Smash Your Competition With One of These Top-Rated Pickleball Paddles

best pickleball paddles summer 2023
These Are the Best Pickleball Paddles of 2024John Thompson

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ONCE YOU start playing pickleball, you will quickly realize how important your pickleball paddle is when working to improve your game. I, along with other Men's Health writers and editors who play, have tested over 30 different pickleball paddles in the past 18 months and found 11 models worth recommending. Why? Because we've been bitten by the pickleball bug of course.

We still believe the pickleball paddle with the best overall value is the HEAD Radical Elite, due to its balanced performance and awesome price point. But if you're someone who plays competitively and is looking for something more advanced, our latest recommendation for the best pickleball paddle for competitive play is the Selkirk Halo Power XL, thanks to its ability to deliver excellent power and spin. Thinking about playing in a tournament? The most advanced pickleball paddle we've tested is the Selkirk Power Air Invikta—it has the perfect blend of weight, power, and surface area to make any player a force on the court.

What Pickleball Paddle Should I Get?

Pickleball paddles have gone through rapid innovation in the past several years due to the sport's rising popularity. We spoke with Ben Johns, a professional pickleball player in the PPA (Professional Pickleball Association), to get his take on what to look for in a paddle. "The right time to buy a paddle is usually when you find yourself wanting to improve your skills as a player, as opposed to just playing for fun every now and then," Johns tells Men's Health. "The key features you want to look for are weight, dimension, and material."

The pickleball paddles below reflect the skill levels of all players, ranging for early beginners who are eager to play on a weekly basis to experienced players who are on the court every day. Keep scrolling if you're ready to take your game to the next level.

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Radical Elite Pickleball Paddle

HEAD's Radical Elite paddle is the ultimate wallet-friendly pick for those who are getting pickleball fever. I had the pleasure of first playing with the Radical Elite in a private pickleball lesson at Baha Mar Resort in the Bahamas. At the lesson, I learned more advanced moves to improve my game, like putting spin on my serve and returning shots up close to the net while avoiding the non-volley zone (my favorite trick I learned is jumping at angle over the non-volley zone to return a ball).

After my lesson, I realized I never had to think twice about my HEAD Radical Elite paddle underperforming. As far as design goes, the Radical Elite comes with a honeycomb core, a fiberglass finish, and a wide surface area to smack the ball. You also get a comfortable foam handle with a length similar to that of a tennis racket, so I was more than capable of using my two-handed backhand on returns.

After playing with a handful of different pickleball paddles in the past year, I noticed the Radical Elite was a bit lacking in power. This paddle prioritizes control while staying lightweight, so it's a great option for learning the game. You can play competitively with the Radical Elite too, but as you see yourself progressing you may want to switch to a paddle with more power. But remember, this paddle retails for around $65, when in reality it plays closer to a $100 paddle. You simply can't beat the value for the price.

What else you should know: After playing with both colors of the Radical Elite, I think the orange color will stay vibrant much longer than the green. The green feels like it's prone to fading.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Radical Elite Pickleball Paddle</p><p>$69.95</p><span class="copyright">John Thompson</span>

Graphite Z5

If you watch any professional pickleball events on TV, it's likely you'll notice Onix as a paddle in a few pro's hands. Onix has a wide array of paddles to choose from, but the Graphite Z5 is a trusted pick that's big on ball control and clean returns. The takeaway from the Z5 you get the best qualities of graphite paddle for a price point just under $100, which is a excellent value in my book. Graphite is a favorite for many pros due to the material's strong design and lightweight feel, making it easy to control each shot and finesse where you want your ball to go.

When testing, I was surprised to see how well balanced the Z5 is in hand. The nomex honeycomb core seemed to limit dead spots, and the paddle measurement of 8.3 x 15.5 inches gave me enough space to connect clean on most shots. (The shape of the paddle gives you a sneaky amount of surface area too.) In terms of qualities the paddle performed best, I feel like the Z5's lofty weight and powerful sweet spot give it a superior rating. The paddle was especially great on serves, as I was able to whip the ball over the net and get some good spin on my initial shot.

What else you should know: The colors on the Z5 are much more vibrant and colorful than most online retailer images show to be. The all red and all blue colors look sweet.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Graphite Z5</p><p></p><p>$89.99</p><span class="copyright">John Thompson</span>

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Graphite Z5


John Thompson

Carbon Fiber Pickleball Paddle

I've heard a lot of good things about this carbon fiber paddle over the last several months, and I was able to finally get my hands on it. The paddle can only be found on Amazon right now, and the brand, XS XSPAK, is not as known as other pickleball brands; however, when I was able to play with the paddle I was throughly impressed. Like the Amazon reviews suggest, this is a high-performance carbon fiber model for a mind-blowing price of just $100.

I can confirm it's one of the best deals you can find right now, considering the materials used could make it easily a $175 paddle. Inside is a polypropylene XS28 core that I found to be great at limiting vibration and sending back sharp returns. On the outside is a carbon fiber surface. It feels super gritty to the touch—almost like running your fingers across untreated wood—thus making it possible to use the texture to create some wild spin on your ball.

What's nice is XS XSPAK maintains it's USAPA approved, so you could potentially play in local tournaments with it. If you are just starting out to play in a league or entering tournaments, this is a solid paddle to try. If you are already playing competitively and have a go-to paddle, then I'd even recommend buying this one as a second-string paddle to keep for backup or use whenever you want to change things up on the court. Beware of the sides of the paddle though: I sent a few lame duck returns when the ball hit parts of the paddle's plastic edging.

What else you should know: The grip on this paddle is thick and feels like it will hold up for quite a long time. I also love how the handle is also long enough for two-handed backhands.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Carbon Fiber Pickleball Paddle</p><p></p><p>$99.99</p><span class="copyright">John Thompson</span>

Halo Power XL

The Halo Power XL is more refined carbon fiber paddle than the XS XSPAX Carbon Fiber. In terms of carbon fiber performance, the surface mostly feels the same, which allowed me to put seriously good spin on the ball yet again when testing the Halo Power XL after the XS XSPAX. I found the edging of the Halo Power XL is not as raised XS XSPAX, which was a positive in my book.

To avoid confusion, I'm going to break down the Power XL portion of the Halo name. You can buy the Halo is a control version, which I did not test. The Power XL is designed with a 13mm Power Core, as opposed to the 16mm Control Core model from Selkirk. The "XL" on the paddle represents its extended handle, which makes the paddle feel more like a tennis racket and allow for two-handed backhands.

In terms of weight, performance, and look, the Halo Power XL checks all boxes. It's absolutely a force in league play and in tournaments, and it will give you just the right amount of power and spin you need. To me, this paddle probably has the best combination of power and spin, but the tradeoff is there's some difficulty when making touch shots—dinking the ball over the net was more harder to locate on this paddle than I would've liked.

Do not be dissuaded by the price point of the Halo Power XL. The paddle reaches pretty dang close in performance to paddle that are around $200, so really there's a ton of value packed into what you end up getting, in my honest opinion.

What else to consider: The faux leather handle is one of the best grip materials on this entire list. From a design standpoint, I loved the brown handle and trimming over the carbon fiber makeup.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Halo Power XL</p><p></p><p>$140.00</p>

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Halo Power XL


Power Air Invikta (Elongated)

A $250 pickleball paddle is no easy investment, but those who want the best-of-the-best gear will find interest in the Power Air Invikta. This is the signature model PPA pro Tyson McGuffin uses right now, and after I played a match with this bad boy I now know why he chooses it. For starters, the Air Invikta has an elongated shape that creates a generous surface area—bigger than the Onix Z5 and HEAD Radical Elite, yet smaller than the PCKL Pro Series.

Second, the Power Air Invikta's performance is some of the most advanaced I've ever felt. Selkirk added the air opening to create faster swing speeds, and while I did not measure that data to confirm if true, I could definitely feel my serves has some extra whip I usually am not used to experiencing. To elaborate more on my serve, I like to get real low and serve the ball via drop serve. Starting this way helps me get a fast and low shot over the net with some spin, and the Power Air Invikta played to my serve style and made it super fun to use.

A third key finding from playing with the Power Air Invikta was the overall feel of the paddle. It's like holding the paddle equivalent of a Ferrari: fast, lightweight, hot. The handle is luxe and cushioned, and the extra wrapping near the end of the handle helped me get a more secure grip (helped me especially on two-handed backhands). There are no pronounced edges on the Power Air Invikta for the ball to take a weird shot off of, so there's actually a chance you get clean return even if you connect near the edges of the paddle.

The Power Air Invikta is meant for serious players only. I'd recommend this paddle if you are in a weekly league and/0r entering tournaments. It's the most advanced paddle I've ever played with, and the sleek design really plays up the fact you're using the best technology in the game.

What else you should know: We previously highlighted the Selkirk Project 002, a performance paddle with similar tech as the Power Air Invikta. David Dutrieuille, a 5.0-rated traveling player and coach and the National Pickleball Director for Life Time, had recommended the Project 002 to us. "I love the Selkirk Project 002 because it has the best spin & power combination on the market. It really allows my shots to have more bang for the buck without over-swinging," says Dutrieuille.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Power Air Invikta (Elongated)</p><p></p><p>$250.00</p><span class="copyright">John Thompson</span>

Echo Energy Pickleball Paddle

My first introduction to Wilson pickleball paddles started with the Echo, and I quickly fell in love with its clean look and balanced design. That paddle is harder to find these days, and after playing with it on and off for all of 2022, I decided it was time to reach for the upgraded Echo Energy in 2023.

The Echo Energy has everything I loved about the original Echo. The paddle carries the same PO3 fiberglass composite makeup to ensure a lightweight, durable feel. The Echo Energy has the same PolyCore-X honeycomb core too—which I like because it helps lessen vibrations and hit more controlled shots. The surface area of the Echo Energy is even identical to the Echo. So what's the big difference between the old version and the new? Two words: longer handle.

It might not seem like much, but the longer handle has payed off immensely in my game. That's because the long handle gives me generous space to perform a two-handed backhand, which is my best shot in pickleball. (I have a tennis background, and I have an even longer history of playing baseball and swinging a bat left handed.) Having the extended handle to for a two-handed backhand allows me to send off nasty line drives and put my opponent on their heels. Between the Echo and the Echo Energy, the Echo Energy takes the cake as a paddle that plays to my strengths and gives me the best chance at winning out on the court. It's my favorite paddle to grab when things are about to get intense. Those with tennis and baseball backgrounds, start here.

What else you should know: Wilson also makes my favorite pickleball shoe, the Rush Pro Ace Pickler. It performs like a high level tennis shoe and gives me a premium level of comfort for my wide feet and high arches. Consider matching the Echo Energy with a pair of the Rush Pro's in all-white.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Echo Energy Pickleball Paddle</p><p></p><p>$119.95</p>

The Ashbury

Nettie is a pickleball paddle brand born during the Pandemic. The brand's founder sought to create premium pickleball products with colorful, retro-inspired designs; and after holding this paddles in-hand I can definitely say Nettie has some of the best styles out of all the paddles you can buy right now.

The Ashbury is just one example of the groovy designs Nattie makes. (The paddle is inspired by the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco.) It features a polymer honeycomb core and a carbon fiber face, as well as a fine leather grip that I believe to be one of the most comfortable grips I tested. There weren't any performance qualities of the paddle that stood out to me, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I view Nettie as a brand with reliable performance and excellent design. You can play with these paddles competitively in tournaments, but ultimately I see them as a fun choice for recreational play with friends.

What else you should know: Nettie paddles come in a bunch of different patterned designs, but the aesthetic of the brand all matches together, which makes the paddles fun to buy in a duo or bundle set.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>The Ashbury</p><p></p><p>$62.99</p><span class="copyright">John Thompson</span>

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The Ashbury


John Thompson

Voltage 5.0 Pickleball Paddle

The Gamma Voltage 5.0 is another paddle I was impressed with after testing. Most of the Gamma paddles I'm familiar with are way under $100, but after swinging this model I believe it's worth paying up for the Voltage 5.0. The paddle features a 14mm thick polymer core, which gave me a great feel when returning shots and a shocking amount of power I was not expecting. It definitely carries more zip than one might expect.

There were two standout features I loved about Voltage 5.0 when testing. The first was the textured surface allowed me to get some added spin on the ball. Gamma notes the surface is coated with a "micro-bead texture", and while it's one of my favorite paddles I tested when it came to getting spin on the ball, I still do feel like the XS XSPAK paddle has the stronger texture. The second standout feature is the Voltage 5.0's handle. The holes in the tape felt like I could get a better grip that didn't slip when my hands got sweaty.

One qualm I have is I don't like how pronounced the edges are on the paddle. With that being said though, this is still a top-notch paddle I'd recommend to players looking to join a league for the first time, or want a backup paddle for league play.

What else you should know: The Gamma 5.0 series also comes in a cheaper Neutron 5.0 model and a Micron 5.0 model. All three have the same retro color scheme but showcase different patterns.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Voltage 5.0 Pickleball Paddle</p><p></p><p>$61.55</p><span class="copyright">John Thompson</span>

Pro Series

After playing with both the PCKL Power Series and the Pro Series, I'm much more likely to grab the Pro Series based on the elongated design and better control. I felt like I was able to cover just a few more inches on each side of the court, and even when I hit the ball on the end of the paddle (instead of the sweet spot) it seemed I was getting a quality shot with enough power.

The downside of playing with this paddle is it takes some getting used to due to the shape. The larger surface area feels different than a compact paddle like the Onix Z5, but the Pro Series paddle itself is actually still quite light. I wish the handle was a bit longer for easier two-handed backhands. Nevertheless, the Pro Series turned out to be one of the paddles I turned out to really enjoy after testing. You get a ton of value for its $120 price point, and I'd pin it as a high caliber paddle worthy for competitive play.

What else to consider: I also have had the pleasure of testing the PCKL Starter Bundle. It comes with two quality paddles and four balls for just $65.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Pro Series</p><p></p><p>$109.99</p><span class="copyright">John Thompson</span>

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Pro Series


John Thompson

Bar Harbor

I always make a point to remind people that pickleball isn't all about competition. To me, the beauty of the game is the range of ways you can participate. When testing Tangerine's paddles, I found them to be the perfect weight and build for leisure play. The brand has really made an effort to create fun, elevated designs (with beautiful carrying bags too) in order to add style to one's game.

Due to this paddle's performance features, you could probably get away with using it for league play. It does have a polypropylene honeycomb core and fiberglass surface, so you can rely on it to give you solid pop and an ability to put spin on the ball. I, however, see this paddle best in a set you keep at home and then breakout for entertaining guests. To this day, it's one of my favorite paddle sto play one-handed while I sip on an ice cold adult beverage.

Buying this paddle unlocks great looks and trusted performance. So what if you're not trying to become the number one player in the world?

What else you should know: I briefly mentioned Tangerine's pickleball bags earlier, but to speak on them more, I believe they're some of the best looking bags in the sport. I suggest buying the full set of two paddles with the bag to get the full country club feel Tangerine exudes.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Bar Harbor</p><p></p><p>$85.00</p><span class="copyright">John Thompson</span>

Mnstr Power Pickleball Paddle, Graphite

Legacy tennis brand Babolat has ventured into the game of pickleball, and after taking a look at one of their top paddle offerings it's safe to say they're making a splash in game. I was fortunate to test the Mnstr Power, and getting to hold it in hand made me realize this is another excellent option for those who want a power paddle with good spin potential.

Babolat mentions the paddle has a layer of SWC Pure Feel to help add texture and create spin. It's reminiscent of a carbon fiber surface, but not quite as gritty and textured like carbon fiber. Nevertheless, I still felt like I could put adequate spin on the ball in my serves and on some returns. As for inside the paddle, Babolat says it adds a technology originally used in aerospace called SMAC to help filter vibration. When playing with the Mnstr Power, I felt it truly was among some of the best when handling vibration.

When compared to the Selkirk Halo Power XL—which is the price as the Mnstr Power—I feel like the Halo Power XL has a better surface and more pure power performance. But, I believe the Mnstr Power handles dink shots much better than the SLK Halo Power XL. If you are looking for a league play paddle and want to choose graphite over carbon fiber, then the Mnstr Power is a smart pick.

What else you should know: Babolat also makes pickleball shoes, and I found the Propulse Fury to be one of the better high-end pickleball shoes for competitive play. You can match your Babolat paddle with the matching shoes and have a 1-2 punch for your league or tournament play.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Mnstr Power Pickleball Paddle, Graphite</p><p></p><p>$139.00</p><span class="copyright">John Thompson</span>

HEAD 2022 Radical Tour Pickleball Paddle (3-7/8)

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>HEAD 2022 Radical Tour Pickleball Paddle (3-7/8)</p><p></p><p>$99.00</p>

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HEAD 2022 Radical Tour Pickleball Paddle (3-7/8)


Radical Tour Pickleball Paddle

While I am more a fan of the HEAD Radical Elite due to it's overall value for the price, the Radical Tour is a worthy upgrade to make if you plan on playing in leagues and tournaments. It's about $100 more than the Radical Elite, making it one of the more expensive paddles on our list, but after playing with this paddle I can say I definitely did feel the added features.

What stands out to me the most is the Radical Tour is thicker than the Radical Elite (15mm vs 13mm). HEAD's reasoning for this change was to extend the power core of the paddle, which translated to me feeling much more juice behind my returns when centering up the ball. The second feature that I also noticed off the bat is the graphite surface. The Radical Elite uses a fiberglass surface; and while it works great for most levels of the play, the graphite surface on the Radical Tour took my game to the next level by making it easier to create spin on the ball. HEAD even adds a technology called "SpinOn", a type of lacquer that's applied to the surface to create more friction and better spin. The last difference I will mention is the Radical Tour felt lighter than the Radical Elite; and after playing I found our the Radical Tour is 0.2 ounces lighter (or 5 grams less) than the Radical Elite.

So where does this paddle fall into my rankings? I think the Radical Tour is a solid paddle upgrade you can make once you've been playing pickleball long enough and decide you want to get into higher competitive play. The paddle is lighter, more powerful, and better at creating spin than the balanced, under-$100 paddles like the HEAD Radical Elite and the Onix Z5. Just remember you're paying $150 for the paddle, so make sure it gets the playing time it deserves so you can get your money's worth.

What else you should know: Similar to how the Onix Z5 paddle shows color, the HEAD Radical Tour is much brighter and more vibrant than some of the web images lead it to be. I personally love how the orange streaks on the paddle create a three-dimensional look.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Radical Tour Pickleball Paddle</p><p></p><p>$149.99</p><span class="copyright">John Thompson</span>

Ben Johns Hyperion Pro

If there's one name you should know about in professional pickleball it's Ben Johns—the 23-year-old has won 51 championships on the PPA Tour in singles, doubles, and mixed competitions in his career. John's official JOOLA paddle is loaded with a Carbon-Flex5 textured surface, a reactive polypropylene honeycomb core, and a specialized foam edge wall for added stability.

I've only had a few run-ins with this paddle, so it's hard to really gauge how well it stacks up to all the paddles I've put in many hours of testing. However, due to the popularity of the paddle, and the fact Life Time CEO Bahram Akradi told us he loves this paddle, the Hyperion Pro is definitely worth a spot on this list.

"I was a tennis player and initially didn’t think pickleball was intense enough for me. I was wrong. I now play up to 10-12 hours a week, with games sometimes three hours or more, and I go to this paddle every time," says Bahram Akradi, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Life Time. Life Time is currently the largest provider of pickleball courts in the country with nearly 450 courts and counting. It's safe to say after hearing Akradi's words I'm excited to get a full test of the Hyperion Pro soon.

Weight: 8.4 ounces Dimensions: 10.08 x 17.24 inches Grip Circumference: 4.25 inches

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Ben Johns Hyperion Pro</p><p></p><p>$167.31</p><span class="copyright">Courtesy of Retailer</span>

Rally Tyro 2

Pickleball Central makes several quality in-house products. The Rally Tyro 2 is a wallet-friendly composite paddle with a polymer core. Its best feature is its weight, clocking in at a lofty 7.2 ounces. While I have yet to test this paddle, I did come across it in person when playing at some pickleball courts in Daytona Beach, FL. I was surprised to learn one player tell me the paddle was under $50, and so I promptly took a look at the paddle and did further research when I got home.

With that all being said, the reliability of Pickleball Central combined with the notion I've seen this paddle in person warrants a strong honorable mention on this list.

The downside to this paddle is the weight and construction won't give you as much power as you might like (especially if you start playing competitively). The Rally Tyro 2 also isn't the most stylish paddle around either; it's barebones, but if you're looking for a paddle that can hang for recreational play and some intermediate play then this is a solid choice. Early beginners to the game will do just fine with this value-driven $45 paddle.

Weight: 7.2 ounces Dimensions: 7.875 x 15.75 inches Grip Circumference: 4.0 inches

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Rally Tyro 2</p><p></p><p>$44.99</p><span class="copyright">Courtesy of Retailer</span>

Why Trust Men's Health

The first time I bought a proper pickleball paddle was in 2021, when I found myself living next to a pickleball court super-plex across in Daytona Beach, Florida. All-day and all-night (the courts had ballpark lights!) people would be out there playing. I started playing some pickup games to meet new people, and sure enough I found myself playing about once or twice a week.

When I moved to New York in the spring in 2022, I was introduced to all the new and innovative paddle tech at several different work events. My excitement prompted me to write Men's Health's very first roundup of the best pickleball paddles early summer of 2022—a buying guide that existed far before many of the major lifestyle publication reviews that are around today.

Along with my expertise of regular play and the continual reading of the latest pickleball paddle releases, our list of the best pickleball paddles includes the thoughts and advice of several pickleball experts I've interviewed over the past 12 months.

Those experts include:

  • Ben Johns, a pro pickleball player in the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA)

  • Laura Gainor, USA Pickleball's Director of Media Relations

  • Carl Schmits, Managing Director of Equipment Standards & Facilities Development for the USA Pickleball Association

  • John Crowley Sr., the Sr. Category Merchandising Manager of Paddles at Pickleball Central

  • David Dutrieuille, a 5.0-rated traveling player and coach and the National Pickleball Director for Life Time

  • Bahram Akradi, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Life Time Fitness

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Hearst Owned - Hearst Owned

Some photos of myself testing a handful of paddles in Brooklyn.

best pickleball paddles tested
John Thompson

How We Selected the Best Pickleball Paddles

For over a year now, I have played pickleball on a regular basis that averages out to me being on a court a few times a month. During that time period, I was able to test a number of different pickleball paddles. Some of the best pickleball paddles I listed I've had longer experience playing with, like the HEAD Radical Elite and the line of Wilson paddles, while other paddles I've only recently played with—I made sure most of the paddles on this list are new releases stemming back to spring of 2023.

For my latest testing, I gathered 14 different pickleball paddles and took them to a court in Brooklyn one day to get a full side-by-side comparison of all the models. I made sure to gather paddles in a wide range of price points, from $60 to $250. Along with my personal testing notes, I also relied on testing notes from other Men's Health's editors and writers, as well as the testing notes of the experts I interviewed.

best pickleball paddles
Courtesy of Retailer

What to Look for When Buying a Pickleball Paddle

Weight: The average weight for a paddle is going to be around 8 ounces and fluctuate above and below that number. Anything at 9 ounces is usually too heavy and anything under 7 ounces is usually too light. "For weight, somewhere in between 7.5 to 8.3 ounces is a good range," says Ben Johns.

Dimensions: The basic configuration most new players will want to use is called a "wide body paddle" according to Carl Schmits, Managing Director of Equipment Standards & Facilities Development for the USA Pickleball Association. "This configuration is easiest to maneuver and is also good for a controlled, more defensive style of play. Paddles that are close to 8 inches wide by 16 inches long are within the wide body category." says Schmits. "Players that have well-developed stroke mechanics from other sports may be most comfortable with paddles having a longer shape (between 16" and a maximum of 17") and some with a longer handle will better facilitate two-handed backhands, which is an increasingly common grip used very successfully by tennis converts."

Material: Carbon fiber and fiberglass composites are the two most common materials used in high-quality paddles, as they been shown to help players deliver speed and spin on the ball. A good pickleball paddle should also have zero dead spots, meaning when you make a quality hit on the ball it doesn't randomly underperform and fall flat. "When it comes to the material, I like to look for a polypropylene core with a fiberglass or carbon fiber face," says Johns.

A good pickleball paddle is usually thick, as brands can use the space to add their own technology to limit the odds of any dead spots. One popular interior makeup is a polypropylene core (also called honeycomb core design) which is a type of interior webbing that's made into a honeycomb shape to ensure the paddle is evenly balanced. Last to examine is the type of surface used on the paddle. Some paddles will have their own textured surface, thus making it easier to put spin on the ball. A few surface materials used for textured surfaces include carbon fiber and graphite.

Power vs. Control: Similar to how you might shop for a driver in golf, your pickleball paddle is going to have a formula of power and control that works for you. A power paddle will have a tight sweet spot and deliver a shot with more pop, while a control paddle has a larger sweet spot that's softer but allows for more consistent returns.

For a power paddle, look for something tighter and more compact in all areas of the design."Paddles that have thinner cores, like a 13mm-14mm, have longer configuration, and typically made with fiberglass faces will return more power, although hitting the ball with heat is as much a result of an efficient kinetic chain than anything," says Schmits.

If you want a paddle with more control, a design with maneuverable dimensions and a carbon fiber face (as opposed to a fiberglass face, which is harder) is recommended. "I'd look for at least 8 inches of width on the paddle head and for a thicker core that's 16 millimeters or more, or 5/8 inches or more," says Johns.

Grip Circumference: Ourexperts explained to us grip circumference carries just as much importance in pickleball as it does in tennis. They also noted there are fewer options when it comes to shopping for specific grip sizes pickleball (most brands use a standard 4.25" size). Most pickleball paddle grips will vary from just under 4" and no bigger than 5.5.

John Crowley Sr., the Sr. Category Merchandising Manager of Paddles at Pickleball Central, recommends starting with a smaller grip first (when picking between two paddles) and then adding an overgrip if needed. "Very few manufacturers offer different grip sizes and materials, so customizing with an overgrip wrap is the best way to build up the grip to a comfortable size," added Schmits.

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Is There Really a Difference Between Pickleball Paddles?

Just like shopping for running shoes, you can find pickleball paddles at all types of prices. Generally speaking, expect to pay anywhere from $60-$100 for a beginner to intermediate level paddle. If you're looking for an advanced paddle, any model we recommend above $100 is a worthy choice.

If you're going to play more than two times a month, Johns says it's time to invest in a paddle, "The right time to upgrade your paddle is usually when you find yourself wanting to improve your skills as a player as opposed to just playing for fun every now and then."

Crowley Sr. also gave us tips on how to go about investing in a paddle. "When you go shopping have a budget in mind (the best value to price is no object). How much do you plan to play? What is your sports background and if you know, what style of player are you – power player, control player or all court?" he says.

If you think you have to splurge on a competition-ready paddle, think again. "I say shoot for the $75 to $100 range for your first paddle if you want to play competitively," says Laura Gainor, USA Pickleball's Director of Media Relations. "And if you’re planning to sign up for your first tournament, make sure your paddle is USA Pickleball approved." We agree there's nothing worse than bringing your paddle to a match and discovering you need to find a different one that complies with the rules.

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Is Fiberglass or Graphite Better for Pickleball Paddles?

Like mentioned earlier, fiberglass and graphite paddles have characteristics about them that can play to your natural strengths on the court. "You are trying to find the recipe that works best for you," says Crowley Sr.

In general, fiberglass pickleball paddles have more power but less control than a graphite paddle. This is mainly due to the fact fiberglass weights more. Graphite, on the other hand, is lighter and stronger due to the thinly layered construction of the material. Graphite paddles are often associated with better control, resulting in a better ability to place each return where you want it.

Fiberglass paddles are more wallet-friendly, and have been gaining in popularity due to their quality performance while staying at a good price point. Graphite paddles are more expensive and are often seen being used more by pros in tournaments.

One other paddle material to consider is composite. For example, you might find a composite design that incorporates carbon fiber and fiberglass in hopes to bring equal parts control and power. Composite paddles are usually high quality and exist at graphite-level prices (or higher), but it's important to make sure the paddle is USA Pickleball approved if you ever want to play competitively.

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Which Pickleball Paddle Has the Largest Sweet Spot?

While all of the paddles above were curated with attention to sweet spot, there are a few characteristics you can prioritize when shopping.

The first is to go by surface area. You will probably get the most sizable sweet spot area by going off the normal recommendation of a 16" length and 8" width paddle. Second is inner material of the paddle: look for a trusted core material, like a honeycomb propylene core design, that can cover all areas of the paddle and help reduce the chance of being any dead spots.

Last is the type of material used to construct the paddle. There are a lot of fiberglass paddles out there with generous sweet spots, but if you want to get the largest sweet spot possible then going to a more expensive graphite paddle is probably the best move.

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When Should You Replace a Pickleball Paddle?

There are two situations where you want to consider replacing your paddle.

The first is if you find yourself playing more (and perhaps more competitively) than when you first started. A good rule of thumb to go off of is if you're playing more than two times a month, it's probably time to consider investing in a competitive play paddle.

"The right time to upgrade your paddle is usually when you find yourself wanting to improve your skills as a player as opposed to just playing for fun every now and then," says Johns.

The second situation that would warrant replacing your paddle is if it's damaged or worn down from constant playing. If you stick to the paddles we recommend above, you can expect the lifespan to last between 1-3 years.

But sometimes your paddle can wear out faster (also called a "dead paddle") if you're playing much more. In order to tell if you need to replace your paddle due to overuse, pay attention to the feel and how the ball comes off the paddle. Is it returning or serving shots the same way it was in the first few months of use? If not, your paddle is probably wearing down.

You can also pay attention to the sound of the ball off the paddle. Are your best shots delivering a nice and clear pop? Or are they sounding flat and droopy? If you're out playing consistently, then you will probably know when your paddle is ready for retirement.

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How to Take Care of a Pickleball Paddle

Pickleball paddles are resilient. They can take a beating on the court, but off the court you should keep them away from the sun and heat for extended periods of time.

If you're concerned about keeping your paddle pristine-looking, invest in a paddle cleanse kit to clean the face, and pack it in a paddle cover to prevent scuffs. "I wipe down my paddle face once a week with water to prevent any accumulation of dirt," says Schmits.

"Keep your paddle stored in a cool, dry environment and never leave it in a hot car. Also, don't smash it when you're angry," says Johns.

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How Can a Proper Paddle Help Prevent Injury?

Like any sport, pickleball does pose some injury risks (some games to last over 2 hours at a time). The most common injuries include tennis and golf elbow, which can be caused by swinging a paddle that's too light or too heavy—or simply by swinging it too much and not allowing for proper rest.

"Grip size, paddle weight, and ‘swingweight(how the weight is distributed) all contribute to the efficiency and comfort of the ‘human-paddle’ interface," says Schmidts. "A grip that is too small may require an over-clenched grip to prevent spinning in the hand, a paddle that is too light may not have enough mass to prevent twisting on off-center shots and will transmit unwanted vibration, an overly head-heavy paddle may require more torque to snap through. Also, a paddle that is too heavy will quickly fatigue muscles, as well as slow down hand speed."

A paddle with good vibration absorption is also important, which is why a wooden paddle is a no-go if you're an active player. " Anything that absorbs more energy in the paddle and reduces the amount of vibration that travels up your arm is good at preventing soreness," says Crowley Sr.

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