The Supai Adventure Gear Olo Lightweight Paddle is specifically designed for packrafting, a sport that combines backpacking and rafting in inflatable boats on whitewater or flatwater. This review explores the use of the Olo paddle for flatwater paddling since Supai only makes flatwater boats. While you can use the Olo paddle with flatwater packrafts from other manufacturers, I’d give serious consideration before using the Olo paddle reviewed here for whitewater use, where more powerful strokes and rapid acceleration are required.
Packrafting Gear Requirements
One of the biggest challenges of packrafting is that you need to carry all of your packrafting gear in a backpack and hike into the backcountry to access the area where you want to boat. Chances are good that you’ll need to hike off-trail, at least for a portion of your hike in, since you can’t count on easily accessible boat ramps or public beaches in the backcountry.
In addition to a packraft, PFD, and paddle, you may also need to carry a wetsuit or drysuit, a helmet and throwrope (for whitewater), and so on. Reducing the weight and bulk of these additional items is important, although you do need to balance those considerations with durability since the failure of a piece of packrafting gear can have far greater consequences than the failure of a piece of backpacking gear.
The Supai Adventure Gear Olo Lightweight Paddle is five piece paddle that is both lightweight, weighing just 12.6 ounces (on the SectionHiker digital scale), that easy to pack in a backpack. With a length of 78.5 inches (199.4 cm), it consists of two blades and three interlocking metal shaft sections, where the longest section is 19 inches (48.3 cm.) (Supai also has a four piece paddle available.)
Each blade is made using four layers of composite materials, including a hybrid carbon fiber and Kevlar weave and pure carbon fiber which are sandwiched together at different angles increase blade strength. Each paddle blade has a Y shaped rib at its center to mate with the interlocking aluminum paddle shafts, which are made with 3/4 inch diameter 7075 aluminum, and lock into place with corrosion-resistant stainless steel buttons. The blade shape is symmetric and therefore reversible, much like a canoe paddle.
The Olo paddle is only available with unfeathered blades and a straight shaft. These are more fatiguing than feathered (angled) blades with bent shafts because you need to bend your wrists more to paddle with them. Drip rings are also not included, but would be useful, because you get soaking wet paddling with the Olo paddle from water dripping down the shaft from the blade. If you want these, you may need to shop around for them because the Olo shaft size is thinner than many kayak paddles, for which these rings are designed.
At 12.6 ounces, the Olo paddle is very lightweight and easy to pack. I slip the blades along the sidewalls of the main compartment of my pack between my pack liner and the pack’s water bottle pockets, fitting the poles wherever there’s a void inside my pack. At 78.5 inches (199 cm) the Olo paddle is a good length for flatwater paddling where a lower angle stoke generates sufficient power to propel and control a packraft.
The Olo paddle blades are quite stiff and generate sufficient power for flatwater paddling where you can relay on forward momentum, although you have to paddle noticeably harder with them when paddling against a breeze. The blades have a symmetric teardrop shape, but are not optimized like dihedral shaped whitewater kayaking paddles for a quick “catch”, where one corner of the paddle is closer to the water than the other. When paddling Class III and Class IV rapids where fast acceleration, explosive power and high angle strokes are required, I’d recommend using a dihedral shaped whitewater paddle with more surface area even if it was substantially heavier.
In term of durability, the Olo paddle is perfectly suited with flatwater use and the carbon fiber/kevlar blades resist knicks on rocks and gravel. You do however want to be careful not to get sand into the push button assembly that locks on pole to another. There’s enough play in the button assembly that sand can penetrate it and interfere with the locking assembly. It happened to me.
The Supai Adventure Gear Olo Paddle (MSRP $180) is a five piece paddle for flatwater packrafting. Weighing just 12.6 ounces, it breaks down easily for backpacking and is a great value if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive lightweight packrafting paddle. While it lacks many features such as feathered and shaped blades or drip rings commonly found on paddles designed for kayaks and inflatable boats, if you can forego those, the weight and packability of the Olo is truly exceptional.
Disclosure: Supai Adventure Gear and Garage Grown Gear provided Philip Werner with a sample Olo paddle for this review, in addition to a Supai Maktat packraft and Tenkara Rod Company Sawtooth rod for review. Klymit also provided Philip Werner with a Litewater Dinghy sample for review. Reviews for those products are under development.