About the Reviewers
We’ve paddled a few different brands of wooden canoe paddles over the years – Bending Branches, Badger Paddles, and Grey Owl. We paddle a mix of whitewater and flatwater in our Novacraft Prospector 16 open deck canoes, with some multi-day tripping. We paddle exclusively in the far north of Japan, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido (see all routes we’ve paddled here). Rivers here tend to be fairly boney, so paddles get a fair amount of abuse (as do our poor canoes).
The Bending Branches paddles here (Expedition Plus, Viper, and Java 11) are some of the lightest paddles on the market. Durable and tough as far as wooden paddles go. Very good looking and they keep with a canoe aesthetic. Easily repaired blade tips. Super low maintenance wooden paddles.
Blade-tips not as durable as fully composite paddle blades for bony white-water use.
In our quiver of Bending Branches paddles, we’ve got two Expedition Plus straight shaft paddles, one double-bent Viper, and one bent-shaft Java 11. They’re all wooden paddles, but 1) they’re laminated for extra strength (and looks), 2) they have fibreglass-wrapped blades (low maintenance), and 3) they’re super light.
This is the team’s go-to paddle. It’s the one that spends the most time in our hands or in the canoe. The T-Grip is bomber and inspires confidence. If we’re paddling any considerable distance on flatwater in calm conditions we might reach for the double-bend Viper, but for everything else, it’s the Expedition Plus (specs on the official website here).
After three years of very boney whitewater abuse, I finally managed to give the paddle blade tip a 25mm (1-inch) stress crack, but that was very easily fixed with some epoxy resin and a little piece of fibreglass cloth. The paddle blade comes wrapped in a 2 oz. fibreglass layer as standard, so that no doubt avoided the crack from propagating further up the paddle at the time of the damage.
As far as whitewater-oriented paddles go, it’s feather-light.
Even for stern paddling, the double bend Viper is our go-to paddle for extended flatwater and long distance paddling. The double bend keeps the wrists in a very natural position, which is a godsend on longer days. The longest I’ve paddled it was a mammoth 64km (11hr) day. There’s something about a double-bent paddle that makes it amazing for longer distances. Being shorter than an equivalent straight-shaft paddle, it feels more compact in the hand. Being a high-performance wooden paddle, it also feels very light.
We’ve also pressed it into service on some Class II paddling. I’ve heard some people don’t like using bent shaft paddles at the stern of a double canoe, but I don’t have any issue with it. It felt a bit weird at first, but I soon got used to it, even in rowdier water.
On extended flatwater paddling, this is Haidee’s go-to lightweight paddle, as she spends most of her time as a canoe bow paddler. The straight shaft allows a bit more control for cross-bow manoeuvres if needed, while the angled blade gives a feel of efficiency on longer days at the helm. At around 540g, it’s crazy light.
A concern with wooden paddles is durability, particularly in whitewater.
Overall, the Bending Branches paddles in this review have been very durable, especially given how light and fine the blades are. These must be some of the most durable wooden paddles as far as weight vs. durability goes. Compared to the 100% wooden Badger Paddles we own, the Bending Branches paddles are in a league of their own in terms of performance.
That said, if driving these paddles hard across boney river bottoms, you can expect that you’ll eventually split the blade tip.
Despite these Bending Branches paddles having a 2 oz. fibreglass wrap on the blades, I have managed to give two of the paddles a 25mm (1-inch) split on the blade tips. It’s important to note here that the ‘Rockgard’ resin buffer on the edge of the paddles is only there to prevent scuffing on the paddle tips, not to provide any great structural strength.
The light fibreglass wrap on the paddles is for sure a bonus though. First of all, it prevents any crack from propagating further up the paddle during an extended trip. That is, even if you do manage to get a split in the paddle tip during a multi-day trip, it will hold up for the rest of the trip just fine, because the cross-axial weave of the fibreglass provides good lateral strength. Sort of like the visible grid-like pattern in ripstop nylon.
Second of all, with a fine layer of fibreglass on the paddle already, it makes patching the crack a breeze – fibreglass repairs bond really well. I’ve repaired both cracks with a 25mm (1-inch) wide ribbon of fibreglass woven cloth (I actually used basalt cloth), long enough to extend a little bit beyond the top of the crack on both sides, with high-quality marine epoxy resin (West Systems 105).
As far as durability goes, the Aquabound Edge is bombproof. It’s a carbon shaft with an abX carbon-reinforced nylon blade. A nylon blade like that will always win out on durability over a wooden blade, even if the wooden blade is reinforced with glass. On packraft trips we’ll always pack the collapsible Edge paddles, and Haidee will often choose the Edge paddle for canoeing in whitewater. Aesthetics are not what you choose the Edge for though.
GREY OWL SCOUT
The Grey Owl Scout is a cheap and cheerful wooden paddle, which is still well made. It’s not nearly on par with the performance and features of the Bending Branches paddles, but it got us onto the water at a reasonable price! We haven’t taken it on any whitewater, so can’t really comment on its durability.
Our full overview of our Badger Paddles is here, but suffice it to say these are beautifully handcrafted wooden paddles, with performance that belies their solid, weighty, non-laminated wood roots. Their durability comes from added thickness in the blades. Hence, you could knock them around and they’d take a beating. The weight penalty weighs on my mind though, so apart from leisurely, aesthetic flatwater trips, these paddles tend not to get nearly as much water time as the Bending Branches paddles.