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|Independent Playak Review: Mergner Distance Paddle|
I was eager to review a set of Mergner Touring Paddles. Mergner is a German paddle brand, known for its distinguished approach to paddle-design. I remember the whitewater paddles of Mergner I saw some years ago at a Canoe Expo. The blade design was inspired by duck-feet or tree leaves: thin but high ridges supporting a wide working surface. Quite different from any other blade design I had seen before.
So when I picked up a set of Mergner Distance Paddles that looked fairly traditional at first glance, I was a bit disappointed. A closer look soon revealed that Mergner had also put quite some effort into these blades to bring out a design that is not just another simple copy of a traditional touring blade.
The blades of the Mergner Distance Paddle are relatively long and narrow – a design common for touring blades intended for a low-angle paddling style. Different from most touring blades however is the geometry of the blades. The cross-section is quite pronounced dihedral: two slightly curved faces on an angle. In the longitudal direction the blades are offset and curved. On the back side there is a pronounced longitudal rib, and on the power side the dihedral design comes together in a subtle rib in the middle of the blade.
The blades are made by injection moulding. The used material is polyamide – reinforced with carbon fibers. The blades are available two sizes: the blade of the Distance L is about 5% larger than the blade of the Distance M.
Playak tested were the High End version of the paddles with a glass fibre shaft, reinforced with 2 layers of carbon fiber. The standard version comes with a full glass shaft and is about 30 grams heavier. The High end version has a classy black carbon look, the standard version is simply one color light-grey.
The shaft is straight and ovalized at the grips. Mergner doesn’t offer ergonomic/bent shafts.
The Mergner Distance paddle comes in standard lengths: 215 cm, 220 cm, 225 cm, 230 cm, 240 cm. The offset angle of the blades is standard right twist, 45°. Different lengths, left twists and offsets (0°, 15°, 30°, 60°, 75°, 90°) are available on request.
The test-paddles were a Distance L and a distance M both in the High End version, 220 cm, 45° right turned. The L weights 910 gram and the M 880 gram, which is close to the official specs.
The finish of the test-paddles is flawless. The white logos on black give a distinct appearance. The kids liked the turtle-logo on the blade!
This Playak review is based on two months paddling with the Mergner Distance paddles. The paddles were used on placid inland-waters, on bigger lakes in windy conditions, at sea in moderate conditions, in the surf and in some swimming pool (rolling) sessions. I emphasize that the choice of a paddle is very personal. Whether a paddle suits you, depends on your physics, your paddling style, the boat you are using, and the kind of paddling you do. To make the review more objective, I took the paddles to the local kayak club and asked beginners and advanced paddlers to use them.
The Distance proves to be a well balanced touring paddle. The recreational club-paddlers, most of them paddling in a low angle style felt comfortable with the blade from the start. Within a few strokes they were used to the paddle. What surprised me was that it also does a good job at a high angle paddle style. Most high angle style paddlers use shorter and wider blades, but this long and narrow blade (typical for a low angle paddle style) performed well. An advantage of the narrow design is that you can plant the paddle a few centimeters closer to the kayak. The catch is powerful and the blade really gives a feeling of “gripping” the water. The planted blade stays in place solidly, hardly slips and doesn’t flutter. This good catch was a comment that most advanced paddlers had.
The performance in steering strokes, draw strokes is nothing special, but also there are no nasty surprises that some other blades with a pronounced geometry have. It's a touring paddle, not a whitewater paddle: if you are looking for a paddle that excels in all kinds of playful strokes, you will look in another category of paddles. With rolling, bracing and sculling the Distance is one of those paddles that works naturally - the ovalized grips give good control and the angle of the blades is not very critical - once moving it finds its own way. My reference paddle with a very thin composite blade is more critical.
Most paddlers were surprised by the low weight of the paddle. My own reference isn’t fair because I am used to a premium class ultra light carbon paddle (which costs twice as much as the Mergners). Anyway the paddle feels well balanced and has a light swing weight – a good distribution in weight between the shaft and the blades. I didn't break the paddle down in pieces to check, but the blades must be relatively light. The paddle grip is fine for small and mid-sized hands. Paddlers with larger hands might prefer a wider diameter of the shaft. As said the ovalized grip gives good feedback on the position of the blade.
When the Distance paddle is pushed on the floor to get an idea of its flex, it can be noticed that the majority of the flex is in the blades. The carbon shaft is quite stiff. Although the flex of the Mergner blades is noticeable while paddling (my reference paddle is stiffer) it didn’t irritate me on the water. None of the club paddlers made any comments about the flex – so I suppose in this aspect it’s quite average.
Mergner offers the Distance Paddles with a standard and a large sized blade. For most paddlers and for usual touring use, the standard size will probably be the best choice. 5 % blade size makes quit a difference. For paddling a touring kayak I (1.80 m, 73 kg) preferred the standard size – no difference whether it was for short training trips with an empty kayak or for long touring trips with full camping outfit loaded. For sprinting and for paddling shorter distances in a racing flat water racing kayak I preferred the larger blade – but as a matter of fact: for that kind of paddling you would be looking for another type of paddle (a wing paddle?). More athletic/powerful paddlers may prefer the larger blade – but be careful: don’t choose the blade too big!
Over the past ten years advised paddle lengths have become shorter, also for touring paddlers. From this view it may look remarkable that the shortest standard length for the Mergner Distance is 215 cm. But don’t be fooled: the overall length isn’t the determining factor: more important is the length of the shaft – the distance between the beginning of the blades. Due to long blades the Werner paddle – the overall length may be 5-10 cm longer than your actual paddle for a similar handling.
The Mergner Distance is a well balanced touring paddle with interesting innovative details. Good performance, flawless finish, and low weight make it an interesting and competitive addition to the market. The Distance isn’t the stiffest paddle around, but rigid enough to perform well in touring and seakayak use – also with more demanding conditions like strong headwinds and heavily loaded kayaks.
With an availability of 2 different blade sizes, a wide range of lengths and the option of different blade angles Mergner allows a personal fit, which I highly appreciate. It would even be better if there was an option for different shaft diameters!
For most touring paddlers the smaller M-size of the Distance will be the best option. The bigger L-size is an alternative for bigger, stronger, more athletic paddlers. Paddlers with large hands should really check however if the grip of the relatively narrow ovalized shaft fits them.