One of the greatest things about pickleball is the simplicity of the rules. In just a matter of minutes, someone completely new to the game can walk onto the court and start competing. Now, if only the same could be said for picking the best pickleball paddles.
If you're someone who's caught the pickleball bug, you know exactly what this means. And if you don't know the reference, simply head over to Google and search for "beginner pickleball paddles."
What you'll find is an endless number of results using terms and references that only a small percentage of players can understand, and certainly not beginner-friendly in any regard. So to bring a swift end to this confusion, Paddletek's created this buyer's guide to finding the best pickleball paddle.
Paddletek knows performance pickleball paddles better than anyone, which is why we're going to walk you through the process of buying a paddle.
Don't worry, we'll leave the sales pitch out of this guide and focus strictly on helping you understand a few key elements of buying a pickleball paddle.
How Do You Pick the Best Pickleball Paddle?
Picking the best pickleball paddle requires pairing the most important elements of a paddle with a player's skill and style. The key to finding the best pickleball paddle is to find the proper balance of core material and thickness, surface material, paddle weights, and grip size for an individual player.
While it would be far more convenient to say there is only one "best" paddle on the market, and that paddle works for every player, that's simply not the case.
For players that lack control and want more power, they would want to pick a completely different set of materials and construction than a player who would perhaps want more control and less pop.
Although it may seem like unnecessary steps trying to find the best pickleball paddles for you, this article will reveal the importance of going the extra mile. And if it seems complicated now, it won't once you complete reading our guide, since we'll break down 5 components into simple terms that are easy to remember.
In the end, you'll know exactly what pickleball paddle to look for and what modifications you'll want to make to play the best game possible.
5 Elements of Purchasing the Best Pickleball Paddle
In this section, we'll look at five of the main factors to consider before purchasing a pickleball paddle - core material, core thickness, surface material, the weight of a paddle, and grip size. There's a lot to cover, so let's get started.
1. Pickleball Paddle Core Materials
It's no secret that a key factor to success in Pickleball is having the right pickleball paddle. But, an often overlooked component to finding the perfect paddle is choosing the right core material. Maybe that's because you can't see the core when you're shopping or even playing, but its role in a pickleball paddle's overall performance is just as important nonetheless.
What is a Pickleball Paddle Core?
The core is the structural guts found in every pickleball paddle, and it's frequently formed as a sheet of honeycomb shapes and then wedged between both faces of a paddle. Pickleball paddle cores can be made with a range of different materials, using several techniques and structural shapes.
What Materials Are the Best Pickleball Paddle Cores Made of?
There are quite a few options for core materials - but Nomex and polymer materials are the most frequently used today. Each has a distinct feel that can adjust the performance of pickleball paddles.
Nomex Core Pickleball Paddles - Power: Nomex is an incredibly strong, dense, and lightweight polyamide that's used in everything from military uniforms to the floors of airplanes, and of course, pickleball paddle cores. So how did this flame-resistant material used for military and aviation end up in a pickleball paddle?
The story is by no means coincidental. In the 1980s, a Boeing engineer and pickleball fanatic, Arlen Paranto, invented the first-ever composite pickleball paddle using Nomex as the core material.
In general, Nomex consists of smaller but more numerous honeycombs than other composite core materials, this increases the surface area of the core and builds a more rigid core, both of which lend Nomex cores to generating more power with each hit.
Polymer Core Pickleball Paddles - Power and Control:
The most popular core material in use today is polymer, sometimes referred to as polycore or polypropylene core. Polymer core is a durable and flexible plastic material in pickleball paddles. It provides a nice balance of power and control. This should be your default core material as a new player.
As mentioned, you'll find pickleball paddles come in several core materials, but a polymer base is the defacto material in use today.
The best pickleball paddles may even use some sort of hybrid approach to the core. For example, Paddletek's Tempest series uses carbon fiber in a polymer core, which is geared toward a performance aspect.
Many new players jump on Amazon to purchase their first paddles, which is completely understandable. In that case, you may find a budget pickleball paddle that's made entirely of wood, including the core. Or you may just find a generic type of plastic in the core.
So if you're looking to Amazon for your paddle purchase, be sure to get to the bottom of what the core material consists of.
Why Paddle Core Materials Matter
When it comes to finding the best pickleball paddles, the core material is the hidden heart of your equipment. Different materials offer different benefits and drawbacks depending on your playing style and desired performance.
The right core material can provide more power, added accuracy, and improved control while helping reduce shock and absorbing vibration. Choosing the best core material suited to your playing style is essential for optimizing your game.
2. Pickleball Paddle Core Thickness
Here comes the core again, back for a second round of having an important role in the performance of pickleball paddles. But this time, it's less to do with what material the core is made from, and more so about its depth inside a pickleball paddle.
What is the Core Thickness of Pickleball Paddles?
Core thickness in pickleball paddles refers to the distance between the inside edges, that is, the depth of the paddle's internal core. This measurement is usually given in millimeters, where thick cores tend to be close to 16mm and thinner cores around 11mm. Thickness can vary widely across paddles.
You will certainly come across core thickness in inches as well, but an easy way to think of thickness is that .5-inch is close to 13mm, which is a medium core thickness. Going up and down by 1/16th inch will put you close to thin and thick cores from there.
Why Pickleball Paddle Core Thickness Matters
A thick core will give you greater control with each hit, as it softens the impact of the ball as it makes contact with the paddle surface. Conversely, a thin core will create more power.
What you gain in control with a thick core, you lose in power, and the opposite is true for a thinner core. You'll find this balance between touch and power is quite a common dilemma as you decide on the best pickleball paddle. The right combinations will give you the ideal pickleball paddle for you, and support your style of play where you need it most.
Should You Pick a Thinner or Thicker Core?
Picking a thin or thick paddle core largely depends on experience. For new players, it's typically recommended to go with a medium or thick core to help with control. More experienced players can use any thickness but would choose a thinner core if they are trying to supplement for power.
3. Pickleball Paddle Surface Materials
You might be surprised by how many options you have for paddle face materials - from wood to hybrid materials, if it can be attached to a pickleball paddle, it probably exists.
But, most often, you'll encounter either fiberglass, carbon fiber, or graphite paddles today. Here's what you need to know about all three.
Fiberglass Pickleball Paddles - Power Material
Of the three surface materials on this list, fiberglass is the heaviest, but also the most flexible. When the ball hits a fiberglass face, it sinks in a little and then fires off the face of the paddle, much like a spring uncoiling. Between the extra weight and elastic effect, it's able to generate greater power.
Graphite Pickleball Paddles - Finesse Material
Graphite is a lightweight yet remarkably strong material, proven to be ideal for many sports, but certainly pickleball. When the ball strikes a graphite paddle, its structural integrity helps spread the force of each hit evenly across its entire face.
This creates a larger sweet spot on your graphite paddle, but also comes at the price of relative power.
Carbon Fiber Pickleball Paddles - Balanced Finesse and Power
Carbon fiber, which you'll find is used in some of Paddletek's series, is even lighter and stronger than graphite. Carbon fiber is technically a subtype of graphite and is widely popular today. It acts as a good balance between what's most loved about fiberglass and graphite paddles.
It's the closest thing to finding an optimal compromise between finesse and power, and is part of the reason this is a popular surface material for any versatile paddle.
What's the Difference between Graphite Paddles and Fiberglass Pickleball Paddles?
This question is essentially comparing apples to oranges, as such, fiberglass earns the right of being the surface material for creating power in your shots, whereas graphite surface materials are more aligned to an improved touch in every shot.
It probably goes without saying, but the surface material has a profound impact on your control and power in pickleball. So choosing the right paddle face material that best suits your individual needs is quite important.
4. Pickleball Paddle Grip Size
When you go to purchase a pickleball paddle, one thing you'll want to know with certainty is the grip size that best suits your hands. And we're not referencing the style of grip you use, instead, this is all about the dimensions of your grip.
What Is the Difference between a Handle and a Grip?
Grips and handles are often used interchangeably, but when you add length and circumference to the equation, they mean entirely different things. A paddle's handle length measures the grip from the jewel to the neck of the paddle, while its grip circumference measures the distance to wrap around the handle.
When purchasing pickleball paddles, you'll see both the handle and grip measurements called out in the specifications.
You might see grip size referred to as circumference, or handle length called grip length, but regardless of its name, you'll find that both grip and handle are commonly measured in inches.
What Are the Grip Size Options?
Grip sizes come in quite a few options, but the vast majority of them will fall between 3.875" and 4.375", separated by increments of 1/16". Most players will purchase a pickleball paddle around the 4 1/8" to 4 3/8" circumference, where 4 1/8" is a safety circumference that can be taped to add volume.
Grip Size Variance
Every manufacturer and even paddle series within a manufacturer's lineup can have standard grip sizes that fluctuate. Even within Paddletek, you'll notice that standard grips fluctuate by model and even within series, for example:
- Tempest Wave II: 4 1/4" Grip Circumference
- Tempest Wave Pro: 4 3/8" Grip Circumference
But, you can also get the Tempest Wave Pro in a thin grip, which is 4 1/8".
A big factor in grip size is the thickness of the paddle core. There are limits to how small grips can be based on the thickness of the paddle, overstretching a certain threshold can compromise the structural quality of an entire paddle.
Finding the Right Grip Size
So if you're on the market to find the right grip size, get out there and hold and play with paddles that have different grips.
Actually holding a pickleball paddle and playing with it, are the best ways to know which size suits your needs. Having a cushioned grip is much like the Goldilocks story, and in the absence of holding a paddle to determine which size gives you a cushioned grip, you'll want to at least select a grip that's slightly smaller than you expect.
This way, if you need to build up a base for a better grip, you can easily do so with some tape. If you go too big, well, you may need to bust out the Dremel to shave it down.
Of course, we're kidding about needing a power tool, but make it easy on yourself and try it out first, but in an absolute impulse purchase pinch, aim small.
Why Grip Size Matters
Grip size is an important factor when selecting a pickleball paddle because it affects the way you handle and control your shots.
Too small and you'll be fumbling with your hold more than you'd like - fatigue and poor control follow suit. Too big and you won't be able to get the right grip, losing control of your shots in more ways than one.
And that's all without mentioning general discomfort. You can't play your best when you're thinking about your hand and how it feels; picking the right size is essential for top performance while also avoiding any uncomfortable blisters!
5. Pickleball Paddle Weight
Paddle weight is the final essential choice you'll need to make when buying a pickleball paddle. It's a big one too, which is one of the reasons it's earned an entire article dedicated to picking the right weight for a pickleball paddle. But to summarize the key points from that article, here's what you'll need to know.
What Are the Typical Paddle Weights in Pickleball?
Pickleball paddle weights are classified into three classes, midweight (between 7.3 and 8.5 ounces), lightweight (7.3 ounces and lighter), and heavy (8.5 ounces and up). Midweight paddles are suited for beginners, while lighter paddles assist with control, and heavier paddles boost power.
Everything contributes here, from edge guard and decorative jewels to the core materials, it all has an impact on weight, and by turn, swing speed.
Why Pick a Light Paddle?
Going lightweight with your pickleball paddle can be a great way to boost control and reaction times. This is great when you're near the net. So if you're looking for gentler dinks and don't care so much about power, you may want to look into a lighter paddle.
There are some downsides to this though, outside of power, namely the health of your arm.
With a lighter paddle, it absorbs less energy every time it contacts the ball, instead, your arm will start to pick up the heavy lifting. If you have a history of tennis and golf elbow, this probably won't be the best weight for you.
Also, some players find they have to extend their swings to get enough power, which is a game of compensating for weight. This can also be detrimental to a healthy arm.
Why Pick a Midweight Paddle?
If you're new to pickleball, midweight is a great class to start with. A midweight paddle toes the line of power and control, so it's ideally suited for all skill levels and shots. Whether you're looking for a soft dink or a power serve, this weight class should suffice.
Why Pick a Heavy Paddle?
If you need more power behind your shots, this is when you would want to pick a heavier paddle. But this comes with a huge disclaimer; heavy paddles are rarely good options for new players since they require a higher degree of control and placement to wield properly, and beginners rarely possess those skills.
Plus, if you have any sort of arm health problems, this will certainly exacerbate those issues since you'll experience arm fatigue more rapidly. It's not all doom and gloom though, because players who just want some extra oomph on their shots will love the weight.
And tennis players making the switch to pickleball will appreciate the feeling a heavy paddle has compared to a tennis racquet.
Not so much a direct comparison of weight, but more so the motion and swing of contacting a pickleball with a heavier paddle - it will feel more akin to tennis backswings.
In general, the best pickleball paddles for beginners will be the midweight classification, whereas the best pickleball paddles for experienced players could be any weight, as they more likely know the right weight to support their game.
Picking the Best Pickleball Paddle is a Balancing Act
At this point, you've certainly realized that there's no one solution for building the best pickleball paddles. And that's because every decision teeters between two extremes. All 5 elements to consider above, play into this balancing act as well. While you might have a surface material that adds power, you may choose a weight that increases your control but reduces power.
So picking the best paddle isn't just balancing any individual element, but more so about balancing the entire paddle based on key elements.
Much like creating a piece of music, every instrument impacts to the feeling of the final composition. If one instrument is doing things differently than the others, it can shift the entire body of work, and this is how you should think of picking your 5 elements in a paddle.
Ultimately, you should start with a baseline of preference and skill level. Knowing what you like to play with and being able to match that with your strengths and weaknesses on the court is ultimately what separates the best paddle from the rest.
And while there is no perfect paddle, if you can tinker with these 5 factors to fit your needs, you'll at least end up with the best pickleball paddle for you, and the time invested will be more than worth it.