Above-ground pools let you lounge, laugh, and splash to your heart’s delight. They’re easier to install than in-ground pools, and many can be taken down once the weather changes. The best above-ground pool is one of the right size, depth, and shape for your yard, budget, and family size. These fun backyard additions aren’t set-it-and-forget-it entertainment. They involve prep work and maintenance but, for many families, are well worth that effort. The following picks can help you find some of the best above-ground pool for the kids or the entire family.
- BEST OVERALL: Intex 26367EH Ultra XTR Above Ground Pool Set
- RUNNER-UP: Bestway 56597E Pro MAX Above Ground Steel Frame Pool
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Intex 15 ft x 48-in. Easy Set Pool Set
- BEST STEEL FRAME: Intex 26743EH 18ft x 48-in. Greywood Premium Steel
- BEST KIDDIE: Intex Rainbow Ring Inflatable Play Center
- BEST INFLATABLE: Homech Inflatable Swimming Pool
- BEST ROUND: Independence 27ft. Round 52in. Deep Hard Side Pool
- BEST FOR FAMILIES: Intex 28273EH 14.75 ft x 33-in. Rectangular Frame
- BEST DEEP: Blue Wave Martinique 24 ft. x 52-in. Deep Metal Wall
- BEST FOR SMALL YARDS: QNTICH 6ft Swimming Pool Easy Set
Types of Above-Ground Pools
Above-ground pools are made of different materials and come in various shapes and sizes that affect their installation, maintenance, and durability. The amount of space you have in your backyard, the climate, and how permanent you want the pool to be should all factor into the type of pool that’s best for you.
Inflatable swimming pools are the least expensive, easy to maintain, and simple to set up. They require an air pump for inflation, but there’s not much to it after that. Depending on the pool’s size, setup can be completed in less than an hour. Some inflatable pools don’t need a filter or chemicals for maintenance, however, those without a filter might need to be emptied, cleaned, and refilled between uses.
Inflatable pools come in many sizes, including kiddie pools that are only 24-inches wide by 3- or 4-inches deep, to models that are 92-inches wide and 22-inches deep. Many inflatable pools are intended for families with young children. Some have inflatable slides, sprinklers, or water curtains as part of their design. They’re a good choice for those on a budget because they’re much less expensive than the other pool types. Inflatables also are easy to store when not in use.
Steel frame above-ground pools are strong and durable. The frame includes vertical supports and side rails while the sidewalls and bottom of the pool are made of durable plastic, vinyl, PVC, or, in some cases, resin. The added strength of the steel supports a larger, deeper pool. Pools of this size require a filter or chemicals to maintain a healthy swimming environment. These models also require more ground preparation than an inflatable model.
Steel comes with some drawbacks. It’s heavy, gets hot in the sun, and it can rust. Powder-coated or galvanized steel resists rust better than steel alone. However, as part of ongoing pool maintenance, the frame should be inspected regularly for nicks and other wear and tear that could contribute to rust. Many steel-frame pools are semipermanent, in that they’re laborious to take down and difficult to store. Consequently, steel-frame models work for those who plan to leave the pool in place year-round, or at least for the duration of the swimming season.
Resin is hard, durable plastic that many find easier to maintain than steel. It weighs less and resists rust and oxidation better than either steel or aluminum. It’s strong and resists dents and warping, plus resin doesn’t get hot in the sun like steel.
A pool with a resin frame will be large enough to require a filter or chemicals, so maintenance compares to that of a steel or aluminum frame model. Resin pools generally cost more than a steel or aluminum frame pool. However, their durability and rust resistance make them a good investment for those who swim for a good portion of the year.
Aluminum brings the strength of steel poolside but weighs less and resists rust better. In most respects, aluminum is comparable to steel.
However, aluminum is prone to oxidation. To prevent potential problems, its protective coating must be regularly maintained.
Hybrid pools have steel and resin components. They’re made from various combinations of steel vertical uprights and resin joints and side rails. Resin components typically make up the part of the frame that’s exposed to sun and water, while the steel provides stronger support through the vertical portion of the frame.
These models combine the best of both a resin and steel frame while reducing some of the drawbacks of each. They’re more expensive than a steel frame pool and less expensive than an all-resin model.
Semi-inground pools, also known as radiant pools, walk the line between an in-ground pool and an above-ground model. They’re less expensive than in-ground pools and provide more customization options than a typical above-ground pool. These models are easier to install on slopes and uneven ground and work in yards where a traditional in-ground pool isn’t infeasible.
However, radiant pools are more permanent than above-ground pools because they can’t be taken down at the end of the season. Many look like in-ground models.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Above-Ground Pool
The size and shape, depth, and liner type and thickness of the pool, plus existing landscaping all come into play when choosing the best above-ground pool. Also consider how much maintenance you want to put into the pool.
Ground Type/Intended Location
Pools require strategic yard placement. Some cities have regulations that determine how close to a property line or power pole a pool may be placed. In general, avoid placing the pool near trees, power lines, on concrete, and near other landscaping or structures that could damage the pool’s material or shed debris in the pool. The ground also needs to be flat and even. Uneven ground causes the water to put more pressure on certain areas of the pool, which can weaken the overall structure.
Pool Size and Shape
Above-ground pools are either rectangular, square, oval, or circular. When deciding which you want, measure the available space. Leave enough room, usually 2 or 3 feet, around the pool for foot traffic. The measurements should also indicate the shape that works best. Rectangular and square pools provide more usable pool space. However, round pools have fewer seams. Oval pools require extra structural support on the straight sides to prevent bulges.
The appropriate pool depth depends on who uses the pool. Young children can drown in water as shallow as 1 or 2 inches. Some kiddie pools have walls that are only 5 or 6 inches high to hold 3 or 4 inches of water.
Deeper pools are meant for older swimmers. Wall heights for above-ground pools range from 3 inches to 52 inches. Most manufacturers recommend filling the pool to 90 percent capacity. Taller walls mean the pool holds more water, which adds to depth, and also requires more maintenance like frequent filter changes and extra debris removal.
Pool Liner Type and Thickness
A liner protects the pool, retains water, and helps maintain the pool’s overall structure. Liners are made in four types–overlap, beaded, J-hook (unibead), and expandable. Liners attach to pools in different ways, and some, like expandable models, work better for larger pools than others. The liner needs to be flexible to fit within the pool’s shape and strong enough to hold water but not so thick and heavy that it’s unmanageable. A thickness of around 20mm strikes a good balance between strength, flexibility, thickness, and weight.
Ease of Installation
Above-ground pool buyers need to decide how much time they are willing to spend installing the pool. Inflatable pools are by far one of the easiest to install and take down. With a pump, some can inflate in less than five minutes. Other designs, like resin or semi-inground pools, require installation similar to an in-ground model. The ground must be leveled and sand laid down so the pool doesn’t get punctured. Installation can take several hours, requiring three or four adults.
Safety and Permit Requirements
Some cities require a permit to install a pool while others have safety requirements that are the same as for in-ground models. You may also have to keep the pool a certain distance from the property line. Check with the appropriate authorities so you’re on the up and up with your pool installation.
Small, inflatable pools, the kind that gets emptied after each use, require almost no maintenance. Simply empty and dry them after each use. Any pool that takes hundreds of gallons of water is another matter. The pool might need a pump and filters to circulate water and remove debris, as well as chlorine tabs or salt for saltwater systems. You may also have to do occasional shock treatments to keep algae from growing. Chlorine and pH levels should also be tested regularly.
Above-ground pool owners often need additional accessories for general pool maintenance that they should factor into the price of the pool. A net skimmer is needed to clean out leaves, twigs, and anything else that ends up in the pool. If the pool is up for an extended period of time, you need a cover to put over it when it’s not in use.
A few extra accessories you might also need include:
- Pool alarm
- Chlorine generator (saltwater pool)
- Pool light
Our Top Picks
Some manufacturers specialize in above-ground pools of various sizes, while others are more specialized. This list includes recommended products that offer a mix of durable frames, depth variations, and maintenance options, so you can find a model that fits your yard and lifestyle.
The Intex 26367EH Ultra XTR Pool Set includes the accessories you need to set up a fun and functional pool area. Both the interior and exterior of the galvanized steel frame are powder-coated, improving rust resistance and durability. D-shaped tubular pieces give the frame extra strength to hold the large water capacity. The rectangular pool measures 24 feet by 12 feet by 52-inches high. Though it’s big, it’s designed for installation ease with a snapping interlock joint system that makes it possible to set the pool up in approximately 1 hour.
The Ultra XTR relies on a saltwater system, and this kit includes everything needed for setup, including a ladder, debris cover, ground cloth, and filter and saltwater pump system. It also includes a durable liner that looks like the tile typically found in in-ground pools. This model might be an above-ground pool, but the size and accessories help bring it pretty close to an in-ground pool in regard to functionality. You need a lot of space for this one, and it’s large enough that you have to stay on top of maintenance.
The Bestway 56597E Pro MAX Above Ground Steel Frame Pool stands out because of its high-quality materials, frame design, and reasonable price. This model comes in several sizes and heights, but each size has the same joint design and reinforcements, creating a stable above-ground pool. The Pro MAX’s ease of assembly has to be one of its top features. Assembly requires no tools, and all of the joints lock securely into place.
The Pro MAX does not come with a ladder or pump. The price includes the frame and pool only, so you will need to buy a filter, pump, ladder, and a few other items to get it up and running. But the pool’s frame is covered in a UV- and rust-resistant coating, adding durability and resistance to scuffs, scratches, and dings. When the fun is over, a flow control drain valve provides a controlled release of water. A PVC material makes up the walls and floor, and it has a 3-ply PVC band around the base to provide extra support and prevent bulging.
The Intex 15-foot by 48-inch Easy Set Pool lives up to its name with a 3-step setup process for setting up this round above-ground pool. Once the pool is laid out flat, inflate the top ring, and it’s ready for water in less than 15 minutes. Intex supplies everything swimmers need to get started, including a ladder, filter pump, ground cover, and debris cover.
Laminated PVC gives the walls their strength and durability. This model also features dual suction outlet fittings to keep the water moving and clear. The Easy Set Pool isn’t as durable as a framed model, but the ease of assembly and completeness of the set combine for an attractive, affordable option for many people. It also folds down for storage for those who don’t want to leave a pool up year-round.
The Intex 26743EH 18-foot by 48-inch Premium Prism’s greywood steel frame has a large profile that adds strength and durability when filled to its 6,423-gallon capacity. Considering the size, this pool is relatively easy to set up. With Intex’s interlocking joint system, most people can complete the setup within 60 minutes. The durable 3-ply material has a band around the lower half, reinforcing the structure to prevent bulges.
At nearly 4 feet of depth and 18 feet around, the large pool requires some maintenance, but no constant emptying and refilling. This Intex pool comes with a full set of accessories to get started and to keep the water clean, including a ladder, filter, ground cover, and debris cover. This model comes in greywood for those who aren’t fans of the typical blue above-ground pool.
The Intex Rainbow Ring Inflatable Play Center is more than a pool. It’s an inflatable play station with a water slide, sprinkler, rings, and balls. Two small pools provide room for more than one child, and this model gives them more options in how they play. Once inflated, it measures nearly 16 feet around and 5.5 inches high for easy entry. It is large for a kiddie pool, so be sure to consider where to place it.
This kids’ pool has lots of fun accessories with kids in mind, including games, a water sprayer that hooks to the garden hose, and a landing mat at the bottom of the inflatable slide. The setup, like other inflatables, doesn’t take long. When the kids are done, let out the water and deflate it.
The HomechInflatable Swimming Pool is a good option for families who want the easy setup of an inflatable pool but the space of a framed pool. A thick, BPA-free PVC material makes up the sidewalls and bottom, providing extra strength. With an electric pump, the three independent air chambers fill in 3 to 4 minutes. It doesn’t take much time to deflate or drain either, especially with the built-in drainpipe.
A pool isn’t the only use for the Homech, either. While it’s big for an inflatable (82 by 56 by 22 inches), it’s small enough for indoor use as a ball pit for the kids. Once dry, the Homech folds down for easy storage. This model is a good size, but it’s recommended that the water level stay no higher than the second air chamber level to prevent excessive pressure on the walls.
Galvanized steel components combined with injection-molded resin connectors boost the durability of the Independence 27-foot round, 52-inch Deep Hard Side Pool. Yet the pool also looks attractive. Its 6-inch steel top rails and 5-inch steel verticals create a strong, firm foundation that’s built to withstand heavy weather.
This model’s package comes with almost everything (ladder, skimmer, maintenance kit, filtration, liner) you need to get started, except for a groundcover and debris cover. The package also includes a pool light that attaches magnetically to the side or free-floats for evening swims. Site prep and assembly take time with this pool, but it looks classy and, with the right maintenance, can last for years.
The Intex 28273EH 14.75-Foot by 33-Inch Rectangular Frame Pool strikes a good balance between size, assembly ease, and price. A heavy-duty PVC frame supports the vinyl pool, which comes in four sizes, the largest holding 1,883 gallons of water. The frame locks together and can be set up by two adults. With its length and 33-inch height, this pool can hold a few adults and kids ages 6 and older.
Families can still enjoy the maximum amount of space in the backyard because this model doesn’t take long a lot of prep or setup, so it can pack down for storage during cooler months. The Intex 28273EH doesn’t come with a groundcover, though the manufacturer recommends using one.
Blue Wave’s Martinique 24-Foot by 52-inch Deep Metal Wall model holds 13,600 gallons of water with enough space for 8 to 12 kids and adults. The steel frame is coated with a mixture of zinc and aluminum, using the Star Galvin process, which protects the frame from corrosion, rust, chips, and nicks. The Martinique is also made with durable resin components that resist damage and breakdown from UV exposure.
This package includes the tools and accessories needed to set up and enjoy this deep pool, including a filter, ladder, return, and a skimmer. This isn’t a model that can go up in an hour. The manufacturer’s instructions suggest setting aside at least 6 hours for full assembly. The Martinique is a fairly permanent structure once it’s put together. It’s not designed to be stored in the garage during off months.
The QNTICH 6-Foot Swimming Pool’s round shape fits well in small yards and leaves some space for family and guests to walk around the outside. This model’s 6-foot diameter allows several kids to play at once. Setup is as easy as inflating the ring and filling the pool. The PVC material resists sunlight and damage from chemicals.
The QNTICH also comes with a filter, so it doesn’t need to be emptied and refilled after each use. The drain valve is a great added feature for small yards, allowing you to direct the water as it drains to avoid flooding the small space around the pool. It’s also easy on storage space when not in use, easily deflating and folding up for off-season storage.
FAQs About Above-Ground Pools
If you haven’t used or maintained an above-ground pool before, we’ve got the answers to some commonly asked questions.
Q. Can you install an above-ground pool yourself?
The complexity of installation depends on the pool’s size and design. One person can put together most inflatable pools, but large models with a frame and hard walls require two or more people.
Q. Which is better, round or oval above-ground pools?
Neither is better. However, oval above-ground pools require a more complex frame and structure to maintain the pool’s straight sides. If you want an easier setup, then a round model might be better.
Q. How do you maintain an above-ground pool?
Proper maintenance requires consistency and vigilance. Users should test chlorine levels once a week, and perform regular shock treatments. The pool’s pump should run 6 to 8 hours a day. Filters must be cleaned and replaced on a regular schedule, too. Any debris needs to be removed with a skimmer after each use. Smaller, inflatable pools require less maintenance except for refilling and emptying for each use.
Q. How long do above-ground pools last?
A pool’s longevity depends on the materials and how well it’s been maintained. On average, above-ground pools last anywhere from 7 to 15 years. Liners typically need to be replaced after 5 to 9 years. However, some hard-sided resin or hybrid pools include 20-25-year warranties, so expect them to last longer than average.