The 5 Best Life Jackets for Paddle Boarding in 2020

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Paddleboarding is a fun adventure sport enjoyed at top destinations around the world, and for good reason! It connects riders with nature and allows you to paddle far off shore into the beautiful blue. It’s an increasingly popular ocean sport enjoyed by people everywhere, and requires the appropriate gear to keep safe on the water and meet regulations in public areas. Because choosing the best life jacket for paddle boarding can be overwhelming with a multitude of products available, we’ve created this guide to make it as simple as possible. To help you navigate the different features, designs and styles available on the market today, here we’ve gathered five of the best paddle boarding life jackets and a simple buyer's guide for choosing the right one for you.

Here is everything you need to know about the best paddle boarding flotation devices:

Comparison Chart

ONYX MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, Medium/Large, Aqua
Stearns Hybrid Paddle Vest
NRS Vapor Adult Large XLarge PFD Type III Boating Kayak Life Jacket Vest, Yellow
Astral YTV Life Jacket PFD for Whitewater, Touring Kayaking, Sailing and Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Eggplant, S/M
Manual Inflatable Belt Pack
ONYX MoveVent Dynamic
Stearns Hybrid
NRS Vapor
Astral YTV
ONYX Manual Inflatable Belt Pack
200-Denier Nylon and Neoprene
Neoprene
200-Denier Nylon
400-Denier Ripstop Nylon
200-Denier Nylon
Type III PFD
Type III PFD
Type III PFD
Type III PFD
Type III PFD
Zip Closure
Zip Closure
Buckle Closure
Buckle Closure
Buckle Closure
Side and Shoulder Adjustments
Side and Shoulder Adjustments
Side and Shoulder Adjustments
Side and Shoulder Adjustments
Waist Adjustment
Front Pocket
Front Pockets
Front Zip Pocket
Front Zip Pockets
D-Ring Attachment Point
XS-2XL
Universal Fit
S-XXL
S-XL
Universal Fit
Orange/Aqua
Black
Black/Red/Blue/Yellow
Red/Eggplant/Coral/Black
Grey
ONYX MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, Medium/Large, Aqua
ONYX MoveVent Dynamic
200-Denier Nylon and Neoprene
Type III PFD
Zip Closure
Side and Shoulder Adjustments
Front Pocket
XS-2XL
Orange/Aqua
Stearns Hybrid Paddle Vest
Stearns Hybrid
Neoprene
Type III PFD
Zip Closure
Side and Shoulder Adjustments
Front Pockets
Universal Fit
Black
NRS Vapor Adult Large XLarge PFD Type III Boating Kayak Life Jacket Vest, Yellow
NRS Vapor
200-Denier Nylon
Type III PFD
Buckle Closure
Side and Shoulder Adjustments
Front Zip Pocket
S-XXL
Black/Red/Blue/Yellow
Astral YTV Life Jacket PFD for Whitewater, Touring Kayaking, Sailing and Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Eggplant, S/M
Astral YTV
400-Denier Ripstop Nylon
Type III PFD
Buckle Closure
Side and Shoulder Adjustments
Front Zip Pockets
S-XL
Red/Eggplant/Coral/Black
Manual Inflatable Belt Pack
ONYX Manual Inflatable Belt Pack
200-Denier Nylon
Type III PFD
Buckle Closure
Waist Adjustment
D-Ring Attachment Point
Universal Fit
Grey

Best Life Jackets for Paddle Boarding Reviewed

1. ​Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest PFD

ONYX MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, Medium/Large, Aqua

Review - Spoiler: It's ​​Our Best PFD Selection

​If ever there was a life jacket made from a secret wish list contributed to by every paddle boarding fan, it would most likely turn out to be the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic vest. Easily adjustable to ensure a perfect fit, this personal flotation device (PFD) is also extremely lightweight so that you hardly feel its weight when you put it on. These almost magical qualities are due to its Mesh inSculpted and flexible design which flow along the contours of your body to fit it as snugly as possible. Additionally, it’s made of soft and lightweight flotation foam for comfort while riding, and safety in the water. The 200 denier nylon ripstop and nylon oxford used in its manufacture also enhance its lightness, durability and flexibility and are especially water repellent.

In addition to keeping you safe, this life vest also comes with a comfort factor thanks to the mesh ventilation at its front and back. This enables maximum airflow to keep you comfortable throughout the day adventuring on the water.

This vest also features an expandable mesh pocket which you’ll appreciate for storing useful items you’d love to have with you on the water. Its manufacturers have also attached a whistle to it as well, a sure sign of their dedication to keeping you safe while you explore your favorite waterways. They have also made use of Solas grade reflective material to make sure you are highly visible. This life vest is offered in orange or aqua colors.

​All of these fun and functional  features make this life jacket an excellent choice for ensuring you remain safe while having fun with one of the most enjoyable water sports of all time.

PROS

  • ​​​Mesh inSculpted and Flexible Design
  • ​​200 Denier Ripstop Nylon Material
  • ​​Mesh Ventilation on Front and Back
  • ​​Features a Safety Whistle
  • Solas Grade Reflective Material for Maximum Visibility
  • Available in Two Color Choices
  • Expandable Mesh Pocket
  • Type III PFD

CONS

  • ​​Some Reports of Bulky Vest Front
  • Sizing May be Challenging
  • Somewhat Limited Arm Mobility

2. ​Stearns Hybrid Paddle Vest

Stearns Hybrid Paddle Vest

Review

The manufacturers of the Stearns Hybrid PFD pride themselves on having produced a life jacket which is the epitome of convenience and comfort. And with its large arm holes to permit easier movement and maximum flexibility while paddling, they can be taken at their word. Especially since it also features side and shoulder adjustments to ensure you can work out the fit which is most suitable and comfortable for you. Additionally, it also comes with front pockets so you can conveniently store your valuables and have them within easy reach while on the water.

This life vest is lightweight and made to be comfortable throughout the day, but it also features a quality design for ultimate buoyancy and safety. The Stearns Hybrid Paddle Vest is made of PE flotation foam, which is known for its exceptional buoyancy in the water and light weight design while wearing.

PROS

  • ​​​Lightweight and Highly Buoyant PE Flotation Foam
  • ​​​Front Pockets for Storing Gear
  • ​​​Large Arm Holes for Maximum Mobility While Paddling
  • Side and Shoulder Adjustments
  • Comfortable and Flexible Design
  • Universal Fit
  • Type III PFD

CONS

  • ​​Lacks Reflective Material for Added Visibility
  • ​​Lacks Safety Whistle
  • Universal Fit isn’t Ideal for Everyone

3. ​NRS Vapor PFD

NRS Vapor Adult Large XLarge PFD Type III Boating Kayak Life Jacket Vest, Yellow

Review

The NRF Vapor vest is especially lightweight and offers easy mobility while paddling. Its manufacturer’s faith in the ability of their product to deliver is rather unshakable resulting in them promising that you’ll actually forget that you have it on- a pretty bold claim.

It is actually justified thanks to its status as a Type III PFD which indicates that it is suitable for wearing for a long period of time. There is also its action-cut design which provides as much freedom as possible for your arms, which is a necessity when paddling. Additionally, its adjustable side and shoulder straps, and soft foam used in its manufacture, also mean that it is able to fit comfortably around your body and adjust to your shape.

Because it is also US Coast Guard approved, it is capable of keeping its wearer afloat and is best for calm inland water where it will be at its most efficient. Additionally, this life jacket comes in a bright yellow which is great for visibility while on the water.

​This PFD is the ideal choice if you intend to explore a calm stream, river or lake on a clear summer’s afternoon. And that's one of our favorite things to do on our paddle board.

PROS

  • ​​Large Arm Holes for Maximum Mobility
  • ​​USCG Approved
  • ​​​Adjustable Side and Shoulder Straps
  • Action-Cut Comfort Design
  • Available in a Variety of Sizes
  • Soft Foam for High Buoyancy
  • Type III PFD

CONS

  • ​​​Some Reports of a Bulky Front
  • Long Straps for Small Wearers
  • May Require Adjusting While Wearing

​4. ​​Astral YTV Life Jacket

Astral YTV Life Jacket PFD for Whitewater, Touring Kayaking, Sailing and Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Eggplant, S/M

Review

The 200 x 400 denier ripstop nylon shell used on this jacket provides you plenty of protection and ensures that the jacket won’t be snagged or ripped, even if you accidentally end up in branches. Thanks to the quality design of this jacket, it is able to withstand daily use in harsh conditions without being damaged or failing, which is great for avid paddle boarders.

Not only is the life jacket designed to last for many adventures to come, but it is also lightweight enough that you may forget you have it on. The featherlight construction still boasts impressive PE foam and PVC-free Gaia inserts. These are sure to keep you afloat without any problems if you do accidentally end up in the water.

There are two zippered pockets on the front of the jacket where you can store small gear or snacks that you may need on the water. While it's a small thing, having a zippered pocket is something we look for in a jacket. To help keep you safe, this jacket also has an adventure knife tab on the chest that is easy to access and allows you to cut yourself free in case of an emergency.

​Not only is this jacket easy to adjust, which makes it a great option for wearers of all ages, but it is cut to be comfortable for both women and men to wear. The design of the jacket and the way it fits on the body provides plenty of protection, but doesn’t limit arm or torso movement, allowing you to easily navigate water without fear or problems.

PROS

  • ​​​High Buoyancy Rating of 16.5
  • ​​​Comfortable and Adjustable Fit
  • ​​​​​​​Lightweight, Weighing Only 1.76 Pounds
  • PE Foam and PVC-Free Gaia Inserts
  • Knife Tab on Front of Vest
  • Type III PFD
  • Heavy-Duty 200 x 400-Denier Ripstop Nylon

CONS

  • ​​Some Reports of Sticky Zippers
  • Lacks Reflective Trim
  • Lacks a Safety Whistle

​5. ​​Onyx Manual Inflatable Belt Pack

Manual Inflatable Belt Pack

Review

This inflatable belt pack contains a life jacket that will help to keep wearers safe when out on the water. The unique design of the ONYX manual inflatable belt system boasts a low profile so that it will stay out of the way while paddle boarding or snorkeling, allowing wearers to move freely.

Thanks to the secure buckle, this belt pack is not only easy to put on before heading out onto the water, but also very easy to take back off when it’s time to remove it. The buckle is tight enough to prevent the belt from slipping off or popping open on accident, which can cause the entire belt to come loose. Additionally, it’s designed to offer fast inflation in the case of an emergency.

The secure pull of this belt pack attaches easily to any life jacket so that it can be pulled quickly in an emergency. This allows for incredibly fast release when the belt pack needs to be inflated. With a 200-denier nylon oxford cover on this belt pack, it won’t ever snag or rip, even if a wearer accidentally falls into the water and is knocked against hard or jagged rocks.

There is a 26 g CO charge that offers 17 pounds of buoyancy, as well as an inflation tube. This oral inflation tube can be inflated to add additional buoyancy up to 26.5 pounds. As long as the person wearing this belt pack is over 16 years old and weighs more than 80 pounds, then it is entirely safe to use.

PROS

  • ​​​Two D-Ring Attachments for Gear
  • ​​​Easy to Test and Reassemble
  • ​​​Lightweight Design is Comfortable
  • Ultimate Paddling Mobility Design
  • 200-Denier Ripstop Nylon
  • Type III PFD
  • Ideal for a Variety of Water Sports

CONS

  • ​​​Not Safe for Young Children
  • Belt Design isn’t Ideal for Everyone

​Choosing the Best Paddle Boarding Life Jacket: Buyer’s Guide

There are few means of experiencing the ocean which are more exhilarating than water sports, and fewer water sports which are as adventurous as paddle boarding. With the ability to go on lengthy trips and explore the sea further away from the coast than most, it’s no surprise that it continues to attract a growing number of fans around the world. And just like other water sports categories, ensuring you have a great time also requires paying close attention to every little detail in order to remain safe while engaging in this popular past time.

Life jackets are important for any water sport, including paddleboarding. However, the life jacket that you wear when kayaking or canoeing isn’t always the best choice for getting out on ​your ​stand up paddle boards. These life jackets need to provide protection and buoyancy without hindering movement. By knowing what to look for when shopping, you can make sure that you buy the best paddle boarding PFD for your needs on the water.

Here are some of the key features to look for when choosing which paddle boarding life jacket is right for you:

​PFD Size

The most important thing to consider when shopping for a life vest for paddle boarding is the size, as you must make sure that it stays securely on your body throughout the day. A life vest, or PFD, that is too large can allow you to easily slip out when you fall into the water. On the other hand, one that is too small can constrict your body and restrict your movements. Choosing an adjustable model is ideal because it allows you to fit the vest to your particular shape, and to adjust during your adventures when needed. 

Remember that when wearing a life vest you will, most likely, have it on over clothing. Because of that, make sure to measure your body wearing the clothing that you would generally wear ​while out on your boards, so that you can make sure it fits correctly and comfortably.

Here are the key things to remember in regards to your life jacket size:

  • Choose the best fit for your frame.
  • Choose an adjustable model for a custom fit.
  • Remember that you’ll be wearing the PFD over clothing.
  • Find the perfect life jacket fit before using it on the water.

Life Jacket Fit

​​The fit of your PFD is also very important, because you must have full range of motion in your arms and torso when wearing your life vest, or you won’t be able to fully enjoy yourself while paddleboarding. Check to see if the vest can easily be tightened and loosened so that you can account for changes in clothing when wearing the vest. Additionally, remember that all life vests will fit a little differently, so it’s important to be patient and find one that’s best suited to your frame. For both your safety and enjoyment on the water, it's essential to have a comfortable fitting PFD.

Here are some features you’ll find in life jacket fits:

  • Adjustable Sides
  • Universal Fit
  • Adjustable Shoulders
  • Sized PFD’s

PFD Buoyancy

Buoyancy is different with each PFD design and styles of personal flotation devices. It’s important to invest in a product made with quality and buoyant materials, designed for your needs on the water. Products that skimp on quality materials won’t provide the same float, and may not support your weight if you fall in the water. It’s important for paddle boarding safety that you choose an option that’s durably designed for adventure sports.

Ease of Use and Safety Features

Additional features on a life vest can improve safety, but only if the vest is easy to use and you can easily access these features without much hassle. Features, such as an emergency light or a whistle, can help you get assistance in an urgent situation. If your vest design has these features, make sure that you can easily access them when in the water.

Additionally, if you opt for a life vest that will inflate in an emergency, make sure that it is reliable and will inflate automatically or that you can easily inflate it yourself. For this reason, many beginners opt for a life vest that doesn’t require inflation in the water.

Here are some additional safety features you will find in the PFDs available on the market:

  • Emergency Inflation Devices
  • Safety Light
  • Safety Whistle
  • Knife Tab
  • Convenient Gear Pockets
  • Reflective Trim
  • Easy-Open Zippers

Material and Breathability

It’s hot out in the sun all day long, especially with the added layer and protection of a life vest on top of your other clothing or bathing suit. A life vest that is breathable will be much more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. While you need to make sure to choose a life vest that fits close to the body so that you will be safe and secure when wearing it, you also have to consider if it will breathe and offer ample airflow to keep you comfortable throughout the day.

​Look for a life vest that has vents in it, which will allow cooler air to enter and to circulate around your body when you’re wearing the vest. If you are able to find a life vest that is designed to wick moisture away from your body, this will provide even more comfort throughout your adventures.

To ensure you choose a durable and breathable fabric for your life vest, choose products made with:

  • Ripstop Nylon
  • Neoprene
  • Durable Mesh Vents
  • PE Flotation Foam

To ensure the longevity of your life jacket, check out this Seaside Planet article: How to Store Your Life Jacket: 2020 Guide

Life Vest Color

While the color of a life vest may seem like an aesthetic choice, there is actually a very important reason to look for one that is brightly colored and that will easily stand out from the water. The brighter that a life vest is, the more easily it will be spotted in the water, especially in rough water or low light conditions. Increased visibility in the water means you are highly visible to other vessels and in emergency situations. It’s important to remember that a life vest is not a fashion accessory, but rather something that will help to save your life.

To ensure maximum safety on the water, choose a PFD color like:

  • Yellow
  • Neon Green
  • Bright Blue
  • Pink
  • Bright Purple

Frequently Asked Questions​

What is a PFD?

​​A life vest that is made for paddleboarding is known as a PFD, or a personal flotation device. These are simply flotation devices worn around the neck to help prevent the person wearing them from drowning when in the water. While there is often confusion around the name PFD, this is simply another way to name these life vests. It's simply an acronym for Personal Flotation Device.

Does the type of life vest matter?

With five different types of PFDs to choose from, it’s very important that you choose the right option for your needs on the water so that you can remain safe throughout your adventure. Types I and II are generally great options for relaxing days on the water. These life vests are the type that most people are familiar with. All of the products listed in this guide are Type III, ensuring long-term use in a variety of water types. There are also life vests that come in belt and suspender form and rely on CO2 canisters to provide inflation when there is an accident. The type of life vest best suited for you depends entirely on the type of water adventure you’re going on, along with your build and needs on the water.

Do strong swimmers really need a life vest?

No matter how strong of a swimmer you are, if you are going to be ​on a stand up paddle board, then you need to make sure that you take steps to protect yourself by investing in, and wearing, a life vest. These are designed to provide you with the safety and security that you need in an emergency. Water and weather conditions can change suddenly, leaving even the strongest swimmer struggling. Having a life vest on will provide peace of mind and the support and flotation that you need to stay safe.

Can a child wear a life vest that was made for an adult?

It can be tempting to have children wear adult life vests, as they can grow into them in the future, saving money. However, the life vests for children and the life vests for adults are built very differently. When buying a life vest for a child, you will use their weight, not their chest measurement, to determine the right size. While using an adult life vest on a child may seem like a great way to save money, it can really put a child at risk of danger in the water.

​Final Thoughts

Using this guide, you’ll be well on your way to hitting the water safely and with ease for choosing the best SUP PFD on the market. Here are Seaside Planet, we’re adventure and water sport enthusiasts, and our goal is to make your paddle boarding experience the best one yet! For additional paddle boarding gear reviews, check out the following articles that we think you’ll love:

​Has this guide helped to bring you one step closer to your next paddleboarding adventure? We would love to hear about it! Join the community and share your adventures, or plans, with us in the comment section below!

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