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The 5 best above-ground pools: Cool off and enjoy the summer

What is the best above-ground pool for your outdoor space? The Bestway Steel Pro MAX pool is ZDNet's top pick for its durability, ease-of-use, and included accessories. We looked at brands like Bestway, Intex, and Summer Waves and researched and compared pricing as well as other features like dimensions and durability to determine the best pool for you.
kacie-goff.jpg
Written by Kacie Goff, Contributing writer on
Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

If you want to enjoy a pool this summer without all of the hassle and cost of a major construction project, consider an above-ground pool. Most above-ground pools are designed for easy setup, which means you could get yours ready for water in about an hour or less. 

Plus, these pools have come a long way. Advancements in the polyester and PVC used to make the liner walls have made them significantly more puncture and tear-resistant. Today's above-ground pool frames usually get created using rust and corrosion-resitant heavy-duty material like steel, too. In other words, these pools are built to last. 

Beyond that, the latest above-ground pools come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Maybe you want an expansive one to host pool parties or you're looking for something more kid-friendly. Either way, with the broad range of options available, you shouldn't have any trouble finding the right above-ground pool to fit your lifestyle, yard design and family. 

But which option is best for your outdoor space? To help you find the perfect pool for this summer, we rounded up five of the top choices on the market today. 

Must read:

Bestway Steel Pro MAX
Amazon

Key features: 

  • DuraPlus™ liner wall material reinforced with a polyester mesh core sandwiched between two layers of high-gauge PVC
  • Rust and corrosion-resistant steel frame
  • 3-ply PVC support band for extra stability
  • Starts at $399.99

This Steel Pro MAX from Bestway earned the spot as our top pick because it blends a reasonable price, durable design and plenty of space. This above-ground pool includes a DuraPlus™ liner wall, which uses fade and tear-resistant material, but it also features a 3-ply PVC band that wraps around the pool to provide an additional layer of reinforcement.

The pool's oval frame is manufactured from steel with Seal & Lock System T-connectors to make it easy to assemble. And because it uses a pin-clip design, you won't need any tools to assemble your pool. 

While the exterior of the pool is a fairly basic white on Amazon, you can get it with a stone-like finish from Bestway or Walmart. In either case, the interior features a prismatic stone design. 

On top of all of this, you'll get a cartridge-based pool filter, along with a ladder and cover, with this Bestway pool. That way, you can enjoy this pool long-term while keeping it protected and keeping your water clear. 

Pros:

  • Safe for kids of all ages (with adult supervision)
  • Seal & Lock System for frame joints to prevent bends and leaks
  • Filter pump, ladder and cover included

Cons:

  • Warranty of only 90 days for the liner 
  • Relatively boring exterior design on Amazon
  • Filter uses a cartridge rather than sand, which some people prefer
Hamdol Inflatable Swimming Pool with Sprinkler
Amazon

Key features: 

  • Kid-friendly design
  • Adjustable height
  • Includes storage bag, repair patches and a water inlet connected with steel clamps
  • Starts at $69.99

If you're looking for a place for your little ones to splash around this summer, consider this kiddie pool with a lot to offer. Not only does it deliver an impressive length of more than eight feet, but it also includes lots to keep young ones entertained, from the fun design to the spraying elephant head.

With three individual air chambers, you can adjust the height of this pool based on your kids' ages. You might only inflate the bottom chamber for toddlers but fill it further for bigger kids. This lets you build in a layer of safety -- although you should always supervise your kids when they're in the water.

When filled all the way, this pool isn't just for kiddies. It can accommodate two adults and several kids, too. In fact, it's big enough you could put your own pool float in there and get some me-time. 

Pros:

  • Fun design for kids, enough room for adults
  • Spray feature
  • Designed for fast drainage

Cons:

  • Only recommended for kids ages 3 and up
  • Doesn't include an air pump
  • Lack of frame makes it less sturdy
INTEX Ultra XTR Pool Set with Sand Filter Pump
Amazon

Key features: 

  • More than 450 square feet of swimming space
  • Galvanized, rust-resistant steel frame
  • 60-minute setup
  • Starts at $1,966

If you're planning to buy an above-ground pool to host pool parties with your friends and family, you're going to want ample capacity. This huge pool has a diameter of 24 feet, which means you get more than 450 square feet of water surface inside. You won't need to trim down your pool party guest list with this one.

Filling this sizeable pool requires a lot of water, so you probably won't want to drain it and take it down very frequently. Fortunately, the INTEX Ultra XTR pool comes with the accessories to keep the pool water clear and swimmable. 

Not only does it feature dual-suction outlet fittings, but it also includes the INTEX Krystal Clear Sand Filter Pump. To keep debris out, you also get a tie-down cover, and to protect the bottom of your pool, INTEX includes a ground cloth. On top of all of this, you get a ladder to make it easy to get in and out of your 52-inch high pool. 

Pros:

  • Large size
  • Easy maintenance
  • Includes sand filter pump, ladder, cover and ground cloth

Cons:

  • Price 
  • Takes longer to set up than some other pools
  • Suction from pump can be dangerous (don't play or swim near the pump
Summer Waves Outdoor Round Frame Swimming Pool
Amazon

Key features: 

  • Triple-layer polyester mesh and heavy gauge PVC material
  • Galvanized metal frame
  • SFX600 filter pump with skimmer functionality
  • Starts at $266.99

Most lower-cost above-ground pools have a telltale look: a white frame with a blue lining. That means that these above-ground pools are a highly visible addition to your outdoor space and scream "bargain," which probably isn't your go-to look for your front or backyard.

Fortunately, you have other options. If you want an affordable above-ground pool that can integrate with your yard's design, Summer Waves offers this alternative. Rather than using the signature above-ground pool blue, they finish the exterior walls of this round pool's liner with something that looks like wicker. You can choose tan or gray to match it to your outdoor furniture, too.

Setting up this Summer Waves pool is easy, and maintaining it is, too, since it includes a filter pump that doubles as a skimmer. 

Pros:

  • Exterior walls in wicker finish
  • Pump included
  • Quick and easy installation

Cons:

  • Gray wicker version costs more
  • Liner only comes with a 90-day warranty
  • The smallest non-kiddie pool we've listed so far
INTEX Rectangular Frame Swimming Pool
Amazon

Key features: 

  • Affordable
  • Heavy-duty PVC and polyester 3-ply sidewalls
  • Recommended for ages 6 and up
  • Starts at $124.99

If you want a way to create a backyard oasis without taking a financial hit, consider this low-cost option from Intex. For the price of a nice dinner out, you could be soaking up the sun while submerged in water this summer. 

Not only is it easy on your wallet, but setup's easy, too. Intex says you can pop this pool up in just 30 minutes. If you're not looking to have your pool set up year-round, you can also easily break this one down. It includes a drain plug that connects to a garden hose so you can direct the draining water wherever you want.

All this said, what you save in money you lose in style with this above-ground pool. It has that telltale bright blue look we mentioned earlier, which does make it look cheaper than a lot of other options on this list. That said, it is -- and if budget is your top concern, it's a solid option. 

Pros:

  • Easy to set up
  • Rust-resistant steel frame
  • Drain plug for hose connection to drain at a location of your choosing

Cons:

  • Bright blue color
  • Pump, filter, cover, and ladder not included
  • Walls at risk for tearing

What is the best above-ground pool?

We chose the Bestway Steel Pro MAX because it delivered durability and a user-friendly design paired with accessories you probably want, like a filter, ladder and cover. That said, it's far from the only good option for your outdoor space. Some of these choices are great for hosting pool parties, while others are ideal if you're entertaining little ones. 

To help you get an idea of the best option for you, let's quickly look at the key features of each of our picks. 

Above-ground pool

Price

Dimensions

Features

Bestway Steel Pro MAX Pool

$399.99-$545

15' x 15' x 42"

Durable design, easy assembly

Hamdol Inflatable Swimming Pool with Sprinkler

$69.99

99" x 72" x 22"

Inflatable, kid-friendly with sprayer

INTEX Ultra XTR Pool 

$1,966.34-$2,199.99

21" x 40.75" x 50.88"

Plenty of space, sand filter included

Summer Waves Outdoor Round Frame Swimming Pool

$266.99-$359.99

12' x 12' x 2.75'

Available in tan or gray wicker finish, included filter/skimmer

INTEX Rectangular Frame Swimming Pool

$124.99-$136.30

8.5' x 5.3' x 2.13'

Low-cost, easy setup

Which is the right above-ground pool for you?

To help clarify your pool decision, here are the best uses for each of our picks. 

Choose this above-ground pool…

If you want…

Bestway Steel Pro MAX Pool

A great, durable, easy-to-assemble above-round pool

Hamdol Inflatable Swimming Pool with Sprinkler

A fun and safe place to play with the kids

INTEX Ultra XTR Pool

Tons of space to host pool parties

Summer Waves Outdoor Round Frame Swimming Pool

Something to match your wicker outdoor finish

Intex Rectangular Frame Swimming Pool

To stay cool without sweating your investment.

How did we choose these above-ground pools?

First, we opted for pools from known companies. By choosing options from INTEX, Bestway, Hamdol and Summer Waves, you can get a reasonable level of certainty that they'll be well-made with quality parts. 

While it's one thing to choose a trusted manufacturer, it's entirely another to know that your above-ground pool can stand up to real-life usage. To check that, we looked at reviews. On Amazon alone, all five of our picks have stellar standing. 

  • The Bestway Steel Pro MAX Pool has 4.3 stars from 3,676 ratings
  • The Hamdol Inflatable Swimming Pool has 4.5 stars from 1,169 ratings
  • The INTEX Ultra XTR Pool has 4.5 stars from 4,190 ratings
  • The Summer Waves Outdoor Round Frame Swimming Pool has 4.3 stars from 991 ratings
  • The INTEX Rectangular Frame Swimming Pool has 4.6 stars from 26,261 ratings

Finally, we thought through the appearance of these pools. When you're setting up something sizeable in your front or backyard, you want it to look nice. With the exception of the last INTEX pool, which we chose purely for its price, we picked ones that have good-looking finishes. 

Are above-ground pools hard to set up?

Not necessarily. A lot of the options on this list come with frames designed to lock together easily and liners that snap into place around the frame. Some of the manufacturers even advertise a setup time of about 30 minutes. 

How do I fill an above-ground pool?

Easy. All you need to do is use your garden hose. Put the hose in the pool and fill it to your desired level, minding the manufacturer's recommendation, so you don't overfill and strain the liner walls.

Are above-ground pools permanent?

That's up to you. Several of our picks are designed to be easy to set up and take down. That means that if you live in a climate with serious winter weather, you can break down and store your pool until warmer days return. 

All that said, you can absolutely leave your pool in place. You'll probably want to invest in a cover, but the latest materials are resistant to corrosion, fading, rust, tears, and the other issues that would shorten the lifespan of your swimming space. 

Are there alternative above-ground pools worth considering?

You also don't need to keep your above-ground dips to cooler water. There are plenty of above-ground hot tubs worth considering. 

You could choose:

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