6 Best Kayak Life Vests
Kayaking is enjoyable, whether you’re doing it for recreational purposes or as a serious water sport.
Having the right safety gear while out in the water is essential given all the risks you may be exposed to.
A kayak life vest is a must-have when in water bodies as it can help you stay afloat and get to the shore
safely in case the kayak overturns. However, with the different life vests in the market, choosing a specific
one can be daunting.
In this detailed guide, we look at some of the factors you need to evaluate when choosing a kayak life vest.
We also go through a list of the best kayak life vests that are affordable and will keep you safe without
interfering with your movement.
Kayak Life Vests Buying Guide
Choosing a personal floatation device, also known as a life vest, is a considerable investment as it involves
your safety. Here are tips on how to find the right life vest for your next kayaking adventure.
Understand the Types of PFDs Available
There are three main types of PFDS, standard, inflatable, and hybrid life jackets.
Standard life jackets are inherently buoyant, which means they are made with buoyant materials like a
foam to offer instant flotation. These jackets work for different watersports and are ideal for non-
swimmers and children.
Inflatable PFDs only provide buoyancy once inflated. You can find the automatic and manual types of
inflatable life jackets on the market. Manual inflatable jackets require you to pull a cord to inflate the
floatation device. However, automatic inflatable jackets inflate automatically when you hit the water. They
also come with a pull cord, or an inflation mouth tube should the automatic function fail to work.
Hybrid life jackets combine an inflation system with buoyant materials. They provide some buoyancy
before the inflation system catches on to offer you the benefits of both inflatable and standard life vests.
US Coast Guard Classification
The U.S. Coast Guard classifies PFDs under five categories. Most paddleboarders, canoers, and kayakers
always opt for type III or Type V as they are comfortable. Nonetheless, you need to understand the
different life vests to determine the best one for you.
- Type I– These floatation devices provide the most buoyancy and can help turn an unconscious
person into a face-up position. The PFDs are standard on commercial vessels and are available in
hybrid, buoyant, and inflatable designs.
- Type II-Type II PFDs are ideal for calm waters where quick rescue is assured. Their basic design
makes them less bulky compared to Type 1. They are also less expensive and come in three
designs similar to Type I PFDs.
- Type III-These life vests provide comfort and freedom of movement for continuous wear. Unlike
the other type of PFDs, Type III PFDs have a design that allows wearers to put themselves in a
face-up position. The wearer may need to tilt their head back to avoid turning his face down in the
- Type IV– These PFDs are designed to be thrown to a conscious person. These devices are not
needed for kayaks, canoes, or SUPs as they are meant to provide backup to a PFD.
- Type V– The Type V PFDs are meant for specific activities and must always be worn. These
PFDs are ideal for activities like water skiing, kayaking, and windsurfing. They are available in
hybrid or inflatable designs.Type III life jackets are preferred for kayaking as they are designed for water sports.
Get the Right Fit
Getting the right fit is essential when choosing a life vest for kayaking. Your chest size determines the size
of PFD to choose and not your weight.
You can get the chest size by measuring the circumference of your chest at its broadest point. Compare
this to the number you get from the manufacturer’s size recommendations to get the right size. Wear the
clothes you would while kayaking and fit your life vest to get the best fit.
Ensure that you can move comfortably while wearing it, as this will give you a feel of the vest while
kayaking. Remember that a properly-sized PFD should fit like a glove but also allow you to move freely.
A life vest with more straps allows for more adjustments, which will enable you to customize its fit.
Buoyancy is what keeps you afloat. Adults require six to twelve extra pounds of buoyancy. You need to
consider how rough the waters are, your body fat composition, and your weight when choosing a floatation
device. You’ll get more buoyancy with less body fat.
The Material Used to Make the PFD
Most life vests are made from Cordura or a nylon outer shell with foam padding inserted in the shell walls.
Some jackets are made from neoprene and polyester. Foam is made of PVC, Gaia, or kapok.
PVC is a common padding material as it’s resistant to flames, oil, and sunlight. Kapok is more durable
and water-resistant. It’s compostable and doesn’t lose buoyancy. If you prefer a more eco-friendlymaterial, you can opt for Gaia. Apart from combating heat and cold, it’s softer than PVC. You can also clean it quickly, and its low density keeps it light.
Look Out For Some Specific Features
Apart from the size and fit, you need to look out for other features. Find a vest with pockets on the front.
Check their size and placements as this will let you store some items in them. Always opt for a brightly
colored PFD as it improves your visibility while you are out in the water. Vests with reflective tape also
add visibility in low-light conditions.
Don’t forget to get a vest with inbuilt vents that allow body heat to escape if you prefer kayaking in hot
Falling out of your kayak is something that can happen when you’re going near any rapid waters. That’s
why you should find a life jacket with harness support. The harness attaches onto the life vest and to a part
of the boat, making it more straightforward and safe to pull you during a water emergency.
Padding is another feature you should not ignore. Get a PFD with enough padding as it will keep you
comfortable and provide security while you are out on the water. A minimally padded jacket can be
uncomfortable as it ends up rising under the armpits when you’re kayaking.
Price of the Life Vest
Although a life vest price shouldn’t be a significant determining factor, you’ll find some jackets to be
pricier due to their features. For example, angling life jackets have attachment points, loop/hook closures,
several pockets, and other accessories that come in handy. Nonetheless, you can find fairly-priced jackets
that have a comfortable fit and provide adjustability.
The Best Kayak Life Vests
Some of the best kayak life vests include:
- Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
- Stohiquist Edge Life Jacket
- NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD
- Onyx Curve MoveVent Life Jacket
- Kokatat Leviathan Fishing Kayak Lifejacket
- Astral V-Eigh Kayaking PFD
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
The MoveVent Dynamic Life Vest is one PFD that conforms to the body like a glove. It comes with an
innovative vented channel that keeps you cool while you’re kayaking or paddling. The lightweight, soft
floatation foam keeps you buoyant and gives you added comfort. The lower back has a mesh portion that
works with sit-on-top kayaks and high-back seats. Moreover, it comes with adjustable neoprene shoulder
pads and adjustable side belts to provide the perfect fit.
Made from 200-denier nylon oxford and nylon ripstop, you can be sure of a durable life jacket. You can be
sure of discernible mobility while kayaking or paddling.
The Onyx Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest has other characteristics like expandable zippered pockets,
SOLAS reflective material, drying loop, whistle., a zip assist loop. Its affordability, unique design, and
lightweight nature makes it an excellent choice for someone looking for a comfortable PFD on a budget.
However, you need to check the measurements when purchasing this life vest to get the right fit.
- Made from quality nylon oxford and nylon ripstop
- Lightweight, soft flotation foam
- It comes with reflective material for visibility
- It has a lash tab for accessories
- Some users had issues with the size and fitting.
Stohiquist is a renowned brand among anglers and kayak enthusiasts. Though the Edge Life Jacket is
designed as a fishing PD, it has excellent features that work for water sports.
The PFD comes with two large front pockets, with each having inner mesh pockets and attachments for
pliers. Its adjustable side and shoulder straps mean you can adjust one of the available sizes to fit into the
jacket. The jacket’s graded sizing provides added comfort, and you don’t have to worry about the extra
bulkiness of the large sizes.
You can be sure of excellent buoyancy and fit depending on your body type. Stohiquist has various sizes
ranging from S/M, L/XL, and XXL. You’ll find the jacket simple to put on, and the open side vents offer
breathability to keep you cool.
You don’t have to worry about movement, thanks to the high-back mesh design. Apart from offering
comfort, the design allows for ergonomics when kayaking. Being a US Coast Guard approved Type III
PFD guarantees excellent quality and durability. The 3M reflective accents also provide visibility.
The Edge life jacket is available in five colors and three dual sizes to provide a good fit. On the downside.
Some previous buyers found the size to run small, which is something to consider when ordering this life
- Versatile and can be used for kayaking, sailing. Fishing
- Has reflective strips to allow visibility in low light levels
- It comes with adjustable straps on the side to fit your waist
- The design doesn’t seem to work with different chest shapes.
NRS Chinook Mesh Back PFD
You should get the NRS Chinook Mesh Back PFD if you’re looking for a life jacket that has several
pockets to keep your gear and something comfortable to wear throughout.
The floatation device boasts PlushFit foam that molds to a specific body type, thus ensuring unrestricted
water movement. You’ll love its high-back design that ensures you don’t have to interfere with the kayak
seat. It’s also fitted with a zippered front entry and six adjustment points for a convenient yet customized
fit. The mesh on the lower back provides ventilation on hot days.
The Type III USCG-rated life jacket is versatile as you can use it for both angling and kayaking. You can
clip different fishing-related tools such as the D-ring to attach to your net. You can find the jacket
available in charcoal, green, orange, and black.
- Provides excellent padding and comfort
- Ideal for both anglers and kayaks
- It comes with soft, PlushFit foam to adapt to your body type
- Has different adjustment points to provide a customized fit
- Not budget-friendly
Onyx Curve MoveVent Paddle Sports PFD
The Onyx MoveVent Curve Paddle Sports Life Vest features heavy-duty nylon fabric and mesh in the
lower back to help you fit on the high back seat of your kayak. Its adjustable side belts provide a close fit
but don’t interfere with your mobility while kayaking.
Another impressive feature about this Curve life vest is its design. The manufacturer designed it to fit your
torso like a glove. You also get enough ventilation thanks to the innovative vented channels on the front
You don’t have to worry about tears and punctures as the jacket has a 200 denier nylon protective shell
that circles the sculpted foam. The inner backside of this PFD has floatation and bubble foam to help you
stay afloat. The MoveVent Curve Life Vest is also perfect for those who are 90 pounds or over.
- It comes with front-panel ventilation and adjustable neoprene shoulder pads
- It has a lightweight design
- US Coast Guard Approved
- Provides enough maneuverability
- It has a reflective material
- It doesn’t have pockets.
- Only ideal for people over 90 pounds
Kokatat Leviathan Fishing Kayak Lifejacket
The Kokatat Leviathan Fishing Kayak Life Jacket packs on fantastic features. That makes it ideal for both
anglers and kayaking enthusiasts. Its different fixture options and the presence of various pockets allow
you to carry the various gear you may need while out in the water.
Its design is comfortable and conforms to your body shape to provide a non-restrictive and snug fit. You’ll
also find this life vest simple to put on and remove thanks to its adjustment points and full-length front
The manufacturer has also included fleece-lined handwarmer pockets and a mesh lower back for proper
● Comes with Ariapene mesh lower back for breathability
● Has multiple adjustment points for a customized fit
● Versatile for both anglers and kayaking fans
● Some users found it stiff.
The Astral V-eight Life Jacket is a versatile floatation device that you can use for kayaking, recreation, and
fishing. Made from quality 400-Denier Ripstop nylon, the manufacturer guarantees durability and a rugged
vest that won’t tear easily.
You can enjoy easy maneuverability thanks to the quick-release buckle. Its foam panels make the jacket
comfortable even after an hour of kayaking. What’s more, you can paddle in your preferred style thanks to
the convenient shoulder straps.
Another impressive feature is the air escape system that eliminates excess heat while maintaining a
comfortable temperature. On the downside, the life vest weighs over a pound, and some people can find it
- USCG Type III approved
- Has air escape system to remove excess heat
- Made from recyclable materials
- Durable as it’s made from 400-Denier Ripstop
- Can be heavy
The NRS Vapor Life Jacket is an excellent all-rounder PFD for water sports-related activities. It comes
with adjustable straps that allow you to wear it over your head and buckle it on the sides for a comfortable
Its soft foam makes this jacket light while paddling. The action-cut design enables your arms to move
freely without any restriction. You can store your small items and snacks in a large pocket that includes a
chest zipper. The front lash tab provides easy access to other stuff you may need. Find a hand warmer
pouch behind the pocket to keep your limbs warm during cold days.
NRS also includes a 200 Denier nylon outer shell to guarantee durability, and the 15.5 pounds buoyancy
level keeps you afloat if you fall out of the boat.
- Type III USCG-approved
- Has 400-Denier and 200 Denier nylon material
- Side-buckle entry system
- Features padded shoulder straps and a reflective NRS logo
- Some people found the straps long.
These are some of the best kayak life vests to consider when shopping for a PFD. Our detailed buyer’s
guide has critical features you need to look at when getting a floatation device. Technology has seen
manufacturers pay attention to safety features and aesthetics, which means you can get a quality life jacket
that meets your current needs and budget.
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