Best Life Jackets for Kayaking

In a Hurry? Editors choice:
Kokatat Bahia Tour
Test Winner: Kokatat Bahia Tour
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When it comes to canoeing, water skiing, or boating in general, you should always have a life jacket in the vessel or on your person as when you are on a lake, you really never know what could occur and it is better to be prepared than not. The same goes for kayaking, as most of the time when you are kayaking you are alone and if an emergency was to arise, you would want to be safe as there most likely would not be anyone around to help. If you have been kayaking up till now without a life jacket and realize that you have been lucky and want to invest in one, the below guide will provide you with the top lifejacket for kayaking of 2019, and why these specific lifejackets are the best over the rest.

Standout Picks

Kokatat Bahia Tour Personal Flotation Device Mango
As with many other life jackets on this list, only a slight gripe keeps this model from climbing any higher. But its construction and design feature more than make up for it.
O'Neill Men's Superlite USCG Life Vest
This is another great PFD from O'Neill! If you have ever looked into purchasing watercraft equipment or PFD, then you know O'Neill only brings you the highest quality and most stylish products. If you are looking for a new PFD for your next kayak adventure, you may want to take a closer look at this PFD from O'Neill.
Amazon Link
$69.95
NRS Chinook Fishing PFD
Coming in a close second is the Chinook Fishing PFD from NRS. For kayakers who are looking for a little fishing as well, this may be the jacket for you.
O'Neill Men's Reactor USCG Life Vest
The O’Neill Reactor Life Vest resembles the Stearns model in many ways. However, for pure visual design, this may be the best of the bunch.
Amazon Link
$83.69
NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD
NRS immediately makes another appearance with another sufficient life jacket. Its extra storage capabilities and adjustability, in conjunction with its overall design, make it worth it alone.
Stohlquist Women's Flo Life Jacket/Personal Floatation Device
Stohlquist did not leave women out of the equation and the Flo Life Jacket is perfect for the better half. Much like the male version, only small gripes are present.
Amazon Link
Stohlquist Men's Trekker Life Jacket
With only a few minor downsides, the Men’s Trekker Life Jacket from Stohlquist is more than worth the money. Its vast features and excellent quality prove that to a tee.
Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFD
Perfect may not be obtainable, but the ONYX MoveVent Life Vest is as perfect as you will find for a kayaking trip.
Amazon Link
Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest
This is another life jacket that is simple in nature, but not in execution. However, as great as it is for people who will fit in it, it does not accommodate for too many people.
Amazon Link
$29.99
Eyson Slim Inflatable PFD Life Jacket Life Vest Adult Automatic/Manual
Compared to the rest, the Eyson Inflatable PFD is unique. Besides being inflatable, the overall design and construction are much different.
Amazon Link

Criteria Used for Evaluation

Durability

It is one thing to bring life jackets along on your kayaking trip for emergencies, it is another thing to actually wear it. After all, what good will they do you if they are stored in your kayak while you are drowning in an intense current? In order for them to be any use to you, you must wear them while you are kayaking. As kayak trips, can take several hours, depending on how long you prefer the trip, they need to be both comfortable and durable.

When it comes to durability, this is to ensure that the life jacket will actually hold you up above the water. Most on this list are made with some sort of nylon shell, whether a high-tenacity 210D or 200-denier nylon, which will hold up very well. Typically, you will not need to concern yourself too much with durability as designers need to have their life jackets certified safe. But, when it comes to comfort and ventilation, that is a little different story. This will vary from vest to vest and you certainly do not want to skimp on this area. Rest assured, you will three hours into your kayaking trip if you realize the current jacket you have on is unbearable.

One key way that designers add ventilation and breathing room are with mesh. As the entire vest does not need to be foam to float, some portions of it may be made from mesh. This is a very breathable material and allows for an ample amount of airflow and movement. In addition, shoulder pads made from mesh will keep your shoulders cool. While this may not seem important, your arms and shoulders will get tired from the amount of paddling you will do.

Size

This really goes without saying, but it is too important to glance over. Given that a life jacket is a piece of apparel that you wear, there is no point to have it if it does not fit. Throughout the entirety of this list, you noticed that each life jacket model had a suitable way of sizing. Not many models, however, give the option for small, medium, and large separately. Most of the time, it is small/medium, large/x-large, etc. Typically, if this happens to be the case, there are adjustable portions to cater to your needs.

However, there are a few life vests on this list that had no size options whatsoever. These types are universally designed to fit all adults (to an extent). Honestly, these types maybe even better than the versions that are sized for a specific-sized person. This is because you never need to concern yourself with the possibility of a vest not fitting. When the manufacturer sells life jackets with specific sizes, the chance is there that you need to go one size larger than you would for a shirt. Even with adjustable straps, this could be a serious issue. A majority of the life jackets on this list have multiple size options, so it is not as if these types are insufficient. This is just something you need to be wary about. Sometimes, sellers will have size charts that you can go off of to ensure you get the right size.

Adjustability

This plays right off of the last section, but they each deserve separate recognition. There are many important factors, but these two are arguably the biggest. You now know the importance of the size options, but the amount of adjustability is paramount as well. Even if you receive the exact right size, there will be times where you will want a snugger or looser fit. Again, kayaking trips can take a long time so you may not want it snug the entire time. Conversely, having it too loose for an extended period can cause discomfort. With adjustable straps, you can create a customized fit and alter when you see fit.

But, it is also important what portions of the life jacket you can adjust. First off, would be the sides and the front. The ability to adjust these portions will allow you to adjust the overall comfort of the vest. But, being able to adjust the shoulder pads will improve the mobility you have. Having the vest fit too snugly on your shoulders will negatively affect your movement, often becoming a hindrance after too long. Without the ability to adjust, the vest will need to fit 100 percent perfectly out of the box. There is a high likelihood that will not be the case unless you pay attention to the specific size dimensions of the life jacket.

Then, there are the vests that are universally designed to fit all adults (under a certain amount of weight). These types put a strong emphasis on adjustment, as that is the only way to ensure it will fit a wide range of people. Overall, size is one thing but adjustability provides an entire level of comfort and customization.

Advanced Features

Here is where kayaking life jackets can be used for more than just saving your life. Although that is the main purpose to them and they work fine without any extra features, it is both fun and convenient when they go beyond their original intent. One aspect that some sellers will include in their life jackets is the addition of storage capabilities. Now, in the instance where you fall out of your kayak, there is the chance that the contents you have inside could be damaged. Thus, be wise with what you put inside. That does beg the question, though, what would you put inside?

Extra storage pockets with attachment loops. Multiple D-rings and rod holder loops work perfectly for fishermen. A life jacket loaded with these capabilities could make a great way for you to fish on your kayak. Might as well combine kayaking and fishing for a perfect afternoon of relaxation, right? Of course, any electronics or accessories that are either waterproof or non-prone to water could be stored as well. This could possibly be a good place for your smartphone. Again, if it is waterproof to a certain degree to be extra safe. In addition, you could look for convenient features such as a hanger loop to prevent you from losing your hat.

This is all great and dandy when you are kayaking in the middle of the day, but how about at night? Dangers are enhanced when kayaking at night, but a neat safety measure (outside of saving your life) sometimes implemented is reflective tape. No need for a doctorate’s degree to understand that objects and people become harder to see at night. There may even be instances where you lose a member of your kayaking team, even yourself. With reflective tape on your life jacket, the chances that you are spotted by someone is greatly enhanced. The tape will easily reflect light, say from a flashlight, to easily show up in the darkness.

Top Ten Life Jackets for Kayaking

1. Kokatat Bahia Tour

Where to buy
Kokatat Bahia Tour Personal Flotation Device Mango
Amazon Link

As with many other life jackets on this list, only a slight gripe keeps this model from climbing any higher. But its construction and design feature more than make up for it.

Read more

Vest Construction
The vest is both lightweight and durable, being constructed from 210D high-tenacity nylon. For maximum airflow, the lower-back panel is made from mesh.

Size
As with other models, small/medium, large/x-large, and xx-large size options are available.

Adjustability
There are multiple adjustments on the side, along with adjustable shoulder pads.

Additional Design Features
It comes equipped with reflective tape for safety, two duplex pockets in the front, an electronics pocket, a pliers pocket, and a license window.

Only two options: mango and orange.

2. O'Neill Superlite

Where to buy
Amazon Link
$69.95
O'Neill Men's Superlite USCG Life Vest
Amazon Link

This is another great PFD from O'Neill! If you have ever looked into purchasing watercraft equipment or PFD, then you know O'Neill only brings you the highest quality and most stylish products. If you are looking for a new PFD for your next kayak adventure, you may want to take a closer look at this PFD from O'Neill.

Read more

Vest Construction
This PFD is perfect for all water sports as it is built with quality materials and fits great. If you are looking at this PFD, you will be sure to have it for many years to come as the outer shell is built from polyester. The inside of this PFD is constructed from a lightweight and comfortable foam that will mold to your body.

Size
This PFD comes in any size imaginable for an adult, so no matter your body shape, you will be sure to find a size that fits you comfortably. It is recommended to go up a size when purchasing this life jacket as the sizes run small and with a bigger size you can adjust it to fit you perfectly.

Adjustability
If you are looking for a PFD that is adjustable to fit you perfectly and ensure a comfortable fit than this is the life jacket for you. It has four front buckles to ensure you get the maximum amount of snug and that it will fit your body just right.

Additional Design Features
This PFD comes in a variety of styles and colors to ensure you are not only safe but looking stylish as well.

Amazon Link
$69.95

3. NRS Chinook Mesh-back

Where to buy
NRS Chinook Fishing PFD
Amazon Link

Coming in a close second is the Chinook Fishing PFD from NRS. For kayakers who are looking for a little fishing as well, this may be the jacket for you.

Read more

Vest Construction
The mesh-designed lower back provides great ventilation and the soft PlushFIT foam flotation conforms perfectly to your body.

Size
Options for small/medium, large/x-large, and xx-large are available.

Adjustability
The front-entry design allows for eight points to be adjusted to customize your fit.

Additional Design Features
There are seven front pockets, rod holder loops, a knife lash tab, attachment loops, and multiple D-rings to hold a plethora of items and accessories. Thus, making it perfect to hold all sorts of fishing necessities.

Also read about cold water waders

You can choose from either charcoal, green or orange.

4. O’Neil Reactor

Where to buy
Amazon Link
$83.69
O'Neill Men's Reactor USCG Life Vest
Amazon Link

The O’Neill Reactor Life Vest resembles the Stearns model in many ways. However, for pure visual design, this may be the best of the bunch.

Read more

Vest Construction
This well-constructed life vest is made of mesh, neoprene, and polyester. It is constructed to be very durable and comfortable. It is a USCG Approved life flotation device.

Size
A terrific amount of size options are available for you to choose from. You can select small all the way up to 3x-large. However, it is built to be a slightly looser fit for those who want a little more room to move.

Adjustability
This particular O'Neill lifejacket has two adjustable straps at the front, and it does fit a little looser; however, the design is built to be sleek.

Additional Design Features
This lifejacket has quick-release buckles for safety and a heavy, durable zipper at the front to maintain optimal security.

The O'Neill Reactor comes in black with either yellow or grey striping.

Amazon Link
$83.69

5. NRS cVest Mesh-back

Where to buy
NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD
Amazon Link

NRS immediately makes another appearance with another sufficient life jacket. Its extra storage capabilities and adjustability, in conjunction with its overall design, make it worth it alone.

Read more

Vest Construction
The flotation technology is concentrated on the front and behind the shoulders, while the lower back is made from mesh and allows you to recline and stay cool.

Size
Options for small/medium, large/x-large and xx-large are available.

Adjustability
Eight adjustable points ensure each person can have a customized fit.

Additional Design Features
This is loaded with extra features, including Solas reflective tape that provides low-light visibility, six pockets (including one for radio) for storage, and accessory lash tabs and lanyard loops on the front.

Three are available to select from blue, orange and red.

6. Stohlquist Flo

Where to buy
Amazon Link
Stohlquist Women's Flo Life Jacket/Personal Floatation Device
Amazon Link

Stohlquist did not leave women out of the equation and the Flo Life Jacket is perfect for the better half. Much like the male version, only small gripes are present.

Read more

Vest Construction
Very similar design with the shoulders and back being mesh for maximum ventilation. Plus, the outer shell is made from a soft 200D inner liner.

Size
Options for x-small/small, medium/large, and plus size are available.

Adjustability
Much like the Men’s Trekker model, a 1-1/2” webbing belt will pull for a secure fit.

Additional Design Features
This model specifically has built-in supportive inner cups for women and bellows pockets. In addition, the high-back floatation makes for a great fit in kayaks.

Just two: purple and gray and orange and gray.

Amazon Link

7. Stohlquist Trekker

Where to buy
Stohlquist Men's Trekker Life Jacket
Amazon Link

With only a few minor downsides, the Men’s Trekker Life Jacket from Stohlquist is more than worth the money. Its vast features and excellent quality prove that to a tee.

Read more

Vest Construction
The sides are open for proper ventilation and the torso is designed with an ergonomic WRAPTURE shape. The back is designed with half cool-mesh for a comfortable fit on seatbacks.

Size
You can choose between small/medium, large/x-large and universal plus.

Adjustability
The 1-1/2” webbing belt with dual forward will pull for a secure and comfortable fit. In addition, the shoulder pads are adjustable.

Additional Design Features
For storage, there are front pockets that zip close and the front has a zipper entry with a grip tab.

There are a few for you to choose from including black, fireball red, and mango.

8. Onyx Movement Curve Paddle

Where to buy
Amazon Link
Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFD
Amazon Link

Perfect may not be obtainable, but the ONYX MoveVent Life Vest is as perfect as you will find for a kayaking trip.

Read more

Vest Construction
It has a soft, lightweight design and a 200-denier nylon outer shell. There is ventilation in the front and it provides an excellent amount of mobility.

Size
There are multiple size options available, including x-small/small, medium/large, and x-large/xx-large. No matter the size, each life jacket is designed for people larger than 90 pounds.

Adjustability
The shoulder, neoprene pads are adjustable, as well as the side belts.

Additional Design Features
A mesh-designed lower back will fit great in high-back seats, working great while sitting in a kayak.

Only two are available, yellow and blue.

Amazon Link

9. Stearns Adult Watersport

Where to buy
Amazon Link
$29.99
Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest
Amazon Link

This is another life jacket that is simple in nature, but not in execution. However, as great as it is for people who will fit in it, it does not accommodate for too many people.

Read more

Vest Construction
A 200D nylon shell and PE foam provide a great amount of durability and the large armholes provide a great amount of maneuverability.

Size
Again, no size options are accessible but it is universally sized to fit most adults over 90 pounds.

Adjustability
On the front, there are four adjustable straps that provide you with a secure and custom fit.

Additional Design Features
As far as additional design features, there is not too much to speak of. It is very basic in nature, but that is not necessarily a downside.

You can select from blue, red and yellow designs.

Amazon Link
$29.99

10. Eyson Slim Inflatable

Where to buy
Amazon Link
Eyson Slim Inflatable PFD Life Jacket Life Vest Adult Automatic/Manual
Amazon Link

Compared to the rest, the Eyson Inflatable PFD is unique. Besides being inflatable, the overall design and construction are much different.

Read more

Vest Construction
With a slenderer design that has no front or back present, this life jacket is extremely lightweight. Plus, its neoprene neckline provides a comfortable fit for all-day use.

Size
There are no size options available but this life jacket is universally designed to fit adults under 330 pounds.

Adjustability
The belt strap on the bottom is adjustable, making it universally designed for adults.

Additional Design Features
On the airbag, there are reflectors that provide better visibility when you are kayaking at night.

While there are no size options, there are plenty of color options. This includes different shades of blue, black, gray, red, olive and yellow.

Amazon Link

Sources

  1. Jeremy Macdonald , Best Life Vest For Kayaking,