Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT Inflatable Paddle Board review: good things come in small packages

One of the most pack-able paddle boards around fits into an easily transportable backpack. But is it any good?

Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT review
(Image credit: Matt Buckley)
T3 Verdict

Red’s MSL PACT Inflatable range is excellent and offers a slick paddling experience, despite its impressively small pack size. The two sidebite fins on this model means it doesn’t track as well as single-fin models, while a lack of stiffness means it’s also not as efficient in the water as some pump-up rivals. But for most, this is a fantastically easy way to get the board and accessories to the beach and beyond.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Packs down small

  • +

    Great build quality

  • +

    Accessories are excellent

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Backpack is heavy

  • -

    Not the stiffest board around

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Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT review in a sentence: get over the price, and this is a practical way of transporting your iSUP to exotic locations. Fans of pack-rafting and adventure might find this is the perfect companion.

Red Paddle Co has long been one of the most recognised names in the paddle board industry and among the first to dabble in inflatable technology. The brand is trusted for quality, and, as a result, its products are pricey.

But with a swathe of much cheaper, almost throwaway competition introduced over recent years, it’s good to know a brand is still innovating and producing the goods. A great example of this forward-thinking is the MSL PACT series.

Standing for Monocoque Structural Laminate, the MSL refers to the way the drop-stitch material has been designed for increased pack-ability. Rather than deflating and rolling it up like a big sausage (to then attempt to stuff it in a massive backpack), this board folds away like a giant piece of origami so it can be packed into its own carry bag.

Red Paddle Co claims the resulting pack is much more comfortable to wear (you can cycle with it on), and it can be stowed on planes - although definitely check the bag dimensions before flying - and in boats if you really like to tackle exotic locations on your paddle board.

How good is this iSUP, and should we add it to T3's best inflatable paddle board guide? Let's take a closer look.

Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT review: Price and availability

The Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT can be purchased directly from Red Paddle Co for £1,399/ $1,699/ AU$ 2,199. That said, it can be found discounted at some outlet centres, such as Wetsuit Outlet in the UK and H2O sports, where we have found it for as little as £1,189.

Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT Inflatable Paddle Board review

(Image credit: Matt Buckley)

Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT review: What’s included?

Red really doesn’t scrimp on the paddle board package, and inside that plush, giant backpack (more on that later), you’ll find all of the essentials you will need to get started on the water.

But rather than including cheap, plastic rubbish, Red Paddle Co offers a five-piece Compact paddle, which includes a carbon fibre shaft for additional strength and lightness. The paddle remains fully adjustable, but packs down much smaller than anything else we’ve used.

Twin, “side bite” fins are also included, and these simply click into the fin box system and are secured with a through-pin. The two offset finboxes are also compatible with FCS fins, should you want to change things up for improved handling and drive.

Red’s Titan II Pump is an absolute monster, and uses a dual chamber set-up to pump air at over 60mph into the paddle board for super fast inflation. It’s a doddle to use and built like a brick outhouse, so it should stand the test of time.

Finally, there’s an 8ft coiled leash that is designed to sit on the board, rather than drag in the water and slow things down. The double pivot points, neoprene ankle cuff and built-in key pocket all ooze quality and it feels great to wear.

Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT Inflatable Paddle Board review

(Image credit: Matt Buckley)

Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT review: What is it like to live with?

The carry bag that comes with the board measures 560mm (h) x 420mm (w) x 320mm (d) and offers 75 litres of storage. Anyone who has hiked anywhere with a backpack of that heft will know it’s not the easiest thing to wear on multi-day excursions.

That said, that’s not really its purpose, and it is more than comfortable enough to wear while riding a bike or on a hike to your favourite body of water. Red has ensured the main straps are densely padded to help with the 14.5kg mass, and there’s a hiking pack-style hip belt and chest strap to help distribute weight. It’s definitely not the heaviest bag we’ve lugged around, and actually found it pretty comfortable.

Unzip the large front compartment, and there’s everything you need for a day on the water. The Titan II pump is one of the best we’ve used, with a reassuringly solid build quality. The twin chamber setup makes the early stages of inflation a lot quicker, and then it’s a case of switching to a single chamber for the final top-up.

The fins really are plug-and-play, as you simply snap them into the fin boxes and run a plastic pin through the centre to keep them in place. We could see some potential for these coming unstuck if you use the board in rough surf, but we’d argue it’s not great for catching waves anyway. 

To allow for the unique folding and packing mechanism of the board, the grippy deck pad is split into sections, which doesn’t impact the ride, while the overall width is clocked at 32 inches, which should be enough for even taller riders. However, the max rider weight is pegged at 95kg.

Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT Inflatable Paddle Board review

(Image credit: Matt Buckley)

Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT review: Performance on the water

The overall design of this board takes plenty of inspiration from the marque’s 10’6” Ride model, itself a very accomplished inflatable all-rounder that has historically sold like hotcakes. 

Here, Red has reduced the length by a foot, making it more easily transportable, but has kept the same plump, rounded nose and pulled in tail. This means it compromises a bit of on-water speed and manoeuvrability for additional stability.

And stable, it is. Despite the relatively skinny 4.7-inch rails, we found that it was an absolute doddle to jump aboard and paddle on calm waters. A distinct lack of rocker in the side profile means it won’t be tucked inside the barreling waves of Teahupo'o outer reef any time soon, but this most certainly isn’t the weapon for that.

Red Paddle Co sees it accompanying travelling paddlers looking to score mirror-like lakes after a brief hike, or those adventuring by bike to picturesque harbours and whatnot. For that, it really excels.

We found that the MSL tech makes for a fantastically easy board to deflate and fold, but it doesn’t do much for lateral stiffness, and there is a fair amount of lift at both nose and tail when stood in the middle of the board.

During testing, we thought this was down to a lack of pressure, so we pumped it up a bit more, only to find it still banana’d a bit in the water. It is to be expected, as there has to be compromise when creating something so portable. 

The provided cargo system is clever, as it allows users to easily remove straps when not needed. But these are still plenty grippy enough to keep dry bags and rucksacks in place. 

Plus, there are a number of D-rings dotted around the deck to attach other items. There’s even an accessory mount, complete with thread, for attaching action cameras.

Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT Inflatable Paddle Board review

(Image credit: Matt Buckley)

Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT review: Verdict

If you can swallow the hefty initial outlay, we think the Red Paddle Co 9'6" Compact MSL PACT is a fantastic inflatable paddle board for those who want to explore further… or simply want something that’s super easy to carry around and tuck out of the way when not in use. Red Paddle Co has ensured every element of the package is of fantastic quality and the board’s on-water performance shortcomings are easily forgiven considering how simple and convenient it is to live with. 

Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. When he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing. He's also a man who knows his tools, and he's provided much of T3's drills coverage over the years, all without injuring himself.