Kate Hilpern tries the best value paddling pools to keep the kids cool this summer
On a hot summer's day in the garden, younger children love nothing more than getting the paddling pool out. But with so many to pick from, it can be hard to know which one to splash the cash on, so we've whittled them down to the best of the best, taking into account durability, ease of inflating and deflating, storage, play value and size.
They range from no-frills basics to larger ones, where parents can get in on the action. There's even one that comes complete with a slide, water blaster and shoe holder.
Check if your paddling pool needs a pump to blow it up and think about size, because some are larger than you might think.
Some, but not all, include a repair kit and you may need to think about storage since some take up a lot of space, even when not in use.
Here's the best of the bunch.
Chad Valley activity pool play centre: £25, Argos
With this you get two pools for the price of one, offering hours of inflatable fun. We made one half a mini ball park and the other a paddling pool and kids had great fun using the slide to go from one to the other. As if that's not enough, there's a sprinkler, which our young testers found hysterical. The bright colours, along with the focus on play, value and attention to detail, combine make this a real crowd-pleaser.
Bestway H2OGO! turbo splash water park: £364.99, Amazon
This is so much more than a paddling pool, as you'd hope with the hefty price tag. Kids can keep things simple by paddling about in the water and more adventurous souls can climb up the rock wall to the slippery slide that curves gently around for a fun splash into the pool. Then there's our testers' favourite bit - the water blaster that means you can spray your siblings or mates as they slide down. It also inflates within just two minutes with the air blower.
Chad Valley aquarium activity pool: £30, 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 inflated ours 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 in and got stuck into all sorts of games for the whole afternoon.
JoJo Maman Bebe pop-up paddling pool: £35, Amazon
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 a double whammy shield from the sun, thanks to the UPF 50-plus cover and the overhead shade. After use, you can easily fit it back in the fabric carry bag, which in turn will fit easily inside a beach bag.
Intex swim centre family pool with seats: £28.99, Amazon
There's room for all the family with this fabulous paddling pool from Intex. The good news for mums and dads is that, instead of having to sit on the (usually unpadded) pool base, this comes complete with inflatable seats, backrests and even cup holders. Other nifty touches include a drain plug and the fact that it folds away compactly when not in use.
Bestway slim 'n' slime family paddling pool: £44.99
If you're after a hard-wearing, family-sized pool to see you through summer after summer, look no further. Not only did this win us over with its generous size, but the extra wide and thick walls means it is robust. The built-in drain valve means you don't have to battle with turning it over to empty out the water and kids will love the fact that it includes slime powder for turning the water goopy.
Wilko toddler-size two-ring paddling pool: £3
This cheerfully designed paddling pool will set you back less than a fiver, but it still provides all the water fun your toddlers will need. No pump? No problem. You can blow it up with your mouth and it only takes minutes to fill, with shallow water being crucial for this age group. Although this pool is recommended for ages three and over, it's fine if you are watching (or in there) with younger ones and is big enough to do that - just.
Early Learning Centre race car pool: £39.99, The Entertainer
Why settle for a bog-standard pool when you can have one in the shape of a racing car? Youngsters will have great fun when they splash, steer and drive in this ingenious car-shaped pool, which also has a handy sun shade. If it's a bit chilly, or there's a hosepipe ban, you can always fill it with six bags of play balls instead. Suitable for 18 months upwards.
Sunnylife rainbow kiddy ring pool: £40, John Lewis & Partners
Just because children can cool down in the pool doesn't mean they're not at risk of burning in the sun, so parents will be grateful for this half-shaded pool with inflatable rainbow roof, where they can stay protected from UV rays. Our little testers loved the cheery design, as well as the inflatable floor, which keeps it extra comfy and means it works well on harder surfaces.
Intex mystic unicorn spray pool: £16.48, Amazon
Unicorns are all the rage, in case you hadn't noticed (unlikely if you have a young girl), which means this is going to be popular this summer, based on the theme alone. The spray is our favourite feature - you attach the spout to the garden hose and children get a lovely light, or stronger, mist, in addition to the feeling of cool water on their toes. Suitable for two-year-olds and upwards.
Norlog 400-gallon giant garden pool with liner: £550.79, Internet Gardener
So much more than a mere paddling pool, this is a more permanent and larger structure that will suit families that don't like filling up their garden with plastic and want a more natural-looking option that the whole family can use. Made from pressure-treated and interlocking pieces of wood, which are lined with a durable plastic layer to stop the water escaping, you'll need to be prepared to put a lot of water in, but it looks great and is nice and deep for slightly older kids or adults.
Bestway turtle totz paddling pool: £25.99, John Lewis & Partners
Worried about your little ones getting too much exposure to the sun? This completely shaded pool has an inflatable roof to protect them from UV rays. The kids will also love the tropical design and the bright colours, and 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 surfaces such as patios. And at 104cm x 96cm, it's just the right size for younger children to have a splash about in.
The Chad Valley aquarium activity pool gets top marks from us for the fun factor and value for money. JoJo Maman Bebe's pop-up paddling pool is our top recommendation for babies, while the Bestway turbo splash water park gets our vote for older kids.