Best Life Jackets for Kayaking

What Are the Best Life Jackets for Kayaking… And How to Choose

Finding the best life jackets for kayaking isn’t easy. A PFD, or Personal Flotation Device, ensures that if you’re at any time tossed into the water, you’ll stay buoyant. Even if you’re a solid swimmer, a life jacket is worth buying and might save your life. And for someone on a kayak, you’ll find yourself in the water sooner or later. Learning what you should look for when choosing a life jacket or PFD can help ensure you stay safe.

The additional buoyancy also will make re-entry into a kayak from the water much easier.


What Are the Best Life Jackets for Kayaking… And How to Choose

What Are the Best Life Jackets for Kayaking... And How to Choose

So What Kind of PFD to Wear?

Life jackets are available in different sizes, styles, and shapes, yet overall there are 5 kinds to be aware of.

Type I

This kind of PFD is made for off-shore use in rough areas, open waters, or remote places in which rescue boats might take a long time to get to you.

It’s the top performing life jacket because it is made to be worn for a lengthy period of time and has the ability to keep an unconscious user’s head above water.

However, these vests usually are utilized by commercial vessels instead of recreational kayakers.

Type II

Such vests are made for near-shore activities. Unlike Type I’s, they’re made for in-land, calm waters and circumstances in which it’s possible to expect a fast rescue.

Type III

It’s the perfect type for fishing, kayaking, water skiing and additional water-associated activities. Like Type II, they’re made for in-land, calm waters in which it’s possible to expect a rapid rescue yet they also are uniquely made to match the physical activity you’ll be doing.

Type IV

It isn’t a life vest yet instead a tossable PFD which may take the form of a floating cushion or ring.

Type V

They’re only designed for special uses. The activities and conditions for which a Type V Personal Flotation Device will be appropriate for is going to be outlined on its label. Each one differs. For instance, a full body survival suit is categorized as Type V, as it is made for cold climates and protects your body from hypothermia. Most Type V life jackets also will outline a Type I, II or III level of performance on its label.

Best PFD or Life Jackets for Kayak Fishing

Kayak Personal Flotation Device Features to Watch Out For

We have narrowed your search to Type III life vests, yet even inside this classification there are numerous factors and features you should consider in a kayak or fishing accessory.


You will be using the PFD for the whole time you’re on the water; therefore, you must ensure that your PFD is comfortable. Most are available with padded shoulders for additional comfort. You also should consider the material that is inside the PFD, particularly if you’re likely to be wearing a swimsuit beneath as the material will probably rub against your skin.

Most say life jackets ought to fit like good shoes – snug yet still comfortable. You will see that jackets specifically made for kayaking have bigger arm holes in order for your arms and shoulders to have space to comfortably rotate for paddling.


Pockets and pouches on the PFD may come in handy. If you are fishing and have a dry-bag, cooler and a variety of additional storage options, you may not have to prioritize this feature.

Some life jackets contain hydration bladders that are built in so it’s possible to consume water while paddling. It’s an excellent feature if you want to go out in the water for a lengthy period of time yet do not want to carry too much stuff with you.

Most of the best life jackets for kayaking also are available with pockets in order for you to keep snacks, sun screen, and other items nearby. Other ones are available with D-Rings in order for you to attach things to the outside of the PFD.

Entry Method

Most jackets are available with zips on the side or front. However, some may be placed over the head then fastened.

You should, of course, be dressed in the device for the whole time you’re in the water so you should not need to get in and out of it too much. But, zips occasionally break or become jammed, so it is worth considering that while investing in a Personal Flotation Device.


Hopefully, the life jacket will not ever touch hard surfaces or touch too much salt water; however, in case it does, you must ensure that it is designed of resilient material such as neoprene or nylon, so you can remain safe in case of an emergency. Many jackets specifically made for paddle sports are designed of nylon as it is lighter than neoprene.


Usually, adults require 7 pounds to 12 pounds to remain afloat yet according to the United States Coast Guard, a Type III Personal Flotation Device has to have a minimal buoyancy level of 15-1/2 pounds.

Best PFD’s For Kayaking

Stohlquist Men's Trekker Life Jacket/Personal Floatation Device

Stohlquist Men’s Trekker Life Jacket

It’s a Type III Personal Flotation Device with sea level buoyancy of 16 pounds. This vest is available with adjustable shoulder pads and ventilated back pads for your comfort. In addition, it has a cross-chest cinch harness, ensuring that the vest does not ride up while moving. For more comfort, it contains open sides for additional ventilation.

The zipper on the jacket’s front comes with a grip tab that makes it easier to zip in and out effectively and quickly. Also, it’s available with a couple of large zippered front pockets in order for you to store snacks and sun screen. For more storage, there’s a 4-way accessory lash-tab on its back.

The outside of the vest is designed of 500 denier Cordura® Nylon and its lining is designed of 200 denier Oxford Nylon in order for you to be assured that the vest is durable while being both strong and lightweight. It’s construction and materials make it one of the best life jackets for kayaking. It also is simple to maintain the material – all that’s needed is to hand wash it with soap.


ONYX MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

ONYX MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

The vest is made for freedom of movement and comfort which is perfect for kayaking and additional kinds of paddle sports. It’s available with adjustable, comfortable neoprene shoulder pads in conjunction with back and front ventilation that keeps you cool and nice while in the water.

The vest zips at the front and is available with adjustable side belts that make sure you have the ideal fit while its sculpted, flexible design makes sure that it securely fits your body and does not ride up.

Its zippered pockets are expandable for sufficient storage yet if you still require space for any accessories, it’s possible to use the lash tab on its back.

Even though you’d hope to never need to use them, the PFD features SOLAS-grade reflective material on its exterior for optimal visibility and integrated whistle for additional safety.

On the outside it’s designed from 200 denier nylon and on the inside, comfortable, soft flotation foam. It’s equally resilient and comfortable.




The vest is worn by placing it over the head, buckling up on its sides and adjusting its straps to fit. Designed of soft foam, the lightweight PFD comfortably fits to the body and its action-cut design permits your arms to swim, row, or paddle unrestricted.

It has a chest zipper which opens a big pocket ideal for storing small items and snacks. Behind its pocket is a hand-warmer pouch which comes in handy on cold days. Also, it has a front lash tab for convenient accessibility to additional accessories.

A Type III Personal Flotation Device, the vest has a buoyancy level of 16-1/2 pounds. The exterior shell is designed from 200 denier nylon in order for you to ensure that it’s durable and lightweight.


Coleman Comfort Series Life Vest

Coleman Company Stearns Comfort Series PFD

One other United States Coast Guard approved Personal Floatation Device designed with massive arm holes for easier casting, swimming, or paddling. Designed with 200 denier nylon on its exterior shell and flotation foam on its inside, it’s one other lightweight, durable vest ideal for long days in the water.

Made to keep you cold in the warmth of summer, the vest is available with mesh on its back and the shoulders for additional ventilation. It has a zipper front in conjunction with webbing adjustments that ensure it perfectly fits you.

Its front pocket is perfect for storing snacks, sun screen, or fishing tackle. It permits easy and quick accessibility to whatever you are holding.


Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket

ONYX Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket

As you may have guessed from its name, the vest is a Type III life jacket made for younger paddlers and for kids, it’s one of the best life jackets for kayaking for youth. Designed to fit youths that range from 50 pounds to 90 pounds, it has all of the same fundamental qualities as the additional vests reviewed within this post: large, comfortable arm holes, lightweight foam interior and unrestricted side and paddling adjustments for improved mobility.

Its high foam back is made to accommodate high back seats, whereas its neoprene shoulder pads are fitted for additional comfort. The low buckle and front zipper offer an extra security level while its zippered pocket that has mesh drainage enables a wearer to hold some essentials such as snacks, water, and sun screen.

The exterior shell is designed of 200 denier nylon oxford that’s both durable and lightweight.


Stohlquist Men's Ebb Lifejacket

Stohlquist Men’s Ebb Life Jacket

This vest has an exterior shell designed of ‘rip stop’ nylon and liner designed of 210 denier oxford nylon, and is a vest that is appropriate for several weather conditions. Designed of lightweight PE foam and with interior mesh lining, it’s cool and lightweight, ideal for the warm summer season.

For additional comfort it’s available with a chest cinch-strap, neoprene padded waistband, padded shoulder straps and no less than 8 points of adjustability that ensures the best fit possible.

Its mesh back clears high seat backs within both kayaks and canoes and its ventilated back and sides permit a more comfortable wear for lengthy time periods.

As far as storage is concerned it’s available with 2 side-entry pockets, perfect for snacks, sun screen, and a variety of accessories. As far as maintenance is concerned, the vest is simple to clean as requires nothing more than a good hand wash using water and soap.


NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD

NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD

If you need a ton of storage for your numerous accessories, this life jacket, with its 6 pockets, lanyard loops, a lash tab, and beacon loop on its back may be one to consider.

Besides its numerous options for storage, the vest also takes comfort extremely seriously. The flotation element of this life jacket is focused around the shoulders and front so, the mesh lower back will keep you cold and allow you to relax.

Also, it comes with no less than 8 adjustment point that ensure a snug and tailored fit. In the meantime, its large arm openings enable comfort and mobility while swimming, rowing, and paddling.

The vest additionally is available with SOLAS reflective tape on the back and front, allowing you to be seen better within lower light conditions.

With several adjustment methods and ample storage, it’s a comfortable and convenient selection.


Stohlquist Women's Flo Lifejacket

Stohlquist Women’s Flo Life Jacket

With its exterior shell designed from 400-by-200 denier rip stop material, as well as the liner designed of 210 denier oxford nylon, it’s a durable and lightweight Type III vest specifically designed for women.

It has all of the standard features that are seen in most of the aforementioned models, which includes mesh back and open sides for ventilation, lightweight PE Foam, cross-chest harness that prevents ride-up, neoprene padded waistband, and high back flotation.

Besides its standard features, it’s available with a 1 to 1.5-inches webbing belt that has dual forward pulls for a low-profile fit in conjunction with built-in supportive interior cups for additional support and comfort.

This vest, with a sea level buoyancy of 16 pounds, is as well-built and resilient as the remainder of the above models, yet with some extra features that ensure additional suitability and comfort for women.

In Summary

A Personal Flotation Device is a critical piece of equipment for all water-based activities. Regardless of your ability and skills level or strength as a swimmer, using one is non-negotiable.

There are five types of life jackets approved by the United States Coast Guard. For fishing, paddle boarding, or kayaking or any additional recreational water sports, a Type III Personal Flotation Device is all that’s needed. Please add your pick for the best life jackets for kayaking in the comments below.

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