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(The Gear Loop) - Designed to easily fit inside the boot of a car, under the desk at work or even slung onto a back and cycled to the beach, the innovative 9'6" Compact MSL Pact iSUP from Red Paddle Co. packs down to half the size of rival inflatable stand up paddle boards.

What's more, it is incredibly light, weighing just 7.25kgs, making it easy to transport inside the comfortable and ergonomically designed backpack for hours on end. Where rival iSUPs and the accompanying gubbins packs down into a massive rolling trolley/backpack hybrid - akin to the type of luggage you might take on holiday - this feels like the first on the market to actually squeeze into a quasi-hiking backpack design.

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The Gear LoopRed Paddle Co. 9’6” Compact MSL Pact iSUP review photo 6

With soft straps and protective padding on the rear, it's a joy to wear, but that means nothing if the iSUP housed inside is a pile of junk. Thankfully, Red Paddle Co. doesn't really deal in trash, and this high volume, high pressure paddle board offers a fantastic all-round riding experience that's up there with the best inflatable paddle boards.

From easy cruises on the genteel river ways to slightly more intense session in small but fun surf, the 9'6" Compact MSL Pact can handle a variety of situations and scenarios, making it all the inflatable paddle board most will ever need. 

The Gear LoopRed Paddle Co. 9’6” Compact MSL Pact iSUP review photo 4
Our quick take

There will definitely be cries from the die hard paddle board contingent that inflatables just aren’t as good as their solid core, hard-bodied counterparts, and there’s plenty of merit to this argument.

But for most, who simply want to get on the water, enjoy the weather, explore some hidden coves and generally enjoy nature, the convenience of an iSUP trumps almost anything else.

Red Paddle Co. has taken that convenience and turned it up to 11 with this package, creating a supple but stable inflatable platform that packs down impossibly small, yet still manages to perform admirably on the water.

The Gear LoopRed Paddle Co. 9’6” Compact MSL Pact iSUP review photo 13

Even the backpack the top quality accessories are hosued in has been carefully considered, offering plush and comfortable straps, back protection and a plethora of handles so it can be carried, lugged and thrown around in myriad ways.

Light enough to cycle to the beach with (although the bag is quite deep) and comfortable enough to wear on a long adventure, this board could open up endless amounts of paddle exploration for those more adventurous types.

Alternatively, the relatively tiny pack size makes it great for stowing on smaller boats, throwing into the boot of the car or storing under your desk at work for that cheeky lunchtime paddle.

Red Paddle Co 9ft 6in Compact MSL Pact iSUP review: small footprint, big adventures

Red Paddle Co 9ft 6in Compact MSL Pact iSUP

5 stars - The Gear Loop editors choice
For
  • Packs down fantastically small
  • Light and easy to paddle
  • Stable ride
  • Accessories all great quality
Against
  • It is expensive
  • Still some flex
  • Not the fastest or most responsive board out there

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In the Loop

Everything you want and need to know about the Red Paddle Co. 9'6" Compact MSL Pact iSUP:

  • Board volume: 222-litres
  • Board thickness: 4.7"/120mm
  • Board weight: 7.25kgs
  • Available in 9'6", 11'0" and 12'0" lengths
  • Max rider weight for 9'6" is 95kgs
  • Backpack dimensions: height: 560mm, width: 420mm, depth: 320mm
  • Simple twin, click-fin system
  • Stow-able five-piece paddle design

Design and features

Red Paddle Co. claims that this board is ten years in the making, and it's easy to see why. Because what looks like a regular inflatable paddle board when stuffed inside its sack is actually a fairly complex construction.

The outer layer is specially designed to be supple but tough, so when fully deflated, the board can easily fold in half before being rolled away into its pack.

The Gear LoopRed Paddle Co. 9’6” Compact MSL Pact iSUP review photo 7

You'll notice that things like the inflation valve, leash D-ring and carry handle have all been set slightly off-centre to allow for this folding action. But to make up for any loss in stiffness, Red Paddle Co. incorporates its own MSL Fusion technology that adds inherent torsional rigidity with a special adhesive contribution at raw material stage. It's complex stuff, but essentially Red has done away with a step in the process by using its own proprietary manufacturing processes.

Once inflated, it's clear that Red Paddle is the king of smooth and wrinkle-free finishes, as the board looks great, even at 16PSI. New for 2022 is Red's latest cargo system, which sees horizontally-laid bungee straps set out in a way so the bottom two are closer together, making it easier to stash smaller items, such as backpacks or dry bags.

The Gear LoopRed Paddle Co. 9’6” Compact MSL Pact iSUP review photo 8

There are plenty of D-rings and loops to attach all manner of things (and stop it plopping into the drink), while the bungee cords can easily be cinched tight over whatever precious cargo you need to transport across the water.

Inside the brilliantly well designed backpack you'll also find Red's equally excellent and powerful dual-chamber pump, a five-piece paddle and small side-bite twin fins that simply click into place and are secured by a little plastic through-bolt.

The Gear LoopRed Paddle Co. 9’6” Compact MSL Pact iSUP review photo 10

In order to make everything pack down small, the high-modulus carbon paddle with durable nylon blade splits into five sections, which makes it easier to stow but isn't arguably the final word in rigidity. That said, this is no race board, so very few will notice.

Performance on the water

Some might baulk at the meagre 9'6" length, but there's a staggering amount of volume crammed into this compact, stubby board. This is partly down to chunkier rails - 4.7 inches compared to the slender 3.93 of the non-compact Ride MSL  model, which boasts just 186-litres of volume at 9'8" in length.

But here, the deck is also nice and wide, measuring 32-inches, and festooned with a tactile, grippy deck pad that has been cleverly split into sections to allow the board to fold. The tail has a slight kick, allowing for step-back turns, as well as raised patterning for improved traction.

The Gear LoopRed Paddle Co. 9’6” Compact MSL Pact iSUP review photo 1

Due to the shape, there's not a ton of room up front to carry cargo and, say, little kids that want to come along for the ride. It's an either/or choice, but the paddling experience happily copes with both loads.

Pumping up the board is a simple affair, although we found structural rigidity was far better at the higher end of the safe spectrum, 20psi or thereabouts, which takes a bit longer to eke the final numbers out of the heavy-duty, dual chamber pump.

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Lugging it to the water is also a breeze, thanks to its light weight and compact size, while soft carry handles means it never cuts into the hands or prove uncomfortable. Once in the wet stuff, it glides along flat waters perfectly and requires minimal effort or any real skill from the paddler.

Bounce around in the middle of the deck and you will notice a fair amount of flex at the nose and tail, but that's the compromise of having a board that packs down so small.

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Lateral rigidity is good and with this rider onboard (around 72kgs), the deck never felt like it was bowing or sagging, with just enough deck above the water at all times for smooth cruising.

With little to no rocker to speak of - and with relatively chunky rails - this isn't going to be one for the surf SUP fans out there, but it is certainly playful enough in small waves and its light overall mass and easy manoeuvrability means it always remains fun, and never wayward or cumbersome.

The Gear LoopRed Paddle Co. 9’6” Compact MSL Pact iSUP review photo 3

The click-in fins are clever, too, as they don't require any tools to use (although you can secure a grub screw for extra peace of mind). What's more, the boxes will take any FCS keel fins, so you can play around with what works best. 

We found the board tracked really well on calmer waters, but throwing in some fins with a deeper rake, more foil and more outward cant would likely increase the responsiveness and make it even more fun in the smaller summer surf.

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To recap

One of the biggest hurdles facing those wanting to get into paddle boarding is the sheer size of the things. Granted, inflatable stand-up paddle boards (iSUPs) have made this more convenient, but they are still large and heavy when stowed. In response to this conundrum, the Red Paddle Co. 9'6" Compact MSL Pact packs down to around half the size of rivals, weighs hardly anything and might just make for the perfect transportable paddle board on the planet.

Writing by Leon Poultney.