Monday, August 12, 2013

Gear Review: Carlisle Expedition Angler Full Fiberglass Paddle

Kayak anglers much more dedicated than me will tell you that if you don't have money for a good paddle and a good boat, get the good paddle and a cheap boat.   Now, I love a good deal, and I hate a brand name that's just selling me a brand name.  That being said,  my favorite paddles I've ever used have also been the most expensive and have been constructed by "the best brand names" in the industry.   Their common features:  fiberglass blades, adjustable ferrules, carbon or fiberglass handles, and well-tuned overall paddle stiffness.  Adding these features together normally nets a paddle that costs between $275 and $450.
Since I usually paddle less than 20 times per  year, and since I juggle a half-dozen other outdoor activities, it just seems ridiculous to spend that kind of money on a good paddle.  I kept thinking, "Why in the world can't someone make a fiberglass paddle for less than $200?  Well it turns out, Carlisle Paddles actually has - The Carlisle Expedition (retail $159, frequently found cheaper).   Having only used low-end Carlisle paddles in the past, I was pretty skeptical about this model, which came out in 2012.  But the only reviews I found online were positive, and I found a deal on an internet auction website, and so I took the plunge.  After four outings with the paddle, here's what I found:

Construction/Appearance:  Handles are a fairly standard fiberglass mix, likely machine molded and sanded, and are extremely light.  Handles are also molded (I suspect) fiberglass, with a reinforced lower third.  The "Angler" model features a nifty paint job - flat black shaft and flat olive drab blades.  It should be noted, however, that the olive drab blades do indeed shine and reflect light once they are wet.

The paint does a handy job of hiding manufacturing blemishes that one might not expect to find on a $300 fiberglass paddle, but are pretty likely to exist on a similar $150 paddle.  The $300 paddle, of course, has fiberglass work so fine that it's transparent.  Nonetheless, the glass work appears to be pretty solid - mine has come into contact with rip rap, concrete, and oyster shells and shows some very minor chipping, which is absolutely to be expected. Grade:  B

Ergonomics:   Carlisle's web page doesn't list the shaft diameter, but it seems like it's between a typical standard shaft size and a small diameter shaft size. I have big hands, so this is a little weird.  Not a deal breaker.   The paddle's low weight (2.75lb) would normally make it a winner on its own merit, however, this weight is important because of the stiffness of the Expedition paddle.   A heavier paddle at this stiffness would wear down a paddler's arms quickly.  Grade: B

Performance:    This is a light, stiff paddle that will move aggressive paddlers across the water quickly.  I tried to make it flutter at  high speed, and only at my highest level abuse would flutter occur.  This paddle digs and digs, no joke.    I'm not sure if I would recommend it to low angler paddlers. Grade: A

Overall:  As far as kayak paddles go, the Expedition Angler is squarely in the middle.  And honestly, the paddle's performance shows it.  No one will mistake this paddle for the Werner Corryvrecken in carbon fiber,  nor will anyone mistake it for a $45 plastic or plastic/aluminum paddle from a sports superstore.  The paddle represents a step up for my paddling, at a price I could afford, which is really what gear shopping should be about.  Grade: B+

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