Best Kayak Life Vest: 10 Top Picks for Fishing

kayak life vest, Best Life Vest for kayak fishing

Kayaking is a great outdoor sport. It can be exhilarating out on the open water fishing to relaxing on extending trips down a lazy river. One major component when kayaking that is overlooked is the best kayak life vest also called a life jacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Law required a PFD in many states whether out on a typical sailboat or a kayak.

Not all kayak life vest models offer top-notch design. For a woman, it is best to find a life vest that is suited to their gender instead of using a universal life vest. The life vest should fit snug and not chafe while wearing them and fit the natural curves of the woman’s body. It is also important to know that for adults, an extra 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy is required to stay afloat.

You’ll have to consider several features before you make you choose your kayak life vest. To make the decision easier for you, we’ve tested, analyzed and reviewed ten of the best kayak life vest models you can buy right away.

Best Kayak Life Vest Picks

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Why is Wearing a Kayak Life Vest Necessary?

A kayak life vest is necessary to wear in case of:

  • A boat capsizing during rough water
  • If a vessel should sink
  • When a person falls from the boat in the occurrence of a collision or rogue wave
  • If an injury occurs from running into rocks, reef or other submerged objects
  • Should a person slip off the ship, paddle board or kayaks into freezing waters where the body will go into shock
  • When fishing and the angler loses their balance
  • In the event of being waterlogged by heavy clothing or equipment and unable to swim to the surface

If you are an angler who goes out fishing occasionally, you might not know the water conditions. Even if you are an expert, you need to remain safe and secure so that you don’t sink even when your kayak gets into trouble. Life vests or jackets are life savior and you surely should wear them all the time when in water.​

Things to Consider when Buying a Kayak Life Vest

Several factors come into consideration when purchasing a kayak life vest, some of which are:

  • What category the kayak life vest needs to be for proper use.
  • Materials that make up the vest.
  • Size and appropriate fit for the kayak life vest.

All these factors need to be addressed before going out on the open water. If your kayak life vest doesn’t fit well, it won’t help keep your head above the water, or it may slip off when needed the most.

That is why it is also important to know what category the kayak life vest is since there is not a universal life jacket for all occasions.

The Categories of a Kayak Life Vest

There are five different categories for life vests that are situated for various experiences. Most kayakers should use a Type III or V USCG-approved life vest.

The vest needs to provide buoyancy and help keep the kayaker faced up in the water should they fall out of their vessel. To determine which one is necessary it is important to know the different categories.

A Type I life vest is used for those kayakers who crave adventure and white water or those offshore where rescue may take a bit more time.

These vests are usually very bulky and are presented in bright neon colors so that rescuers can spot the stranded easier in open waters.

The PFD in this category will turn an unconscious person face up and keep the head well above the water until rescuers can get to them.​

Type II life vests are more for those closer to shore and in waters that are not rough. Although it is important to point out the PFD in this category will turn most people face up, but not all.

That is why it is imperative to have a properly fitted vest before going out on the water.​

Type III PFD’s allows more freedom to move about which is typical for paddlers and provide the most comfort. The devices in this category are gear for those who can put themselves in an upward position and possess the ability to tilt the head back to breathe properly.

What about Type IV? These have cushions or rings that typical sailboats supply when someone goes overboard. They are not required for kayakers, rough waters, canoes, or non-swimmers.

Type V is for special activities like waterskiing, kayaking, and windsurfing. The devices in this category are marked accordingly on the vest itself, so there is no confusion as to the PFD’s purpose.​

Qualities to Look for in the Best Kayak Life Vest

So, you have narrowed down your search to a select few options. How do you choose between them? In this section, we outlined several features to look for when you are ready to make your purchase.


The material in the PFD is just as important to know as the category. While there are several different materials used to create personal flotation devices, the most common are Gaia, Kapok, and PVC.

Gaia is an organic foam that is eco-friendly, halogen-free and does not include CFCs. Gaia is much softer than PVC foam and resists extreme temperatures. Gaia is preferable due to the low density which reduces the weight without reducing the performance of the device.

Kapok is super light and highly buoyant and comes from the fibers of the seeds from the Kapok tree. The Kapok material is more durable than foam but is highly flammable.

PVC or polyvinyl- chloride foam is the material used most often in PFDs because it is durable and resistant to sunlight, weathering, flames, and chemicals.


All life vests for kayak fishing must be Coast Guard approved, that includes being in a serviceable condition and properly sized for the wearer. Life vests must also be checked once a year and tested for buoyancy, tears or damage and to make certain that it still fits properly.

The best method for ensuring the PFD fits properly is to remember that your weight does not determine the size of the kayaking life vest. The adult chest size is what matters most as this is where the vest holds the material for flotation.

When purchasing a PFD, make sure to loosen the straps before putting on the life vest. Once the vest is in place, zip and begins tightening the straps. The more straps on the vest, the more adjustable the PFD, will be.

Begin with the lowest strap and move up on the vest, tightening the shoulder straps last. Finally, have someone lift up on the shoulders to make certain the vest doesn’t move past the nose. If after several adjustments and the vest still is moving, remove the jacket and find a smaller fit.

An ideal PFD will give the wearer freedom of movement will not be restrictive or uncomfortable and will be made of a breathable material that keeps the wearer above the water during distress.

The most traditional colors of life vests are neon orange, yellow and green so that it is easily seen from the air or from afar. It is vital to find one that has a low “V” neckline, large armholes and narrow straps on the shoulders.


Since you will be wearing your personal flotation device (PFD) the entire time you are on the water, it is important that you are comfortable. Many of the best kayak life vest models come with padded shoulders to ensure an extra comfortable fit. Consider the material inside of the jacket as well. Is it itchy or scratchy? We like to say that a life jacket should fit like your favorite pair of shoes – snug and comfortable. You will notice that some models of vests have large armhole openings so your shoulders and arms have plenty of space to move as you are paddling.

Caring and Maintenance

Caring for a PFD can increase the life span of the life vest. While there is no standard time frame of when a PFD becomes faulty, taking proper precautions before, during and after use can help increase the lifespan of the vest.

It is also important to dispose of a life vest properly by shredding it so that it is evident the jacket is faulty. Here are a few more pointers as to how to take care of a life vest.

  • Test the PFD in shallow waters before attempting to go out into the open waters in case there is unforeseeable damage to the vest.
  • Rinse life vest after every use to ensure the vinyl material doesn’t become faded or worn out as faded material may be a sign of loss of strength.
  • Make sure there is no waterlogging or funny smells like mildew coming from the device as this may be signs indicating a lack of buoyancy.
  • Inspect the life vest for tears, holes, smells, as well as the zipper and straps, are working properly before going out onto open waters.
  • Drip-dry before storing to reduce mildew or mold in the fibers of the vest and store in an area that is out of the sun and ventilated.
  • Check the life vest at least once a year and replace the vest when it becomes waterlogged, moldy or damaged.
  • Do not alter the vest in any way to make it fit. If the life vest does not fit, replace it with one that does.
  • The PFD is not a cushion for sitting or kneeling on. Do not use it as a boat bumper.
  • When fishing, don’t overload the pockets with heavy items as it will decrease the buoyancy of the life vest.
  • Sunshine will cause the materials to break down rapidly, so stow the life vest out of direct sunlight when not in use.
  • Never use harsh chemicals as it will damage the life vest.

Best Kayak Life Vest Choices for Fishing

Here is a list of the top 10 life vests to use when kayak fishing. These PFD’s are all Type III, which is the standard for kayakers and paddlers alike.

1. Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Floatation Device

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The Stohlquist is the best life vest with comfort and safety in mind and is perfect for fisherman. There is an array of pockets with anchor points for everything one needs for a day out on the water.

This life vest features front zip entry, padded shoulders, and Gaia flotation foam. To put it plain and simple, the PFD offers mounting locations for tippets, retractors, nippers and pliers, everything a fisherman needs in a convenient location.

Open siding provides ventilation, yet is secure should one find themselves in the water. It won’t ride up as other’s might do allowing the comfort one needs while on long trips. Similarly, it is made of nylon and is easy to wash and take care as well. 6″ high and 18″ wide in design, it is also extremely comfortable to wear.

Features I like​

  • Comfortable to wear and extremely safe.
  • Good cockpit management when in seat or overboard.
  • Padded shoulder and protective pockets.
  • Enough storage to keep tools and necessary materials.
  • Can pack down to a small size.

2. NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD

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The Chinook is ideal for fishing in a kayak as the back mesh doesn’t bind when paddling, yet keeps the wearer comfortable by allowing the life vest to breathe. It features seven front pockets to hold everything from tackle to a light snack on the water. In addition, it comes with eight adjustable straps to customize the fit, and the PlushFit foam conforms to the body.

Similarly, the Chinook also features a coil tool retractor allowing the wearer to clip on line snips and other tools necessary while out on the water. This life vest also offers multiple D-ring for attaching a net or other accessories while fishing including a rod holder loop for trolling. Designed especially for kayak fishing, I particularly love this vest because of the comfort and security it provides.

Features I like​

  • Designed especially for kayaking.
  • 7 front pockets to store anything.
  • Good ventilation and roomy front-entry design.
  • Easily customizable for comfort and security.
  • Multiple D-rings and attachment loops.
  • Fits perfectly for any body size.

3. ONYX Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

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The ONYX conforms to all body types, whether male or female and offers a mesh backside to help relieve perspiration when paddling. Did you know that the ONYX vest comes with reflective material for spotting the wearer in rough waters?

It is also equipped with a knife holder and pockets for storing small items like a camera or phone. This vest offers a large “V” neck and large armholes for all motion and provides the wearer with a peace of mind due to the vest’s design should emergency situations arise. The mesh does not bind when paddling and comes highly recommended.​

Features I like​

  • Safe and comfortable floatation.
  • Perfect for paddling and kayaking.
  • Made with reflective material for visibility.
  • Innovative vented channel for good air flow and comfort.

4. NRS Ion Personal Floatation Device

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The Kayak NRS Vista is a high-quality life vest that allows for seven different adjustments to be made to ensure proper fitting and comfort. Its Vista outer shell is made with 420 denier nylon to prevent snagging or tearing. If you didn’t already know, the  Vista comes with two pockets for stashing valuables to fishing gear as well as a lash tab for attaching a knife for emergency situations.

Made with PVC free foam, it provides 16.5 pounds of flotation that will ensure that the head remains above water. The Vista offers shoulder straps for adjustment to fit those with longer torsos making it super comfortable during kayak fishing. Large open armholes allow freedom of movement and the deep “V” neck provides comfort while out on the water.

Features I like​

  • Inexpensive and extremely comfortable.
  • Large pockets for storage of tools.
  • Seven adjustable points to wear as required.
  • A little heavy but stable and easy to wear.

5. Harmony Gear Fit Life Jacket

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The Harmony universal refers to the fact that it is made with both men and woman in mind. It is not for children or toddlers.  Harmony features three straps that adjust around the torso, waist, and chest.

When it comes to size, this model is suited for individuals weighing more than 90 pounds and offers release buckles for added convenience when putting on, or taking the vest off. The open armholes allow for the freedom of movement that kayakers need. Bright colors offered are standard in the case of emergency and makes the life vest easy to spot during kayak fishing.

Features I like​

  • Unisex PFD.
  • Low profile design and quick release buckle for easy wearing.
  • Good for a variety of water sports.
  • Lightweight, yet versatile and safe.
  • Inexpensive and durable.

6. Hardcore Waterproof Life Jacket

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The Hardcore life vest suits everyone’s needs. The low cut armholes allow for a full range of motion while still conforming to the body.

This life vest is made of polyester that allows for quick drying and is suitable for kayaking and canoeing. Foam around the shoulder area offers added support and buoyancy and three adjustable straps that unfastened easily. The Hardcore waterproof life vest is suitable for quiet activities like calm water river trips or even a day at the beach but is not recommended for white water rapids or rough ocean tides. Bright colors allow the wearer visibility in open waters.

Features I like​

  • Extremely durable nylon construction.
  • Good webbing for more security and safety.
  • Suitable for calm water kayak fishing.
  • Bright color design for more visibility.

Kayak Life Vest FAQs

What is a PFD?

The term PFD means ‘Personal Flotation Device.’ PFDs give the wearer buoyancy that will allow them to remain above water all the more effectively. There is an assortment of PFD Types (Type I – V) and styles (Inherently light, Inflatable and Hybrid).

What is an “Intrinsically Buoyant” PFD?

An innately light PFD is one that provides buoyancy using shut cell froth. Types I – V are accessible for both adults and children.

What is an Inflatable PFD?

An inflatable PFD (as their name demonstrates) depends on inflatable chambers that give buoyancy when expanded. Inflation is accomplished by releasing air or gas, for the most part, CO2 from a chamber, into the chamber and through oral expansion. They are accessible in Types I – V and in adult sizes.

What is a Hybrid PFD?

Crossover inflatable PFDs join shut cell buoyancy froth with an inflatable chamber. They are accessible in Types I – V, and in sizes for adults and kids.

What Does the “Type” of PFD Mean?

In this section, we will describe what the type of PDF means. Type I PFDs or an offshore life jacket feels the lightest. They work well in all types of waters, particularly open, harsh or remote waters. They are intended to turn wearers in the water face-up.

How about the second? Type II, or a near-shore buoyant vest is planned for quiet inland water. Characteristically light PFDs of this sort will turn some oblivious wearers structure to a face-up position in the water, yet the turning isn’t as precise as a Type I. Inflatable Type II PFDs turn just like a Type I froth (or Hybrid) PFD.

Type III, or FLOTATION AID is useful in quiet inland water. It is structured so wearers can put themselves in a face-up position in the water. The wearer may need to tilt their head back to abstain from turning face down in the water. The Type III froth vest has a similar lightness as a Type II PFD. It comes in numerous styles, hues, and sizes and is commonly the most agreeable sort for consistent wear. Buoy coats, angling vests, and vests planned with different highlights appropriate for different games exercises are instances of this sort of PFD. This sort inflatable turns just as a Type II froth PFD.

Make sure you know all of the types. Type IV PFD or a throwable device is expected for quiet, inland water with substantial traffic, where help is constantly present. It is configuration to be tossed to an individual in the water and got a handle on and helped by the client until safeguarded It isn’t intended to be worn. Type IV gadgets incorporate light pads, ring floats, and horseshoe floats. There are no inflatable Type IV gadgets.

Finally, Type V PFD, or a special use device is proposed for explicit exercises and might be conveyed rather than another PFD just whenever utilized by the endorsement conditions on its mark. Type V gives execution of either a Type I, II or III PFD (as set apart on its name). In the event that the name says the PFD is “affirmed just when worn” the PFD must be worn, aside from people in enclosed spaces and utilized as per the endorsement mark, to meet carriage prerequisites. Some Type V gadgets give hypothermia insurance. Assortments incorporate deck suits, work vests and vests with cruising saddles.

How Long Do PFDs last?

There is no set time limit on to what extent a PFD will last. Thinking about any PFD will make it last longer. Some basic things you can do are:

  • Give your PFD a chance to dry completely before putting it away. Continuously store it in a very much ventilated spot.
  • Try not to put overwhelming articles on your PFD or use it as bowing cushion or pontoon bumper. PFDs free lightness when squashed.
  • Do not leave on board your vessel for extensive stretches of time when the pontoon isn’t being used.
  • Try not to store in direct daylight. Long haul presentation to UV light can debilitate the texture and belts. Blurring can be a sign of loss of solidarity.
  • Never dry your PFD on a radiator, warmer or some other direct wellspring of warmth.
  • Check your PFD regularly for tears and tears. Give the belts and tie tapes a fast hard destroy to ensure they are secure.

How Do Inflatables Work?

All inflatables offer the following:

  • An air holding chamber
  • A wellspring of packed gas, generally CO2
  • Swelling system to release the gas from the chamber into the chamber

Gas is discharged into the chamber by actuating the system to cut the CO2 chamber. The gas extends to fill the chamber to full size, which gives the lightness. There are a few components that will activate naturally when submerged in water, while others require the wearer to physically incite the instrument by pulling on the “Yank to Inflate ” release cord. Remember that each time you release a CO2 chamber, you should supplant it with another chamber and re-arm the instrument.

What Are the Prerequisites for PFDs On My Boat?

The United States Coast Guard says that you should have one wearable Type I or II or III of the right size for every individual ready. Type V might be utilized, that gives execution of either a Type I or II or III, as set apart on the name, and should be utilized by the conditions on the name. Likewise, any vessel 16 feet and more, with the exception of kayaks and kayaks, must have one Throwable Type IV gadget. Some extra guidelines are:

  • The PFDs on board should be in great and workable condition.
  • They should be of the fitting size for the proposed wearer.
  • In addition, they should be promptly available and not put away in plastic packs, in bolted or shut compartments or have other rigging put away over them.

The Coast Guard prescribes and a few states require wearing PFDs for the following:

  • For water skiing and other towed exercises (utilize a PFD set apart for Water Skiing)
  • While working individual watercraft (utilize a PFD set apart for Personal Watercraft or Water Skiing)
  • During white water drifting exercises
  • Children under a particular age

Contact your state drifting wellbeing authorities for points of interest for your state. Look at the PFD mark cautiously. Some PFDs are not affirmed for individual watercraft, water skiing, and comparative towed employments.

How Would I Test My PFD?

It is a smart thought to attempt your life coat on under controlled conditions so you can get comfortable with its utilization and to make sure it works for you. The most ideal path is to put the coat on and get into shallow water (sufficiently profound that you can remain with your head above water). The PFD should drift you on your back or only somewhat back of vertical. Confirm that your mouth is well over the water surface. In the event that you are attempting an inflatable, take a stab at blowing up and emptying to different dimensions to get comfortable with the impacts of fractional swelling.

What Kind of Vest Should I Get for Water Skiing?

Some life jackets are not approved for use on personal watercraft. This includes water skiing or similar uses towed behind a boat. Make sure to read the label on the life jacket. Water skiing, tubing, riding watercraft, and various strenuous exercises. If there is a possibility of hitting the water at a rapid speed, you need a modifiable vest. Inflatable vests are not appropriate for use on PWCs.

Do All PFDs Turn Me Face Up?

No. Not all life coats will turn the wearer face up. A Type I will have the best potential to turn the wearer. Type II’s will turn a few people face up. Type III’s are viewed as lightness helps and require the exertion of the wearer to put themselves on their back. Inflatables will, in general, have a more prominent potential to turn than characteristically light items. Regardless, in the event that you are worried about turning face up, you should attempt your life coat to check whether it works for you.

Why Do Some PFDs Need to Be Worn to Meet the Carriage Prerequisite?

The Coast Guard necessitates that some Type V PFDs must be worn so as to meet the carriage prerequisites. By definition, a Type V PFD has some element not found on other PFD type, that require uncommon client learning about how to utilize the PFD. By expecting it to be worn, all things considered, the client is increasingly mindful of the uncommon highlights and realizes how to utilize the PFD appropriately. Make sure to peruse the mark with the goal that you comprehend what the extraordinary highlights of that gadget are and realize how to utilize it. Moreover, wearing a PFD significantly expands your security since you have it on when you need it.

Do Children Need to Wear PFDs Consistently?

In numerous states, there are laws that require kids under a particular age to wear a PFD while drifting. Check your nearby drifting law executive for the necessities in your general vicinity. Look at to find out additional. It is significant that the life jacket accommodates your youngster cozily.

Where Can I Purchase a PFD?

PFDs are broadly accessible through various sources, from mass traders to outdoor supplies stores to marine and sailing supply stores, just as marine and outdoor supplies index organizations.

The Best Kayak Life Vest: Final Review

We hope you enjoyed reading our review of the best kayak life vest. Remember, you should never go out on the water without proper security and life vests are what makes up for a great deal when it comes to safety.

A particular favorite is the Chinook Back Fishing PFD which is not only durable, comfortable and safe to wear, but also a bang for the buck. It also provides enough storage and has a great design. Make sure to select the right fit according to your body size when you make the purchase. If you enjoyed reading this review, feel free to check out more fishing gear reviews on our site.

Last update on 2024-06-21 at 16:15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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