The world of pickleball paddles is moving at lightning speed, with new breakthroughs in design features, materials, and performance emerging every month.
With so many options, you're likely wondering how to choose a pickleball paddle. Is an expensive, elite paddle a wise purchase at this point, or are your skills not quite there yet? Does a well-suited paddle really help you to improve your skills and win more games?
Read on to find out exactly what you need to know to be sure the paddle you choose not only suits you perfectly but speeds up your development and elevates your game.
How to choose a pickleball paddle
There are two main things you need to consider when choosing a pickleball paddle. First, your personal 'features' (playing style, skill level, budget, etc.) and then the paddle features.
What's your skill level?
Answering this question honestly is the first step to choosing the right paddle. If you don't already know your player rating, take our pickleball skill quiz to find out.
There's no point in picking up an elite-level paddle like the Selkirk Power Air Invikta if you're a beginner. The paddle's small sweet spot and challenging feel will just frustrate you, and you'll be wasting $250.
Paddles are usually suited to specific skill levels, though there is some overlap. Some intermediate paddles can be used by advancing beginners, for example. So, consider your skill level and how much pickleball you actually play as a solid starting point for your paddle choice.
What type of player are you?
Every pickleball player is unique. We all have different strategies, strengths, and weaknesses, so it's crucial to choose a paddle that complements your strengths and lets you work on weak elements of your game.
The three main areas of performance in pickleball are power, control, and spin.
If you're a banger like me, you love the feeling of smoking a ball past your opponent before they know what's happening. Some paddles focus on generating the most power possible.
Manufacturers use features like elongated shapes, finely-tuned weighting, and reinforcements in the handle to make paddles for aggressive, high-energy players.
The Bread & Butter Filth is a perfect example of a power paddle. It's so good that I chose it as my best paddle for power in 2023. It's deadly on overheads and putaways. When given a chance, I could almost always end the point with this paddle.
Pure power paddles tend to be a bit wild and less forgiving than a control-focused paddle. They're also much more difficult to tame in the soft, dink game.
If you're a beginner or struggle with too much pop, you might prefer a more control-focused paddle to a power paddle.
If you're looking to hone your accuracy and improve your control of the soft game, then a control-focused paddle is worth considering. These paddles are designed to complement your touch and help you to place the ball exactly where you want it every time.
Control paddles have a "soft" feel. This means they absorb the energy of the ball. In doing so, you get more control over the speed and direction of the ball once it leaves the paddle. This is exactly what you want when tackling more technical shots and in long dink exchanges at the kitchen.
The Gearbox CX14E Ultimate Power is a great example of a paddle that's been designed for precision (it's also my favorite control paddle of 2023). It has a special core that's suspended within a "power band" on the perimeter of the paddle. This creates a trampoline effect, allowing for a super stable, controlled feel on every shot.
The last of the three main performance indicators of a pickleball paddle is spin. As your game improves, spin is something you'll have to master, and you'll learn that some paddles create a lot more spin than others.
Spin does a lot for your game as you advance. Topspin helps control your hard serves and drives by spinning the ball back toward the court. Meanwhile, heavy backspin and sidespin often send your opponent's returns into the net, scoring you easy points.
The main factor affecting spin is the material used on the paddle face. In the past, paddle makers used various types of spray-on grit to create a grippy surface. This was designed to "catch" the ball and send it sailing toward the opponent with backspin, sidespin, or topspin.
These days, manufacturers are experimenting with raw carbon fiber paddle faces, and the results are awesome. With carbon fiber, the grainy textured surface is built into the surface. This means it lasts longer without wearing off, while providing even better grip.
This technology doesn't usually come cheap. That said, the Legacy Pro (my "King of Spin" for 2023) delivers wicked amounts of spin and retails for $150 ($100 less than other elite paddles of its class).
With this paddle and some practice, you can do just about anything you want with spin. Its topspin is the best I've ever experienced in a paddle. As a former tennis player, I have a ton of fun generating spin that levels up my game.
Do you value price over premium quality?
Budget should be a key factor in your decision. I always advise players to decide how much they can spend beforehand and then stick to it. It's all too easy to be drawn in by a paddle's marketing and end up spending more money than you need to.
As you'll see in my paddle guides, I always look for good value for money and often include a "best value" category.
Next up, let's consider what features paddles have to offer that'll make them the right choice for you.
Paddle weight is another factor to consider when choosing your paddle. Pickleball paddles can be divided into three weight divisions:
- Lightweight: 7.2 oz and under
- Midweight: 7.3-8.4 oz
- Heavyweight: 8.4 oz and over
Lightweight paddles allow for maximum maneuverability and quick reactions. They are nimble and agile, and allow you to play a more precise game.
This is great for dink exchanges at the kitchen line, for example, but doesn't help you with your serves or third-shot drops. Lighter paddles are generally control-oriented and often lack power.
Midweight paddles are all about a balance of power and control. Intermediate players should aim for this weight group, as they allow you to develop all aspects of your game.
Heavier paddles are generally designed to generate more force. More weight means you have to put less power in your swing to generate power. Too much weight means a loss of maneuverability and control.
However, modern paddle tech is now so good that weight is less of a determining factor. My best power paddle—the Bread & Butter Filth—weighs 8 oz, whereas my best for control, the Gearbox CX14E Ultimate Power, weighs 8.5 oz.
Some paddles, like the Selkirk VANGUARD Power Air Invikta, use an 'air throat design' to improve the aerodynamics of the paddle and make it quicker in the hand. This tends to make the paddle feel lighter as well.
My best advice is to choose a weight that feels comfortable in your hand and make sure to test over a full session when possible.
Next, let's look at how modern paddles are made.
99% of modern pickleball paddle cores are made with honeycomb-shaped polymer (also known as polypropylene) chambers. One notable manufacturer, Gearbox, bucks this trend by using long, tube-shaped carbon fiber chambers. In fact, their whole paddle is carbon fiber.
Some makers add a ring of carbon fiber, foam, or more polymer around the outer of that core. The idea here is to achieve varying levels of shock absorption, power, or control.
The playing surface of most modern pickleball paddles is made from carbon fiber (usually raw carbon fiber). This comes with different names and qualities, like T700 Toray and 3K carbon fiber.
A few brands still make fiberglass and graphite pickleball paddles. While these perform okay, nearly all new paddles coming out now use some type of carbon fiber on the face.
Paddle thicknesses vary from 11 mm to 19 mm, though most fall between 13 mm and 16 mm. This measurement affects a paddle's weight, as well as its control and power levels.
It also affects the size of the sweet spot (the area of the paddle face where you get the truest and most satisfying connection with the ball).
A paddle with a thinner core is lighter in the hand and allows you to swing faster, generating plenty of crisp power. Thicker cores allow for better "feel" of the ball, providing more absorption of power as the ball can sink deeper into the paddle face. This allows for more control and makes for a bigger sweet spot.
Pickleball paddles come in three shapes: standard, hybrid, and elongated.
USA Pickleball rules state that the combined length and width of a paddle can't exceed 24", so paddle makers have a fine margin to play with. For example, if they make a paddle longer, it has to lose some width.
Generally, paddles range from about 15 3⁄4" to 16 3⁄4" long. 16.5" and up is considered an elongated paddle, which is the shape most advanced players use. These won't suit beginners though, as they are narrower and less forgiving with a smaller sweet spot.
Standard-length paddles have a length of around 16". They offer a little less reach and power but are easier to play with and offer better control. Hybrid paddles, as you may have guessed, are a happy medium between the two.
Pickleball handle lengths vary from about 4 ½" to 5 ¾", but most paddles range between 5" and 5 ½".
Handle length affects the paddle's performance. A longer handle often makes it easier to generate power in your shots. Long handles also suit people coming to pickleball from tennis like me, and those who like to hit two-handed backhand shots.
The grip sizes on modern pickleball paddles tend to vary between about 3 ¾" and 4 ¼" in circumference. Pickleball overgrips are commonly used now and are a great way to make sure the grip is exactly the right size to be comfortable in your hand.
Plenty of pros use overgrips, including world #1 Ben Johns, who currently plays with his signature JOOLA Perseus. He uses an overgrip to bring his paddle up to 8.5-8.6 oz.
There are currently two competing construction methods used for pickleball paddles, and there's a debate as to which is best. New paddles are either thermoformed or non-thermoformed (i.e. traditionally constructed or 'cold-pressed').
Thermoforming is a new method in which the materials that make up the paddle (core and face material) are heated, molded, and bonded together into a solid unit.
This makes for a paddle that's much stronger and sturdier and will last longer. It also creates more pop and power and increases the sweet spot. However, a common complaint is that these paddles are too stiff and lack control for the soft game.
While I agree they take a lot of getting used to, they are the better option in my opinion. I believe this method is the future of pickleball paddle tech.
Vatic Pro is a great brand that demonstrates this dilemma. Their Vatic Pro PRISM Flash is a great non-thermoformed paddle, designed for those who find thermoformed paddles too powerful. Their Vatic Pro Flash is its thermoformed cousin. Both made it into my top 12 paddles for 2023, and both are surprisingly affordable.
You may hear the term "unibody" used in paddle construction descriptions. This design feature addressed a common problem in earlier paddles: the neck breaking where the face meets the handle.
Unibody paddles are designed so that the main paddle body material extends down into the handle, making them much stronger overall.
I hope I've armed you with plenty of knowledge to help you make the best choice when buying your next pickleball paddle. If you have any further questions for me or advice for fellow pickleheads, drop a comment on our social media pages.
In the meantime, check out some pickleball sessions in your local area. See you on the courts!