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January 10, 2022 7 min read

How to Travel With an Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board (iSUP)

Man carrying a GILI komodo inflatable paddle board

One of the best perks of owning an inflatable SUP is, of course, the fact that you can travel with it. Their incredible portability and durable construction mean inflatable boards are made for exploring anywhere you want to go.

Inflatable paddle boards are most at home on the water, so there’s a few considerations you should make before you take your board on the road. As long as you plan and pack properly, you're going to have a smooth trip.

In this article, we’ll give you a breakdown of how to pack, check and fly with an inflatable paddle board, as well as the best ways to transport it on the ground. We have all the advice you need to safely transport your board by plane, car, bus, or train - so you can be well on your way to a perfect paddling session before you even hit the beach.

Ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime? Here’s everything you need to know about how to travel with an inflatable paddle board:

How to Fly with Your Stand Up Paddle Board

Ready to take your first flight with your board? It’s easier than you think to fly with an inflatable SUP board, even to the other side of the world! We know that planning air travel can come with its challenges, so we’ve put together this guide to make flying with an iSUP simple.

How to Pack your Paddle Board to Avoid Damage

GILI inflatable board package on a SUP backpack

However you’re planning on getting to your destination, there’s one crucial thing you can do to protect your board on its journey: Invest in a specially-designed paddle board travel bag.

These custom-built bags are shaped to accommodate your deflated SUP, and have all sorts of pockets to store your paddle, fins, and other accessories. Plus, they’re reinforced and padded for extra protection to ensure that your board arrives in perfect condition. Simply roll up your deflated board like a sleeping bag with the paddle and pump tucked inside, load everything into the bag, and you’re ready to roll. 

Which Travel Bags to Use

Not every paddle board bag is created equal, so be sure to look for a durable design that protects your board and makes for easy carrying every step of your trip.

If you’re looking for the ultimate in quality and design, the GILI Rolling iSUP Backpack will knock your socks off. It’s easy to carry, crafted for the most epic journeys, and comes with premium padded shoulder and waist straps for maximum comfort. Its heavy duty wheels allow you to carry your bag like a regular backpack or take the weight off your back and roll your SUP bag like a suitcase.

Aside from looking slick, it’s also roomy enough to fit your pump and paddle inside, plus it’s loaded with extra pockets for carrying all your other gear. When you arrive at your destination, the top and side grab handles allow you to easily pull it off the luggage carousel.

How to Pack Your Paddle

Woman carrying a SUP backpack with paddle on the pocket

Packing your paddle is easy when you have an iSUP backpack, and even more so if you invest in a travel-friendly model. We never leave home without our GILI Adjustable 3 Piece Travel Paddle - it’s made of feather-light aluminum, can be adjusted for all rider heights, and breaks down into 3 pieces to fit perfectly inside your board bag.

To keep your paddle and pump protected on the journey, we recommend rolling them up inside your deflated board before stashing everything in your iSUP backpack. This method keeps all your accessories secure, plus gives you the option to wrap your paddle blade and pump in some layers of extra padding for ultimate peace of mind. 

Important Airline Information to Check Beforehand

Don’t get caught out by crazy excess baggage fees or hold-ups at the check-in desk! Most airlines have a 50lb checked bag weight limit, but this policy can vary between airlines, so it pays to do your research ahead of time. Most inflatable paddle boards in an iSUP backpack come in well under this weight and size limit, but it’s wise to use this pre-flight checklist before you book: 

  • Check dimension and weight limits with your chosen airline to ensure your iSUP bag will be allowed as a checked bag.
  • Measure your packed board bag and cross-check its dimensions with your airline's height and length limit to avoid an oversized bag fee.
  • Be sure to weigh all your gear beforehand so you can move any heavier SUP accessories to another suitcase and avoid an overweight bag fee.
  • Plan for delays and arrive at the airport earlier than usual in case the gate agent wants to inspect your board.
  • Check your destination’s local rules & regulations to find out about watersports permits and required safety gear like PFDs.

Paddle Board Carrier Restrictions on Flights

While a friendly greeting will get you a long way at the check-in desk (and potentially help you avoid any excess fees), it does depend on the gate agent’s discretion. Naturally, different airlines come with their own luggage restrictions, so be sure to check ahead of time so you can pick an airline that won’t gouge you with additional fees when you arrive.  

Gear to Bring Along

Don’t forget to pack these other paddling essentials! The good news? Your iSUP backpack has plenty of room to fit more than just your paddle board, so load up the pockets with this other gear:

  • Coiled Ankle Leash - to keep your SUP close if you take a tumble
  • PFD - a safety essential that is required in many paddling destinations
  • Dog Life Jacket - paddle with confidence and keep your furry friend afloat
  • Dry Bag - for all those important things like your cell phone, wallet and car keys 
  • Camera Gear - Capture all the action and create memories that last a lifetime
  • Fins - You’ll never forget to pack these again thanks to the special fin forward pocket on GILI’s Rolling iSUP Backpack!

How to Travel with an Inflatable Paddle Board by Ground

Inflatable SUPs give you a host of transport options on the ground, letting you get your board to the water’s edge without a hassle. Depending on your vehicle type, you can always keep your board inflated if you’ll be using it for consecutive days of your trip. 

With an iSUP backpack, it’s even easier to transport. Hit the ground running with these tips on how to travel with inflatable paddle board by car, truck, bus or train:

Transporting an iSUP on a Roof Rack

GILI inflatable paddle board on a car roof rack

If you’re traveling in a car with roof racks, you can leave your board inflated for transport. This is a good method if you’re traveling with friends and need to stack multiple boards too. Plus, you’ll save a ton of time deflating and re-inflating your board every time you arrive at a new paddling location!

If your vehicle doesn’t have roof racks installed, a set of rack pads and straps is a good work-around. These easy-to-install systems use foam blocks and strapping to secure your SUP right onto the roof of any vehicle, and only take a few minutes to install. 

Here’s some things to keep in mind when transporting paddle boards on top of a car: 

  1. Securely strap your inflated board to the roof without allowing too much wiggle room. This prevents wind gusting under the board as you drive, which can loosen the straps.  
  2. Don’t over-tighten the cam buckle on your tie down straps, as excess pressure could damage your vehicle and board.
  3. In hot weather, be sure to release some air from your valve. High temperatures cause the air inside paddle boards to expand, which can place excess pressure on your board’s seams.
  4. Try not to park your car in direct sunlight for extended periods, as this can fade your board deck and damage its integrity. If you can’t avoid the sun beating down, stack your board with the deck covered or shielded from the harsh rays. 

Not sure of the best method to transport your SUP on top of a vehicle? Check out our article on the Best SUP Roof Racks for Cars, Trucks & SUVs.

Transporting Your SUP in a Trailer

If you’ve got a trailer to transport your paddle boards in, you’re in luck. Trailers are super practical, as they’re great for people who aren’t tall enough to load SUP boards onto roof racks, plus have plenty of extra room to store your other gear or stack multiple boards. 

Depending on the size and style of trailer, you’ve got two options:

  • Leave your paddle boards inflated and strap them securely to the trailer frame. 
  • Pack deflated boards inside an iSUP backpack, then toss it in the trailer in a secure spot where it won’t get crushed or damaged.

How to Transport a Stand Up Paddle Board Inside a Vehicle or a Truck Bed

GILI Inflatable paddle boards transported by a truck

Generally, the best way to transport an inflatable SUP inside a vehicle is in its travel bag, stowed in the trunk or on a seat. When packed in its bag, your entire SUP kit takes up less room than a small suitcase.

On the flipside, if you’ve got a bigger truck or van at your disposal, you’ve got the option of leaving your board inflated. Just remember these key points if that’s the case:

  • Never be tempted to force your board into a place it won’t fit, as this could damage its vulnerable edges.
  • Leave a few inches around the fins to prevent any bumps or dings. 
  • If you can’t slide your board into the vehicle without a fight, it’s time to deflate it completely or consider a different carrying method.
  • Resist the urge to try bending your board or letting a bit of air out to squeeze it in the vehicle - this can compromise the integrity of your board.

On a Train or Bus

If you’re planning to take public transportation, we recommend you deflate the board and carry it in your iSUP backpack. Here’s some pro tips:

  • To keep your board safe from theft or damage, keep it on your person or close by.
  • If your iSUP backpack needs to go in storage beneath the bus, wait until last so you can stack your SUP on top of everyone else’s bags and prevent it from being crushed.

The Wrap Up

Touring distant lands with your inflatable paddle board is a breeze with these easy travel tips. Just deflate your SUP, roll it up like a sleeping bag, and you’re ready to ride. Here’s to new adventures and exploring the world with your GILI paddle board!

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

Chief Paddler - Jay has been surfing and paddling for over 5 years. When he's not dreaming up new stuff at GILI, he's writing articles about paddling, out paddling, or often traveling.


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