Like it or hate it, you simply can’t think of kayaking in turbulent water without putting on a PFD (personal flotation device). Also known as a life vest or life jacket, PFD (personal flotation device) has saved countless lives so far. PFD is probably one of the most crucial safety gears without which you should not even think of venturing out into the rough sea. PFDs are lifesavers, Period!
Now, the problem is that most kayakers that we have talked to seem to harbor a visceral hatred for PFD. Paddlers believe that these PFDs are bulky and make it harder for them to paddle comfortably.
Thankfully, PFD manufacturers have been listening to the feedbacks of these disgruntled paddlers who have had enough of these unseemly and ill-fitting PFDs that seem to have flooded the market. Modern Kayaking PFDs now offer great fittings and rarely do they get into the way of paddling, thus allowing you enjoy the outside world. These Modern Kayaking PFDs don’t make you feel uncomfortable even when you have to wear them for long hours.
Why Use a PFD?
You don’t want to die right? Well, to stay alive, you need to wear a PFD. There is simply no way around it. Since you will be paddling in choppy water, your kayak can get capsized at any point in time and this is the reason why you need to put on a kayak life jacket as it will help you stay afloat in such difficult time.
Kayak life jacket helps people from drowning in the event of a capsize. Now, just because you are a good swimmer, you simply can’t negate the importance of a kayak life vest. Sometimes. Strong currents can take you away from the shore and your swimming skills will not make much difference in such a scenario. To be on the safe side, it makes sense to wear a PFD.
Check this report released by US Coast Guard. It clearly shows a direct correlation between drowning and not wearing PFD.
Top 8 Life Vests for Kayaking
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O’Brien Men’s Biolite Traditional Life Jacket is a super comfy life jacket that can be stretched a little to make yourself more comfortable while kayaking for long hours. O’Brien Men’s Biolite Traditional Life Jacket offers a perfect fitting without restraining your movements in one way or the other. At this price point, O’Brien Men’s Biolite Traditional Life Jacket is basically a steal.
To allow this PFD dry faster, BioLite construction is included in the design. Contrary to traditional neoprene construction, BioLite made PFDs are known for being environmental without making any kind of sacrifice on the comfort front. Adjustable belt and front zipper are included. Available in a wide range of colors, O’Brien Men’s Biolite Traditional Life Jacket is ideal for all weather conditions.
Kokatat Bahia Tour Personal Flotation Device promises to offer an incredible level of comfort and it is super bright and thus making it extremely easy to spot in a time of crisis. This PFD is not too tight nor is it too bulky. It also has got a good storage capacity and it does not restrict the movements of your arms.
Kokatat Bahia Tour Personal Flotation Device is made from premium quality abrasion-resistant nylon fabric. To match your body contours, this PFD has got five adjustable straps. Kokatat Bahia Tour Personal Flotation Device does not make your body absorb too much heat during the hot summer day as it has got mesh vents and variable-thickness foam back. Mesh back allows the air to circulate freely.
Featuring high back design, Kokatat Bahia Tour Personal Flotation Device is ideal for all recreational kayaks. Reflective taps are attached to the front and back of this PFD to enhance its visibility a notch further.
ONYX MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest fits you perfectly without making any adjustments to it. Made from premium quality 200 denier nylon, ONYX MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest is going to last for a long time to come. It has git large arm openings and it is incredibly lightweight as well. Most people don’t even remember that they have put on a PFD unless they are reminded by other people.
To increase the overall visibility of this PFD, the manufacturer of this PFD has used SOLAS grade reflective material. In the front and back are ventilation panels that help paddlers cool down while paddling for long hours under the sun.
Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFD helps you cool down fast after paddling like crazy. It is probably one of the most comfortable PFD which is available at the market at this price point. At no point, Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFD will hold you back from enjoying your favorite adventure sport.
Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFD offers an amazing level of buoyancy and fits perfectly. Included are neoprene pads and Shoulder adjustments. Net is used on the back of this PFD and this is what has kept the foam above the back of the kayak seat. Minimal use of foam is definitely an added advantage.
This PFD ideal for those who weigh around 90lbs and it is perfect for people with 44″-56” chest size.
Stohlquist Rocker Personal Floatation Device is another highly impressive and immensely popular PFD that will help you stay afloat without costing you an arm and a leg. To ensure better fittings, Stohlquist Rocker Personal Floatation Device has embraced self-tensioned shoulders. Weighs just around 16.8 pounds, Stohlquist Rocker Personal Floatation Device offers a balance fitting.
This Stohlquist Rocker Personal Floatation Device flaunts a low-cut design and a well-articulated WRAPTURE® shaped torso. It has got 6 different adjustment options and a mesh beverage pocket. To allow you to stretch freely, free-floating suspended shoulder straps are included in the design.
Designed specifically with women in mind, the Stohlquist Cruiser is hands down my favorite life jacket, and I wear it all of the time. Hey, women and men aren’t built the same way, and we have different proportions, this model fits my contours perfectly and is extremely comfortable to wear. It has neoprene padding on the shoulders, is very soft, and overall I highly recommend it for any female kayakers.
This Vest is designed specifically with the angler in mind, and is designed to hold a lot of your nick knack fishing gear. Its USCG certified and has netting which allows for great breathability near the shoulders, plus there are large arm holes, which I think are very important because while padding you don’t want to constantly rub your arms up against anything.
Material used in its construction is the 200D nylon, but it also includes Crosstech Floatation Foam. This is one hell of a durable model.
8. O’Neill Superlite USCG Vest
If your looking for a vest which has great versatility in case you intend on fishing, but is also perfect for recreational kayaking, go with the O’Neill Superlite. It is USCG certified, has quick release buckles for easy removal and attachment, and is very durable. What I like best about this vest, is it looks stylish. The black goes well with just about any thing.
Attributes to Look For in A PFD
1. U.S. Coast Guard Approved
Don’t just purchase any old thing from Wally World, take the time to look and make sure that the PFD that you intend on purchasing is made of quality and has been approved by the coast guard. This is easy to find, as it will be clearly labeled on the tag.
This is a necessity, and a huge point to not overlook. Too many people purchase life jackets which are the wrong size, and it makes them extremely uncomfortable during their water excursions. I’ve seen people purchase a thousand dollar kayaks which are made to be comfortable, and then purchase a 20 dollar life jacket which digs into their side, very stupid. Worse, some people take their life jacket off because of the discomfort, and if you purchase a PFD which is too big, you might slip out of it. Measure and choose the correct sized model.
This is a tiny consideration, just make sure that the life jacket is tight around you and every once in a while check it for rips or tears. Although it might see a lot of use, if you purchase a water resistant product, chances are it will be durable enough to keep you safe for several years without tearing.
Different Types of PFD
Only Coast Guard certified PFDs should be purchased unless you don’t mind getting into trouble while paddling in choppy water. These certified PFDs go through an incredibly rigorous screening process to identify and weed out flawed products.
Now, Personal Flotation Devices are available in different shapes and sizes and this makes it all the more difficult for a newbie to make the right choice. PFDs can broadly be categorized into 5 different types.
To help you here, here we are going to give a rundown of the most common types of PFDs that are available in the market –
1. Type I PFDs
Let’s admit the obvious – Type I PFDs are a bit bulky. So, if you are expecting to don a skin fitting PFD for your next kayaking adventure, you will definitely be going to feel disappointed a little. But we should not ignore the obvious fact that these Type I PFDs are designed specifically for rough water conditions where rescuing a paddler takes a lot of doing. The best thing about these Type I PFDs is that they will keep even an unconscious paddler afloat in a face-up position and thus eliminating the possibility of death resulting from drowning. Though bulky, these Type I PFDs are mainly used in commercial boats as they offer superior performance and they offer an unmatchable level of buoyancy.
2. Type II PFDs
Designed for calm waters, Type II PFDs are used while rescuing a paddler does not involve a long winding process. They sport a basic look and they are less bulkier than their Type I PFDs counterparts. And the best part, these Type II PFDs are available for the cheap. Type II PFDs are mostly available in hybrid or inflatable designs. Even in extreme cases, when a paddler gets knocked unconscious, these Type II PFDs can be lifesavers as they will keep turning the paddler to the face-up position.
3. Type III PFDs
Type III PFDs are extremely comfortable to wear. These Type III PFDs are ideal for experienced paddlers and for those conditions where paddlers can be rescued quickly. These Type III PFDs are usually inflatable by nature and sports a hybrid design.
4. Type IV PFDs
Type IV PFDs are designed to be used as a backup to a PFD. Buoyant cushions and life rings are some popular examples of Type IV PFDs. Type IV PFDs are usually thrown to a paddler who is deep trouble and needs urgent intervention from rescuers. Type IV PFDs are not designed to be worn rather they are mainly used as sidekicks.
5. Type V PFDs
Type V PFDs have a very specific role to play. As per the rules set out by the USCG, a kayaker must wear a Type V PFD all the time while paddling in the water. Be it kayaking, windsurfing or waterskiing, you are required to wear Type V PFDs. Type V PFDs are mainly available in either hybrid or inflatable designs.
Kayak PFD Buying Guide
It is good to see PFDs evolved a lot from the past. Previously, all PFDs seem to have the same boring design but not anymore. Today, you can easily spot a modern and stylish looking PFD in your local superstore. Thankfully, these days PFDs are available in different formats and shapes. That is a good thing, right? Well not always! For a newbie who just wants to purchase a simple PFD, this can be a real nightmare.
Beginners might find it incredibly difficult to find the right PFD that meets his/her requirements without spending hours on it. T make your job easier, here we are going to share some tips that might help you in your quest for the best PFD for your next kayaking escapade.
You must be wondering why all PFDs that we have listed in this article have got bright/fluorescent color combinations right? Well, there is a reason behind this. The idea is to increase the visibility of PFD. Brightly color PFDs will help the rescuer spot you in the event of a boat capsize. In low light conditions, fluorescent color PFDs can be spotted easily from afar.
To attach additional accessories, you need to ensure that the kayak comes attached with rings and tabs. In a search and rescue operation, having strobes attached to the ring of the PFD can prove handy. The problem is not all PFDs have rings attached to them and this can lead to a lot of confusion in such stressful situations. So, while shopping for a PFD for your next kayaking trip, you need to be absolutely certain whether or not you want to attach accessories to your PFD. If your answer is negative, there is no such need to purchase a kayak PFD with rings.
Your PFD should complement the type of kayaking you are planning to partake. For example, if you are planning to participate in a whitewater kayaking, you will definitely need to purchase a fully articulated PFD. However, if you are planning to paddle on calmer water, you can then choose a much simpler PFD that does not have any bells and whistles attached to it.
For whitewater kayaking, you need to find a PFD that does not interfere with your movement in one way or the other. However, freedom of movements should not come at the cost of buoyancy. Some other additional features like mesh pocket lining, mesh sides, etc should also be taken into consideration while selecting a kayak PFD for your next whitewater kayaking adventure.
The more extreme the kayaking sport is, the greater is the need for freedom of movement. This is the rule of thumb.
4. Safety Certification
You need to check the safety regulations laid out by your local governing body before purchasing a PFD. Whatever PFD you choose at the end must meet all the safety regulations otherwise you might get into serious trouble later. If you are an American, you need to check out the website of the US Coast Guard and then try to find out a PFD that meets all the USCG rules. Safety comes first always. So, don’t take it lightly. Always opt for a Kayak PFD that scores high on the safety front.
An average-sized American needs at least 7 to 12 pounds buoyancy in order to stay afloat in case of a boat capsize. Most Type III PFDs offer at least 15 pounds buoyancy which is more than enough for you. Always go for the PFDs with higher buoyancy ratings to stay on the safe side and you will just be fine.
Ventilation is commonly associated with comfort but it has other important roles to play as well. Since kayaking is an outdoor sport, it means you will be spending a considerable amount of time under the sun. It can make you feel flustered at times and which is why you need to find a PFD that has got ventilation so that your body can cool it down more effectively and efficiently. A well-ventilated PFD can help you keep your body temperature in check and at the same time, it will make kayaking a comfortable experience rather than a tiring one.
Whatever PFD that you decide to purchase at the end, you need to make sure that it is made from strong and durable material. Pick a PFD that is either made from neoprene or from 200 D Nylon. You need to choose a PFD that offers a decent level of flotation and at the same time, it should offer enough resistant to tearing.
8. Buckles or Zipper
PFD can be worn in more than one way. Buckles and Zippers are the two popular options. You can zip from the side or on the front. Now, if you hate the Zipper for all the good or bad reasons, you also have the option to slide a Kayak PFD over your head and then use the buckles to get the right fittings. The bottom line is, you need to find a PFD that allows you to put it on and off without facing any hassle whatsoever.
Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.