Inflatable Kayaks, SUPS & Canoes Reviews

Product Review: Red Paddle Co Compact 9’6″ x 32″ Inflatable SUP Package

This past summer, Red Paddle Co announced the launch of their new 9’6″ Compact Inflatable SUP Package, a revolutionary game-changer in the inflatable paddle board industry.

Red Paddle Co Compact 9'6"

Based on the popular Red Paddle Co Ride 10’6″, the 9’6″ Compact features a 32″ width with 4.7″ thickness, yet packs down to half the size of a conventional Red board without sacrificing performance, rigidity or durability.

Red Paddle accomplished this through a series of material breakthroughs and innovative design, starting from the ground-up and re-engineering each part.

While the initial shipment was scheduled for a November arrival, we were pleasantly surprised to obtain our first shipment early. This past week the UPS truck dropped off the new Red Paddle Co Compacts, which we immediately put to the test. (Please note, some of the information here will be repeated from other writeups.)

Red Paddle Compact 9’6″: Getting Started

The box as received weighs 32 lbs, measuring 26 x 17 x 15 inches.

What's inside the box.

Inside the box is the SUP body, Titan dual-barrel pump, pressure gauge, backpack, cinch belt, 2 removable fins, coiled ankle/leg leash, 5-pc breakdown paddle and repair kit – as well as a bonus cell phone case. Once rolled up, all items fit into the backpack. The instruction manual is fairly minimalist, but more details on many of the steps are printed on the components, such as the pump and military valve. (AirKayaks notes: The first shipment of Compacts did not include the instruction manual, but we have uploaded a PDF copy to our website. They also did not include a repair kit, but you can obtain one by contacting Red Paddle Co.)

Weight is 29 lbs for “all items” in the backpack, which easily fits in the back of a small car. The board alone is 15.6 lbs, while the pump is 5.5 lbs and the backpack 4 lbs.

Rolled up around the Titan pump.

The Red Paddle Compact 9’6″ inflatable SUP arrives rolled up around the high pressure Titan pump, inside the backpack.

Unfurl the Compact body.

For your first set up, remove, unroll and unfold the SUP body. Lay it out face up so that you can access the military valve.

Closing the inflation valve.

The Red Paddle Compact 9’6″ utilizes one spring-loaded military valve for inflation. These are very simple to use and feature an inflate mode (spring plunger is UP) and a deflate mode (spring plunger is DOWN). By using your finger to gently push on the plunger, it can be moved to the inflate mode (air goes in and doesn’t come back out) and deflate mode (air goes in and comes back out). Before you go to all the effort of inflating the board, PLEASE make sure the plunger is in the inflate position.

2018 Red Paddle Co Titan Pump

The included Titan dual-barrel (or twin cylinder) pump comes with a built-in pressure gauge, so you can monitor the board’s PSI. It also now comes with multiple adaptors, which can be used on inflatable kayaks, dinghies and kite equipment. Instructions for using the pump are printed on the pump barrel. To start off, you will be using both barrels, allowing the board to be filled in less time, and with less strokes.

Attach the hose to the pump, making sure there is no cross-threading. Then attach the integrated adaptor on the end of the hose, to the board by pushing in and turning. You’re ready to pump!

Make sure the red plug near the pump handle is inserted in the hole before pumping; this ensures you are using both barrels for maximum filling.

Pumping up the Red Paddle Compact Inflatable SUP

We pumped about 50 strokes using both barrels until the board unfurled, and the needle was moving. By another 12 pumps we were at 5 PSI and it was getting tough. We removed the plug, switching to single action mode. Another 50 pumps took us to 9 PSI, 25 more to 11 PSI and and 25 more to more to 13 PSI, where we stopped.

Pumping up the Red Paddle Compact Inflatable SUP

The higher the pressure, the stiffer the board. The recommended pressure is 18-22 PSI; if you are a smaller person, you can easily get away with the lower-end PSI – no sense in spending more time pumping than one needs to.

Installing the Red Paddle Compact fins

Next step, install the tracking fins. The Compact 9’6″ uses an FCS fin box – this is a common, slotted box that allows one to use various fin styles. The Compact comes with two red 5.25-inch, FCS fins with pin, which quickly snap into position without need for hardware or tools. The two fins are located inside the backpack, in the mesh pocket.

Installing the Red Paddle Compact fins

Point the fins towards the board tail and insert the two slots on the fin into the two fin box slots. Then push toward the rear and you will feel them click into position.

TIghtening the grub screws on the fin box.

Inside the cell phone case is a red Fin Key. While it is possible to skip this next step (see our note below under On the Water), we HIGHLY recommend using the Fin Key to tighten the tiny grub screws on the side of the fin box – if lost, a 3/32nd (2.35 mm) allen wrench will work. (AirKayaks note: Red Paddle suggests adding the Fin Key to your key chain, but there is also a pocket at the very end of the coiled ankle leash cuff hiding under the velcro.) As a precaution, pull up on the fins to make sure they are truly attached.

Attach the ankle leash to the rear d-ring by opening up the velcro on the narrow end, and sliding it through the d-ring, looping back. Fold over the other end of the velcro, and then fold the remaining piece of velcro on top – this ensures a good seal. When down on the water, you will wrap the larger, padded portion around your ankle or calf.

Red Paddle 5pc breakdown carbon SUP paddle

Last step, assemble the paddle. All five paddle pieces are housed inside the bag. This includes the T-Grip Leverlock handle, a slightly longer tube that fits only onto the handle, two more shafts and the blade.

Assembling the Red Paddle 5pc breakdown carbon SUP paddle

Pull open the Leverlock and slide the handle tube onto the handle.

Assembling the Red Paddle 5pc breakdown carbon SUP paddle

Then attach the next two shafts using the push-pin system. You will note that one side of each piece is vee-shaped, ensuring a snug fit. Finally, attach the blade. A couple of notes here – the Leverlock latch on our paddle was quite tight, making it difficult to pull up; we finally used a stick to pry it open. The vee-edges on the handle shaft can be somewhat sharp, so be careful not to pinch your hands. As there is no guide to show you if you have the handle facing in the correct position, make sure that the writing on the handle is in line with the writing on the shafts. This will ensure that the handle and blade are in sync.

Ready for the water!

That’s it! About 10 minutes with an excellent upper arm workout, you’re ready for the water.

Red Paddle Compact 9’6″: Features and Specifications

Red Paddle inflatable paddle boards are well known for being some of the best on the market – this has to do with the internal construction.

Red Paddle Compact with Dropstitch technology

First, the Red Paddle Co boards are constructed using “dropstitch” technology. The top of the board is held together with the bottom via thousands of “stitches.” These threads are “double stitched” so if one were to break, another holds. This allows the boards to be pumped up to very high pressures of 18 to 22 PSI and ensures that air doesn’t move around inside the board, creating a stable ride.

In 2016, Red Paddle Co kicked it up a notch with the introduction of Monocoque Structural Laminate, or MSL fusion technology. In the past, the “board within a board” was glued together, creating extra weight and the potential for hand-gluing errors. The new process industrially-fused the second layer of polymer to the dropstitch core at the raw material stage. The end result is a material that is structurally more sound, even more rigid, as well as lighter – in fact, many of the boards are now 5-10 lbs lighter than previous models.

The Compact 9'6" is rigid.

With the Compact 9’6,” Red Paddle Co introduced the revolutionary PACT technology. Ten years in the making, PACT technology is a new weaving process which creates a denser, high-tensile thread matrix at the core of the board, with a super-strong, malleable outer layer. The Compact 9’6″ utilizes 120mm dropstitch technology, making the board more rigid than many boards yet still allowing the rider to keep a low center of gravity.

Rails on the Compact 9'6"

The weakest link in an inflatable paddle board is the rail (side edge) area – where the top and bottom panels join together. Most ISUPS are constructed with one rail layer – Red Paddle Co features four layers of staggered taping to ensure minimal chance of air leakage due to punctures.

At first look, the board is actually incredibly simple and streamlined.

Bungee deck lacing with 6 d-rings

A bungee deck-lacing system with 6 metal d-rings begins 26 inches from the snout, measuring 12 to 23 inches wide and 19 inches deep – a perfect spot to attach gear.

Red Repeating Graphics on the Compact Inflatable SUP Deck pad.

A textured, traction pad featuring the “Red Repeating Graphics” is 59 x 26.5 inches deep, beginning roughly 40 inches from the nose. The traction pad is separated into two pieces with a 3 inch channel.

Padded carrying handle

A 6-inch, padded carrying handle is now located just “left of center” beginning about 54 inches from the nose.

Military valve and hull ID number

There is one military valve to inflate the board – this is imprinted with inflation instructions. The Hull-ID number is located just below the valve.

Ankle leash d-ring.

One leash d-ring is located across from the military valve, on the right side. Both valve and d-ring are located roughly 8 inches from the tail.

Relocated valve, handle and d-ring create a "living hinge"

The relocated valve, handle and d-ring – in conjunction with the 3-inch channel – essentially create a “living hinge”, allowing one to fold the board in half and easily roll the Compact into a smaller package.

Compact quad stringer on the underside

A unique “quad stringer” system is placed on the top and underside; as the board is inflated, the stringer becomes tighter making the 9’6 Compact more rigid without the bulk. Each pair of the 4 stringers is 2″ wide, positioned 11 inches apart running the entire length of the board, both top and underside.

Red Click Fin System

The removable Red Click Fin System features two fully recyclable 5.25 inch FCS fins and fin box with an integrated pin system ensuring the fins are not lost while paddling. A red Fin Key is located in the cell phone case, allowing one to tighten the fin box side screws, ensuring the fins are not lost. The fin box is compatible with most FCS fins.

The Bump

At this point, we want to mention “the bump” which can appear to be a defect to first time paddlers. As previously mentioned, drop stitch material consists of threads connecting the top and bottom layers. To install the military valve, the threads must be removed in that area, creating “the bump” which can be seen on the underside, below the valve. While this is mostly hidden by the fin box, it is still somewhat visible. This is normal and not something to worry about.

Revolutionary new Compact inflatable SUP from Red Paddle Co

The new Compact backpack went through a rigorous engineering redesign focused on adjustability and comfort. The result is an ergonomic carrying bag nearly half the size of the standard rollerpack.

Red Paddle Compact - Lumbar Support on the backpack

Lumbar support can be customized by raising or lowering the belt pack via an integrated velcro system. An adjustable, cushioned waist belt provides the perfect fit, and also sports two d-rings for more attachment points.

New backpack for the Red Paddle Co Compact inflatable SUP

The padded shoulder straps have two points of adjustment – top and bottom – with reinforced anchor points and concentrated padding. Each of these allow one to personally optimize the backpack for a more ergonomic fit.

Red Paddle Compact Backpack

The bag sports a quilted front and selectively padded back, a padded top handle and two padded side carrying handles; the handle cores are tubular closed cell foam. Two-way zippers (with very slick Red Paddle branded zipper pulls) allow the pack to be open on three sides, making it much simpler to get the board in and out.

Red Click Fin System

There are two interior mesh pockets with velcro closure. One pocket measuring 4.5 x 9.5 inches initially houses the cell phone case, but can be used for a water bottle. The second pocket, measuring 9 x 10 inches, is perfect for the 2 removable fins. Each pocket has a cloth loop, used to pull the velcro open, or to attach other gear.

Compact paddle inside the backpack

Two sets of elastic loops have imprinted lines showing where to stash the breakdown paddle components.

Outer measurements on the backpack are roughly 25 x 16 x 13 inches, allowing the board and all accessories to fit inside. Weight reduction is saved via the smaller size, and removal of the wheels. All this makes a lighter-weight, 4 lb./1.8 kg backpack that features 53% less downward force applied on the lower back.

2018 Red Paddle Co Titan Pump

The Compact 9’6″ comes with the highly-acclaimed dual barrel (twin cylinder) Titan pump. This features a large and small barrel; when initially pumping, both cylinders are used, putting in more air rapidly. When it gets tough to pump, remove the pump plug which utilizes just the slim barrel. The smaller barrel makes it easier to pump at higher pressures. The updated Titan pump is killer. The handle is reinforced so that it can withstand more pumping pressure. While the military valve adaptor is permanently affixed to the hose end, the Titan pump now comes with a variety of additional adaptors – a Boston valve adaptor, nozzle adaptor and two screw-on adaptors. These are attached via a very nifty system, allowing one to use the Titan pump on inflatable kayaks, dinghies and kites. Read our Titan Pump Review for more details.

Red Paddle Co Gauge

The gauge features three “green” zones – one from 1 to 4 PSI for lower pressure inflatables, one from 6 to 8 PSI for higher pressure kayaks and kites, and then the third from 15 to 22 PSI for paddle boards.

Paddle blade

The new Compact 9’6″ package also includes Red Paddle Co’s innovative new 5-piece, adjustable, breakdown paddle. Individual shaft sections are constructed from a rigid, high-modulus carbon. These have been cut on an angle to minimize twisting and are assembled with a push-pin system. The laser-etched nylon blade delivers durability and performance.

Leverlock system

A Leverlock grip system allows one to readily adjust the paddle from 71.5-80 inches/181-203cm (specs say 70.8/180cm to 82.7/210cm.) The system includes the leverlock handle (17 inches long/6 oz), handle shaft (19.25 inches long/4 oz), two pushpin shafts (19 inches long/4oz) and the blade (19″ long/17 oz) for a total of roughly 1.8 lbs/0.8 kg. In addition, the individual shafts can be removed to create a paddle suitable for smaller riders (55-64 in/140cm to 162 cm and 38-47 inches/94cm to 119cm), making it a great choice for families.

Red Paddle Co Coiled Leash

Last but not least, the 9’6″ Compact System comes with the popular Red Paddle Co Coiled Leash. The leash features an interchangeable ankle or calf cuff with quick release loop and integrated key pouch. The coils prevent the leash from dragging in the water, plus dual pivot points reduce twisting.

Red Paddle Co Compact 9'6" Inflatable SUP

We did measurement tests. The Compact 9’6″ inflated is 144 inches long, 32 inches wide, and just under 5 inches deep – on target with the published specs. Payload is up to 209 lbs/95 kg.

Red Paddle Compact 9’6″ On the Water

Red Paddle Compact - On the water

I took out the Compact 9′ 6″ on a slightly windy day with mild chop. Despite the shorter length (I’ve been more used to the 11’3 and up boards) the 9’6″ was fairly stable, and something that one would quickly get used to – and the lower volume makes it easier to pump up. The Compact tracked well, had a good glide, and was very maneuverable. And it’s zippy! Heading into the wind, the board rode over small swells easily and handled beautifully.

Red Paddle AllWater, Compact and Ride 10-6

The design of the Compact 9’6″ is similar to a “shrunken-down” Ride 10’6″. Yet, the Compact 9’6″ reminded me very much of the original AllWater 9’6″, one of the earlier Red boards. This was redesigned into the Ride 9’8“. In fact, the 9’6 Allwater was the first board I owned, and one of my favorites.

Red Paddle Compact - On the water

While I am more of a “fair weather” paddler, I took it out the next day in increasing wind, with larger waves. The Compact paddled downwind pretty easily, but the larger waves made it a more unstable ride. Experienced paddlers will be more comfortable in these situations than beginners.

Paddle shafts are angle cut.

While we sell many 3pc and 4pc breakdown paddles, we have never used a 5pc breakdown paddle. I was pleasantly surprised with the included Red carbon paddle. Despite having several connection points, the move towards the 45-degree cut/anti-twist connectors make the paddle act as one unit – the paddle felt sturdy and rigid, no rattling. And at 30 ounces, it’s lightweight! I did have difficulty opening the Leverlock handle, and – on a personal note – I do struggle with push pins. My only suggestion would be a mark on the shaft to easily line up the handle with the blade. That said, it’s a very nice paddle and feels good.

The Compact backpack is easy to carry

The “compact” size of the backpack is a great upgrade. Most inflatable SUP bags are so long, they hit the back of my knees while walking. The new Compact backpack is nearly half the size, and thus quite packable, quite adjustable, and very comfortable. I do want to caution that the padded back material is very fuzzy, meaning if you are near cut straw, dried grass and burrs, it will attract all of them. So grab a towel to drape over it in these situations.

As most recently we have used the larger boards (Sport 11-3 through the Voyager 13-2) it was quite refreshing to pump up a board with less volume, and surprisingly easy!

Red Paddle Compact - Used as a sit-on-top

A little-mentioned fact is how fabulous the inflatable SUPs are as sit-on-tops. While there are no appropriate attachment points, by gluing on two side d-rings, one could add a kayak seat and double-sided kayak paddle. Besides being very fast and fun to paddle, it’s a great option for long days on the boards, or when the wind kicks up.

At this point I do have to mention something which happened on the first use. As the initial Compacts arrived without instructions, I did not see the Fin Key in the cell phone case. I attached both fins into their slots, clicked them into position, and pulled to make sure they were secure. I then took the board down to the beach (fins in the water) and launched by pushing back. As I started to turn around, the board kept spinning and felt pretty unstable. Standing up was also difficult, so I immediately headed back to shore. At which time I noticed two bright red objects in the shallow water – the fins! As I paddled backwards to get out into open water, the fins hit rocks, popping them forward and off the board. So look for that Fin Key!

While I didn’t bring Cleo along this time, here is a photo of Eddie on an earlier version of the Race 12-6 shown above. Dog claws are no match for the beefy construction material.

Red Paddle Compact - Lightweight!

And did I mention how light it was?

Rolling up your Red Paddle Co Compact 9’6

Rolling up the Compact 9'6"

Deflating the board is pretty simple. Disassemble the paddle and put into the backpack. Remove the tracking fins and store in the bag. Burp the plunger a couple of times to release some of the pressure, then push the plunger to the open (down) position and immediately the air will swoosh out. Roll up the board from the nose to initially push out most air, and then unroll and fold the board in half down the centerline. Lay the Titan pump down on the nose end and start tightly rolling up the board from the snout. As you roll it up, air will continue to be pushed out of the open valve.

Rolling up the Compact 9'6"

When fully rolled up, replace the valve cover and then take the attached strap and cinch it around the bundle. If you’ve rolled up tight enough, the board will easily slip back into the backpack.

Red Paddle Compact 9’6″: Bottom Line

Red Paddle Compact - On the water

This is a great board – particularly for smaller and average-sized individuals! It’s nimble, rigid and paddles well. Each of the board components are well-thought, creating a “compact” package that will appeal and adjust to a wide variety of paddlers sizes and ages.

Te Red Paddle Compact fits in the back of a small car.

The Compact is a great choice for families, easily packed in a car or RV and light enough for most members to carry. The backpack is infinitely adjustable for a wide-variety of comfort levels, while the 5pc breakdown paddle can be reconfigured from 94cm to 203cm in length.

Easily carried in the smaller backpack

It’s also perfect for the outdoor urbanite using mass-transit, or those remote adventurers wanting a backpackable option without sacrificing performance.

Red Paddle Co Compact Inflatable SUP

The Red Paddle Compact 9’6″ is a good all-round board, great for flat water, calmer shorelines, slow-moving rivers and that remote alpine lake, but nimble enough to be equally at home with an afternoon of light surfing.

While the Compact 9’6″ components fit neatly into the backpack, this is a great candidate for the original HP EZee pump, a slim-barreled, high-pressure pump that will take a bit longer than the Titan, but will allow the board to roll up tighter and will save another 3-4 lbs.

Rolling up the compact

Best of all, it rolls up into the included backpack – which can house all the necessary accessories – making it a great inflatable for traveling via plane.

Red Paddle Compact - On the water

The Red Paddle Compact 9’6″ is another winner. At $1899 MSRP, it’s on the higher end of the retail market, but it is truly portable, innovative and does include the carbon paddle, Titan pump, a premier backpack and coiled leash. For more details or to purchase, visit the Red Paddle Co Compact 9’6″ product page at You can also watch our YouTube video, below:


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