Inflatable stand up paddle boards (SUPs, for short) are taking the boating scene by storm, and it’s easy to see why. These compact vessels are easy to transport (no car rack required), surprisingly durable, stable and efficient on the water, and versatile for activities like yoga, fishing, surfing, and just plain cruising. Below we break down the top inflatable SUPs of 2020, from recreational models perfect for beginners and casual outings to premium touring boards and activity-specific designs.
Table of Contents
- Our Inflatable Paddle Board (SUP) Picks
- Inflatable SUP Comparison Table
- Inflatable SUP Buying Advice
Lengths: 10’3” (9’10”, 10’8”, 11’)
Fins: Tri (removable)
What we like: Rigid, well-built, and comes in four sizes to accommodate a wide range of paddlers.
What we don’t: Multi-use intentions mean it’s not the fastest or most stable board on this list.
For the best combination of quality, affordability, and availability, the NRS Thrive tops our list of inflatable stand up paddle boards for 2020. In short, the Thrive is the full package for those just getting started: you get a premium board that inflates to a very solid 20 psi (higher psi = more rigidity), an assortment of D-rings and a bungee cord for on-deck storage, and a highly functional inflation/deflation valve with a pressure release to guard against over-filling. Additional features include a leash, dry bag, pump, two sets of fins, a carry bag, and a repair kit. Just pick up a paddle—NRS’s range from $90 for a simple entry-level design to just over $280 for a premium three-piece model—and you’re good to go.
One of the biggest draws to the Thrive is the fact that it comes in four sizes. For reference, many recreational iSUPs are sold in just a single length, which is fine for casual cruising, but the ability to customize fit is essential if you’re looking to travel faster or farther. And with the option for a single, twin, or tri-fin set-up, the Thrive lets you tailor stability and speed depending on your needs. All in all, NRS is a crowd favorite among boaters of all types, and the do-it-all Thrive is a great value, has a nice warranty, and should make most paddlers happy. Of note: the Thrive currently is out of stock like many SUPs, but NRS is hoping to get a fresh batch of 2021 boards this fall.
See the NRS Thrive 10'3"
Fins: Tri (removable)
What we like: A complete package—including a fiberglass paddle—for around $500.
What we don’t: Only comes in one size and has a limited weight capacity.
Some SUPers paddle for fitness, fishing, or as a way to get out on an overnight adventure, but many of us are just here for a pleasure cruise. If you’re looking for an affordable way to get on the water, the iRocker Nautical is a great place to start. For just over $500 with shipping included, you get everything you need to hit your local lake or reservoir, including an adjustable fiberglass paddle (most entry-level paddles are heavier aluminum), coiled leash, dual-action hand pump, travel backpack, and repair kit. And with 6 inches of platform and a three-fin set-up that can be easily customized, the Nautical offers a stable ride that’s a great match for new and seasoned paddlers alike.
Unfortunately, the Nautical only comes in one length (10'6"), which we don’t recommend for larger riders (240 lbs. is the max weight capacity). And as we see with most budget boards, it achieves stability through its thickness rather than a high-end construction, which makes it slower and more cumbersome on the water. But it’s important to set reasonable expectations at this price point, and iRocker provides a nice alternative to cheap knockoffs with excellent customer service and a one-year warranty. For more load-carrying capacity and a bump in both performance and features, check out iRocker’s Cruiser ($749).
See the iRocker Nautical
Lengths: 11’3” (11’0”, 12’6”)
Fins: Single (removable)
What we like: High-quality touring design that’s rigid yet lightweight.
What we don’t: Not stable enough for beginners and needs more attachment points for long trips.
U.K.-based Red Paddle Co (RPC) is an industry leader in paddle board innovation and design, with a top-notch selection of inflatable SUPs for everything from whitewater and windsurfing to yoga and racing. Their all-around Ride ($1,299) goes head-to-head with the NRS Thrive above, but the longer Sport is our top pick for paddlers looking to travel greater distances or at faster speeds. The Sport features a narrow, 30-inch width for cutting efficiently through the water, a single fin for tracking (traveling in a straight line), and the 5-inch thickness keeps you close to the water and well-balanced. And like the Thrive, the Sport comes in multiple sizes—11’0”, 11’3”, and 12’6”—for customizing fit.
The Sport is built with Red Paddle Co’s MSL Fusion construction and comes with add-on stiffening panels for each side rail, which give it more rigidity while still maintaining a fairly low weight. Additionally, Red’s boards are impressively durable (they put them through extensive testing, including running over a board with a 22.5-ton tractor), and all boards are now backed by a generous five-year warranty. We do wish that the Sport came with an included paddle, but most boaters opting for such a premium board will likely have a quiver of options already on hand. All in all, there’s a lot to like about Red Paddle Co, and their Sport is an ideal companion for fitness paddling or multi-day excursions. If you’re looking for a larger deck to shuttle more overnight gear, the Voyager is a step up in size at 12’6”, 13’2”, or 15’0”.
See the Red Paddle Co 11'3" Sport
Fins: Tri (removable)
What we like: Reliable construction and tons of attachment points for iRocker accessories.
What we don’t: Wide and slow-moving.
For those wanting to take to the open waters with a fishing pole, an SUP is a relatively light, easy-to-transport vessel that allows the option to sit or stand. Any SUP here would technically get the job done, but dedicated anglers will benefit from the added stability and array of attachment points that specialty models offer. Sporting a three-fin set-up, 450-pound weight capacity, and a whopping 20 D-rings, the Blackfin Model X fits the bill nicely and is a true utility vehicle of an SUP. iRocker also makes it easy to tack on an assortment of compatible accessories, including a cooler deck bag, fishing rod holder, fishing rack, anchor, and even a kayak seat.
With a generous 35-inch width and 6 inches between you and the water, the Blackfin Model X is undeniably stable but unfortunately isn’t going anywhere super fast. If you need to travel a long distance to your fishing hole, it might be worth considering the Blackfin Model V instead, which is longer at 12’6” and features a narrower profile for more efficiency and speed. But for reeling in the day’s catch or paddling with a dog or child, the Model X’s spacious and stable deck certainly is a plus. And a final bonus: iRocker includes a high-quality fiberglass paddle with a carbon shaft, making the set-up an even better value.
See the iRocker Blackfin Model X
Fins: 2 (removable)
What we like: Great set of yoga-specific features.
What we don’t: Does not travel fast or track well.
SUP yoga is all the rage, and while you could get away with doing sun salutations on most boards here, it certainly helps to have a tool purpose-built for the job. Yoga-specific boards typically have generous widths, spacious deck pads, and center handles that lay flat so you don’t have an annoying bulge in the middle of your “mat.” The Hala Asana takes it a step further by including a front bungee perfect for stashing your paddle, D-ring under the nose for anchoring the board while practicing, and a second fin centered under the body for added stability. And with the purchase of the board, you also get an adjustable paddle with a lightweight carbon shaft (one of the best included paddles we’ve found) and a spacious roller bag for easy transport to and from your vehicle.
The specialty build does come with some notable downsides. With a 6-inch thickness, wide platform, and no side fins, the Asana will feel slightly boat-like while paddling, and you won’t be tracking anywhere fast. For reference, we’ve taken the Asana on Oregon’s upper Deschutes and had to paddle hard to keep up with our friend’s Boardworks SHUBU. Further, we've found that the included pump can realistically only get the board to about 12 psi, so you might need to purchase a dual-chamber or electric pump separately. But for board-based activities, the Asana offers great stability, and we’ve loved the feel of the generous and plush deck pad. If you don’t plan to use your board for yoga, it’s also worth checking out Hala’s other offerings, which range from river-surfing inflatables to performance-focused touring boards.
See the Hala Asana Board
Lengths: 9’6” (11”)
Fins: Twin (removable)
What we like: Ultralight and compact build makes it easy to tote far distances.
What we don’t: Expensive and lacking in stability.
Oh, the places you’ll go on an SUP. And with a 16-pound board that packs down into a carry-on-sized pack (most inflatable SUPs are over twice the weight and bulk), the adventure list grows even longer. Red Paddle Co’s aptly named Compact is our favorite lightweight design on the market: it offers impressive stiffness (it inflates to a rigid 22 psi), is malleable enough to roll into a tight bundle, and is highly maneuverable in the water. Red Paddle even includes their powerful Titan pump with purchase and a streamlined five-piece carbon paddle. In short, you’d be hard-pressed to find another board that matches the Compact’s combination of performance and quality at this weight.
The most glaring barrier is cost: at $1,899, the Compact isn't cheap. And then there are the inherent drawbacks that come with such a minimalist build, including less stability and tracking capability (especially with the twin-fin set-up). Finally, keep in mind that the board is thin with a depth of 4.7 inches and its weight capacity maxes out at 209 pounds, which limits the amount of cargo you can carry (we've noticed that it rides very low under our 130-lb. frame). In short, Red's Compact is wildly impressive, but you better have a pretty good reason for needing such a minimalist design (perhaps you travel often via airplane or tote your board a long distance over land). And if you’re shopping around for a lightweight board, Nixy’s 17-pound Huntington G3 ($795) is another good option. You do give up a bit of quality and performance, but the savings are enticing.
See the Red Paddle Co Compact
Lengths: 12' (10’8”, 15’)
Fins: Tri (center fin removable)
What we like: Direct-to-consumer model keeps prices low.
What we don’t: Heavier than the NRS Thrive and the side fins aren’t removable.
U.K.-based Bluefin has a loyal following in Europe, and now their boards are making waves in the States thanks to their affordable price tags, quality builds, and thoughtful feature sets. Slotting in as their premium all-rounder, the Cruise Carbon impressed us with its solid feel (it inflates up to 28 psi) and gives the NRS Thrive above a real run for its money in terms of performance. Not to mention, you get features like a kayak conversion kit, a GoPro mount, a two-piece carbon fiber paddle, and a smart-lock center fin that forgoes easy-to-lose metal parts. Added up, this is one serious value.
Why do we have the NRS Thrive ranked higher? For starters, the Cruise Carbon is a bit heavier in comparable lengths, and it’ll take a good deal of effort and time to inflate it to 28 psi, even with the included dual-chamber hand pump (we recommend purchasing an electric pump separately). Further, the Cruise doesn’t come with removable side fins, which is puzzling given the board’s touring-inspired shape. And although the board comes in three lengths, the NRS Thrive is sold in four. But at $999, the Cruise Carbon is priced well for what you get, especially if you anticipate using the kayak conversion kit (keep in mind that most kayak seats will run you an additional $60-$100). And for a cheaper model from Bluefin, the standard Cruise is only $699 for the standard version, but without carbon in the build, isn't quite as stiff or fast.
See the Bluefin Cruise Carbon
Fins: Single (removable)
What we like: Beautiful styling and graphics; speed-focused design.
What we don’t: Beginner paddlers will likely want more stability.
Boardworks has a full lineup of paddle boards, and their SHUBU collection (short for “show up and blow up”) features a range of attractive and well-made inflatable models. Landing right in the middle is the SHUBU Raven, a board designed for intermediate paddlers that achieves a nice balance between stability and speed. Those who like to log miles or travel quickly will appreciate the Raven’s streamlined and tapered shape, and the planing hull adds a bit more confidence in rough waters than the V-shaped, displacement-style nose found on many touring rigs.
Compared to wider boards like the 34-inch Hala Asana above, the SHUBU Raven (30 in.) requires quite a bit more skill to achieve the same stability. That said, the shape is great for speed, and the Raven tracks in a straight line much better than the recreational models here. And with a rockered hull, bungees for securing gear, multiple carry handles, and 285-liter volume (able to carry up to 260 lbs.), the Raven is also a serviceable expedition set-up. The only piece you’ll need to purchase separately is a leash, but otherwise the Raven comes water-ready with a hand pump, premium three-piece carbon paddle, and roller bag/backpack for easy transport before and after your adventure.
See the Boardworks SHUBU Raven
Fins: Tri (center fin removable)
What we like: A great one-quiver board at an affordable price.
What we don’t: Included paddle is fairly basic.
California-based Atoll can’t match the extensive lineup of many of the brands above, but their flagship 11’ board achieves a nice combination of size, shape, and price. The Atoll is slightly oversized—11 feet is long for a recreational board—and has a tapered nose reminiscent of a touring design, but it’s proven to be a great quiver-of-one option for paddlers of almost all sizes and ability levels. In terms of performance and features, you get stability as well as tracking and capability in rough waters, 15 D-rings and a large bungee net for shuttling cargo, a dual-action hand pump, and a backpack with padded shoulder and waist straps—all for a very reasonable $750.
Our biggest gripe with the Atoll 11’ has to do with its paddle, which lacks the premium feel of many set-ups above with its heavy aluminum build and subpar joints. You can opt for the brand’s more premium carbon fiberglass option at checkout, but that will run you an additional $130. Further, the single-chamber pump is inefficient and realistically only inflates the board to about 12 psi. But to be fair, these are relatively small complaints, and the Atoll 11’ nevertheless is a streamlined and affordable set-up. For comparison, stacked up against the 11-foot RPC Sport above, the Atoll will feel more sluggish with 6 inches of thickness and three fins (the Sport is 5 in. with a single fin), but it’s overall a more stable ride for beginners (and tracks better than the NRS Thrive too).
See the Atoll 11' Board
Fins: Tri (center fin removable)
What we like: A well-rounded budget board from a reputable brand.
What we don’t: Heavy aluminum paddle and only one fin is removable.
New paddlers often aren’t concerned about top-notch features or high-speed tracking, and we don’t think it’s worth paying an arm and a leg unless you plan to really maximize your board’s performance. For casual recreationalists and those just starting out, we instead prefer an option like Gili’s 10’6 Air: a high-quality budget option that’s similar in many ways to the iRocker Nautical above. Both brands specialize in SUPs, offer great customer service, and have reliable warranties that give a bit of added confidence compared to purchasing from retailers like Amazon or Costco.
In comparing the Air and Nautical, the Gili has roughly the same dimensions and weight, offers a similar paddling experience, and only differs in cost by a few dollars. Gili states that the Air can handle 280 pounds (vs. the Nautical’s 240-lb. limit), but we give the slight edge to the iRocker for its more premium fiberglass paddle (the Air comes with a heavy aluminum model) and three detachable fins (only the center fin on the Air is removable). To be sure, the Air is still a great deal and matches well for most beginners, and it doesn’t hurt that Gili provides a two-year warranty (the Nautical is one year) and donates a portion of proceeds from each sale to ocean and reef conservation efforts.
See the Gili 10'6" Air Board
Fins: Tri (fixed)
What we like: Can handle both flat and rough water.
What we don’t: Pricier than the Atoll above and fins are not removable.
Badfish got its start designing SUPs for river surfing, but today this small Salida, Colorado-based company has a complete lineup of rigid and inflatable models for everything from cruising and fishing to paddling both flat and whitewater. Their 11-foot Monarch slots in as a versatile all-rounder that falls between our recreational and touring categories. The generous 34-inch width offers stability on par with a board like the Hala Asana above, but the longer-than-average design and tapered nose provide speed and performance on rough waters. And it doesn’t hurt that Badfish is known for their friendly and prompt customer service, which includes a generous three-year warranty on all inflatable boards.
The Monarch is similar to the Atoll 11’ above in shape and intentions, but a number of differences set the two apart. For starters, the Badfish is 5 inches thick compared to the Atoll’s 6 inches, which brings you closer to the water for better balance (just make sure you take the time to inflate to maximum psi). Further, both boards have a tri-fin set-up, but the Monarch’s are not removable—as a result, it doesn’t pack down quite as small, but you don’t have to worry about losing your fins or needing to attach them each time you hit the water. And finally, the Badfish will run you around $150 more, but for the price, you get a higher-quality paddle, and we love the added features like the integrated water bottle holder at the center of the deck.
See the Badfish Monarch Board
Fins: Tri (removable)
What we like: A high-quality touring rig at an affordable price.
What we don’t: Only offered in one length.
Paddlers that hit the water for long distances or multi-day trips need an expedition-ready feature set and proven performance, and the Thurso Surf Expedition fits that bill nicely. The Expedition is impressively hardwearing with triple- and quadruple-layer PVC reinforcing the deck and sides (most boards have two layers throughout), which gives it rigidity on par with a hardboard. The Expedition also comes with functional and thoughtful features like a paddle holder, kayak seat attachment points, and an included carbon paddle. And the real draw for us is price: at just $749, the Expedition is one of the most affordable touring designs on our list and will get you out onto the water for less than much of the competition.
It’s important to keep in mind that with a dedicated touring board like the Expedition, you do lose some versatility for recreational cruising and activities like yoga. And unlike many all-rounders here, the Expedition also has a half-size traction pad, which makes it harder to paddle with your dog or kids on board. That said, compared to an option like the SHUBU Raven above, the Thurso’s shorter length makes it slightly more maneuverable, and the option for a 2+1 fin set-up gives you more stability when you need it. For a less performance-focused model, check out the Thurso Surf Waterwalker, which is offered in three different lengths from 10 to 11 feet.
See the Thurso Surf Expedition
Fins: Tri (removable)
What we like: A capable all-rounder with great fin customization.
What we don’t: Only available through one online retailer.
For recreationalists who want the ability to do it all—including fitness paddling, yoga, and casual flatwater cruising—an option like the Earth River SUP (ERS) 10-7 Skylake Blue is another quality choice. At 10’7”, this board hits a nice middle ground for most paddlers (ERS recommends it for riders between 100 and 235 lbs.) and is a great match for those who want to explore the various kinds of SUPing. And our favorite aspect by far is the customizable fin set-up: the board can accommodate single, twin, or tri-fin configurations and comes with two center fins—the 8-inch is great for tracking while the 4.5-inch allows for tighter turns or navigating shallow water.
Unfortunately, availability might be the biggest deterrent to purchasing an ERS board: the Skylake Blue is only available through third-party Pumped Up SUP, which is sold out of most models at the time of publishing. The site also carries ERS’s Skylake Green, which costs $50 less than the Blue but comes with fixed rather than removable fins. And the $1,299 V3 10-0 is a nice alternative for those who want more maneuverability and whitewater capability. One final note on the Skylake Blue: the board comes with a dual-action pump, but for easier inflation and deflation, ERS offers a number of electric pump solutions, including portable power banks and a model that plugs directly into your vehicle.
See the Earth River Skylake Blue
Lengths: 10’6” (10’10”, 11’, 11’4”)
What we like: Highly rigid construction; sold in both men’s and women’s models.
What we don’t: Paddle sold separately.
Naish has been in the board-making business since 1979, and they have the construction process down to a science—literally. Each of their inflatable SUPs comes with a standardized stiffness rating, measured by staging the board on top of two spaced sawhorses and placing a 60-kilogram weight in the center. While this serves as a helpful tool to make comparisons between their boards, it’s also reflective of Naish’s commitment to highly engineered, rigid SUPs. All in all, these inflatables are confidence-inspiring, durable, and so stiff they can almost pass for hardboards.
The men’s Nalu and women’s Alana are Naish’s bread and butter. It’s worth noting that we don’t often see companies making men’s- and women’s-specific SUPs, but we like the idea. The key difference here is thickness: the men’s Nalu sets you off the water 6 inches, while the women’s Alana is only 5 inches thick. For most women, this will provide a more balanced and efficient paddling experience without compromising buoyancy. Both the Nalu and Alana come with three carry handles and a shoulder strap, and the fin box is compatible with a variety of fins (one included). However, while all Naish boards come with a backpack/roller bag, fin, repair kit, and pump, you’ll unfortunately have to purchase a paddle separately.
See the Naish Nalu Air See the Women's Naish Alana Air
Fins: Tri (center fin removable)
What we like: Roomy enough for tandem paddling.
What we don’t: Not easy to maneuver.
There’s no denying the allure of paddling down a meandering river or scenic alpine lake in the heat of summer, and sharing the experience with a partner, child, or furry friend can make it even better. The Isle Scout is especially well-equipped for the job, with a full-length traction pad, wide platform, and 300-pound weight capacity. Isle also includes nose and tail handles in addition to the Scout’s center handle for easy transport, and the functional Velcro straps along the rail are one of our favorite solutions for stowing your paddle when not in use.
The Scout is an attractive option for those who usually travel with a sidekick, but solo paddlers will likely find it unwieldy and difficult to maneuver. Further, the side fins are quite small (and not removable), making the Isle less stable than a board like the top-rated NRS Thrive, which features a thruster configuration with three equally sized fins (you can swap in a larger touring fin when needed). But for those who want to get out on the water with a pal, the Scout is a functional and fun tandem option. For larger groups, Isle also makes a 12-foot-long, 45-inch-wide, 8-inch thick model called the Megalodon ($995).
See the Isle Scout 11'
What we like: Attractive styling; displacement hull is great for traveling far and fast.
What we don’t: Expensive and not very beginner-friendly.
If style points and speed are your objectives, look no further than Pau Hana's Endurance Air. Attention to detail is incredibly high with two attractive and sleek designs to choose from, a hidden pump insertion point, and a whopping 23 D-ring anchor points that offer countless configurations for items like a cargo net, water bottle holder, paddle holder, and bungees (all sold separately). And the Pau Hana is the only board with a true displacement hull on our list, making it a great option for those who want to travel fast. All told, this is a top-notch and beautifully constructed paddle board for those who need a bit more performance out of their SUP.
At $1,249, the Endurance Air is a pricey option and unfortunately comes with a fair share of compromises. The displacement hull is great for speed but lacks the stability that you get from a more rounded planing hull. In other words, the Endurance Air is purpose-built for touring and not a versatile option for recreational cruises or board-based sports like yoga and fishing. This bumps it down our list a bit, but the Pau Hana nevertheless is an attractive and high-performing board for the right (read: experienced) paddler.
See the Pau Hana Endurance Air
Fins: Tri (center fin removable)
What we like: Nice mix of quality and price.
What we don’t: Bare-bones feature set and heavy aluminum paddle.
You won’t find us writing home about many “budget” boards, but the ROC earns a spot on our list for its impressive combination of quality and affordability. This SUP is reasonably light at 17.5 pounds, stable for a wide range of paddlers (it has a weight capacity of 300 lbs.), and is offered in four different colorways, including black, green, blue, and pink. And like most other designs here, the Explorer comes ready to hit the water with an aluminum paddle, hand pump, leash, backpack, and even a small waterproof bag to keep your valuables dry. Sure, you can find an SUP on Amazon for less, but the ROC is a noticeable step up in quality, plus you get the added assurance of a dedicated customer service team and one-year warranty.
The ROC's price was recently raised from $500 to $600, but it still fits squarely into the budget category with boards like the iRocker Nautical and Gili Air above. In the end, it can’t hold a candle to the rigidity or overall quality of the more premium and pricier models here. But while this might be a deal-breaker for those who get out often (particularly paddlers that want to travel far and fast), many casual recreationalists will find the drop in performance worth the savings. But compared to the iRocker and the Gili, the Explorer is fairly basic and lacks features like a paddle stow and removable side fins, which is why we have it ranked here (iRocker’s Nautical costs $100 less but comes with a higher-quality paddle and more on-deck storage). But we see the ROC out a lot on the water, and it nevertheless is a quality option for those who don’t demand a lot of their SUP.
See the ROC SUP Co. 10' Explorer
|NRS Thrive 10'3"||$1,095||Recreational/touring||10’3||5 in.||25 lbs.||Tri||No|
|iRocker Nautical||$519||Recreational||10'6"||6 in.||20 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Red Paddle Co 11'3" Sport||$1,499||Touring||11’3”||5 in.||22 lbs.||Single||No|
|iRocker Blackfin Model X||$949||Sport||10'6"||6 in.||27 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Hala Asana||$1,199||Sport||10'||6 in.||24 lbs.||2||Yes|
|Red Paddle Co Compact||$1,899||Sport||9’6”||4.7 in.||16.3 lbs.||Twin||Yes|
|Bluefin Cruise Carbon||$999||Recreational/touring||12'||6.3 in.||33 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Boardworks SHUBU Raven||$1,049||Touring||12'6"||6 in.||Unavail.||Single||Yes|
|Atoll 11'||$750||Recreational/touring||11'||6 in.||19 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Gili 10'6 Air||$495||Recreational||10'6"||6 in.||19 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Badfish Monarch||$899||Recreational/touring||11'||5 in.||27 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Thurso Surf Expedition||$749||Touring||11'6"||6 in.||28 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Earth River Skylake Blue||$1,079||Recreational/sport||10'7"||5 in.||21 lbs.||Tri||No|
|Naish Nalu / Alana||$879||Recreational/sport||10’6”||6/5 in.||19 lbs.||Single||No|
|Isle Scout||$795||Recreational||11'||6 in.||21 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Pau Hana Endurance Air||$1,249||Touring||12'||6 in.||24 lbs.||Single||Yes|
|ROC SUP Co. 10' Explorer||$600||Recreational||10'||6 in.||17.5 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
- Inflatable SUP Categories
- Inflatable SUP Length
- SUP Width, Thickness, and Volume
- Hull Shape: Planing vs. Displacement
- Weight and Packability
- Construction and Durability
- SUP Fins
- PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch)
- Pumps and Inflation
- SUP Accessories
- Additional Features
- PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices)
- Budget Inflatable SUPs
- Solid vs. Inflatable SUPs
Inflatable SUPs run the gamut from entry-level cruisers ideal for flatwater floating to sleek 14-foot models built to slice efficiently through the water. To narrow down which style is best for you, you’ll want to identify what kind of water you’ll be paddling—flatwater, whitewater, ocean waves, etc.—and what type(s) of activities you’ll be doing while on your board—fishing, yoga, cruising, or multi-day tours, for example. To help, we’ve broken down our picks into three main categories: recreational, sport, and touring.
By far, the most popular style of inflatable SUP is the recreational board, built for casual use, flatwater cruising, and mellow whitewater use. Recreational boards have a rounded, planing-style hull (for more, see our section on “Hull Shape” below), are between around 9.5 and 11 feet long, have widths of 32 inches or more, and generally come with three fins for added stability. If you’re going to own just one SUP, boards in this category are far and away the most versatile. And there’s no shortage of options available, from premium models like the NRS Thrive and Red Paddle Co Ride to budget boards like the iRocker Nautical and Gili Air.
SUPs in this category are those designed for sports like yoga and fishing. Sure, you can get away with using a recreational board for all of these activities, but committed yogis, surfers, and anglers will value the sport-specific deck styles, attachment points, and extra features of a dedicated model. For instance, if you plan to do yoga on your board, you’ll want to look for a generous deck pad with a relatively flat surface (deep grooves will be uncomfortable against your skin), a center handle that lies flat (some come with handles along the edges instead), and a bungee system at one end to keep belongings safe. Anglers will want a board like the Blackfin Model X that features fishing rack attachment points, multiple bungee systems and an assortment of D-rings, and perhaps the option for a kayak seat. Whatever your sport, these boards typically place a premium on stability over speed and tracking, with wide builds and planing hulls.
Whether you use your iSUP for daily fitness or multi-day camping trips, if you’re logging miles on the water, you’ll likely want a touring-focused design. Touring SUPs are longer than recreational and sport SUPs (usually in the 11-14-ft. range), narrower (less than 32 in. wide), and typically come with a single fin for excellent speed and tracking. Most touring designs have a tapered nose that still maintains a bit of a rocker, but the speediest feature displacement hulls like that of the Pau Hana Endurance Air. Regardless of the hull (planing or displacement), touring boards prioritize efficient movement at the cost of stability, making them best suited for experienced paddlers. Additionally, look for multiple bungees and tie-down points, partial-length deck pads, and an emphasis on rigidity. Touring boards are typically the most expensive, but they’re also highly specialized and purpose-built for traveling quickly.
Most recreational SUPs are between 9 and 11 feet long, while touring- and racing-focused SUPs can be as long as 14 feet. A basic rule of thumb is as follows: the shorter the SUP, the less surface area it will have and the more maneuverable it will be. Other dimensions like width and thickness matter too, but generally speaking, shorter boards excel on flat water where you don’t need the extra stability (a super long board can be overkill for casual paddling), while longer models travel straighter and faster and are favored for open water and touring.
In addition to the category of board and intended use, choosing the right length of your inflatable SUP depends on the weight of the person riding it. Many manufacturers provide a recommended weight range: the NRS Thrive, for example, recommends the 9’10” version for paddlers up to 180 pounds, the 10’3” version for paddlers up to 200 pounds, the 10’8” version for paddlers up to 250 pounds, etc. Simply put, a shorter board is lighter and has less surface area, so heavier paddlers will push it further down into the water, making it less stable and more difficult to ride. Once you’ve settled on your desired style of board and even the specific model, you can choose a final length based on the paddler. And keep in mind that not all boards are offered in multiple lengths, but we certainly appreciate the option when they are.
When purchasing an SUP, size and volume are important factors to keep in mind. Not only will you want to match your body size and shape with an appropriately sized board, but you’ll also want to consider your needs and preferences in terms of stability, speed, and more. The four key specifications to keep in mind are length, width, thickness, and volume, which we outline below.
Most recreational and sport boards are between 32 and 35 inches wide, while touring boards are as narrow as 25 inches. Again, generally speaking, a narrower board will be faster while a wider board will be more stable. If you’re just starting out, we recommend sticking with a board with a width around 32 inches, such as the iRocker Nautical, which will provide ample maneuverability without making you feel unbalanced.
Most inflatable SUPs are between 4.5 and 6 inches thick. It’s important to find the sweet spot here: you’ll know a board isn’t right for you if you feel like you’re sinking (too thin) or like your center of gravity is too high off the water (too thick). In general, smaller paddlers will want to opt for a thinner board (5 in. is ideal for most), while those over around 225 pounds will want to bump up to a thicker (6 in.) board. And finally, it’s important to keep in mind that many budget boards will create stability by increasing thickness rather than using higher-quality materials. It’s a shortcut, and certainly has its downsides—if a board is too thick, it can feel unwieldy and boat-like on the water.
An iSUP’s volume is a measurement of its buoyancy and ranges from about 160 to 380 liters for inflatable models (keep in mind that this number varies for hardboards). A board with too little volume (especially one with a displacement hull) will drag and move inefficiently through the water, while one with too much will feel noticeably unstable, imbalanced, and difficult to control. As a general rule, most paddlers can multiply their weight plus the weight of their gear in pounds by 1.4 in order to determine their maximum volume. For example, a 180-pound paddler with 10 pounds of gear should look for board with a volume of 266 liters or less (190 x 1.4 = 266). And thankfully, most manufacturers specify a board’s weight capacity alongside its volume, which minimizes the guesswork.
Stand up paddle boards have one of two main hull shapes: planing or displacement. The lion's share of SUPs fall into the planing category, which means their nose is wider, flatter, and has a round, rockered tip to float on top of the water. This shape is great for stability and maneuverability and does a nice job keeping the SUP afloat on choppy water. SUPs with planing hulls are typically designed for recreational cruising as well as sports like yoga, fishing, and surfing.
Displacement hulls, on the other hand, are pointed (similar to a kayak) and built to cut through the water with their aerodynamic shape. These are designed to go in a straight line and are a great match for those concerned with speed, with the major downside being less stability. For activities like touring, racing, or even logging fitness miles on your local waterway, an SUP with a displacement hull (like the Pau Hana Endurance Air) is without a doubt the best match. Finally, some of the most versatile boards (the Atoll 11' and the Red Paddle Co 11'3" Sport, for example) merge the two hull styles for a combination of both speed and stability.
Inflatable SUPs range in weight from around 16 pounds (the Red Paddle Co Compact tips the scales at 16 lbs. 4.8 oz.) to 30+ for a high-volume model. In terms of packability, the most compact boards fit into a carry-on-sized pack, while others are so large that they need a roller bag to transport. Weight and packed size won’t be top considerations for everyone, but they are critical for travelers, paddlers who plan to tote their SUP long distances before putting in, or those limited on storage space in their vehicle. And as we touch on below, single-layer iSUPs generally weigh less than their double-layer counterparts but are far less durable, so going lighter doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting a better board.
Despite their inflatable nature, iSUPs are not your standard blow-up pool toy. In order to achieve rigidity on par with hardboards, inflatable models use an innovative technology called “drop-stitch” construction. Here, two sheets of fabric (the top and bottom) are connected by thousands of threads, which give the board its structure. The edges of these sheets of fabric are then joined by a narrow strip of material on each side (“rails”) and coated with liquid PVC. Higher-quality boards are most often made with two layers of PVC (dubbed “double-layer”), which increases durability and stiffness. At the premium end of the market, some manufacturers add a third or fourth layer or a hybrid layer (such as Red Paddle Co’s MSL Fusion) to their construction, and some SUPs even feature stiffening strips to add onto the rails for increased rigidity.
This might come as a surprise to many, but inflatable paddle boards are actually incredibly durable pieces of gear. In fact, there’s a big argument that they're more robust than hardboards, as they’re able to give upon impact and can be transported and stored away from the elements. Even budget-friendly, single-layer boards are reasonably hardwearing and long-lasting, and it’s rare to see iSUPs form a leak from standard wear and tear. That said, it’s always important to keep a repair kit on hand (as we outline below), since one small leak can have major implications.
Every SUP on our list comes with at least one fin, and many will have two or three. A single fin is great for flatwater paddling, moving in a straight path (also known as tracking), and keeping speed up (fewer fins means less drag). For this reason, most touring and racing models will have just a single fin. Boards with three fins can be divided into a couple different categories—“thruster” set-ups have three equally sized fins, while 2+1 configurations have a large center fin and two small fins on each side—but for the purposes of this article, we’ve lumped them together into the tri-fin category. Tri-fin set-ups offer great stability and maneuverability but aren’t great at tracking and are often found on recreational and sport boards. Finally, a twin-fin layout has a fin on each side but none in the middle, resulting in a highly maneuverable board and often great clearance in shallow water (side fins are usually smaller than a center fin).
If you’re just starting out, it’s likely that you’ll opt for a board with a tri-fin set-up, whether it’s a thruster or a 2+1. Some boards come with fixed side fins, while others have the option to remove fins or swap them out with those of different sizes, which is great for customizing your ride (for example, you can remove the side fins to increase your speed). Our favorite configuration is a removable tri-fin design—with this set-up, you can run your board with a single fin, twin fins, or all three depending on your paddling needs and the water conditions. For the maximum amount of customization, it’s worth looking for a board with standard U.S. Fin Boxes so you can easily swap out a wide range of fins.
It’s easy to get lost in the technical jargon regarding an iSUP's construction, but the good news is that every board comes with a simple clue that points to its overall level of quality: psi. Psi, or pounds per square inch, is a measure of air pressure: the higher the psi, the stiffer the board will be when fully inflated (with inflatable SUPs, stiffer is better). Premium boards are often made with multiple layers and well-constructed seams and will be able to inflate to a higher psi, while budget boards typically have a lower air capacity. For reference, the maximum psi of a single-layer SUP will be around 12 to 15, while double-layer designs can have a psi of over 20. Bluefin’s Cruise Carbon can hold up to 28 psi, which translates to impressive overall stiffness and stability on the water.
The vast majority of inflatable SUPs come with a manual pump, which have one or two cylinders and are generally dual action, meaning you’re sending air into the board on both the down and up strokes. Most pumps have a built-in pressure gauge, and some even have two modes—high-volume and high-pressure—to help you inflate your board to the manufacturer-recommended psi. We vastly prefer dual-chamber pumps to the single-chamber variety, and in our experience, twice the cylinders is truly twice the performance. For example, we struggle to to inflate our Hala Asana to 10 psi with the included single-chamber pump, but with Red Paddle Co's Titan pump, we can get our Sport 11'3" to 18 psi without too much time or effort. Finally, those taking their board on longer expeditions will likely want a travel-sized design (like the NRS K-Pump 20 HP) for maintenance and in case of leaks.
Some paddlers might find it worthwhile to invest in an electric pump, especially those who get out often or want to inflate their board to the maximum psi. Look at it this way: if you’re going to spend over $1,000 on an SUP that’s valued for its rigidity, you might as well go the extra mile to make sure you’re getting the most out of your investment. Electric pumps are purchased separately and run the gamut from budget $28 models (the Advanced Elements 12 Volt Electric Pump, for example) to premium options like the $295 Isle BP20-1 electric pump w/ chargeable battery.
In terms of functionality, most electric pumps plug into power during inflation (a standard wall plug-in, your car battery, or your vehicle’s cigarette lighter), although some have a built-in battery so that they can be charged at home and used without a power source in the field. Most electric pumps take a little less than 10 minutes for a standard-sized SUP, and their hands-free nature means you can walk away and come back to a fully inflated board. And while electric pumps are certainly the more efficient option, you’ll want to read the specs before buying—some can inflate boards up to 20 psi, while others max out at 15 psi.
When shopping for an inflatable SUP, it’s a good idea to take a close look at what’s included in your purchase. Most iSUPs come with a backpack or roller bag for storage and transport along with a hand pump and fins, and many will also include a paddle, pump, leash, repair kit, and more. It’s important to keep in mind that all of these are essential pieces of gear, and if they don’t come with your board, you’ll almost certainly want to purchase them separately.
Nearly all SUPs come with a backpack or roller bag for easy storage and transportation. We’ve found that the quality of these products varies significantly, and if you think you’ll be putting yours to good use by carrying your board for long distances or over rougher terrain, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s up to the task. In general, most included backpacks lack the adjustability and load-bearing suspension we’re used to seeing in backpacking packs and are typically only serviceable for short schleps from the car to the water. If you anticipate hiking before putting in, it’s worth considering an ultralight SUP like the Red Paddle Co Compact, which comes in a streamlined, well-designed pack that’s adjustable and supportive.
Most—but not all—SUPs on the list above come with a paddle, and these are typically two or three-piece designs and adjustable. Depending on the price of the board, paddles range from heavier plastic or aluminum to lightweight fiberglass or carbon. Most recreationalists choose to keep the paddle that comes with their board, but performance-focused SUPers headed out on longer or more intensive missions often upgrade to a lighter or more powerful model. Lightweight paddles are usually made with carbon shafts or blades (or both) to shave weight without compromising strength.
In selecting the ideal blade, you’ll want to consider the size, shape, and offset (the angle of the blade with respect to the shaft). In general, larger paddlers will want a larger blade (more power in the water), while smaller paddlers will be more efficient with a smaller blade. And as for fit: a good rule of thumb for recreational paddlers is to add 8-12 inches onto your height, or measure from the ground to the crook of your wrist when your arm is raised in the air.
The primary function of a leash is to keep your board attached to you in the event of a fall. These are less important in flatwater, but can be a matter of safety in the ocean or in fast-moving sections of river. Some SUPs will come with a leash, while others will require you to purchase separately. When shopping for an SUP leash, we recommend looking for a model in the 8- to 10-foot range with a coiled cord that will drag less in the water. High-quality leashes will also include a swivel between the cuff and the cord, which keeps the cord from tangling.
Most inflatable SUPs also come with a small repair kit, which often includes items like PVC patches, a brush or cleaning solution (such as an alcohol swab), and sometimes even a valve tool to adjust your inflation/deflation valve(s). Interestingly, glue must be purchased separately due to shipping regulations, but you can find a product like Clifton's Urethane Adhesive at your local hardware store or on Amazon for relatively cheap. Getting a hole in your iSUP isn’t the end of the world, but you’ll want to be well-versed in repair should you spring a leak on the water (NRS has a great how-to video here).
All SUPs are designed with features like a deck pad, carry handle, and leash attachment point, but there are a lot more bells and whistles worth considering. For instance, even casual cruisers will appreciate having extra rigging points, whether it’s a bungee tie-down or D-rings (or both) for stashing gear on deck. These are often located on the front or back of the board and great for securing your water bottle, sandals, or waterproof stuff sack full of valuables. Second, some boards sport mounts specifically designed to be compatible with fishing rod holders, GoPro cameras, coolers, kayak seats, and more, and these add-ons can often be purchased separately through the same manufacturer. For example, our favorite fishing SUP, the Blackfin Model X, has 20 attachment points and a fishing rack attachment that stores items like rods, a bucket, and a cooler.
Many paddlers wear a PFD (or personal floatation device) for safety—in fact, a good number of lakes and reservoirs require them. Because standard PFDs can be uncomfortable and restrictive, many SUPers opt for belt-style or inflatable vest designs that are low-profile. When shopping, you’ll want to look for a belt or vest with a Type III or Type V U.S. Coast Guard rating, like the MTI Fluid 2.0 Belt Pack (Type III) or the NRS Otto Matik Inflatable PFD (Type V).
On our list above, we’ve included a number of entry-level SUPs that are great for those on a budget, including the iRocker Nautical and Gili Air. These set-ups retail for right around $500, which is a great deal when you consider that some high-end boards clock in at well over $2,000. Budget boards almost always feature single-layer constructions, generally have fixed fins, and are usually accompanied by a heavy plastic or aluminum paddle. But while these boards make inherent sacrifices in durability and rigidity, most recreational paddlers really don’t need anything more for casual floats. That said, if you’re looking for top-notch performance for activities like touring, yoga, or surfing, we recommend spending up for one of the more premium (read: pricier) models.
If you’ve already started your research, you’ve probably come across a variety of budget boards available through retailers like Amazon, Costco, and other big box stores. Our best advice is to make sure you understand the potential pitfalls before investing in one of these. While they might seem like a great deal at around $300-$400, our biggest concern is the customer service (or lack thereof) should an issue arise. With the “budget” models above, you get some added assurance including multi-year warranties, replacement and repair services, and helpful customer service reps that can guide you through any problems you have with your board—all for around $100 more. In the end, purchasing from a reputable brand certainly has its perks, and it might very well end up saving you money in the long run.
A major debate you’ll likely have when shopping for a stand up paddle board (SUP) is whether you want a solid or inflatable construction. Solid boards—or hardboards—are usually made with an EPS foam core wrapped in fiberglass and epoxy (like a surfboard). Less common materials include carbon fiber, plastic, and wood. The benefits to solid boards are clear: they have little to no give, are more efficient in the water (less drag), don’t require any set-up, and won’t pop. However, the obvious drawback is that hardboards don’t pack down, meaning you’ll need a roof rack or large truck bed for transport and ample storage space at home. In general, they’re slightly more expensive than inflatable models too, although costs are fairly comparable across the board.
While hardboards certainly have their place, inflatable designs have taken the market by storm for a few main reasons. Most obviously, they pack down into a reasonable size and fit into an accompanying backpack or roller bag, which frees up valuable storage space and makes them much easier to transport. Second, due to their construction, inflatable SUPs provide a bit more stability on both flatwater and whitewater, and their soft feel and flat surface (unlike the tapered top of a solid SUP) make them ideal for recreational cruising and activities like yoga. Finally, iSUPs are generally both more affordable and longer lasting than solid paddle boards.
This article, including photos 1, 3-5, 8, 10, and 13-15 in the buying advice, was done in collaboration with Beth Price of Beth Price Photography. Visit Beth's website to check out her beautiful work documenting outdoor life in Northern Michigan.
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