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A Packable Whitewater Punch: Werner Sherpa 4-Piece Paddle Review

The Werner Sherpa 4-Piece Paddle has stood the test of time and cemented itself as one of the most reliable whitewater breakdown paddles on the market.
(Photo/Wil Henkel)
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The last potentially unexplored whitewater canyon of the Nooksack watershed was right there in front of us, and like on any exploratory whitewater descent, the nerves, excitement, and fear all came flooding in at once.

After scouting, we ran the first two rapids — big and powerful — and we could sense the river was picking up some serious gradient. We caught the last chase eddy on the right and, one by one, made our way onto shore. 

Immediately it was clear that the rapid was not passable. We would have to find a way downstream, and we looked ahead at a dangerous portage. No mistakes here; a lost paddle, a dropped kayak, or a misstep would all be deadly, and that is why we came prepared. 

The Werner Sherpa paddle was made for sticky situations like this. The blade has been a staple in Werner’s lineup for nearly 2 decades, and securely stashed away in my kayak in four pieces, it ensured that we’d be making it out of the canyon today. 

A backup paddle can save your bacon, and a backup paddle that’ll throw down? Worth its weight in gold. As we paddled the last unexplored section of whitewater on my home river, the Sherpa certainly proved itself worthy.

In short: The Werner Sherpa paddle should be praised for its durability, reliability, and longevity. The flexibility and agility of this paddle make it a dynamic and useful piece of equipment for a wide range of recreational uses. Simply put, this paddle is a classic design and will continue to be for years to come.

The Sherpa is one of many stellar Werner paddles out there, and to see how they line up against the rest of the market, check out GearJunkie’s Best Kayak Paddles Buyer’s Guide.

Werner Sherpa


  • Style High-angle
  • Shaft material Fiberglass
  • Blade material Fiberglass
  • Blade shape Mid-size, asymmetrical, shallow dihedral face
  • Ferrule Push-button; R45/0/L45 or R30/L30
  • Lengths 194, 197, 200, 203, 206, 209 cm
  • Weight 2 lbs., 8.7 oz.


  • Wide blade surface area catches and holds water
  • Wide variety of feather angles available
  • Reinforcement spine is tough and resists blade flex
  • Custom-fit shaft sections fit tightly
  • Fiberglass blades have light swing weight


  • Steel push-button ferrule is durable, not not the highest performer
  • Larger paddlers may need the bigger Powerhouse

Werner Sherpa Paddle: Review

Up the Creek Without a Paddle?

An overhead image of four kayakers in a remote river in Western Washington
Remote whitewater trips require backups, and the Werner Sherpa is just about the best backup paddle out there; (photo/Wil Henkel)

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, especially considering what may be downstream. Breakdown paddles are an essential piece of safety equipment for expedition paddlers. When worse comes to worst, and a paddle breaks or a swimmer loses their one-piece paddle, having an extra is invaluable to continue the river trip.

I had been dreaming of an unexplored whitewater gorge at the headwaters of my home river for nearly 5 years. With my dry bags filled with all the requisite expedition needs, the Sherpa was an essential item to carry when it came time to load up my kayak and dip into the Nooksack.

I have paddled with Werner paddles since I first began whitewater paddling, not only due to the brand’s market dominance but also the durability of their fiberglass paddles. The first paddle I owned was a used one-piece Werner fiberglass paddle I bought on Craigslist for $70. It was 10 years old by then and heavily used, but I was ecstatic as it was the first piece of equipment to unlock the beauty of river exploration. 

The author executes a stall against a boulder in his kayak, while paddling with the Werner Sherpa
The Sherpa is no slouch when used, either, and draws heavily from the popular Powerhouse paddle; (photo/Wil Henkel)

The Sherpa is the younger brother to the most classic paddle Werner has ever made in whitewater kayaking, the Powerhouse. With a slightly smaller blade, the Sherpa has incredibly similar functionality and a long and storied history in whitewater river running. Nearly every exploratory expedition kayak mission has occurred with a Sherpa breakdown stuffed in the back of a loaded whitewater boat.

After finding our way through the portage high above the river, we again dropped into the river canyon as it opened into a massive landslide, forming challenging boulder garden rapids. After paddling the better part of the day through the gorge, scouting, portaging, and running technical rapids, we exited the late spring sunlight and paddled back to civilization and farmlands.

While, thankfully, this expedition didn’t require the use of a breakdown paddle, as we avoided a paddle breaking, it is always an essential piece of equipment in these types of adventures. I felt a great sense of security knowing that my spare paddle would handle just as well in the whitewater as my primary blade. 

To give this paddle a real run for its money, after the South Fork expedition, I used the Sherpa as my primary paddle for a whole month of day-run whitewater kayaking on various stretches of the local northwest rivers, varying from class III to class V.

Testing in the Field

The Sherpa paddle held out against a backdrop of whitewater canyon
Beyond being a backup, the Sherpa can hang with the best of the whitewater paddles; (photo/Wil Henkel)

When loading up a paddle, I am normally met with the problem of where to put it. Have your buddies cramped around your paddles in the back seats, or take the risk and throw it in the back — either way is not ideal. The ability to quickly break the paddle down is a great advantage, and I found that throughout my spring shuttles, I was breaking the paddle down into a two-piece and stuffing it into safe places.

I personally love the agility and functionality of these paddles. The storability of a four-piece allows for easy packing in the back of a kayak. Depending on my load, I can have the paddle in two pieces and stow it alongside my seat, or I can break it all the way down and store it on one side of my kayak. On the South Fork Nooksack, I had the Sherpa in all four pieces, nestled into my dry bags in the stern, while I elected to have it stored as a two-piece on day runs.

The paddle is simply easy to use, intuitive, and simple. With the continued development and growth of packrafting as a means of accessing rivers, the four-piece breakdowns continue to make the most sense for packraft-oriented buyers who may be looking for a stowable paddle. Its versatility has really stood out to me as I have been testing the paddle.

Breakdown System and Performance

The Sherpa breakdown system being shown
These paddles are built with the ferrules custom-matched from the factory, meaning they’ll need to be put together the same way every time; (photo/Wil Henkel)

Werner’s breakdown system is proven. The four-pin system is consistent throughout all its breakdown models, and while quite simple, this pin system remains one of the most efficient and effective means of securing breakdown paddles together. 

However, don’t expect to feel the security of a full one-piece paddle, as the joints impact the paddle’s strength, performance, and long-term viability as a full-time paddle in advanced whitewater. It is typical for a four-piece breakdown to have some wobble in the pin connections, which can worsen over time. 

I felt this while paddling on the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River Canyon, a technical class IV-V section of river where several larger rapids require full-strength forward strokes, with must-make moves. Here, the paddle certainly responds, but the play within each of the connection points can be felt. 

The author executes a roll with the Sherpa Paddle
Even as a four-piece paddle, the Sherpa still performs when you need it to; (photo/Wil Henkel)

Throughout my experience of paddling breakdown paddles, the connection will generate more play, and this lack of rigidity is noticeable.

However, this is not to say that the performance is significantly diminished; if this were your first experience with a true whitewater-style kayak paddle, you would certainly be excited by its ease of use and comfort. For learning, flatwater use, and class II-III, this paddle will be more than sufficient for primary use.

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Longevity and Durability

The Werner Sherpa paddle nestled into the stern of a kayak
The fiberglass build of the blades and shaft make this paddle highly durable; (photo/Wil Henkel)

The longevity of these paddles is unmatched. I have friends who still have their first Werner paddles after 10 years of advanced whitewater paddling, international travel, and true expedition experience. 

In terms of their market-standard price and incredible life, these paddles are an excellent investment. However, the fiberglass blades tend to wear down over time due to the abrasive surfaces and rocks they often encounter in whitewater rivers. The frequency of use will determine this wear and tear. 

I will note that the scratches, chips, and blade wear certainly became clear after a month of paddling, and this is not abnormal. Over time, the loss in blade size will impact performance, limiting the amount of water you can grip with each stroke.

Yet, I continue to buy fiberglass paddles because of their durability. The fiberglass is especially dynamic, almost spring-like at times, and as a result, it can withstand a tremendous amount of force before snapping. 

The fiberglass also strikes a perfect balance, being very lightweight while staying durable, compared to other carbon paddles on the market that are incredibly lightweight yet brittle and prone to breaking easily.

Blade Shape and Specifications

The Sherpa paddle being dipped in the river, showing the blade shape and size
The blades of the Sherpa paddle are slightly smaller than the Powerhouse; (photo/Wil Henkel)

I tested a 200cm paddle with the option for a 30-degree right- or left-hand offset. I tend to always use a 30-degree right-hand offset on my whitewater paddles — the market standard. Before purchasing, you should consider length and offset options yourself.

When selecting a whitewater paddle, it’s important to understand what kind of paddler you are and your intended use for it on the water. Blade size can have a tremendous impact on how a paddle will perform. To dive deeper into these specifications, we can compare the dimensions of the Werner Sherpa and its big brother, the Powerhouse. 

PaddleBlade Surface AreaLength x Width
Sherpa680 cm46cm x 19.5cm
Powerhouse720 cm48cm x 20cm
The Sherpa paddle blade compared to the Powerhouse and another Werner paddle
The high-angle blade profile of the Sherpa means it takes big bites; (photo/Wil Henkel)

While the numbers may not stand out as wildly different, with only a 2cm difference in blade length and 0.5-cm difference in width, these small differences will create a noticeable change in the paddle’s performance. The power we get out of the paddle depends on how much of the blade we have in the water on each stroke.

These paddles are designed to balance a large enough blade for responsive and active strokes while also trying to maintain a nimble and comfortable paddle for long-term use. I look here at the numbers that indicate the overall “blade surface area.” This overall surface area will dictate the amount of water that you can pull with each stroke and, thus, your paddle stroke power.

Werner calls the Powerhouse a “full-size” and the Sherpa a “mid-size” blade. This designation may help you consider what kind of paddler you are: mid-size or full-size? Werner has proven over more than 20 years that the fiberglass blade construction of its whitewater paddles continues to serve as the market standard in whitewater paddle sports.

The Sherpa is just another example of Werner’s responsive paddles, which are tough but still user-friendly. A standout design element of this paddle is the reinforcement spine on the back side of the blade, which allows for enhanced blade maneuverability when linking strokes, provides blade stiffness, and makes up for its overall strength.

Werner Sherpa Paddle: Conclusion

The four-piece Sherpa paddle on the shore of a river
The Werner Sherpa is a paddle that will have your back when things get hairy; (photo/Wil Henkel)

When I discovered whitewater kayaking, it opened my world to a whole new kind of adventure, self-exploration, and challenge. These river canyons are truly some of the wildest and most magical places on earth, but they come with challenges and risks that must be mitigated with proper planning, training, and equipment.

A breakdown paddle is an essential piece of safety equipment, and as I have come to the conclusion of springtime testing, I can only help but say the Werner Sherpa 4-Piece Paddle is an excellent choice for paddlers seeking a reliable and versatile paddle. Its performance in challenging conditions, ease of packing, and durability make it a standout option for adventurers. 

While there are minor areas for improvement, such as the slight wobble in the connections and its long-term loss of blade shape, these factors do not overshadow the overall positive attributes of the Sherpa. It is truly an excellent paddle.

A Werner Kalliste kayak paddle dips through the water as a kayaker makes a stroke

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