In total, thousands of paddles are available from 20 or more paddle brands and knockoff brands. Moreover, all paddle companies advertise their products as being the most powerful and controlled. The differences between the paddles are difficult to distinguish.
The pickleball paddle buying guide explains what characteristics to look for, how to determine which type of paddle is right for you, and how to determine the paddle’s specs.
Due to the length of this guide, I’ve divided it into two sections. In section 1, we show some simple tables that illustrate how paddle characteristics influence paddle performance. In section 2, the five critical steps involved in paddle selection are discussed in greater detail.
Classifications of paddles
You should know the general paddle classifications before I get into the dirty details. All-court paddles, power paddles, and control paddles are all types of paddles.
You can often find the right paddle just by knowing the style you want and looking for paddles in that category.
How To Choose A Pickleball Paddle?
When choosing a paddle, you should pay attention to five things I’ve learned from reviewing paddles for nearly two years.
- Core values
- Material used for facings/surfaces
- Describes the shape
- Its weight
- Length of the handle
A paddle’s power, control, forgiveness, and spin are impacted by each element. Each element will be described in detail so you know how it affects the paddle’s performance. First, let’s look at the core.
Core Material and Thickness
Most brands use polymer as their core material. Polymer cores are used in 95% of paddles. It is commonly referred to as polymer, poly, and polypropylene by brands. It’s basically a hard plastic.
The most popular core material is polymer because it is durable, quiet, and offers a good balance between power and touch.
The quality of poly cores varies. There are polycore paddles that cost $30 and those that cost $200. A higher quality polymer has been used in the more expensive paddles, which makes the paddles last longer and gives you a more consistent feel across the face.
Besides the quality of the polymer, you’ll also notice the core density when the core material is described. Smaller honeycomb cells are used in a high-density core, so more can be packed into the paddle. Compared to bigger cell cores, this gives the paddle a harder, firmer feel. Assume they are using the standard bigger honeycomb cells unless a brand specifically specifies a higher-density core.
In reality, brands can largely differentiate themselves from other brands through the quality and density of their core.
Some brands don’t religiously use polymer cores, like Gearbox. A few of their paddles have carbon fiber cores. The review I wrote about one of their paddles can be found here.
The aluminum core isn’t a core material used by major paddle brands, but it is occasionally available on Amazon. I would avoid anything with an aluminum core. In a short period of time, they dent and wear out.
A paddle’s performance is greatly influenced by its core thickness.
Paddles with a thicker core are typically around 16 mm thick. It is known that thicker core paddles have a softer feel and offer greater control. Off-center shots are less likely to cause the paddle to wobble when they are stabilized by them. The most popular core size and most user-friendly is 16 mm. It is highly recommended that you use a 16 mm core if you are a beginner. The world’s best players, including Ben Johns, often prefer that thickness as well.
In terms of power and pop, thinner paddles have a thin core and provide more power at the expense of control. Compared to a thicker core, they are less stable and provide more feedback.
In general, the softness and control of the core increase with its thickness. By contrast, thinner cores provide more power and harder paddle feel.
How Does the Core and Its Thickness Impact Which Paddle I Choose?
More important than the paddle facing is the core and thickness of the paddle. When you are researching paddles, make sure you pay attention to these components.
The thinner polymer core paddles will suit aggressive players who attack the ball.
Polymer core paddles with 16mm thickness offer better control than thicker 24mm paddles.
For something in between, try polymer core paddles that are at least 14 mm thick.
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Paddle Facing/Surface Material
Paddle facings or surfaces are made from three different materials. Graphite, carbon fiber, and fiberglass. Sweet spot size, power, and control are determined by the paddle facing.
There used to be a lot of fiberglass, but carbon fiber is now the most common material. In this list, fiberglass is the most powerful facing material. There are times when composite is referred to as fiberglass, so just know that composite does not mean fiberglass.
The porous nature of fiberglass makes it act like a trampoline, taking energy out of the ball and transferring it to the ball again. In comparison to carbon fiber and graphite, this material will also reduce the sweet spot size as it is not as stiff.
Fiberglass is known for its power, but carbon fiber has a better feel. Despite its stiffness, it is very durable and long-lasting. Its stiffness means the ball’s energy is spread throughout the entire face and handle when it impacts. In return, you gain more feel and a larger sweet spot, but the ball will lose some power due to a reduced amount of energy being transferred back to it.
The use of graphite is more cost-effective than using carbon fiber faces but plays one very similarly. A carbon fiber face is also known for producing similar power as a fiberglass face, as well as for having a better feel than a fiberglass face. The difference between graphite and carbon fiber faces is hard to tell from my testing of paddles.
Many brands use the three materials above in combination to achieve performance depending on the combination.
Paddle Grit: A Note
The spin that a paddle can generate is dependent on grit, which is an important part of someone’s game. There are two types of grit. You can find grit that has been spray-painted or sprayed on. Often, this grit loses its effectiveness very quickly as it feels like sandpaper. In the facing material (also known as raw carbon fiber), you will find grit. Grit like this lasts longer and produces more spin.
What is the impact of the facing material on the paddle I choose?
There is not as much difference between the faces of the paddle and the core when it comes to performance, but neither is completely irrelevant. It is important to consider the type of facing and core thickness when choosing a facing.
The best power paddles are made with a lightweight polymer core and fiberglass faces.
For true control, you should search for a core with a thicker polymer and a face with carbon fiber or graphite.
Mixing power and control elements can be beneficial. If you prefer a paddle that has a fiberglass face, you might want to get one that has a thicker core. When you need some power to put away balls, you can use the thicker core to give you great control.
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Sweet spot size, power, and maneuverability will be affected by the paddle shape. Including any edge guard and butt cap, the total length and width of the paddle can’t exceed 24 inches and the length of the paddle can’t exceed 17 inches. Paddle shapes are therefore the parameters brands work with when designing them.
An average length of 16.5 inches and a width of 7.5 inches define this shape. Elongated shapes have a bigger sweet spot and less maneuverability than other shapes, but give you more reach, power, and spin.
With a width of around 8.5 inches and a length of around 15.5, these paddles have a wide face and a short length. High maneuverability is sacrificed for a large sweet spot.
Paddles in this shape were originally 16 inches long and 8 inches wide. This shape combines power, spin, forgiveness, and maneuverability in a balanced way between an elongated and widebody shape.
What is the impact of the shape on which paddle I should choose?
Shapes of all kinds can be found there. Your shape should complement the core and face.
A carbon fiber facing, for example, can help increase the sweet spot of an elongated paddle if you need extra reach and power. It may not be a good idea to combine an elongated shape with a fiberglass face since that will cause the sweet spot to be smaller than it should be.
Handles can range in length from 4.5 to 6 inches. The paddle faces cannot have more surface area than 24 inches long plus 24 inches wide, so adding an inch to the handle length removes some of them.
I experimented with a variety of paddle shapes and handle lengths in this video. It was interesting to see the results. It’s worth watching the video to find out what I found out:
- Power and spin are generated more efficiently with a longer handle
- Power and spin are increased with longer paddles
- The center of the paddle does not hit the center as consistently for lower-level players with shorter, wider paddles
What is the impact of handle length on what paddle I choose?
Others prefer to use only one hand while others have both hands on the paddle. As for me, I prefer two hands on backhand drives, but only one on the net.
You may prefer more handle length if you use two hands all the time. Usually, a five-inch handle length is sufficient if you never have to use two hands.
For ping pong paddle-style play, you need a shorter handle, so you can keep your finger on the paddle face.
A paddle weighs between 7 and 8.5 ounces. Lightweight items are 7 – 7.6 ounces, midweight items are 7.6 – 8.2 ounces, and heavyweight items are greater than 8.2 ounces. It is possible that some brands will use different ranges for each weight class, but this provides a general idea.
What is the impact of weight on the paddle I choose?
Paddles that are lighter are easier to maneuver, which can come in handy when you are involved in fast exchanges with your opponents. To increase power, you must swing harder with a lighter paddle.
As a result, heavier paddles require less swinging force to produce power. You can get back in position more quickly when you dink with shorter swings because you have less margin for error.
When hitting the ball closer to the edge of the paddle, heavier paddles are a little more stable at impact as well. As a result, consistency is increased and errors are reduced.
Lead tape is commonly added to paddle edge guards by players, so if you get a lighter paddle and wish it was heavier, you can always add some lead tape.
To find the pickleball paddle that best suits you, consider the material and thickness of the core, the facing layer, the shape, as well as the weight and handle length.
You can find the right paddle for you after learning about the materials and designs described in this article.
You can learn a lot about a paddle by watching and reading reviews. Find the best paddle for your game by checking out my paddle reviews.
Also, read Best Sunglasses for Pickleball