Whether you’re kayaking as a family, or sharing an adventure with your dog, as a general rule we all need to understand and respect that bodies of water and the weather, on any given day, are unpredictable. It’s because of this that the single most important piece of kayaking safety gear for when you’re paddling is a Personal Floatation Device, otherwise known as a PFD. The best PFD for kayaking fits securely and comfortably to keep you safe, and to prevent interference with paddling mobility. These floatation devices are designed for maximum comfort and unrestricted movement, two imperative qualities for an adventure on the water.
Because it can be overwhelming to choose which product is the best kayaking PFD for your needs, we’ve created this guide to 10 ultimate models and a simple buyer’s guide to help you choose which is right for you. Here is everything you need to know about kayak PFDs:
Top 5 Comparison Chart
10 Best Kayaking PFDs Reviewed
1. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Jacket
The Onyx MoveVent is designed for comfort and freedom of movement while paddling, making it ideal for kayaking. This PFD features adjustable neoprene shoulder pads for great comfort during use, along with front and rear ventilation to keep you cooler even on the warmest days.
This PFD is front zipping with adjustable side straps to assist you in getting that perfect fit, while also maintaining your flexibility. There is ample storage with zippered pockets providing a safe place for your accessories. Special features include a reflective exterior material for maximum visibility and an integrated whistle for additional safety on the water.
This is a type III PFD made of a nylon material that is both resilient to withstand marine elements and comfortable for use throughout the day.
2. Stohlquist Men's Trekker Life Jacket/Personal Floatation Device
The Stohlquist Men’s Trekker flotation device comes with ventilated back pads and shoulder straps that are adjustable for your comfort and a customized fit. This PFD features a cross-chest harness to limit the vest from riding up, and it has open sides providing great ventilation and air flow even on warm days. The front of this vest has an easy to use zipper, and also features two large zippered front pockets to store personal items and valuables. Additional storage is provided on the back of the PFD for ample space to hold kayaking safety gear.
Like the women’s version, the Stohlquist Cruiser, which is covered below, this vest offers neoprene padding in the shoulders, as well as minimal shoulder straps. This design provides maximum comfort and mobility while paddling, to ensure you’re secure, comfortable and able to paddle with ease. This is a type III PFD, made of a nylon material that is durable, lightweight and strong to withstand the elements of marine environments.
3. Stohlquist Women's Cruiser Life Jacket/Personal Floatation Device
The Stohlquist Cruiser PFD is designed specifically for female kayakers who want ultimate safety on their adventure. This PFD features a cross-chest harness to limit the vest from riding up while paddling, and has inner cups providing additional support. The vest has a shorter cut providing a better fit for women. Additionally, the back of the PFD has a mesh lining for ample air flow and ventilation, and the shoulder straps are designed for superior stability and maximum comfort. The vest has two zippered pockets on the front for storing personal items and valuables.
The lower back of this vest features a mesh lining to help cool you down during long days on the water, and the shoulder straps are designed for excellent stability but minimal discomfort. Additionally, the two zippered pockets on the front allow you to store your items. Much like the men’s version of this vest, which is featured above,, the Stohlquist Trekker offers neoprene padding in the shoulders, as well as minimal shoulder straps. This is a type III PFD made of a nylon material that is durable, lightweight and rip resistant, designed to withstand a variety of marine environments.
4. NRS Chinook Fishing PFD
The NRS Chinook kayaking PFD is specifically designed for anglers that need plenty of storage space and flexibility for organizing gear and tackle. There are three zipper pockets to store small tackle boxes or a cell phone, and one pocket includes a key clip so you don’t lose your keys while you’re fishing. The four velcro pockets have varied sizes for flexibility in organizing your gear.
This vest also features a rod holder loop that’s great for going hands-free, a knife lash tab, several D-rings for gear attachment, and a mesh back for great ventilation even on the warmest days. There is a front zipper on this flotation device for easy on and off access, adjustment straps to customize the fit, and a soft foam fit for ultimate comfort throughout the day.
5. Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket
The Stohlquist Edge provides a basic PFD that does not sacrifice performance or safety for convenient design. This vest offers a highly contoured form with the ergonomic WRAPTURE (TM) shaped torso. Additionally, it’s low cut with an offset front zipper, and the shoulder straps are wide, distributing the load. This fit is designed for comfort during paddling, and to remain in place throughout the day.There are two zippered pockets on the front of this flotation device, with one located on the right side and a large central pocket ideal for storing bulkier items and essential gear. This PFD has a highly versatile fit that’s designed for a variety of fun water sports like sailing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding and more.
6. ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket
The ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket features six strap adjustments to secure the vest for a snug and comfortable fit throughout your adventure. It has a high foam back made with a breathable mesh lower back, offering ample ventilation and air flow to keep you cool on warm days. The shoulders of the vest are constructed with comfortable neoprene pads, designed for durability and longevity on the water.
This PFD features four different pockets, each designed for various functions, including holding your essential gear and personal items. Additionally, there is a one-button push drop down tray pocket that will hold a small tackle box aiding in convenience on the go. There is also a lash tab to hold an easy to access knife or safety whistle.
7. Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFD
The Onyx Curve MOVEVENT PFD is designed as its name implies, for movement and ventilation, providing comfort and flexibility throughout your kayaking adventure. The vest features a curved front design, keeping you both safe and comfortable. Additionally, this PFD is made of a durable and flexible nylon material that is rip-resistant and there is a full ventilation front design, keeping you cool during your time on the water. The back of this vest is a high-rise design, with a mesh lower section for ample ventilation on the go and adjustable side belts for a customized fit.The design of this flotation device is built to provide a complete range of movement while you’re paddling, avoiding any binding, discomfort or chafing. It comes in a variety of brightly colored and reflective materials ensuring ultimate visibility on the water. This added bonus is especially great for ultimate kayaking safety. This PFD is both a well-designed and budget friendly piece of kayaking gear.
8. Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Floatation Device
The Stohlquist Fisherman is constructed with a special nylon shell that resists abrasion and UV rays for long-lasting service while you’re out paddling. This PFD features adjustable neoprene shoulders, and unique cross-chest straps that eliminates vest ride-up and keeps the PFD in place throughout the day. Additionally, the flotation device has a PVC-free foam construction that is soft and flexible and won’t break down in the marine elements like sand, sun, salt water and more.This vest also features an array of pockets with anchor points, a front zip entry closure, and multiple tool hangers. Furthermore, it has special loops in the build that allow you to quickly and easily secure your rod, going hands-free. These added benefits aid in it’s overall convenience, and help to make your kayaking adventure the best yet. This vest is an ideal choice for someone who’s searching for the best PFD for kayak fishing.
9. O'Neill Men's Superlite USCG Life Vest
The O’Neill Superlite is a versatile vest with a streamlined design that’s great for a variety of fun water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding, boating and more. It’s lightweight design provides ample mobility and unrestricted movement while paddling, and the relaxed fit is great for comfort throughout the day. Additionally, this is a United States Coast Guard approved type III nylon flotation device to ensure your safety in, around and on the water.This PFD features plenty of security and loads of comfort, preventing chafing or other discomfort while wearing. While this vest doesn’t feature any pockets, it does have a single D-ring attachment on the front and the bottom of the vest that work great as attachment points. The strong and durable polyester coated shell is specifically designed for use in marine environments, ensuring it holds up for many kayaking adventures to come. As an added bonus, this PFD is available in a wide variety of color choices to best suit your preferences, personality and aesthetic preference.
10. Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest
The Stearns Classic Series personal flotation device provides both security on the water, along with bright and vibrant color options to choose from. The vest is equipped with multiple buckles and straps, designed to ensure it stays in place no matter the water activities you’re engaged in. This secure fit is great for kayaking, paddle boarding, boating and more.
This PFD style is made with durable nylon and lightweight foam materials, providing a comfortable and soft fit for use throughout the day. It also features an open side design, making it breathable and well ventilated. This added bonus also increases your mobility while wearing the vest, to ensure you have ample range of motion for paddling and exploring. Additionally, this vest is USCG Approved, ensuring it’s safety on, in and around the water.
Choosing the Best Kayaking PFD: Buyer’s Guide
Choosing the best PFD for your next kayaking adventure may be overwhelming with such a wide variety of options available on the market. While we’ve collected 10 of the best options available, you may still be wondering which is right for you. To help you get one step closer to your safety and comfort on the water, here are the top features to consider when you’re choosing the best kayaking PFD for your needs:
Types of Personal Flotation Devices
Type I PFD: These life vests are designed specifically for situations where you will need buoyancy for a long period of time and when rescue won’t be imminent. They are also designed to roll an unconscious individual onto their backs, and are most commonly found on commercial watercraft.
Type II PFD: Less bulky than a Type I, these life jackets are not designed for use in remote waters. Offering less buoyancy but improved mobility, this type allows you the ability to move while in your PFD. You will not find comfort features or other options found in Type III PFDs in these types.
Type III PFD: This type of life vest is commonly used in watersports, such as kayaking. All of the PFDs reviewed here are Type III vests, with the exception of #10 Stearns Classic, which is a Type II. These vests feature greater comfort, flexibility, range of movement and a variety of options while providing very good buoyancy.
Type IV PFD: Not designed to be worn but rather are intended to be thrown to individuals needing assistance in the water.
Type V PFD: The least buoyant PFDs and generally are considered for “special uses.” Each individual Type V is designed for different uses with the suitable uses outlined on the label.
For more information about the various types of life jackets, visit the Boat U.S. Foundation.
Personal Flotation Device Fit
PFDs come in various sizes, similar to t-shirt sizes: small, medium, large X-large, XX-large, etc. When you are fitting your PFD, the fit should be snug but not overly tight. You should feel comfortable in the vest but it should not feel loose. The following are some simple tips to assist you in choosing the best size and fit for you:
- Undue the front closure(s) and loosen all of the straps.
- Put the PFD on.
- Tighten all of the straps, buckles and zippers, starting with your waist; remember that a comfortable but snug fit is ideal.
- Have someone assist you by pulling your shoulder straps.
- If the vest moves higher than your cheeks or nose, the straps will need to be tightened.
- Have the individual assisting you pull on the shoulder straps again.
- If the vest continues to move higher than your cheeks, you will need to try a smaller vest.
Factors to Consider
Due to the various classes, styles, colors and numerous features it can make it a challenge to find the best flotation device for your needs. The following are some important factors to consider:
The US Coast Guard has established the qualities necessary to be a certified PFD. All of the PFDs listed in this article are compliant with the USCG rules and regulations and are certified. If you choose to purchase a PFD not listed in this article, you should do your due diligence to ensure it has been certified for your, and your family’s, safety.
Many of the PFDs listed offer several color options for your vest. Most are brightly colored for the purpose of making you more visible should you need to be rescued. No matter the color, bright or dark, make sure there is reflective materials on the vest to increase your visibility for other boaters and rescue situations.
Type of Adventures:
The type of kayaking adventures you will be engaging in will influence the PFD you should choose. If you are simply going out on a lake for a leisurely paddle you will not need a specialized, high-end PFD. In contrast, if you are planning to do some whitewater kayaking you will want a vest that affords the greatest freedom of movement, while also giving you the necessary buoyancy needed to keep you safe and the additional features desired.
Pockets are a convenient and handy feature for storing smaller items that you want easy access to such as your phone, safety whistle, strobe light, snacks, and more. Additionally, these pockets are great for holding extra kayaking gear you’ll need easy access to like sunscreen and more.
Reflective materials used in the construction of your PFD makes you more visible to others on the water, especially in low-light conditions. For your safety, choose a life vest that has this feature in it’s design.
Putting on some PFDs you will use a zipper, others slip over your head, while others have straps to secure. Because of ease of use, most individuals prefer zippers but depending on the material of the zipper they could corrode over time. Consider your preferred entry method to choose the best style for your needs on the water.
D-rings and Loop Attachments:
D-rings and loops provide attachment points for accessories and gear items that you will need, such as a strobe, a safety whistle, and more. Choose your vest based on the needs you will have for attaching accessories while you’re adventuring.
Whether it’s the air temperature, sun or the level of physical activity exerted, you are likely to become hot, which will affect your comfort and safety. Ventilation in your life vest design allows air to move freely around your body, cooling you and reducing the amount of sweating. Vests with quality ventilation will help to ensure a comfortable day on the water and avoid the danger of becoming overheated.
Look for PFDs that are made from quality material, such as those we’ve listed, that are constructed using either nylon or neoprene.
PFDs are measured and rated for the amount of buoyancy to keep your body above water. Type III PFDs, which are recommended for kayaking, should have a minimum measurement of 15.5 pounds. Typically, most adults need between 7 and 12 pounds to stay afloat. Generally speaking, Type I and Type II PFDS have higher ratings but are not as comfortable or allow for as much range of movement.
Range of Motion:
When you are kayaking, whether you are fishing, whitewater kayaking, getting in a workout or just taking a leisurely sunset paddle, you want to have a PFD that doesn’t restrict your range of motion. Any PFD that restricts motion can be a safety issue, cause discomfort and restrict your ability to function.
Frequently Asked Questions About Kayaking Life Jackets
What is the best type of PFD for Kayaking?
Any PFD that has USCG certification and fits appropriately is satisfactory for kayaking. However, you don’t want to purchase a PFD that is restrictive or uncomfortable. Doing so only increases the likelihood you won’t wear it thus defeating the purpose for having a PFD. If it restricts your range of motion you could be putting your safety in jeopardy.
So, investing in a PFD that has been designed specifically for kayaking is worth the investment, even if you are only a casual kayaker. You will find the increased flexibility, range of motion and comfort level well worth the investment. Kayakers are best off using Type III PFDs but may consider Type II or V.
Do you really need a PFD for kayaking?
The simplest and most direct answer is YES! If you are on the water, you need to be using a PFD. The purpose of a PFD is to keep you afloat, especially under circumstances where you must swim or tread water until you can be rescued.
No matter your skills as a swimmer, or the type of kayaking you are engaging in, things happen and when they do you don’t want to be scrambling to find your PFD. You’re on the water, you have a PFD on!
How long does a PFD last?
Typically a PFD will last approximately 10 years, but this is dependent on a variety of circumstances. Obviously, the more frequently you use your PFD the more wear and tear it will have. How you maintain, store and clean your PFD will also have an impact on longevity of your device. If your PFD is damaged or is showing wear it should be replaced for your safety.
What’s the best way to check the buoyancy of your PFD and that it fits securely?
The surest way to test your PFD is to go to a body of water (even a pool), put your vest on and enter the water. Put the PFD on as if you were taking your next kayaking adventure. Once you’ve securely fit the device, enter the water, relax your body and attempt to float.
Your PFD should keep your chin above the water and you should be able to breathe comfortably. You will also want to jump into the water to ensure it doesn’t ride up and stays secure.
There is no more important piece of equipment than a PFD to ensure your safety on your next kayak outing. There is a large selection that will meet your personal preferences, fit you comfortably and provide an adequate range of motion, so use this guide and take the time to find the one that will best meet your needs on the water.
Here at Seaside Planet, our goal is to support your every adventure need, and to assist you in choosing the PFD that best fits your needs. Let us know in the comments sections which PFD you chose to get one step closer to your next kayaking adventure!
If you’re looking for more kayaking gear guides and reviews, check out the following articles in our blog:
For more of our top kayaking gear recommendations, please visit the following articles.
Megan Jones leads the editorial staff of Seaside Planet. They are a multidisciplinary team of outdoor adventurers, water sports lovers, and passionate beach goers. You can learn more about Meg and the rest of the editorial team here.