The Best Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards
What is the best inflatable stand up paddle board? We've tested nine top-selling and highly rated inflatable SUP options and put them to the test. We've compared them in the areas of stability, glide performance, ease of transportation and inflation. Overall there are big differences, especially in important categories such as stability, glide performance, and ease of transport. Read on to see how each product scored as well as detailed information on which type of SUP is best suited to your needs. Inflatable boards have big advantages and disadvantages over non-inflatable SUP models.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Stability is the highest weighted rating metric in our review. Because inflatable SUPs are usually used by beginning and intermediate paddlers, it's important that they are as stable as possible. The bigger the board, the more stable it is. Of all the dimensions, thickness is the most important. We don't recommend ever getting a board that is less than six inches thick unless there are some major technological improvements. The Uli X Surf Series board we tested is four inches thick and it is hard to balance upon. Most boards that are less than six inches thick feel like you're standing on a giant piece of Jell-O.
Stability is also key for having more than one person on the board. The Tower Adventurer, Tower Xplorer, Isle Touring and especially the NRS Baron 6 are all easily capable of having an adult and two small kids on board. We of course had to test these boards to their limit so at one point we had six adults on the Isle and Adventurer and both boards held up despite their 235-400 pound listed weight limits. The Tower Xplorer board is rated to a whopping 800 pounds.
The NRS Baron 6, Isle Touring, and Isle Explorer were by far the most stable inflatable SUP boards tested. The Baron 6 earned the highest score in this metric but scored the lowest in glide performance. The Baron 6 would make a great yoga board or might be good for someone who wants to take their child or pup along with them.
None of these inflatable SUP boards glide well relative to non-inflatables. However, there are performance differences. The Isle Touring, the Tower Xplorer and the Jobe with their tapered and rocketed noses excelled in glide performance, especially in choppy, windy water or less than ideal conditions.
The Tower Adventurer the SHUBU Raven and the Isle Explorer offer middle-of-the road glide performance. The nose of the Raven points from side to side when paddling full bore unless you take your paddle out of the water halfway through a paddle stroke, which we found less than ideal.
The Isle Touring board dominated the glide performance metric and is a dream to paddle, even in windy, choppy conditions. The Jobe was a close second. The Baron 6 is the lowest scoring product in this category. It did not glide well and was the most challenging board to get moving.
Ease of Transport
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.
The Raven is the easiest contender to roll up and transport, being constructed from a thinner material than the others. It has the inflation valve on the nose, which normally we considered not ideal. This is because when the fins are hard to take off and we wanted to roll up the boards without removing them, it was easiest when the inflation valve was on the tail. But the Raven and the Baron 6 have the easiest systems for taking fins on and off, so a front valve wasn't a problem. The Wakooda is also easy to transport and is the lightest product tested.
The Tower Xplorer was the least easy to transport. It's two inches thicker than all the other products tested and also the heaviest at a whopping 36 pounds. The Xplorer is also the longest board we tested at 14 feet. The next nearest size boards, the Touring, Raven and Jobe, are 12' 6" long. The Baron 6 at 30 pounds was the next heaviest to carry, but it does come with a high quality backpack that has great padded straps.
The Raven, Jobe and Wakooda also came with backpacks. The Baron 6's backpack was the highest quality and requires rolling the board up and stuffing it inside the pack. It has a drawstring closure and two reinforcement straps that criss cross over the top and clip together. The backpacks that came with the Jobe and the Wakooda operated in the same stuff sac fashion. The backpack of the Jobe has a Velcro closure and rolls up and clips together dry bag style. The Wakooda backpack zips closed.
With the Baron 6 all three fins attach and come off via a quick release system that is fast and easy. See the full NRS Baron 6 review for more details and photographs. The SHUBU Raven had the same system for dealing with its one large center fin.
The Jobe and the Uli X Surf Series boards were the least easy with which to deal with the fins. The Jobe requires a Phillips head screwdriver to remove its one center fin and the Uli requires an Allen wrench for all three of its small fins.
All the inflatable SUP boards came with a handle in the center of the board that made carrying them to the water's edge or dock easier. The Explorer has the sweetest carrying handle with extra soft rubber padding on it.
After they were unpacked most of the inflatable SUPs didn't roll up as tightly as when they were brand new without a bit of extra effort.
Ease of Inflation
The Raven and the Wakooda are the easiest to inflate. They're constructed of thinner materials than the other contenders so we do question the long term durability. The Uli was the next easiest to inflate. It took less time than most because it is two inches thinner than any of the others.
Both Isle boards, the Jobe and the Tower Adventurer were the next in line with ease of inflation. They weren't difficult to pump up; just a bit more time consuming to inflate and maneuver while deflated than the Raven, Wakooda or the Uli.
The Tower Xplorer and the Baron 6 are the least easy to carry and inflate. The Xplorer is the largest and heaviest inflatable SUP tested. Being two inches thicker than the rest, it's slightly challenging to carry from garage to vehicle or to the water's edge and it took the longest to inflate. However, once on the water these cons quickly faded from memory as the Xplorer is luxurious to paddle.
Each inflatable SUP tested takes around five to seven minutes to inflate with the bigger volume boards taking a little longer. Boards with inflation nozzles in the back can be rolled up without removing the fins.
Inflatable SUP board how to inflate video:
It's not super obvious at first, but there are two settings to the valve on the board where the inflation pump hose attaches: the inflate/closed position and the deflate/open position. It's important to twist the valve into the inflate/closed position before attaching the inflation hose. In this position air gets in through the valve to inflate the board and when you are finished pumping and take the hose off you won't lose valuable air pressure.
All the products tested do not use the same pump or air pressure gauges.
Shown in the photo above, left to right: the pump that came with both Isles and both Tower boards, the pump that came with the Uli, the Baron 6 pump, the Jobe pump and the awesome pump that came with the Raven. The taller pumps are a bit easier to use because you don't have to bend over as far, which is easier on the your back.
Sadly, Bravo gauges that came with the Tower, Isle, Jobe boards were unreliable and seldom worked accurately or registered at all when under 10 psi. So it can be challenging to precisely fill the boards to their recommended PSI (usually around 12-15 pounds). Luckily, the boards are generally rated to 30 PSI, so when in doubt, just keep pumping.
The gauges that come with the Uli and the Raven are the only ones that registered under 10 psi, which we loved. Concerning the Bravo gauges that came with the Tower, Isle, Jobe boards: After a couple of phone calls to the customer service departments we were told that this is the most common question asked and to just keep pumping. The Bravo gauge that came with the Baron 6 did work as well as the gauges that came with the Uli and the Raven.
Not all of the boards came with the same hose attachments, either.
The photograph above shows the inflation hose ends that attach to the boards on the left photo, starting with the Baron 6, next the Raven, both Isles and both Tower boards have the same attachment as the yellow hose, and the red hose goes to the Uli. The Uli end is not universal because the notches are a bit too small.
Inflation hose ends that attach to the pump are shown on the right photo. The Baron 6, the yellow hose end, represents the attachment that goes to both Isles and both Tower boards and the Raven is shown in green. The blue Baron 6 hose and the yellow hose of the Isle and Tower boards are the same. The pump end of the inflation hose of the Uli is permanently attached to the pump.
The inflation hoses that came with both Isle boards, both Tower boards and the Jobe board are what we will refer to throughout this review as having "universal" attachments. This means they are all the same on the end that attaches to the pump (twist on) and the end that attaches to the inflation valve on the board (notched and requires a twist). You can use one pump and hose on many of the boards and you can also use an electric pump as an accessory with no problems.
Below is a graph with the breakdown of different board inflation hose attachment ends.
All the inflatable SUP boards had slightly different fin setups.
Both the Isle boards have three fins: one large 8" removable center fin that attaches with a screw that can be tightened by hand and two smaller non-detachable side fins.
The Jobe has one large removable center fin that requires a screwdriver to remove.
The Raven has one large 8" center fin that has an easy-to-remove quick release clip system.
The Baron 6 has the same quick release clip system as the Raven for all three of its fins. It has one large 9" center fin and two sets of smaller fins – one large set of 5" and one smaller set of 2".
The Tower Adventurer comes with three fins: two small fixed and one larger removable center fin that requires a screwdriver to remove. The Tower Xplorer's one large removable center fin attaches with a screw that can be tightened by hand.
The Uli's three small removable fins require an Allen wrench to remove or install.
The Wakooda has three fins: two small fixed and one larger removable center fin that must be installed before inflating the board.
You can remove the fins for super shallow water adventures like river touring, but most people will want to keep it on at all times to insure optimal steering capabilities. The downside of removing the fin for different applications is that you have to keep track of the fin and a screw that secures the fin.
The Tower Adventurer surfs well for an inflatable SUP board. No inflatable board 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. It was the ideal board to take little people surfing on. A non-inflatable stand up board is 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 soon-inflatable SUPS. >> Here is a video showing the Tower in action
Most of the inflatable paddle boards tested were in the same price range. However, keep in mind when price shopping that some boards come with paddles and/or backpacks and some do not. Also, the quality of the paddles varies dramatically. The three highest scoring boards come with plastic and aluminum paddles. While these are heavy, they are fully adjustable, break down small, and are quite durable. Expensive carbon fiber paddles are much higher performance, but they cost more, are difficult to transport, and are fragile (we have broken more than a few while surfing).
The Editors' Choice and Best Buy award-winning Isle boards are a steal for the street price of $845 and $795. The Tower Adventurer is not a bad deal for the street price of $700.
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 ranges 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 hike, you'll 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 that is 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 wakeboarding 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
See below for US Coast Guard stand up paddle board regulations.
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.
roof rack - If you are going to the lake for the weekend and plan on using your board a lot you might not want to pump it up every single time you go out. You can purchase a soft roof rack like the FCS Premium SUP Single Soft Racks to make your life a little easier. This rack hold two boards easily.
electric pump - If you are not psyched on pumping up your board by hand you can purchase a battery powered air pump for inflating your board like the Newport Vessels 12V Electric Pump.
What are the general Stand Up Paddle Boarding rules on the water?
If you're not keen on wearing a type 3 PFD, there are pouch type manually inflated life jackets or C02 triggered inflatable belt style PFDs available. These types of PFDs do offer more range of movement, but keep in mind that if you are paddling somewhere where you might hit your head, you may not be conscious and able to inflate your PFD.
Check out the Onyx M-24 In-Sight Manual SUP Belt Pack w/Hydration Pouch; it's manually inflated with a replaceable C02 cartridge.
History of Stand Up Paddle Boards
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.
Caballitos de Totora translates to little red horse. Originating in Peru, gatherings of reed formed a rounded platform that fishermen could stand on. Using bamboo shafts or similar wood material for 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 in Peru is still used for fishing and recreation in its original form.
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 five 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 off Tel Aviv and Israel's 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 that of the Peruvian fishermen and the Israeli lifeguards.
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 historical influence in the modern sport.
Polynesia has had the greatest influence in modern day surfing and stand up paddle boarding. Surfing dates to 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 using 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 emerged to use outrigger paddles for increased efficiency when paddling and also to gain stability while standing on the board to photograph. Having a paddle kept photographers from falling into the water with expensive cameras around their necks. 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 first had a presence at the beaches where surfing was enjoyed and 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 causes 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.
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— Valentine Cullen
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