The Best Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards

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Credit: Andrew Chino
What is the best inflatable stand up paddle board? We take three top-selling and highly rated models and put them to the test. We compare them on stability, glide performance, ease of use and ease of inflating. Overall we found big differences, especially in the most important category: stability. Read on to see the scores as well as detailed info on which type of SUP is best suited for you needs. Inflatable boards have big advantages and disadvantages over non-inflatable boards.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Inflatable Paddle Boards Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3
Product Name
Isle Touring Stand Up Paddle Board
Isle Touring Stand Up Paddle Board
Tower Adventurer Stand-up Paddle Board
Tower Adventurer Stand-up Paddle Board
Solstice Bali Stand Up Paddle Board
Solstice Bali Stand Up Paddle Board
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award   
Street Price $749 from Amazon$594 from Amazon$531 from Amazon
Overall Score 
100
0
81
100
0
77
100
0
65
Pros Stable, fast (for and inflatable), removable fin, storage up frontRelatively light and easy to maneuver, durable, easy to inflateLightweight, inexpensive
Cons On the heavier side for inflatablesNo place to lash gear, not the best glide performanceNot thick enough to be that stable, does not come with paddle
Best Uses General use on flatwater and riversPerfect intro stand up board that is easy to travel with.Rivers and lakes.
Stability - 40%
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
5
Performance - 30%
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
6
Ease Of Transport - 30%
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
Product Specs Isle Touring Stand Up Paddle Board Tower Adventurer Stand-up Paddle Board Solstice Bali Stand Up Paddle Board
weight (lbs) 32 24 24
paddle included? yes yes no
time to inflate 3 minutes 2 minutes 2 minutes
dimensions inflated 12" 6" x 31" x 6" 9' 10" x 32" x 6" 10' 8" x 29" x 4"
dimensions folded up 36" x 12" 36" x 12" 32" x 12"
Weight Capacity (lbs) 300 400 250
Fin configuration 1 large removable center fin 3 fins: 2 small fixed and 1 larger removable center fin 3 fins

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Selecting the Right Product
Let's start with some terminology. There are three terms that pretty much describe the same thing and we use them interchangeably throughout this review:
  • paddle boards or paddleboards
  • stand up paddle boards
  • SUPs

SUP is obviously just an acronym for Stand Up Paddleboard. A "paddle board" can also just be a long board used for prone or manual paddling across flat water. You kneel and paddle with just your arms. It's not the most comfortable position so not surprisingly, it's a sport with limited participation.
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Credit: Chris McNamara
Key Components of a SUP
First thing to consider are the dimensions.
  • Width - Generally, the wider the board the more stable it is. Wider boards are also slower so racers generally have narrow boards (the back is narrower than 28 inches) while beginners typically benefit from a wide board (31 inches or wider).
  • Length - The longer the board, typically the faster it is. Longer boards are also hard to turn. SUP surfers usually use 8-10' boards while racers use 12-16' boards. A good size for most beginning and intermediate paddlers is the 10 to 12-foot range.
  • Thickness - Thickness generally tells you how floaty a board is but it has a special importance with inflatable. As a general rule, if an inflatable SUP is less than six inches thick, it will feel like you're standing on the world's largest piece of Jell-O.
  • Nose Rocker - Nose rocker is how far the front of the board pulls up. It's an important metric if you are surfing; too little rocker and the board will want to pearl or submerge its nose like a submarine. For inflatable boards it doesn't matter much unless you plan to be in very choppy water (then you want a lot of rocker).
  • Hull shape - Race boards have a displacement hull similar to the bottom of a sailboat. Most other boards have a flat bottom similar to the bottom of a barge. Displacements hulls are fast but not that stable. A flat bottom makes the board more stable and easy to turn.
  • Rails - Rails are the sides of a paddle board. They are pretty much only important if you are surfing where you need rails in order to carve into the face of the wave.

Types of Stand Up Paddle Boards
There are many types of SUPS, but we will break the category into four main styles.
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Four different styles from L to R: inflatable, surf, race and touring.
  • Flat Water Race Board - Typically long (12-14+ feet), narrow (less than 28 inches wide) and with a displacement hull that makes them very fast. They are not very stable and therefore not recommend for beginners. They can be unwieldy to transport and store. They are also easy to bang up. These are recommended for intermediate and advanced riders who want to get across flat water as fast as possible. Prices start around $1500 and can go way, way up.
  • Flat Water Touring Board - These are the all-around boards. They are typically wide, stable and 10-12 feet. They are the best boards for choppy water. They are not particularly fast compared to race boards, but they are faster than a surfing paddleboard shape. Prices are $1500-2500
  • Surfing Paddle Board - This is a surfboard on steroids. It has the shape of a short board or long board but is much thicker, wider and usually longer. The rails are narrow to be able to cut into the wave face. Prices are typically $1000-1500
  • Inflatable - These boards can take the shape of any of the boards mentioned above; they are just typically thicker. We will go into more detail on how they compare the boards above.
Click to enlarge
Credit: Chris McNamara
Is an inflatable SUP right for me?
Inflatables come with some distinct pros and cons.

Pros
  • easy to transport - When deflated and rolled up, most boards are the size of a medium duffel bag and will fit in any car. Most other SUPs require a roof rack and tie-down straps. Flying with an inflatable board will either be free or cost $50. Flying with a non-inflatable generally starts at $100 if it is shorter than 9' 6" and goes up from there.
  • durable - An inflatable is made of the same heavy duty urethane as a river raft. After scraping over many rocks, we have not been able to pop any of them. Most other paddle boards chip, ding and generally have to be handled carefully. Inflatable boards are the only option for most rivers where running into rocks is likely.
  • soft - Kids often fall down hard on any SUP. The soft flexible surface of an inflatable river SUP means it's less likely someone will bang up their head, face, elbows and knees.
  • inexpensive - Most inflatables are $500-800 and come with a paddle. Non-inflatables (other than Costco boards) generally start at $1000 and go up quick.

Cons
  • not fast - Even race style inflatables are still too wide to glide even close to as efficiently as a fiberglass or epoxy board.
  • poor at surfing - The rail is so fat that no inflatables surf that well.
  • take about two minutes to inflate - Need to always keep track of the pump and make sure it's in good shape. It can also be tricky to find the right pressure because the pump gauges generally don't work.

History
Stand up paddle boards have made a splashing presence in the past decade. As we know them today, for recreation and sport, they date back to the 1950s although there is correlation between prior modes of water transport for fishing and travel dating back thousands of years. It is hard to follow a clear timeline of the evolution of paddle boards due to the global innovation of traveling on water for necessity and recreation.

Caballitos de Totora translates to little reed horse. Originating in Peru, gatherings of reed formed a rounded platform that fishermen could stand on the top of. Using bamboo shafts or similar wood material like a paddle, they would move across the water. At the end of the day, they could surf, or ride, the Caballitos de Totora back to shore. At over 5000 years old, the design is one of the oldest resemblances to stand up paddle boards and is still utilized for fishing and recreation in its original form in Peru.

In the Mediterranean, a wood Hasake was used for fishing off the shore. It resembled a fisherman's boat in width but was slightly curved and flat for standing on like a paddle board. The boards weighed over 100 pounds and were up to 5 feet in width. Arab fisherman would use these boat-like boards to gain a better vantage into the water in search of fish. The width of the boards added stability for casting line and nets.
In time, the Hasake became essential to Israel's lifeguards. Rescuers could use the paddle to quickly move across the water and then the rescued person could rest on the board to be paddled back to shore.
For surfing, the width became an advantage in the windy swells of Tel Aviv and Israel coastline. Today, Hasakes are still used by fishermen, lifeguards, and recreationalists.

In Venice, Italy, gondoliers have relied on paddles to move their small vessels through the city's meandering waterways. They stood on their gondolas and used wood paddles to maneuver. The effort required by the gondoliers was comparable to the Peruvian fishermen and the Israeli lifeguards.

Standing upright and paddling on water has a global history. The aforementioned forms of stand up paddle boarding are the most notable, although there were other designs that have been used throughout history- standing in canoes, standing on flat wooden boards, and using a variety of paddles- that do not have such a historical influence in the modern sport.

Polynesia has had the greatest influence in modern day surfing and stand up paddle boarding. Surfing dates back before the late 1770s when Captain James Cook sailed to the Hawaiian Island chain. Surfboards were carved from the Koa tree and people also surfed ocean waves on canoes. The large size of boards and canoes demanded strength and energy that was not easily achieved by an individual alone, so paddles were used to move through the waves. Board sizes ranged from 10-16 feet in length; the common people used shorter boards and chiefs used longer boards. During the 20th century, surfboards saw an incredible reduction in length; George Freeth became one of the first professional surfers after cutting his 16-foot boards down to 6-10 feet. In the 1930s, surfboards acquired fins for maneuverability and new woods were introduced to reduce the overall weight.
Around the time of World War II, technological advances introduced synthetic materials to be used in a wide range of designs. Many outdoor gear items began utilizing these technologies for lighter, drier, and less expensive gear. Surfboards were no different- fiberglass, foam, and plastic boards were designed using these new technologies.

In the 1950s, Hawaii tourism increased and surfing gained popularity. In Waikiki, locals would paddle out and take photos of the tourists learning to surf. The ingenious idea came about to use outrigger paddles for increased efficiency to paddling and also to gain stability while standing on the board to photograph; having a paddle also kept the photographers from falling into the water with expensive cameras around their neck. Some of the local surfers, including John Zabatocky and John Ah Choy, embraced SUP as their primary sport. The ingenious addition of a paddle to surfing birthed SUP.
In the early 2000s stand up paddling on surfboards became a popular way to train for surfing when the swells weren't good. Hawaiian surfers, Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton, among others, popularized SUP during a season of flat ocean swells. Within the decade, they entered surfing competitions with paddles and their successes produced interest to the sport. Stand up paddle boarding began to earn its own division in surfing and outrigger competitions.

SUP had a presence at the beaches where surfing was enjoyed but in the past decade, it has expanded to land locked lakes and rivers. It does not require specific conditions to be enjoyed and has become easily accessible.

The lightweight designs and innovative shapes distinguish SUP as its own form of recreation from its surfing roots. Initially, paddle boarding was done on surfboards but as popularity of the new sport grew, shapers designed boards that excelled in flat water. Unlike surfboards, you have the advantage of a paddle for turning which alters the shapes of the boards to be oriented toward speed rather than ability to turn. The overall shapes vary between surfboards and paddle boards- surfboards have wide tails and stable noses; paddle boards have wide centers, narrower tails, and stability designed into the tail rather than the nose. Each subtle variation in design is intended for efficient paddling and smooth gliding across flat water, not for surfing big waves.

Criteria for Evaluation
Stability
Stability is our highest weighted rating metric. Because inflatables are usually used by beginning and intermediate paddlers, it's important they are as stable as possible. The bigger the board, the more stable. Of all the dimensions, thickness is the most important. Even though the Solstice Bali is 10 inches longer than the Tower, it was remarkably less stable because it is four inches thick compared to the Tower at six inches thick. We can't recommend ever getting a board that is less than six inches thick unless the companies make some major technological improvements. Every board we have stood on that is less than six inches thick feels like standing on a giant piece of Jell-O.

Stability is also key for having more than one person on the board. The Tower Adventurer and Isle Touring are both easily capable of having an adult and two small kids on board. Well, OK, we had to test these boards to their limit so at one point we had six adults on the two boards. And both boards held up despite their 300-400 pound listed weight limits.
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Testing on the Eel River.
Credit: Andrew Chino
Glide Performance
As mentioned above, none of these boards glides well relative to non-inflatables. However, there are performance differences. The Isle board, with its tapered nose and longer length, glides much better than the Tower or Solstice.
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Bodega Bay, Ca
Credit: Chris Summit
Size and Ease of Transportation
This rating metric gets as much weighting as glide performance because one of the main reasons people buy inflatables is the convenience of transporting. Yes, they are limited in their glide performance compared to non-inflatables. However, often a non-inflatable is just too much of a pain to store and transport. Here the Tower outperforms the Isle because it's easier to roll up and doesn't require removing a center fin. It is also faster to inflate.
The Tower rolled up.
The Tower rolled up.
Credit: Tower
Fin Setup
All the boards had slightly different fin setups. The Isle has one large center fin that needs to be removed every time you roll it up and store it. The advantage of this is you can use the board without a fin in extremely shallow water. We took it down the Upper Truckee (the river that feeds Lake Tahoe) that was only two inches deep in places. The downside is that you now have to keep track of both the fin and the screw that secures the fin when it is not in use. We are nervously convinced we will eventually lose the fin, the screw or both.

The Tower has three fins: one bigger one in the middle and two smaller ones on the sides. You can remove the fin for super shallow water, but most folks will want to keep it on at all times. You do need a screwdriver to remove the fin.

Ease of Inflating
All the products tested use the same pump and attachment. Therefore, they take about same time (5-7 minutes) to inflate with the bigger volume boards obviously taking a little longer than the smaller volume ones. Sadly, we found that the gauges on the pump were very unreliable and seldom worked. So it was impossible to precisely fill the boards to their recommended PSI (usually around 15 PSI). Luckily, the boards are generally rated to 30 PSI, so we found that when in doubt, just keep pumping.

KEY TIP: It's not obvious as first, but there are two settings to the valve: inflate and deflate. It's important to twist the valve into "inflate mode" when inflating or you will loose valuable air pressure when you disconnect the pump.

Surfing
The Tower Adventurer surfs well… for an inflatable. No inflatable surfs that well because of the thick rounded rails that can't cut into the wave face. However, the Tower turns well and is reasonably maneuverable. There is not a lot of rocker so you have to learn to stand back a little further than you think. We found it was the ideal board to take little people surfing on. A standard stand up board would be dangerous as the board could knock out teeth or bonk a small forward passenger on the head. The inflatable SUP is not only softer and forgiving, the softer plastic fin is less likely to slice someone than the typical hard plastic or carbon fiber fins on most standard SUPS. >> Here is a video showing the Tower in action
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Surfing the Tower Adventurer
Credit: Chris McNamara

Value
All the boards tested were about the same price. However, keep in mind when price shopping that some boards come with paddles and some do not. Also, the quality of the paddles varies dramatically. The two highest scoring boards both came with plastic and aluminum paddles. While these are heavy, they are fully adjustable, break down very small, and are quite durable. Expensive carbon fiber paddles are much higher performance, but they cost more, can be difficulty to transport and are fragile (we have broken more than a few while surfing).

Key Accessories
paddle - Most of the boards come with adjustable aluminum paddles. These are heavy but durable and adjustable. They also collapse down to the width of the board which makes the complete package easy to transport and store. If you want a more high performance paddle, get a carbon fiber one which will range in price from $180-450. The best deal we have seen is the Tower Carbon Fiber SUP Paddle

backpack - Most of the time you are paddling next to your car. But if you have a short or long hike, you will want a backpack for your board. There are a few SUP-specific bags, but they are typically not that durable and cost almost as much as an inexpensive backpacking backpack which will be much more versatile. Look for a backpack that is 65+ liters (4000+ cubic inches) like the TETON Sports Explorer4000 Backpack.

life jacket - There are a lot of great life jackets for water skiing and wake boarding in the $20-60 range. However, if you are just looking for something that's Coast Guard approved (which is mandatory in some places like Lake Tahoe), then you can find one for less than $20 like the X20 Universal Adult Life Jacket

leash - if you are surfing or going down a river, you want a leash. If on a river, make sure it is coiled like the airSUP 10' Coil Leash so that it doesn't drag on the bottom and get stuck. If you are in particularly fast moving water, you may want a leash with a quick release in case the leash does get stuck on something, like the NRS Stand-Up Paddleboard Leash with Quick-Release Bag.

Editors' Choice Award: Isle Touring
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Credit: Isle
In a word, the Isle Touring wins because of its stability. Inflatables, at their worst, feel like standing on a giant piece of Jell-O. The Isle is just the opposite. As long as it is properly inflated, it is almost as stable as a non-inflatable SUP. It also comes with some big advantages: a removable fin means you can take it down very shallow streams. When the fin is on, it is one of the largest tested and kept the board gliding straight. There is a cargo strap system up front ideal for a PFD or small backpack (most boards do not come with this). While it is heavier and bulkier than the Tower board, it is still relatively light and maneuverable. It's only rated to 300 pounds, but we had approximately 800 pounds on this board and had no problems. The glide performance was also the best tested. It's no race board, but performed reasonably well in flat water trips from South Lake Tahoe to Emerald Bay. "Reasonably well" is pretty good in the inflatable category where many other boards feel like pushing a barge through oatmeal.

Best Buy Award: Tower Adventurer
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Credit: Tower
The Tower Adventurer is our Best Buy winner because it performs so well for a street price of $699. Some boards like the Bali Solstice cost less, but they don't come with a paddle and performed much worse. The Tower board is also the best we tested for new paddlers. It is relatively light, maneuverable and stable. It also doesn't require keeping track of the fin like the Isle does. While you can't remove the side fins, they still performed well in shallow rivers. The Tower has the highest weight rating of all the boards tested. Keep in mind the included paddle is adjustable and durable but very heavy relative to a carbon fiber paddle.

Non Award Winners
The Solstice Bali has great ratings on Amazon, but we found it too unstable. Even when filled up to the recommended PSI, it still wiggled around in the water, especially when the surface got choppy from wind. While it's the least expensive board tested, keep in mind it doesn't come with a paddle which will typically cost another $50-200 depending on materials.

How we test
We used these boards for one year on deep slow rivers, shallow fast rivers, lakes and the ocean. We loaded them up with kids and adults acting like kids. Some of the testing locations included Lake Tahoe, the San Francisco Bay, Eel River, Tomales Bay, Truckee River and the Pacific Ocean. We timed inflation, used them all side-by-side and loaded them up with as many people as possible. We put first time paddlers on them as well as veterans.

Some of the best adventures included surfing with kids ages 4-8 on the front of the boards in Bodega Bay, California. We also took these down the Upper Truckee River to Lake Tahoe in an extremely low water year. It involved removing the center fins as the water was often only 2 inches deeps. On the San Francisco Bay, we went on a SUP Pub Crawl through Sausalito. On Lake Tahoe we traveled from Baldwin Beach to Emerald Bay multiple times with multiple friends… err testers. We loaded them into 5 different cars and two trucks to test how they were to transport and clean.

Chris McNamara
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