Canoe oars generally fall into four categories: whitewater paddles, lake paddles, recreational paddles, and high performance paddles. Choosing among these canoe oars starts with the canoeist determining what type of canoeing he or she is likely to do most often. Some canoeists may benefit from having more than one type of oar, though most people will be well suited to only one of the four categories. Beginners and people who will only be using the canoe for short trips around a lake will usually want a recreational paddle. Racers, on the other hand, will need an oar that is lightweight and specifically shaped for speed.
Recreational canoe oars can be made from a variety of materials, the most common of which are plastic, aluminum, and lower end woods. These canoe oars are designed to be functional but inexpensive, and they are designed to take a fair amount of abuse from inexperienced paddlers. The oars will be comfortable and generally lightweight, but not nearly as lightweight as higher performance paddles designed for specific purposes. Canoeists who use their boats infrequently or for extremely short outings will probably want to choose this type of oar.
Whitewater canoe oars are perhaps the most specifically designed of all the oars. They are usually short and lightweight, and they may be slightly scooped on the paddle portion to allow the canoeist to catch more water. The handle of the oar is usually T-shaped, less for comfort and more for a sure grip during treacherous water navigation. The canoe oars will be lightweight and durable enough to withstand impacts with rocks on the river bed.
Another type of oar that is highly specialized in design is the high performance racing oar. These canoe oars are designed to be especially lightweight so the canoeists do not have to worry about the weight of the paddle slowing down their strokes. These oars are designed specifically for speed, and they are usually made from synthetic materials such as carbon fiber and Kevlar®.
A large contingent of canoeists will need lake paddles. These comfortable and relatively lightweight paddles are great for a variety of excursions. The handle is usually shaped with gentle lines for comfort, and the oar will likely be made from high end woods that are lightweight and resistant to damage.