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a lineup of seven of the best inflatable paddle boards being tested head-to-head at lake tahoe

We put the best inflatable paddle boards from brands like Bluefin, ROC, Isle, and Red Paddle Co. to a head-to-head test to help you find the right one, no matter your experience level or budget. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


The Inertia

Stand up paddle boarding has exploded in popularity over the last decade, and for good reason. It’s a great workout, can be done on any body of water (even with no waves), and is a ton of fun for beginners and experts alike.

Inflatable stand up paddle boards (iSUPs) are much easier to store and transport than rigid paddle boards and have made vast improvements in quality, performance, and affordability in recent years, making them a great choice for most paddlers.

Our expert testers have been paddling SUPs for over 10 years, and we continually research the market for the latest trends and technologies. We personally tested 12 of this year’s best inflatable paddle boards to help bring you our top picks.

See our Comparison Table below for more detailed specs and data, and our How We Tested and Buyer’s Guide sections for more in-depth analysis.

The Best Inflatable Paddle Boards of 2023

Best Overall Inflatable Paddle Board: Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12′
Best Budget Inflatable Paddle Board:
ROC Kahuna 10′ 6″
Best Blend of Performance and Value:
Isle Explorer 2.0
Runner-Up for Performance and Value:
BOTE Breeze Aero 11′ 6″
Best iSUP for Long Distance Cruising:
Red Paddle Co. Voyager 12′
Best Ultralight/Packable Inflatable SUP:
Pau Hana Solo SUP Backcountry 10′ 10″


Best Overall Inflatable Paddle Board
Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12′ ($999)

the bluefin cruise carbon 12 inflatable paddle board and its accessoriesAvailable Sizes: 10′ 8″ | 12′ | 15′
Size Tested: 12′ x 32″ x 6″

Paddling Performance: 9/10
Stability: 9/10
Construction Quality: 9/10
Ease of Use: 6/10
Accessories: 9/10
Overall: 8.4/10

The Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12′ is our top recommendation for paddlers looking for the best all-around performance from an inflatable SUP that is most similar to a traditional solid board. The board’s rigidity and stiffness, as well as its 12′ length and hull shape, combine to create excellent stability and speed in all types of paddling conditions.

The unique board design includes carbon fiber layers along the side rails to increase rail stiffness as the board cuts through the water and includes dual inflation chambers with a separate chamber below the deck pad, which helps reduce board flex or deformation under the weight of the rider or the force of waves or chop.

The board’s construction is also top-notch, with heavy-duty cargo tie-downs in the front and rear, five total padded grab handles, a comfortable deck pad, a GoPro mount, and plenty of D-rings to attach extra gear. The included paddle has a carbon fiber shaft with improved stiffness over the previous version we tested, and the removable center fin and two removable side fins are high quality. The package includes extras like an attachable kayak seat, an extra paddle blade to convert from a SUP to a kayak paddle, and a heavy-duty dual-chamber pump to speed up inflation.

The only main drawback to the Carbon Cruise 12′ is its heft. It’s one of the biggest and heaviest inflatable boards we’ve tested in terms of inflated size, overall volume, and packed size. This makes it more cumbersome to transport, inflate, deflate, and pack away, but it does include a large carry duffel with backpack straps and roller wheels and the previously mentioned dual-chamber pump.

Paddlers looking to save some weight (about 3.5 pounds) and some money (about $300) can also consider the regular Bluefin Cruise 12′ model, with the same dimensions but without the carbon fiber rail inserts, dual inflation chambers, or dual-chamber pump.

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a man pumping up and paddling the bluefin cruise carbon 12 inflatable paddle board at lake tahoe

The carbon fiber rail inserts and the dual inflation chambers combine to make the Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12′ one of the most rigid inflatable SUPs we’ve ever tested. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Best Budget Inflatable Paddle Board
ROC 10′ 6″ Kahuna ($400)

the ROC Kahuna inflatable paddle board and its accessoriesAvailable Sizes: 10′  Explorer | 10′ Scout | 10′ 6″ Kahuna 
Size Tested:
10′ 6″ x 33″ x 6″

Paddling Performance: 6/10
Stability: 6/10
Construction Quality: 7/10
Ease of Use: 8/10
Accessories: 7/10
Overall: 6.8/10

The ROC 10′ 6″ Kahuna is a simple, affordable, well-designed inflatable paddle board with clean aesthetics and solid all-around performance. At 10′ 6″ long and 33″ wide, it provides a fun, stable paddling experience that makes this board a great choice for families or beginner paddlers. With its rounded nose and lightweight design, it’s not the fastest board we paddled and didn’t do the best in choppier water, but the lightweight design makes it more convenient for storing, hauling, inflating, and deflating.

While the ROC Kahuna isn’t the absolute lowest-priced board that we tested, it does have some notable extras compared to the ultra-affordable Funwater Discovery 11′ ($270 list). The ROC includes front and rear grab handles as opposed to only a rear grab handle on the Funwater and front and rear cargo rigging as opposed to rigging only in the front. It also includes bonus accessories like an attachable kayak seat, a convertible SUP/kayak paddle, a waterproof dry bag, and a much nicer carry bag with comfortably padded backpack straps. You can also save a few bucks and opt to buy a package without the added kayak seat.

Paddlers on a budget who still want a little nicer quality and improved performance over the most bare-bones price-tag-oriented option will not be disappointed by the ROC 10′ 6″ Kahuna.

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a man launching the roc kahuna inflatable paddle board into lake tahoe with mountains in the background

The ROC 10′ 6″ Kahuna is a simple and affordable inflatable SUP that includes the option to paddle it as a kayak, with a convertible paddle and an attachable kayak seat. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Best Blend of Performance and Value
Isle Explorer 2.0 ($895)

the isle explorer inflatable paddle board and its accessoriesAvailable Sizes: 11′ 6″
Size Tested: 11′ 6″ x 32″ x 6″

Paddling Performance: 8/10
Stability: 7/10
Construction Quality: 9/10
Ease of Use: 7/10
Accessories: 9/10
Overall: 8.0/10

The Isle Explorer 2.0 hits the sweet spot between construction quality, paddling performance, and price and is ideal for paddlers looking for a step up in materials, construction, and performance over budget-oriented models but without spending the premium for a truly high-end board.

On the water, the Explorer 2.0 provides a nice balance of stability and speed with its 11′ 6″ x 32″ x 6″ dimensions, detachable center fin and two fixed side fins, and a nice carbon hybrid paddle. Off the water, the included carry bag has some of the most comfortable backpack straps of any board we tested, making storage and transportation a little less daunting.

The Explorer 2.0 has a similar design and construction to the original Explorer board; most of the changes to the 2.0 are cosmetic. It’s hard to find any faults with this board. While it doesn’t have some of the flashy extras that other boards provide (like kayak seats or GoPro mounts), it is one of the most solid and dependable boards that we’ve tested and the one we’d recommend for most people looking for a blend of performance and value. While its list price might sound like a lot, it is often on sale for less or includes extras like a free electric pump.

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a man testing the isle explorer 2.0 inflatable paddle board on lake tahoe with the beach and trees in the background

The Isle Explorer 2.0 provides a nice step up in materials quality and performance compared to budget options. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Runner-Up for Performance and Value
BOTE Breeze Aero 11′ 6″ ($799)

the bote breeze aero inflatable paddle board and its accessories Available Sizes: 10′ 8″ | 11′ 6″
Size Tested: 11′ 6″ x 33″ x 6″

Paddling Performance: 7/10
Stability: 8/10
Construction Quality: 8/10
Ease of Use: 7/10
Accessories: 9/10
Overall: 7.8/10

The Bote Breeze Aero is another mid-tier inflatable SUP that provides a great blend of performance and value. Our team slightly prefers the glide performance of the Isle Explorer 2.0 thanks to its slightly narrower waist and pointier nose, but the Breeze Aero is a bit more stable than the Isle thanks to its additional inch of width and slightly rounder nose shape.

Like most inflatable SUPs, the Breeze Aero includes everything you need to get on the water, including a three-piece adjustable paddle, travel bag, removable center fin, hand pump, and repair kit. Unique to the Bote brand is the option to purchase additional accessories that are built specifically to fit the board, such as coolers, carry straps, inflatable seats, magnetic speakers, and drink cups.

The Breeze Aero paddles well in choppy conditions and is a great choice for paddlers looking to outfit their kit with all kinds of extra accessories.

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two testers paddling the bote breeze aero and isle explorer inflatable paddles boards in san francisco with golden gate bridge in the background

The Bote Breeze Aero (left) and Isle Explorer 2.0 (right) both provide an excellent blend of performance and value. The Breeze Aero is a bit wider and, therefore, a bit more stable, while the Explorer 2.0 is a bit narrower and thus a bit faster through the water. Photo: Jack Bober


Best iSUP for Long Distance Cruising
Red Paddle Co. Voyager 12′ ($1,649)

the red paddle co voyager 12 inflatable paddle board and its accessoriesAvailable Sizes: 12′ | 12′ 6″ | 13′ 2″
Size Tested: 12′ x 28″ x 4.7″

Paddling Performance: 9/10
Stability: 6/10
Construction Quality: 9/10
Ease of Use: 6/10
Accessories: 9/10
Overall: 7.8/10

Designed for fast-paced, long-distance adventures, the Red Paddle Co. Voyager is one of the fastest inflatable SUPs that we’ve tested. Measuring 12′ long and only 28″ wide, it features a V-hull system which allows it to be faster and more efficient than traditional all-around models. With its narrower width, it’s better suited for smaller or more experienced paddlers who will be comfortable with a little less stability than wider boards.

The board also includes Red Paddle Co.’s patented RSS batten system, where batten inserts along the side rails help increase the rigidity of the board and help it slice through the water with ease. There are also three adjustable bungee straps, six rear attachment points, a full-width deck pad, and ergonomic tubular grab handles. The Voyager comes with the Titan II Pump, a burly double-barrel design that helps reduce inflation time, and a 3-in-1 transport pack that works as rolling luggage, backpack, and “bagless” skeleton harness.

The main downside to the Voyager is its narrow width and its steep price tag. This board is best suited for experienced paddlers comfortable on a narrower board who prioritize speed and performance above everything else.

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two women testing inflatable paddle boards on a river in hawaii with a small dog on one of the boards

The Red Paddle Co. Voyager is the fastest inflatable SUP we’ve tested and is ideal for quick flatwater cruises. Photo: Jenna Miller


Best Ultralight/Packable Inflatable SUP
Pau Hana Solo SUP Backcountry 10′ 10″ ($899)

the pau hana solo sup backcountry inflatable paddle board and its accessoriesAvailable Sizes: 10′ 10″
Size Tested: 10′ 10″ x 30″ x 6″

Paddling Performance: 6/10
Stability: 5/10
Construction Quality: 6/10
Ease of Use: 9/10
Accessories: 8/10
Overall: 6.8/10

Offering state-of-the-art packability, Pau Hana Solo SUP Backcountry is designed for hiking to backcountry lakes, bikepacking, road trips, and travel. Measuring 10′ 10″ long by 30″ wide, this board weighs just 14.8 pounds (23 pounds for the entire package). Features include a neoprene grab handle, a textured PVC traction pad, reinforced D-rings, a quick-snap fin box, and a soft blade paddle, and it all packs into a dry-bag-style backpack with adjustable shoulder straps.

The board definitely isn’t as stable as other all-around options, but for its weight and packability, it’s pretty darn impressive. Paddlers looking to hike to remote lakes or streams will appreciate the lightweight packability of this model and will be willing to make the performance tradeoffs.

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a woman hiking to a waterfall lagoon and paddling on the pau hana solo sup backcountry inflatable paddle board

The Pau Hana Solo SUP Backcountry is a lightweight, packable SUP that is perfect for long-distance hikes to remote bodies of water, like this secret waterfall lagoon in Hawaii. Photo: Jenna Miller


Best of the Rest

Blackfin CX Ultra ($1,100)

the blackfin cx ultra inflatable paddle board and its accessoriesAvailable Sizes: 10′ 6″ Model X | 10′ 6″ CX Ultra | 11′ 6″ Model XL | 12′ 6″ Model V
Size Tested:
10′ 6″ x 32.5″ x 6″

Paddling Performance: 7/10
Stability: 8/10
Construction Quality: 8/10
Ease of Use: 7/10
Accessories: 9/10
Overall: 7.8/10

The Blackfin CX Ultra is a solid all-around board. At 10′ 6″ long, it’s of average length compared to other boards, but its pointed nose and carbon rail inlays make it one of the faster boards of its size. Blackfin is the high-end brand in the iRocker family of paddle boards.

Also unique to the CX Ultra are the dual removable fins and the dual deck pads that are split down the center. This allows the board to be folded in half lengthwise before rolling it up, giving it a much more compact storage footprint and fitting in one of the smallest carry bags that we tested. This makes the Blackfin more easily transportable for longer adventures and hikes to more remote bodies of water. It also comes with a 5-piece carbon fiber paddle which is also great for compact travel and storage, but we found impacts the rigidity and power transfer of the paddle compared to 2- or 3-piece designs.

This package comes with an electric pump, which takes the effort out of inflation and saves your energy for on the water. While a little on the expensive end of our lineup, the CX Ultra provides a great paddling experience and several convenient features that make it a great choice for those looking for a lightweight and compact package.

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looking at the nose of the blackfin cx ultra inflatable paddle board back towards shore on lake tahoe

The Blackfin CX Ultra has a sleek design that fits into a compact carrying pack. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Red Paddle Co. Ride 10′ 6″ ($1,399)

the red paddle co ride msl inflatable paddle board and its accessoriesAvailable Sizes: 9′ 8″ | 10′ | 10′ 6″ | 10′ 8″
Size Tested: 10′ 6″ x 32″ x 4.7″

Paddling Performance: 7/10
Stability: 7/10
Construction Quality: 8/10
Ease of Use: 9/10
Accessories: 7/10
Overall: 7.6/10

The Red Paddle Co. 10′ 6″ Ride has a pretty standard design and dimensions compared to the other inflatable paddle boards that we tested but came with the high-quality construction and accessories that Red Paddle Co. is known for. Some highlights of the package include the heavy-duty Titan II dual-chamber pump that makes inflating the board much quicker and the Prime Carbon 3-Piece paddle that is the nicest of any paddle in our test and among the best carbon-fiber SUP paddles on the market.

The 10′ 6″ Ride has a pretty simple design, with a front and rear grab handle, some cargo tie-downs in the front, and a center grab handle. It comes with two smaller permanently fixed fins, which makes setup and takedown of the board more convenient, but we found limits the stability of the board in rough water, compared to other boards with larger center fins.

While the Ride MSL has the typical quality that Red Paddle Co. is known for, its list price feels a little steep for a relatively plain board design. Its construction quality and rigidity are better than other boards of similar dimensions, but the board itself doesn’t seem to have any standout features (besides the nice pump, paddle, and carry bag). For paddlers interested in the quality pump, paddle, and carry bag, the package price may be reasonable, but for others looking to get on the water for a bit less, there are other options in this size range.

Make sure to check the details of the product you’re interested in buying, as some Red Paddle Co. SUP packages come with different paddle options, which can impact the value of your purchase.

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a man inflating the red paddle ride msl inflatable paddle board with lake tahoe and mountains in the background

The Ride comes standard with a Red Paddle Co. Titan II dual-chambered pump, making inflation of the board a breeze. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Starboard iGO Zen 11’ 2” ($799)
the starboard igo zen inflatable paddle board and its accessories

Available Sizes: 10′ 8” Zen11’ 2” Zen
Size Tested: 11′ 2″ x 31″ x 5.5″

Paddling Performance: 7/10
Stability: 7/10
Construction Quality: 7/10
Ease of Use: 8/10
Accessories: 8/10
Overall: 7.4/10

The Starboard iGO Zen does a good job of balancing solid performance with a lightweight design and a reasonable price tag. The 11’ 2” version that we tested has a slightly narrow 31” width, making it behave more like a touring-style board – it glides nicely through the water in calmer conditions, but tends to get bounced around a little bit when there are waves or chop. Paddlers looking for a little more stability should consider the 10’ 8” version that comes in a 33” width. This board comes with pretty standard accessories, including a single removable center fin, a leash, a basic dual-action pump, and a decent paddle. Note that, depending on where you purchase this board, some packages may not include a paddle, and some packages will give you the option to include an upgraded paddles.

A standout feature that we really appreciate is an extra-large carrying bag that easily fits the board and all accessories, and includes a backpack harness and roller wheels. We typically don’t see carry bags this nice on boards in this price range.

We like the iGO Zen’s clean and simple design, though it lacks a few extra features we typically see, like an additional front grab handle and rear cargo bungees. However, this is one of the lighter boards we tested, coming in right around 20 pounds, so we think the added convenience of simpler hauling and pumping makes up for the lack of furnishings. 

The iGO also comes in a Deluxe construction that Starboard claims is stiffer, lighter, and more responsive. Both the Zen and Deluxe constructions are also available with an optional double inflation chamber for added rigidity.

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the starboard igo zen inflatable paddle board sitting on the shore of lake tahoe with mountains in the background

The Starboard iGO Zen is a lightweight paddle board that’s great for cruising around, but is a little narrow when the water gets choppy. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


NRS Thrive 10′ 8″ ($1,345)the front of the nrs thrive inflatable paddle board

Available Sizes: 9′ 10″ | 10′ 3″ | 10′ 8″ | 11′
Size Tested: 10′ 8″ x 34″ x 6″

Paddling Performance: 7/10
Stability: 7/10
Construction Quality: 9/10
Ease of Use: 7/10
Accessories: 6/10
Overall: 7.2/10

The NRS Thrive is a well-built inflatable SUP that is available in a wide range of sizes to find the model that’s just right for you. The highlight of this board is that it is able to safely be inflated to 20 PSI — which is 5 PSI above the typical 15 PSI inflation pressure of most inflatable boards. This high-pressure design provides impressive rigidity and makes the Thrive feel and perform very similarly to a traditional solid board.  The Thrive also has three fin boxes on the bottom with an assortment of included fins to customize the performance depending on your paddling conditions.

While the Thrive has impressive build quality and solid performance, it is on the higher end of the price spectrum and doesn’t come standard with a paddle or leash. This model is most suitable for experienced paddlers that already have their own paddle and are looking for a rigid, durable board to paddle in a variety of different conditions. We’ve been paddling our NRS Thrive for several years, throwing it in and out of vehicles, roof boxes, and airplanes, and haven’t had any durability concerns.

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Funwater Discovery 11′ ($270)

the funwater discovery 11 inflatable paddle board and its accessoriesAvailable Sizes: Tiki 10′ 6″ | Discovery 11′ | Cruise 11′
Size Tested:
11′ x 33″ x 6″

Paddling Performance: 6/10
Stability: 6/10
Construction Quality: 6/10
Ease of Use: 8/10
Accessories: 7/10
Overall: 6.6/10

The Funwater Discovery 11′ is a great inflatable SUP for beginner paddlers or families looking to get on the water without spending a ton of money. The board’s 11′ length and 33″ width provide a nice blend of stability and speed, and the package includes everything you need to get out on the water — including the board, fins, paddle, leash, pump, and carry bag. It also includes some thoughtful extras like a waterproof phone case, an attachable kayak seat, and a removable shoulder carry sling.

This is also one of the lightest boards we’ve tested, making storage, transport, inflation, and deflation more manageable compared to other burlier models. With a $270 list price (and often available for less), it provides one of the most affordable ways to get on the water.

So what’s the catch? At this price point, the materials and construction are less refined and aren’t quite as robust as what you’d find in the more expensive models. The board paddles great in calm, flat water but can get thrown around in waves or chop because of its lightweight design and lack of stiffness or rigidity. And while it includes all the gear and accessories you need, you’re making some tradeoffs with a heavier aluminum paddle, a basic pump, and a less-comfortable carry bag.

For a slightly higher price ($400 list), you can also opt for another budget model — the ROC Kahuna 10′ 6″, which includes a few extra features like front and rear cargo rigging (as opposed to only front), front and rear grab handles (as opposed to only rear), a kayak seat/paddle conversion kit, and a nicer carry bag with zippered pockets and nicely padded shoulder straps.

If you’re on a tight budget and looking for the most affordable way to get on the water, the Funwater Discovery 11′ is your best bet.

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close up view of a man paddling the funwater discovery 11 inflatable paddle board on lake tahoe with the beach in the background

The Funwater Discovery 11′ provides fun all-around performance in calmer water conditions and amazing value. Photo: Will Sileo


Body Glove Performer 11′ ($999)

the body glove performer inflatable paddle board and its accessoriesAvailable Sizes: 11′
Size Tested: 11′ x 34″ x 5.4″

Paddling Performance: 7/10
Stability: 6/10
Construction Quality: 6/10
Ease of Use: 7/10
Accessories: 7/10
Overall: 6.6/10

Designed for flat-water paddles, river runs, SUP yoga, or towing behind a boat, Body Glove’s Performer 11′ is a one-size-fits-all type of paddle board. Included in the package is a three-piece adjustable paddle, an electric pump, a dual-action hand pump, an ankle leash, a repair kit, a cell phone dry bag, and a storage backpack, so it comes with everything you could want and more.

The AirFrame XT construction ensures the board is light, fast, and stable, and the superior bonded construction means the board will last for years to come. The added width makes the board plenty stable, while the pointed nose allows it to cut through the water efficiently, making the Performer well-suited to all types of paddling. Body Glove has partnered with One Tree Planted, meaning a tree is planted for every board purchased — so you can feel good about the board under your feet.

And while the list price seems a little steep, we’ve often found it on sale for much less online or at big box stores.

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Best Inflatable Paddle Board Comparison Table

Board List Price Dimensions Weight Fin Configuration
Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12′ $999 12′ x 32″ x 6″ 31 lbs 2+1 fins, all removable
ROC Kahuna 10′ 6″ $400 10′ 6″ x 33″ x 6″ 18 lbs 2+1 fins, center fin is removable
Isle Explorer 2.0 $895 11′ 6″ x 32″ x 6″ 24 lbs 2+1 fins, center fin is removable
BOTE Breeze Aero 11′ 6″ $799 11′ 6″ x 33″ x 6″ 22 lbs 2+1 fins, center fin is removable
Red Paddle Co. Voyager 12′ $1,649 12′ x 28″ x 4.7″ 27 lbs 2 fins, both removable
Pau Hana Solo SUP Backcountry 10′ 10″ $899 10′ 10″ x 30″ x 6″ 15 lbs 2 fins, both removable
Blackfin CX Ultra $1,100 10′ 6″ x 32.5″ x 6″ 20 lbs 2 fins, both removable
Red Paddle Co. Ride 10′ 6″ $1,399 10′ 6″ x 32″ x 4.7″ 22 lbs 2 fixed side fins
Starboard iGO Zen 11′ 2″ $799 11′ 2″ x 31″ x 5.5″ 20 lbs 1 removable center fin
NRS Thrive 10′ 8″ $1,245 10′ 8″ x 34″ x 6″ 29 lbs 3 fin boxes, 4 interchangeable fins
Funwater Discovery 11′ $270 11′ x 33″ x 6″ 22 lbs 2+1 fins, all removable
Body Glove Performer 11′ $999 11′ x 34″ x 5.4″ 24 lbs 3 fixed fins

 

a man paddling the bote breeze aero inflatable paddle board in san francisco with the golden gate bridge and fog in the background

We tested the best inflatable paddle boards in a variety of climates and conditions, including in the iconic San Francisco Bay. Photo: Jack Bober

How We Tested Inflatable Paddle Boards

From the cool, clear waters of Lake Tahoe, to the rugged and moody San Fransisco Bay, to the warm tropics of Hawaii, our team of paddling experts put these inflatable paddle boards to the test in various rivers and streams, alpine lakes, and in the open ocean. We tested each board’s performance in a diverse set of weather and water conditions, paying close attention to features like glide, tracking, and stability, and evaluated every part of each board’s package, from fins, paddles, and leashes to pumps and carrying bags. Along the way, we rolled, unrolled, inflated, deflated, stored and transported each board to help identify the best model for your needs and budget.

In the end, we evaluated and scored each board based on its paddling performance, stability, construction quality, ease of use, and accessories to help bring you our expert recommendations.

a man testing the bote breeze aero inflatable paddle board on lake tahoe with boulders, trees, and mountains in the background

Our top picks are based on hands-on testing that took place in some beautiful paddling destinations. Photo: Will Sileo

Leading our testing team are Nick Bruckbauer and Rebecca Parsons. After moving from the midwest to Santa Barbara, CA, in 2008, Nick initially tested the waters via kayak — until a trip to Hawaii in 2011 forever turned him on to the world of stand up paddling. Since then, he has personally owned numerous inflatable and rigid paddle boards and has tested and written about over 25 different models for various outdoor publications. Now making his full-time home in the outdoor mecca of Lake Tahoe, Nick has paddled the west coast from Seattle to San Diego and in eight total states.

Rebecca first began her career writing for SUP the Mag, learning the ins and outs of the industry and the sport. Since she first picked up a paddle in 2012, Rebecca has competed in numerous SUP races, surfed world-class waves, and is proud to call world-champion paddlers her friends. These days, you’ll find Rebecca surfing or paddling near her home in Honolulu, Hawaii.

How to Choose the Best Inflatable Paddle Board

Inflatable Paddle Boards vs. Solid Boards

Traditional solid stand up paddle boards are typically constructed with a foam core and a rigid fiberglass and epoxy shell. Their stiffness and rigidity help them slice through the water and maintain their speed and momentum, even if it’s wavy or choppy. Solid boards can be constructed with specific shapes and dimensions to optimize paddling performance, and their smooth fiberglass and epoxy shell provides a slippery surface that maximizes glide and efficiency. And once you arrive at the water with your solid board, there is little to no setup time before you can start paddling and little to no takedown time when you’re ready to leave.

While solid boards typically provide better on-the-water performance than inflatable models, there are some disadvantages. The obvious main drawback is their size, which requires lots of space in a yard, shed, or garage for storage and a large vehicle or a roof rack for transport. Solid boards are also usually more expensive than inflatables. Their fiberglass and epoxy construction can make them prone to scratches, dings, and dents that require fixing to keep the board watertight.

The clear advantage of inflatable SUPs is their portability. A full-size inflatable board can be packed down to the size of a large duffel bag, easily stored in a closet or corner of an apartment, and thrown in the trunk of a small car or even transported by bike, bus, or airplane. (We’ve brought inflatable SUPs on trips with us as checked baggage, and bringing them along is no more complicated than checking any other piece of luggage.)

The Blackfin CX Ultra has a unique design where the board can be folded in half length-wise before being rolled up, allowing it to be stored more compactly. The Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12′ and the Red Paddle Co. models have the burliest carry bags but are supplemented by comfortable carry straps and built-in luggage wheels.

a lineup of seven inflatable paddle board duffel bags on the beach at lake tahoe with mountains in the background

Inflatable paddle boards can be packed down into a large duffel bag, making them easy to store and transport. The Blackfin CX Ultra (lower right) has one of the most compact carry bags. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Inflatable boards are also less susceptible to dings and dents since their structure is less rigid, and their softer surface makes them more forgiving for beginner paddlers that might take a few falls. Most inflatable SUPs also come in a convenient package that includes every accessory you need to hit the water (fins, pump, paddle, leash, etc.) and are typically less expensive than solid boards.

bote breeze aero inflatable paddle board and accessories with golden gate bridge in background

Most inflatable SUP packages come with everything you need to hit the water, including the board, fins, leash, paddle, pump, and carry bag. Pictured is the BOTE Breeze Aero. Photo: Jack Bober

Historically, the main drawback to inflatable SUPs is that they are slower and less stable than solid models due to their more flexible construction. Inflatable models typically lack the stiffness and rigidity of solid boards, so they tend to flex and deform and get pushed around in choppy water, which hinders paddling efficiency and stability. The PVC material used in most inflatable models isn’t as smooth as the fiberglass and epoxy on solid boards, so inflatable models don’t glide through the water as efficiently as solid boards. Inflatable models also require a good deal of time and effort to inflate to the recommended pressure, so you’ll want to account for roughly 10-20 minutes of setup and takedown time before and after paddling.

With the growing popularity of stand up paddle boarding in the last decade, inflatable models have made huge improvements in performance and convenience. New design features like carbon fiber inlays, rail-stiffening inserts, dual inflation chambers, or high-pressure construction help increase the stiffness and rigidity of today’s boards, closing the performance gap with solid boards. Many inflatable packages also come with high-capacity dual-chamber pumps or electric pumps that drastically cuts down on inflation time and effort.

The Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12′ has several of these features, including carbon fiber side rails and dual inflation chambers to maximize board rigidity and a dual-chamber air pump to improve inflation speed.

man paddling the bluefin cruise carbon inflatable paddle board on lake tahoe with snow capped mountains in background

The Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12′ has carbon fiber inserts along the side rails and an additional inflation chamber under the deck pad to support the rider and maintain rigidity. This is one of the stiffest inflatable SUPs we’ve tested that performs most like a solid board. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Size, Shape, and Paddling Performance

Paddle boards come in all different shapes and sizes that will impact the paddling performance and the convenience of storing and transporting the board. Generally, longer and narrower boards will be faster, as they will track in a straight line and glide better. Longer and narrower boards will typically have less stability, though, and would be better suited for smaller or more experienced paddlers that are comfortable on a board and prioritize paddling speed and efficiency.

In general, shorter and wider boards will be slower than longer boards since the additional width won’t glide through the water as efficiently. Shorter and wider boards will typically be more stable and more maneuverable and are ideal for larger paddlers or beginners who prioritize stability.

The overall volume of the board (the 3-dimensional multiplication of the length, width, and thickness) will also impact the board’s stability and weight capacity. Lower-volume boards will be less stable, more nimble, and more suitable for smaller or more advanced paddlers, while higher-volume boards will be more stable and suitable for all types.

Length Width
Short: less than 10′ Narrow: less than 30″
Moderate: 10′ to 12′ Moderate: 30″ to 33″
Long: more than 12′ Wide: more than 33″

 

If you’re looking for a super maneuverable board to surf on or a board for children or smaller paddlers, then a shorter board less than 10′ in length would be appropriate. Likewise, if you’re interested in long-distance touring and want to optimize speed and efficiency, then a longer board over 12′ in length would be best.

All of the boards in our test lineup fall in the moderate length range of 10′ to 12′, and most are in the moderate width range of 30″ to 33″. This is a sweet spot for excellent all-around performance, a balance of speed and stability, and reasonable ease of use when it comes to inflating, deflating, hauling, and storing.

lineup of seven of the best inflatable paddle boards being tested on the beach at lake tahoe

All of the boards in our test lineup fall within the 10′ to 12′ length range, which we believe is the sweet spot for most paddlers. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Price vs. Quality & Performance

When it comes to inflatable paddle boards, you typically get what you pay for, and there are some common quality and performance benchmarks that can be seen at different price levels. How much you should spend depends on your experience level, the conditions you paddle in, and how frequently you hit the water.

Budget Boards ($500 or less)

These models will typically be sold in a package with everything you need to hit the water (except a life jacket), including the board, fins, leash, paddle, pump, and carrying bag. They usually have simple, lightweight designs without a ton of bells and whistles and include basic accessories, like an aluminum paddle and a thin, lightweight carry bag. If you’re a beginner paddler, looking for a board for your kids or family, and plan to paddle on calm water like a lake, calm river, or protected ocean, we’d recommend a budget board. The Funwater Discovery 11′ has a pretty simple design and basic features but has everything you need to hit the water for a rock-bottom price. For a little more money, the ROC Kahuna 10′ 6″ has a little nicer quality and a few extras.

nose of the funwater discovery 11 inflatable paddle board looking towards the shore and mountains of lake tahoe

The Funwater Discovery 11′ is one of our favorite budget boards and is perfect for beginners or families looking to have fun without spending a ton of money. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Mid-Tier Boards ($600-$900)

Spending some extra money will introduce a noticeable step up in the quality of materials and construction and the performance level. Boards at this level will typically have more robust construction and will have a noticeably nicer fit and finish. Improvements over the budget boards can be seen with extra features like more grab handles, nicer padded grab handles, more cargo rigging, and nicer cargo rigging. Paddles in this price range will typically be nicer with a fiberglass or carbon fiber shaft and a nylon blade. Carrying bags will be more robust with zippers, extra storage pockets, and backpack straps. These boards will often feel stiffer and more rigid in the water because of their heavier-duty materials, which will make them better-suited for paddling in more diverse conditions (like wind, waves, and chop) because the board, fins, and paddle will be more responsive to your paddling input. If you’ve paddled before and you’re looking to upgrade your setup to improve paddling performance or to get a little more quality for frequent paddling, it’s worth spending the extra money.

two testers carrying inflatable paddles boards towards San Francisco Bay with golden gate bridge in the background

The Bote Breeze Aero (left) and the Isle Explorer 2.0 (right) are both in the $600-$900 range and provide a noticeable improvement in construction quality and performance over the budget models. Photo: Jack Bober

Premium boards ($1,000+)

Premium boards will have more complex designs, higher-end materials, and a premium construction finish. Many designs will have fancy extras to improve board performance, like carbon fiber layers, dual inflation chambers, or reinforced side rails to improve board rigidity and stiffness, helping them paddle in all types of conditions more similar to a rigid board. Accessories at this level will also be premium. Fins will be made from higher-end materials, the paddles will often have carbon fiber shafts and blades, and carry cases will have premium materials, comfortable padded straps, and luggage wheels. These boards may come with nicer dual-chamber pumps or electric pumps. Boards in this price range are typically reserved for experienced paddlers or those who hit the water frequently and will appreciate the more refined experience.

Below is a fun head-to-head comparison between a premium board and a budget board: the Red Paddle Co. Ride 10′ 6″ and the ROC Kahuna 10′ 6″. These two models have nearly the same shape and dimensions but are priced nearly $1,000 apart and have some noticeable differences. The Ride is a well-constructed board, but what really sets it apart is its premium accessories. It comes with a Prime carbon fiber paddle ($329 list price), a Titan II dual-chamber pump ($199 list price), and a Transformer ATB carry bag ($299 list price).

  Red Paddle Co. Ride 10′ 6″ ($1,399) ROC Kahuna 10‘ 6″ ($400)
Dimensions 10′ 6″ x 32″ x 4.7″ 10′ 6″ x 33″ x 6″
Weight 22 lbs 18 lbs
Fins 2 fixed side fins 2 + 1 fins, center fin is removable
Paddle Carbon fiber shaft and blade Aluminum shaft with nylon blade
Pump Titan II dual-chamber Basic single chamber
Carry Bag Premium bag with several carry handles, padded backpack straps, and luggage wheels Lightweight nylon bag with padded backpack straps

 

Board Construction and Features

All of the boards we tested come with some type of fin configuration, a deck pad, carry handles, and cargo rigging. Higher-end boards will often also include D-rings to tie down additional gear or accessories and extra features like GoPro camera mounts.

Fins

Fins stick out beneath the paddle board to help keep the board stable in choppy water and to help the board glide and track in a straight line. There are different fin configurations that serve slightly different purposes. Some fins are removable, and some are permanently fixed to the board. Longer fins have more of an impact on glide and stability, while shorter fins provide better clearance for shallow water or obstructions like vegetation or fallen trees. The most common fin configurations are:

Single Fin: one fin, usually longer, removable, and in the center of the board, ideal for keeping the board straight and stable in open water

2 Fins: two fins of the same size, sometimes removable and sometimes fixed

2 + 1 Fins: the most usual setup. Typically includes one longer, removable center fin, and two smaller, permanently fixed side fins

man preparing to paddle the roc kahuna inflatable paddle board on lake tahoe

The ROC 10′ 6″ Kahuna has the most typical fin configuration, with a larger, removable center fin and two smaller, permanently fixed side fins. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Deck Pad

The Deck Pad is a cushioned, textured surface on top of the board where the paddler will sit, kneel, or stand. Some deck pads will simply cover about half of the length of the board where the paddler is located, while some will cover nearly the entire length of the board to allow for a more dynamic paddling position or to allow for extra passengers like kids or dogs. Some deck pads include a raised stomp pad at the rear of the board, which helps the paddler gain leverage over the board for quick side-to-side maneuvers. Deck pads come in different sizes, shapes, textures, thicknesses, and materials but generally have a pretty similar feel and performance.

Carry/Grab Handles

Every inflatable SUP that we tested has a carry or grab handle in the center of the board to carry the board under your arm. Most boards also have grab handles at the front and rear of the board, which makes it convenient to pull the board out of the water from one end or for two people to carry the board — one at each end. Handles typically vary in quality based on the price and quality of the board. Budget boards might have one or two handles that consist of basic webbing, while more premium boards likely have multiple handles that are more ergonomic and well-cushioned.

Cargo Rigging

Each board has some type of cargo rigging or tie-down points. Designs, styles, and quality vary depending on the board’s price and quality. Even the most basic boards will typically have some bungee cord webbing at either the front or rear of the board. Higher-end boards will have cargo rigging in both the front and rear of the board and will be made of more premium materials like thicker bungee cords or webbing straps. Many boards include built-in metal D-Rings where that you can clip or tie gear to or create your own cargo system.

a lineup of seven inflatable paddle boards being tested side-by-side on the beach at lake tahoe

Each board has slightly different configurations of deck pads, grab handles, and cargo rigging, usually dependent on the price level and quality of the board. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Extra Features

Many higher-end boards include extra built-in features that improve the paddling experience. Some boards have built-in screw mounts to attach a GoPro camera, fish finder, or other electronic accessories. More and more boards include built-in D-rings, a kayak seat, and a hybrid kayak/SUP paddle so that the board can be comfortably paddled while sitting down or standing up. And other boards include proprietary accessories, like magnetic accessory attachments, custom seats, built-in paddle holders, or attachments for a shoulder carry sling.

Accessories

All of the boards we tested come with fins, a paddle, an ankle leash, a pump, and a carry bag. As previously described, the quality of these accessories is usually pretty consistent with the price level of the board. Make sure you also include the best life jacket for your experience level and swimming abilities.

Budget models will include lighter-weight plastic fins, heavier aluminum paddles, and basic pumps and carry bags. Spending a little more money to get a mid-priced board will typically come with nicer fins with heavier-duty materials, lighter paddles with carbon or fiberglass shafts, and improved carry bags with better materials and nicer padding on the handles and straps.

isle explorer inflatable paddle board and accessories on grass with golden gate bridge in background

The Isle Explorer 2.0 is a mid-level board that comes with high-quality accessories like a carbon hybrid paddle and a comfortable, well-padded carry bag. Photo: Jack Bober

Premium-level boards will include high-end accessories. Fins will typically be made from high-tech materials that blend a lighter weight with better stiffness, paddles will typically have carbon fiber shafts and possibly carbon fiber blades, and the carry bags will be of the highest quality, with features like locking zippers, extra storage pockets, and luggage wheels.

Some models include bonus features like a waterproof phone pouch, a waterproof dry bag, or a kayak conversion kit with a kayak seat and a convertible paddle.

Weight, Packability, and Transport

The main advantage of inflatable paddle boards over their solid counterparts is that they can be deflated and packed away into a duffel bag, making storage and transport much easier for those without a large vehicle, roof rack, garage, or big storage space.

Different boards have different levels of convenience when it comes to inflation, deflation, storage, and transport, typically depending on the size of the board.

On one end of the spectrum is the Funwater Discovery 11′. This budget model has one of the thinnest and lightest carry bags but is still convenient to inflate, deflate, pack away, haul, and store, thanks to its simple design and light weight. Simple and less expensive boards tend to be easier to work with since they are typically made from lighter materials that pack down better and are easier to manipulate.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12′. This is one of our favorite inflatable models to paddle and has some of the best performance of any inflatable board that is most similar to a solid board. The tradeoff is that this thing is heavy. With its premium materials, and extra features like carbon fiber inlays, dual inflation chambers, and a heavy-duty dual-chamber pump, the Cruise Carbon is much more cumbersome to inflate, deflate, haul, and store. Luckily, it comes with a high-capacity pump to speed inflation and a burly carry bag with roller wheels to make transport a bit less daunting.

Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

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