Best Kayak Life Vests of 2022 – Everest Media (2023)


Updated Jun 21, 2022 7:27 PM

It’s official; kayak life vests are cool. After years when kayakers avoided life vests, the culture has shifted to accept an essential key to water safety. The change in attitude is due toa new generation of life veststhat are more comfortable, have better features, and keep anglers and other kayakers safer. To find the best kayak life vest, we looked for a personal floatation device (PFD) that is comfortable to wear, an asset when fishing, and smartly designed.

Things to Consider Before Buying Kayak Life Vests

Kayak life vests, like a lot of kayak gear, have come a long way in the last decade. Those old orange life preservers were heavy, bulky, hot, and sticky, and many people would take them off after a while. The best kayak life vests are now more comfortable, functional, and safe.

Safety

Of course, the most important aspect of the best kayak life vest is safety. Today’s PFDs are safer than traditional life vests. Adjustable straps on the shoulder and torso dial in the fit so the life vest works properly. Reflective accents make the angler visible at night.

To encourage water safety, Coast Guard regulations say a paddler must have a Type III life vest on board (though we urge kayak anglers to wear their life vest). It’s no question that a PDF is one of the best kayaking accessories.

Comfort

Comfort a crucial factor for a life vest. A heavy, bulky, clammy and hot PFD is a PFD that many people won’t wear. The best kayak life vest shapes the foam for a better fit and to reduce size and weight. Padded straps, 3D construction and softer fabric are more comfortable against the skin. Mesh panels, vents and dimpled foam keep air flowing through the vest. If you don’t like a foam vest, then the latest inflatable life vests are a great choice for a lightweight, low profile way to stay safe.

One important distinction between standard PFDs and kayak life vests: a kayak PFD has the rear floatation section positioned high on the back so it won’t interfere with the seat back.

Functionality

In addition to comfort and safety, many anglers want a fishing PFD—a life vest with storage for tackle, safety gear and tools. That means pockets, D-rings, tabs to hold pliers, cutters, gear, and small tackle boxes. Other kayakers want a personal flotation device free of all but essential kayak fishing accessories.

Some anglers like to carry essential safety equipment in case they are separated from the kayak. These anglers look for a place to stuff a personal locator beacon, safety whistle, signal light, paddling knife, and smartphone.

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Design

If a foam life vest is too hot and bulky for your style, then an inflatable vest is the next best thing. These kayak life vests feature a rubber bladder that uses a CO2 cartridge to inflate in seconds. A manual inflatable vest inflates when the user pulls a cord. An automatic model activates when the vest hits the water.

Inflatable life vests use a CO2 cartridge to blow up rubber bladders inside the vest. A manual vest is inflated when the user pulls a cord. Automatic inflatables have a sensor that causes the vest to inflate when it hits water. Neither type of inflatable is as safe as a foam vest, because it requires an action to become a PFD. That’s why inflatable life jackets shouldn’t be relied on in river rapids or heavy surf crossings, but for near-shore trips in sheltered waters, an inflatable PFD is a good option because it’s lighter, cooler and more comfortable than foam.

Kokatat’s Leviathan has form-fitting foam flotation and 14 pockets. Kokatat

Why It Made The Cut

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The Kokatat Leviathan life vest is not only the best for fishing, but it is our top pick overall for the best life vest for kayaking. It not only has excellent storage for all your fishing ventures, but it fits well, is comfortable, and will enhance your safety on the water.

Key Features

  • Buoyancy: 16 lbs
  • Closure: zipper
  • Weight: 2 lbs 1 oz

Pros

  • Extensive storage
  • Durable materials
  • Unique features

Cons

If we measure the best kayak life vest for fishing on safety, comfort, and function, then the winner is Kokatat’s Leviathan. For decades, Kokatat has been making gear for serious paddlers, and they poured all their experience into the Leviathan.

The Leviathan’s shoulder and torso straps are padded with breathable mesh. To accommodate the high seat back in a fishing kayak, the Leviathan has floatation high on the back panel. The inside of the vest is soft material that feels like a cotton T-shirt against the skin. The Gaia flotation foam molds to the paddler’s body.

With 14 pockets carefully placed and stacked on the front panels, there is a place for everything. The plethora of pockets does make the Leviathan a little bulky, but with a perfect place to put safety and fishing gear, the extra space is worth it. In addition to pockets, the life vest features D-rings, tabs and attachment points to hold a safety knife and gear tether. It even has fleece-lined handwarmer pockets for those chilly days on the water.

The Leviathan is approved by both the American Coast Guard and Transport Canada to be recognized on both sides of the border. It provides 16 pounds of buoyancy across all sizes for guaranteed floatation.

Balancing comfort with safety, the M.I.T. 100 Automatic is there when you need it. Mustang Survival

Why It Made The Cut

The Mustang M.I.T. 100 is a portable and lightweight option that any kayaker can feel safe carrying in case of an emergency.

Key Features

  • Buoyancy: 25.1 lbs
  • Closure: buckle
  • Weight: 1.75 lbs

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to store
  • Higher buoyancy than foam vests

Cons

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  • No storage
  • Manual inflation cord

Mustang Survival makes safety equipment for rescue workers and the military and their innovations carry over to their consumer products. The M.I.T. 100 Automatic is Mustang’s most accessible inflatable PFD. M.I.T. stands for Membrane Inflatable Technology, referring to the soft, pliable bladder that fills with air. The panels have a low profile when not inflated. In an emergency, the bladders blow up to 22 pounds of buoyancy, which is more floatation than most foam PFDs and enough to qualify as a recreational Type III life vest.

Deflated, the M.I.T. 100 sits flat against the wearer’s chest. When the bladders are inflated, the wearer will float face up. Two bright yellow strips make it easier to see the inflatable life jacket in the water.

The M.I.T. 100 Automatic fills with air in seconds via a sensor that activates the CO2 cartridge when it detects water. It also can be inflated manually by pulling a cord. When the CO2 cartridge is spent, it’s easy to deflate and repack the bladders and replace the cartridge. Checking the activation is simple with a clear plastic window to show the indicator.

Mustang’s M.I.T. Automatic features 3D construction to hug the body with wide adjustable straps to keep the PFD in place. Soft, padded fabric at the neck prevents it from chaffing the skin.

Why It Made The Cut

The NRS Chinook is a life vest built for women featuring a comfortable design with plenty of storage for functional fishing.

Key Features

  • Buoyancy: 16 lbs
  • Closure: zipper
  • Weight: 2 lbs

Pros

  • Comfortable high back design
  • Excellent ventilation
  • Quality safety features

Cons

  • Not the most durable
  • Velcro isn’t super secure in pockets

Specially designed to be the best women’s life vest, the NRS Chinook has molded Plushfit foam panels that are articulated to fit a variety of female body shapes. Pockets, lash tabs and sturdy construction make the NRS Shenook a great fishing life vest. Two large pockets and two smaller gear pockets on the front provide just enough space for fishing and safety gear without creating excess bulk that could interfere with paddling.

The mesh back with high floatation keeps the life vest cool, and won’t interfere with a high sit-on-top kayak seat. A rod holder, knife lash tab and strobe attachment round out the minimal, but smart, fishing features that make the Shenook an ideal kayak life vest for women.

It’s a pro-level PFD designed to fit a 50 to 90-pound kid. Astral

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Why It Made The Cut

The Astral Otter 2.0 is a versatile and kid-specific PDF that fits a range of sizes and body types. The adjustability is great so it can work for several years as your child grows.

Key Features

  • Buoyancy: 11.5 lbs
  • Closure: buckles
  • Weight: 1 lb 5 oz

Pros

  • Adjustable
  • USCG Type III
  • Detachable leg loops

Cons

The Astral Otter 2.0 looks, fits, and performs like a pro-level whitewater PFD. Form-fit and low profile, the Otter 2.0 provides 11.5 pounds of buoyancy in a small package that isn’t overly bulky. The arm holes are generous to prevent rubbing the skin or binding up clothes. Padded shoulder and torso straps keep the PFD in place without squeezing the kid. Waist, belly, and chest clips offer redundant closures for a reliable fit.

Bright colors appeal to the youngsters and make the PFD easy to spot on the river. A large grab handle on the back makes rescue easy. Our favorite feature is the Kapok foam, made out of organic, sustainable plant fibers, that is soft and moldable for a comfortable, environmentally-conscious fit. Little ones love to explore, and Astral gave the Otter 2.0 two small zippered pockets to hold their discoveries. The grown-up features on the little Otter 2.0 make it the best kayak life vest for kids weighing 50 to 90 pounds.

Why It Made The Cut

The Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Vest is a universal and functional budget option that still ensures safety on the water.

Key Features

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  • Buoyancy: N/A
  • Closure: zipper
  • Weight: 1.4 lbs

Pros

  • Fits adults 90+ lbs
  • Oversize option available
  • Excellent storage

Cons

The Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Vest costs half the price of high-end life jackets with many of the same features and the highest safety standard. It has a high foam back, a comfortable neoprene shoulder pad, and various pockets and tabs for kayak fishing accessories and safety gear. A breathable mesh back stays cool and comfortable while six adjustment points and universal sizing work to keep the wearer afloat. The vest offers abundant floatation to give the vest plenty of buoyancy.

FAQs

Q: What feature should I look for in a kayak life vest?

The best kayak life vest for fishing has specific design elements. Look for pockets and tabs to hold fishing and safety gear. At minimum, the vest should hold a safety whistle and signal strobe along with a place to keep a paddling knife in reach. A life vest for kayak fishing should have foam high on the back so it won’t interfere with a kayak seat. Large arm holes and multiple adjustment points make the PFD snug while keeping the arms free for fishing and paddling.

Q: How should a life vest fit?

First match the life jacket size to the paddler’s weight. Once you have the right size, put on the life vest and shore up the shoulder straps until the arm holes are just large enough to allow freedom of movement. Then, inhale deeply and pump up your chest. Tighten the torso straps until the PFD becomes snug. Then exhale and make minor adjustments on the shoulder and torso straps until the life vest fits just right.

Q: What is the best life jacket for kayaking?

The best life jacket for kayaking is any USCG Type III that fits properly. If the life vest is comfortable and has functional storage for the intended activity, that is a plus, but the priority should always be safety.

Q: Do you need a special

life vest for kayaking?

No, you don’t need a special life vest for kayaking. It is essential to wear a life vest while kayaking, and we recommend a USCG Type III for safety reasons.

Q: Are neoprene life jackets good for kayaking?

Yes, neoprene life jackets are good for kayaking. They can help keep you cooler in warm weather and tend to be a comfortable alternative to traditional foam PFDs.

Final Thoughts

The best kayak life vests offer comfort and features to keep the paddler safe, plus pockets and tabs for tackle and essential safety gear, such as a whistle and signal strobe. When it comes to safety, money should never be an issue, so buy the best kayak fishing PFD you can afford.

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FAQs

What kind of life jacket is best for kayaking? ›

Most kayakers will choose either a US Coast Guard Approved Type III or Type V life jacket. Most kayaking jackets are Type IIIs. Type Vs will include rescue jackets and pullover jackets. Kayaking requires good upper body and arm mobility.

What life jacket has the most buoyancy? ›

Type I PFDs are geared for rough or remote waters where rescue may take a while. Though bulky, they have the most buoyancy and will turn most unconscious people into a face-up position. They are the kind of PFD you'll likely find on commercial vessels.

What color life vest is best? ›

It is best to choose a life jacket that uses plastic buckles instead of metal, so that they won't rust or corrode. Color is important for easy spotting in a rescue situation. Bright colors such as red, orange and yellow work best. To enhance visibility, some life jackets also include reflective tape.

What is the best PFD and why? ›

We chose the Stohlquist Fisherman as the Best Fishing PFD because of the price, the fishing-specific design, and the available sizes. The breathable mesh and fisherman-specific design allow for easy storage and access on the water for all of your essentials—lures, flies, leader, scissor clamps, you name it.

What is a type 3 life jacket? ›

A Type III PFD is an approved device designed to have more than 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. While the Type III PFD has the same buoyancy as the Type II PFD, it has less turning ability.

What is the difference between a life jacket and a life vest? ›

The basic difference:

The terms PFD, lifejacket, life vest, life preserver, buoyancy vest and buoyancy aid are used interchangeably for the same item, all with the same key purpose; to prevent persons drowning. A PFD is a garment designed to keep a conscious person afloat and to assist with buoyancy in the water.

Which is Better nylon or neoprene life vest? ›

Materials and styles

Nylon is typically a cooler material while neoprene tends to be warmer. The advantage of neoprene life vests is they are usually more form-fitting, so they feel less bulky. In addition to traditional, front-closing vests, pullover styles are also available.

Is type 2 or 3 life jacket better? ›

Type II (Foam and Inflatable)- Does better job keeping you floating face up if unconscious. Simply put, besides the type I, the type II is your best chance of keeping your head out of the water if unconscious. Type III (Foam and Inflatable)- Simply put, swimmer assisted life jacket.

What color is easiest to see underwater? ›

A new study conducted by Mustang Survival, and sponsored in part by WorkSafeBC's Research Secretariat program, found that fluorescent green immersion suits routinely beat standard oranges, reds, and yellows in terms of visual detection in water - particularly in low-light conditions.

What color disappears first underwater? ›

Red is the first to be absorbed, followed by orange & yellow. The colors disappear underwater in the same order as they appear in the color spectrum. Even water at 5ft depth will have a noticeable loss of red. For this reason, strobes are usually used to add color back to subjects.

How long do life vests last? ›

Foam Filled Lifejackets and Buoyancy Aids

The maximum lifespan of a foam-filled lifejacket or buoyancy aid for leisure boating is ten years. This type of product is all but maintenance free, however an annual visual inspection is recommended.

Do you need a special life vest for kayaking? ›

For a boat less than 16 feet long, or a canoe or a kayak of any length, you are required to: Everyone on board a personal watercraft (popularly known as “jet skis”) and anyone being towed behind a vessel must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

How much buoyancy do I need in a PFD? ›

Your PFD or life-jacket must provide a minimum buoyancy of 69 Newtons (7.03 kg / 15.5 lb).

Do you need a special life jacket for kayaking? ›

In most states, the laws read that there must be at least one U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type I, II or III lifejacket (PFD) per person onboard the vessel (your kayak). That lifejacket must be in good serviceable condition, be sized appropriately for the person intended to wear it, and is must be readily available.

What type of PFD turns you face up? ›

Type I. Type I PFDs, are the most buoyant PFDs and suitable for all water conditions, including rough or isolated water where rescue may be delayed. Although bulky in comparison to Type II and III PFDs, Type I will turn most unconscious individuals to the face-up position. They range in sizes from adult to child.

How do I choose a PFD? ›

Choose a personal flotation device (PFD) which is comfortable for your water activities, and the legal requirements for your state and the type of waters you operate in. If you browse a boating website like this one, you'll see personal flotation broken down by style and type of vest, as well as buoyancy.

What is a Type 5 life jacket? ›

What is a Type V PFD? Type V PFDs are special use jackets ranging from 15.5 to 22 lbs of buoyancy. They are optimized for their activity such as kayak rescue vests, sailing harnesses or deck suits. Commercial guest PFDs have a neck pillow to help keep the head above water, making those PFDs Type V.

Should a life vest be tight? ›

Your life jacket should fit snugly without being too tight. The term the Coast Guard uses is “comfortably snug”. If you can't make your life jacket fit snugly, then it's too big. If you can't comfortably put it on and fasten it, it's too small.

What is a disadvantage of a Type 3 PFD? ›

Type III (Flotation Aid) (15.5 lbs buoyancy)

Available in many styles, including vests and flotation coats. Disadvantages: Not for rough water. Wearer may have to tilt head back to avoid face down position in water. Sizes: Many individual sizes from Child-small to Adult.

How long can a life jacket keep you afloat? ›

It can keep you afloat and safe for up to 24 hours if the life vest is properly fitted. If you are wearing an inflatable life vest, you should be able to survive 2-3 hours in the water.

Do life jackets flip you on your back? ›

Standard Type Lifejackets

These lifejackets will turn you on your back to keep your face out of the water, even if you are unconscious, but not as fast as SOLAS lifejackets. Standard Type lifejackets are available in two sizes; one for individuals over 40kg or 88lbs and one for individuals less than 40kg or 88lbs.

How much weight will a life vest support? ›

Since the average person in water needs about seven to 12 additional pounds of buoyancy to float, a life jacket does not have to support the entire physical weight of a human body. Instead, it supports those seven to 12 pounds, with a few pounds to spare.

What is a neo vest? ›

Jetpilot's 2020 The Cause Ladies Neo Life Jackets is a lightweight segmented fit neoprene vest, ideal for Jet skiing, boating and wakeboarding. This is the perfect cross over vest built with action sports in mind and suitable for all water sports activities.

What's the difference between nylon and neoprene? ›

Neoprene Vs. Nylon Life Jackets - YouTube

What is a level 50s life jacket? ›

Level 50 lifejackets are: mainly used in enclosed waters. intended for people who can swim and are close to the bank or shore or have help close by. designed to support you in the water, but do not automatically turn you to a face-up position.

What is the safest color to wear in the ocean? ›

The bright yellow color traditionally used in water safety flotation devices and rafts is readily seen by human rescuers looking for missing persons in the sea.

At what depth does red disappear? ›

“As line descends below the surface, water absorbs the wavelengths of light selectively, one by one, as depth increases. Red is the first color to disappear, at a depth of 15 feet (which is why underwater photographers often use red filters to restore red colors in their pictures).”

What color swimsuit is safest in ocean? ›

In open water, bright, neon colors, including orange, yellow, and lime green, fared best.

Does blood turn green underwater? ›

Without red color in the sunlight, only green light reflects from the blood. This fact can be startling to divers who get a cut while diving. Again, the blood does not change when in the deep ocean. Rather, the green color of blood that is always there becomes obvious once the brighter red color is no longer present.

What color travels farthest in water? ›

Blue is the colour that travels the furthest underwater, hence why during those deep dives everything seems to be tinted blue. If you were to shine a light at those depths, you'd make visible all the other colors of the spectrum and illuminate a wonderful rainbow of colours.

What is the last color to disappear in water? ›

The longer the wavelength, the lower the energy. These wavelengths get absorbed first. The order in which colors are absorbed is the order in which they appear in a rainbow: red goes first, with violet going second-to-last and ultraviolet being last to disappear.

How much does a life vest cost? ›

A LifeVest costs about $2,000. There may be additional costs associated with the fitting of the device and follow-up visits with a healthcare professional.

Do life jackets keep you floating? ›

Life Jackets / Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) Most adults need an extra 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. A life jacket (PFD) can provide that “extra lift” to keep you afloat until help comes. Your weight isn't the only factor in how much “extra lift” you need.

Is there a shelf life for life jackets? ›

All of the care that you give to your PFD will prolong its use. There is no expiry date for a personal floatation device and/or lifejacket, but it becomes void if it has been repaired or altered; therefore, it is no longer usable and must be replaced and discarded for recycling.

Do you need a special life jacket for kayaking? ›

In most states, the laws read that there must be at least one U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type I, II or III lifejacket (PFD) per person onboard the vessel (your kayak). That lifejacket must be in good serviceable condition, be sized appropriately for the person intended to wear it, and is must be readily available.

What is the difference between a life jacket and buoyancy aid? ›

Buoyancy aids are suitable for personal watercraft (PWC), dinghies, windsurfing and generally for activities where the wearer might reasonably expect to end up in the water. A lifejacket is intended for use where a high standard of performance is required.

Do you need a PFD for kayaking? ›

With the exception of kayaks and canoes, every vessel must carry one wearable U.S. Coast Guard-Approved PFD for every person on board if the vessel is 16 feet or longer. Inflatable PFD must be worn in order to be considered readily accessible.

Do kayak paddles make a difference? ›

Next to the kayak itself, your paddle has the biggest impact on your performance on the water. Even a short tour involves thousands of strokes, so a proper paddle can make all the difference.

What is the difference between a life jacket and a life vest? ›

The basic difference:

The terms PFD, lifejacket, life vest, life preserver, buoyancy vest and buoyancy aid are used interchangeably for the same item, all with the same key purpose; to prevent persons drowning. A PFD is a garment designed to keep a conscious person afloat and to assist with buoyancy in the water.

How should a kayak life vest fit? ›

How To: Fit a Life Jacket - YouTube

How much buoyancy do I need in a PFD? ›

Your PFD or life-jacket must provide a minimum buoyancy of 69 Newtons (7.03 kg / 15.5 lb).

What does the N mean on a life jacket? ›

The 'N' on a life jacket stands for Newtons, which is a measure of force. For example, 10 Newtons is equivalent to 1 kilogram of buoyancy. There are currently four primary European standards for buoyancy, 50N, 100N, 150N and 275N.

What buoyancy do I need? ›

In general, the more physically fit you are (the less fat on your body), the more buoyancy you will need. Let's do the math on a 125 lb and 200 lb person. 125 lbs X 80% water = 100 lbs of water. 125 lbs X 15% fat = 18.75 lbs of fat.

What is a level 50 life jacket? ›

Level 50 lifejackets are: mainly used in enclosed waters. intended for people who can swim and are close to the bank or shore or have help close by. designed to support you in the water, but do not automatically turn you to a face-up position.

Can you drink on a kayak? ›

The legal limit for alcohol content in your blood while boating is the same as the legal limit for driving. That means that you cannot legally drive a canoe, kayak, or paddle-board with a blood alcohol content, or BAC of 0.08%, or 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

What are the 5 different types of PFDs? ›

  • Offshore Life Jackets. The Type I PFD is for use in rough waters. ...
  • Near-Shore Vests. The Type II PFD is suitable for use in calm inland waters where rescue is usually close by. ...
  • Flotation Aids. Wear the type III PFD during watersports. ...
  • Throwable Devices. ...
  • Special-Use Devices.
24 Mar 2021

How long can a life jacket keep you afloat? ›

It can keep you afloat and safe for up to 24 hours if the life vest is properly fitted. If you are wearing an inflatable life vest, you should be able to survive 2-3 hours in the water.

What shape of kayak paddle is best? ›

Wing-shaped blade

The wing blade is designed with one blade face with a shallow scooped shape intended to increase the efficiency and power of a forward stroke. This is a good kayak paddle choice for racers and may be uncomfortable for the recreational paddler who prefers more mellow, low-angle strokes.

What is the best length for a kayak paddle? ›

Measure Your Body Height

Then, compare it to the width of your kayak and find the correct corresponding measurement. If you are 5 feet 5 inches or shorter and your kayak is… 23 inches wide or smaller: Try a paddle that is 210 centimeters long. 24 to 32 inches wide: Try a paddle that is 220 centimeters long.

Are more expensive kayak paddles worth it? ›

Rigidity and Weight:

More expensive paddles tend to be more rigid and lighter with better swing weight. It will take you a certain amount of effort to move through the water. Even a small increase in efficiency can mean less fatigue and more enjoyment.

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