Best Kayak Life Jacket

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You have bought a kayak and all ready to hit the waters. But somehow, the kayak you bought does not come with any Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or life jacket. 

That’s a bummer. Should you go anyway without a PFD? 

Absolutely NO. 

Statistically, many people who drowned in a kayak related incident were found not wearing a PFD. Accidents can happen so fast, that it will be too late by the time you realize that you need help. 

Therefore, do not underestimate the importance of a PFD. 

So, now that we have made it absolutely clear how vital a PFD is for a kayaker, let’s go through how to get the Best Kayak Life Jacket for yourself.

Table of Contents

INFLATABLE VS FOAM LIFE JACKET

What is a foam life jacket?

Foam jackets are the standard ones you commonly see. It looks like a vest and is made from foam elements, sewn together with fabric. Owing to that, it is inherently buoyant. So you do not need to do anything to make it float.  

This jacket is usually bulky. Not many people like it because of its bulkiness. 

Nevertheless, it has some advantages over inflatable jackets. Primarily, the room to fit in features such as pockets and D-rings. Moreover, the foam type is the most versatile and reliable one. 

What is an inflatable life jacket?

Inflatable life jackets are generally smaller and more lightweight compared to the traditional foam life jackets. Hence, they are very appealing to people who find foam jackets uncomfortable. 

These inflatable jackets have carbon dioxide cartridges built inside. It will either automatically inflate the jacket during emergencies or have a manual trigger to inflate it during emergencies.  

It comes in 2 different styles; suspender or belt style. 

Suspender style fits over your shoulder and around your neck. While the belt style is worn around your waist like a belt. 

While an inflatable life jacket sounds and looks great, it has limited use;

  • Not for those below 16 years old
  • Not for anyone below 80 lbs
  • Not for high impact watersports 
  • Not for inexperienced swimmers

Is hybrid life jacket the best?

A hybrid life jacket combines a foam type with an option to manually trigger the inflatable part. Hence, it does combine the best of both types of life jackets. 

The design allows for pockets and D-rings. But it is still bulky due to the foams.   

WHICH TYPE OF PFD TO WEAR

 

There are 5 types of PFD set by US Coast Guards (USCG). Always ensure any PFD you buy is USCG certified. As a kayaker, you should ideally use a Type III or Type V only. 

Type I PFD

Offshore Life Jackets. These offer the best protection for all waters. Especially rough or remote waters whereby rescue may take a long time. Although bulky, they have the most buoyancy. Plus, they are designed to turn most unconscious wearers face-up in the water.

Type II PFD

Near-shore Vests. These are for use in inland waters, whereby a fast rescue is likely. They can turn some unconscious wearers to face up while in the water, but not all of them. 

Type III PFD

Flotation Aids. These are suitable for supervised activities whereby there is a chance for a quick rescue. They offer freedom of movement and the most comfort for continuous wear. Not designed to turn unconscious people face-up in water.

Type IV PFD

 

Throwable Devices. These are cushions or ring buoys that are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble for them to grab hold of it. They are not for nonswimmers, rough waters or the unconscious. Suitable for calm inland waters only. 

Type V PFD

Special-use Devices. These are specialized PFDs, and can only be used for specific activities and conditions that they are designed for only. For example kayaking, waterskiing, windsurfing, hybrid vests and deck suits. Generally, they are the least bulky and most comfortable to wear. 

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST KAYAK LIFE JACKET

The best life jacket is one that fits you comfortably and works flawlessly. So that you will wear it all the time on the water and save your life when necessary. 

That’s why you need to consider the following aspect when choosing the best PFD for yourself.

Buoyancy

The main purpose of a life jacket is to keep your head and chin above the water (even if you pass out). So, buoyancy is the most important aspect to achieve that.

There are many factors that contribute to buoyancy such as your weight, lung size, the amount of foam or air in the jacket, and even the water conditions too.

But the most important thing to note is – the heavier you are (especially if it’s muscle mass), the more buoyancy you will need from your life jacket. 

Most adults need roughly 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy to stay afloat. And any USCG certified life jacket will provide more than that amount of buoyancy. 

However, if you are lean and muscular, always make a point to check the life jacket you are about to buy. Ensure its buoyancy is sufficient for your weight and size. 

Size for Comfort

Just one look at the bulky life jacket is all it takes for some people to start feeling uncomfortable already. They immediately recall their experience wearing one during their last boat trip. 

Too tight, too big, difficult to move the arms, bad posture when sitting and more. 

To be fair, those are absolutely legitimate complaints. It does happen. But only when you are wearing the wrong size life jacket. 

So how do you find the right size? 

It’s based on your chest size. Just measure the circumference of your chest. Use that measurement and refer to the size guidelines from the life jacket. 

Pro tip: if you plan to sit a lot more than standing, you should look for those designs with an open back. That allows you to comfortably rest your back on the kayak seat.

Storage

Whether you are going fishing on your kayak or a leisure paddling session, you will definitely appreciate pockets or D-rings on the life jacket. You can keep your small items like phone, GoPro, tackle or your keys. 

But be careful not to store too much stuff. Adding more stuff to your life jacket could possibly reduce its buoyancy. Thus, it may not have enough buoyancy to lift you up on the waters. 

So, do not be disappointed if you find insufficient storage on the life jacket. That is an intentional design. 

5 Best Kayak Life Jacket

NRS Chinook Fishing Kayak Lifejacket Specs

Category: Type III

Buoyancy: 16 pounds

Material: 400-denier RipStop nylon

This Chinook from NRS is specifically made for kayak fishing anglers. All of its features are geared for fishing on a kayak.

Firstly, it has a high back design. The foam covers up to your shoulder blades only. This allows you to comfortably lean back on your kayak seat.

The foam will not get in between your back and the seat. In fact, the lower back is made of mesh to keep you cool and ventilated. 

The Chinook has 5 pockets in total for all your fishing needs:

  • 2 large zipper pockets that comfortably fit a fishing tackle box.
  • 2 smaller accessory pockets with Velcro fasteners
  • 1 tool holder pocket to keep your fishing tools

 

Last but not least, this Chinook also features a rod holder, strobe attachment point, reflective accents and a knife lash tab. 

But all those space also causes it to be bulky. Especially after you filled up the pockets. Sometimes, the bulky front may get in your hands’ way. 

All in all, you definitely will not find this life jacket lacking for your fishing trips. 

PROS

CONS

  • Ample storage space with its 5 pockets
  • High back design
  • Highly tuned for fishing

 

  • Bulky front

Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket Specs

Category: Type III

Buoyancy: 16 pounds

Material: 240D RipStop Nylon

Stohlquist’s long line of innovation is the result of a lifetime of paddling, entrepreneurial and craftmanship experience from its founder and president; Jim Stohlquist.

That’s why they make fantastic life jackets, especially for paddlers like us in mind.

Being among the first to design gears for paddlers and one of the few left, no PFD review is complete without a mention of Stohlquist products. 

The Edge from Stohlquist is an ergonomically designed PFD. It is meant to wrap around your torso comfortably without making you feel tight. Get full freedom to move on your kayak.

Stretch your arms to paddle.

Or cast your fishing rod with the perfect swing.

You will not feel like your movement is restricted by this vest. 

Lastly, what we truly like from Stohlquist’s Edge is their trademarked graded sizing. It provides the correct foam footprint and foam thicknesses for every size paddler. That ensures the most comfortable fit and the right amount of buoyancy.

PROS

CONS

  • Very comfortable to wear
  • Graded sizing to fit every paddler

 

  • Bulky design

Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M-24 Inflatable Life Jacket Specs

Category: Type V

Buoyancy: 22.5 pounds

Material: Nylon RipStop and Neoprene

The A/M-24 from Absolute Outdoor’s Onyx is an inflatable life jacket. What makes it interesting is that you have the option to set it to either inflate automatically or manually. 

Worried about needing a lot of the rearming kit? Just set it to manual trigger. 

But rest assured, the automatic inflation only triggers when you are submerged. You do not even have to worry about walking under the rain, that will not trigger the kit to inflate. 

So, if you do not plan to jump into the water at all during your fishing trip, we highly recommend setting it to auto inflate for safety reasons. 

Being an inflatable jacket, it is very light and comfortable to wear when deflated. This is the biggest advantage of an inflatable PFD. 

With only 1 D-ring, you would most likely find this PFD lacking for fishing. Unless you have a highly rigged fishing kayak. 

PROS

CONS

  • Light and very comfortable
  • Option to set manual or auto-trigger

 

  • No features for fishing

Onyx MoveVent Dynamics Paddle Sports CGA Life Vest Specs

Category: Type III

Buoyancy: N/A

Material: Nylon RipStop and neoprene

Love Absolute Outdoor’s Onyx life jackets but looking for a foam type instead? Behold, the MoveVent Dynamics. Another great piece from Absolute Outdoor’s Onyx. 

With the MoveVent Dynamic, you can spend less time fiddling with buckles and zippers. That means more time enjoying your paddle out on the water. Just zip up from the front, and you are good to go!

It is that easy to put it on. 

In terms of comfort, the flexible and sculpted foam design conforms comfortably to your torso.

After putting it on, just adjust the side belts and shoulder pads to get the perfect fit. Plus, the lower back mesh does not only keep you cool, but allows you to lean back comfortably on your kayak seat. 

Onyx’s MoveVent Dynamics is not lacking in features either. It has 1 expandable zippered pocket for your tackle box, a whistle for emergencies and a lash tab to attach small accessories. 

However, the zipper should really be improved with a safety lock. The current zipper could come down and unzip itself from an unexpected fall into the water. 

PROS

CONS

  • High back design
  • Easy to put on
  • Has basic features for fishing

 

 

  • The zipper may come down on its own

Astral V-Eight Life Jacket PFD Specs

Category: Type III

Buoyancy: 16 pounds

Material: Ripstop Nylon

The V-Eight from Astral has been Astral’s long time best seller. It features Astral’s patented Airescape technology.

This technology allows body heat to escape through vents on the life jacket. Hence, the V-Eight is known for being the world’s first breathable PFD.  

That definitely makes this PFD an attractive option for those living in warmer areas. 

The V-Eight is ergonomically designed with the foams being sculptured and evenly distributed. It wraps around your chest comfortably well without making you feel suffocating.  

There are 2 pockets on this life jacket. But sadly, those pockets have a major design flaw. They are located too far on the sides of the vest. If you fill-up the pocket with items, it will end up protruding out and get in your arms way when paddling. 

That will be rather annoying when you are paddling a lot. It’s bearable if you are pedalling or using a trolling motor. 

PROS

CONS

  • High back design
  • Highly ventilated to keep your body cool
  • Very comfortable to wear

 

  • Poorly placed pockets

OUR VERDICT

If you are a regular angler or planning to go kayak fishing regularly, we highly recommend the NRS Chinook. It is an amazing PFD, specifically designed with appealing features for anglers. 

You may not appreciate all the features now. But as you use it later on, all those fishing features will come in handy for sure! 

On the other hand, if you are buying your first PFD and do not want to overcommit yet, we recommend the Astral V-Eight. It is very comfortable to wear. Although it has a design flaw, it will only irritate you if you fill-up the pockets.  

All in all, Astral V-Eight is a good entry-level PFD with some basic features. At least it would not become redundant soon after your paddling requirements increase. 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Your safety should always be the number 1 priority. Never skimp on PFDs, ideally you should get the one that makes you feel comfortable. As the old saying goes, the best life vest is the one that you will wear. And the most common excuse for not wearing a PFD is its lack of comfort. 

Jules and Ken

Jules and Ken

We are outdoor lovers, travellers, and writers all rolled into one. You have seen our posts here reviewing lots of different types of outdoor gear, camping equipment, RV equipment, kayaking, to cycling. Our reviews are guided by our years of experience being outdoors. We are happy to share our knowledge with you to make a better choice when you are outdoors.

We hope you enjoyed this article and if you have questions about Best Kayak Life Jacket or want to leave your own personal comments, feel free to leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

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