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7 best paddling pools for all the family to have fun in this summer

From cute and simple to water-spraying wonderlands, chill out in one of these garden-friendly pop-ups

<p>Splash out on a blow-up pool before you’re beaten to it  </p>

Splash out on a blow-up pool before you’re beaten to it

While garden staples like trampolines and climbing frames are great for keeping the kids entertained all year round, if you’re looking for an easy way to really dial up the fun factor this summer, a paddling pool is always going to be a winner. Guaranteed to keep kids happy, cool – and busy – for hours on end, it might even give you a bit of time to sit down in the garden and enjoy the sunshine without the constant requests for snacks or ice lollies. Possibly.

One of the most important considerations when choosing the perfect paddling pool for your family has to be size – you need to think about how much outdoor space you have and, crucially, how much of it you want to give over to the paddling pool. However, you also need to think about the ages of your children and what will deliver the biggest amount of fun, safely.

Babies and toddlers need just a small, shallow paddling pool to cool down in, but if you’ve got older children, you may be leaning towards one of the larger offerings on the market, which act like a mini pop-up swimming pool. Whatever you decide size-wise, make sure you factor in the time it will take to set up or blow up your pool and then fill it.

The choice of paddling pools on offer right now is vast, covering everything from the traditional double-ringed circular pool to bright and colourful inflatables, which mix the fun of soft play with water. Everything from sprays and slides to built-in sunshades and seats feature in our round-up – so have a think about what is most important to you.

Due to the nature of some of the flashier paddling pools, we recommend investing in an electric pump (battery-powered is great, but we found a pump you plug into a socket a lifesaver when faced with testing all these pools). Yes, good old-fashioned lung power might do for dinkier inflatables, but for some of the larger pools, you’re going to need a long time – and a lot of breaks for a breather – to get them blown up sufficiently.

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Another thing to consider is how long the pool will take to empty, deflate, dry out and store. For safety reasons, it’s essential you empty out an uncovered paddling pool once play has finished for the day, so you need it to be a quick and straightforward job. For larger swimming pool-esque models, you can buy covers to keep bugs and dirt at bay overnight, as well as chlorine tablets to keep the water safe for multiple uses. Just make sure you follow the manufacturers’ guidance exactly to get the quantities just right.

How we tested

We’ve been putting all manner of paddling pools through their paces over the past month – even when the sun wasn’t shining – to find the best ones out there. Our testers, ranging in age from two to 11, let us know exactly how much fun they thought each one was, while we looked at ease of set-up, how long they took to fill up, features, comfort, robustness and general value for money.

A heads-up – during our month of testing, several pools sold out, thanks to the holiday rush and stock-flow issues, so if your kids have their heart set on a particular paddling pool, we’d recommend snapping it up as quick as you can!

The best paddling pools for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – TP giant paddling pool: £19.99,
  • Best for water features – Intex children’s dinosaur paddling pool & play centre: £50.35,
  • Best for sunshade – Sunnylife kiddy paddling pool neon coral shell: £32,
  • Best for older children – Bestway 8ft fast set round pool: £49.99,
  • Best for seats – Intex inflatable family paddling pool with seats: £41.99,
  • Best for style – Liewood Savannah pool in peach/sandy/yellow mellow: £26.99,
  • Best for younger kids – Bestway magical unicorn carriage play centre and paddling pool: £49.95,

TP giant paddling pool

Best: Overall

Rating: 9.5/10

  • Dimensions: 195cm x 145cm x 40cm

This rectangular paddling pool came out top, thanks to being such a great all-rounder. Measuring almost 200cm in length, it’s a decent size that would work for toddlers right through to older kids. In fact, we managed to fit a two-, six- and eight-year-old in at the same time, still leaving plenty of space to splash around happily.

Set up is super easy – we inflated the two compartments that make up the pool in minutes using an electric pump. It’s quick to fill with water too – although we had very young children playing in it most of the time, so didn’t fill the pool up to full capacity.

The kids loved the clear viewing window along one side of the pool and insisted on wearing their goggles to go underwater and have a look through. We also thought the built-in inflatable headrest was a clever touch, although sadly, with a garden full of rampaging kids, using it wasn’t quite the relaxing experience we had in mind.

When it came to putting the pool away, it was simple to deflate using the electric pump (set to deflate). It was also easy to fold up and pack away in its original box (something we find is usually like Mission: Impossible once a paddling pool has been inflated).

Delivering so much more than we’d expect for its incredibly modest price tag of less than £20, this has cheap and cheerful summer fun written all over it.

Intex children’s dinosaur paddling pool & play centre

Best: For water features

Rating: 9/10

  • Dimensions: 249cm x 191cm x 109cm

There are paddling pools and there are epic inflatable wonderlands like this Jurassic-themed beauty. As you’d imagine from a set-up this large – and with so many extra features – inflating this pool was a job and a half. The instructions said it should take two people 10-20 minutes, but we were still waiting for the electric pump to finish doing its job after half an hour. However, once the paddling pool was blown up, it definitely had the wow factor – our little testers squealed with excitement when they saw it, which is exactly the reaction you want.

The colourful pool includes inflatable steps leading to an inflatable slide and a blow-up blue dinosaur that attaches onto the edge of the pool, complete with a hole in its mouth to shoot the plastic balls (included) into. We were surprised at how well the blow-up stairs fared when faced with a barrage of use from a pre-schooler and a five-year-old – showing no signs of deflating or sagging throughout the day.

However, it was the water features that really won over the children. You can hook up your garden hose to a connector on the pool, which then sprays water from the mini palm tree, as well as creating a shower of water from the waterfall arch. The kids loved it – in fact, even the older children couldn’t resist getting involved – and as the water flow was constant, it meant we didn’t need to fill the pool up much to begin with.

Deflating was a quicker job than we anticipated, although we had zero luck trying to fit it back into the box, so it’s worth having a back-up storage option to hand, like a very large carrier bag.

This pool really is a dream come true for kids and is exactly the kind of thing we’d have gone mad for when we were little.

Sunnylife kiddy paddling pool in neon coral shell

Best: For sunshade

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: 115cm x 100cm x 68cm

With a built-in sunshade, this super-bright paddling pool is a great choice if you have little water babies. Offering some shade from the heat, it’s a great size for babies and toddlers, who can splash away feeling smug they have one of the best-looking inflatable pools around!

Even with the sunshade, the pool was very quick to inflate (less than 10 minutes) and the padded floor added some extra comfort from our bumpy lawn. We found it a good height for our two-year-old tester to easily clamber in and out, and spacious enough for two to play in at the same time.

Deflated, the pool is nice and compact, making it a good choice if you want to take it to the beach as a safe, non-sandy place for your baby to play. Running with the shell theme, it comes with a small inflatable “pearl” ball, which was a cute addition.

At a shade under £50, it is a pricey option, but we found it doubled up really well as a ball pit for inside play when the weather was rubbish, so you’re getting two for the price of one. Plus, the non-toxic, Phthalate-free PVC material feels durable, so we expect to get many years of fun out of this one.

Bestway 8ft fast set round pool

Best: For older children

Rating: 9/10

  • Dimensions: 240cm x 150cm x 60cm

If you’ve ever dreamt of having your own swimming pool in the back garden, this offering is halfway there. Measuring a whopping 240cm across, this was the largest paddling pool we put to the test, and it was an instant hit with the older kids, thanks to its size and substantial depth.

Set-up was a lot easier than we imagined, too – you simply inflate the top ring, then the rest of the pool lifts into shape as you fill it with water. But while assembly was super-quick, filling up this giant pool took well over an hour, so make sure you factor that in, unless you’re prepared for the constant cries of “Is it ready yet?” from the kids.

Emptying a pool of this size is no mean feat, but another feature we loved was how you can attach a hose to the drain valve (the adapter is included) to empty the water somewhere convenient, whether that’s down the drain (bit wasteful – tut tut) or into buckets for watering the plants (that’s more like it), as long as you haven’t used any water treatments. Talking of treatments, you may want to consider a cover, filter and maybe some chlorine tablets, so you’re not emptying and refilling the pool every day throughout summer.

Our testers from six years up loved floating around in this giant paddling pool. It’s not quite swimming pool proportions but it’s still big enough for kids to live out their best summer yet. And, with a two-year warranty, you can feel confident this will last for a good few years to come.

Intex inflatable family paddling pool with seats

Best: For seats

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Dimensions: 229cm x 229cm x 66cm

Ooh, hello paddling pool with seats – where have you been all my life? This ingenious design feels like it’s been made with parents in mind, with four decent-sized inflatable seats built into the corners of this generous pool. Plus, there are back rests and even cup holders!

Because of the extra features that needed inflating, it took us around 20 minutes to blow up the pool with our electric pump. Deflating was easy enough, and there’s a plug you can simply pull out to empty the water at the end of the day.

Our six-year-old tester thought this pool was “so cool” and quite enjoyed relaxing on one of the seats with his smoothie in the cup holder, living the dream. But the best part of this inflatable is that even with the seating, there’s still plenty of room for younger kids to splash about in the middle.

We think it’s a great option for older children who like the idea of a more chilled-out paddling pool session. But, to be quite honest, we couldn’t wait for the kids to get out so we could sit back and relax with the whole pool to ourselves.

Liewood Savannah pool in peach/sandy/yellow mellow

Best: For style

Rating: 9/10

  • Dimensions: 150cm x 150cm x 25cm

Nordic company Liewood is renowned for its Instagrammable baby and child products, and this seriously good-looking paddling pool is no exception. Made from BPA-free PVC, it has a chic matt finish while the peach, sand and yellow stripy colourway gives off summer holiday vibes.

Looks aside, this is a fantastic-quality paddling pool. The material feels tough and durable – it’s designed to last a childhood if you care for it properly. But just in case of the odd leak, the included vinyl puncture repair patch is a handy touch.

Standing at a toddler-friendly 25cm in height, it was our youngest testers, ranging from two to five, who enjoyed splashing around in this paddling pool the most – with its 1.5m diameter providing plenty of space for two children to play in together.

If you’re in the market for a beautiful, excellent-quality pool for babies and up – and your budget allows – we think this is a gloriously stylish choice. We just wish they made them in grown-up sizes too.

Bestway magical unicorn carriage play centre

Best: For younger kids

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Dimensions: 274cm x 198cm x 137cm

The unicorn love is strong with pre-schoolers and young kids, so it came as no surprise this mega-bright paddling pool and inflatable play centre was met with cries of “Ooh” and “I want a go!” by our little testers.

In a similar style to the Intex dinosaur offering, this is an all-singing, all-dancing paddling pool. It may take some time to inflate – around 25 minutes with an electric pump – but the effort is well worth it.

You can hook your garden hose up to this paddling pool too, to create a spray of water in the arch over the slide. This obviously increases the slippiness – and speed – of the slide, which our testers loved, but may be something to watch out for with toddlers still finding their feet.

The unicorn – complete with rainbow mane, naturally – holds an inflatable hoop for kids to throw the six balls (included) into, and there’s an additional star-shaped hoop to use as a hoopla game over the unicorn’s horn. Our older kids got quite competitive over this, while the younger testers were all about the inflatable magic wand, also included in the pack.

Unicorns, water spray, slide and a hoopla game – summer fun sorted!

The verdict: Paddling pools

At under £20, we think the TP giant paddling pool is an excellent all-rounder. It offers enough size for kids of all ages (and their parents) to have space to splash around, as well as some fun features to elevate it from your standard pool. If you’re in the market for something a little fancier, the Intex children’s dinosaur paddling pool is a serious crowd-pleaser for little children, packed with fun features to keep them entertained all day.

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