If you have been looking online for an honest and educated opinion on what is the best above ground swimming pool maker for any amount of time, then you already know that’s almost impossible. Until now, of course.
I have been installing, repairing, and re-lining above ground pools for 36 years and counting. With this article, I’m not trying to sell you something and am not getting paid to say something about someone from anyone.
This is just my pure opinion after 35 years of experience.
Determining who is the best manufacturer of above ground pools at any given time is tricky. Many decent pool makers come and go fast. Based on my overall experience of installing over 6,000 pools of all makes and models, Wilbar is the overall winner.
THE TERM “ABOVE GROUND POOL” NOW COVERS A MUCH WIDER SPECTRUM OF TYPES
Before my opinion can be of any use, you should determine what an above ground swimming pool means to “you”.
Like everything else, above ground pools have come a long way. Back when I started building these, I used to have to walk to the job uphill both ways in the snow (even though I was in Central Florida).
Seriously though, when I started installing pools in the eighties, above grounds didn’t have much of a range of type or price. They were all metal walled, all had terrible pumps and filters, and most just had overlap liners.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF ABOVE GROUND POOLS
I put above ground pools in three categories. Here they are starting from cheapest to most expensive.
Soft-sided above ground pools
In the nineties, I started seeing the much cheaper soft-sided Intex/Coleman type pool. They were kind of throw away pools that seemed like just a glorified and deeper baby pool.
A couple of manufacturers came out with a much more legit soft-sided pool made to last for years and cost as much or more than a metal walled pool, but they never became very popular. I installed a few of them some years back and they seemed cool and made to last, but didn’t have the same feel or look of the more traditional metal-walled above ground pool.
The extremely inexpensive soft-sided pools did catch on though, and when Walmart started selling the Index pool, millions were sold. Today, this type of above ground pool is more popular than any other. I’m not a fan of them though because they are sooooo cheaply made.
These Intex/Coleman pools will hold water for a season or two, then off to the dump for their final resting place. As someone at least somewhat environmentally conscious, I can’t get behind these Chinese landfillers. They do serve a great purpose though for the many who cannot afford a pool or don’t have a yard for one. These pools bring a lot of joy to millions of people, so that’s a huge positive.
A disclaimer to my poor opinion of Intex/Colman type above ground pools
Many pool owners (especially those in the North) are able to make these cheaper pools last for some years. To that I say “good for you”. This in no way opposes the simple fact that these pools are very cheaply made. And the vast majority of these pools only last one season.
Traditional metal-walled above ground pool
When a guy like me thinks of an above ground pool, this type is what I think of. These are economical, lasting, and have been made for more than half a century.
Doughboy is probably the most famous name for above-ground pools(unless you are under 40 and a Walmart shopper. Then it might be Intex) and this is the type they make. This is also the type of above ground pool that I generally build and is what any guy who considers himself an above ground pool installer builds mostly.
True semi-inground pool
I have to call this a “true” semi-inground pool because most pools that are partially in the ground are just above ground pools that are buried some. This is fine by the way, just not in the same category as a pool that is made to go in the ground.
A true semi-inground pool is a slightly different animal than the traditional above ground. The biggest difference that you will notice from the start is the cost. They cost a lot more. In most cases, they cost 2-3 times more than a traditional metal-walled above ground pool.
A true semi-inground pool will have slatted aluminum walls that hook together like the Aquasport 52 or the Oasis/Burmuda model by Wilbar.
There is also the even more expensive semi-inground paneled wall pool like a Radiant pool. For me, this type of pool is really closer to a vinyl liner inground pool than an above ground, but I have to mention them here because they compete as a semi-inground pool. As far as I’m concerned, if a pool calls for concrete footing, it’s not really an above ground pool. This type of pool calls for a lot of concrete.
THE MOST POPULAR TRADITIONAL ABOVE GROUND POOL MANUFACTURERS
This is by no means a complete list of all the above ground pool manufacturers. I’m not sure that is possible anyway as they come and go so fast. What this is though is the more common pool makers that have been around for at least a while.
When talking about above ground pool manufacturers, there are really two big ones that make most of them. They are Wilbar and Doughboy. Wilbar has at least three different makers under their umbrella and Doughboy has three. I’ll list them here.
The most popular name in traditional above ground pools. I think people who don’t know much about above grounds at all are familiar with this name.
From an installer’s standpoint, I’m not a big fan of Doughboy pools. They have been very slow with design progression and lost a huge piece of the market as a result.
Installers who only build Doughboys (because they work exclusively for a retailer who sells Doughboy) will not have many issues with them. An installer who builds all above grounds like me will have some issues with Doughboys. They aren’t too bad, but when you can compare them to other manufactured pools, they fall short on the “ease of assembly” category.
Doughboys are also overpriced but do seem to last longer than most and I’m not sure why that is. It may have something to do with the great liner that used to come with them all. They don’t all come with that liner now, so who knows. I’ll know ten years from now (If I’m still doing pools).
Over the years, things change with Wilbar. I remember when a Sharkline pool was just a line of Wilbar pools. Now it’s considered a manufacturer. I’m sure it always was.
In the 34 years of me installing above grounds, Sharkline has always been a good pool.
I was around before Wilbar bought Atlantic. They too have been a good pool. Most of the Atlantic models were the more basic lower-end model, but there are good and sound.
I don’t know why Wilbar hasn’t bought or didn’t buy Cornelius, but they are somehow still on their own. They are a sound name and I have installed my share of them will no issues (beyond normal ones).
I remember Vogue pools before Wilbar bought them. They had a slightly different look and feel about them. Sort of a maybe a French Canadian influence of some kind.
Vogue had a really great oval design that got slightly bastardized a couple of years after Wilbar bought them. I was sad about that, but they still make a nice and sound pool.
Doughboy created this sister company Lomart so they could compete better with Wilbar and others. This was because they were getting their asses kicked due to not changing their ways.
Lomart pools were made more like the competition. This made it so they were more cost-competitive and could be sold with other equipment (In the beginning of Lomart, Doughboys only came with their own skimmers/returns and sub-par pump/filter pack).
Overall, I’m ok with Lomart pools. They still carry a couple of the characteristics that I don’t like about Doughboys, but they generally go together better.
Aqua Leader (Wilbar)
This may just be me, but Canadian above grounds seem to have just a little more style than American made pools. Aqua Leader is a great example of this. They make some nice looking models and incorporate resin maybe more than anyone.
Backyard Leisure (Wilbar)
Just another line of pools made by Wilbar. These are models sold to possibly retailers but mainly distributors. They have a website for the retailers to help sell them.
These are good solid models. I have installed a lot of them and have no issues with them beyond the same ones I have with the rest of the Wilbar pools.
Mighty Sun (Asahi)
For as long as I can remember, these pools have been around. They are made in Japan and aren’t as good as comparable pools made in North America.
Mighty Sun pools look about and the same as their North American competitors, but they cost slightly less and do not last as long.
When you look at these Japanese pools, one thing you notice is that the pool’s wall has more layers to them. This is just a marketing thing. I have weighed out the walls of these pools against the other manufacturers, and they weigh less. This is because they have less steel in them. This could also be why they don’t last as long.
I have nothing against Japanese products. They make some of the best stuff in the world, but not above ground swimming pools. When dealing with water, you need to use good raw materials. The Japanese pools are lacking with that. Gomen Nasai (Sorry guys).
SOME GOOD POOLS COME AND GO
Just because a pool manufacturer hasn’t been around or making pools for very long doesn’t mean they are bad. Every year, there are some great pools made and not from the above list.
Currently (I’m writing this in late 2020), Garvin is a good example of this. They are currently making above ground pools and pool products and have been in business making them for a few years now. I have installed a couple hundred of them and they are nice looking and made with a decent design.
I cannot say though that a pool maker like Carvin is the best though as they may be gone tomorrow. And if they are, it will be very hard to get parts for their pools. And that’s not cool.
METAL-WALLED ABOVE GROUND POOLS MADE IN CHINA
I haven’t seen many metal walled above grounds made in China. That’s a good thing because the few that I have seen were awfully designed and made very cheaply.
There is no Chinese manufacturer of metal-walled above ground pools, but any businessman can certainly go over there with some specs and have one built and then shipped over to sell. This is how I’ve seen the few that I’ve seen and they are horrible pools.
Generally, I think stuff made in China is cheap but it really depends on the specs they give the Chinese. Hayward is still a great name in the pool business (although they are waning some), and they have l lot of their products made in China now.
There is one thing that I know right now. And that is if you come across a metal-walled above ground swimming pool made in China, don’t get it. It’s junk at any cheap price.
THE BEST OVERALL BRAND OF ABOVE GROUND SWIMMING POOL
As an above ground swimming pool installer for three and a half decades, I have built almost every model ever made by almost every manufacturer that ever made above grounds.
This is an important distinction because most seasoned installers will have only mainly built what their local retailers sell. This was the case for me in the first 6-7 years of building pools. Then I started installing for everyone and anyone.
Over time, I was able to see what was necessary with design and engineering and what wasn’t. This can only occur when installing many different models and makers over a long period of time, which is what I have done.
Before I tell you who I think the best is, I have to say that all the manufacturers are lacking in design and engineering. All of them! This may just be the norm across the broad distance between who designs and engineers versus who installs or builds in the real world. And that’s fine, but I’m not an idiot. Some of the designs for above ground pools and what they decide to use for parts are almost entirely idiotic. Just sayin’
Now that I’ve purged my rant, overall, my vote is for Wilbar pools.
I have installed more Wilbar pools than any other maker. That’s mainly because they have the biggest part of the above-ground pool market. If I were to get an above ground pool, it would be a Wilbar pool for sure.
Wilbar makes a bunch of models under at least five different names, so I can’t say which to choose. There are too many. Generally, I seem to be at least slightly more impressed with pools made in Canada. Especially the nicer upgraded models. For that then, look at the Vogue and Aqua Leader models.