Best Pickleball Paddles: Complete Paddle Buyers Guide 2017

Pickleball Paddle Buyers Guide

Whether you are brand new to the sport of pickleball or are a veteran pickleball player and already own one or more pickleball paddles, we’re guessing you probably landed on this page because you are shopping for a new paddle.

If you are new to pickleball you may be asking yourself some of the following questions:

How much money do I need to spend to get a good quality pickleball paddle?

What type pickleball paddle should I purchase?

With over a hundred pickleball paddles on the market, which paddle is right for me?

Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the US and along with the surge of new pickleball players many new pickleball equipment manufacturers, retail shops and websites selling pickleball gear have also popped up.

The recent pickleball craze has been great for the players since there are lots of new options for pickleball gear but also makes it more difficult to choose between so many paddle options. The technology and materials used are also rapidly changing that it's hard to keep up with all the different paddles coming out. 

Those of you that have been playing pickleball for some time may remember how simple the first paddles were, it was just a single piece of plywood cut in a garage with a bandsaw.  

wood pickleball paddle

One of the first wooden pickleball paddles. Made by Barney McCallum by hand. (Photo Credit: Pickelball Central Blog).


With new technology and materials being used, a new pickleball player is confronted with all kinds of paddles of all different styles and price points, often before they have even played their first game of pickleball. This opens up a new set of questions to answer which can be very confusing to a new player: weight, grip size, core material (wood, polymer, nomax) and paddle face material (carbon fiber, fiberglass, graphite)?

Without boring you with a details of each and every pickleball paddle on the market, this article is designed to give you a good overview of how different paddles are made, the way the paddle will affect the way the ball plays off the paddle and the best option given your personal style of play, fitness level and budget. Hopefully it will help you select a paddle that works best for you and is in your price range. 

Whether this is your first pickleball paddle or perhaps you’re replacing or upgrading your current paddle we hope the following guide is helpful.

Factors to consider

Weight

While some people base their buying decision just on price and we understand you need to stay within your own budget, price itself won't give you the full answer. Just because a paddle is more expensive also doesn't mean it's a better paddle for you personally. Many pickleball experts say that weight should be the overall top priority when choosing a pickleball paddle and we agree. 

Paddles range in weight from approximately 6 (lightweight paddles) to 14 ounces (heavy paddles). That may not sound like much of a difference but try carrying a can of soup in your hand and swinging it around for a couple hours. 

Paddle weight will determine the “feel” of the paddle when you have it in your hand and the type of action you will get when you play with it on the court. In general, the weight of the paddle is a personal preference that mostly depends on your fitness level and style of play.

What on earth does a can of soup have to do with pickleball?   OK, I get it- maybe it seems like a weird example -but the simple point is that something relatively lightweight will not seem heavy at first but when you play and swing hundreds of times it become very noticeable on your wrist, elbow and shoulder!  Those extra extra ounces on the heavier paddle weigh will start to wear on you, especially if you have injuries like tennis elbow or suffer from arthritis.

​Paddle Weight Ranges

​Lightweight Paddles

​Mid-weight Paddles

Heavy Paddles

Under 7.3 oz

7.3 to 8.4 oz

8.5 oz and over

Lightweight vs. heavy paddles

Lighter paddles

Pros:

  • Increased ball control.
  • Better maneuverability (especially during quick volleys).

Cons:

  • Reduced drive.
  • Harder swing needed to hit ball hard/long.

Heavier Paddles

Pros:

  • More Power.
  • Less effort from back court.

Cons:

  • Stress on injuries, especially elbows.
  • Less control.
  • Harder to maneuver during volley.
  • Increases fatigue if playing for long time.

Power vs. Control

Heavy paddles are an easy way to increase the power of your shots, so if you’ve been playing pickleball and are looking to increase the force of your drive, go for a heavier paddle.

On the other hand, if you are looking to improve ball control and touch (precise aim and carefully placed dink shots) chose a lighter paddle. One thing to ask yourself is what are your strengths and weaknesses as a pickleball player and also what kind of player are you (power vs. control).

"What if I have no idea what kind of player I am?  If you are a beginner buying your first paddle it’s going to be hard for you to predict what particular style of pickleball you’ll play. You really need to play for quite a few sets before you establish a style of play so it's probably best to start with a mid-weight paddle (7.3 - 8.4 oz). 

Final word on Pickleball Paddle Weight: This is an important factor so choose wisely. If you have any elbow injuries or recurring tennis elbow, go with a mid-weight paddle.  If you really want extra power go heavy. If you are a control player, go light.  If in doubt - go for mid-weight paddle. 

Tennis Elbow

tennis elbow

If you have any wrist, elbow or shoulder injuries and especially if you suffer from “Pickleball Tennis Elbow” skip the heavy paddles since the extra weight will cause strain.

However, going for the lightest paddle is also NOT the best choice either since players will have to swing a light paddle harder to add power to their shot. The best choice is a mid-weight pickleball paddle. 

Players using a light paddle from back of the pickleball court are at increased risk for developing or aggravating existing tennis elbow. A heavier paddle will get the shot across the net with less force. Because of these factors we recommend a mid-weight (7.3 - 8.4 oz) graphite or composite paddle for pickleball players suffering from tennis elbow.

transition from tennis to pickleball

Tip for tennis players:  If you are a former tennis player transitioning to pickleball (or currently play), you'll be used to the heavier weight of a tennis racket and therefore you should be able to handle a paddle on the heavy side of the spectrum. However if you put a lot of wrist action into your shots you’d probably be better off with a light to medium weight paddle which allows for more finesse and control.

When selecting a pickleball paddle, also look for "tennis style" grips  which are shaped to mimic a tennis racquet handle.  There are several new elongated grips which will appeal to most tennis player as they have a feel similar to a traditonal tennis racket. 

Grip Size

Once you have decided on the correct paddle weight, the next decision is the grip size. It is essential to play pickleball with a paddle that has the correct grip circumference to match your hand size. It sounds simple but you need to pick a grip that fits your hand!  

Playing pickleball with a paddle that has the wrong grip size for your hand is like running in shoes that don't fit.

A smaller grip allows for more wrist action, which makes it easier to put spin on the ball and improves control. Increased wrist movement can also add extra power to your serve.


A larger grip will help increase your stroke stability while easing the strain on wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. The caveat here is that using a paddle handle that is much too large for your hand can lead to elbow strain. This can lead to tennis elbow and/or joint pain, especially after playing for an extended time.  A key part of paddle selection is determining on the correct grip size so please make sure you measure your grip and choose your pickleball paddle accordingly. 


If you’ve played or watched tennis or other racket sports, you are most likely familiar with wrapping the grip with “overgrip” or tape to customize the circumference to better match your hand size and personal preference.  If you buy a high-end paddle they will usually come with a premium grip (from makers such as Gamma or Pro-lite) but if your paddle came with an inferior grip (or it the it is worn after you have used it for some time) you could also consider replacing the stock grip with a new premium grip. Whether adding overgrip to your existing grip, replacing the existing paddle grip with a new one, grip size and a comfortable fit for your hand are key to playing pickleball. 


How to measure your grip size.

One important thing to remember is you can always increase grip size by adding an overgrip ...but there is no way to decrease the grip size, so when in doubt buy a grip size that is one step down (⅛ to ¼ smaller) and then add overgrip or tape to match your grip size as needed. Most paddles come with standard grips from 4 to 4 ½ inches.


A quick and easy way to decide the correct grip size is base off your height. Please note, this is not as exact as the hand measurement method below.

Grip Size By Height

Height 

Grip Size 

Under 5'2"

4" Grip 

5'3" to 5'8"

4 1/8" to 4 1/4" Grip

5'9" & taller

4 1/2 Grip 

A more exact way to measure can be seen here (this video was done for tennis rackets but the same technique is exactly the same for pickleball paddles).

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measure paddle grip in inches

Ring Finger Measurement:

A  pickleball player can measure his or her grip size with a ruler to determine the correct paddle grip size.

Measure the distance from the tip of your ring finger, down to the middle crease in your palm. Your palm has three creases.

paddle grip test

Natural Grip

To check if the grip size is correct, grab the paddle with your normal natural grip. Now slide your index finger from the opposite hand between your fingers and the heel of your grip hand. You should be able to snugly fit your finger without having to move your fingers.

 If you have extra space between the heel and your fingers and your index finger isn’t touching the grip is too big. If you have to move your fingers to get your index finger to fit in the gap, the grip might be too small. If you are choosing between two sizes, choose the smaller size.

Material

Wood: heaviest and cheapest.

Graphite: most expensive option but also light and powerful.

Composite: compromise on cost between wood and graphite paddles. Variety of prices and weights.

Wood Pickleball Paddles

Rally Meister Pickleball Paddle

Wood is still a viable option for beginners pickleball players looking to invest a minimum amount on their first paddle and are fine with a heavy paddle. It is important to remember that the original pickleball paddles were made out of wood so they are definitely usable and these newer wood versions have been improved over the original paddles with the addition of grips and safety straps to prevent the paddle from flying out of your hand.

If you are purchasing a large quantity of pickleball equipment (for schools, YMCA, community center, summer camps, etc) wood paddles can be a decent option. These type of sports programs were paddles are heavily used, the wood can take quite a beating so can be a good option due to durability and low cost. Also kids playing for pickleball for 45 mins in P.E. will probably be less sensitive to the paddle weight compared to a senior player playing pickleball frequently.

Wood paddles can also be a good solution when you have visitors coming to visit (i.e. grandkids flying down to FL for visit). It’s an easy way to have a few extra paddles around for kids or friends that want to try their hand at pickleball.

For everyone else not mentioned, we would recommend you skip the wood paddles and look at mid-range composite or graphite pickleball paddles.

Composite Pickleball Paddles

These paddles are normally constructed with a composite core and of a fiberglass or graphite hitting surface. The core of the paddle is made of either Nomex™ (rigid nylon), polymer or aluminum.

Graphite Pickleball Paddles

The majority of graphite pickleball paddles weigh from 6 to 9 ounces. Graphite paddles are also built with a core (Nomex, aluminum or polymer) similar to composite paddles. The graphite face on both sides of the paddle co is what differentiates these paddles.  The layer of graphite is thin, usually only a few mm the thickness of a fingernail. Light and strong, graphite paddles are some of the best selling paddles. Competitive players like the quick action off the graphite face.

Core Construction

The basic difference between the three common types of composite cores:


Aluminum Core

aluminum core paddle

The paddles offer lighter weight, aluminum cores. The internal honeycomb aluminum structures makes for a stronger paddle while still being light enough to give great action and control. Aluminum core can be a great option for the “control” player who is willing to sacrifice some drive for more control.

Nomex Honeycomb Core

nomex paddle core

Nomex core has many tech applications and in recent years has been used to create durable pickleball paddles. The process starts with material resembling cardboard which is subsequently dipped in resin to create a very durable material that can be used to construct paddles by arranging it in a honeycomb pattern. Nomax was the first material used to create composite paddles and is still a leader in the pickleball industry and many serious players still prefer the Nomex core pickleball paddles.


Polymer (Poly) Core

The polymer is a plastic blend, it’s considered the newest and possibly most popular core technology on the pickleball market today. Polymer pickleball paddles are considered the quietest paddles on the market. This fact could be an important part of the buying decision if you are living in a gated community, shared gym space or recreation center where the noise produced by pickleball can be a negative factor. 

With more and more pickleball courts opening, especially those in closed communities, the issue of pickleball noise is becoming more of  an issue and does create some conflict between pickleball players and non-playing local residents.  Some communities and courts have actually come up with lists of approved and paddles and actually ban players from playing pickleball with certain paddle models. 

Noise

More and more gated communities, pickleball clubs and 55+ retirement communities are putting restrictions on pickleball noise. If noise is a potential issue where you play pickleball, buying a polymer paddle is the safest option. ​

However, some clubs have come up with lists of paddles that are either Approved (Green Zone) ​or Banned (Red Zone) base on the noise that each paddle produces so if that is the case where you live, just buying a polymer core may no be enough. 

Although it's not an official rating system or certification, as private clubs they are able to determine which paddles are accepted based on their own criteria.  There is one well known list circulating on the internet that is now being used by many clubs as the standard to qualify "Quiet Paddles"  We talked about the pickleball noise issues here on our blog and in a separate posted provided a comparison table and list showing the "Approved" Green Zone paddles.

Edgeless Pickleball Paddles

The ‘Edge’ refers to the protective guard that protrudes slightly around the of the pickleball paddle. It is intended to protect the edge from chipping due to paddle being dropped or missed shots against hard surfaces. Some serious  players prefer edgeless pickleball paddles as it maximizes the playing surface of the paddle face. Although these padles do normally have a thin tape around the edge of the paddle to protect it without interfering with the face of the paddle, it may not be enough to protect it from impact so these kind of paddles are more susceptible to chipping along the paddle edge.

Oversized Paddles

The official pickleball regulation for the dimensions of pickleball paddles is based on the length multiplied by the widest width and should not exceed 24 inches (60.96 cm) total (including edge guard and butt cap).

The most common “classic shaped paddle” measures approximately 8 inches (20.32 cm) wide by 15¾ inches (40 cm) long. Some paddle manufacturers design wide-body and oversized paddles by adding length to the face and shortening the length of the handle, therefore keeping the total length of the paddle the same and within regulation.


Blade Style Paddles

There are a few paddles on the market such as the "Encore Blade" that sacrifice face width to allow for increased the paddle length to up to 17”, which is the maximum length allowed by the USAPA. This paddle would be more of a specialty paddle for a more experienced player looking for added reach.

For most players, we recommend sticking to the classic, oversize or wide-body or paddle. The extra long ‘blade’ style paddle would be more of a specialty paddle for a more experienced player looking for added reach. And if you are planning on participating in tournament play, make sure your new paddle falls within USAPA guidelines.

Price

Many people would say price is top priority when buying a pickleball paddle. Although we understand that everyone has their own personal budget and limit to how much they are willing to spend on particular items, one thing to keep in mind is that if you take good care of your it, a pickleball paddle should last you years.

If you plan to play even just once a week, over a year the difference between the cheapest wood paddle and a decent mid-range graphite rod may work out to pennies a game.

Although you can drop well over $100 on a good quality paddle there are plenty of affordable options and compared to sports like golf, the total investment in pickleball equipment is pretty low.

Pickleball Paddles range from under $15 for the least expensive wood paddles to $150+ for top of the line graphite paddles. Mid range paddles on the price scale (from around $50-$120) you’ll find many good composite and graphite options. The top end of the scale is for high end graphite paddles used by expert and competitive pickleball players.

If you are a beginner buying your first paddle and can afford to, we recommend skipping wood and going at least one rung up the ladder to a decent composite or graphite paddle. Here are our recommendations on best cheap pickleball paddles for beginners.

Cheapest Pickleball Paddles

Wood paddles are by far the cheapest pickleball paddles available on the market. Normally made of 7 ply maple or Baltic birch wood, these paddles are the most affordably priced. You can currently find the lowest priced wooden paddles for around $10 up to about $25 for the most expensive wood options.  

A step in price would be low-end composite paddles. Some people refer to these as "club paddles". They are still relatively affordable and are a good option for clubs, camps and community centers that need to buy a large volume of paddles. ​

Usually made of  some form or honeycomb polymer core, these composite club paddles are durable and long term will stand up better to repeated wear and tear compared to a wooden paddle that will begin to chip along the edges and at some point may break down where the individual layers of wood begin to separate or "de-laminate".  Club paddles are normally price one step up from wood in the roughly $30-$35 range.   The Selkirk Sport Club Paddle is a good example of this type of paddle. 

A question I occasionally get from readers is...

What is the most expensive pickleball paddle?

I don't have an exact answer. There are so many different sporting goods stores selling online and thousands of online sites that sell pickleball equipment that it's almost impossible for me to compare all of those to find "the most expensive pickleball paddle". 

Just going off of MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price),  new paddles launched in 2017 are some of the most expensive paddles to date, some selling for ~$130 such as the Selkirk Sport Pro S1 and the ProLite Titan Pro ($125 at the time of publishing). Both of these paddles are consider "Pro" paddles by the respective companies.  I could be wrong but I expect the top end priced paddles will continue to rise.

With the continual evolution of paddle technology and high cost materials being used on these paddles, I would not be surprised to see even more expensive paddles in the near future. If we just look back to how the tennis industry evolved from wooden rackets to high end rackets that now sell for $300-$400...or even more.

Color

pickleball paddles various colors

There really isn’t a whole lot to comment on color or graphics on the surface of the paddle. It really comes down to personal preference. Some pickleball partners buy matching paddles while others buy more unusually colored paddle to help quickly identify their paddle among all the other paddles at busy pickleball clubs or tournaments. Some people have even been known to match their pickleball outfit with their paddle color!

We have heard a few people claim that playing with a yellow paddle face gives a slight advantage as the ball blends in with the paddle when it comes into contact with the ball and makes it more difficult for the opponent to read the shot. However, there are now pickleball balls in several common colors including white, orange and yellow and now some companies that dye pickleballs into bright colors like pink and blue...so unless you always play with the same colored ball it’s not clear how much of an advantage the paddle color could really have in a pickleball competition.

Conclusion

Selecting a new pickleball can be confusing, especially with all the options that have flooded the market and the new technology and features that are constantly being introduced. To simplify, here are a few basic take-aways:

  1. First decide that weight suits you.  If you have any injuries to wrist, elbow or shoulders or "Tennis Elbow" buy a Medium Weight Paddle.
  2. If your budget allows:  avoid wooden paddles and start with a mid-level composite or graphite paddle.
  3. Pick the right grip size. Use one (or both of the methods above) to confirm your correct size. When in doubt buy one size smaller and build up grip if needed.
  4. The most expensive paddle is not necessarily the b​est paddle for you. 
  5. Don't be distracted by the colors, fancy graphics or catchy model names.
  6. Focus on weight & grip size first, then your style of play to find your ideal paddle. 

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