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Hands-on Gear Review
Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus Review
Cons: Can feel unstable to beginners
Bottom line: The Paddle Co Explorer packs a serious performance punch for longer missions.
At first test, the Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus seemed to be among the least stable boards in the review, but as the test went on, the Co Explorer's many talents proved to be invaluable for longer missions and performance days, making it a Top Pick. This sleek boat is designed with glide in mind, and it achieves an incredible level of performance for an inflatable board, thanks in part to a unique RSS stiffening system. With premium components and a thoughtful design, this board is built to last and presents an exceptional level of quality. Front and back straps, dual cargo systems, a well-built and rollable backpack, and the highest performing pump in the test all come together to make this our Top Pick for Performance.
A cheaper model that offers admirable performance is the Isle Explorer, our Editors' Choice. If you're worried about your pocketbook and not as focused on performance quite as much, check out the iRocker Inflatable or PEAK Inflatable.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Red Paddle Co Explorer was not a favorite among first-time users, but among intermediate SUPers and those who value quality and thoughtful design, this board was a winner. Of course, these premium components come with the price tag to prove it.
The Red Paddle model scored extremely well in overall performance, despite a relatively low score in stability. The board's high performance in other areas was able to make up for this dip.
This metric was definitely the Co Explorer's Achilles heel. With dimensions of 13'2" x 30" x 5.9", this model was significantly narrower than sturdier contestants, and a bit thinner as well. In addition, its fin configuration, which consists of one large FCS Connect Fin and two much smaller hard fins was a little bit less stable than boards like the Isle Explorer, whose two smaller fins were much more significant than this model's. With that said, intermediate testers were more than happy with this board's stability, and even our beginner testers warmed up to the board once they adjusted to the narrower width. If you are looking for a more stable board and also hoping to not break the bank, we recommend the iRocker Inflatable or the PEAK Inflatable.
Unique to the Red Paddle, this board has an RSS stiffening system, which allows users to customize how stiff they want their board. Two stiffening battens can be inserted into individual pockets on the sides of the raft. Testers found that when inserted, these battens did increase the stability of the board.
This model performed particularly well in the glide metric, earning the highest score in the test. Although it is tough for an inflatable SUP to match up to the performance offered by a classic SUP, this model came close. With a performance-focused profile and top-of-the-line components, including an FCS Connect Fin and an RSS stiffening system, the Co Explorer sliced easily through the water and made longer missions easier.
One drawback of this high performance score was that many testers felt that the Co Explorer exceeded in some areas, but failed as an all-around performer, which made it far less versatile. When faced with the option of taking this or a more stable board down a tricky creek, testers always chose the more stable board. If you're looking for a board that is both versatile and high-performing, we recommend either the Isle Explorer or the PEAK Inflatable.
Ease of Transport
This model scored well in this category, sitting among some of the top competitors. Dual front and back handles and a burly middle handle make portages with one or two people easy, and the board's relatively low weight allowed it to be easily transported.
The Co Explorer also comes with a unique backpack that is well designed and easily accommodates the board and any extras. Unique to this model is that the backpack rolls, which allows for an easy stroll down to the lake on paved trails. However, if you're planning more remote lack experiences, the wheels seem like a bit much. For a more minimalist bag experience, check out the Xterra Touring or even the NRS Mayra.
Ease of Inflation
Scoring the only perfect 10 out of 10 for ease of inflation, the Co Explorer's pump system simply blew the others out of the water.
The dual-chamber pump was both faster and easier to use than all of the other pumps in the review, which earned it a special place in our tester's hearts. This pump, which comes with a universal fitting as well as several other nozzles, was the de facto pump used with almost every other board because it was just that much better. Two other boards whose pumps performed well without totally knocking it out of the park were the Isle Explorer and iRocker Inflatable.
The Red Paddle model was a high-scorer in durability, with premium materials and a thoughtful construction that will help you avoid board abuse.
This model has durable straps, low-profile seams, and top-of-the-line materials. Although we didn't run this model down the river to test it against sharp rocks and along portages, we still feel that it will hold up to standard abuse over several seasons. For other similarly durable boards, we recommend the Isle Explorer or iRocker Inflatable.
The Co Explorer is at home in open water when you're paddling for glory in glassy conditions. This model is built for speed, and its premium components only add to the entire package. We recommend this craft for relatively serious paddlers who still want some versatility in their SUP. When faced with the option between this board and a sturdier model on creek and river missions, testers always went with a sturdier model. But when the water is glassy and there are miles to be paddled, it is tough to beat the glide of this model.
At $1649, this model is one of the more expensive models in our review. However, when you factor in the durability of the materials used, the high-quality components, and the overall performance, we feel that if you're in the market for this kind of board, then it is well worth the price. Plus, it comes with a free phone case! Bonus!
The Red Paddle offering was slow to win our testers over, but once it weaseled into their hearts, it was tough to get it out. This board is nothing if not durable and fast, which makes it our Top Pick for Performance. If you want to sacrifice a bit of versatility for a speedier ride, this is the board for you.
— Shey Kiester
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