Are you looking for a fun and accessible way to play on the water? Inflatable stand up paddle boards (SUPS) combine cutting edge board technology with compact storage and portability. To help you find the perfect SUP, we pitted the top inflatable paddle boards head-to-head. We took them for Lake Tahoe glide sessions, explored alpine lakes, and enjoyed lazy river days. We timed inflation, loaded them down with weight on the water, and had new paddlers and pros test their stability and maneuverability. After lots of rolling, unrolling, pumping, playing, rerolling, and packing, we have a handle on how easy these are to move around. Check out the review to find out which SUPs are the best for all-around use, great for touring, or offer the best value. If you're looking for the best glide performance, check out our rigid SUP review.
The Best Inflatable SUP (Stand Up Paddle) Boards
We're here to give you the in's and out's on the newest inflatable SUP technology. We paddled the Isle Explorer, PEAK, and Red Paddle Co Explorer+, our reigning champion, Best Buy, and Top Pick respectively, against three new boards. We crowned a few new winners. While the Isle is still a great board, the Hala Carbon Straight Up takes the cake as the best inflatable SUP on the market today. We loved the quality and heft of the Hala Daze for overnight trips and found a very family-friendly board in the BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO. Read more below.
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 at $1,399, its 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 $845 (reasonable 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 PEAK Inflatable has a sleek design, solid construction, and flashy deck that turned heads around the local lake, making it a favorite among many testers. It's one of the lightest boards we tested, and it scored well in ease of transport. The included backpack is simple yet versatile. Additionally, this board was among the cheapest in the review.
The PEAK Inflatable has a sturdy middle carrying strap, and one on the nose, but it lacks a rear handle. Not a deal breaker, but it does make it slightly harder to move it around. The rounded nose helps it stay more stable even in choppy conditions, but it also cuts down on speed. But, if you're looking for a board that will get you out on the water and cruising along nearly as well as the top boards for a price that won't break the bank, check out the PEAK Inflatable. For a family-friendly board that will get out on the water with an even lower investment, take a gander at the SereneLife.
Read review: PEAK Inflatable
Top Pick for Expeditions
The Hala Daze is the perfect board for your overnight lake camping or river holiday. It's also great for group missions or loads of cargo since it's built like a tank and easily supports up to 500lbs. It's huge size and five fins provide exceptional stability. It's also equipped with a rockered nose and rear stomp pad that make it surprisingly nimble to maneuver. While the Daze doesn't offer the smoothest glide of the boards we testest, it was only a few strokes behind in our point to point paddling test.
The biggest drawback of this model is also what makes it such a great specialty board — it's really big. While its size makes it great for expeditions, it's a lot to manage for a casual day of paddling. Fortunately, it comes with a rolling backpack that makes this 43 lb board easier to transport. Like all of Hala's boards, it doesn't come with a paddle. We love this board for its quality and respect its performance, but be prepared for the equally hefty price tag of $1,699. If you are psyched on multi-day river trips and fly fishing mid-river, pond or lake, you will love the Hala Daze.
Read review: Hala Daze
Top Pick 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 $1,649. 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
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. The resulting performance scores are in the table above. 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? Check out the chart below. It plots each SUP's performance score against its cost. The boards in the bottom right corner offer the best bang for your buck. You can find the two boards that won Best Buy awards there, the Isle Explorer and Peak Inflatable. (Hover over a dot with your mouse to find out which board it represents.) Our other award winners, the Editors' Choice-winning Hala Carbon Straight Up and Top Picks Hala Daze and 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, Hala Daze, Isle Explorer, and thePEAK Inflatable brought home the top scores. While advanced users may be willing to sacrifice a board's stability for improved glide, stability enhances 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 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. The Hala Daze is 48" wide and 8" thick making it the most stable board we tested. Its huge profile makes it perfect for party paddle sessions or carrying overnight supplies for a group. 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 a balance between optimal glide and stability is key.
Inflatable SUPs 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 negligible for most recreational needs.
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 Upis a close second, 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 stability than movement, it has a blunt nose and wide waist that slow it down. If you're focused on relatively stationary paddleboard 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. Models like the Hala Carbon Straight Up and the Hala Daze have rockered tips and rear stomp pads that help the rider balance as they weight the back of the board. These features allowed the Carbon Straight Up and the Daze to take first and second place in this category respectively.
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 ideal 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 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 is the Isle Explorer at 22lbs. The Peak Inflatable, 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 Daze is by far the heaviest board reviewed, weighing 41 pounds. Its weight and large dimensions make it tough to move around, but if you are only looking to inflate it a few times a year for big river expeditions, you might forgive its low score in this metric.
All of the Hala boards 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 SUPS is that you can fly with them. All boards tested are light and small enough to avoid most airlines oversized bag requirements for domestic flights, except the Hala Daze.
The Airis HardTop SUV was by far the lowest scorer in this metric. It's the second heaviest of all the boards tested. It also has stiff material on the deck that does not roll, requiring you instead to fold the boat in exactly the right places. Lastly, this model's included backpack did not fit it well. After the initial use, we were never able to get the board back in its bag fully, and getting it even halfway in was a two-person job.
The Mara also 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 pump it comes with and how much volume 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.
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 and Airis HardTop taking a little longer.
The Airis pump was one of the least effective, and a fair amount of air leaks from the connection point. Several testers complained that the pump felt cheap. The NRS Mayra's pump also stood out in a bad way. It had the only non-standard inflation nozzle, which means that it only works for the NRS board. The Hala Daze is also a beast to inflate simply because of its large volume. Expect a workout or invest in an electric pump that will get you to the maximum psi.
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. We like this one
What do you get with your board? A backpack, repair kit, leash and paddle are common. But you'll need other accessories as well, here's a rundown.
- Paddle — Many 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 higher performance paddle, get a carbon fiber one which ranges in price from $180-450.
- Leash — In most situations, you want a leash. If you're on a lake 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 under water. 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 life jackets for water skiing and wakeboarding in the $20-60 range. 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 less than $25-30 like the Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest.
See below for US Coast Guard stand up paddle board regulations.
- 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 paddleboards as vessels. Outside of a swim or surf zone, a stand-up paddleboard 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 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 offer a fun and engaging way to get out on the water. They can paddle lakes, oceans, rivers, and even surf. When you're done, they roll up into any car trunk and usually cost less than $1,500. The boards in this review will cover paddlers of all levels. Only serious SUP racers should overlook this category for a slimmer non-inflatable option. For helpful tips on selecting the right product, check out our Buying Advice article.
— Leslie Yedor and Shey Kiester