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The Best Portable Paddle Boards of 2023 Tests & Reviews

Best portable paddle boards

Stand up paddle boarding is a lot of fun. There are a lot of great places to explore on a paddle board. Inflatable paddle boards are great to bring with you on trips. There are several new more compact paddle boards available now with small bags that are much easier to travel with. Let’s take a look at the best portable paddle boards available today.

Below are our top pics. We considered price, options, on water performance, and customer reviews in our selections of the best portable paddle boards. Keep reading reviews, specifications, and stand up paddleboard guide.



1 –  Blackfin Ultra CX 

☆ Top Pick
Paddling BF Ultra Hard
What we liked
  • Very compact bag that is easy to travel with and store
  • Comes with a top of the line electric pump
  • Very stiff board construction
  • High quality 5 piece carbon paddle
  • Nimble and quick on the water performance
What we didn’t like
  • No wheels on the carry bag
  • Folding the board so that it fits in the bag takes a little practice

Summary

The Blackfin Ultra CX is the latest and greatest inflatable paddleboard from popular iRocker brand. The Ultra CX is the best portable paddle board on the market. It is a perfect travel companion that easily fits in the front seat of your car or a closet at home.

The Blackfin Ultra CX is a standard 10’6″ x 32.5″ x 6″ all around paddleboard that performs great on the water. It’s also one of the stiffest paddleboards available and the stiffest board we have tested. It also has the smallest carry bag of any board we’ve seen. It is the only board we’ve seen that comes standard with an electric pump and no hand pump.

The board has a split deck pad to make it fold more compact. They included enough D-Rings and action mounts to mount seat or other accessory. They kept a standard front and rear bungee as well.

Accessories

The Blackfin Ultra CX comes complete with the best accessory package we have seen. It comes with the fantastic iRocker electric pump. This pump is small, reliable, and the fastest electric pump we have tested. I encourage you to add the available battery so you can be free from any need for car or other 12 volt source when using the board. You can read the full review of the pump here.

The backpack is about half the size of a normal SUP carrying bag. It is close to airline carry on size. If you cinch it down you might be able to get it through the TSA checkpoint as a carry on. It has a bag that fits above the paddleboard that holds the electric pump, fins, leash and repair kit. There are places to put the paddle on the sides of the bag. The bag is comfortable to carry as a backpack. We still wish for wheels for carrying it long distances.

A 5 piece carbon paddle is included. It is the adjustable length and fits into the small carry bag.

On the water performance

The only thing different about the Ultra CX on the water from a normal all around board is the 2 fin setup. All the ultra compact paddle boards have gone with 2 fins. They work well on the water and don’t give up anything for tracking compared to a traditional 3 fin setup. This board is very stiff thanks to the woven construction and carbon reinforced rails. It is as close to a rigid paddle board as you can get in an inflatable.

The board tracks smooth and has glide that is as good as any 10’6″ board. The tail is narrowed a bit to improve board speed without giving away too much stability.

Review

Read Blackfin Ultra CX Full Review

Specifications

  • Size – 10′ 6″ x 32.5″ x 6″
  • Weight Capacity – 320 lbs
  • Board Weight – 19.8 lbs
  • Bag SizeBag Size – 10″ x 16″ x 21″
  • Bag Weight – 33.3 lbs
  • Construction – 2 Layer Woven PVC with carbon rails
  • Paddle – 5 piece Carbon
  • Pump – Electric pump
Blackfin Ultra CX Product Image

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2 –  Red Paddle Co 11′ x 32″ Compact Package

☆ Top Pick
Red Compact 11 walking to water
image courtesy of Red Paddle Co
What we liked
  • Good on the water performance
  • High quality MSL construction that produces a very stiff board
  • Small size of bag and overall package.
  • Carbon paddle that fits into compact bag
What we didn’t like
  • Very high cost
  • The Titan 2 hand pump is huge and heavy to carry around
  • No D-Rings for attaching seats or rear bungee

Summary

The Red Paddle Co 11′ x 32″ Compact Package is a high performance board that fits in a tiny bag. The Red Compact package boards fit into a bag half the size of a normal inflatable SUP Bag. Red manages to pull this off while still including their very large Titan 2 Hand Pump making it more impressive.

The Red Compact board has a multi section deck pad so that the board can fold easier. It folds in half and then rolls around the pump to fit into the compact bag. I’m not sure why the deck pad is split into more sections since it is still being rolled after folded lengthwise.

In typical Red Paddle Co fashion, the board only has a few D-Rings and a small bungee in front. It doesn’t have any around the middle of the board that can be used for a seat.

There is also a 9’6″ and 12′ version of this board available.

Accessories

Red Paddle Co boards aren’t known for coming with a lot of accessories or complete packages. They do sell the Compact Package with a 5 piece carbon paddle, Titan 2 hand pump, ankle leash and compact bag.

The 5 piece carbon paddle has good stiffness and fits into the compact bag. It has the quality and performance that you expect from Red Paddle Co.

Red includes their very large and heavy double chamber Titan 2 hand pump. While I’m impressed they can fit this pump into their compact bag. It is a heavy pump and it only shaves a little bit off of your hand pumping time. It’s a lot of weight to carry around in the bag. I’m a little disappointed they didn’t come up with a better solution for their compact package.

The Red compact bag is made from high quality materials with lots of padding on the shoulder straps and back. Red bags have always been a notch above the bags from most other brands.

On the water performance

The Red Paddle Co 11′ compact board performs as good as their regular 11′ all around board. It has 2 fins on the bottom for good tracking and stability. I don’t notice any loss in performance with this setup over a traditional 3 fin setup. Red also uses this with their Voyager touring board. Red boards made with MSL construction are some of the stiffest boards made. They perform like rigid boards on the water.

Specifications

  • Size – 11″ x 32″ x 4.75″
  • Weight Capacity – 240 lbs
  • Board Weight – 20 lbs
  • Bag Size – 22″ x 16.5″ x 12.5″
  • Bag Weight – 32 lbs
  • Construction – MSL
  • Paddle – 5 piece Carbon
  • Pump – Double Action Double Barrel Hand Pump
Red Paddle Co 11 compact package product image

3 – iRocker All Around 11 Ultra

☆ Best Value
AA11 boards paddling together
What we liked
  • It’s a fun faster board to paddle
  • Has good glide
  • Can accommodate heavier paddlers at least up to 250 lbs
  • Board is stable enough for beginners on calm water
  • Bag is small and compact making it easy to store and travel with
  • Includes an electric pump instead of hand pump
  • Weighs less and is easier to carry than legacy All Around 11
  • Has plenty of D-Rings and action mounts of using a kayak seat and other accessories
  • Stiff and durable 2 layer woven construction
  • 5 piece carbon adjustable paddle that fits inside the small bag
What we didn’t like
  • Board is a little less stable than legacy All Around 11
  • Deeper fins are more prone to catch weeds
  • Paddle shaft has a joint where I hold it with my lower hand.
  • No action mounts on the rear of the deck pad
  • No wheels or option for wheels on the bag

Summary

The iRocker All Around 11 Ultra is the new ultra compact paddleboard from iRocker. The All Around 11 Ultra is one of my favorite boards I’ve had the joy of trying out this year. It’s fast and sporty feeling while still being stable enough for beginners. It’s very easy to load take with you wherever you want to go.

Past iRocker boards used a 3 Layer PVC construction. The new Ultra series of boards use a more advanced 2 Layer Woven construction. This is similar to what Starboard uses with their Deluxe series boards. It’s stiff and light.

The All Around 11 Ultra is a 11’ x 32″ board that has a good all purpose shape. It is similar to the original and very popular iRocker All Around 11 with a few tweaks to the shape. The board is an inch narrower giving it a bit more speed and glide. To make it fold into a half size bag they split the deck pad down the middle and changed it from 3 fins to 2 fins. They include a 5 piece paddle and their great electric pump instead of a giant double barrel hand pump.

Quality and durability are what you expect to find in an iRocker board. As always there are lots of D-Rings and accessory mounts to customize the board for any adventure.

Accessories

The iRocker All Around 11 Ultra goes a new direction with accessories. They heart of this package is the new compact bag. It is about half the size of a normal paddleboard bag. It will fit places a normal bag won’t like the front seat of your car or your apartment closet.

They no longer include a hand pump. They give you the excellent iRocker electric pump. This is one of the best and fastest electric pumps available. I don’t miss a large double chamber hand pump at all.

A 5 piece carbon paddle is included that can fit into the compact bag. It is stiff and performs well. My bottom hand falls right on a joint while paddling. I can feel it and there is a little wobble. I’ll gladly take that for a board I can travel with much easier.

On the water performance

This new version of the All Around 11 has everything people have come to love about the old iRocker All Around 11. It glides well. It is stable enough for most beginner paddlers. It’s great for going out exploring or paddling with friends. The main difference that affects paddling performance is a twin fin setup instead of 3 fins. This was needed so the board can fold in half. The 2 fins have very good tracking and don’t add any more drag. The only downside is you need a couple more inches of water depth. The board is a little narrower than the original All Around 11 making it faster but a little less stable.

Review

Read iRocker All Around 11 Ultra Full Review

Specifications

  • Size – 11′ x 32″ x 6″
  • Weight Capacity – 290 lbs
  • Board Weight – 21.4 lbs
  • Bag Size – 10″ x 16″ x 21″
  • Bag Weight – 33 lbs
  • Construction – 2 Layer Woven PVC
  • Paddle – 5 piece Carbon
  • Pump – Electric Pump
iRocker All Around 11 Ultra Product Image

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4 –  Nixy Huntington G4 Ultra Compact Paddle Board – 9’6″

NIXY Huntington Walking towards beach
image courtesy of NIXY
What we liked
  • Overall compact package
  • Good very stiff board construction
  • Nice carbon paddle.
  • Fun board for smaller paddlers
What we didn’t like
  • No larger compact board sizes are available
  • The dual chamber hand pump is large and heavy for a compact package

Summary

The Nixy Huntington G4 9’6″ Ultra Compact is a high tech compact inflatable SUP. It has similar features to the Blackfin Ultra CX and Red Compact. The center handle is offset along with the inflatable valve and handles. The EVA deck pad is split down the middle so the board can be folded in half. It comes in a package with first rate accessories including a carbon paddle and double chamber pump.

The board uses double layer fusion woven construction with carbon reinforced rails. This is a similar construction to the Blackfin board. It produces a super stiff light weight board. 2 fins are also used instead of a traditional 3 fin arrangement.

The board has a small front bungee and a larger rear bungee for storage. It has 2 action mounts for accessories at the front. There are 2 middle D-Rings but not enough to attach a kayak seat.

Accessories

The accessories that come with Nixy G4 boards are all high end and high quality. The board includes a 4 piece carbon paddle, double chamber pump, compact backpack, ankle leash and repair kit.

The paddle has a 4 piece carbon shaft. It feels stiff and lightweight. It’s easy to adjust the size and take apart.

The compact backpack has a lot of padding on the straps and iss comfortable to walk around with. It fits the board along with the large double chamber hand pump and paddle without much trouble. The materials and workmanship look good.

A large a double chamber hand pump is included. The board at 9’6″ isn’t a larger paddle board. This extra large pump might let you inflate it in 6 minutes instead of 7 minutes. I don’t understand why they include a very large hand pump for a small travel friendly package.

On the water performance

A 9’6″ board won’t glide as well as a 10’6″ or bigger board. The purpose of this package is a small and easy to carry board you can take anywhere. They succeeded with that goal. The board has good stiffness thanks to it’s advanced construction. The carbon paddle feels stiff and efficient. The board feels as good as any 9’6″ shorter length board. Tracking is okay but not as good as longer boards. Glide is good for the length but not as good as a 10’6″ or longer board.

Specifications

  • Size – 9′ 6″ x 32″ x 6″
  • Weight Capacity – 250 lbs
  • Board Weight – 18.75 lbs
  • Bag Size – 26″ x 20″ x 13″
  • Bag Weight – 30 lbs
  • Construction – 2 Layer Woven PVC
  • Paddle – 4 piece Carbon
  • Pump – Triple Action, Double Barrel Hand Pump
Nixy Huntington Paddle Board Product Image


5 –  iRocker Nautical

☆ Best Cheap Paddle Board For Travel
Paddling Nautical Stony Creek
What we liked
  • The best value inflatable paddle board out there
  • Lightweight board and overall package
  • Fiberglass paddle that performs well above its cost
  • Durable high quality construction
  • Double action pump is smaller than larger triple action hand pumps
What we didn’t like
  • The board is not as stiff as 3 layer boards
  • The bag is not as small as special compact design paddleboards

Summary

The iRocker Nautical 10’6″ inflatable paddleboard is the entry level board from iRocker. It is one of the best bargains in paddleboarding with a cost just under $300. Some of the features that make it cheap also make it more portable than other inflatable paddleboards.

The lightweight 2 layer construction allows the board to roll easier. This means it rolls into a more compact size than a 3 layer board. It also weighs 3 to 5 pounds less as well. You get a lighter and small bag to carry around than say an iRocker All Around which is somewhat of a beast to carry.

If you don’t want to spend enough to get a Blackfin Ultra or Red Paddle Co Compact but want a small, light, easy to carry board, get a Nautical.

Accessories

The Nautical hits well above it’s price point for included accessories.

They include a fiberglass paddle that is a little heavier and not as stiff as a more expensive carbon paddle. It is a lot better than the typical aluminum SUP package paddle. It feels and performs much better.

They include a double action hand pump. These get the job done for inflation. It’s not a big flashy hand pump. It’s smooth and works well. It doesn’t weigh a lot or take up much space in the carry bag to keep the overall weight down.

A carrying backpack is included. The materials feel good for the price. The bag isn’t padded or made with heat reflective material. It’s good for the price and doesn’t weigh a lot. The backpack straps have enough padding to carry comfortably. The bag doesn’t have wheels but iRocker sells an accessory to add wheels to this bag so you can roll it around.

On the water performance

The Nautical is a 10’6″ all around shaped board that is good for beginners or experienced paddlers. It is 32 inch wide which seems to be the sweet spot for all around boards. It gives enough stability but doesn’t feel like you are trying to push a yacht into waves and chop.

The Nautical is a cheaper softer paddleboard because of its lighter construction. It will feel like it’s flexing more on chop than a more rigid board. It’s best for flat water use and for paddlers under its stated 240 lb weight limit.

For heavier paddlers and those wanting better glide there is also an 11’6″ Nautical available. It’s bigger and heavier so not quite as portable as the 10’6″ Nautical.

Review

Read iRocker Nautical Full Review

Specifications

  • Size – 10′ 6″ x 32″ x 6″
  • Weight Capacity – 240 lbs
  • Board Weight – 20 lbs
  • Bag Size – 36″ x 16″ x 12″ 
  • Bag Weight – 27 lbs
  • Construction – 2 Layer PVC
  • Paddle – 3 piece fiberglass
  • Pump – Double Action Hand Pump
iRocker Nautical Product Image

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6 –  Pau Hana Solo Backcountry

Pau Hana Backcountry Paddling On Water
image courtesy of Pau Hana
What we liked
  • The overall very compact size and portability of this package
  • The innovative collapsable paddle design
  • They really put effort into making every part of this package as small and lightweight as possible
  • Fast and fun paddleboard design
What we didn’t like
  • The short hand pump requires you to really bend over to use
  • The dry bag backpack keeps everything wet after use

Summary

The Pau Hana Backcountry Solo was designed to be the ultimate backpacking paddleboard. It is small and fits in a bag that weighs less than 25 lbs. Every part of this package was designd to be small, compact and lightweight. It has several innovative features such as a collapsable paddle with a folding blade.

Accessories

The Solo Backcountry has a unique set of accessories unlike anything found on any other paddleboard. To start with the bag functions as a dry bag. I’m not really hot on this idea. It will keep your board dry. It will also keep it wet when your finished with nowhere for water to drip out of the bag. The paddle colapses down smaller than any other paddle we’ve seen. The shaft comes part. The blade can roll up. It does take some effort to assemble and dissassemble which is the downside. The hand pump is about half the height of a normal hand pump. It’s nice and small but requires you to bend down a lot to use it or pump from a kneeling position.

On the water

The board is 10’10” x 30″ giving it good glide and low drag. It is not the most stable or stiff boards out there. It’s not a good beginner board. Any intermediate and up paddler can have a lot of fun taking it to hard to reach places. The paddle feels surpringly good given its unconventional construction and blade.

Specifications

  • Size – 10’10” x 30″ x 6″
  • Weight Capacity – 215 lbs
  • Board Weight – 14.8 lbs
  • Bag Size – 23″ x 14″ x 12″
  • Bag Weight – 23 lbs
  • Construction – 2 Layer Woven PVC
  • Paddle – 5 piece fiberglass with a collapsable blade
  • Pump – Compact Double Action Hand Pump
Pau Hana Solo Backcountry Product Image

paddleboards at airport

Portable Paddle board guide

For the most part, if you want a portable paddleboard, an inflatable is the way to go. There are a few other options such as folding boards and multi-section boards. None of them get as small or lightweight as an inflatable paddle board. There are other things to consider also such as board size and weight capacity. Let’s take a look at the most important factors for a portable paddle board.

See our article “tips for flying with an inflatable paddle board” for more information on traveling with your paddleboard.

Inflatable vs Rigid Folding

Inflatable paddleboards have gotten really good. They can be really stiff. You can even get a racing board that is inflatable. This is what I recommend the most if you want an easy to transport and store portable paddle board. See our article “Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Any Good” to learn more.

There are other portable options besides inflatable paddleboards.

Easy Eddy and Origami Paddler both make folding rigid paddle boards.

The advantage of these boards is that they are rigid and stiffer so in theory will perform a little better on the water. They are faster to set up. Setup involves unfolding the 3 board segments and hooking up straps or latches. It might take 2 minutes on a slow day. Inflating an inflatable paddleboard will take 6 to 12 minutes depending on the board.

The downside to folding paddle boards is that they still take up a lot of space and they aren’t that light. They average 45 lbs in weight. They will take up the entire trunk space in a small SUV. They are larger and heavier than the largest inflatable paddle boards.

Board size

The size and shape of a paddleboard have a lot of effect on how it performs.

A longer paddleboard will glide easier and farther. You will get more from each paddle stroke. Most all around boards fall between 9′ and 11′ in length. Touring paddleboards made for long distance paddling tend to be 12′ to 14′ in length. A longer board will glide and track better. If getting somewhere fast is important to you, choose a longer board. If it’s not, you may enjoy a shorter board more.

The width of a paddleboard determines how stable it will be. A wider board is more stable and easier to stand on. A narrower board will have less drag in the water and be faster. A beginner paddleboarder should choose a wider board.

Board Construction

Inflatable paddleboards are all made out from drop stitch PVC. This is a material that uses a PVC top and bottom layer with a lot of strings between them. They can be very stiff and strong when inflated.

All PVC drop stitch is not created equally. Cheap boards use a single layer PVC. More expensive boards may use 2 or 3 layers. There are other variations like MSL or Woven PVC that can add more stiffness.

The more layers of PVC are used in the construction, the heavier the board gets as well. Heavier equals harder to carry and doesn’t fold as small.

Hand pump vs electric pump

The next biggest and heaviest thing going into your paddleboard carrying bag after the board is the pump. Almost all inflatable board packages come with some kind of hand pump. Most are single chamber, double action pumps. These work okay for inflating the board. They aren’t that fast and they all need some effort to get a board inflated.

I would avoid any single action pumps. These add minutes to the process and don’t save you any weight or size. These are just pumps that the manufacturer decided to save 50 cents on a plug to make it a double action pump.

Double chamber, double or triple action pumps are included as an upgrade on some boards. These pumps are bigger and heavier than a single chamber pump. Do they save you time inflating? Yes, kind of. Only if you are a stronger person and can leave the pump in high volume mode longer. If you can’t, then they are just more size and weight to carry around. I don’t know why paddleboard companies include double chamber pumps in a package that is meant to be small and portable.

The best option is an electric SUP pump. These are lighter and take up a lot less space in the bag than a hand pump. They are a little slower than the fastest, biggest hand pump out there but not by much. Most of them need a 12 volt source to operate. You can get a battery option from iRocker that solves that problem too. I rarely ever use a hand pump. An electric pump is the way to go for a smaller more portable paddle board package.

electric pump vs hand pump size
Electric pump size compared to hand pumps

The iRocker Electric Pump is one of our favorites. It’s small and compact and inflates boards quickly. There is also an available battery allowing it to be used anywhere. See our review of the iRocker electric pump to learn more.

IROCKER ELECTRIC PUMP

iRocker electric pump product image

Carbon vs Aluminum Paddle

Most paddleboard packages come with either an aluminum or carbon paddle. Aluminum paddles work. They are heavier and not as stiff as a carbon paddle. They will flex more on every paddle stroke. They are built with cheap plastic fittings and will wear out faster.
A carbon paddle will be stiffer and lighter. You will get more distance out of every paddle stroke. They usually have a better and stiffer bade shape as well. Carbon paddles are worth the extra cost to get.

Some boards also have fiberglass or composite paddles. They just label them composite as a more fancy way of saying fiberglass. If they are carbon, they will label them carbon and not composite. Fiberglass paddles are between Aluminum and Carbon for performance.

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About the author

My name is Doug Ryan. I am an outdoors enthusiast always looking forward to my next adventure. I spend as much time skiing, biking, and paddleboarding as I can. I decided to start Endless Rush Outdoors as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for all things outdoor adventures and to help other people have as much fun as me.