8 Best Life Jacket (Vest, PFD) for Kayaking 2020

The first rule of any watersport: no matter how good a swimmer you are, never go on the water without a life jacket. If you get thrown into the sea, you still run the risk of drowning if you don’t wear a life jacket.

Considering how energy taxing kayaking can be at times, that makes it even more critical. With the kayak season soon upon us, here are the eight best life jackets for kayaking in 2020.

Best Life Jacket for Kayaking

8 Best Life Jackets for Kayaking 2020

Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket Review
2 pounds
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest Review
1.1 pounds
Stohlquist Drifter Personal Floatation Device Review
1.6 pounds
NRS Chinook Fishing PFD Review
2.15 pounds
KOKATAT Bahia Tour PFD Review
2.69 pounds
Astral Ronny Life Jacket PFD Review
1.84 pounds
Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket Review
0.6 pounds
NRS Ninja PFD Review
2.96 pounds

1. Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket Review

A recurring problem with life vests is that while they keep people afloat above water, they make it hard to move. That can be a huge pain for people to deal with. Enter Stohlquist Waterware. They’ve spent forty-two years creating water-wear for all ages, and have made one of the most comfortable life vests on the market: the Stohlquist Edge.

The great thing about this life jacket is that it’s tailored to fit the size of every person who wears it. The foam body of the PFD will match the size of the person wearing it, with the foam cut to fit their torso. None of that “one size fits all” stuff.

Meanwhile, the straps on the shoulders and the side keep a low profile. Thanks to this, the effect on mobility is almost non-existent. As for the zipper on it, it’s the location on the side matches the body’s natural curves. It even has pockets on the front.

The one flaw to this fantastic jacket is that it may not be for women. One woman who bought the jacket said that it doesn’t fit women in the right places. In other words, it’s too snug on the chest. Aside from that, another reviewer said that the front zipper gets stuck unless it’s washed after being used.


  • Tailored to suit a person’s body size
  • Shoulder and side straps allow for greater movement
  • Super buoyant foam
  • front pocket


  • Women may have trouble wearing this.
  • A front pocket zipper can get stuck.

2. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest Review

Another life vest that’s designed around one purpose: to fit people as comfortable as possible. Several significant features make this vest worthwhile. The outside’s made from rip-resistant nylon to prevent tearing. The design keeps it friendly and flexible, conforming to a person’s body and keeping it in place.

For belts, the MoveVent has an adjustable side belt, while the shoulders have the same features. For extra comfort, the joint’s outfitted with comfort pads. The front and back each have vents, keeping the wearer nice and fresh while paddling. It’s also where it gets its name. Other features include a drying loop, whistle, and tab for accessories.

This life vest is impressive, but there have been complaints about the size. Some have said that it was too big for them, while others said even the largest was too small for them.

The pockets on it don’t hold a lot of stuff, either. One customer noted it could have a hard time keeping the head above water, so this may not be the jacket for rough seas.

In spite of this, the movement the MoveVent provides is excellent, and its a vest worth looking at.


  • Front and back vents keep wearer cool while paddling
  • Flexible and conforms to a person’s body size
  • Shoulder pads for extra comfort
  • Drying loop and whistle included


  • Sizing can be weird
  • Pockets too small to carry things
  • Hard to keep head above water with this.

3. Stohlquist Drifter Personal Floatation Device

Stohlquist Drifter Personal Floatation Device Review

Kayaking doesn’t have to be in warm waters. The indigenous people of the Arctic North used kayaks for millennia in freezing rain. In those conditions, bundling up is a priority. That’s what Stohlquist’s DRIFTer Personal Floatation Device is for.

Like their Edge life vest, the DRIFTer features a low profile to allow for the most movement possible. The sides contain a cross-chest cinch harness that keeps it in place no matter what happens. The shoulders are ventilated and the armholes wide to allow for the most movement. Two zippered pockets provide for storage, with the front pocket containing a key clip. On the back and the check, there are 4-way lash tabs for accessories.

The big draw to this vest is the fleece lined, hand warming pocket on it. A kayaker can put their hands inside, and then they will be warm in no time at all.

While this life vest is great for cold water, that’s a double-edged sword: it’s only good for cold water. Customers have said that it can be too bulky to work in warmer waters, and several claims the hand-warming pockets are too small. Despite that, the DRIFTer seems like a good pick for cold weather kayaking. It does provide a measure of warmth for the hands, after all.


  • Low profile provides most movement
  • Cross-chest cinch harness
  • Ventilated shoulders
  • Zippered pockets, including a fleece, lined front pocket to warm hands


  • Can be too bulky to wear in warmer waters
  • The pockets can be too small for some people.

4. NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD Review

Fishers know the importance of preparing for any obstacle that comes their way. That means making sure every inch of space gets used to store gear. When there’s room on the kayak, then why not use one’s life vest to save smaller tools? That’s what the NRS Chinook’s used for.

This life vest’s built for anglers, providing safety and storage in one package. Opening up from a zipper on the front, the Chinook PFD has seven pockets of various size. It’s perfect for holding tackle and other small items. For changes, there are eight adjustment points on the vest.

Beyond the pockets, this life vest has a coil tool retractor, and many D-rings to carry various items. From nets, rod holding, and strobes, these D-rings can hold a lot. This life vest has everything for the consummate angler.

This life vest is excellent for an angler, but it’s not great for any other kind of kayaker. The number of pockets and rings on the Chinook can make this thing too bulky for anything other than angling. Kayakers who don’t plan to fish will do well to look elsewhere. Anglers, though, will love this thing.


  • Multiple pockets for storing gear
  • Attachments and D-rings for holding nets, rod holding, and strobes.
  • Coil tool retractor
  • Multiple adjustment points


  • Too bulky for non-anglers to use

5. KOKATAT Bahia Tour PFD

KOKATAT Bahia Tour PFD Review

Like the Chinook, this life vest was designed with one thing in mind: fishing. This PFD’s great for kayak fishing and recreation on the water. Unlike the Chinook, though, this vest has a high-back profile rather than a middle one. This makes it great for sit-on-top boats.

The front and back have a 4-way lash tab, allowing for easy access. The foam inside’s free of PVC’s and materials that take too long to degrade, so it’s great for the environment. For storage, there are two duplex pockets on the front, a pocket for electronics, and one with pliers. There’s even one with a window for a fishing license.

For safety purposes, this vest has reflective tape, making it easy to spot if someone goes off the boat. It’s approved by the US Coast Guard, Transport Canada, and ISO.

One flaw to this thing is that, when paired with a high-back seat, it can create some discomfort. It also has the same bulkiness found in the Chinook to deal with, so be sure this is what you want.


  • 4-way lash tab on front and back that gives easy access
  • Foam is environmentally friendly
  • Different pockets, including a water-proof one for electronics, one with pliers, and one with a window for a license
  • Reflective tape equipped, approved by USCG, Transport Canada, and ISO


  • Issues with bulkiness
  • A high-back profile can be uncomfortable

6. Astral Ronny Life Jacket PFD – Best all-around

Astral Ronny Fisher Life Jacket PFD Review

An all-purpose life vest, the Astral Ronny is a life jacket that works for recreation, fishing, and tours. Given the potential for long-term trips, this jacket’s made to be as durable as they come. The outside’s made from 200 D high tenacity nylon. On the inside, it’s made from recycled scraps and compost, so there are no terrible plastics to be found.

For the casual kayaker, the Ronny’s made to be as comfy as possible. The back’s made from a rare combination of foam and mesh, keeping someone cool and letting them learn as much as they want. To open it up, use the front zipper, and adjust it on the sides. For added comfort, the mesh liner is nice and breathable. For their convenience, the front features several pockets for easy storage.

Even though this life jacket’s great, it seems that the pocket’s arent’ as big as people want them to be. No one can have everything they want, though. Considering what’s offered, this is an excellent choice for people who want versatility.


  • High-density nylon cover
  • Recycled foam innards
  • The thin back makes for comfortable for leaning on things.
  • Breathable mesh on either side
  • Front pockets


  • Pockets aren’ that big

7. Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket

Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket Review

It’s a problem as old as time for kids everywhere: their life jackets are too big. Kids everywhere have to put up with wearing uncomfortable life jackets. It’s a pain! Enter the solution: the Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket.

This is a great beginner’s jacket, perfect for kids between 50-90 pounds. With a compact foam design and low profile, this thing is lightweight but provides protection. The high foam back will accommodate for high back seats, while the shoulder pads are cute and comfy. If parents want to adjust the vest, six straps can be changed. As a bonus, there’s an expandable zippered pocket on the sides, complete with mesh drainage.

This is a great life vest, but don’t forget that this is for kids. It’s useless to teens and adults. It also seems to be missing a strap between the legs, so it can slide up and cover the nose and mouth. Attention should be made to prevent this from happening.


  • Compact and lightweight design
  • Comfortable shoulder pads
  • Adjustable straps
  • Expandable pocket with mesh drainage


  • Meant for kids
  • No strap between legs. Can slide up to face

8. NRS Ninja PFD

Nrs Ninja Pfd Review

The very word “ninja” is synonymous with stealth. They’re some of the most familiar icons in pop culture. So when there’s a life jacket out there that’s called the NRS Ninja PFD, that’s a sign that it’s not going to have a low profile.

First made for freestyle kayaking, the NRS Ninja is a low-profile vest with an athletic design. Made from plastic-free floatation panels, the Ninja has a high degree of adjustability. The fabric on the inside is soft and stretchy, adjusting to a person’s body shape, improving its breathability. Make changes to any of the four side adjustments or shoulder adjustments to find the right fit.

To put the Ninja PFD on, release the buckles on either side and then insert it over the shoulders. The zippered pocket on the front of the jacket can hold essentials. Last, there’s a lash tab that can keep any potential accessories.

There’s only one flaw to this otherwise fantastic life vest, and that’s the fact that it only has one pocket in the front. That means that kayakers must be selective about what they take with them. Other than that, this jacket is the ultimate in stealthy life vests.


  • Low-profile design
  • High level of adjustments possible
  • Six places to adjust the vest
  • zippered front pocket
  • Adapts to a person’s body shape


  • no extra pockets.

How to Choose the Best Life Jacket for Kayaking

A life vest, also known as a Personal Flotation Device, or PFD, can mean the difference between safety and danger. They’re an essential part of any watersport. Interestingly enough, life jacket and life vest are two different types of PFD, but the terms are used interchangeably. In total, there are five types of US Coast Guard approved PFD. What you need to be concerned about through the following three things: standard and inflatable PFDS, PFD sizes and fitting, and features and specs.

How to Choose the Best Life Jacket for Kayaking

First, are the standard and inflatable PFDs. The majority of the PFDs you see people wearing are the standard foam ones. They’re low-maintenance since they can be left to dry in the sun. Thanks to their foam innards, they’re naturally buoyant, versatile, and they usually have pockets. The bad news is that a lot of them can be bulky and restrict movement. Worse, they can get boiling on a warm summer day.

Next, is the inflatable PFD. They’re filled with carbon dioxide, usually by pulling a cord or submerging in water. They’re slim, cool and comfortable. Since they need to be inflated, they’re not naturally buoyant and require regular maintenance. They also might not be the best for activities that involve hitting the water a lot.

As for sizes and fitting, the critical thing to remember is that a person’s chest size determines their PFD size. It will be vice versa for kids. To find the chest size, measure the circumference of your chest at the broadest point. Use that along with the manufacturer’s size recommendation to find your size. To see the best fit, follow these steps

  • Loosen all the straps on the PFD, put it on, then zip it up.
  • Tighten all the straps, starting from the waist.
  • A properly fitted PFD will fit like a glove, but allow for free movement

When it comes to features and specifications, here are some essential elements to remember

  • Pockets are on most standard PFDs. Think about how big they and where they are.
  • Bright colors make you more visible
  • Tabs can be used to keep accessories
  • Reflective tape adds visibility in low light
  • Vents help keep you fresh on the hottest days

About specs, the main one to worry about is the floatation or buoyancy. It’s the amount of force in pounds needed to keep someone’s head and chin above the water line. Most adults will need an extra seven to twelve pounds, but a good PFD will provide for more than this.

Life Jacket for Kayaking FAQs

What are the five USCG classifications for PFDs?

  • Type I is geared for rough or remote waters where rescue is not likely for a while. They’re the bulkiest but also the most buoyant.
  • Type II is for calm inland water where a quick rescue is likely.
  • Type III is suitable for most paddlers where there’s a chance for a quick rescue. They offer freedom of movement and wear and tear.
  • Type IV is meant to be thrown at someone whose conscious, in trouble, and can be used as a backup. They include air cushions and life rings.
  • Type V is special-use devices. They need to be worn at all times for the activity that they were made for.

Should Life Vests be worn at all times while kayaking?

Yes, no if and or buts.


Life vests, life jackets, PFDs. Whatever people may choose to call them, there’s a single truth: they are there for a reason. People wear them to stay alive in the worst situations.

So before you head out onto the water, remember to grab a life vest. Drowning is one of the worst ways a person can go to.


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