The Best Inflatable SUP Boards of 2019

The Best Inflatable SUP Boards of 2019

The progressive nose rocker  carbon stringer  and 3 fin design make this board a smooth and quick ride across glassy water.To find the best Inflatable sups you can buy in 2019, we researched dozens of stand up paddle boards and then bought 11 models for side-by-side tests. 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.

 


Editors' Choice Award

Best Overall Inflatable SUP

Hala Carbon Straight Up

Capacity: 350 lbs | Length: 10 ft 6 in
  • Super sturdy
  • Surprisingly nimble
  • Highly versatile
  • Convenient rolling backpack
  • Expensive
  • Paddle not included

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.

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 lot. 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.

Why You Should Trust Us

Our expert duo responsible for testing these inflatable SUPs is Leslie Yedor and Shey Kiester. In addition to testing SUPs, 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 Camp 4. Shey has tested over 50 paddle boards for OutdoorGearLab. She also holds a degree in creative writing and English rhetoric from the University of Alaska and has written for Alpinist, American Alpine Journal, and Backpacker, among others.

We purchased all the paddle boards in this review and tested them extensively in the region surrounding our home waters of Lake Tahoe. We loaded them up with beginners, experts, multiple people, dogs, and did yoga on them. A big part of inflatable SUPing is setup and transportation, so we paid special attention to this.

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.

Stability is a key metric when it comes to determining all around usability of a board.
Stability is a key metric when it comes to determining all around usability of a board.

Value

Looking for a good deal? Two boards representing a great value at a reasonable price (and both winners of our Best Buy awards), are the Isle Explorer and FundWater. Our other award winners, the Editors' Choice-winning Hala Carbon Straight Up and Top Pick Red Paddle Voyager+, fetch higher prices for their top-notch performance.

Price vs. Performance Comparison505560657075808590$0$250$500$750$1000$1250$1500$1750Overall Performance Score (0-100, better scores are to the right)Price $ (lower is better)
Value Score (0-100 where 100 is best) Price
89 1,399
84 845
79 1,649
78 749
77 849
74 495
73 1,000
72 410
67 1,095
61 699

Stability

Stability is the most heavily weighted metric in our review. The Hala Carbon Straight Up, Isle Explorer, and the PEAK 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.

The Straight Up is the thickest board we tested  ensuring that it remains incredibly stable.
The Straight Up is the thickest board we tested, ensuring that it remains incredibly stable.

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.

Stability Rating6.57.07.58.08.5NRS MayraIsle ExplorerHala Carbon Straight UpiRocker All-Around 11PEAK InflatableTower XplorerRed Paddle Co Voyager+ MSLSereneLife InflatableTower Adventurer 2BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO9998887777
Product Stability Rating
NRS Mayra 9
Isle Explorer 9
Hala Carbon Straight Up 9
iRocker All-Around 11 8
PEAK Inflatable 8
Tower Xplorer 8
Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL 7
SereneLife Inflatable 7
Tower Adventurer 2 7
BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO 7
Glide is determined by the board's ability to make forward progress with the fewest paddle strokes.

Glide Performance


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.

Glide Performance Rating56789Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSLHala Carbon Straight UpIsle ExploreriRocker All-Around 11Tower XplorerBIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVOPEAK InflatableSereneLife InflatableTower Adventurer 2NRS Mayra10988887776
Product Glide Performance Rating
Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL 10
Hala Carbon Straight Up 9
Isle Explorer 8
iRocker All-Around 11 8
Tower Xplorer 8
BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO 8
PEAK Inflatable 7
SereneLife Inflatable 7
Tower Adventurer 2 7
NRS Mayra 6

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 is a close second, and, unlike the Red, also boasts top scores in stability and maneuverability.

Even the big boards (like the previously reviewed Daze by Hala) can be highly maneuverable if designed with features like a progressive nose rocker and rear stomp pad.
Even the big boards (like the previously reviewed Daze by Hala) can be highly maneuverable if designed with features like a progressive nose rocker and rear stomp pad.

Maneuverability


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.

Maneuverability Rating02468Hala Carbon Straight UpIsle ExplorerTower XploreriRocker All-Around 11PEAK InflatableSereneLife InflatableRed Paddle Co Voyager+ MSLBIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVONRS MayraTower Adventurer 29887776655
Product Maneuverability Rating
Hala Carbon Straight Up 9
Isle Explorer 8
Tower Xplorer 8
iRocker All-Around 11 7
PEAK Inflatable 7
SereneLife Inflatable 7
Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL 6
BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO 6
NRS Mayra 5
Tower Adventurer 2 5

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.

Features like a raised rear stomp pad and a rocker nose make certain models much easier to maneuver.
Features like a raised rear stomp pad and a rocker nose make certain models much easier to maneuver.

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.

Be sure to consider how easy or challenging it will be to haul your SUP around.
Be sure to consider how easy or challenging it will be to haul your SUP around.

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.

Ease of Transport Rating02468Hala Carbon Straight UpIsle ExplorerRed Paddle Co Voyager+ MSLiRocker All-Around 11PEAK InflatableBIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVOSereneLife InflatableTower XplorerNRS MayraTower Adventurer 29988887664
Product Ease of Transport Rating
Hala Carbon Straight Up 9
Isle Explorer 9
Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL 8
iRocker All-Around 11 8
PEAK Inflatable 8
BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO 8
SereneLife Inflatable 7
Tower Xplorer 6
NRS Mayra 6
Tower Adventurer 2 4

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 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.

Fly With Your Board!
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.

Some boards are easier to roll than others.
Some boards are easier to roll than others.

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.

The dural chamber pump of the Red Paddle model on the right  compared with the single chamber pump common for most boards in this review on the left.
The dural chamber pump of the Red Paddle model on the right, compared with the single chamber pump common for most boards in this review on the left.

Ease of Inflation

Valve Settings — There are two settings on the valve where the 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. When you are finished pumping and take the hose off, you won't lose valuable air pressure.
Ease of inflation Rating56789Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSLSereneLife InflatableBIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVOIsle ExploreriRocker All-Around 11Hala Carbon Straight UpPEAK InflatableTower XplorerNRS MayraTower Adventurer 210998887766
Product Ease of inflation Rating
Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL 10
SereneLife Inflatable 9
BIC Sport 11 Wing AIR EVO 9
Isle Explorer 8
iRocker All-Around 11 8
Hala Carbon Straight Up 8
PEAK Inflatable 7
Tower Xplorer 7
NRS Mayra 6
Tower Adventurer 2 6

What else do you need?

Key Accessories

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.
  • 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, 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.

Bungee storage areas are handy if you need to load up on safety gear.
Bungee storage areas are handy if you need to load up on safety gear.

What Are the General Stand Up Paddle Boarding Rules on the Water?

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. SUPs must always cross behind, or astern, of oncoming motorized boat traffic.
  1. 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.

Conclusion

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. 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

Article published by Outdoor Gear Lab.

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