11 best paddling pools
Let the kids make a splash in the garden this summer with the help of a fun inflatable
With the warm weather looking set to continue, it’s high time to get a paddling pool set up in the garden for the kids. Our top picks range from no-frills basics that don’t pop as soon as you blow them up (or the cat comes near) to big ones that mean Mum and Dad can get in too. And there’s no shortage of themes – from tropical to turtles and from racing cars to surf and slide, there’s something for all ages, sizes and budgets.
When buying your paddling pool, check whether you’ll need a pump to blow it up (most don’t come with one) and be sure it fits in your garden (some are bigger than you might think). If you’re not putting it on a softer surface like grass, make sure it’s got a comfy floor. Check the age suitability too, although we think some manufacturers are a bit overcautious in their recommendations. Does it include a repair kit? Does it hold enough water for a decent splash about? And does it compress into a small package afterwards?
Chad Valley Aquarium Activity Pool: £29.99, Argos
There’s a whole world of aquatic fun for tiny tots with this vibrant looking water play area, complete with blow-up slide, palm tree, dolphin, clown fish and octopus. We had ours inflated in just under 10 minutes, using a pump, and our little testers jumped up and down in excited anticipation for the whole duration. So did it live up to their expectations? Well, yes, actually – four of them easily had enough space to play and got stuck into all sorts of imaginary games for the whole afternoon. It’s recommended for three and over, but we think it’s fine to put younger ones in as long as they’re confident in water and you’re supervising at all times. It folds nice and flat afterwards. 241cm x 260cm.
JoJo Maman Bebe Pop Up Paddling Pool: £35, JoJo Maman Bebe
Light and compact to transport? Tick. No need to blow it up? Tick. Protection from the sun? Tick. Durable fabric? Tick. When it comes to babies, we think this is the best you can buy – it pops up within seconds and has double whammy shield from the sun, both thanks to the UPF 50+ cover and the overhead shade. You can easily fit it back in the fabric carry bag after use, which in turn will fit easily in a beach bag. 96.5cm diameter.
Wilko Toddler Size Two Ring Paddling Pool: £3, Wilko
This cheerfully designed paddling pool will set you back (significantly) less than a fiver, yet it still provides all the water fun your toddlers will need. No pump? No problem, as you can blow it up with your mouth and it only takes minutes to fill up, especially since shallow is key for this age group. Although it’s recommended for ages three and over, it’s fine if you are watching (or in there) with younger ones and it is big enough to do that (just). It doubles up as a ball pit in winter, although you will need to treat it with care if you want it to last that long. 92cm diameter.
Intex Swim Centre Family Lounge Pool: £39.90, Amazon
If the words, "Mum, Dad, come in too!" usually fill you with dread when your shrieking children are splashing about in freezing water, then you need to snap one of these up. Complete with inflated, built-in seat, backrest and cup holder, you might even find yourself racing to get in before the kids. At 224cm x 216cm, it’s big enough for two people (or three or four children) and it’s surprisingly comfortable – although if you’re on the heavy side, you might need to pump it up again after sitting in it for long periods.
John Lewis Surf ‘n’ Slide Water Slide: £75, John Lewis
Kids won’t want the summer to end with one of these in their garden, so while we realise it’s a stretch to call it a paddling pool, there’s no way we could leave it out of our roundup. So provided you’ve got a lot of space (it’s long at 442cm x 168cm), get your pump at the ready, attach the garden hose to the sprayers and blow up the ‘surf boards,’ then expect to hear sounds of sheer joy as children take turns (or, let’s face it, fight over whose turn it is) to have a go. The handles on the surf boards mean younger kids can get a slice of the action too, but do set it up on a grassy area or otherwise (a) it will be dangerous and (b) it might pop.
Early Learning Centre Tropical Family Pool: £35, ELC
If you’re after a family sized, durable paddling pool to see you through a good few summers, then you can’t go wrong with this tropical-designed offering from Early Learning Centre. At 305 x 183cm, it easily fits four to five kids, who can all cool off and splash about to their hearts’ content on hot days. The rectangular shape is among the most common available, but we like the tropical design that replaces the plain blue and white of most pools and it’s more robust than some others that have a much higher price tag.
Early Learning Centre Race Car Pool: £35, ELC
Why settle for a bog-standard circle or rectangle when you could have the shape of a racing car? Youngsters will have great fun when they splash, steer and drive in this ingenious red car-shaped pool that also has a handy (and much needed if this current weather continues) sun shade. If it’s a bit chilly or there’s a hosepipe ban, you can always fill it with six bags of Early Learning Centre play balls instead. Suitable from 18 months, it’s a superb option for getting their little imaginations going as they decide where to go on their travels today. 102cm x 91cm.
Intex Mystic Unicorn Spray Pool: £21.99, Amazon
Unicorns are all the rage, in case you hadn’t noticed (unlikely if you have a young girl). Which is likely to make this a top seller for this summer, based on the theme alone. The spray is our favourite feature – you attach the sprayer sprout to the garden hose and children get a lovely light (or stronger) mist in addition to the feeling of cool water on their toes. Not all paddling pools have a drain plug (some just expect you to tip it over), so it wins extra brownie points for that too. Suitable from age 2+, it measures 272 x 193 cm.
Norlog 400 Gallon Giant Garden Pool with Liner: £534.98, Internet Gardener
So much more than a mere paddling pool, this is a more permanent and large structure that will suit families that don’t like filling their garden up with plastic and want a more natural looking option that the whole family can use. Made from pressure-treated interlocking pieces of wood, which are lined with a durable plastic layer to stop the water escaping, you’ll need to be prepared for a sizeable water bill but it looks great and is nice and deep for slightly older kids (or adults) to cool down in and you can pretty easily take it apart again and rebuild it if you don’t want it out all winter. We were also impressed with the 20-year guarantee.
Bestway Turtle Totz Pool: £25.99, John Lewis
Worried about your little cherub getting too much exposure to the sun? This completely shaded pool has an inflatable roof so they are protected from UV rays. As for the kids, they’ll love the tropical design and bright colours, while the turtle roof is bound to give them a smile. There’s a padded floor, which makes it extra comfy and means it can be used on harder grounds like patios. And at 104cm x 96cm, it’s just the right size for younger children to have a splash about. It compresses down into a tiny pack that’s easy to store away too. We wouldn’t recommend using it on windy days though in case the wind catches it underneath.
Bestway 8ft Fast Set Pool: £42.99, Bestway
If you want something more substantial for older kids, then Bestway’s ‘fast set’ pools are brilliant. More popular than the pricier frame pools, they are easy to set up and might even fit the whole family. Give yourself time to inflate and fill it up – an hour or two – and the filter pump means you can keep the water clean for the season ahead (although be warned it is sold separately). We also like the fact that you can attach the draining up to the hose so you don’t waste water and it compresses down to a surprisingly small size for storage. There are other sizes available and you can also buy a cover and pool maintenance kit, but again at an extra cost.
The Verdict: Best Paddling Pools
The Chad Valley Aquarium Activity Pool will keep youngsters amused for hours on hot days. In fact, for little ones, we think it holds the most play value of all the paddling pools we reviewed. JoJo Maman Bebe Pop Up Paddling Pool is, in our view, the best there is for babies, while Wilko Toddler Size Two Ring Paddling Pool won us over for the purse-friendly price-tag. And for something a bit different, our testers adored the John Lewis Surf ‘n’ Slide Water Slide.
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