The Best Kayaking Life Vest

The Best Kayaking Life Vest

On every kayaking outing, it is essential that you wear a Life Vest at all times. That reason makes it one of the main pieces of equipment you should always take into account.

Now you might be thinking, what is the best Life Vest for kayaking? The best kayaking Life Vest is the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, whose combination of buoyancy, freedom of movement, and design features provide the best overall experience.

So read along because, in this guide, we will bring you all there is to know to choose the best kayaking life vest that better suits your needs.

First Contact

PFD also known as Personal Floatation Device, or a Life Vest shall by no means be confused with a Life Jacket though some people use the term equally.

The main difference between them is that although the latter provides more buoyancy, it is bulkier and relies on oversized padding around the collar to keep the head above water.

That is why the best kayaking Life Vests are those that have more padding in the front than in the back. They allow its users to remain afloat face-side up, a feature that becomes critical in case a kayaker loses consciousness.

Another key difference is the freedom of movement a Life Vest grants compared to a Life Jacket. The vest, due to its bulkiness, is more likely to restrict the paddler, as well as rub them uncomfortably.

A different size for each one

Life Vest types are classified according to U.S. Coast Guard regulations and refer to the pounds of floatation each vest provides its user. In this regard, Type 1 vests are the most buoyant -and safer- ones.

Depending on the type of paddling activities you plan to embark on, there are five different kinds of Life Vests you may choose.

Standard PFD – Type 1

Providing the user with a high level of buoyancy and generally made in high visibility colours accompanied with reflective patches, these are the proper definition of a Life Jacket.

Designed mostly for survival situations, its bulky and often uncomfortable feel means that paddling while wearing one of these might become a kind of torture.

Standard PFD – Type 2

It is by far the top choice when looking for a kayaking Life Vest, as it provides the most balanced relation between high visibility, buoyancy, and freedom of movement.

Aside from its floatation characteristics, this vest features a series of accessible pockets so you can keep your safety and communications gear –as well as some snacks- always at hand.

Type 2 vests also come with adjustable side and shoulder belts, have their rear buoyancy generally placed up high. And the lower back building material is mesh.

We already mentioned our top choice for this type of vests. But in those cases where the paddling is more on the extreme side, you should also check the Stohlquist Trekker PFD. It features an outer shell that makes it ideal for whitewater kayaking, where lighter fabrics are more prone to get damaged.

Standard PFD – Type 3

With roughly the same characteristics as Type 2 PFDs, the main difference between them is that these are intended and equipped for particular activities like fishing/hunting.

Because of this, Type 3 vests come in a wide array of colours and designs, such as camouflage, which makes their visibility not well-suited for paddle sports.

An example of this type of vests is the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD.

Inflatable PFD -Type 1

These vests are not recommended for paddling because, although being extensively less bulky, they provide no buoyancy until you activate the CO2 cartridge that inflates it.

But even when deployed, they present another problem, due to becoming too bulky around the chest, which complicates rescue situations.

That, coupled with its maintenance requirements and the mandatory replacement of the inflation cartridge after every use, makes inflatable PFDs a no-go wherever you go kayaking.

Children’s PFD – Type 1

The goal here is to achieve the highest level of buoyancy while keeping the body afloat in the safest possible position, so the right fitting becomes our top priority.

To this end, children vests feature extra padding around the collar and shoulders, and on smaller sizes, extra straps to avoid the vest from slipping out.

Although people tend to buy oversized children vests looking to get an extra season or two out of it as the kid grows. Our advice would be to opt for one with adjustable straps instead.

The Stohlquist Kids Life Jacket has a remarkable built, and the addition of a grab handle in the back makes it one of the top choices in this category.

Dog – PFDs

Special mention here, because we should not forget about our four-legged friends while out paddling, and in the case of Canine PFD, there are few things we have to make sure of first.

Choose one that is bright-coloured and has a D-Ring. That way, you may attach a leash to it, but more important, it should come with a handle on the back to retrieve your pet whenever they feel like jumping in the water.

The Vivaglory Dog Life Jacket is by far the best buoyancy aid you can get for your furry friend.

Built for Lasting Comfort

All the best Life Vests are those made using a combination of Nylon and Neoprene -each having its own particular characteristics.

Nylon: light and least expensive fabric, nylon makes it comfortable for the user to paddle all day long and stay fresh.

Neoprene: although more expensive, it allows for a snug and comfortable fit while providing the user with a higher buoyancy.

This combination makes your Life Vest comfortable but also durable, as it is subjected to constant friction due to prolonged paddling.

Trying it On

Now we get to the real test. Once you know all the specs and have settled on what type of Vests works best for you, it is sizing and fitting time.

Sizing: on adults, the right vest size is determined by measuring your chest circumference at its broadest point and then comparing the resulting number against the manufacturer size guide.

For kids, this will be determined by their weight, as children life vests generally come in 3 sizes, Infant – 8 to 30 pounds, Child – 30 to 50 pounds, and Youth – 50 to 90 pounds.

Fitting: the most relevant stage of the process, it is done by following a few simple steps.

It is fundamental that, while wearing the clothes you are going to go paddling with, untighten all of the straps and put the vest on. Start tightening all of the strapping from the waist up, leaving the shoulders for last. Have someone assist you in pulling up the vest from its shoulder straps, and if it moves past your nose, then it is too large for you.

If your PFD is firmly in place, simulate some paddling movements to verify there is no chafing, as well as the range of motion the vest allows you.

Keep in mind that the Life vest should never ride up or feel uncomfortable when sitting on your kayak. That is why the more strapping it has, the better it will adjust to your body. It is recommended for women with a large bust to consider a specific type of PFD that features contoured cups, as this will provide a better fit without constricting their chest.

Design Features

Aside from its floatation capabilities, there are other features to factor in when choosing the right Life Vest for us, among these:

Pockets: the more it has, the better it is. As for size and placement, this will be directly proportional to the type of gear you plan to be carrying with you.

Tabs: this is where you will be attaching your accessories. Again, the number of tabs you need will depend on the kind of activities you’ll be engaging in and the equipment it demands.

Ventilation: if you go paddling in hot weather, look for a PFD built out of materials that help dissipate body heat.

High-Visibility: pick a PFD that is both bright-coloured and features reflective patches that make it visible in low-light situations.


Finally, among the different equipment/accessories you might need to attach to your PFD, we recommend:

  • Whistle: preferably a Fox 40, whose high-pitched thrill is heard even on long distances and has no movable parts. So it will work in the harshest environments.
  • Safety Knife: In the outdoor, there is not a scenario where a blade would not be useful. Whether it’s fishing, a rescue situation, or to open some snacks always comes in handy.
  • Hydration System: consists of a flexible bag to drink from that you can either carry on your back or secure it to the bottom of the cockpit.
  • Handheld Compass: it is required for orientation and precise navigation when kayaking on the open sea. Waterproof Phone Case: to protect your communication device -Aquapac cases are perfect for this.

So there it is. We sincerely hope you find our guide helpful when it’s time to choose your very own kayaking Life Vest. Farewell, and Happy Paddling!

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