediate/advanced instructors, a Class V boater and former long-term employee and boat tester at Alpacka Raft: “Basically, the longer your paddle gets, the more horizontal your strokes become. A horizontal stroke turns the raft as much as it propels it forwards. This results in a loss of forward momentum as the boat wiggles back and forth through the water. Having more leverage, a long paddle takes more energy to swing back and forth between strokes which slows reaction time and increases fatigue. This increased leverage can also make it harder to release the blade from the current in chaotic whitewater. A shorter paddle is recommended for most situations in packrafting (210cm or less, 205 or less for WW) The exception to this would be if you are using a longer, wider raft such as an Alpacka Oryx or Forager. These larger boats require a bit more paddle length to reach the water as the are wider craft with larger tubes. The increasing length of these rafts will also counteract the wiggling and turning caused by a more horizontal stroke. Historically, packraft seats were thin and caused you to sit low in the boat which necessitated a longer paddle to reach out over the tubes to the water. Modern packrafts typically have thicker seats and some have smaller tubes which have allowed for a more upright posture and more efficient paddling technique using shorter paddles.”

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I really appreciate the way this is articulated and agree with all of it, except it think 210 is way too long and most people would be served by paddle 196-205.


Hey Flo! I know Lendal makes a 4-piece bent shaft paddle. I don’t have any personal experience with them, but have heard great things. They are pricey, but my understanding is their joint is really bomber compared to the simple Werner system


Oooh, the dreaded packraft paddle length conversation. Despite the dirth of articles or opinion pieces that favor longer paddles, a longer-paddle camp does exist and I generally advocate for mid-length paddles for packraft use. Obviously, dialing in the correct paddle length depends on a multitude of factors, beyond boat width and tube diameter.

For instance, if you belong to the school of thought that packrafts, for whitewater application, should be paddled with vertical (high-angle strokes) 100% of the time, then standard hardshell paddle lengths (195-203 cm) might be appropriate. However, given that most of the packrafts on the water are 36-38" wide and have 11-12" tubes, longer paddles are preferable, especially if you have a long torso, a low seat position or you are a heavier/stronger paddler.

And don’t forget about bracing, especially low-bracing. Given the width and tube diameter of most packrafts, a short paddle just isn’t very functional to brace consistently. In fact, I sometimes wonder if many packrafters even know what bracing techniques are. Simply put, (195-203) paddles are often too short to apply proper technique and leverage to a brace attempt.

So, for most packraft applications, I recommend a 210-220 cm paddle. FYI - both Werner and AB make custom two-piece whitewater blade paddles in any length you want and Cataract Oars make one-piece carbon (Deso) paddles 206-220 cm. If you prefer a good “all-around” 4-piece paddle, take a look at Werner’s Pack-M Tour or the MRS Carbon 4-piece.

It’s worth noting that Micro Rafting Systems (MRS), a major worldwide packraft manufacturer, actually recommends a 220-230 cm paddle length for all of their boats, even though their packraft specifications are industry-standard.

The only time I recommend shorter paddles, is if folks have a history of shoulder injury and/or strength issues, use as a spare pack paddle, have a dialed combat-roll with a specific paddle length or regularly paddle high-gradient creeky or brushy runs.

Overall, there is no inherent advantage in a shorter paddle, because you can still perform whatever paddling form/technique you prefer with a longer shaft paddle. This becomes more critical in big or funky hydraulic water (Class III-V), when getting forward and/or deep bite with your blade is urgent. Missed strokes, with short paddles, can also be an issue in technical or big water.

I have even found that when ELF boating, having the flexibility to perform shallow low-angle strokes is key. In addition, low-angle paddling can be much more efficient on long days (25+ miles) or when paddling lengthy flat-water sections.

Hey, don’t take my word for it, check out Eric Jackson’s YouTube vid regarding paddle dynamics : Eric Jackson- In the Know- Whitewater Kayaking- All About Paddles - YouTube. He even considers short paddles to represent a paddling “handicap”, and Dane Jackson has been paddling hardshells with a 200+ cm, since he was a kid! When one considers that the average whitewater hardshell is only about 27" wide and sits much closer to the waterline, well - the arithmetic is pretty simple.

@lizzyscully, thanks so much for this answer. Top-notch response right here that’s appreciated and understood more than you know! Send Ben a thanks for me!

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Hey Adam. Happy to help :slight_smile:

It’s always good to have multiple perspectives, but I mostly disagree with the recommendation of starting with a 210-220 cm paddle unless you are only going to paddling flatwater. However, 90% of the people who take packrafting courses from us at Four Corners Guides want to paddle whitewater, whether Class I or harder.

I do think you make some good points zdog. And ultimately, the length depends on packraft, conditions, user and user preference. But I have never heard anyone else recommending 220 cm paddles as the go-to paddle, not Ben Phillips, Steve Fassbinder nor Dan Thurber, all who guide for us and have contributed to this discussion on paddles (through the article, comments to me or comments online). Nor did I ever hear 220 as the recommended paddle from anyone at Alpacka Raft, where I worked for 2.5 years. Upon reading your post and doing some research, I don’t disagree that a 210 cm could be good for some as an all-purpose paddle. However, I personally have had much better experiences with lighter, shorter paddles (though I am just 5.5, weighing 130, in a small Wolverine). And I still maintain if you have any interest in doing whitewater, shorter is better (again, based on my own preference/experience/research).

Alpacka’s standard size for sale is between a 200-205, though they have some “all purpose” paddles for sale at 210. Same with Kokopelli, though they have a 220 for “lake” paddling.

Aqua Bound has a packraft paddling section. They recommend 195-205 for whitewater and 200-205 for all-purpose paddling. They do recommend 210 for flatwater touring.

I use a 200 and 205, and I can brace just fine. Finally, I think comparing kayaks to packrafts is a bit like comparing apples to bananas. As Dan Thurber says, “Beware of paddle sizing guides intended for kayakers!”

Thanks for the response. It inspired me to do more research.

Best, Lizzy

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I’ve been following this discussion and before I add anything to it, I just want to add the qualifier: I am trying to sell you something . . .

I build custom wooden whitewater kayak and canoe paddles. I’ve built kayak paddles for people who paddle IKs, and I have one (and another on order) myself in addition to my hardshell kayaks. I’ve been following the development of the packrafting community for a while now. I’m wondering . . .

If there was paddle/blade shape specifically for whitewater/river packrafters, what would it be? Most of the discussion above hinges on what’s already available. I have my own opinions on what would work, but I’d like to hear from the packrafting community to gather different perspectives.

Blank slate, what’s the dream paddle?


Ohhh. I know my friend Dup really wants one of these! I just sent this to him.

I have an aquabound shred and a werner sherpa. I don’t know much about different paddle shapes, but I can definitley say I greatly prefer the Sherpa. I feel much more precision in draw strokes, and it feels like it moves more water whereas the shred can sometimes feel as though the water is sliding off the face.

Your stuff looks gorgeous. Blade Shapes — Shade Tree Paddles

Based on the wording of the topic question and lacking any of the metrics to individually fit a paddle (i.e. for/aft seat position, seat height, torso length, boat design/width, tube diameter, river classification and gradient of commonly paddled waters, etc.), my reply was confined to the average sized paddler, average boat, expectation of doing some raft-packing trips, and based on Class II-III paddling classification(s) waters that the vast majority of packrafters run. I get this question a lot and, believe it or not, a fair number of folks just want ONE paddle to rule them all and perform decently in all situations.

This is the primary reason I recommend 2-piece paddle versus a single or 4-piece paddle. While single-piece paddles are stronger and offer uniform flex for high-gradient whitewater, they present transportation and storage challenges. If you plan to raft-pack at all, it becomes a hand-carry affair, which if you prefer your hands free while backpacking or like to use trekking poles, this is a no-go.

On the other hand, four-piece paddles perform the poorest overall for uniform feel and are prone to mechanical failures (i.e. loose or seized ferules). I will say they are slightly easier to pack, but I have heard horror stories of folks loosing a shaft piece miles back on the trails, when it slid out of a compartment.

Given all that, I only recommend 1-piece paddles to those that paddle almost exclusively Class IV-V whitewater and 4-piece only as spare and/or raft-packing paddles. Two-piece paddles offer the perfect blend of strength, performance and pack-ability. Additionally, 2-piece paddles are available in the widest selection of blade types and sizes - many more types than 1 or 4-piece paddles.

Generally speaking, fiberglass blades are stronger than carbon or wood and all three are way stronger than plastic or nylon blades, regardless of the surface coating. So, in the cost/strength ratio fiberglass blades are the clear winner.

Some may not be aware, but “whitewater” paddles are engineered differently than “flatwater” paddles. For instance, the sidewall shaft thickness is stouter in whitewater paddles, as is the blade thickness. In addition, the shaft to blade connection is more robust. Regarding shaft material, I prefer carbon or wood , but fiberglass is decent. If you can help it, never choose an aluminum shaft paddle.

For this reason, I generally recommend a “whitewater” paddle, even though they tend to be a few ounces heavier. While it is tempting to go with a flatwater paddle to save those ounces, particularly for raft-packing, I don’t recommend it if you paddle Class III and above. I see a ton of broken AB Manta-Rays from whitewater use…just saying

The last element of the perfect paddle is the ferule design. If you plan to paddle whitewater, I do not recommend an adjustable or lever-lock ferule. While it’s nice to be able to adjust your offset (blade feathering) and even the shaft length in some cases, these type of connections are designed for flatwater use. For robust whitewater paddling a push-button slide with a single hole is recommended. If you paddle a mix of waters, leaning toward Class I-II, you might consider a three-hole ferule (45L-0-45R or 30L-0-30R offset).

Based on all this, my one “Perfect Paddle” would be a 206-220 cm 2-piece paddle, with a carbon whitewater shaft and with small-mid surface area fiberglass whitewater blades, and either a 1 (favors whitewater) or 3-hole (favors flatwater) ferrule

A more holistic and honest reply is that you’ll eventually desire a quiver of paddles, matched to the conditions and boat (+ payload) your paddling on any given trip. At the very minimum, I recommend a second 4-piece back-up paddle, where regulations or remoteness dictate.

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Thank you. There’s a lot of good info for people to consider. Mind if I point people to this as further explanation/advice from our article?

My choices. Aqua Bound Whiskey for bikerafting and longer backcountry trips where I want to go as light as possible, and Werner straight shaft 30 Powerhouse R30 for all my whitewater adventures. Also, just in from Deane Parker, one of the best whitewater bikerafters in the world: “I started w 210 now back to 200. In a kayak I used to use 197. My opinion is you only need slightly longer that standard kayak length if at all.”

For those that are newish to the sport, it may be useful to briefly discuss the legacy, surrounding packraft paddle selection. Back when packrafting first became a thing, the only paddles that most in the evolving community could get their hands on were either 1-piece whitewater paddles in lengths designed for hardshell whitewater boats (193-203cm) and longer 2-piece paddles (220-240 cm) designed for flatwater recreation and touring kayaks, or in some cases whitewater 2-pieces in IK suitable lengths.

This is the reason why the vast majority of packrafters you encounter are either paddling with a big blade whitewater 1-piece or a less expensive and lighter 2-piece paddle engineered for flatwater. To this day, these remain the only two obvious choices, “off-the-shelf”. The reality is that one has been able to order custom 2-piece paddles from most manufacturers for the last 20 years, but few take advantage of this fact. Some companies do not even add a surcharge for this, but the most extra you’ll generally pay is about $25-30.

The folks that came over from the hardshell world or learned from those folks tend to be pretty dogmatic regarding paddle fitment and selection. The reality is that human nature is such that most come to prefer and advocate whatever paddle length and type they get used to. Most paddlers are resistant to change, because in trying a different length paddle it “feels” too long or too short. What one really needs is an experienced person to watch your strokes and paddle dips. Is the paddler using good technique? Does the paddler have good core alignment? Are they constantly rubbing their shaft and hands on the tubes of the boat (listen for continual squeaking - Lol)? How often and when are they missing strokes?

If you have or plan to invest time in developing hardshell boating techniques (i.e. proper and consistent high-angle paddling technique, bracing, edging your boat on the tubes, potentially rolling, etc.) and have a whitewater specific (Wolverine, Valkyrie, MRS Pro) or a smaller skirted boat then a traditional (shorter) 1-piece will serve you well. If you’re going to go this route, I highly recommend taking a paddling skills class that focuses on cementing the basics of hardshell paddling. These can take the form of regional packraft specific courses or a multi-day hardshell class, where the school provides boats and paddles.

I can’t wait for the next topic, blade offset (feathering). High offset paddles are simply another legacy, this time from sea kayaking and slalom racing, where the winds howl on zero gradient oceans or where every second counts. Until manufacturers started making whitewater specific paddles, much like packrafters today, hardshellers were stuck with whatever the shortest high-angle sea kayak or slalom paddle they could find.

Over the years, the amount of offset used by river paddlers has gone from 90 to 60 to 45 to 30, to an emerging 15 degrees. For instance, I now paddle 0 or 15 degrees RH offset for whitewater and 30 degrees RH offset for flatwater.

For most beginning river paddlers or those learning proper whitewater technique, I usually recommend starting with 0 offset, unless you have a history of wrist or other injury that dictates you paddle with a per-determined offset. It is self-evident that folks learn proper bracing, self-rescue, rolling and blade feathering techniques way faster with 0 offset.

Once again, people tend to get very heated about this topic, but it really goes back to what folks get used to, rather than any scientific reality about paddling ergonomics. While it is true that personal bio-mechanics play a role in determining offset, it is not factual to imply that humans generally require a 30 degree offset for proper turn-over and wrist alignment. In fact, I would argue that 0 degrees is closer to bio-mechanically correct than 30 degrees anyway.

This is what I’m thinking about. There’s a lot of compromises made on good technique in order to make a lot of whitewater paddles work. When paddling my hardshells and IKs I would constantly bang the lower part of my blade on my deck. Now most of my designs have a more gentle line towards the throat and I no longer bang the deck and I can maintain a nice vertical stroke. Same goes with my IK, I found I would have to reach my arms way over the tubes so they would connect with the water.

I would adjust some of the terms used here- feather and offset are often conflated, but they mean different things. Offset refers to the distance of the powerface from the shaft. For example, a Werner Odachi or Galasport Manic are considered to have ‘forward offset’. Basically, that means they shift the powerface about an inch ahead to give your forward stroke more power compared to something like a traditional greenland style kayak paddle, which the blade is centered on the centerline of the shaft. It has zero offset. It’s useful for racing, but not the best all around paddle design (in my opinion).

Feather, or feather angle is the difference between the two blades. I do agree that most of people’s feather preference has to do with personal taste. Personally, I use a 40 degree feather and recommend it when a customer asks.