Our team of proficient paddlers has spent the last four years testing almost 30 of the best inflatable SUP boards and purchased 12 of today's best models for a fresh head-to-head comparison. From the Pacific Ocean to Lake Tahoe to secluded alpine lakes and rivers, we put each board to the test in a variety of conditions, and even packed one model along on a trip to the Indian Ocean. Both novice and advanced paddlers tested each model to find the best-performing options, the easiest to inflate, and the easiest to transport. After all this action, we're ready to help you find the best inflatable SUP board to meet your needs.Related: The Best Stand Up Paddle Boards (SUP) of 2020
The Best Inflatable SUP Boards of 2020
Best Overall Inflatable SUP
Bluefin Cruise Carbon
The Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12' earns our Editors' Choice Award with its heavy-duty carbon-reinforced construction and impressive all-around performance. Its 12-foot length and touring-style pointed nose provide excellent glide, and the 32-inch width and carbon fiber Flex Reduction System (FRS) help maintain rigidity through choppy conditions and provide a consistently stable paddling platform. Unique to this model, the package includes a kayak seat and a convertible paddle that allows the board to be ridden like a kayak. The high-capacity dual-chamber pump is one of the best that we tested, and the included heavy-duty carrying bag includes roller wheels and comfortable straps. Other additional features include dual cargo tie-down systems, front and back grab handles, and a built-in stomp pad on the deck pad. With high-end materials and construction and consistent performance across the board, the Cruise Carbon 12 is our new favorite model.
The Cruise Carbon 12 is a fantastic, high-end board, but is also one of the heaviest models in the lineup and a bit on the pricier end. In addition to the heavy and bulky board, the extra features like the kayak seat and the extra convertible paddle blade make it a challenge to squeeze everything into the included carry bag, and make it quite the load to haul. And while the convertible SUP/kayak paddle is very innovative, we found it too flexible while in SUP mode for such a rigid and high-end board. Overall, the Cruise Carbon's fantastic performance overshadows any potential shortcomings and earns it our coveted Editors' Choice Award.
Read review: Bluefin Cruise Carbon
Best High-Performance Buy
With solid all-around performance and a reasonable price, the Atoll 11' out-paddles most of the competition and earns our Best High-Performance Buy Award. With an impressive balance of glide performance and stability, and one of the best included stock paddles in the entire lineup, the Atoll outperforms the bargain-priced contenders, and comes in at a price that is much less than the priciest competition. The square tail, slightly rockered and tapered nose, and versatile three-fin design make the Atoll a joy to paddle in all kinds of conditions. The included accessories like the pump, fin, leash, and carrying bag are all of the quality expected of a reasonably priced option. While there are other models with higher-end materials, nicer features, or better performance, most of them come with a premium price tag.
While the Atoll 11' is a little less maneuverable than some lighter and stiffer boards, it doesn't have any major weaknesses. Most products that outperform this model cost almost twice as much, and while there are less expensive models out there, they are built with inferior materials and have lower-performing accessories. The Atoll's higher performance and quality are in line with its price tag, making it our Best High-Performance Buy.
Read review: Atoll 11'
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 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 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
High-quality materials and construction, a sleek profile, and excellent glide performance earn the Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL high overall scores and our Top Pick Award for the best touring SUP. While perhaps not the best all-around option for the family or for beginner paddlers, the Voyager is a bit more specialized for advanced users looking for efficient glide and higher speeds. Its long and narrow shape earns it high scores in our glide performance metric, making it a perfect option for glassy days when you want to cover some distance, but it also holds up quite well in windier or choppier conditions. With an FCS Connect fin and an RSS stiffening system that adds rigidity to the rails, the Voyager+ MSL is a top of the line board with high-end performance. The icing on the cake is the included dual-chamber, universally compatible pump that is by far one of 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 passageways with its somewhat limited maneuverability compared to shorter models. It's also one of the most expensive boards in our lineup and doesn't include a paddle, which is a shame considering the overall price. Although anyone in the market for such a high-end, high-performance inflatable SUP probably already has their own paddle or will be in the market for a higher-end SUP paddle as well.
Read review: Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL
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 numerous 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 extensively tested them ourselves 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 tirelesslly tested and retested these boards for months. Our beginner, intermediate, and advanced 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 model throughout 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 which models shine and which fail to impress in each metric.
Looking for a good deal? Two boards that stand out with their noteworthy performance for a reasonable price (and both winners of our Best Buy awards) are the Atoll 11 and the FunWater 11. The FunWater provides surprisingly capable performance at a ridiculously low price, and the Atoll offers upgraded quality and higher-end performance for a still reasonable price tag that is much less than the top-tier options.
Our other top award winners, the Editors' Choice Award-winning Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12 and our Top Pick for Touring Red Paddle Voyager+ MSL both provide impressive top-notch performance, but have the top-notch price tags to match it. While most general paddlers will find a better value with the more affordable options, advanced paddlers will appreciate the high-end performance of these top choices.
Stability is the most important metric in our review. The Bluefin Cruise Carbon and the NRS Mayra bring home the top scores, albeit with different designs. The Bluefin utilizes a heavier-duty touring design with carbon-fiber reinforcements, with the Mayra has an ultra-wide waist ideal for yoga or lounging around. While advanced users may be willing to sacrifice a board's stability for improved glide performance, a board's stability typically 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 Bluefin Cruise Carbon scores so well in this metric compared to other models. The Bluefin also has a convenient kayak conversion kit for more efficient paddling when conditions get really rough.
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 Atoll 11 provides an excellent blend of stability, maneuverability, and glide, earning respectable scores in each rating category as a result.
The Tower Adventurer 2 and the Isle Explorer are also all capable of carrying multiple paddlers. They have weight limits of 400, 275, and 385 pounds, 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, on-the-water yoga. Although the Mayra did well in our stability tests, it scores 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, slicing through the water easier and garnering a quicker turn response. 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.
Technological advancements to inflatable boards allow many of the boards in our lineup to perform well enough even in choppy water or wind. The rigid rail inserts on the Red Paddle Voyager+ and the carbon stringers in the Hala Carbon Straight Up and the Bluefin Cruise Carbon significantly improve the board's rigidity and therefore its glide.
The Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL has an aggressive nose shape with a narrow profile, which helps it excel in this category. The BLuefin Cruise Carbon 12 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 which performance 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 has an impact on a board's maneuverability. Despite having similar dimensions as 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. Touring boards like the Red Paddle Co Voyager+ 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 portability, making it convenient for a variety of missions. If you're committed, you can even pack some of these boards into remote alpine rivers or lakes. This varies based on how heavy they are, how well they roll, and how sturdy their carry system is.
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 boards in our lineup are the ROC Inflatable and the FunWater 11 weighing in at just under 18 and just under 19 pounds, respectively. The Isle Explorer, Atoll 11, andBIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO follow closely behind. Lighter boards get higher scores since they're easier to haul while inflated and to roll up and transport from place to place.
The Hala, Bluefin, and Red Paddle boards include bags that have backpack both 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, the wheels are 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 Bluefin Cruise Carbon scores relatively low in this category, despite having an excellent and roomy backpack with wheels. This model's low score is due to its heavier weight and its additional accessories than make it challenging to squeeze everything into the bag. The NRS Mayra also scores lower with a lack of a center handle, which makes it extremely difficult to carry when around fully inflated, but does make SUP yoga easier. Both Tower models are big and bulky and don't include a carrying bag.
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.
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.
A few pumps stood out during our testing. The Red Paddle and the Bluefin both come with incredible dual-chamber pumps that provide excellent volume and pressure regulation. The Red Paddle pump 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.
The BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO and the SereneLife both earn respectable scores with their fast inflation times due to their lower overall size and volume. Each inflatable SUP tested takes around five to seven minutes to inflate, depending on pumping effort, with the bigger volume boards like the Tower Adventure taking a little longer. The NRS Mayra's pump stands out in a bad way. It had the only non-standard inflation nozzle, which means that it only works for the NRS board, and cannot be used with other boards.
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 or composite 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. 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.) 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 to make your life a little easier.
- 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 classifies 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 onboard 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