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Review of the 2017 Red Paddle Co 12’6″ Explorer inflatable paddle board

The 2017 Red Paddle Co 12’6″ Explorer stand up inflatable paddle board is an finer tuned model for 2017. Many of the details carry over from 2016 with only smaller changes further refining this board as one of the best inflatable paddle boards for tourers, adventurers, fishing or larger paddlers looking for something stable, to carry gear on board or fish from. Joined last year by the sleeker 13’2″ Explorer+ and the more all round 12’6″ Sport, the 12’6″ Explorer continues to be at home in the range as a stand alone option with merits rather than the default option, as it was prior to 2016. For 2017, it even gets a”baby brother” in the new 11’3″ x 32″ Sport.

It is a big, wide and stable board with plenty of deck space and 2 cargo areas, and while it may not be the fastest tourer, it’ll carry everything you’ve got and then some.

A great board to use for over night trips, carrying the kids up front, carrying your dog, to fish from with all your gear conveniently stowed on deck, or using the space to tie down a cooler full of drinks and snacks.

2016 was a year where the introduction of MSL set Red Paddle Co apart from all the other inflatable paddle board manufacturers. While many of them are playing catch up with fusion style constructions of their own, Red Paddle Co is already a year ahead and improving on the industry leading MSL Technology. MSL is a patented technology and construction process, much like Gore-Tex, so you won’t find it on any other paddle boards.

TL;DR: Red Paddle Co range updates also feature on this 2017 model. RAM Mounts, FCS tool-less fin etc. The 12’6″ Explorer is still a winner despite continued competition in this length with the 13’2″ Explorer+ and 12’6″ Sport. This board still has a place to call it’s own rather than being the default touring or big paddler option. Excellent option for big paddlers, to carry gear, kids, animals, fish from or over night gear. Big, stable, durable, the trusty 12’6″ Explorer will take you there and back with no complaints – a true workhorse.

The bag

The 2017 inflatable sup board bag is an updated version of the 2016 bag with an internal mesh pocket (great for your fin), bungee tie downs for a 3 piece paddle, foil lining on the bag material and upgraded zipper pulls. It features an easy loading system where the bag zips all the way along 3 sides opening up wide so you can get your gear in and out very easily.

For your board, you have the strap to hold the board wrapped up but there is also a handy internal cinch strap which keeps your board positioned and secure in the bag during travel. For 2017, they’ve also included paddle holding bungees and a mesh pocket to help pack a fin and locate items while travelling. The foil lining improves the heat protection of the board if you leave it in your car or in a hot climate and doubles as a waterproof lining so your wet gear won’t leak out of the bag after a session.

Bag dimensions remain the same at: 37″ high, 14″ wide and 12″ deep.

Space is aplenty for the pump, a 3 piece paddle, leash and even wetsuit, PFD etc. The Titan Pump comes with the board wrapped around it which is a great space saving technique and something I continue to do. It also keeps the pump secure with the board when cinched down. With previous pumps, this wasn’t such an issue but as the Titan is a little bulkier it makes sense to use the space inside the rolled up board for something, keep it secure in the bag and have room for more. I’ll get into this more later in this review but thanks to the new construction process/material of the board, it now also rolls tighter leaving you even more room in the bag for extras.

Carry handles on both sides, as well as the top and bottom give you, and baggage handlers, plenty of places to grab and carry the bag. The Sherpa backpack system remains in 2017 so you can carry the bag on your back with comfortable shoulder and waist straps, or tuck them away out of sight and away from baggage belt monsters and just roll the bag on the integrated wheels and be confident the bag will arrive safely. See more photos of the bag here.

As packaged from the factory the board is protected by a layer of plastic to separate the board from itself when rolled, small inflatable “water wings” which go around the fins to help them keep shape, the Titan pump in it’s own bag and a bag that bundles the whole lot. The FCS II Connect fin is in its own little plastic bag, hidden away in the new internal mesh pocket.

The pump

12-2017-red-paddle-co-titan-pump-fast-pump-inflateThe majority of the standard Red Paddle Co line now comes standard with the improved Titan Pump. The 8’10” Whip and 9’4″ Snapper come with the Red Paddle Co Ezee HP since they are small, low volume boards. Overall the Titan makes pumping the board a much quicker process. The angled foot base and wide handle work well for me with my long legs and wide shoulders. I always found the Ezee and Ezee HP a little small to get my frame around, kinda like an elephant riding a bike. Anyway, Red have taken into account some of the ergonomics for comfortable and efficient inflation as well as doubling the input volume of air with every stroke. Pump up to about 8-10 PSI on the included gauge and then you pull the red plug out of the back of the handle, affix to the little nub so it doesn’t flap around, and continue on the HP side to go all the way to 25 PSI. The Titan still beats any electric pump I’ve come across in inflation time, but yes, you do have to do the work…

While it may look similar, the 2017 Titan Pump has been totally reworked internally and is now even more efficient. Improved handle design, beefier internal valves, hose adaptors for your favourite inflatable toys, it pumps even more smoothly and efficiently.

Inflating the 2017 12’6″ Red Paddle Co Air SUP Explorer is much the same as the 2016 took me 4 minutes and 35 seconds. Add another 5 seconds to attach the easy to install FCS II Connect 9″ fin and you’re good to go!

The board

Dimensions: Same as 2016, 12’6″ long, 32″ wide and 5.9″ thick. This length and width offer a large stable platform with plenty of deck area and the thickness offers a stiff board with more volume better suited for larger paddlers, cruising and carrying gear. Once again for 2017, thanks to the MSL Fusion construction, the board finish is so good it looks like a regular hard board. MSL, or Monocoque Structural Laminate Fusion, basically eliminates a lot of excess glue and human error.

In previous years, the “board within a board” Red Paddle Co is famous for was primarily glued together, making a super durable board but adding extra weight and the potential for hand gluing or human errors.

This process consists of industrially fusing and machine pressing the inner layer of polymer to the high density drop stitch core at the raw material stage. Same “board with a board” construction but with material that is now structurally more sound, even more rigid, as well as lighter. More details about MSL over here. For 2017, the Red Paddle Co have made further improvements to the MSL material, increasing thickness and bond strength which means they can reduce batch inconsistencies and allows them to make boards from the most advanced drop stitch available.

MSL tech talk aside, what does this mean for the paddler? Well, the cosmetic finish is drastically improved as I’ve mentioned, the boards are about 20% lighter over standard double layer boards, and since they are fused and machine pressed together, they are essentially one piece instead of 2 layers, and are structurally stiffer at lower pressure. Red Paddle Co recommend a pumping pressure of 16-22 PSI for most applications to make the most of these benefits and improve overall performance.

I usually stop pumping at 20 PSI on the Red Paddle Co boards, I prefer to be paddling than pumping. I find this is a good match between pumping effort and stiffens on the water. If it is choppier or I’ll have my kids on the front, I might pump a little more.

Red Paddle Co have famously tested the durability and toughness of their boards over the years, see a 2014 board taking a beating. Knowing that the 2017 MSL construction boards are even stronger than before should put your mind at ease!


[/twentytwenty] [twentytwenty]underside-2016-Red-Paddle-Co-inflatable-SUP-12-6-explorer


You’ll notice that not much has changed over 2016. Slightly small rear cargo area as denoted by d-ring position, revised inboard center handles, larger fin box to accomodate the FCS II Connects tool-less fin (and other US box fins), revised nose and tail runners for a smoother and lower profile (ad easier roll up). You’ll also notice the addition of 2 RAM Mounts. These are standardised accessories mounts. More info on RAM Mounts here.

The 2017 12’6″ Explorer weighs in at 25lbs, including fin. Red Paddle Co are careful not to make the boards too light. Yes, there is such a thing. Obviously the weight is there for rigidity and performance reasons, but we also need some weight in the board to control it in rougher waters or wind. A board with some weight is predictable and stable making it better suited to all paddlers.

For 2017, Red Paddle Co have chosen to go with the tool-less fin set up offered by the FCS II Connect fins. Many of the boards now use the 9″ touring style fin which inserts easily into the US fin box in a matter of seconds. It is so simple, I don’t know why all brands don’t sell all boards, both inflatable and hard boards, with these fins. Those little nuts and plate things would so often get lost or damaged so a tool-less option with 5 second insert and 5 second removal is a very welcome change.[/twocol_one_last][/column]

Up a little closer we can see the edges of the material are cleanly cut, the glue lines that previously wandered are all now dead straight thanks to the robots. The tie-down d-rings are stainless steel with heavy duty bungee cord and RAM Mount in the forward cargo area. The center carry handles is all padded and the side handles are now mounted inboard to be more convenient for carrying, lashing things on board etc. There is also a carry handle integrated into the leash d-ring on the nose and tail which is excellent for pulling the board through waves, up the beach or generally just holding on etc. The nose handle also features a second RAM Mount.

Further updates to the range featured on this board are the Red Paddle Co logos on the top and underside of the nose are screen printed on rather than a layer in itself, further saving weight.

The rest

The package includes a repair kit with glue and patches. A waterproof phone case that comes with inflation instructionspump tips and care tips inside. A wrapping strap to keep the board rolled up.

On the water

As simply a detail oriented revision of the 2016 model without any major design/shape changes, the 12’6″ Explorer continues to be a great all round, cruising, fishing and touring board for paddlers of all sizes and up to 330lbs combined load capacity. So you can pack a full camp site, a few coolers, a couple of dogs, , a few rods, a few kids and have space to spare. It is very stable meaning anyone can stand on this board and have a good time paddling. The thicker 5.90″ high density drop stitch ensures that your board is rigid even under full load. Lighter paddlers will find you tend to sit higher in the water and may be more susceptible to chop or cross winds but the nose and tail runner fins keep you on tracking and stable at all times.

Either standing or kneeling, paddling is comfortable and tracking from FCS Connect 9″ Touring SUP fin and tail runners is exceptionally straight and true. This is a very easy stand up paddle board for beginners to start on, larger paddlers to use with extra capacity for gear, or paddlers of all levels to use for distance touring, cruising, fishing or just paddling around. Cruising the coastline, SUP Yoga, paddling workouts, slow moving rivers, bays, inlets, intra-coastals, paddling between tropical islands, you name it! It is also a great choice for families as the 12’6″ explorer can be enjoyed by all ages, with acres of space for children or furry friends up front. The almost indestructible design is also paw friendly.

Under the bungee cords, you could strap down a cooler and fishing tackle box and enjoy paddling into hard to reach places and catch some big’uns. Maybe a tent and some suppliers on the back, and we’ll see you after the long weekend!


  • Length: 12’6″
  • Width: 32″
  • Thickness: 150mm, 5.90 inches
  • Volume: 370 liters
  • Weight: 25 lbs board only, 34 lbs with backpack and pump
  • Max payload: 330 lbs/150 kg
  • Warranty: 1 year


  • Top notch finish
  • Excellent glide and tracking provided by the super easy and quick to install/remove FCS II Connect tool-less fin, nose and tail runners
  • Multiple RAM Mounts for all sorts of accessories
  • Deck space for days with dual cargo areas
  • Extremely stable
  • Super stiff at 5.90″ thick and wide platform
  • Quick inflation with the Titan Pump
  • Multiple center handles, comfortable and useful nose and tail mounted handles and d-rings


  • Maybe a bit slow and cumbersome for smaller paddlers but Red Paddle Co offer the 11′ Sport, the new 11’3″ Sport, the 12’6″ Sport and sleek 13’2″ Explorer+
  • Bungee only supplied up front but easy to add to rear cargo area

In conclusion

Revised for 2017 with a clear space in the Red Paddle Co range and not the default option or compromise board it used to be. An excellent touring and adventure board for those who need a little more stability, deck space or carrying capacity and don’t need to be the fastest. Excellent value for money when you factor in the unparalleled quality of the board, bag and pump and the memories of the paddle tours and trips you’ll be taking. Find all the details here: 2017 Red Paddle Co 12’6″ Explorer. If you can’t decide between the 12’6″ Explorer, the new 11’3″ Sport12’6″ Sport or the 13’2″ Explorer+, give us a call: 1-888-252-4983.


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About the author: Julian Kidd
I have been an avid stand up paddle boarder since 2009. I retired from a decade of professional kiteboarding to focus on SUP. Green Water Sports grew from this love of all things SUP. As well as being a keen paddle boarder, I'm a football fan, closet petrol head, web tinkerer, husband and father.