Seas, rivers, and oceans can be unpredictable and thus you need to take protective measures. Even when the water is calm and you’re going for recreational kayaking, even a single tide or a change in weather can have you falling into the water even if you’re an experienced kayaker.
Life jackets or vests should never be ignored, and they must be considered as an important part of the safety gear you have to carry while kayaking. The good news is that there are many different styles of life vests so that you get one according to your requirements. The bad news is that choosing one life vest out of so many options becomes a daunting task. First, we’ll explain how to choose the best kayak life vest for you, and then we’ll review the top 10 ones available on the market.
The 10 best kayak life vests:
There are many different types of life vests available on the market but here we have listed the best ones so that you choose the right one according to your needs. There are different sizes and shapes of kayak life vests, but you have to keep in mind the above factors and then choose one. We have tested and picked these 10 kayak life vests very carefully and you can choose one of them without a second thought.
How we tested and picked:
Kayaking requires good mobility, especially at the upper body side including the arms. We have picked the life vests that include multiple adjustment straps and large arm holes for this purpose. Life vest is a life saving device and we made sure that we consider all the factors before choosing the best ones. We considered the durability, mobility, functionality, materials, and comfort of the kayak life vests before choosing them. Apart from the features, we personally tested the life jackets by trying them on in shallow waters. Following are the top ten kayak life vests:
1. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest:
The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Life Vest is a very comfortable and durable one that wraps the body of the wearer like a glove.
The life vest features amazing mobility and is designed from materials that conform the body and make sure there is enough ventilation to keep the body at a comfortable level.
The life vest is equipped with all the best features that are needed in a good quality kayak life vest. It has a sizing jacket for each life vest and it is important to measure your size before choosing one.
There is a mesh lower back that allows the PFD to fit comfortably and snugly and improves the mobility too. There are two lateral adjustment straps which allow the user to place the vest and lock it in place while kayaking.
The life vest is very soft and lightweight and is perfect for recreational sports such as kayaking. The kayak life vest is also good for sit-on-top kayaks and supports high back seats because of the mesh in the lower back area.
There is an attached whistle for safety too and a drying loop on the back. The jacket is made up of SOLAS grade reflective material that improves the visibility so that the rescue team can spot you easily.
The MoveVent life vest has an expandable zippered pocket along with mesh drainage which helps to keep the life vest as dry as possible. To keep you cool, there is ventilation at the front and the back.
The jacket features neoprene comfort pads and shoulder adjustments too. The zipper closure is strong and durable and the adjustable side belts are of good quality too.
- The construction and fabric of the life vest is of good quality and is very comfortable too.
- It has a panel design that is separated by mesh vents that keep the body cool.
- The flotation paddling keeps the shoulders free for easy paddling.
- It has enough pockets
- There is a whistle for emergency use.
- Multiple sizes offered to suit different sizes.
- It is a bit expensive.
- Price varies according to colors and sizes.
2. NRS Chinook Fishing PFD:
NRS Chinook Fishing PFD is suitable for a variety of water activities especially kayak fishing and fly fishing. The jacket is made up of urethane coated ripstop nylon that is made more comfortable and durable by blending other materials into it.
The jacket has a height of 6’’ and a width of 23’’ and has a flotation of 16.5 lbs. It has a zip and is quite roomy so that there is enough ventilation to keep the body cool.
It features a lot of pockets and loops so that the wearer can keep various tools along too.
The kayak life vent has a mesh lower back and because of this feature it sits more comfortably on the high back seats. Fishing kayaks mostly have high back seats and this life vest is perfect for such kayaks.
The life vest is also easy to take on and off because of the ergonomic front entry design. It is equipped with a PlushFit foam flotation device which makes sure you’re well protected in water.
The life jacket also includes a knife lash tab, rod holder loops, coil tool retractor, seven pockets for storage, and multiple loops and D-rings.
The life vest has various size options and comes in small/medium/large/x-large/xx-large sizes. It is available in three colors and you can choose from charcoal, orange, or green. It is a multi-use jacket and is great for fishing.
- It is very well constructed.
- The front is quite roomy.
- There are eight adjustments points.
- It has a mesh lower back for ventilation.
- It is comfortable and stylish.
- It has good storage space.
- It could have more safety features.
3. MTI Adventurewear Voyager PFD Life Jacket:
MTI Voyager is a beautiful and user-friendly kayak life vest. This vest is perfect for recreational and adaptive paddlers who are looking for a vest that is easy to put on and is very comfortable too.
The MTI Voyager is designed especially for those who can’t put much effort into wearing the life vest. It fastens securely and has a series of buckles and a single front zipper for easy entry.
The zipper is extra long and is of bright color. The pockets are fleece-lined so that you can warm up your hands if they’re cool.
There is a safety whistle which is easy to access, and you can use it in emergency situations. There is an eyeglasses pocket too that is easily accessible and is large enough for fitting the clip-on spectacle covers.
The life vest has an ID patch too where you can keep your important information such as address and phone number. The jacket is made up of 500-denier nylon construction which is very tough and durable.
The shoulders are adjustable and padded and there are large pockets that can store a lot of tools and gear for those who want a good internal organization.
The MTI Voyager is also equipped with reflective highlights that increase the visibility in low light conditions.
The life vest is very stylish and functional and is equipped with unique adaptations that make it easier for adults who want to do continuous kayaking. There are no annoying clips to push your fingers and if you have arthritis, this life vest will not bother you at all.
- It is very comfortable and durable.
- It is equipped with safety features.
- There are sufficient pockets for storage.
- The zippered front offers an easy method of entry.
- It is reasonably priced.
- There are no D-rings for attaching additional things.
- It is a bit bulky.
4. Stohlquist Edge life jacket:
Stohlquist are professionals and experts at life vest designing and most of their products are perfect for kayaking. The Stohlquist Edge life vest offers high mobility as it is a low profile one. The life vest is good for white water paddling as it is very durable and comfortable and can keep you safe and secure for long.
There is a top loading pocket that allows you to take any gear along while you’re kayaking through a river. This life vest is good for those paddlers who need comfort and a lot of arm mobility.
The life vest is made up of Ripstop nylon with a 200 denier oxford liner, and there are reflective markings to increase visibility in low light conditions.
The kayak life vest is equipped with a lot of handy features like lash tab, padded shoulder straps, adjustable straps, front pocket, and mesh sides. The mesh sides make sure that your body is kept cool and there is enough ventilation.
The Stohquist Edge life jacket doesn’t have a zippered front, instead it is placed over the head and then secured from the bottom of the jacket.
The life vest has a flotation of 15 pounds and 8 oz and the material used for flotation is a soft foam. According to the specifications, the vest has a ‘wrapture’ shaped torso and large arm openings.
- There are multiple size options.
- It has high visibility.
- There are mesh sides that make sure there is maximum ventilation.
- The pockets are quite roomy and give ample space for storage.
- It has a low profile and good arm room.
- Tall people don’t feel much comfortable in it because of the shorter torso area.
- Women have size issues.
5. Astral V-Eight Life Jacket:
The Astral V-Eight kayak life vest has a tear drop shape and has low cut arm openings. The life vest is well equipped with a lot of features to make sure that the wearer is safe and secure while kayaking. The Astral V-Eight life vest promotes airflow as there are big air gaps in the middle which allow air movement.
The best thing about this life vest is that there are a lot of ventilation holes and this helps the user to keep cool and relaxed during kayaking. The foam that provides flotation features a dimpled pattern and this also prevents the life vest from being hot and sticky.
There are adjusters on the sides of the vest which include shoulder adjustments and waist adjustments along with so many tweaking. There is a mesh pouch at the front of the jacket along with a backpack closure.
There is another mesh pocket with a snap closure and it is roomy enough to keep various accessories such as wallet and keys along while kayaking. The quality of the pockets and storage pouches are not as good as those that are in fishing life vests but they are good enough to carry a lot of things along.
The Astral V-Eight is considered as one of the most breathable life vests on the market. It has an overall very lightweight construction and an ergonomic design.
Also, it has a high back design so that you can use it for kayaks with high back seats. The Astral V-Eight was actually designed for recreational paddling and thus it is good for paddling in the rivers or slow moving waters.
- It is very breathable and comfortable.
- It is safe and secure.
- It features good looks and good quality, both.
- It has an easy entry method.
- Pre-shaped foam at the front and back.
- It is free of toxic PVC and is environment friendly.
- The mesh material isn’t good.
6. Stohlquist Fisherman PFD:
The Stohlquist Fisherman PFD is one of the best fishing life vests available on the market. It has been designed for kayakers who want a PFD that suits their fishing style and can carry all the fishing tools too.
The life vest is made up of Cordura nylon and has neoprene shoulders and Gaia foam. It has a chest size range of 33 to 54 inches and a flotation of 16 lbs 12 oz.
The Stohlquist Fisherman PFD is equipped with adjustable straps, two drop down pockets with tool hangers, mesh side panels, tool hangers, rod loop, and pockets with organized portions for gear.
To protect the fragile gear, there are stiffened outer shells on the front pockets. You can also fold down the front pockets if you want easy access to the tools. The life vest is equipped with high flotation which allows you to spend a comfortable time while you’re in your kayak.
There are a lot of storage opportunities which make this life vest ideal for fishing purposes. There are a large number of pockets, tabs, and loops so that you keep all the necessary fishing equipment with you.
There is a lower back waistband that allows you to adjust the life vest and the mesh sides allow ventilation. There is a zippered front and along with the adjustable straps on the side you can get a snug fit. The life vest is available in cactus color and there are three different size options available.
- There are large number of pockets and storage options for tools and equipment.
- It is very well ventilated.
- It is very durable and has a comfortable fit.
- It is very popular among fishermen.
- Too many pockets can sometime make the life vest bulky.
7. NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD:
If you need a lot of storage options such as pockets and loops for keeping your accessories with you, this kayak life vest is a good option. The NRS cVest PFD features six pockets, lanyard loops, a lash tab, and a beacon loop at the back.
The NRS life vest is very comfortable and there is mesh at the lower back so that the wearer is cool and relaxed throughout the time. The flotation is present at the shoulders and at the front only and rest of the area is kept well ventilated.
There are 8 adjustment points to make sure the wearer gets a snug fit according to his/her comfort level.
There are two adjustment points on the shoulder and four on the sides while the arms have large openings so that there is enough mobility provided to the wearer while he/she is swimming, paddling, or rowing. At the front and the back, there are SOLAS reflective tapes that allow visibility and help the wearer to view anything in low light conditions.
There are various size options which include small, medium, large, x-large, and xx-large life vests.
The NRS cVest life vest is available in three colors and that are blue, red, and orange. There are D-rings too in the life vest that are very handy and provide a comfortable and snug fit to the wearer. The vest is made up of 400 denier nylon fabric and is very durable and long lasting.
- There are 8 adjustability points.
- There are 6 pockets for storage.
- There are D-rings provided.
- High-visibility colors are there.
- It is a bit bulky.
8. Coleman Company Stearns Comfort Series PFD:
The Coleman Company Stearns Comfort Series PFD is a very comfortable and breathable one. It consists of mesh fabric on both sides and there are large zippered pockets to keep your items safe and secure.
If you want a kayak life vest full of safety features, you can rely on the Coleman Company Stearns Comfort Series. It is made up of good quality materials and has a zipper down front along with adjustable straps. This life vest has large arm holes and thus it improves the mobility of the user.
The Coleman life vest is US Coast Guard approved and thus is very safe for kayaking even when the water is rough. The collar is made up of neoprene and is quite flexible and prevents chafing. There are mesh shoulder panels that make sure that the area is well ventilated.
The life vest is very durable, it is made up of PVC foam front and PE foam back which is surrounded by a sturdy 200D nylon oxford shell. The adjustable straps are of 1 inches each and are webbed. The vest is available in cactus green color and has orange highlights to improve visibility in emergency situations.
- It delivers good value for money.
- It has adjustable straps that provide a snug fit.
- It is very comfortable to wear because of the mesh sides.
- It is stylish and is great for rowing and paddling.
- It is a bit bulky.
9. Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket:
The Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket, as the name suggests, is designed especially for the young kayakers.
It is a Type III PFD and is equipped with safety features to assist the paddlers. The life vest is designed for youth who have a weight in the range of 50 lbs to 90 lbs.
The jacket is very lightweight and has foam at the interior. The arm holes are quite large, and they support easy movement and mobility of arms. There are six side adjustment straps which make sure that the wearer has a snug fit.
There is a high foam back that easily accommodates high back seats. There is a low buckle and a front zipper that protects the wearer from any type of damage.
There is a zippered pocket too that has a mesh drainage so that you can carry any essential items with you such as snacks, sun cream, drinks, and water.
- It is very comfortable.
- It is great for tall people.
- It is very lightweight.
- There are enough adjustable straps.
- Mesh is there for ventilation.
- There are no D-rings.
10. Stohlquist Women’s Flo Life Jacket PFD:
The Stohlquist Women’s Flo Life Jacket is a very high performing one and is especially designed for the women kayakers. It features a 400 X 200 denier ripstop outer shell with a soft 200D inner liner. For chest comfort, there is foam sculpted in the area.
The flotation is at high back that sits comfortably on the seat’s back and is good to be used for sit-on-top kayaks too. The PFD provides a cool fit and is ultra-lightweight too.
The Stohlquist Women’s life vest has open sides for ventilation and there are built-in supportive foam cups.
Apart from these features, there are 1 to 1.15’’ webbing belts with dual forward pulls that provide a snug fit to the user. The PFD has a flotation level of 16 lbs and is very durable.
- It is lightweight and not bulky at all.
- It is perfect for women.
- The adjusting straps are easy to access.
- It is very comfortable.
- It is affordable.
- It is not very breathable.
The above list of the top ten kayak life vests are the top notch ones and will be sure to live up to your requirements. We have paddled in each vest and performed a lot of activities such as walking and sitting for long time so that each and every moment of comfort or discomfort is noted. We have chosen these life vests after trying and testing a lot of life jackets so we can assure you that these ones are one of the best life vests you will find in the market.
Kayak Life Vests Buying Guide:
In this buying guide we’ll help you narrow down the types of life vests you need for kayaking. No matter what type of waters you have chosen for kayaking, your safety should always be given the prime importance. For your kayaking sport, the life vest will be the most important investment you are going to make. A personal floating device (PFD) is the most important thing that a paddler or kayaker needs and thus you should pick carefully. Such a device will keep you buoyant even if you’re thrown in water and thus, save your life.
There are a few things that you need to take into account before you invest in a kayak life vest. Following are the factors that you need to consider:
Types of live vests:
Life vests of PFDs come in a variety of styles, sizes, and shapes. They can be divided into the following major five types:
This type of life jacket is especially designed for rough seas and open boats. It is one of the best types of life vests and is meant for the time when there might be rescue boats coming for you. The life vest can be worn for a long time and it is very good at keeping the head of the wearer above the water, even if the wearer is unconscious. Recreational kayakers don’t use this vest and it is more common with commercial vessels. The type 1 life vests are for off-shore uses mostly.
This type of life vest is designed for near shore activities. The life vests can be used in calm waters and for situations where you can expect immediate rescue coming for you.
The type 3 life vest is perfect for kayaking as it is designed especially for recreational activities. It can be worn for water related activities like water skiing, fishing, and others. Just like the type 2 life vests, these vests are also designed for calm waters when you know that a rescue will be coming for you. Also, these life vests compliment the water activities you’ll be performing.
The type 4 is not a life vest actually, but it is a throw-able personal floating device that converts into a floating cushion. This type of floating cushion mostly takes a form of ring where you can hang on to and prevent yourself from drowning.
The type 5 life vests are designed especially for particular situations. The type 5 life vests have written or labeled with the activities and conditions in which they can be used. For example, to protect the body from hypothermia, there are special full body suits designed that are mostly used in cool climates. Such full body suits come under the category of type 5.
A life vest is the thing that you have to wear all the time while you’re kayaking. Thus, you should make sure that the life vest is comfortable enough to be worn during the long trips. Some life vests have padded shoulders to improve the comfort while others use soft lining inside the jackets. The material inside the jacket should be considered as it would be rubbing on your skin particularly if you’re wearing a swimwear. A life vest should be snug and comfortable; it should be neither too lose nor too tight. Comfortable life vests are those that have large arm holes so that the wearer’s hand can rotate comfortably.
When you’re choosing a life vest, you must first measure your chest. There are different brands of life vests and they differ each other in size. Also, keep in mind that your size grows when you put on the paddling clothes and this should be taken into account too. When you’re wearing a life vest, loosen all the straps and then tighten them up from the waist and go up. Make sure that the life vest doesn’t rise above your nose because if it does, it’s too large for you. Did you know that most drowning victims were those who weren’t wearing a life vest? And if you aren’t comfortable with your life vest you’re less likely to use it and that increases your chance of falling victim to the water.
There are some kayak life vests that are available in standard sizes and have one size that fits all. However, some kayak life vest manufacturers have small, medium, and large sizes available too. There are universal life vests that are designed for adults and can fit every adult easily. However, our tip is to go for a life vest one size larger than your shirt size, so as to avoid any type of discomfort later. There are majority of life vests that have multiple size options and you can easily choose one size that you are comfortable in.
Make sure that the life vest you’re going to buy is made up of durable materials such as neoprene or nylon. These are durable materials and they make sure that you are well protected in case of emergencies. Though your life vest won’t come in contact with any hard or sharp things and too much salt water, but even if it does, it should be able to withstand the harsh environment. Also, the life vest should be durable enough so that you wear it frequently. It shouldn’t wear off after some time of use. Nylon is lighter than neoprene and thus many manufacturers prefer using it to keep the wearer comfortable.
There are different life vests available if you prefer buying them according to time period. Some life vests are a big and long investment while others will last for some uses only. However, make sure that you buy the most durable one whether you’re going to wear it even once. Salt can destroy everything, so you must choose a jacket that can withstand salt water.
The size of the life vest plays an important role in choosing the life vest, but its adjustability is important too. Even if you have got the right size of the vest, there will be sometimes when you’ll want the vest to be loose while sometimes you’ll want it tight. Also, kayaking trips can be longer than the expected time and thus and it isn’t necessary that you’ll want a snug fit at all times. On the other hand, having the life vest in loose form will also cause discomfort. If there are adjustable straps on the life vest, you’ll be able to adjust it according to your mood.
It is also important to consider which portions of the life vest have the adjustability options. The ability to adjust the life vest is mostly present on the front or the sides so that it is easy to access. These portions are the most comfortable if accessed for adjustability. Some life vests have adjustable straps on the shoulders too and this also improves the mobility of the user. However, if the vest is too much fitted on your shoulders, it will cause difficulty in moving, especially after some hours. Without the adjustability it will be difficult for the life vest as it can be too snug or too loose.
Flotation and buoyancy:
Extra buoyancy and flotation is needed to keep your head out of water. If a life vest is not buoyant enough, it won’t be able to keep you above the water level. Most adults will need around 7 to 12 pounds of extra flotation or buoyancy so that their head is kept out of water. There are different buoyancy rates of life vests and before you buy one, you must read the label or ask the seller about it. These days modern kayak PFDs are equipped with latest technology and can provide more than 15 pounds of buoyancy or flotation while still being lightweight.
The kayak life vests have a good buoyant rate and are easy to move around too. Read the label of the life vest to make sure it is compatible with your body weight and composition. There are many factors that should be considered before choosing the right buoyancy level such as the body fat ratio, weight and water conditions. To check if your life vest has enough flotation or buoyancy you must wear it and go into the shallow water to check. You’ll have to relax your body so that you float easily with your mouth out of the water. If you’re able to do this, it means that the life vest is buoyant enough for you.
Life vests have different entry methods which you can choose according to your preference. Some life vests have zips on front while others have on their sides. Some jackets have a completely different way of entry as they are placed over the head and then fastened. While you’re kayaking, you’ll have to wear the PFD the whole time, so you must make sure that you shouldn’t take it on and off too frequently. You don’t need to worry much about the entry method as you just have to wear it once before you leave for kayaking and then it will be taken off after you’re done. Also, zip entry method is a bit easier, but it gets broken or jammed easily too.
There are many countries, just like the U.S, where there are safety rules for kayakers. In United States, the kayakers are required to wear PFDs that are approved by the U.S coast guard. Such an approval or certification is a guarantee that the life vest is safe enough to be used by kayakers while they are paddling. To know whether your PFD is Coast Guard approved, you must read the label. The Type III U.S Coast Guard approval is especially for the kayakers and specialized boaters who need buoyancy or flotation for safety. Some other safety features on a life vest include reflective strips that make easier for others to spot you.
You should also consider your kayaking style before buying a kayak life vest. The good news is that there are so many life vests according to the kayaking style of various paddlers. For example, if you have to go on a long trip where you need to paddle continuously, you won’t like a life vest that that will easily catch the edges of the kayak. Those kayakers who want to go to white water rivers will want a life vest that has minimum loops and pockets and a low profile overall.
There are fishermen who mostly go on board with loads of gear. So, if you’re going for fishing too, you can have a life vest with too many pockets and attachment loops. There are some kayak life vests that are particularly designed with fishermen’s requirements in mind and they are equipped with pockets that fold into a small table and loops to hang different tools. If you’re a performance kayaker, you need to have a low-profile PFD unlike the fishermen who have to stay stationary most of the time.