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Life Vests: Your Passport to Adventure on the Water 2024

Types of Life Vests To Wear Kayaking

Types of Life Vests To Wear Kayaking

Updated on 7/11/2024
Abigail ScottBy Abigail Scott
Hi, I'm Abigail 👋 Since embarking on my kayaking and boarding adventures in 2010, I've navigated rivers and lakes across North America and beyond. With over a decade of experience and countless waterways explored, I'm here to help enthusiasts like you embark on unforgettable water adventures!
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As kayak vests keep you safe in case of an accident, they're essential for kayaking. Most places make it illegal to kayak without a vest, so you must find the best one. Let's discuss choosing the best kayaking vest for you by reviewing everything you need to know about them.

Today, kayaking vests are available in three different styles. Life jackets with bright colors and reflective stripes, PFD vests that offer less protection but still keep you safe, and inflatable life jackets are not recommended unless you're a strong swimmer.

How do these three kayak vests differ? How do kayaking professionals recommend kayak vests? Let's see!

Kayaking Vests: Types and Designs

You will need a vest or other floatation device if your kayak capsizes if you are kayaking. There are two types of vests for kayaking that will ensure your safety.

Your two options are life jackets and PFDs (portable floatation devices). These two options have some differences, but you should know about them before choosing which is best for you.

You can also get inflatable life jackets, compared to traditional life jackets and PFDs. Here's what you can expect from these three vests.

Kayaking Life Jackets

Especially if you will be kayaking in rough waters, life jackets are a great option. They provide maximum protection, and turning you on your back within seconds of falling into the water increases your chances of surviving should anything bad happen.

Even if you are unconscious, a life jacket will keep your head above water. Vests come in red, yellow, and orange; many have reflective strips. All this is done to ensure you are visible to rescuers in the water.

Different life jacket sizes are based on weight, and child sizes are also available. These vests usually come equipped with a whistle that helps rescuers better locate you in emergencies.

The regulations for vests vary from state to state, so make sure the vest you purchase is approved in the area where you intend to kayak. To learn more about local regulations, click here.

The reversible nature of life jackets makes them easy to use and decreases the probability of user error. No matter how you use the jacket, you will be safe.

PFD Vests For Kayaking

Personal Flotation Devices are designed to be more comfortable than traditional life jackets, which can be worn longer. These vests are not inherently safer than regular life jackets despite their comfort.

PFD vests are not as protective as traditional life jackets. A PFD vest cannot put a person on their back, even if they are unconscious, and it does not provide the same level of flotation as a traditional life jacket.

Life jackets are more efficient than PFDs when you are in the water. A traditional life jacket is a better choice for those unsure of their swimming abilities or dealing with a child.

There are many PFD vests available, so make sure you select one that fits your kayaking needs. For example, if you're kayaking in cold weather, you'll need a PFD with thermal insulation to keep you warm.

It is essential to research the water and weather conditions in the location where you will kayak to determine what PFD vest is appropriate for those conditions.

Kayak life jackets that inflate

An inflatable life jacket is another option you can choose from. Although these life jackets are lightweight, you need to know a few limitations before buying one.

Unlike the other vests, these life jackets require more maintenance and do not provide any of the benefits that the other vests do. An inflatable life jacket, for example, will not turn you over to assist breathing, and it has less floatation than a personal flotation device.

When using an inflatable life jacket, you need to be fully conscious to survive. You can choose between two types of kayaking vests, and some vests have a CO2 system that automatically inflates but can also be raised manually.

Other vests can only be inflated manually by pulling a toggle. It is not recommended to use these vests because they aren't as safe as the other two. You might be able to consider one of these kayak vests if you are a great swimmer and aren't kayaking in rough water.

Inflatable vests cannot be used for the following:

  • Anyone under 16 years old
  • operating a personal watercraft
  • watercraft
  • watercraft, regardless of weight
  • Whitewater rafting

Kayaking Vests: 8 of the Best

Now that you know the different types of kayaking vests available, let's talk about the best vests on the market for kayaking. As the most recommended vests, these will give you an idea of what vests you should look for if you want to kayak.

Suppose you decide to kayak in a particular location. In that case, you should still research to determine which kayaking vest regulations apply there and ensure you buy a vest approved for that destination.

Every kayaking location has regulations; you should follow them to ensure your safety. Here is a list of the top kayaking vests to help you choose the best one.

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic

Kayaking vests like this one are rated as one of the most comfortable. With this vest, you can ensure it fits you perfectly since it's easily adjustable. You can store your essential equipment in this vest's pocket, which is also functional.

Despite its affordability and ease of purchase, this vest does not compromise safety. Paddling with this vest is made more comfortable by its high-positioned bubble foam back, and you are not restricted when floating with its fully open sides and adjustable side belts.

The vest comes with neoprene comfort pads that can also be adjusted at the shoulder area to ensure there is no pinching around this area. With a buoyancy of 15.5 pounds, this vest is available in five colors and three different sizes.

Lure Angler PFD

The Lure Angler is an elegant, high-performance vest for kayaking and offers long-lasting performance. You can use this vest for kayaking as it is highly durable and includes several useful features.

Several pockets can be closed with a zipper to keep your equipment secure. The high back construction of this vest provides a comfortable fit for extended periods while paddling.

When kayaking on a hot day, this vest is made of breathable Aircomfort material to keep you cool. A convenient adjustment system makes this PFD vest easy to wear.

Onyx Curve movement

Kayaking vests provide airflow at the lower back, while the open side panels allow you to move freely while paddling, making this vest ideal for kayakers.

With easily adjustable straps, you can securely secure this vest on your body without any pinching or risk of dangerously loose fitting. In addition to its front ventilation, this vest keeps you cool on hot days.

Lightweight and fast-moving, this vest will not slow you down. Since the vest's size can be adjusted using adjustable straps, it can be worn by both men and women.

Calcutta PFD

If you can, you should get this kayaking vest since it has a ripstop shell and universal sizing to fit almost anyone. The kayak vest has several large pockets and several different attachment points to keep everything you need with you at all times.

For smaller kayakers on long trips, the foam in this vest may be a bit bulky, but it will still fit and protect them. With its ripstop nylon, this vest offers additional protection against sharp objects, preventing it from cracking or splitting. Cost-effective and budget-friendly, this vest can be found wherever you buy it.

Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket

As it is specifically made for younger and smaller people, this kayaking vest is great for taking your children kayaking. The vest is designed to fit children between the weight ranges of 50 and 90 pounds.

Vests for kayaking are lightweight and have an interior foam lining with large armholes that provide a comfortable fit and do not restrict movement. Six adjustable straps make this vest fit nicely on the child for safety.

Paddle vests with high foam backs are designed to accommodate better high-back kayak seats, and neoprene shoulder pads ensure a child's comfort and prevent painful pinching.

Onyx Adult Type 1 Vest

The Onyx Adult Type 1 kayaking vest is a bright orange life jacket with reflective strips to ensure rescuers see you. The vest has two adjustable straps to fit securely on you and remain in place throughout your kayaking excursion.

This life jacket is perfect if you are going to kayak in white water or far from the coast. While it may be a little bulkier than the other vests on this list, this vest is easy to use and will keep you safe.

Coleman Company Stearns Comfort Series PFD

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You know this kayaking vest is of the highest quality since the US Coast Guard has approved it. In this vest, the armholes are large for better kayaking, and the outer shell is made from 200 denier nylon with floatation foam on the inside.

Its durability and lightweight make it ideal for kayaking trips of all lengths. The mesh on the shoulders and back of this vest provides good ventilation, so you will stay cool while kayaking. Its zip and adjustable straps fit securely on your body throughout your trip.


Our Overall Review
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The NRS Vapor PFD is an excellent kayak vest, as you can use it for relaxing paddles along a quiet river and paddling in white water, and it will keep you safe. You can adjust the straps on this vest to ensure the perfect fit.

Designed from soft, lightweight foam, it has large armholes to ensure that you can move your arms freely while kayaking. Additionally, you can store a few small items in the large pocket of this vest.



Frequently Asked Questions

What type of PFD is best for kayaking?

The best type of PFD for kayaking is one that is specifically designed for this activity. Kayaking PFDs are typically more compact and offer greater mobility than traditional life jackets, which can be bulky and restrict movement. Look for a PFD that fits you well and is comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Kayaking PFDs should also have features such as adjustable straps, pockets for storing essentials, and reflective material for visibility in low light conditions. It's important to choose a PFD that is appropriate for the conditions you will be kayaking in, such as a high buoyancy PFD for whitewater kayaking or a low profile PFD for recreational paddling on calm waters.

What is the difference between a PFD and a life jacket?

While the terms "PFD" (Personal Flotation Device) and "life jacket" are often used interchangeably, there are some differences between the two. A PFD is a broad term that includes all types of flotation devices, including life jackets, buoyancy aids, and other devices that provide flotation. Life jackets, on the other hand, are a specific type of PFD that are designed to turn an unconscious person face-up in the water and keep their head out of the water. Life jackets are typically more buoyant than other types of PFDs and are required by law in certain situations, such as when boating on federally controlled waters.

Which PFD type is most commonly worn in recreational kayaking along the coast?

The most commonly worn type of PFD for recreational kayaking along the coast is a Type III PFD. Type III PFDs are designed for paddling and other watersports and offer a good balance of buoyancy and mobility. They typically have a more streamlined design than Type I or II PFDs, which makes them more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Type III PFDs also often have adjustable straps and other features that make them a good choice for kayaking.

Are inflatable PFD any good?

Inflatable PFDs can be a good choice for kayaking and other watersports, especially if you need a PFD that is low-profile and won't restrict your movement. Inflatable PFDs use a CO2 cartridge or manual inflation to provide buoyancy when needed, but are otherwise very lightweight and compact. Some inflatable PFDs also have a built-in harness for attaching safety gear or a tether, which can be useful for kayaking in rough conditions. However, it's important to note that inflatable PFDs may not be suitable for all situations, such as kayaking in very cold water where the risk of hypothermia is high.

Can you use an inflatable PFD for kayaking?

Yes, you can use an inflatable PFD for kayaking, but it's important to choose one that is appropriate for your activity and conditions. Inflatable PFDs are a good choice for kayaking because they are lightweight and low-profile, which can be more comfortable for extended periods of time. However, they may not be suitable for all situations, such as whitewater kayaking or kayaking in very cold water. Make sure to choose an inflatable PFD that is designed for kayaking and has appropriate buoyancy for your weight and the conditions you will be paddling in.

Will PFD float without being inflated?

Yes, most PFDs will float without being inflated, although the amount of buoyancy will vary depending on the type and design of the PFD. Type III PFDs, which are commonly used for kayaking, offer a good balance of buoyancy