Learn How To Choose a Pickleball Paddle
It can be overwhelming when trying to choose the best pickleball paddle for your game.
And since there’s a wide range of paddles with an even wider price range, your decision can be confusing and difficult.
After all, you’re spending your hard-earned money and you want to make a good decision.
This guide describes in an easy to understand way, the criteria that are most important when selecting a pickleball paddle.
This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click and buy, I may receive a small commission (at zero cost to you).
IN THIS GUIDE
6 Key Factors To Consider When Choosing a Pickleball Paddle
- Core Material
- Grip Size
- Surface Material
- Edge Options
Most experienced pickleball players agree that the weight of a paddle is the most important factor to consider when selecting a pickleball paddle.
#1 – Weight
Most experienced pickleball players agree that the weight of a paddle is the most important factor to consider when selecting a pickleball paddle.
It’s important to remember that there isn’t a clear set of rules that define what weight works best for you, however, these guidelines will help you determine what weight is likely going to work best for you.
Pickleball paddles range in weight from 6 oz to 14 oz with mid-weight paddles weighing between 7.3 to 8.3 oz.
Multiple factors come into play when trying to determine what weight is best, such as your personal preference for what feels good and your skill level.
Do you want to focus on ball control or hit the ball with more power? Do you have tennis elbow or arthritis or other injuries?
There are many pickleball paddles on the market, but not all of them are approved by the USPA for use in tournaments. If you want to be sure that you are buying an approved paddle, check the USAPA list of approved paddles.
A paddle that is considered heavy typically weighs 8.3 oz or more and will help provide more power to drive the ball harder with less effort but will provide you with less control. It can also put stress on injuries such as tennis elbow as well as increase arm and wrist fatigue.
How do you know if your paddle is too heavy?
If you are regularly hitting the ball behind the baseline when using an overhead smash, then your paddle is likely too heavy.
A heavier paddle can provide you with more power but if it’s too heavy, your swing can slow down, and then the angle of your paddle when connecting with the ball can be off.
If this happens, you’ll likely hit the ball out past the baseline, instead of at a downward angle, keeping it in bounds.
Heavy paddles are best for more experienced players who are focused on POWER, NOT CONTROL, and have a good understanding of how to maneuver the ball
Here’s an example of a heavy pickleball paddle that is also USAPA approved These days, many manufacturers make different versions of the same paddle only they modify the paddle to produce different paddles of various weights.
A lighter paddle typically weighs 7.2 oz or less and provides improved ball control with less stress on the arm, shoulder, and elbow but often with reduced power.
And it’s typically more difficult to hit longer, hard shots.
How do you know if your paddle too light?
If you’re missing shots that you would typically not miss (easy shots) or consistently missing the ball on serves or your shots are not as hard as you would anticipate, then your paddle is likely too light.
Light-weight paddles are best for players who want good ball control and are not concerned with power hits.
Most players prefer a mid-weight paddle between 7.8 – 8 oz, particularly beginner and intermediate players.
If you have tennis elbow or other hand, wrist, or shoulder injuries, a mid-weight paddle is likely best.
Many players find that a heavy paddle can cause additional strain and a light paddle will likely require you to use more power in a long shot.
Both options can increase the possibility of straining or aggravating tennis elbow or an arm injury.
Which is why most players prefer a mid-weight pickleball paddle.
Mid-weight paddles are best for most players and for those who don’t have a strong preference for power or control
#2 – Pickleball Paddle Core Material
The second factor to consider when choosing a paddle is to determine what core material is the best for your game.
It’s important to understand the differences between each material and how it impacts the connection your paddle makes when hitting the ball and subsequently, how it affects your game.
I often notice that some descriptions about paddles can be confusing with respect to the materials used to manufacture the paddle.
Sometimes the paddle description says ‘graphite paddle’ or someone will say they have a ‘graphite paddle’.
The paddle core is made of one of the types of materials I discuss in this section and the surface of a paddle has another material applied/wrapped around the core. This can be graphite or one of several other surface materials.
There are 3 types of composite material:
- Nomex™, and
The most popular core material is a composite called polymer.
Paddles with a polymer core work well for many people because it provides a good balance between control and power.
It’s also the quietest paddle so if noise reduction is important, a polymer core is best.
Polymer core is the newest core technology and paddles with the polymer have become the most popular because they allow for both ball control and maneuverability along with the ability to hit with a decent amount of power.
If you want to play with more control and are less concerned about playing with a ‘power’ paddle, a polymer paddle might work best.
There are many different polymer paddles to choose from which means that you have a good variety to select from.
And although there are some expensive polymer paddles available, there are plenty of options that are more affordable and well below $100.
Polymer core is best for a player who wants ball control and also wants to maintain the ability to play with a reasonable amount of power. The quietest paddle option.
Nomex™ is the original composite for pickleball paddles and is still popular with many pickleball players today.
It’s interesting because Nomex™ was never invented to make pickleball paddles.
It was invented to provide heat and flame resistance (to protect first respondents, fire-fighters, utility, and electrical workers) but then pickleball paddle manufacturers discovered that it would make an effective core material for paddles.
A Pickleball paddle with a Nomex™ core will provide a significant amount of power because the material is very hard but it’s still very light which makes it easy to swing.
This results in a very, very strong drive as well as an extremely loud pop when the ball connects – the loudest of the 3 composite cores.
Using these paddles will feel good and powerful but makes it challenging for some players to maintain ball control.
Inexperienced players will likely find it difficult to play and keep the ball in bounds.
A paddle with a Nomex™ core is best for the power player whose main concern is POWER NOT CONTROL or noise. Not recommended for the beginner.
If you think you want to give Nomex a try, check out this paddle Nomex paddle from ONIX. It’s one of the most popular and well-liked paddles on the market and it’s been around for a long time. And it’s USAPA approved for tournament play.
Aluminum core paddles aren’t quite as popular as Nomex™ core paddles but they’re still easily found and there’s a decent selection.
A paddle with an aluminum core is strong and lightweight providing the ability to play with control. However, because they are light, they lack power.
So, while you gain plenty of control with an aluminum paddle, you lose a lot of power.
Depending on what kind of player you are, this can work for you because it allows some forgiveness when hitting the ball – you know that you will need to hit it really hard to get it where you want it but there’s less chance of hitting the ball out of bounds.
Some players don’t believe that giving up this much power for more control is worth playing with an aluminum paddle but you’ll need to determine what’s best for you.
If you have tennis elbow or another arm injury, it might be worth considering aluminum because it is light.
A paddle with an aluminum core is best for the player whose main concern is ball control NOT power. Players with injuries might prefer this lighter paddle. Quieter than Nomex but noisier than polymer core.
If you think an aluminum paddle will work best for you, check out this aluminum paddle from Franklin. There aren’t many aluminum paddles on the market but this is a good option that’s also available in a set.
The original pickleball paddles were made of wood and it’s still an option today for players who want to invest a minimum amount of money on their first paddle and are okay playing with a heavier paddle.
If you have tennis elbow or another type of injury, this is not the best paddle for long term or regular playing.
Wood paddles are also a good, cost-effective, and durable option for large quantity purchases being made by schools, kids camps, or community centers.
A wood paddle is best for the new player who is on a budget. Also good for recreation programs that require large quantities at a low price.
#3 – Grip Size and Circumference
Another important factor to evaluate before buying a paddle is the grip circumference.
Not playing with the correct grip can cause problems with your stroke and potentially cause tennis elbow or a sore arm, particularly after playing for a while.
To ensure you are set up to play your best game it’s important to select a paddle with a grip that works for the size of your hand.
Most paddle grips range between 4 – 5 inches in circumference with ⅛ inch increments.
A large paddle circumference or one that is too big for your hand can cause the paddle to slip out of your hand and can lead to tennis elbow.
However, a grip that is ‘just the right size’ for your hand, can improve stroke stability and be easier on your arm and elbow.
A small paddle circumference can allow additional wrist movement making it easier to put a spin on the ball and improve ball control resulting in a more powerful serve.
How to determine your proper grip size
There are 3 ways to determine the proper grip size
If you’re not sure which grip size will work best, lean towards the smaller grip. If you determine after playing that the grip is too small, you can make the grip larger by adding an over grip.
METHOD #1 – Hold paddle by grip in dominant hand to verify grip size
To verify the paddle grip is the correct size, hold the handle with your dominant hand and slide the index finger of your other hand between your fingers and the heel of your grip hand. If your finger slides easily and snugly, then the grip is the correct size.
If there is extra space between your index finger and the heel of your hand or fingers, the grip is too big.
Or, if you need to move your fingers to get your index finger to slide into the space, the grip is too small.
METHOD #2 – Determine grip size based on ring finger measurement
Measure from the middle crease of your palm to the tip of your ring finger and this should equate to the paddle grip size.
If the measurement from the middle palm crease to the tip of your ring finger is 4 ⅛ then the grip size of the paddle you buy should be 4 ⅛.
METHOD #3 Determine grip size based on height
A general guideline to determine grip size is based on height.
The other 2 methods above are more precise but this is a general guideline which is reasonably accurate.
Other Factors To Consider When Choosing a Pickleball Paddle
#1 – Surface (Facing) Material
Some descriptions about paddles can be confusing with respect to the materials used to manufacture the pickleball paddle core and the pickleball paddle surface.
When the term ‘graphite paddle’ is used, it’s actually referring to the surface material that is applied over the core material.
As an example, graphite is the surface material that is applied over the core material (Nomex™, aluminum, polymer).
There are 4 common types of surface material:
#1 – Graphite Pickleball Paddles
Graphite is a carbon fiber material and in some instances, people refer to paddles with a graphite surface as carbon fiber paddles. The terms graphite and carbon fiber paddles are referring to the same surface material.
Graphite is an extremely light and very stiff material that makes graphite paddles light and ideal for players who are looking for control, predictable touch and easier maneuverability.
The stiff make-up of the graphite surface helps distribute the energy of a ball over a larger area of the paddle making it easier for players to get a better feel for how the ball is connecting with the paddle.
You’ll notice that there’s a large selection of composite core paddles (Nomex™, aluminum, polymer) that have a graphite surface.
Graphite is a good option for most players, including professionals and is often used in combination with a composite core.
#2 – Fibreglass Pickleball Paddles
Fiberglass has become a more common surface material in the last couple of years. It’s more flexible than graphite and produces more of a pop than graphite paddles.
Some players believe that the energy of the ball is more distributed on the paddle.
Fiberglass paddles can also have a lightly textured surface that some players prefer because they feel it helps with ball control.
#3 – Polymer Faced Paddles
Polymer has become more popular on paddle surfaces in the last few years and it’s believed that a polymer surface can improve durability.
It’s technology that’s similar to what is used on equipment in other sports such as hockey and allows for digital printing designs on the pickleball paddles.
#4 – Hybrid Pickleball Paddles
Hybrid pickleball paddles combine multiple face materials.
These paddles start with a composite core and then use a combination of graphite with poly face materials to create a paddle that is heavier and allows for a lot of power.
#2 – Edge or Edgeless Pickleball Paddle?
Most pickleball paddles have an edge guard that helps to protect the paddle from being damaged when dropped or banged against an opponent’s paddle.
More recently, edge-less paddles have been introduced.
Some players prefer edge-less because they like a slightly larger hitting surface.
And sometimes playing with a paddle that has an edge means that it’s always possible that the ball can land on the edge and go in a direction not desired by the player.
Playing with a paddle that doesn’t have an edge, avoids this problem.
If you are prone to dropping your paddle, or colliding with other paddles during a game, then an edge-less paddle might NOT work well for you.
A traditional paddle with an edge is likely your best bet, if you want longevity for your paddle.
#3 – Price
Pickleball paddles are available in a wide range of prices, making it a very affordable sport or hobby for almost anyone.
Wood paddles are the most cost efficient (cheapest) but you can buy a non-wood paddle for a bit more, if it’s in your budget.
If your budget allows for it, consider buying a paddle that is suitable for a beginner but will also work well for you, should you decide to get more serious with your game.
There are plenty of composite paddles on the market starting at $40+
SUMMARY – HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST PICKLEBALL PADDLE
For most people who are beginner to intermediate players, a pickleball paddle that meets the following criteria should work for you:
- medium weight (7.8 – 8 oz), with
- a polymer core, and
- a graphite or fiberglass surface, and
- $50 price range
Which Paddle Is Best for Your Game?
If you want some additional help narrowing down your options, have a look at The Best Pickleball Paddles for Every Budget where I provide a breakdown of various paddle options by price range and include reviews.
I researched pickleball paddles for 5 categories, from budget-friendly to paddle sets, to $100+ paddles to ensure that The Best Pickleball Paddles for Every Budget provides you with all the information you need to make an informed decision.
What is the best pickleball paddle for your game? It’s time to figure it out.
I hope that this pickleball paddle guide will help you find a pickleball paddle that you enjoy playing with.