As the weather cools down and we’re forced to find even more ways to entertain ourselves inside during the pandemic, table tennis offers a fun alternative to plopping down on the couch for another three-hour stretch of Netflix. And pretty much anyone can play. As Sean O’Neill, a two-time table-tennis Olympian and USATT High Performance director, says, “Table tennis is ubiquitous. Everyone is playing it. Everyone is having fun.” As long as you have a little hand-eye coordination and a paddle, you can handle it too. The sport can be played solo or in groups (just make sure your partner is in your coronavirus pod) and competitively or casually — as something to keep your hands occupied while you’re talking.
To find the best table-tennis tables, we spoke to six experts: O’Neill; Will Shortz, owner of Westchester Table Tennis Center (and casual crossword puzzler); Judy Hoarfrost, USATT Hall of Fame player and owner of Paddle Palace; John Hsu, a coach at Maryland Table Tennis Center; Yanjun Gao, a former NCTTA national champ and the head coach of NYU’s table-tennis team; and Gao Jun, head coach of California Table Tennis Club. Below are their recommendations for table-tennis tables suitable for all types of players and budgets.
The best beginner table-tennis tables
For novices who want something lightweight for recreational use — or for kids to play on — Shortz says Kettler Tables are budget-friendly and reliable. Although “they aren’t as sturdy and don’t last as long as higher-quality tables,” this is a good option for if you just “want something to hit on in your basement,” he says.
Hsu likes this table because it’s “affordable” and “you can still get a lot of good-quality play out of it.”
Like Hsu, Gao likes the Joola Inside table for beginners, but he recommends spending a couple hundred dollars more for the 25mm version. When you play with tables less than 25mm thick, he says, “the bounce is lower and not as consistent. It’s not high enough for quality playing.” Hoarfrost agrees, stressing that recreational players should invest in thicker, professional-quality tables that are approved by the International Table Tennis Federation. According to O’Neill, “The thicker table reduces vibration, which you want to get rid of” to achieve that consistent high bounce. “Remember, the ball is only two ounces, so you don’t want that vibration transferring to it,” he says.
The best midrange table-tennis tables
Professional-grade tables like this one are hassle-free and much more durable than budget tables. “When you put a table like the Waldner Classic 25 up and down, it folds smoothly. It’s easy to put away,” Hoarfrost says. Also, O’Neill says, a “really solid table can withstand running into it as a player. Or if you are playing doubles and someone gets bumped into the table, it is not moving six inches.”
Jun recommends the lower-priced Butterfly Space Saver 22 because it’s ITTF-approved and has a solid thickness and consistent bounce. Plus, it’s easy to fold up and roll away for storage in small spaces.
This thick 30mm table is what Hoarfrost plays on. “A lot of our customers these days are making an investment for their home, and they want something they can use for many years,” she says. “My table, which I’ve had for over 30 years, is as good now as when I got it.” The Donic Waldner 30 is “really thick and sturdy and has an excellent, consistent bounce,” she says. She recommends it for “people that are looking for the best and something they can actually have at home that people would be using at the World Championships.”
The best professional-quality table-tennis tables
Hoarfrost believes German brands like Stiga have the best-quality tables. According to her, “This one is really solid. At 30 millimeters, it’s thicker than one inch and it’s really sturdy.” O’Neill agrees: “If I’m putting together a club or putting a table in my basement, I would probably spend the money and look at the $1,200–$1,500 price range of Stiga tables knowing I’m going to get 15 or 20 years out of it,” he says. Hoarfrost describes it as “very popular and a really good price for what you get.”
Maryland Table Tennis Center, one of the first premier tennis-table clubs in the United States, uses the ITTF-approved, official competition Joola 3000 SC tables. Hsu says they’re “as good as any other tables in the world. We like them at our club because of their very high quality.” (He also uses this table at home.) Along with providing consistent ball bounce, the thicker wood is “more even and straighter,” Hsu says. “With thinner tables, you can have a bend in the table that will create an inconsistent bounce.” This model folds up easily and has “heavy-duty, durable wheels with brakes on two of the four wheels,” Hsu says. Gao likes the 3000 SC too, calling it “the best table.” Of the ten tables the NYU team uses, eight are 3000 SCs. It’s also the table Gao uses at home.
“As a former professional player, I have used many different brands in different tournaments. The Butterfly table is the best I have ever used,” Jun says. This durable table is what she uses at her own club.
At his facility outside of New York City, Shortz uses Double Happiness Rainbow Tables from the Chinese brand DHS. While Shortz also likes Joola (Germany) and Stag (India), he prefers DHS for its unique, colorful, “gorgeous” designs. And he’s not alone. O’Neill calls these tables “pieces of art.” One thing to note before you buy, however: “You can’t fold this up,” Shortz says. “It’s pretty permanent. It’s not easy to take apart and put together again.” O’Neill compares it to a jigsaw puzzle and says “it takes four people to put together.” But the design is top-notch. A huge benefit to the rainbow-leg design is the fluidity of movement it allows for players. There are no corner posts to block movement under and around the table, allowing for a more physical game.
The best outdoor table-tennis tables
People want to play recreationally at events, parties and in parks as a communal activity “so you have a lot more outdoor, beach, pool, backyard, and garage play,” O’Neill says. He likes Butterfly brand tables like this one. There is a challenge, however: To protect the wood from warping, these tables have a protective coat made to withstand rain, heat, and humidity. If you’re a pro, you might notice the difference, but the rest of us won’t be able to tell.
For long-term, multiuse durability, Hsu also recommends the Joola Nova Pro Plus, which has “an aluminum coating that makes it more durable to withstand weather.” Some of his students own this table and are happy with it.