Kayaking, fishing or simply paddling along on the water can be a relaxing time. But accidents can happen. And so it’s possible to fall into water if you’re paddling against ocean waves or taking part in extreme sports such as kayaking. For this reason a life vest is essential.

That’s why you should always be prepared and wear a kayak life vest at all times when you’re on the water. This helps you float in case you fall out of your boat, instead of being pulled under the water.

But in order for your life vest to last, you should purchase a durable one that’s comfortable and made from premium materials. We’ve compiled a list of the best kayak life vests on the market, so the next time you go fishing or kayaking, you can take extra safety measures by wearing a life vest.

The Best Life Vest for Kayaking and Canoeing

Buyer’s Guide

Standard Life Vests vs. Inflatable Life Vests

Standard Life Vests

Standard life vests are the type of safety jackets most kayakers and paddleboarders wear. These jackets are made with floatation materials which have the most buoyancy. Life vests are labeled as a Type III USCG (United States Coast Guard) approved.

The standard life vest is low maintenance because it’s easy to clean and dry after use. A standard life vest is also extremely versatile because you can use it for many other water sports such as canoeing, fishing, water skiing and kite surfing.

Another advantage is most life vests have pockets so you can travel with gadgets, emergency equipment, sunscreen and fishing tools on hand.

Inflatable Life Vests

Inflatable life vests can be used for many water sports such as stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking. These types of life jackets are comfortable when they’re not inflated but can be bulky and difficult to move in when they are inflated.

These life vests can be inflated in two ways — manually or automatically. To activate a manual inflatable life vest, you’ll have to pull a cord on the side of the jacket that releases CO2 gas to inflate the vest. The automatic life vest will activate as soon as it’s submerged in water.

The advantage of an inflatable life vest is that it’s a lot cooler to wear than a standard life jacket.

However, manual designs aren’t 100% foolproof. This is because it will need to be inflated before it can provide proper safety. So if you hit your head and become unconscious, you won’t be able to activate the jacket. Another drawback for the inflatable vest is if the jacket gets punctured there will be no buoyancy keeping you above the water.

Life Vest Fitting and Sizes

Purchasing a life vest with the correct sizing is imperative. To choose the right jacket dimensions for adults, measure the size of your chest. For children, you will determine the required size according to the child’s weight.

One sizing tip is to measure the circumference of your chest at the broadest point. Use the measurement along with the sizes on the manufacturer’s chart to determine the correct vest fitting for you.

Life Vest Features and Design

Selecting the correct life vest to suit your needs is easy. All you have to do is look at the specs and the design of the product.

As mentioned before, most standard life jackets come with pockets on the front of the jacket. Here you can keep important tools and equipment. Selecting a bright colored life jacket is ideal as it will increase your visibility if you’ve gone overboard and need rescuing.

Some kayaking life vests also come with tabs. A tab allows you to attach important safety equipment such as bowing knives, torches and whistles via a lanyard. If you want to attach more than two or three accessories you should look at the number of tabs the life vest has. They’re usually located at the front and back of the life vest.

Another important feature to look for is reflective tape on the life vest. This feature is useful and helps other boaters and kayakers see you when it’s dark.

Other Features to Consider

  • The buoyancy of the life vest per weight and size
  • USCG classification
  • Consider your body mass index when selecting a jacket
  • The conditions you’ll be using the life vest in plays an important factor
  • Check the durability of the life vest
  • It must always fit comfortably
  • There must be no restriction in your movements when you have the life vest on

Kayak Life Vest Reviews

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Jacket

Best for – Maximum flotation without restricting movement

The Onyx MoveVent life jacket can be worn during any kind of water sport as it doesn’t restrict your movements. This means it’s the ideal life jacket to wear for paddling and kayaking. It’s also easy to put on and the straps have quick-adjustment mechanisms.

Features

Onyx’s MoveVent life jacket comes mainly in one color design, namely grey. Although you can select highlight colors of orange, purple and yellow. There’s reflective tape on the straps of the life vest for improved visibility when it’s dark.

The Onyx life jacket has two lateral adjustment straps which make it easier to lock the jacket into place. This prevents the jacket from sliding off if you’re submerged in water and it also prevents the life vest from moving when you’re paddling.

This life jacket has a mesh back lining for maximum breathability while wearing. It has integrated pockets with zips for storage. The lining of the pockets is waterproof so you can keep your gadgets dry.

Benefits

The Onyx life vest is light in weight so it won’t weigh you down when you’re taking part in water sport. This also makes this jacket best suited for any leisure water activity such as fishing when you’ll be out and about for a long time; don’t let your jacket cause fatigue while you want to have fun.

Onyx’s life jacket also comes in many different sizes so it’s suitable for men, women and children. To find the correct size for you check the manufacturer’s size charts, but note that they’re not 100% accurate.

Disadvantages

There is only one pocket integrated into the bottom of the vest which can be an issue if you need storage space. This life vest can be a little warm during summer.

Pros
  • Comes in all sizes
  • Maximum buoyancy
  • The straps sit comfortable on your shoulders
Cons
  • Only has one pocket

Stohlquist Men’s Trekker Life Jacket

The Stohlquist Men’s Trekker Life Jacket is a comfortable lightweight jacket that can be used for many water activities such as kayaking, canoeing and water skiing. It has a secure fit but also doesn’t restrict your movements, it has a mesh lining on the back for added breathability.

Features

Stohlquist’s life jacket has three sizes:

  • Small/Medium 30 – 42 inch chest
  • Large/Extra large 42 – 54 inch chest
  • Universal plus 30 – 54 inch chest

The kayak life vest’s straps are made from durable nylon material so it won’t snap or fray. The fabric used for the outer shell is 500 Cordura (a brand of fabric which is strong, rugged and a water repellent) and the lining is made from 200 denier Oxford (a lightweight and water repellent fabric).

The design of the Stohlquist kayak life vest has a cinched waist harness so the jacket always stays in place; it won’t ride up your chest when you move which makes it more comfortable to wear. This life vest also has improved ventilation on the back and on the shoulder pads.

You can order this jacket in several different colors such as red, yellow and black.

Benefits

The Stohlquist life jacket fits well over any type of clothing you’re wearing. Because of the harness design, you’re able to move freely which makes this life jacket perfect for paddling.

There’s also a pocket with a zip integrated onto the jacket so you can store equipment and safety gadgets. You can also keep fishing tools inside the pockets such as hooks and lining.

Disadvantages

It also doesn’t have reflective tape so you won’t be visible in low-light conditions. To solve this problem you could select a brighter color life vest in this design.

Pros
  • Made with breathable materials
  • Sits well on your shoulders
  • Ideal to wear in hotter climates
Cons
  • Not the best for low light use
  • Takes time to adjust the straps

OutFIT Tour PFD Life Vest

The OutFIT PFD life vest is comfortable and easy to use. It’s ideal for fishermen as it has two zipped pockets with ample storage space. Small fishing equipment fits inside the pockets which provide easy access to the items while on the water.

OutFIT’s life jacket is also suitable for paddling, kayaking and waterboarding. It’s also USCG approved (type III) so you’ll be safe when you’re taking part in any water sport or boating activity.

Features

The Design of the OutFIT life vest provides comfort as there is an integrated foam back piece that’s soft and provides additional cushioning. OutFIT’s life jacket is made with 500 denier Cordura fabric for the outer part of the jacket and 200 denier Oxford for the lining.

OutFIT’s life jacket has an integrated foam lining for maximum buoyancy and cushioning. The straps of the jacket are fully adjustable and they’re padded so they won’t chafe you when you’re wearing the life vest.

The OutFIT life vest comes in four different colors of red, yellow, mango and navy blue. There’s also reflective tape around the straps to provide visibility during low light conditions.

Benefits

OutFIT’s life vest has two shoulder straps and a waist strap. These are all easy to adjust. The adjustable straps provide a snug fit for the wearer so it doesn’t ride up when you move and it won’t slip off when you’re submerged in water.

The front of the jacket comes with an integrated electronics pouch that’s fully waterproof. In the waterproof pocket, you can keep your mobile phone and other electronic gadgets that need to stay dry.

Disadvantages

There are too many straps on this jacket. The OutFIT life vest also has no mesh integrated into the back of the design, so there’s no ventilation. It may not be suitable to use in hotter climates.

Pros
  • Secure fit
  • USCG Type III approved
  • Made with premium fabrics
Cons
  • slightly bulky
  • No mesh ventilation
  • Too many straps to adjust

Nrs Vapor PFD Life Vest

The Nrs Vapor PFD life vest is a flexible lightweight safety jacket that can be used for many water sports such as kayaking, fishing and kite surfing. It’s comfortable and doesn’t restrict your movements.

It also doesn’t matter what clothes you’re wearing as it’s a front-profile life jacket that’s always comfortable to wear. There is ample space for your arms to move as the sides of the jacket are open.

Features

The Nrs Vapor life jacket is a streamlined design with no bulk. This kayak life jacket is integrated with light foam that creates maximum buoyancy. The life vest is made with durable 200 denier nylon fabric and it has a soft lining made from PVC foam and a stretchy nylon fabric.

There are adjustable straps for the shoulders and two on each side of the jacket so you can customize the fit. This also ensures the jacket stays secure when you’re moving or submerged in water.

The life vest also has a front zip where you can keep any equipment you need when you’re on your boat. There are convenient pockets you can use to keep your hands warm on colder days.

There are five different bright color designs to pick from. These life vests are USCG approved.

Benefits

The Nrs Vampor life vest is comfortable to wear because it’s not bulky and it’s made with soft material that won’t chafe your skin. It’s also easy to move around in which makes it perfect to wear during extreme sports such as water skiing and kite surfing.

Nrs Vapor’s life vest can also be worn in hotter climates as it’s made with breathable fabrics. The fabrics used to manufacture the jacket are also extremely durable and easy to maintain.

Disadvantages

A disadvantage of this product is that it doesn’t come in all sizes. Check the manufacturer’s size chart to see if there’s a suitable fit for you. There’s also only one pocket integrated onto the life vest which means it doesn’t have much storage space.

Pros
  • The straps are easy to adjust
  • Fabric is soft and breathable
  • It doesn’t restrict your movement
Cons
  • Not enough storage space
  • Doesn’t come in all sizes

Coleman Company Stearns Life Vest

This is probably the most recognized life jacket brand on the list. Stearns makes many different types of life vests for all types of water activities. This Coleman Company life jacket has all the features you’re looking for in this type of safety gear. It’s light, durable and it’s made from high-quality fabrics.

The Coleman Company Stearns life jacket is streamlined with no bulky parts or scratchy straps to contend with. This life vest is suitable for fishing and kayaking.

Features

The Coleman Company Stearns life jacket comes in olive green with a black front and mesh fabric. There is orange lined detailing on the sides of the jacket to add some color and helps to make you noticeable by others on the water. It doesn’t have adjustable straps for your shoulders but it does have a strap integrated for the waist that’s easy to alter.

There is soft foam sewn into the lining to increase the buoyancy of the life jacket. It is USCG approved so it provides maximum flotation. There is mesh included around the life vest for more ventilation which makes it suitable to wear in hotter climates.

The Stearns life jacket has a pocket in the front of the jacket so fishermen or boaters can keep their emergency equipment or fishing tools safe. It also provides easy access to anything you store in the pocket.

It’s a durable life jacket made from 200 denier nylon. The lining is also made with soft nylon to ensure the jacket doesn’t chafe your skin.

Benefits

The Coleman Company life vest is easy to put on and the adjustable strap allows you to customize the fit of the life jacket. The jacket also comes in all sizes but it’s advisable to check the manufacturer’s size chart to find a suitable fit for you.

Disadvantages

The color of the life jacket isn’t to everyone’s tastes. The dark colors means it’s not ideal to use at night. The straps for the shoulders aren’t adjustable so selecting the correct size will be important.

Pros
  • USCG approved
  • Easy to put on
  • Made from comfortable and durable fabrics
Cons
  • Isn’t suitable to wear at night
  • slightly too bulky for extreme water sports
  • Difficult to find the sizing chart for this product

Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket

The Onyx youth paddle sports life jacket is streamlined with no bulk and it’s designed for young people to use in many water sports. Because of the sleek design, you can wear it for kite surfing, kayaking and water skiing. It also comes in two bright colors, namely red and yellow, providing maximum visibility.

Features

Onyx’s sports life jacket is made with light foam that’s compact and soft. The foam is integrated into the lining of the design to create maximum floatation. Foam is also used for the back of the life jacket to provide extra cushioning for canoeing and whitewater rafting. It will fit youths between 50-90 lbs.

The Onyx’s streamlined design doesn’t hinder your movements as it fits snug around your body. This ensures the jacket never moves when you’re taking part in your water sport. The life jacket will also stay on your body even when you’re submerged in water or experience rough waves.

Onyx’s sports life jacket has adjustable straps for the shoulder as well as two straps for the waist area. These straps are easy to adjust and provide a customized fit. Mesh is sewn into the sides of the life jacket for ventilation.

The pocket on the front of the Onyx sports life jacket allows you to store any gadgets, tools and emergency equipment safely.

Benefits

Onyx uses only the best fabrics for their life jackets. This allows you to maintain your life jacket easily and it’s able to withstand rough handling thanks to its durability. The straps on the life jacket are also padded so it’s more comfortable than some others.

Disadvantages

Because of all the padding, the jacket is bigger than most life vests but it’s light and doesn’t weigh you down.

Pros
  • Fits comfortably
  • Can be worn for any type of water sport
  • Fits youths between 50-90 lbs.
  • USCG approved
Cons
  • The jacket doesn’t have a strap that prevents it from sliding up
  • Doesn’t have that much ventilation
  • The front zipper seems to be faulty

Stohlquist Women’s Flo Life Jacket

The Stohlquist Women’s Flo life jackets are designed for women who take part in water sports. These life jackets are comfortable and secure. They are USCG approved so you can wear them when sailing, fishing and kayaking.

Features

Stohlquist’s Women’s Flo life jacket has a streamlined design with no added bulk. It sits comfortably on your body no matter what type of clothes you’re wearing. The life vest is made with 400 x 200 denier ripstop shell and the lining is made with 210 Oxford fabric.

Stitched into the lining of the jacket is PE foam that provides maximum flotation when you’re submerged in water.

The life jacket has adjustable straps for the shoulders and for the sides of the vest to customize the size. The Stohlquist Women’s life jacket comes in two colors, namely bright purple and orange.

Benefits

The Stohlquist jacket is made with soft fabrics that don’t chafe or cut your skin. Because of the streamlined design, it won’t restrict your movements so you’re able to wear it during extreme water sports such as water skiing and white water rafting.

Disadvantages

The bit of mesh integrated into the back of the Stohlquist life jacket isn’t enough to create ventilation. Other than that, this is a comfortable and lightweight jacket for any female water sports professional or novice.

Pro
  • Easy to maintain
  • Has two storage pockets
  • USCG approved
Cons
  • The length of the jacket is slightly short so less suitable for taller women
  • Doesn’t fit all body types
  • Front pockets don’t zip closed

Conclusion

So, if you’re thinking about going kayaking the best product on the list would be Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Jacket. It’s designed by a reputable company and the life jacket comes in many different sizes for both men and women.
All the items on the list are affordable and will guarantee your safety during any water sport or activity. Be prepared and get a robust, lightweight and streamlined kayak life vest for yourself or your loved ones.
Safety first!

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Kayak Life Vest FAQ

What is a PFD?

PFD is an acronym for Personal Flotation Device. This is another term used for life vests or jackets. A PFD life vest provides you with additional buoyancy that allows you to easily stay afloat.

What types of life jackets do you get?

There are three different styles of life vests such as Inflatable, Inherently buoyant and Hybrid. Life vests also come in five different types which are the following:

  • Type I: Has the most buoyancy and turns unconscious people face-up from the water. They are found on most commercial vessels
  • Type II: These life vests have a basic design but they are less bulky and more comfortable. The type II life vests come in three different styles: inherently buoyant, inflatable and hybrid
  • Type III: The type III life vest has the most comfort as it’s streamlined and with no bulk. They are suitable for most paddlers and fishermen. These life jackets are designed to put you in a face-up position when you’re unconscious in the water
  • Type IV: These are used to give extra support to a person already wearing a PFD life jacket. They’re usually thrown to a person on the water during a rescue mission. They are known as life rings but are not suitable for canoeing and kayaking
  • Type V: The type V PFD is used for specific activities that are visible on the label of the device. These activities include water skiing, kayaking and windsurfing

What is a hybrid life jacket?

Hybrid PFD life jackets are made with buoyant materials and they’re integrated with inflatable devices. They are available in all five types and they come in different sizes for children and adults.

What are the requirements for life jackets?

The USCG (United States Coast Guard) Recommends that you have Type I, Type II or Type III jackets for each person aboard a boat. The life vests must be in excellent condition and they must be the appropriate size for each person on the boat.
If the people are not wearing the jackets already, they must be easily accessible in case of an emergency. You must always be wearing a PFD life jacket if you’re taking part in the following activities:

  • Water skiing
  • Whitewater rafting
  • During kayaking
  • Fishing or canoeing
  • All children under a specific age are required to wear a life vest