Water sports can be a lot of fun. Some people do it for recreational purposes while others enjoy it as a sport, kayaking for example.

It is common knowledge (as evidenced by multiple studies across the globe) that the majority of the fatalities concerning water sports are related to incidents where individuals were not wearing a life jacket. To state the obvious, buy the best life jacket before you plan a kayaking trip, it could be a lifesaver!

What is a Kayak Life Vest?

A kayak life vest or a jacket which is also commonly referred to as a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is a piece of attire that you would expect to have on every kayaking boat. This is, perhaps, the most important piece of equipment whilst you are on a kayak. Your safety is paramount and it is important that you ensure you have your own vest that fits you perfectly and is in a serviceable condition.

There are many kinds of kayak life vest ranging from the traditional flotation foam devices to a trendy and newly designed inflatable life jacket. They are meant to cater to different forms of boating activities with corresponding buoyancy, functionality and performance levels.

Life Vest Regulations

In certain countries, a life jacket also needs to meet certain regulatory and coast guard specifications (particularly for kids or those under 13). Always make it a point to check those and whenever in doubt, always consults officials, coast guard members before purchasing your jacket.

Recommended Life Vests for Kayaking

U. S. Coast Guard approved

Kokatat Ronin Pro Rescue PFD

Kokatat Women’s UL MsFit Tour PFD Life Jacket

Your Guide in 2020 to Best Kayak Life Vests
Your Guide in 2020 to Best Kayak Life Vests
Your Guide in 2020 to Best Kayak Life Vests

$59 - Top Offer




Why is a Kayak Life Vest Necessary?

There are compelling reasons why these pieces of equipment should be worn and that is to prevent any mishaps if you accidentally find yourself in the water (and are drowning) or when your boat breaks down or gets physically damaged. There are no guarantees that this won’t happen. At worse, you may not be a swimmer and in such a scenario, your chances of drowning are pretty high. In these situations, your only fall back is to cause and ensure that you purchase and wear (at all times) the best life jacket possible.

Attributes of a Good Life Vest

Best kayak jackets are also lifesavers once you are stranded in the water and are awaiting help. In such cases, a highly visible life jacket that has a number of pockets with distress flares and radio is effectively ensuring that you get a new lease of life and get rescued by the coast guard.

A good quality standard life jacket, when worn appropriately, is created to ensure that it flips an unconscious person who is face down to rotate and face towards the sky whilst in the water on their back. This will allow this person to breathe normally.

PFD’s are designed for recreational boating. You can find them to be generally smaller in size, not very bulky and much more comfortable than a standard life jacket. However, for reasons mentioned, such jackets do not have much buoyancy and as a result of which, may not assist you in flipping you face up if you are in an unconscious state.

Every human body (irrespective of their fitness and skill level) has an endurance level of staying afloat in water, once you are away from your boat. Add to it the unforgiving effects of being submerged in cold water (which can be all year round) or the unfortunate possibility of having an accident and hitting your head leading to unconsciousness or getting dazed. That is where a life jacket comes in to protect your life. With regards to cold water, those who are not accustomed to it can totally lose their control over their breathing, once they are immersed in water without a life jacket.

Put on Your Vest!

Also, it is quite commonly observed that people keep their life jacket in their kayaking boats or next to the kayak seats but not wear it. If you get separated from your boat, you lose your jacket too. Accidents happen in a flip of a second and that they don’t give you a chance to put your jacket on which, don’t forget, needs to be fastened and adjusted properly for it to save your life.

To sum up, buy a comfortable and good quality kayaking life jacket that is a perfect fit for you, which does not decrease your freedom of movement too much. When you go out in the water, always ensure that your life jacket is properly fastened and adjusted at the right adjustment points. This jacket is meant to save your life and shouldn’t be an ‘added piece of gear’ on your body when you find yourself in testing times; which really defeats the purpose of putting it on in the first place!

Types of Kayak Life Vests

Paddle Vest

What is a paddle vest? Paddle vests are PFDs that are commonly opted by recreational kayakers and related water sports enthusiasts. These life jackets are designed like vests and are stuffed with foam or similar floatation material which helps a person stay above water.

The best life vests do not require much maintenance. You need to clean them as you would any other jacket and ensure that you dry them out in the sun when out of use. The floatation mechanism is automatic and starts working from the moment you put this life jacket on. It is a multipurpose life jacket that can be used for a variety of water sports including kayaking of course due to its freedom of movement. You can also expect quite a few pockets with these standard PFD jackets which can help you keep, snacks, sunscreen, tools and other emergency gear handy, which is something that you don’t find in inflatable jackets.

These paddle vests can be bulky in shape and not the most comfortable whilst kayaking or moving your body. Moreover, they are well insulated and can be warm during the summer months.

Inflatable Life Vests

Inflatable life vests, as the name, suggests include vests with additional waist packs or belt bags and are frequently used for kayaking and other related water sports. They are designed in a slim style and are generally comfortable to wear as compared to the paddle vests.

These inflatable life vests come with two functionalities: manual as well as automatic. In a manual life jacket, you need to pull a cord which will trigger a carbon dioxide cartridge within the vest, causing it to inflate and start functioning. On the other hand, the automatic vest is designed to activate the jacket as soon as it is submerged in the water. Most of the kayakers prefer manual life vests given the likelihood of exposure to the water.

Inflatable life jackets are designed to provide you with maximum flexibility while you move your body during kayaking or similar sports activity. They do not cover a lot of your upper body and fairly airy in texture, which is ideal for hot summer days.

However, the manual inflatable vests are not buoyant by design and will require to be inflated before they can offer any buoyancy. This is problematic if you are involved in a kayaking accident and are injured or unconscious and will not have the chance to inflate them beforehand. These jackets also require regular maintenance for optimum functionality and the carbon dioxide cartridges require replacement after each time they have been inflated.

Inflatable vests are also not a good fit for everyone as they cannot be used by those involved in high-impact activities, for example, whitewater kayaking or waterskiing to name a few. These may also not be suitable for individuals aged 16 and under or those who cannot swim.

The Differences Between a Life Jacket and Life Vest

A good and well-fitted jacket with the right functionality can make all the difference between life and death when you are out in the water on your own. As discussed, these jackets are designed with different aims and you need to decide which works best for you, given your preferred sport and cost constraints. You must understand the difference between these life jackets before you decide to purchase one.

Quite often, a life jacket or a life vest is also referred to as a PFD but there is a remarkable difference between these. You should not confuse a PFD for a life jacket. A PFD will keep you afloat but will not flip you over for continued breathing on your back. This can be a costly confusion!

The best kayak life jackets (with more padding at the front of the jacket, and less at the back) are meant to hold the person face up if he gets unconscious in water or rotates you towards the sky if you have lost consciousness facing down in the water.

In certain countries, there are strict restrictions on each individual requiring them to wear only a life jacket or a PFD (not torn or worn out) when getting onto a boat, failing which, you could be subjected to a heft fine.

Life jackets are the bulky vests commonly found in orange or red colors and are more vests than jackets (with some having oversized collars as head support) when it comes to looks.

Water sports experts, members of the coast guard suggest life jackets for children and non-swimmers as it gives them more buoyancy and hence more chances to survive an accident.

Characteristics of a PFD

You may be wondering that it is best to buy a life jacket rather than a PFD. However, PFD has its own unique benefits and some of their features that you may want to consider, prior to your purchase, are:

  • They are not very bulky and are generally more comfortable to wear. The reason for this is that PFD, generally speaking, have their buoyancy mechanism at the back of the jacket.
  • They provide you with more flexibility and a range of motions whilst conducting the activity.
  • PFDs can be bought for specific water sports activities, e.g. kayaking, paddle sports, and snorkeling with specific features that cannot be found in your standard life jacket.

Suffice it to say, when you buy a life vest, make sure you wear it too, at all times, particularly for kids and those who aren’t really swimmers. Whatever you call it or wherever you buy it from, it is only worth it if you wear it.

Best 6 Kayak Life Vests

Here are some of the best pieces of equipment that we recommend:

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

nrs-chinook-fishing-pfdThis fishing PFD is ideal for anglers and has ample storage with seven pockets in the front which allows you to store your personal accessories. These are perfect for those planning any kind of fishing expedition such as kayak or fly. Mesh lower back provides excellent ventilation if the weather is warm, given its great design on high-back seats. The spacious front entry design has eight adjustment points which give you maximum range of motion, best comfort levels, and security. It also comes standard with Soft PlushFIT foam which adapts to your body when you put it on for great padding and comfort. It also provides you with a coil tool retractor for clipping various fishing-related items or tools, including a D-ring on its back to attach your net. Not to forget, a strobe holder loop too in case of overcast/low light weather conditions.

Price Range: $140 – $160

Available Colors: Black, Orange, Green, and Charcoal

Kokatat Ronin Pro Rescue PFD

kokatat ronin pro kayak life vestThis Ronin Pro PFD brings together comfort and practicality for whitewater as well as ocean paddle sports fans. It is designed with a trimmed-down profile and internal harness, Thermo foamed padded shoulders which are adjustable. It has an internal grip panel and a low profile design giving you full spinal protection. It also has reflective accents that provide the user with top visibility and increased safety. It is made with GAIA-PVC free foam and is also CE and Transport Canada approved. It also has large duplex pockets with attachments of lanyard with stretch mesh sleeve.

Price Range: $194.25 – $259.00

Colors Available: Yellow, Red, and Mantis

Kokatat Ronin Pro Buoyancy (lb/oz): S/M (16/05) L/XL (17/05) XXL (18/00)

Kokatat Women’s UL MsFit Tour PFD Life Jacket

kokatat women life jacketThis PDF life jacket is specifically designed with women in mind and provides for multiple point adjustments. This gives them a lot of flexibility and at the same time providing them with comfort and a sense of security. The components used in making this jacket are ergonomic and innovative in nature and include thermo-formed, padded Hypalon shoulders, articulated shell, and foam panels, reflective tape for perfect visibility, CE approved deep cut neck and armholes, GAIA PVC-free foam and modern design look and feel. There is ample space for storage for your gadgets and other personal belongings.

Price Range: $148.50 – $214.95

Color s Available: Mango, Olive, Glacier, and Mantis.

Kokatat UL Guide Glacier PFD Life Jacket

kokatat ul guide glacier pfd life jacketThis PFD life jacket is a rescue vest for sea kayakers entailing all the features you would need in a full Type V rescue PFD. It has reinforced shoulders, rescue belts with a strong harness and a great body fit (with an articulated seam) for full-day comfort and great storage pockets (two in the front and one back last tab). The foam used in its making is GAIA PVC free and any CFC ozone-depleting chemicals as well.

Price Range: $224.10 – $249.00

Available Colors: glacier, mango and red

Flotation / Buoyancy: [S] 16lb 5oz, [M] 16lb 5oz, [L] 16lb 6oz, [XL] 16lb 13oz

Baltic Dinghy Pro Buoyancy Aid

baltic dinghy pro buoyancy aidAn advanced dinghy and buoyancy kayak life vest are commonly relied upon by Olympians and world champions. It has Airex super soft foam which is complimented by laminated polyethylene foam. A combination of these two makes this gear super comfortable. This jacket also features a Mylar pocket in the front and Delrin zip which is durable. Other features include high cut hook and loop with adjustable and reinforced shoulders.

The downside of this jacket is that it only has 1 front storage pocket which isn’t waterproof. Although this gets overlooked by the fact that it does have other waterproof pouches which are good for storing personal items such as keys, coins, and phone.

Price: $72.90 – $94.35

Only 1 color available – black and grey combination.

Kokatat Orbit Tour PFD

kokatat orbit kayak life vestThis floatation device offers a lot of movement for kayakers. It has two side adjustment straps and covered shoulder adjustments to give you a good looking and comfortable fit once you splash in. There are also reflective tapes on the top of each shoulder strap which provides for great visibility when you find yourself in an emergency. It has 2 front pockets which help you to store various items that you need on the go as well as life-saving equipment too.

Price Range: $148.50-$165.00

Available Colors: Yellow & Red

Flotation / Buoyancy: 15 lb 8 oz

FAQs about the Best Life Vests

Who Approves PFD in the USA?

They are approved by the U.S Coast Guard.

What does PFD Mean?

PFD stands for ‘Personal Flotation Device’. They are more comfortable than a life jacket and can be worn for longer periods. However, they do not offer the same level of safety and protection as a life jacket.

How to Measure for Kayak Life Vest?

In the case of adults, kayak life vests are usually measured on the basis of their chest size and in cases of children, it is usually by means of their body weight. Certain kayaking life vests are designed for women only with shorter torso lengths helping them maintain better balance whilst in water. As a general rule of thumb, a best fitted jacket will feel snuggly on the tighter side (but not restrictive to your body) and will allow you to breathe freely.

How to Wear Kayak Life Vest?

Whichever life jacket you choose, your first and foremost concern should be a perfect fit that can close safely, depending on your body type. The last thing you want is for your kayaking life jacket to be opening or not fitting properly and causing you to panic in the middle of a sea or lake. The best life jackets or PFDs that have adjustable shoulder straps should be your priority as they give you a great fit by customizing the size to suit your body type, comfort and the weather conditions (by loosing or tightening the shoulder straps as needed).


Kayak life jackets are important for your safety and those of your loved ones. This is not a piece of kayaking equipment that you wear as a fashion statement or just ‘put on’ without ensuring a proper fit just to comply with certain regulations or requirements of kayaking sport by a specific body or activity organization.