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How We Tested
A great water toy provides endless hours of fun and last through many summer adventures. Twelve kids (aged four to 14) and six adults put more than a dozen water toys to the test in three pools, two lakes, and one river to find the most fun and durable of the lot. After testing all kinds of water blasters, reusable water balloons, pool floaties, rideable toys, diving toys, and more, these seven ranked as the best water toys.
Best Overall Water Blaster
Supersoaker Nerf DinoSquad Water Blaster ($10)
Of the handful of water blasters tested, the DinoSquad Supersoaker was the overall kid favorite. It was the easiest to pump (kids as young as four were able to operate it) and it had a range of around 30 feet, which we found to be average for a toy this size. The kids loved the bright dinosaur design, and parents preferred it because it looked less like an actual gun and more like a fun water-blasting toy. It holds 20 ounces of water, enough for plenty of play time before refilling, and it’s not too heavy for smaller kids to carry. And kids could refill without any help from adults through the cap on top by dunking it or using the tap.
Quickest Refill Water Blaster
Zuru X-Shot Fast-Fill Water Blaster ($12)
The biggest advantage of the X-Shot Fast-Fill is that it only takes about a second to fill with water—open the entire back of the blaster and dunk. While the X-Shot wasn’t a hit among the younger kids who didn’t have the arm strength to undo the latch (or pump it once it was full), the older kids and adults gravitated towards it because it was accurate, shot a little further than the rest (it has a 34-foot range), and held a few more ounces of water than the Nerf DinoSquad.
Best Single Shot Water Blaster
Max Liquidator Water Blaster Set ($20 for six)
There are many pool noodle water blasters out there, and while they all look roughly the same, some are far more durable than others. We’ve had the same Max Liquidator water blasters floating in the pool for two summers, and they haven’t broken yet. We added two rival brands this summer—one snapped on the first day, and the other didn’t make it through the end of testing. The Max Liquidator water blasters are just plain fun. They shoot really high, are bright (read: easy to spot), and are lightweight and user-friendly, so even the youngest kids can use them. (The padded foam exterior also makes them more suitable for smaller children.)
Best Water Balloon Alternative
Soppycid Reusable Water Balloons ($20-$40)
Reusable water balloons replace environmentally harmful single-use balloons that leave a huge mess of tiny plastic fragments to clean up after water fights. There are two main types of reusable balloons: ones that fill from self-sealing holes on the ends and others that split in the middle and shut with lightweight magnetic closures. In testing, the self-sealing types were hard to fill and were quickly abandoned by the kids. The magnetic ones are much easier to fill (you dip the balloon in water, and it quickly fills and self-seals), and they make a bigger splash. We left them sitting out in the direct sun, threw them hundreds of times, and they’re still going strong.
Note: there is a slew of brands that sell reusable water balloons that all look the same, but some have exposed magnets that were reported to fall out and pose an ingestion hazard for children. Keep your kids safe by buying ones that cover the magnets with a protective silicone rubber ring (like our recommendation) and by doing frequent inspections of the balloons. The protective rings are in great shape on the Soppycids after months of hard use.
Best Pool Floatie
Big Joe Pool Petz ($48)
Big Joe Pool Petz are rideable stuffed animals for the water. They’re filled with lightweight, floating foam pellets, much like a bean bag chair for the water, and come in a variety of differently-sized animals (manta ray, hippo, clam). Each one has a mesh bottom that drains quickly when you remove them from the pool. The design is much more durable than blow-up plastic pool floaties, which can pop at the seams. After severe thrashings over several months by both kids and adults, none of the stitching on the Big Joe Petz has come loose. The penguin we tested wasn’t the most stable shape for bigger kids and smaller adults, but part of the fun was trying to wrangle it and stay on.
Best Dive Toys
Prime Time Toys Sharkpedo Diving Masters Underwater Gliders ($15)
There are certainly more exciting-looking dive toys that we tested (like a treasure chest filled with loot), but none are as durable and long-lasting as the simple torpedo sharks that have been used in my home for three years. Throw them like a dart, and they take off like underwater rockets to different areas of the pool. Then, kids can race to find them, or use them to practice their diving skills. The bright colors are easy to spot underwater, except for the blue ones, which are more camouflaged, which adds to the challenge of finding them. Because of the simple design, there are no parts to break or lose, so they’re pretty tough. They also double as great beach toys because they take up very little room and dry with a quick wipe.
Best Floating Seat
O’Brien Foam Water Saddle ($30)
If you enjoy floating in a pool or lake partially submerged, a water saddle keeps you buoyant and upright while relaxing. This one from O’Brien is made of thick poly foam and feels similar to swimming flutter board material, only more flexible. They’re plenty comfortable to sit in for short stints, but for a day spent floating on the lake, the material can start to rub exposed skin (there are water saddles with a smoother and softer texture, but they cost quite a bit more). They don’t need inflating or deflating, are easy to dry off, and take up little storage space. The standard seat has ten-inch diameter leg openings and is suitable for big kids and smaller adults, keeping most people floating in the water between their chest and chin. There’s also a larger version that’s longer, wider, and has bigger leg openings. Smaller kids aren’t heavy enough to adequately stabilize themselves in the seat, but it’s still fun for them as they try and balance before getting bucked off.