Types of Life Vests To Wear Kayaking

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Kayaking vests are an important part of kayaking as they keep you safe if anything were to go wrong. It is illegal to kayak without a vest in most places, so you do need to decide on the best one for you. Let’s go through everything you need to know about the kayaking vests themselves so that you can choose the best one for you.

There are three different kayaking vests available today. The traditional life jackets that are brightly colored with reflective strips, the PFD vests that offer less protection but will still keep you safe, and the inflatable life jackets that are not recommended unless you are a strong swimmer.

What are the distinctions between these three different kayaking vests? Which kayaking vests are recommended by kayaking professionals? Let’s find out!

Types Of Kayaking Vests

When you go kayaking, one of the most important pieces of equipment you will need is a vest of some sort to ensure that you can keep your head above the water if your kayak capsizes. For kayaking, there are two different types of vests that you can choose from that will make sure you are safe.

The two primary choices that you have are life jackets or PFD (portable Floatation Devices). Both these options will help keep you afloat when you are in the water, but they have some differences that you should know about before deciding which one is best for you.

Then you also get inflatable life jackets that we can compare to traditional life jackets and PFD vests. So, let’s look at what these three vests can offer you.

Life Jackets For Kayaking

Life jackets are a great option for kayaking, especially if you are going to be on rough waters. These vests offer a higher level of protection. They are designed to turn you on your back within seconds of falling into the water, which increases your chances of survival should anything bad happen while you are kayaking.

Life jackets are designed to keep your head above the water, even if you are unconscious. These vests generally come in red, yellow, or orange, and they usually have reflective strips. All this is to help you stand out and make it easier for rescuers to see you when you are in the water.

Life jackets come in various sizes that depend on weight, and there are child sizes available too. These vests are generally equipped with a whistle that you can use in emergencies to help rescuers determine your general location better.

You will need to ensure you buy the make and model approved in the area you wish to kayak in, as different states have different regulations regarding vests. So, you will need to research the regulations in your area.

Life jackets are usually reversible, making them easy to use and decreasing the risk of user error. This will make sure that you are safe, even if you are unsure how to use the jacket correctly.

PFD Vests For Kayaking

Personal Flotation Devices are slightly different from traditional life jackets, as they are designed to be more comfortable, making them easier to wear for a longer time. However, even though these vests are more comfortable than regular life jackets, this does not mean they are safer.

PFD vests do not offer the same protection as traditional life jackets do. PFD vests cannot turn a person on their backs, even if they are unconscious, and they do not offer the same level of flotation as traditional life jackets.

PFD vests offer some assistance when you are in the water, but they aren’t as efficient as life jackets. So, if you are not self-confident in your swimming abilities in rough waters or are dealing with a child, you should rather go for a traditional life jacket.

PFD vests are available in several sizes, colors, and varieties, so you need to ensure you choose the one that suits your kayaking needs. For example, if you are going to be kayaking in cold conditions, you should buy a PFD that offers thermal insulation to help keep you warm.

So, you should research the water and weather conditions in the location you are kayaking and then what PFD vest will suit those particular conditions.

Inflatable Life Jackets For Kayaking

Inflatable life jackets are another option that you have available to you. However, these life jackets have a few limitations that you need to be aware of before you decide that this is the kayaking vest for you.

These life jackets require more care than the other vests, and they do not offer you any of the major benefits that the other kayaking vests do. For example, inflatable life jackets will not turn you over on your back to help you breathe, and they have less floatation than a PFD.

Meaning you need to be fully conscious if you want to survive when using an inflatable life jacket. These kayaking vests are available in two varieties. One variety is a vest that will inflate automatically as it has a CO2 system in it, but it can be inflated manually if needed.

The other vest is manual inflation only by pulling a toggle to inflate the vest. These vests are not highly recommended as they aren’t as safe as the other two options. However, if you are a great swimmer and are not kayaking in rough water, you might be able to consider one of these kayaking vests.

Inflatable vests are not approved for the following:

  • Anyone under the age of 16
  • Use on personal watercraft
  • For anyone that weighs less than 80 pounds
  • White water activities

The 8 Best Kayaking Vests

Now that you are mindful of the different types of kayaking vests available to you, we can go over the best vests on the market for kayaking. These vests will give you an idea of what vests you should look for if you want to go kayaking, as they are the most recommended vests.

As with anything, you should still do your own research to find out the kayaking vest regulations in the location you wish to kayak in and ensure you buy a vest that is approved for that location.

Every kayaking location is different, and the regulations are there for your safety. Let’s go through the best kayaking vests so you can choose the best one for your needs.

1. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic

This vest is rated as one of the most comfortable kayaking vests on the market. This vest has a good fit and is easily adjustable, providing extra safety as you can ensure the vest fits you perfectly. This kayaking vest is functional and has a handy pocket for you to store vital equipment.

This vest is cost-effective and easy to buy on a budget, without compromising safety. This vest has a high-positioned bubble foam back that helps improve comfort while you are paddling. It also has fully open sides with adjustable side belts that ensure you are not restricted in any way when paddling.

The shoulders on this vest offer neoprene comfort pads that are also adjustable to ensure you have no pinching around this area that could make you uncomfortable. This vest comes in five colors and three different sizes, with a buoyancy of 15.5 pounds.

2. Lure Angler PFD

The Lure Angler is a lovely high-performance kayaking vest designed to last. This vest is highly durable and comes equipped with many useful features for your kayaking needs.

This vest has many pockets that can be zipped closed to ensure the equipment you need is secured to you at all times. This vest is comfortable to wear for extended periods and features a high back construction to ensure you are comfortable in your kayak.

This vest is made of breathable Aircomfort material to help keep you cool when kayaking on hot days. This PFD vest has easy-to-use adjustment staps to ensure it fits you securely.

3. Onyx Curve MoveVent

This vest is perfect for kayaking as it offers a mesh lower back for air circulation and open sides to ensure freedom of movement while paddling your kayak, making this vest excellent for mobility.

This vest has easily adjustable straps that allow you to secure the vest safely on your body without any pinching or the possibility that it could be a dangerously loose-fitting vest. This vest also has ventilation on the front to make sure you are cool on hot days.

This vest is lightweight and will not slow you down. As you can customize the size of the vest using the adjustable straps, this vest is suitable for both men and women.

4. Calcutta PFD

This kayaking vest is a great one to have if you can, as it has a ripstop shell and universal sizing, which means that this vest can fit just about anyone. This kayaking vest has several large pockets and several different attachment points to ensure that everything you need stays close to you.

The foam in this kayaking vest can be a bit bulky for smaller kayakers on long trips, but it will still fit them and keep them safe. The ripstop nylon that is in this vest offers extra protection for its user against sharp objects, and this helps prevent the vest from cracking or splitting. This vest is cost-effective and can be a budget-friendly option depending on where you buy it from.

5. Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket

This kayaking vest is perfect for taking your children out kayaking, too, as it is specifically made for younger and smaller people. This vest is made to fit children in the weight range of 50 to 90 pounds.

These kayaking vests are lightweight and have a foam interior with large armholes that create a comfortable fit and do not restrict the movement needed for kayaking. This vest also has six adjustable straps to ensure it fits well on the child for safety.

These kayaking vests have a high foam back to accommodate high back kayak seats better, and they have neoprene shoulder pads to ensure the child is comfortable and has no painful pinching on their skin.

6. Onyx Adult Type 1 Vest

The Onyx Adult Type 1 kayaking vest is a life jackets vest that is bright orange and has reflective strips to ensure you are visible to rescuers. This vest has two adjustable straps to ensure that the vest fits securely on you and stays there throughout your kayaking trip.

This life jacket is perfect for people who are budget conscious and for those that are going to kayak far from the coast or in white water. This vest is simple to use and will keep you safe even though it is slightly bulkier than other vests on this list.

7. Coleman Company Stearns Comfort Series PFD

The US Coast Guard approves this kayaking vest, so you know it’s of the best quality vest you can buy. This vest has large armholes for easier kayaking, and they are made with 200 denier nylon on the vest’s outer shell with some floatation foam on the inside of the vest.

This vest is durable and lightweight, making it perfect for long or short kayaking trips. This vest has good ventilation with mesh on the shoulders and back to ensure you stay cool on your kayaking adventure. It has a zip and a few adjustable straps to make sure it fits securely on you for the whole trip.

8. NRS Vapor PFD

The NRS Vapor PFD is an excellent all-around kayaking vest, as you can use it for lazy kayaking around a quiet river, or you can use it in white water too, and it will keep you safe. This vest has adjustable straps to ensure it is the perfect fit for you.

It is made from lightweight, soft foam, and it has large armholes to ensure you have full movement of your arms while kayaking. This vest also has a large pocket to store a few small items you may need on your adventure.


There are three different types of kayaking vests on the market today, but the safest is the PFD vests and the traditional life jackets, as they offer the most protection if something happens while you are kayaking.

It is better to do your research to find the life jackets or PFD vests that are approved in the location you are kayaking in to ensure you get the best ones that will protect you from those specific waters. Have fun kayaking, and be safe!