A lot of people get confused about whether they should wear a life vest while kayaking on a flat lake. Even though it seems okay not to wear one, having the vest adds more to the overall experience. When you take a sudden plunge, the best kayak life vest will make things a lot easier on the water.
Apart from that, you will look great with a PFD on water. People might ask you for kayaking tips and advice as you will seem like a professional to them. LOL.
Having that said if you already have made up your mind to go with a life vest, be sure to check our picks to make kayaking more enjoyable and hassle-free.
10 Best Kayak Life Vest Reviews
The list includes life vests of a wide price range from which you can find the right one as per your budget allows.
1. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
This cool looking life vest is made of durable 200 denier nylon ripstop along with nylon oxford fabrics. Even though the fabric is heavy-duty, still the vest feels soft and very lightweight to wear.
Due to its mesh lower back, you will not feel uncomfortable to sit on your kayak while having this vest on.
Even when you paddle, you will hardly feel the vest on the body. The arm openings are big enough to allow you to freely paddle the kayak.
There is mesh ventilation in both the front and backside of the vest to ensure maximum airflow. The vest comes in various sizes; you will easily find one that fits your body like a glove. If you need further adjustments, there are padded shoulder adjustments for that.
Its Solas grade reflective material will make you visible during nights and low lights. The vest also includes a whistle for added safety. To keep smaller items, there is a zipper pocket with mesh drainage for convenience.
- Made of heavy-duty fabric
- Feels lightweight and comfortable to wear
- Reflective material
- Comfortable mesh in front and back sides
- Not enough space in pockets
2. Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Floatation Device
If you are looking for a kayak vest with a number of pockets to hold accessories in them, you can take a look at this PFD from Stohlquist.
When you are out for kayaking, there is not much space on the kayak to store all your accessories and supplies. This vest puts an end to this problem.
There are several pockets in the vest along with many compartments for holding your essential supplies without much trouble.
It will keep your kayak less messy as well. This makes it the best kayak fishing life vest on this list.
To protect all the contents from impact, there are stiffened outer shells on both the pockets. This particularly comes handy when you board in the kayak over the rim. Made of sturdy 500 denier Cordura shell and 200 denier oxford liner, you can rely on this vest in terms of durability.
It comes in three different sizes; still, if you are in-between sizes, there are shoulder and side straps that you can tighten or loosen to get a perfect custom fit. Unlike the conventional ones, it doesn’t feel tight around the chest.
The shoulder and lower back waistband got padded foam that feels comfortable yet provides enough ventilation.
- Lots of room for accessories
- Protective pockets and multiple mounting loops
- Perfectly fits
- Made of durable materials
- High back floatation insert
- Padded shoulders and waistband
- Feels a bit bulky
3. NRS Chinook Fishing PFD
Some individuals prefer getting a multi-purpose vest to be able to use it when it comes to both kayaking, canoeing, or fishing. No matter which one you are up to, NRS chinook fishing PFD can provide you some great benefits that make it worth considering buying.
The vest comes with seven front pockets, which re more than enough to hold all your kayaking gear and accessories.
You don’t have to struggle to find a space for them to store on the kayak. If you are up to kayak fishing, it can accommodate a tippet as well as small tackle boxes with ease.
Its high lower back mesh is perfect for kayaks with high back seats. You will get enough ventilation to keep you cool enough. Eight adjustment points allow you to conveniently fit your body into the vest.
To provide you enough floatation support, it features soft plush fit foam that doesn’t require you to make any compromise with comfort as well.
- Lower mesh back
- Highly adjustable
- Enough pockets for accessories
- Great floatation
- No reflective material
- Doesn’t feel much comfortable
4. ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket
Another kayak life jacket from Onyx. This one offers enough room in the pockets, high adjust ability, comfortable to wear design, and more, which makes it hard to avoid at such a price tag.
With its six adjustment straps, it will not be loose for sure. You will be able to snugly fit into this vest. Its universal size will fit most people; the over sized one is for larger individuals.
The shoulder pads are made of neoprene that doesn’t hurt your shoulders at all.
Even though it got high foam back, the foam doesn’t seem to create much hassle with high back seats of kayaks. You can sit comfortably. The lower back got a mesh material inside that is breathable enough to make you cool during the trip.
It features two large pockets; one is a drop-down pocket to keep boxes and other items. The chest pocket, mounting loops, and other attachments make it an ideal vest if large storage is your concern. It also got approval from USCG for being a Level 3 PFD; so, you can count on this.
- Large pockets with one drop-down pocket
- Easily accessible loops
- Comfortable to wear
- Breathable lower back mesh
- Six adjustment straps
- Feels bulky
- Not suitable for summer
5. O’Neill Men’s Reactor USCG Life Vest
Apart from kayaking, you can take this life vest at water skiing, swimming, tubing, and many more water sports.
Unlike most conventional life vests, this one doesn’t restrict your usual movements at all. It got segmented foam core along with anatomical flex points that make you feel much comfortable even after wearing the vest. You will not feel bulkiness while wearing; it will not affect your normal mobility at all.
There are hardly any budget PFD that includes high-quality zippers. This one got heavy-duty zippers that aren’t going to break, no matter how many times you unzip it. In addition to that, its quick-release safety buckles teamed with such sturdy zippers take the sense of security to the next level.
However, when the vest is dry, it fits a bit snugly, and this is for a reason. When the neoprene material of the jacket gets wet, it expands and provides you a perfect fit for submerging water. If you are a water ski athlete, it can be your best kayak life jacket.
- Made of durable material
- Extremely comfortable to wear
- Quick-release buckles with sturdy zippers
- Neoprene material expands and gives a perfect fit
- Feels loose when it’s dry
6. Stohlquist Women’s Flo Life Jacket/PFD
If you are not really up for a unisex life vest, rather prefer getting one that is designed for women, you might like this PFD.
The outer shell of this vest is made of 400 denier ripstop, and it got 210 denier oxford liner on the inside. You will find this vest durable enough to last you a long time no matter how frequently you prefer kayaking.
To make you feel comfortable, it got PE foam with inner mesh for better breath ability. Neoprene padded waistband makes sure that your shoulders don’t get hurt while wearing it.
Two front pockets are large enough to hold small accessories and gear without much trouble.
You can sit comfortably on your kayak seat. Its high back floatation insert nicely fits the back of the seats on a kayak. In addition to that, both sides are wide open to ensure air circulation. Its cross-chest cinch harness comes with inner cups support as well.
So, whether you pedal or sit idle, it can be your best life vest for kayak for women.
- Made of durable materials
- Enough ventilation support
- High back floatation insert
- Comfortable mesh back and shoulders
- Extremely comfortable to wear
- Doesn’t have zipper on the pockets
- No hydration reservoir
7. NRS Vapor PFD
The utmost comfort after wearing, and ability to move arms freely even when the situation requires you to paddle your kayak hard are the major advantages that this vest can deliver you without spending much.
If you want a lightweight and well-designed vest, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to give it a try.
Due to its soft foam that wraps your body, you will hardly notice that you are wearing a vest. There are wide-open side buckles for you to freely move the arms as well. These side buckles make it easier for you to wear the vest, and make necessary adjustments to snugly fit your body.
Even though it doesn’t have multiple pockets, you will find its chest zipper pocket large enough to keep all essential items inside it. There is a lash tab attachment to get quick access to the knife. Its reflective piping makes it visible enough in low lights.
This level 3 USCG approved vest got 200 denier nylon as an outer shell, which is much more durable than average life jackets. Its 16.5 lbs. Floatation capacity is something that you can rely on.
- Very comfortable to wear
- Lightweight and low profile design
- Easy to wear and decent adjustability
- A huge chest pocket with lash tab
- Reflective piping
- The front feels a bit bulky
- Not good for kayaking in summer
8. Onyx Curve MoveVent Paddle Sport PFD
Whether you are looking for a life vest for canoeing, kayaking, or stand up paddling, this cool looking vest will enhance your outdoor sports activity experience conveniently. Its functionality, fitting, floatation capacity, and ease of mobility make it the best life vest for kayak.
Unlike most conventional ones that are available in the market,
the curve paddling PFD will get you enough ventilation that is required for you to stay cool during a kayaking adventure. There is enough space for air circulation both in the front and back of this vest.
Its flexible foam and sculpted design easily adapt your body and fits perfectly regardless of the activity you are engaged in. It comes in three sizes; more so, there are adjustable side belts to make a custom adjustment if required.
The outer part of the vest is made of 200 denier nylon ripstop fabric; to make you feel comfortable to wear, it got nylon oxford fabric on the inside. So, regarding both durability and comfort, the vest is hard to beat.
Apart from the approval from USCG, there is also SOLAS grade reflective material that makes you visible during nights, and the floatation advantage that keeps your face up while on water. The vest checks for being a safe PFD as well.
- Made to be durable
- Comfortable mesh in the lower back
- Offers great mobility for kayak paddling
- Adjustable straps
- Very lightweight and well-ventilated
- Not the thinnest one
- Can feel bulky depending on the body shape
9. Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket
When you have this vest on, you can still enjoy unparalleled mobility as well as much comfort whether it’s for kayaking or canoeing. As being one of the most versatile PFD from the brand, it comes with some advantages that might make you feel interested in getting one.
It requires you to wear from the sides, so the design eliminates center-zipped design that often causes common bulk in the front of the vest.
Moreover, its low profile pre-curved beveled foam edges will adequately fit the natural shape of the body, whereas the conventional ones only provide you a well fit when you pull the straps and tighten the vest.
Due to its large arm openings, you can swiftly paddle the kayak without getting any restriction whatsoever.
The vest is made of premium foam and ripstop nylon shell, which are soft enough to provide great comfort while you wear it. There are mesh sides to provide the wearer enough ventilation as well.
Furthermore, it got highly visible 3M reflective accents that will make you visible enough in low lights. There are a front pocket and lash tab for accessories and quick access attachment for small utilities. You will get enough floatation support from this type 3 PFD.
- Innovative design that fits the natural body shape
- Extremely comfortable to wear
- High reflective accents
- Versatile use
- Great mobility
- Pocket and lash tab
- Doesn’t fit women body shape
10. Stohlquist Men’s Trekker Life Jacket
The last one on the list got a durable 500 denier Cordura outer shell, along with a 200 denier oxford liner inner layer. Due to its cross-chest cinch hardness design, you will find it very comfortable around the chest, and make adjustments as per you find it perfect for your body shape.
Having this vest on, you can confidently paddle the kayak or canoe without facing much restriction as it has wide openings for arms.
The back got half mesh and half floatation insert construction that comfortably fits kayaks with high back seats.
The due mesh back and shoulders, there will be enough ventilation regardless of the weather condition. You can wear it for a long time without feeling warm. The shoulders are adjustable to get you an adequate custom fit that will not loose due to your movement.
For convenience, the vest features two large front pockets for holding essential accessories, a bunch of grip tabs for attaching quick accessing utilities as well.
- Made of durable inner and outer materials
- Feels very comfortable on chest
- Well-ventilated mesh back
- Two large pockets
- Adjustable shoulders
- Itchy shoulder straps
Things to Consider Before Buying?
When it’s about getting a PFD or vest or life jacket, whatever you may say, perfect fitting isn’t the only thing to consider. Awrong and improper life jacket can drown you no matter how expensive it is. It’s a life-saving equipment, and there are more things to consider apart from how comfortable you feel, and how well it fits you.
Make no mistake by overlooking any of the following key things to ensure whatever you are about to get, it’s worth spending the money on.
Life Jacket Type
According to the United States Coast Guard, there are five different types of PFDs that are designed for serving different purposes. As you are looking for one for kayaking in flat lakes, it’s recommended for you to ponder upon the level 3 life vest.
All the top kayak life vests that I have reviewed on this article, checks for being a Level 3 Personal Floatation Device. These vests are ideal to use for paddlers and sailors, where there is a high chance of quick rescue if any mishap happens.
The vests are designed in a common pattern that allows the wearer to keep their face-up from the water level while leaving plenty of openings to be able to move arms. Level 3 vests require to provide 12 lbs. of buoyancy to be able to keep the wearer floating on the water.
Therefore, make sure your kayaking life jacket provides 12 lbs of buoyancy for lifting or more than that.
Your Body’s Required Floatation Amount
I have mentioned earlier that a level 3 life jacket is supposed to provide you 12 lbs of lifting pressure. Now, you might wonder that, as you obviously weigh way more than 12 lbs, how on earth a level 3 PFD can keep you floating on the water? At first, I didn’t get the thing as well. Let me make it clear for you.
You need to find how much of your total body weight is responsible for drowning in the water.
Let’s say you weigh 100 pounds.
80% of the total weight would be of water; so, 100 x 0.8% = 80 pounds of water
15% of the total weight is made of fat in a healthy person; so, 100 x 0.15 = 15 pounds
80 pounds of water + 15 pounds of fat = 95 pounds of total water and fat.
100 - 95 = 5 pounds, this is the actual weight that can make you drown in the water. This is because no matter how much water your body has, it will not be an issue for drowning. 15 pounds of fat is actually lighter than water; so, fat cannot be drowned in water either. The rest 5 pounds is the actual weight you need to deal with.
To make that 5 pounds of weight floating on the water, a life jacket with 12 lbs of lifting pressure will be more than enough. If your body weight tells you it’s about 10 pounds of weight that need to float on the water, you need to look for a PFD that comes with 15 lbs or even more lifting buoyancy.
It’s not the overall weight of your body that you need to focus on while getting a perfectly fitting life vest. You need to also consider your chest size. Take the measurement of your chest at its broadest circumference, and look for the vest that goes perfect on the chest of the same size.
The life jacket should fit your body like a glove. It shouldn’t be loose around your body. Also, there should be enough opening so that you can move your arms freely without any restriction from the vest.
Vests mostly come in four sizes, S, M, L, and universal size. Be sure to consider the measurement of these sizes. If your body size lies between two sizes, then the adjustable straps should be able to make a custom fit without many issues.
Your comfort ability while wearing the vest, and its durability, solely depends on the material used in the vest.
Most PFDs are made of nylon fabric that is cheap, waterproof, and UV-resistant as well. The material also feels lightweight and can provide you with a comfortable experience throughout the kayaking period.
Neoprene is a more expensive material that is found in pricy vests. This material provides higher buoyancy compared to nylon and also feels more comfortable. Vests made of neoprene material fit snugly when it’s dry, and when you are in the water, neoprene expands and perfectly fits the vest on your body.
If you are on a budget, nylon is still a good buy. But, if money isn’t an issue here, why not go for the higher grade material?
It’s very crucial to have some sort of reflective material on your vest. This comes second after floatation support. In case any mishap happens, and it’s dark or low lighting condition, having a visible reflective vest will easily grab the attention of the rescue team. If you planned to kayak in low lights, you must look for this feature.
Also, you can consider getting a vest with vivid and bright colors such as orange, red, yellow, etc. These colors are great for easy visibility.
Most life vests come with some additional features that come great handy in different situations for making your kayaking easier and much comfortable.
These come in very handy in keeping your essential gear inside the vest. As kayaks don’t have much space on them, therefore, it would be nice to have a vest with multiple pockets to keep things well-organized and make the kayak less messy.
LashTab and Attachment Points
They should offer quick access to the most frequently used supplies and equipment.
Refers to the way you put the vest on. There are front-entry zipper, side entry zipper, offset front-entry zipper, and overhead entry with no zipper system that is found in life jackets. Each of them offers some benefits and has the upper hand over one another.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Q: Does it still require me to wear a life jacket while kayaking on flat lake water?
A: It’s a must to wear a life jacket even if it doesn’t seem necessary to you. If it’s for your ease of mobility and comfort, there are many life jackets for kayaking that don’t restrict your mobility and provide you comfort when you have one of them on.
2. Q: What is the best kayak life jacket?
A: As different people have different requirements, it’s quite hard to point out one particular life jacket and address it as the best. However, the best life vest for kayak will have enough floatation support, will fit snugly, provide much mobility and comfort, and come with all safety features.
3. Q: Can I use a fishing life jacket for kayaking?
A: There is nothing wrong with using a fishing life jacket for kayaking as well. In fact, some vests are designed for versatile usage. If you prefer having plenty of pockets, surely you can wear one.
4. Q: Do life jackets expire?
A: There is no expiry date for PFDs. However, by the time, these vests become void and require repairing or altering. If it’s no longer usable, you need to replace the vest.
5. Q: What is a SOLAS life jacket?
A: SOLAS - Safety of life at sea, is a special type of life jacket that turns the wearer on his/her back within seconds and keeps the face above the water level even if the wearer is unconscious.
If you get the best kayak life vest, it will surely enhance your upcoming kayaking trips. To keep the vest well-functioning, be sure not to sit on it. And clean it every time with warm water and soap as per the manufacturer suggests. Store it in a dark place to increase its longevity.