The Best Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards of 2017
Since paddle boards burst onto the scene, the available options are daunting. We researched more than 80, choosing 8 to test ourselves. We put these models through the wringer, testing them on open lakes on both calm and windy days and on the creeks and rivers around Truckee during a flood season. Our experts analyzed each model's glide relative to its stability, and while hauling each model from basement to the car to the lake and back, our testers detailed which was the easiest to transport and inflate. The extensive info gathered during the test has allowed us to compile a review that cuts through the numerous options available to help you select a board that's perfect for you.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated July 2017
For 2017, we added new boards to our selection. Isle took home the Editors' Choice award for the second year in a row; this time around, the Isle Explorer became our new cream of the crop inflatable paddle board. If performance is what you're after, you'll find that the Red Paddle Explorer Plus will provide, taking home a new Top Pick honor. The PEAK Inflatable wins our Best Buy award and is sure to bring you a great time for less than $600, followed by the iRocker for less than $700.
The Best Overall Inflatable SUP
Competition for the top spot in this year's test was steep, with several boards posting high scores. But when all was said and done, the Isle Explorer stole the hearts of nearly all of our testers, a reputation which earned it our Editors' Choice award. A dream to paddle, the Explorer successfully combines stability and glide, while a square tail, slightly rockered nose and 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. Surprisingly, the whole package comes for a relatively low $845, which sits well below the prices of spendier models.
Glide increased by fins
Cargo system on front and rear
Not very fast
Read full 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. The lightest board reviewed, this model scored well in ease of transport, and its included backpack was simple yet versatile. Additionally, this board was the cheapest in the review. If you're looking for a board that will get you out on the water and can cruise nearly as well as the top boards for a price that won't break the bank, this model is for you.
Lightest board in the review
Exciting color scheme
Does not have a dual cargo system
Lacks rear handle
Read full review: PEAK Inflatable
Top Pick for Performance
Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus
Quality materials, high-performance components, and a sleek profile helped the Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus to a high score, tieing it with our overall winner (the Isle Explorer). Because of this model's sleeker profile, beginner paddlers will likely feel less stable atop it. However, this dip in stability means an increase in glide and agility, which made this model a go-to for tight creek and voyages that demand maneuverability. With an FCS Connect fin and an RSS stiffening system, this model is noticeably top of the line. The icing on the cake comes in the included universally compatible pump, which was by far the best in our review, and became the favorite for use with all of the other boards.
Cargo system on front and rear
Stable for its width
Fast, dual chamber pump
May feel unstable to beginners
Read full review: Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus
iRocker Inflatable 11
Read full review: iRocker Inflatable
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of several months, our experts tirelessly tested and retested the 8 boards in this review. Our testers kept detailed notes as they went, making sure that the boards were tested by beginners, intermediate and expert users, in a variety of conditions, and with many different use scenarios in mind.
The table above serves as a comparison of all the boards, and their scores in this Overall Performance are a combination of many factors. Some boards may have scored very well in one metric but lower in others, meaning that they won't perform as well in this overview, but may work for your specific use. Read on to see how each metric was evaluated.
Lovingly called SUPs, these vessels are perfect for a rest day, core workout, or an exciting river run. This review covers inflatable options, which are more portable and durable (while losing a little speed) than non-inflatable offerings.
Stability is one of two heavily weighted rating metrics in our review (the other is glide performance). Because inflatable SUPs are usually used by beginning and intermediate paddlers, it's important that they are as stable as possible. As a general rule, bigger boards equate to a more stable feel, and the most important dimension in this regard is thickness. We don't recommend getting a board that is less than six inches thick unless there are some major technological improvements. Boards with minimal thickness tend to feel floppy, even when inflated to their max recommendation.
The NRS Mayra was the only board more than an inch under our 6-inch cutoff, with a thickness of 5 inches. However, this board was also the widest, at 34 inches, which helped it maintain its stability. The Mayra, along with the Isle Explorer, iRocker Inflatable, and PEAK Inflatable were the top scorers for the stability metric.
Another key reason to purchase a stable board is if you plan on having multiple passengers, a furry friend aboard, or if you're into SUP yoga. The Tower Adventurer 2, Isle Explorer, and iRocker Inflatable 11 are all capable of carrying multiple paddlers, with weight limits of 400, 275, and 385, respectively. The wider NRS Mayra, which is billed as a Yoga-specific board, did a fine job of handling a furry passenger and, of course, yoga. Although the Mayra did well in stability, it scored lower in glide. This is usually the case, as a more stable board will naturally be bigger and thus its glide will be affected. Finding a balance between optimal glide and stability is key.
When compared to non-inflatable boards, inflatable SUPs will always lose in a glide/maneuverability battle. The fiberglass hulls of rigid SUPs allow for a design that lends itself to quick turn response and improved drift, and inflatable SUPs simply cannot compete with this. However, many of the boards in this review respond well, even in choppy water or wind. It is important to keep your experience level and needs in mind. Beginner and intermediate users likely do not need the most responsive board on the market. And the amount of speed lost on an inflatable model is relatively negligible for most user's needs.
The Red Paddle Co Explorer Plus had a more aggressive nose shape, which allowed it to score high in this category, earning a near perfect 9 out of 10, followed by the Isle Explorer and iRocker Inflatable 11 (both scored 8/10).
On the other end of the spectrum was the NRS Mayra, which has a blunt nose and took home a 6 out of 10 in glide performance and was the lowest in our test. However, if you're focused on relatively stationary paddleboard activities (like yoga), 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!
Ease of Transport
When thinking about buying an inflatable SUP, ease of transport is an incredibly important consideration. The main advantage of an inflatable board comes from its packability, which makes it portable for a variety of missions. If you're committed, some of these boards can even be packed into remote alpine lakes depending on their ability to roll up well and the carry system. We scored this metric based on each model's carryability and rollability as well as included extras that make packing easier, like a strap. Included bags were also factored into this area. 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 were the Isle Touring and PEAK Inflatable, with the iRocker Inflatable 11 following closely behind. This contributed to higher scores in this metric, as the boards were easier to haul from place to place. The Xterra Touring was by far the heaviest board reviewed, weighing 30 pounds. The Isle and iRocker models both scored well in this category, with packs that were well padded and roomy enough for a sloppily rolled bag and all of the accouterments needed for a day on the water. The Red Paddle competitor also scored well, and it included the only bag that had wheels. For most missions, we found this to be helpful, but if you're planning on carrying the pack for a long distance on trails, this is an unnecessary extra.
The Airis HardTop SUV was by far the lowest scorer in this metric. This low score is attributed to several things. One, the Airis is the second heaviest of all the boards tested. Two, the Airis has stiff material on the deck that does not roll, requiring you instead to fold the boat in exactly the right places. And three, this model's included backpack did not fit it well. In fact, 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 NRS model also scored relatively low in this category, despite having an excellent and roomy backpack. This model's low score was due to its lack of a center handle, which made it extremely to carry 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
Large differences from one model to the next within this metric were somewhat difficult to identify, largely because most of the models in this review came with pumps that were very similar. With that said, three pumps stood out (in both good and bad ways). The Red Paddle pump was by far the best pump in this review. The dual cylinder design allowed this pump to blow a board up quicker and in a more efficient manner than any other. In addition, the product comes with a variety of different nozzles, so you can use it with other boards (which our testers were apt to do since it as so nice to use). The iRocker 11 and Isle Explorer followed behind the Explorer Plus by Red Paddle, both earning 8 out of 10s.
On the other end of the spectrum was the Airis pump. This model was one of the slowest to inflate, and there was a fair amount of leaking air around the pump. In addition, several testers complained that the pump simply felt cheap. The NRS Mayra's pump also stood out in this review. This board had the only inflation nozzle that was not the standard design, which meant that if you are using one pump to inflate multiple models, this board must be kept in mind. 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. Boards with inflation nozzles in the back can be rolled up without removing the fins.
For more tips on how to inflate a paddle board, watch this video:
While not immediately obvious, there are two settings to the valve on SUP boards 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.
A very short video clip demonstrating the above tip:
Inflatable SUPs are versatile in part because of their durability. These boards can run white water, and are burly enough to smash into rocks and drag through forests while portaging around log jams. Most of the boards in this review scored well in this metric, with several falling behind, and one sticking out for its lack of durability.
The Isle, Red Paddle, and PEAK models all stuck out for their high-quality construction and materials and thus, earned high scores. We took these boards down rivers and creeks, bashing into rocks and ducking to avoid sweepers, and our testers were confident that the boards could hold up to the abuse. Plus, they each held their own during multiple portages, when encounters with logs, rocks, and dirt were inevitable.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Airis HardTop was notably the least durable board in our review, earning a 4 out of 10. This was noticed in the board's overall construction, with seams that stuck up significantly from the board, inviting rubbing while loading and maneuvering shallow water. Interestingly, this board sprung a slight leak along a top seam on only the second day of testing.
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 other accessories, like a leash, and some do not. Take a look at our individual reviews to see which boards come with what accessories. The Editors' Choice Isle Explorer and Best Buy iRocker are both steals at $845 and $965, and the PEAK has an impressively low price of $595.
See below for US Coast Guard stand up paddle board regulations.
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.
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 $1,000 (few non-inflatable boards can claim this). All the boards in this review are ideal for learning to SUP and for touring, and 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.
— Shey Kiester
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