In the last 4 years we have bought over 25 of the best inflatable SUP's and extensively paddled them. For this update, we bought 10 of today's top stand-up paddle boards and put them through extensive testing on all sorts of water, from Lake Tahoe and alpine lakes to rivers of all kinds. We even ventured into the Indian Ocean. We measured how long each one takes to roll up, unroll and inflate. We had both experienced and novice paddlers test them solo and also with friends, pets and cargo along for the ride. After all this action we can suggest the best inflatable SUPs you can buy.
The Best Inflatable SUP Boards
Best Overall Inflatable SUP
Hala Carbon Straight Up
The Hala Carbon Straight Up is a high performing all-around board. Whether you plan to cruise the river, chill on the lake, or surf white water, this board does it all and does it well. It is truly exceptional in that it combines excellent stability with top-notch maneuverability. A carbon stringer runs the length of the board's top and bottom panels, making it one of the most stable models tested. It also features a progressive nose rocker and rear stomp pad that make it quick and easy to turn. It glides well, and its rolling backpack makes transport a breeze. It even features built-in D-rings and on-deck bungees. These come in handy when lashing on gear. It also comes with both a hand pump and a 12V electric car pump.
The Straight Up is a fantastic board, but is also the most expensive model we tested, and you have to purchase a paddle separately. For that price though, you get high quality and unmatched performance that will satisfy paddlers of all levels. If you are or hope to become a serious paddler, the Hala Carbon Straight Up is worth the investment and will last through years of adventure.
Read review: Hala Carbon Straight Up
Best High-Performance Buy
The Isle Explorer is an affordable option that outperforms most other models across the "board." For a reasonable price in the SUP world (trust us), you get a sturdy and stable board that is easy to inflate and transport. A dream to paddle, the Explorer successfully combines stability and glide, while a square tail, slightly rockered nose, and great fin design allow it to maneuver easily. Constructed from quality materials, this board instilled confidence on rocky sections of river and along jagged shorelines. The Explorer comes with a pump that has universal attachment ends and a paddle.
The Isle Explorer was one of the lightest models that we tested, which was nice when carrying it around, and it also helped it skim the water well. However, the profile is bulkier than some others, and that contributed to it being a little slower at times. This wasn't too noticeable on mellow days, but when trying to cut a fast line on calm days, this board lagged a bit. If that's not a huge deal-breaker for you, and you're looking for something with a lot of storage at a decent price, then the Isle Explorer is the SUP for you!
Read review: Isle Explorer
Best Bang for the Buck
The FunWater 11 impressed our testers with its solid all-around performance and incredible value. Its sleek touring design with three included fins provides respectable glide performance and straight tracking, as well as enough stability to entice both beginner paddlers and timid pooches aboard. Weighing in around 18 pounds, it's one of the lightest boards in our lineup, and its $270 list price is dramatically less expensive than any other board we tested. Throw in a backpack that is simple yet effective, a decent quality adjustable three-piece paddle, and bonus accessories like an ankle leash and a dry bag, and it's easy to see why the FunWater 11 paddles away with our Best Buy award.
The FunWater 11 has a comfortable and sturdy middle carrying strap, but it lacks a front and rear handle that would make it a bit easier to move around once it's inflated. It's also not as stable as some other boards, especially in choppy water. These minor drawbacks are easily overshadowed by the overall respectable performance of the board, its solid quality for the price, and its included bonus accessories. Just add a life jacket or PFD and you'll have everything you need to get out on the water without breaking the bank.
Read review: FunWater
Best for Touring
Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL
Quality materials, high-performance, and a sleek profile earned the Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus a high score, landing it near the top of the pack. While the Hala Carbon Straight Up is the best all-around option, the Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus is a little more specialized for advanced users looking for a fast glide. It scored the highest for glide performance, making it a perfect option for glassy days when you want to cover some distance. With an FCS Connect fin and an RSS stiffening system, the Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus is a top of the line board. The icing on the cake is the included universally compatible pump. It was by far the best in our review.
Because of this model's sleeker profile, beginner paddlers often feel less stable on it. This isn't an optimal entry-level board, nor the best option for rocky zones or narrow passages. It also costs quite a bit. You probably don't want to spend that much without knowing that you're going to put it to good use. Finally, it doesn't come with a paddle, which is a shame considering how much you are spending on it. Though anyone purchasing such a high-end, high-performance inflatable probably wants a higher end SUP paddle as well.
Read review: Red Paddle Co Voyager
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert trio responsible for testing these inflatable SUPs is Nick Bruckbauer, Leslie Yedor, and Shey Kiester. In addition to paddling year-round in sunny Santa Barbara, CA, Nick can be found skiing, hiking, biking, or running anywhere from California to Colorado to Alaska. Leslie can be found skiing, rock climbing, practicing gymnastics, or working with patients at her private integrative medicine practice, which had its beginnings in Yosemite's legendary Camp 4. Shey has tested over 50 different paddle boards for OutdoorGearLab, and has also written for Alpinist, American Alpine Journal, and Backpacker, among others.
We purchased all of the paddle boards in this review and tested them extensively in the Lake Tahoe region and the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Santa Barbara. We loaded them up with beginners, experts, multiple people, dogs, and did yoga on them. A big part of inflatable SUPing is the ease of inflation, setup, and transportation, so we paid special attention to this metric, even packing one board along on an international trip to the Maldives.
Related: How We Tested Inflatable SUP Boards
Analysis and Test Results
Whether you plan to spend lazy days on the lake or want to take your love of surfing to the river, these specialty watercraft are built to do it all, but some better than others. We tirelessly tested and retested these boards for months. Our beginner, intermediate and expert users all kept careful notes along the way. We paddled out in a variety of conditions on flat, flowing, and choppy water. After that, we rated each one on a variety of performance categories, including stability and glide performance, ease of transport and inflation, and maneuverability. Below, we dive into the details of each test and discuss the models who shined or failed to impress in each metric.
Looking for a good deal? Two boards that stood out with their noteworthy performance for a reasonable price (and both winners of our Best Buy awards) are the Isle Explorer and FunWater 11. Our other award winners, the Editors' Choice Award-winning Hala Carbon Straight Up and Top Pick Red Paddle Voyager+, fetch higher prices for their top-notch performance.
Stability is the most heavily weighted metric in our review. The Hala Carbon Straight Up and Isle Explorer brought home the top scores. While advanced users may be willing to sacrifice a board's stability for improved glide performance, a board's stability enhances its efficiency, even amongst touring models. As a general rule, bigger boards equal a more stable feel. The dimensions that affect stability the most though are the thickness and the sidecut. Thickness is particularly important for inflatable models as thinner boards tend to feel floppy, even when inflated to their maximum recommended pressure. Most inflatable boards are at least 6 inches thick. We don't recommend getting a thinner board unless it is wide enough to compensate, like the NRS Mayra.
The width of the board is measured across at its widest point. The sidecut describes how gradually the sides curve towards the tip and tail. Boards with a less aggressive side cut offer superior stability when compared to a board that narrows more dramatically. A wide, gently tapering sidecut is one of the reasons the Hala Carbon Straight Up scored so well in this metric compared to other models like the more aggressively tapered BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO.
Stable boards are helpful if you're planning to have multiple passengers aboard, need to haul excessive amounts of gear, or plan to practice SUP yoga. For an all-around board, the Hala Carbon Straight Up is ideal because it combines its superior stability with excellent maneuverability and glide — an unusual feat. It earns a very high score as a result.
The Tower Adventurer 2, Isle Explorer, and iRocker All-Around 11 are also all capable of carrying multiple paddlers. They have weight limits of 400, 275, and 385, respectively. The wider NRS Mayra, which is billed as a Yoga-specific board, did an excellent job of handling a furry passenger and, of course, yoga. Although the Mayra did well in the stability test, it scored lower in glide. This is usually the case, as more stable boards tend to be bigger and slower. Finding the right balance between optimal glide and stability is key.
Inflatable SUPs definitely still lose the glide/maneuverability battle to rigid SUPs. Rigid SUPs have fiberglass hulls that allow for a more refined design, garnering quicker turn response and improved drift. Inflatable SUPs cannot compete. However, many of the boards in this review respond well enough, even in choppy water or wind. Technological advancements like the flexible carbon stringer in the Hala Carbon Straight Up help. They significantly improve the board's rigidity and therefore its glide.
When thinking about glide performance, keep your experience level and needs in mind. Do you need the most responsive board on the market? Not if you're not willing to pay for it. Similarly, the amount of speed lost between an inflatable model and a rigid one, or a high and low-end inflatable, is usually insignificant for most beginner or recreational paddlers.
The Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus has an aggressive nose shape with a narrow profile, which helped it excel in this category. The Hala Carbon Straight Up also performs well, and, unlike the Red, also boasts top scores in stability and maneuverability.
On the other end of the spectrum is the NRS Mayra. Meant more for stationary stability than movement, it has a blunt nose and wide waist that slow it down. If you're focused on relatively stationary paddle board activities (like yoga, napping or reading), the Mayra is an excellent choice.
(This is another example of a time when getting a board that is a top scorer in every metric might not be in your best interest. Decide if these categories are important to you, and go from there!)
This metric is all about the ease and speed of lateral movement and is best reflected by the turning radius of the board. You can turn at a sharp angle by back paddling, pivoting around your paddle, or by paddling forward in a long arch. Back paddling makes it easier to make a tight turn but destroys forward momentum. Forward paddling allows the rider to maintain their course but requires more effort. The turn radius is also much larger.
Shifting your weight towards the rear of the board, especially on models with a rockered nose, lifts the nose out of the water and makes turning much more efficient. The Hala Carbon Straight Up has a rockered tip and rear stomp pad that help the rider balance as they weight the back of the board. These features allowed the Carbon Straight Up to take first place in this category.
Stability also factors into a board's maneuverability. Despite having similar dimensions to the Carbon Straight Up, the BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO has a narrower sidecut and is less stable. This makes moving to the back of the board more precarious, so proper turning technique is much harder to achieve.
Typically, maneuverability has an inverse relationship to glide. Boards like the Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus are long and narrow so they move quickly and efficiently over distance, but while this shape is great for gliding, it creates a lot of drag when trying to turn.
Ease of Transport
When thinking about which inflatable SUP you should buy, ease of transport is incredibly important. The main advantage of an inflatable board comes from its packability, which makes it convenient for a variety of missions. If you're committed, you can even pack some of these boards into remote alpine lakes. This varies based on how heavy they are, how well they roll, and how sturdy their carry system is. We scored this metric based on how easy it is to roll and carry each board.
We also take into consideration extras that make packing and transport easier, like included carrying bags. Bags that did not get the job done for one reason or another scored very low, whereas bags that were comfortable and easy to use scored higher.
The lightest board in our lineup is the FunWater 11 weighing in at just over 18 pounds. The Isle Explorer, BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO, and the Hala Carbon Straight Up follow closely behind. Lighter boards get higher scores since they're easier to haul from place to place.
The Hala board and the Red Paddle Co, include bags that have backpack straps and wheels. For most missions, we found this helpful, but if you're planning on carrying the pack for a long distance on trails, this is an unnecessary extra.
One huge advantage of inflatables paddle boards is that you can fly with them. All boards we tested are light and small enough to avoid most airlines' oversized baggage requirements for U.S. domestic flights. One of our testers even packed the lightweight FunWater 11 on an international trip to the Maldives with no issues or concerns.
The Mara scored relatively low in this category, despite having an excellent and roomy backpack. This model's low score is due to its lack of a center handle, which made it extremely difficult to carry when around fully inflated. However, this lack of a center handle does make SUP yoga easier. Again, this is a situation where choosing a board depends on your needs.
Ease of Inflation
How easy a board is to inflate comes down to the quality of the pump it comes with and how much volume and air pressure the board needs. The boards all came with similar pumps, making inflation pretty similar across the board. That said, three pumps stood out (in good and bad ways). The Red Paddle comes with the best pump in this review by far. The dual cylinder design allowed this pump to blow a board up during the up and downstroke. It also comes with a variety of nozzles, so you can use it with other boards, which we're apt to do since it's so awesome.
After you're done paddling, you simply twist the valve to the deflate/open position, and the board will quickly deflate. We've found that the pressurized air can be loud the first few seconds as it escapes from the board, and can startle unsuspecting neighbors if you're in a more crowded beach area. An easy way to mitigate this is to put a t-shirt or towel on top of the valve as you open it to help muffle the noise.
That pump earned the Red top honors in this metric. The BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO and the SereneLife followed due to their fast inflation times due to their lower volume. Each inflatable SUP tested takes around five to seven minutes to inflate, with the bigger volume boards like the Tower Adventure taking a little longer.
The NRS Mayra's pump stood out in a bad way. It had the only non-standard inflation nozzle, which means that it only works for the NRS board.
Sadly, most of these pump gauges either break quickly or are very inaccurate. This is a significant problem for beginners who can't tell inflation pressure by feel. If you are new to inflatable SUPs, and your gauge breaks, you will probably only fill it to 5-10 PSI, which is far below the 15 PSI that most boards recommend. There are two solutions:
1) Get a High-Pressure Inflator Valve like the WAKOODA Valve Stem. This allows you to use any standard tire pressure gauge to check your pressure.
2) Get an electric SUP pump which will do most of the pumping work for you and has a more accurate built-in gauge.
What do you get with your board? A carrying bag, repair kit, leash, and paddle are commonly included. But you'll need other accessories as well, here's a rundown.
- Paddle — Many of the boards in our lineup come with adjustable aluminum paddles. These paddles are usually somewhat heavy, but are 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 lighter or stiffer paddle for higher performance, get a carbon fiber model.
- Leash — In many paddling situations, you will want a leash. If you're on a lake or ocean and the wind picks up, your board could be gone in seconds if you fall off. (A SUP is like a kite compared to a human in water). A coiled leash is generally best because it won't drag. If you're on a river with any type of current, DO NOT wear a leash, OR get a leash with a quick release, like the NRS Quick Release SUP Leash. Many people have died because their leash snagged on a rock or log and held the paddler underwater. It can be impossible to reach a traditional leash to release it if an entire river is pushing against you. Educate yourself about potential hazards before attempting any river paddle boarding.
- Life Jacket — There are a lot of great, moderately priced life jackets for water skiing and wakeboarding. However, if you are looking for something that's Coast Guard approved (which is mandatory in places like Lake Tahoe), then you can find one for an even better price like the Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest. See the US Coast Guard stand up paddle board regulations below.
- 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 holds 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. We used Sevylor Pump for this review. It's a little slow and finicky but got the job done and has an accurate gauge.
What Are the General Stand Up Paddle Boarding Rules on the Water?
- The US Coast Guard passed a regulation in 2008 that classified paddle boards as vessels. Outside of a swim or surf zone, a stand-up paddle board is considered a vessel and must adhere to the same rules and regulations. This may include a Coast Guard approved life jacket in serviceable condition for each person on board and a signaling device like a whistle. Children under the age of 13 are required to wear a type 1, 2, or 3 Personal Flotation Device (PFD) at all times. PFDs must be size appropriate for the wearer.
- Since SUPs are one of, if not the smallest, vessels on the water they essentially have no right of way and must give way to larger vessels.
- SUPs must always cross behind, or astern, of oncoming motorized boat traffic.
- To SUP after sunset or at dawn or dusk, you are required to have a white light such as a flashlight that is visible up to a mile and capable of warning other boaters by shining towards oncoming traffic.
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 PFDs 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 SUP Belt. It's manually inflated with a replaceable C02 cartridge.
Inflatable SUPs are versatile and fun and offer a convenient way for new or experienced paddlers alike to get out on the water. These boards can paddle lakes, oceans, rivers, and can even surf, and when you're all done, they easily roll up and pack into any car trunk. The boards in this review will cover paddlers of all levels, and advancements in their designs have closed the performance gap between regular rigid fiberglass boards. We think most recreational paddlers will be pleased with the performance and convenience of an inflatable SUP, and that only serious SUP racers looking for optimum performance should overlook this category.
— Nick Bruckbauer, Leslie Yedor, and Shey Kiester