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 paddle boards of 2022 (inflatable designs only), from recreational models perfect for beginners and casual outings to premium touring boards and activity-specific designs. For more information, see our buying advice and comparison table below the picks.
- Best All-Around Stand Up Paddle Board: iRocker All-Around 10’
- Best Budget Stand Up Paddle Board: iRocker Nautical 10'6"
- Best Touring Stand Up Paddle Board: Red Paddle Co Sport 11’3”
- Best Stand Up Paddle Board for Fishing: iRocker Blackfin Model X
- Best Stand Up Paddle Board for Yoga: Hala Asana
- Best Ultralight/Packable Paddle Board: Pau Hana Solo Backcountry
Lengths: 10’, 11’
What we like: Great value for a very versatile and well-made board.
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 convenience, the iRocker All-Around tops our list of inflatable stand up paddle boards for 2022. In short, the All-Around is the full package for those just getting started: you get a premium board from one of the top brands in the industry, in addition to a leash, dual-chamber pump, removable fins, wheeled bag, and lightweight carbon fiber paddle. On-deck storage is fully functional for most uses, including an assortment of D-rings and cargo bungees, and the generous deck pad can even play double duty as a yoga mat. It all adds up to a great starter kit that’s plenty durable to last you well into your paddling career, whether you’re out on the lake, down by the bay, or even catching a bit of whitewater.
The All-Around finds a nice middle ground between budget models and premium boards for dedicated paddlers, and for just $499 through Amazon at the time of publishing, the price is right, too. But keep in mind that this isn’t the fastest SUP here, and you can get an even more stable ride with a model like the iRocker Cruiser (which measures 22 in. at the tail compared to the All-Around’s 16 in.). We do love the All-Around’s option for a single, twin, or tri-fin set-up (allowing you to tailor stability and speed depending on your needs), and it helps that taller paddlers (over 5’10”) can opt for the more stable 11’ model. Finally, owned and operated by paddlers, iRocker is known for their great customer service, shipping is free within the U.S. and Canada, and they even offer a two-year warranty on their boards.
See the iRocker All-Around 10'
Length: 10’6”, 11’6”
What we like: A complete package—including a fiberglass paddle—for just $300.
What we don’t: Lacks the rear traction pad of the GILI Air below.
Some SUPers paddle for fitness, fishing, or as a way to get out on an overnight adventure, but many of us are simply 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 $300 on Amazon at the time of publishing (with shipping included), the 10’6” Nautical comes with everything you need to hit your local lake or lazy river, including an adjustable three-piece paddle, coiled leash, hand pump, and travel backpack. And with six inches of platform and a removable three-fin set-up, it offers a stable yet maneuverable ride that’s a great match for new and seasoned paddlers alike.
At this price, the only thing lacking with the Nautical is a rear stomp pad, which could add an extra amount of grip for traveling through rough waters. Further, as we see with most budget boards, the Nautical achieves stability through its thickness rather than high-end construction, which makes it slower and more cumbersome on the water. But most recreational paddlers will find the design to be fully sufficient for calm conditions, and iRocker tacks on a few bonuses at this price point, including a three-piece fiberglass paddle (many entry-level paddles are aluminum) and a two-year warranty. For the best value currently on the market, we love the iRocker Nautical—and for less than $100 more (through iRocker's website), you can tack on a kayak conversion kit, including a seat and a kayak blade.
See the iRocker Nautical 10'6"
Best Touring Stand Up Paddle Board
Lengths: 11', 11’3”, 12’6”
What we like: High-quality touring design that’s rigid yet lightweight.
What we don’t: Expensive 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 paddle boards for everything from whitewater and windsurfing to yoga and racing. Their Ride ($1,499) is one of the most premium all-rounders, but the longer Sport is our top pick for paddlers looking to travel greater distances or at faster speeds. At $1,749 the Sport is undeniably expensive, but the result is a premium touring design that has few rivals. You get a relatively narrow, 32-inch width for cutting efficiently through the water, a single fin for tracking (traveling in a straight line), 4.7 inches of platform that keep you well balanced and close to the water, and a Speed Tail for both efficiency and maneuverability. Finally, with multiple sizes—11’0”, 11’3”, and 12’6”—you can customize length depending on your weight (remember to factor in your gear as well).
It doesn’t get much more premium than a Red board, but given the Sport’s price point, you’ll have to ask yourself if you really need this level of performance. After all, touring models like the Thurso Surf Expedition and Star Photon below can get the job done for most paddlers at about half the price. But it’s hard to beat the durability of a Red board (they put them through extensive testing, including running over a board with a 22.5-ton tractor), and are all backed by a generous five-year warranty. Further, the Sport comes with add-on stiffening battens for each side rail, which give it more rigidity while still maintaining a fairly low weight (however, these are so difficult to slide in and out that we often don’t bother). All in all, the Sport is an ideal companion for fitness paddling or multi-day excursions, if you can stomach the cost. And 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 Sport 11'3"
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, a stand up paddle board is a relatively light, easy-to-transport vessel that allows the option to sit or stand. Any stand up paddle board 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, a whopping 20 D-rings, and carbon paddle and rail for added stiffness, the iRocker Blackfin Model X fits the bill nicely and is a true utility vehicle of a 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 iRocker's 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. In this category, other dedicated fishing SUPs worth checking out include the Badfish Badfisher and NRS Heron, which adds 7-inch side bumpers to further boost stability.
See the iRocker Blackfin Model X
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.” Updated last year, the Hala Asana takes it a step further by including a front bungee for stashing your paddle and a D-ring under the nose for anchoring the board while practicing. And with your purchase, you also get an adjustable paddle with a lightweight carbon shaft (one of the best included paddles we’ve tested) 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 lazy Upper Deschutes and had to paddle hard to keep up with our friend’s Boardworks SHUBU. 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 all come with an impressive three-year warranty and range from river-surfing inflatables to performance-focused touring boards.
See the Hala Asana
What we like: Ultralight and compact build makes it easy to tote far distances.
What we don’t: No center fin box and thinner materials than most.
Oh, the places you’ll go on a stand up paddle board. And when your board packs down into an easily totable dry-bag backpack, the adventure list grows even longer. Pau Hana’s new Solo Backcountry is a Houdini among SUPs: with a length of 10 feet 10 inches, 30-inch width, and 6-inch thickness, it looks like a standard-sized board but tips the scales at just 14.8 pounds (most are at least 20 lbs.) and is malleable enough to roll into a tight bundle. The paddle is another feat of engineering, with a rollable blade and three-piece shaft that disappears into a corner of your pack. Tack on the aforementioned dry bag, repair kit, leash, and compact pump, and the whole package weighs just 23 pounds. With this streamlined build, hiking your board a few miles (or more) into your favorite lake or river just got a whole lot easier.
That said, there are a few inherent downsides to going with such a light and compressible design. First, the Solo Backcountry’s ultralight materials can’t match the durability of double-layer PVC, so you’ll want to treat the board with added care (although the drop-stitch technology still allows it to inflate to a respectable 15 psi.). Second, in order for the board to fold in half, Pau Hana removed the center fin box and opted for twin fins, which gives you a little more speed than a three-fin setup (less drag) but noticeably less stability. And third, the Solo Backcountry is undeniably pricey at $1,249. But we think Pau Hana nailed the compact design better than most—setups like the Red Paddle Co Compact and Nixy Huntington G4 are both shorter at 9’6” and not as light or packable—making the Solo Backcountry our top choice for intrepid paddlers wanting to hit the trail with their SUP.
See the Pau Hana Solo Backcountry
Lengths: 9’10”, 10’3”, 10’8”, 11’
What we like: Premium quality and comes in four sizes to accommodate a wide range of paddlers.
What we don’t: Expensive for recreational paddlers.
The iRocker All-Around above will get the job done for most recreational paddlers, but for the cream of the crop, look no further than the NRS Thrive. This is a primo stand up paddle board made by one of the top names in boating, with a highly durable construction and good assortment of features for everything from river running to multi-day tours. Unlike most boards here that inflate to 12-15 psi, the Thrive pumps up to a very solid 20 (higher psi = more rigidity), and a pressure release on the inflation/deflation valve guards against over-filling. And with two sets of fins—including a 3-piece thruster set and a single touring skeg—you can tailor stability and speed depending on your needs, which adds a lot of versatility for new and experienced paddlers alike.
But with a steep $1,245 price tag (not including a paddle or leash), you’ll have to ask yourself if you really need such a performance-oriented design. Paddlers with mostly casual intentions (that’s most of us) can save a lot of money and suffer very few tradeoffs with a board like the iRocker above. Further, if you’re going to spend up, a board like the Red Paddle Co Sport is a better (read: faster) choice for touring. But those hoping to get a lot out of an all-rounder will appreciate the Thrive’s versatility and premium build quality, and it’s an especially reliable set-up for expedition use. We also love that it comes in four lengths, which means you can get a good fit no matter your body or load size. NRS is a crowd favorite among boaters of all types, and all of their inflatable boards come with a three-year warranty.
See the NRS Thrive 10'8"
Length: 10’6”, 11'6"
What we like: A well-rounded starter board from a reputable brand.
What we don’t: Pricier than the Nautical above, especially when you add the fiberglass paddle.
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 paddlers and those just starting out, we instead prefer an option like GILI’s Air: a high-quality budget board that’s similar in many ways to the iRocker Nautical above. Both brands specialize in stand up paddle boards, offer great customer service, and have reliable warranties that give a bit of added confidence compared to off-brand models from retailers like Amazon or Costco.
In comparing the GILI Air with iRocker’s Nautical above, the Air has roughly the same dimensions and weight, offers a similar paddling experience, and tacks on a high-friction traction pad to the otherwise identical feature set. GILI also offers the choice between an aluminum and fiberglass paddle (the Nautical comes with the latter), and with a recent update the Air now comes in two lengths: The 10’6” listed here will be sufficient for most riders, but you can step up to the 11’6” if you’re traveling as a pair or with extra gear. But at $400 at the time of publishing (you’ll have to spend $475 for the fiberglass paddle), it simply can’t match the value of the Nautical, although it doesn’t hurt that GILI donates a portion of proceeds from each sale to ocean and reef conservation efforts. For more load-carrying capacity and a bump in both performance and features, check out their Adventure 11’, which is also a great value at $690 (or $740 for the 12’ version).
See the GILI Air 10'6"
Length: 11’6”, 12'6"
What we like: A high-quality touring rig at an affordable price.
What we don’t: Less stable than the all-rounders and budget designs above.
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 138 (which also comes in a 12’6” version called the Expedition 150) 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 $799, 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 138, you do lose some versatility for recreational cruising and activities like yoga (the board’s dimensions result in less stability overall). 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, the Thurso’s relatively short length makes it slightly more maneuverable than touring boards in the 12- to 13-foot range, and the option for a 2+1 fin set-up gives you 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 138
Length: 10’8”, 11’6”
Fins: Tri (fixed side fins)
What we like: A capable all-rounder and often available through REI.
What we don’t: The iRocker Nautical or GILI Air above are more affordable options for beginners.
For recreational paddlers who want the ability to do it all—including fitness paddling, yoga, and casual flatwater cruising—a SUP like the Bote Breeze Aero is another quality choice. With two lengths (10’8” and 11'6") the Bote is a good fit for most paddlers (the larger version can handle up to 315 lbs.), and a 33-inch deck width, wide tail, and thick side rails lend stability for those just getting their sea legs. Construction and materials are top-notch despite the beginner-focused design, and the board comes equipped with most of the bells and whistles we look for: multiple grab handles and D-rings, a front bungee, and a generous deck pad. Finally, we love that Bote is carried by REI Co-op, which means you can pop by your local store (depending on stock) and get a feel for the board before you buy.
At this price point, our main gripe with the Bote is its single-layer design. By contrast, the iRocker All-Around above ($499) features three layers of PVC, which results in a more durable and stable ride. In fact, the Bote’s construction places it in the same category as budget boards like the Rocker Nautical ($300) and GILI Air ($400), which makes the price tag a bit hard to reckon with. But if you value the convenience of shopping through REI, the Breeze Aero is nevertheless a well-loved SUP that offers more than enough performance for most paddlers. For a more premium pick from Bote, see their HD Aero, which is built with two layers of PVC for added durability and rigidity (the Breeze is single-layer) and tacks on features like a paddle sheath, accessory attachments, and a rear bungee.
See the Bote Breeze Aero 10'8"
Lengths: 10’6”, 11’
What we like: A high-quality, rigid, and versatile carbon board.
What we don’t: Expensive yet not very specialized.
Designed and tested on the Yampa River near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Hala Gear’s inflatable boards are some of the most finely crafted vessels on the market. The brand carries a complete range of offerings, from entry-level designs to high-performance models, whitewater specialists, and touring boards for multi-day trips. The Carbon Straight Up here is their most premium all-rounder, with an all-water shape that’s great for flatwater cruising yet stable enough to tackle Class II rapids or tote expedition gear. The most notable feature is the carbon stringer, which is designed to maximize glide while adding considerable rigidity, which Hala claims to bridge the gap between a hardshell and an inflatable. It all adds up to one of the most well-built and versatile boards here, great for dedicated paddlers looking for a high-performance setup to do it all.
At 10 feet 6 inches, the Straight Up is ideal for smaller paddlers, but those with larger builds or who want a bit more storage capacity can opt for the 11-foot Carbon Hoss (also $1,499). And while the carbon stringer is easy justifiable for committed paddlers, both boards are also available in standard (non-carbon) versions for $1,199. In terms of fins, both the Carbon Straight Up and Hoss feature an 8-inch center skeg and two 4.5-inch gummy side fins, but all three can be swapped with a range of options to tailor your experience. It’ll cost you a pretty penny, but the Carbon Straight Up is one of the top SUPs money can buy and a superb pick for those who plan to get serious about paddling.
See the Hala Carbon Straight Up
Fins: Tri (fixed side fins)
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 SUP yoga or 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), giving you less versatility than a board like the top-rated iRocker All-Around above. 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 ($1,195).
See the Isle Scout
What we like: A high-quality touring board at a reasonable price point.
What we don’t: Pricier than the Thurso Surf Expedition and does not include a paddle.
A subsidiary of NRS, STAR is an inflatable-watercraft specialist with a large selection of high-quality kayaks, rafts, and paddle boards for everything from river running to flatwater. Their Photon is an 11-foot-6-inch, single-fin paddle board designed specifically for moving quickly and toting gear on longer expeditions. Like most of the boards here, the Photon features a standard drop-stitch PVC construction and inflates to 20 psi, and it also includes four D-rings on the nose for securing overnight gear. All told, it’s a great starter setup for beginners who are interested in paddling longer distances for fitness or venturing out on multi-day trips with their SUP.
At $895, the Photon is fairly affordable for a touring design, but it does fall short of the Thurso Surf Expedition above in terms of value. The Expedition comes much more water-ready, with front and rear cargo bungees and an included paddle, both of which the STAR conspicuously lacks. Further, the Thurso Surf’s three fin boxes mean you can customize your setup, while the Photon is decidedly more limited with just a single fin. And a final clarification: while NRS’ inflatable SUPs are backed by a three-year consumer warranty, STAR boards are only covered for one year. But the Photon nevertheless is a high-quality touring design at a relatively low price, which is a rare find among inflatable boards.
See the STAR Photon
Fins: Tri (fixed side fins)
What we like: A complete SUP package for just $300.
What we don’t: Only comes in one size and features are limited.
You won’t find us writing home about many “budget” boards, but the ROC earns a spot on our list for its surprisingly good combination of quality and affordability. This paddle board is lightweight at 18 pounds, stable for a wide range of paddlers (it has a weight capacity of 350 lbs.), and is offered in 12 distinct colorways at the time of publishing. 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. You can find SUPs on Amazon for even less, but the Explorer is a great balance of quality and value, and ROC offers the added assurance of a dedicated customer service team and one-year warranty.
It’s true that the ROC Explorer is just a fraction of the cost of many of our top picks, but such a budget design does come with its fair share of tradeoffs. Notably, you only get a few D-rings, one grab handle, and a relatively short, 10-foot length (with no additional size options). For the same price, the iRocker Nautical above offers a lot better versatility with more lash points and handles, and it also includes removable side fins and a fiberglass paddle (the ROC’s is a heavier aluminum design). The Nautical is also a few pounds heavier, which translates to greater stability overall. But the Explorer is another great package deal for penny pinchers just getting started, and it’s for good reason that we frequently see it out on the water.
See the ROC SUP Co. 10' Explorer
|Stand Up Paddle Board||Price||Category||Length(s)||Thick||Weight||Fins||Paddle|
|iRocker All-Around 10'||$499||Recreational||10’, 11'||6 in.||24 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|iRocker Nautical 10'6"||$300||Recreational||10'6", 11'6"||6 in.||20 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Red Paddle Co Sport 11'3"||$1,749||Touring||11, 11’3”, 12'6"||4.7 in.||22 lbs.||Single||Yes|
|iRocker Blackfin Model X||$800||Sport||10'6"||6 in.||27 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Hala Asana||$1,199||Sport||10'6"||6 in.||24 lbs.||Single||Yes|
|Pau Hana Solo Backcountry||$1,249||Sport||10'10"||6 in.||14.8 lbs.||Twin||Yes|
|NRS Thrive 10'8"||$1,245||Rec/touring||9’10”, 10’3”, 10’8”, 11’||6 in.||29 lbs.||Tri||No|
|GILI Air 10'6"||$400||Recreational||10'6", 11'6"||6 in.||20 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Thurso Surf Expedition 138||$799||Touring||11'6", 12'6"||6 in.||24 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Bote Breeze Aero 10'8"||$699||Recreational||10’8”, 11’6”||6 in.||20 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Hala Carbon Straight Up||$1,499||Rec/sport||10'6", 11'||6 in.||24 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|Isle Scout||$845||Rec/sport||11'||6 in.||21 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
|STAR Photon||$895||Touring||11'6"||6 in.||18.1 lbs.||Single||No|
|ROC SUP Co. 10' Explorer||$300||Recreational||10'||6 in.||18 lbs.||Tri||Yes|
- Stand Up Paddle Board Categories
- Inflatable SUP Dimensions and Volume
- Hull Shape: Planing vs. Displacement
- Weight and Packability
- Construction and Durability
- PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch)
- Pumps and Inflation
- Inflatable SUP Accessories
- Budget SUPs
- Solid vs. Inflatable SUPs
Stand up paddle boards (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 paddle board 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 Hala Carbon Straight Up to budget boards like the iRocker Nautical and GILI Air.
Paddle boards 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 iRocker 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 SUP 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 paddle boards are longer than recreational and sport boards (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 STAR Photon. 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 paddle boards are between 9 and 11 feet long, while touring- and racing-focused designs can be as long as 14 feet. A basic rule of thumb is as follows: the shorter the board, 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 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.
Most recreational and sport SUPs are between 32 and 35 inches wide, while touring designs 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 stand up paddle boards 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 inflatable paddle board'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 stand up paddle boards 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 board 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, a paddle board with a displacement hull (like the STAR Photon) is without a doubt the best match. Finally, some of the most versatile boards (the Hala Carbon Straight Up and the Red Paddle Co Sport 11'3", for example) merge the two hull styles for a combination of both speed and stability.
Inflatable paddle boards range in weight from around 15 pounds (the Pau Hana Solo Backcountry tips the scales at 14 lbs. 12.8 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 paddle board long distances before putting in, or those limited on storage space in their vehicle. And as we touch on below, single-layer inflatable SUPs 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, stand up paddle boards 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 or Hala's carbon stringer) to their construction, and some paddle boards 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 inflatable SUPs 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 paddle board 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 or swap them out with those of different sizes (unless we specifically call out fins as fixed, you can assume they are removable). Removable fins are great for customizing your ride and recommended for intermediate to advanced paddlers: 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 inflatable paddle board'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 paddle boards, 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.
The vast majority of inflatable paddle boards 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 a paddle board 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 Aquaglide Accelerator 12V High-Pressure Pump, for example) to premium options like the Earth River SUP 12V DC Pump with add-on GO Portable Power Pack.
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 paddle board, 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 a paddle board, it’s a good idea to take a close look at what’s included in your purchase. Most inflatable SUPs 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 inflatable paddle boards 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 Pau Hana Solo Backcountry, which comes in a streamlined, well-designed pack that’s adjustable and supportive.
Most—but not all—stand up paddle boards 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 recreational paddlers 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 boards will come with a leash, while others will require you to purchase separately. When shopping for a 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 inflatable board 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 stand up paddle boards 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 iRocker 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 paddlers 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 Mustang Survival Fluid 2.0 Inflatable 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 is whether you want a solid or inflatable construction. Solid boards (like the Pau Hana Malibu Classic 10'6") 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 paddle boards provide a bit more stability on both flatwater and whitewater, and their soft feel and flat surface (unlike the tapered top of a solid board) make them ideal for recreational cruising and activities like yoga. Finally, inflatable SUPs 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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