We want you to get the best possible experience when you’re kayaking, so we like to provide you with our product reviews and buying guides. We hope they help!
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Oceans and rivers can sometimes be quite unpredictable. Even if the water is calm when you first start off, a sharp turn in the weather or the tide can leave in the most experienced kayakers amongst us landing unexpectedly in the water.
Our take is that it’s always better to be safe than to be sorry. And to that end, we think you should always be prepared and alert to potential dangers. This means that you should make safety a priority, and have good quality safety gear in place and properly fitted.
Coming up shortly we have a succession of life vest/jacket reviews for you to peruse, and following that we have a handy buying guide which walks you through the different types of personal floatation devices, and what you should look out for when you decide to buy one.
Before we go onto our product reviews, it’s worth mentioning at this point that you can also get inflatable PFDs, but to be honest the PFDs listed here make for a better choice for kayakers.
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Best Life Vest For Kayaking - Comparison Table
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Best Life Vest For Kayaking - Reviews
Out of our Top few PFDs, this one is the best overall. It’s a type 3, and has a buoyancy level of 16 pounds (more on buoyancy in our buying guide).
There’s a lot going into it to make it comfortable to wear: ventilated back pads, adjustable shoulder pads, and open sides for that extra bit of ventilation you may need on hot, sweaty days.
To ensure that the vest doesn’t ride up as you move, there’s a handy cross-chest cinch harness.
There’s also a handy grip tab on the front zipper, which makes it much easier to get the PFD on and off.
We love the 2 large zippered pockets on the front of the jacket - they’re just great for keeping items right at hand, be they sun cream or snacks, etc. And for even more storage, there’s also a 4 way accessory lash-tab on the back of the jacket.
The outer part of the jacket is made from 500 denier Cordura nylon, whilst the inner lining is made of 200 denier Oxford nylon. With this combination, you get a PFD that’s durable and strong, yet also lightweight at the same time.
And it’s easy to look after too, simply hand wash it with soap.
Now this is a Type 3 PFD designed with freedom of movement in mind. It’s just perfect for kayaking and other forms of paddle sports!
There are adjustable neoprene shoulder pads, and for extra comfort, there’s good ventilation on both the front and the back of the vest - great for keeping cool when the sun’s beating down.
The zipper fastening is positioned at the front, making it easy to get the jacket on.
You can also adjust the side belts, and this really helps to ensure you get the perfect, secure fit to your torso. This also ensures that the vest does not ride up.
We love the zippered pockets because they’re expandable, giving you loads of storage space. But if that wasn’t quite enough, there’s also storage space provided via the lash tab on the back.
And of course we love the safety features too! There’s SOLAS-grade reflective material on the outer of the jacket, to provide maximum visibility, and there’s even an integrated whistle too. You may never need them, but they’re so reassuring to have in place.
It has a very flexible and sculpted design. The outer material is made from 200 denier and the inside you get comfy floatation foam. All in all it’s a very comfortable and resilient PFD and offers plenty of bang for your buck.
This Type 3 PFD is both resilient and durable, and at the same time also very lightweight, with it’s 500 denier Cordura nylon outer material and 200 denier Oxford nylon for the inner.
I’s deep cut arm holes, large neck hole and adjustable shoulder straps make for plenty of freedom to paddle away, or should you need to, freedom to swim back to the kayak.
There’s reflective tape on both the front and the back of the jacket, to provide that all important visibility in the event that disaster strikes.
We also like that there’s plenty of storage available, including one vertical pocket which is perfect for holding a cell phone, GPS, or pencil flares, and there’s lash tabs on both the front and the back of the vest - so handy.
All in all, this is the perfect PFD for the most safety conscious amongst us.
This is a Type 3 PFD with a buoyancy of 16.5 pounds (more on buoyancy in our buying guide).
To put it on, simply place over your head, then do up the buckles on the sides, adjusting the fit as necessary.
The outer shell is made from 200 denier nylon, while the inside is made of soft foam. This way, it’s both lightweight and comfortable.
The action-cut sides really help you move freely, you can paddle, row or swim completely unrestricted.
There’s a huge zippered pocket featured on the chest area, which is great for storing snacks and things. And behind it is a hand-warmer pouch, which is quite the luxury on colder days. There’s also a front lash tab, which is a great place to keep things you might want quick access to.
In summary, it’s a really durable PFD, which is perfect for whitewater kayakers.
This PFD from the Coleman Company comes US Coast Guard approved (meaning it has a buoyancy of at least 15.5 pounds).
It has large arm holes that won’t get in the way when you’re paddling, swimming or casting.
The outer shell is made with 200 denier nylon, and has floatation foam on the inside. Together this makes it both durable and lightweight.
This PFD will really help keep you cool on hot summer days, thanks to the mesh on the back and on the shoulders which provide excellent ventilation.
It fastens up via a zipper going down the front, and it also features webbing adjustments, so you can achieve a perfectly snug fit.
There’s a handy front pocket to allow quick, easy access to your bits and pieces, be they sun cream, snacks, or whatever else.
As the name suggests, this Type 3 PFD is specially designed for youngsters, such as youths or teenagers. More specifically it’s designed for those who weigh between 50 to 90 pounds.
Much like the other PFDs we’re showing you in this article, this vest has an outer shell made of 200 denier nylon oxford intended to make it both lightweight and durable. While on the inside, meanwhile, there’s a lightweight foam interior.
There are large arm holes to assist with paddling, leaving you completely unrestricted, and there are a total of six straps on the sides that you can adjust for optimum fit and mobility.
The neoprene shoulder pads are fitted for extra comfort and there’s a high foam back which is designed to accommodate high back seats.
It has a front fastening via a zipper, and there’s a low set buckle to provide that extra boost of security.
There’s a zippered pocket to stash your sun cream or whatever, and better yet, it features mesh drainage should you get water into it.
This is a really top notch PFD, with an outer shell composed of ‘ripstop’ nylon and a liner made of 210 denier oxford nylon. It’s a durable vest that can stand up to any weather conditions.
At the same time, the inner is made from lightweight PE foam and mesh lining, it’s really lightweight and cool, which is perfect for kayaking in the summer heat.
To achieve that perfect fit, there are a total of 8 points of adjustability.
When it comes to comfort, there’s a neoprene padded waistband, and padded shoulder straps. There’s also a chest cinch-strap, designed to ensure that the vest doesn’t ride up when you move.
It’s really well ventilated on the sides and back, making comfy enough to wear for hours on end, and the mesh back is nice and high, designed to accommodate the high back seats that you sometimes get in kayaks.
The stand out feature of this PFD is just how good it is for storing multiple different items when you have a lot of gear, but kayak space is at a premium. There are six pockets, a lash tab, lanyard loops and even a beacon loop on the back.
In addition to all it’s varied storage options, this is also a great PFD for providing comfort. The floatation foam of the jacket is concentrated around the front and shoulders, which means that you can have a mesh lower back to keep you cool as you sit back and relax on your kayak.
There are a whopping number of 8 different adjustment points, so you can really tailor the fit to make it nice and snug for the wearer. Specifically 4 points on the sides, 2 on the waist, and 2 on the shoulders.
The large arm openings allow that all important mobility for your paddling, rowing, swimming or casting, etc.
We love that it also features SOLAS reflective tape on the front and back to provide that all important visibility should you ever need it in an emergency situation.
All in all, with it’s plentiful storage and super variable adjustment options, this PFD makes for a very convenient and comfortable choice.
This Type 3 PFD is specially designed to be worn by women and is just as well built as the ones intended for use by men.
It has an outer shell made from 400 x 200 denier ripstop material, while the inner liner is made of 210 denier Oxford nylon. This makes it really durable, while keeping it really lightweight at the same time.
It has all the features seen in a men’s PFD such as open sides, a ventilated mesh back, high back floatation, lightweight PE foam, a neoprene padded waistband, and also a cross-chest cinch harness to help prevent the jacket from riding up. (And breathe.)
And to top that off, there’s also a 1 to 1.5 inch webbing belt which features dual forward pulls, which make for a low profile fit, and there are built in inner cups to provide extra support and comfort.
It has a buoyancy level of 16 pounds (more on buoyancy levels shortly).
This women’s PFD is every bit as good as the top of the range in men’s PFDs - resilient, durable and well built, plus with additional features to ensure extra comfort and support for women.
Best Life Vest For Kayaking - Buyers Guide
Why you should always wear a life jacket / PFD
Whenever you go kayaking, you should always wear a Personal Flotation Device, which we’ll refer to from here on in as a PFD, for short. Life vests, also known as life jackets are types of PFDs.
If you’re wearing a PFD, then if you were to topple over into the water, you will remain buoyant and safe.
We would recommend investing in a PFD even if you consider yourself to be a strong swimmer since the additional buoyancy can help make it easier for re-entry back onto your kayak.
What type of PFD should I get?
PFDs can come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. However, there are 5 main types of PFD, and we’ll walk you through them now.
A Type 1 PFD is the best performing type. It’s designed for off-shore use in open waters, where you may expect rough seas.
This type of PFD is a good choice if you intend to take your kayak to rough waters, or remote areas where a rescue boat may take some time to get to you. This is because Type 1 PFDs are designed to be worn for long periods and can keep a wearer’s head above water if they are unconscious.
This type of PFD is the one most commonly found on commercial vessels as opposed to recreational kayakers.
Type 2 PFDs meanwhile are tailored for near-shore activities, where a more rapid rescue response can be expected, in calmer and more in-land waters for example.
Type 3 PFDs are the perfect PFD for kayakers! In fact, they’re considered the perfect PFD for several water-related activities, such as fishing and water skiing, etc.
Much like the Type 2 PDF, they’re intended for use in calm, inland waters. However, their additional advantage is that they tend to be specifically designed to compliment your intended activity (e.g. kayaking!) enabling sufficient movement when worn.
A Type 4 PFD is not a life vest or life jacket, but rather a floating item designed to be thrown out to the overboard person, which may be in the form of a floating cushion or ring.
Unlike the previous PFDs detailed above, “Type 5” PFDs are a broad term covering several PFDs that are designed for specific purposes only.
Each one is different, and the intended use for each Type 5 PFD is outlined on its label.
A full-body survival suit, for example, would be classed as Type V since it’s designed to protect the body from hypothermia and is really well adapted to cooler climates.
Some of these more specially designed PFDs also specify a Type I, II, or III performance level on their label.
Kayak PFD Features To Look Out For
If you’ve been reading carefully, you may have noticed that we’ve identified the Type 3 PFD as being the best type for use when kayaking. Even within this category, however, there are a number of different features and factors to think about.
Your level of comfort is an important consideration because you really should be wearing it for the entire length of time that you’re out on the water. So you should think about the material on the inside of the PFD, particularly if you intend to be wearing just swimwear underneath, since this material may rub against your skin. Some PFDs come with padded shoulders.
When it comes to the fit of the PFD, the idea is for it to feel snug yet comfortable. This means that you will need to have sufficiently large armholes so you can comfortably rotate your arms while paddling your kayak. Luckily this is a common feature in PFDs specifically aimed at kayakers.
It’s so handy to have pouches and pockets on your PFD! You can use them to keep sunscreen, snacks, and other small items right at hand.
Not everyone needs pockets equally, and if you’re out fishing you may well have all your storage needs covered by your cooler and/or dry-bag.
We feel that a hydration bladder is a really nice feature to have built into your PFD. This is basically a pouch where you can keep your drinking water, rather than from using a plastic bottle. This is handy if you intend to be on the water for several hours and space is at a premium (which it often is on a kayak).
Some PFDs come with D shaped rings attached, which allow you to clip items onto the exterior. You may not ever need it, but it remains a nice feature to have.
As with pockets, these are hardly essential features but they still may present a deciding factor to some kayakers choosing their PFD.
Putting on Method
You might want to consider how the PFD is to be put on. Some PFDs have zips on the front, some have them on the sides, and others can be placed over your head and then fastened afterward.
Sometimes zips have a tendency to jam or break, so this is something to be wary of when choosing your PFD.
We’d hope that your PFD won’t come into much contact with sharp, abrasive rocks or too much saltwater. But in order to prepare for that eventuality, you should ensure that your PFD is made from a resilient type of material such as nylon or neoprene.
Between the two materials, nylon tends to be used more than neoprene for paddle sport PFDs as it’s more lightweight.
Having a PFD made from a durable resilient material is the way to ensure that you get a good lifespan from your PFD, enabling you to wear it over and over again, and really get your money’s worth out of it.
Buoyancy describes the force required to keep someone’s head above water when using a PFD in the water. It’s measured in pounds rather than kilograms, so get ready to hit Google to do any conversions.
Several different factors can influence how much buoyancy is needed for a particular individual, including their weight, body fat ratio, and water conditions.
As a general rule, most adults need a buoyancy of 7 to 12 pounds to stay afloat. However, according to the US Coast Guard, a Type III PFD must have a minimum buoyancy level of 15.5 pounds.
A good quality PFD is the most important piece of gear, for any water based activity, and kayaking is no exception. Whatever your skill or experience level, however strong a swimmer you may be, and whatever body of open water you may be in, your PFD is an non-negotiable essential.
Out of the 5 types of PFD approved by the US Coast Guard, the most appropriate and practical one for kayaking, and similar water sports such as paddle boarding or fishing, is the Type 3 PFD.
Since you’ll be wearing your PFD for the entirety of your time out on the water, you need to ensure that your PFD is well fitting, comfortable, and lets you be sufficiently mobile.
Additionally, you should also consider that your PFD is sufficiently durable and resilient, especially if you plan on hitting white water.
And if storage space is at a premium on your kayak, and you want to take sun cream, snacks, water bottles, etc, then a PFD that features plenty of pockets can come in really handy.