Looking to buy a paddle board? You might be wondering if you should go with an inflatable or hard board (also known as rigid boards). Both have their own benefits and drawbacks, so it can be tough to decide which is the best option for you. In this article, we will break down the pros and cons of each type of paddle board so that you can make the best decision for your needs!
Key Paddle Board Considerations
Probably the largest consideration for most people is portability. Hard paddle boards are obviously much more difficult to transport since they cannot be deflated and carried in a bag. If you do not have a car or other means of transportation that can accommodate a large, unwieldy object, then an inflatable paddle board is probably the way to go.
On the other hand, inflatable paddle boards are much more convenient to transport since they can be deflated and stored in a bag. This makes them ideal for people who have limited storage space or need to travel with the board. In addition, inflatable boards can come with backpacks or carrying devices so that you can take them to places you couldn’t get with a hard board, like an alpine lake that requires a hike.
Both can be taken on planes, but an inflatable is going to cost you a regular checked bag, while a hard board may either not be accepted by some airlines or will have extra large baggage fees that you’ll need to check with the airline for. Hard boards can also get damaged a lot more easily on airplanes.
Performance And Stability
Hard paddle boards are better for certain performance since they are not as affected by wind and water conditions. In conditions where riders need to cut through waves, or travel long distances, rigid boards tend to outperform.
However, inflatable paddle boards have come a long way and now offer much better performance than they used to. In addition, inflatable paddle boards are often more stable than hard boards, making them a better choice for beginners or those looking to do yoga or other activities on the board. Because inflatable paddle boards can be wider without sacrificing weight, many of the models are actually quite stable in comparison to rigid boards.
The thinner and smoother design of hard boards mean they cut through water, wind, and waves more efficiently.
Hardboards of the same size as inflatable boards tend to be:
- More maneuverable
- Able to cut through waves with less friction
- Less stable
- Better for surfing
Rigid boards require a large space inside for storage as well that many may not have the capacity for. Inflatable boards, on the other hand, can be stored in a closet or even under a bed when not in use.
Inflatable paddle boards are more durable with few exceptions. A drop on a rock, or bashing into a rock or sand often results in zero damage. Doing so with a hardboard can result in damage that should be repaired. Inflatables are definitely more forgiving for a use because of this.
However, if a major issue to an inflatable occurs, like a puncture, that may be more difficult to fix than a hard board. It is pretty simple to fix cracks and chips out of a hard board.
Overtime, sun damage can affect both hard boards and inflatable boards. This damage can degrade the look of a hard board, but often not the performance. An inflatable board could have seams or glue that becomes damaged that could degrade the performance of the board over time. With this being said, proper storage and maintenance of both board types leads to quite lengthy lives.
For instance, making sure your inflatable is dry and sand free before folding up and placing in a closet can go a long way to increasing its lifespan.
At the end of a day, inflatable boards tend to be a little more forgiving, but catastrophic damage, like a puncture or tear is more likely on an inflatable SUP.
Inflatable paddle boards have more affordable options. Nowadays, there are inflatable manufacturers that make quite expensive boards that have incredible performance and packability as well. Therefore, on the high end of each type of paddleboard, you can find both hard and inflatable boards in the same price range. overall, the average inflatable will be less expensive than the average rigid board, but a less expensive inflatable board will sacrifice on performance, features, or durability.
Inflatable SUP: Low End – $300-500, Mid Range: $500-$750, High End: $750-$1400
Rigid SUP: Low End – $500-750, Mid Range: $750-1,000, High End: $1,000 – $1800
Note: We recommend staying out of the low end of both style of SUPs for durability and performance reasons.
Inflatable paddle boards often have padding for users that makes them more comfortable to stand, sit, or kneel on when compared to hard boards. You’ll find new paddle boarders not used to a hard board and may get more fatigued in the feet easier. Therefore, most consider inflatable paddle boards more comfortable to ride.
Inflatable vs Hard Paddle Boards
To summarize the above benefits in each, here is a quick list to help you understand the key differences:
Benefits of Inflatable SUPs
- Better stability
- Better portability and transport
- Better durability
- More comfortable to ride
- Easier storage
Benefits Of Hard SUPs
- Better speed performance
- Better high wind performance
- Better performance in waves
- Better performance while surfing
- Easier to setup and get on the water (no blowing up necessary)
Which Type Of Paddle Board Is Best For You?
The type of paddle board that is best for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences. If you are looking for a stable, comfortable, and durable paddle board that is easy to transport and store, then an inflatable SUP would be the best option for you. However, if you are looking for a paddle board that performs better in harsh conditions, and you don’t need easy transport or storage, then a hard SUP would be best.
If you are unsure of what type of paddle board to get, inflatable paddle boards are always a great option because they offer a great combination of stability, comfort, durability, and portability. No matter what your needs are, there is an inflatable paddle board out there that will suit you perfectly!
Frequently Asked Questions
We know there are some commonly asked questions that we thought we would help answer about iSUPS and SUPS here:
How Long Do Inflatable Paddle Boards Last?
This question depends on how well you take care of your board. Always dry your board, remove sand, and don’t leave sitting in the sun. Boards often last up to 10 years and even longer if cared for properly. Each manufacturer will give best practices for your boards maintenance.
What PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch) Should I Inflate My Paddle Board To?
This is dependant upon the board. Most boards are inflated between 10-15 PSI, but you should always check your specific SUP’s requirements.
Are Inflatable Paddle Boards More Stable?
Generally, yes. iSUPS are often made wider than hardboards, making them a bit more stable and easier for beginners.
Can I Keep My Inflatable SUP Inflated?
Yes, most iSUPs can be kept inflated. Keep in mind that temperature changes may cause you to need to inflate or deflate the board however.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about