Safety First! The 10 Best Life Jackets for Kayaking

If you’re a kayaking enthusiast, then you know the importance of having a good life jacket; these are devices that could save your life. Because the function of a life jacket is so important, you don’t want one that is mediocre. You must have confidence that your life jacket will perform as intended if you find yourself overboard and in the water. If you want to find out about the best life jackets for kayaking, stick around. We’ve searched high and low for the best life jackets for kayaking and have narrowed our findings to a top-ten list.

Life Jackets for Kayaking | FAQs

life jackets for kayaking
Safety First! The 10 Best Life Jackets for Kayaking 4

Before we move on to our list of the best life jackets for kayaking, we’ll take a moment to answer some frequently asked questions on the subject.

Are PFDs the Same as Life Jackets?

Yes; PFD stands for a personal flotation device, and the term is often used interchangeably with life jackets and life vests.

What Should I Look for in a Life Jacket?

Safety always needs to be your top consideration, followed by what you’ll be using your life jacket for and the fit.

What Safety Features Do I Consider?

All life jackets come with a buoyancy or flotation rating, which is a certain number of pounds. Most adults only need 7 to 12 pounds of additional buoyancy, and most life jackets will come with a higher rating than that 7 to 12 pounds, with the typical buoyancy rating being between 15.5 and 22 lbs. However, it is important to know that different body sizes and types have different buoyancy needs. Besides buoyancy, desirable safety features include reflective elements for increased visibility in or on the water and US Coast Guard approval.

How Do I Know What Kind to Get?

You need to consider the activities for which you are using your life jacket. Are you using your life jacket for fishing? If so, there are many life jackets designed just for fishermen that have several pockets for storing fishing gear and often a fold-out workspace on the front.

If your time in the water is more athletic in nature, you will want a PFD with a low-profile design that doesn’t hamper mobility. You may even consider a life jacket that automatically inflates once you are submerged in water, as these are not nearly as bulky to wear as traditional life jackets. If you are not a strong swimmer, inflatable life jackets are not recommended.

How Do I Know What Size to Buy?

Fit is another important factor. Proper fit is important for both comfort and efficacy. Your chest size determines what size life jacket you need. Get your chest size by measuring the circumference of your chest at its broadest point. Once you have your chest measurement, cross reference it with the manufacturer’s size recommendations to get the right size.

If you are female, consider a life jacket designed specifically for women. While many life jackets are labeled unisex, many women find them tight in the chest area and ill-fitting in other places.

Where Can I Buy Life Jackets?

You can buy life jackets at sporting goods stores, big-box stores, and stores that specialize in water sports. You can also purchase life jackets online from retailers such as Amazon.com.

How We Reviewed

life jackets for kayaking
Safety First! The 10 Best Life Jackets for Kayaking 5

In coming up with our list of the ten best life jackets for kayaking, we considered factors including safety, performance, features, durability, customer satisfaction, and price. We believe we achieved our goal of providing a diverse list of quality life jackets, so there is something for everybody here, regardless of personal preference and budget.

Overall Price Range

The best life jackets for kayaking have a price range that begins around $40 and goes up to around $130. More expensive life jackets will use more durable materials and will have extra features such as versatile or ample storage or the ability to inflate automatically. Life jackets designed specifically for women also tend to be more expensive than those labeled as unisex.

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

[amazon box=”B01K9DW1EA”]

Features

First on our list of the best lifejackets for kayaking is the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD. At first glance, this life jacket almost looks like a piece of tactical gear, with seven pockets to help store tackle and anything else you need and eight adjustment points to make sure this jacket keeps you safe while remaining comfortable. With 16.5 lbs of flotation, this jacket features rod holder loops, a removable coil tool retractor, pliers holder, lash tab, multiple D-rings, and attachment loops. Choose from black, charcoal, green, and orange. Kayak anglers say this is one of the best lifejackets for kayaking.

  PROS

  • Seven pockets on the front
  • Eight adjustment points
  • 16.5 pounds of flotation

 CONS

  • Can feel cumbersome
  • May hike up around the neck area

​Astral Ronny Fisher Life Jacket PFD for Fishing

[amazon box=”B08RLDFTLN”]

Features

Here we have another PFD designed with fishermen in mind. With 16 pounds of flotation and a lightweight of 1.84 lbs, this life jacket is comfortable to wear in high back seats with Astral’s Thin-Vent back, which consists of a back panel made of a super-thin foam and a thin mesh strip along the spine to keep the user cool. Several pockets allow you to keep your belongings accessible and organized. The zipper is sturdy, using locking vislon teeth. Both the shell fabric and the liner fabric is 200 denier high-tenacity nylon. This life jacket is free of PVC.

  PROS

  • 16 pounds of flotation
  • Thin-Vent back
  • PVC free
  • Several front pockets

 CONS

  • A bit bulky in the front
  • Not comfortable for women

M MAXIMUMCATCH MaxcatchFly Fishing Vest Pack

[amazon box=”B015KC36WQ”]

Features

M Maximum​​catch brings us the best life jacket for kayaking if you tend to venture out with a lot of gear. This life jacket is part vest, part backpack, with several pockets and opportunities for storage and organization. There are two main molded pockets for storing and protecting your flies and three main zippered compartments that are expandable. This jacket is one-size-fits-most, using adjustable shoulder and waist straps. The use of lightweight and water-resistant fabric lined with mesh will keep the user from overheating. M Maximumcatch stands behind their product with a one-year warranty and a lifetime repair warranty. You are also free to return this jacket, no questions asked, if you are not 100% satisfied.

  PROS

  • Expandable and hardshell pockets
  • Expandable and hardshell pockets
  • Lightweight and water-resistant fabric
  • Good warranty

 CONS

  • Many users have re​ported issues with the adjustment straps

​NRS Ninja PFD

[amazon box=”B01KH11D7A”]

Features

The Ninja by NRS is one of the best life jackets for kayaking if you like your PFD to be low-profile. With 16.5 lbs of flotation features a floating front panel that provides comfort for both men and women and also a place to put your hands when it’s cold. This PFD is easy to put on with its pullover side entry, and you can use four side adjustments and two shoulder adjustments for a custom fit. There is a mesh pocket on the front for storage. This is also one of the best life jackets for kayaking if you have a short torso, as the design will not ride up in the shoulder and neck areas. The low-profile design also makes it ideal for athletic kayaking ventures, as there is not much to get in the way. Choose from charcoal, black, pink, and red.

  PROS

  • 4 color options
  • 4 color options
  • 16.5 pounds of flotation
  • Comfortable fit for men or women
  • 6 adjustment points

 CONS

  • A bit pricey

​​ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

[amazon box=”B01KVRAFS8″]

Features

Here we have another PFD for fisherman from Onyx, donning six adjustment straps and a high foam back for comfort in high-back seats. Several pockets and four different pocket designs keep your essentials organized and at your fingertips. The storage on this model is impressive, including zippered fleece-lined pockets, a zippered chest pocket, an opening on the top pocket to facilitate clipping radios or pliers, a one-button push drop down tray pocket to hold a small tackle box, and a lash tab to hold a knife, whistle, fly-fishing tippets, keys, or any other number of things. Neoprene shoulder pads keep you comfortable no matter how much gear you have on you. This life jacket is reasonably priced given its feature-rich design.

  PROS

  • Diverse and ample storage
  • Reasonably priced and feature-rich
  • Neoprene shoulder pads
  • Six adjustment straps

 CONS

  • A bit bulky

​Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Floatation Device

[amazon box=”B000PTJ4P8″]

Features​​

Stohlquist offers another life jacket geared toward the fisherman with this PFD featuring several pockets with anchor-points, front-zip entry closure, ultra-soft Gaia flotation foam, and padded neoprene shoulders. The dual front-mounted tool pouch pockets have a protective EVA-stiffened outer shell and an EVA inner platform that functions as a fold-down work surface. There are mounting locations for tippets, retractors, nippers, leader-line, hemostats, and plies. This nylon jacket has a 500 denier Cordura shell and a 200 denier oxford liner. The lower-back waistband opens on the sides to keep you cool, and the high-back flotation sits above the backrest to keep you comfortable. Choose from two colors: cactus or khaki.

PROS

  • Several pockets with anchor points
  • High-back flotation
  • Ultra-soft Gaia flotation foam
  • Neoprene padded shoulders
  • Fold-down work surface

 CONS

  • Pricey
  • Not female-friendly

​Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFD

[amazon box=”B0179WLTTM”]

Features

Onyx has a second entry on our list of the best life jackets for kayaking in their Curve Movevent Paddle Sports PFD. This very reasonably priced life jacket is comfortable and offers great mobility while kayaking, with its MoveVent Torsion design, sculpted to provide freedom of movement while maximizing venting to keep you cool. This PFD is U.S. Coast Guard approved and uses flotation foam in addition to bubble foam on the inner back. The neoprene padded shoulders feature adjustments, and there are also adjustable belts on the side. This jacket uses SOLAS grade reflective material and is suitable for people over 90 pounds. Choose from blue, yellow, black, and navy.

  PROS

  • U.S. Coast Guard approved
  • U.S. Coast Guard approved
  • Well ventilated
  • SOLAS grade reflective material
  • Four colors to choose from
  • Does not interfere with paddling

 CONS

  • Padding gets in the way of the zipper
  • Unisex design not ideal for women

​Astral Women’s Layla Life Jacket PFD

[amazon box=”B07DP827KD”]

Features

Astral brings us what may be one of the best life jackets for kayaking women in its Layla PFD. With 16.3 pounds of flotationconsisting of organic Kapok, PVC-free Gaia, and PE foam inserts, women can be safe and comfortable at the same time. A multi-panel princess hinge and an internally sculpted bust cup ensure a comfortable fit tailored specifically for a woman. This PFD is lightweight at only 1.76 pounds, yet durable with 200 x 400 denier ripstop nylon, 200 denier high-tenacity nylon liner, a stretch polyester lycra shell, and heavy-duty hardware. A front pocket features an internal divider with a key clip to keep belongings organized and accessible. As with all of Astral’s products, this jacket is PVC-free. Choose from Eggplant and Glacier Blue.

  PROS

  • Designed specifically for women
  • Lightweight and durable
  • PVC-free
  • Front pocket with an internal divider and key clip
  • High rate of satisfied female customers

 CONS

  • Expensive

​Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe

[amazon box=”B00NOZ48WE”]

Features

Onyx makes a third appearance on our list of the best life jackets for kayaking with the A/M-24 Delux. This low-profile vest is perfect for people who really struggle with the bulk of more traditional life jackets. This PFD will automatically inflate when it is submerged in water, or it can be manually deployed. The neoprene neckline and padded air mesh make this PFD comfortable, and when it is fully inflated, it has 22.5 pounds of buoyancy, meaning it will keep the user afloat even if they are unconscious. The automatic inflation is possible through the use of a CO2 tank that must be replaced once the jacket has been inflated; there is a back-up oral inflation tube. This is a U.S. Coast Guard approved type V life jacket. Reflective piping keeps you visible on and in the water.

  PROS

  • 22.5 pounds of flotation
  • Automatic or manual inflation
  • Low-profile design is comfortable
  • US Coast Guard approved
  • Reflective piping for increased visibility
  • A back-up oral inflation tube

 CONS

  • Expensive
  • Not for non-swimmers or weak swimmers

Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

[amazon box=”B00GSN64SK”]

Features

Last on our list of the best life jackets for kayaking is the Stohlquist Edge. This PFC emphasizes comfort, mobility, and versatility. This PFC is ideal for uses including recreational, touring, whitewater, and sailing. A side-entry zipper provides adequate storage ideally placed to eliminate bulk that typically comes with center-zip PFDs. Stohlquist uses graded sizing, which matches the cut of the foam to each size for the most comfortable fit with ideal buoyancy. Adding to comfort is adjustable shoulders, four side pulls, and a front waist buckle closure and mesh sides for good ventilation. 3M reflective accents increase your visibility in and on the water. A center lash tap holds knives and utility attachments.

  PROS

  • Well ventilated
  • Graded sizing
  • Accommodates mobility
  • Versatile
  • 3M reflective accents for increased visibility
  • Side-entry zipper cuts down on bulk

 CONS

  • Not an ideal fit for women

The Verdict for Best Life Jackets for Kayaking

For athletic kayakers, we chose the NRS Ninja as the best life jacket. Its low-profile design will not hamper mobility, and the 6 adjustment straps offer a comfortable and customized fit. For the fishermen, we chose the Onyx Kayak Fishing Jacket; it is reasonably priced, comfortable, and provides all the storage a fishing venture requires without being too bulky. For the ladies, we chose the Layla from Astral. It offers women adequate safety and comfort, which is hard to find in unisex life jackets.

Whichever life jacket you choose, remember safety is the most important consideration. Find a jacket that fits you well and has a proper buoyancy rating for your body size and type.

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