The Best Life Vests For Kayaking in 2021

If you’re setting out on a paddling trip you want to ensure you and your loved ones are safe. Even kayaking in the calmest of water you can tip over and can be dangerous and lead to accidents and a buoyancy aid is an essential piece of kit.

In this post, we’re going to cover the 5 best life vests for kayaking and list some of the things that you should look for before purchasing.

Our Favorite Life Jackets For Kayaking

ImageNameCheck Price
#1. Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFDCURRENT PRICE
#2. Stearns Adult Classic Series VestCURRENT PRICE
#3. O'Neill Men's Reactor USCG Life VestCURRENT PRICE
#4. Stearns Child Classic Series VestCURRENT PRICE
#5. Stearns Infant Classic Series VestCURRENT PRICE
#6. O'Brien Women's Impulse Neo Life VestCURRENT PRICE
#7. NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD Life JacketCURRENT PRICE

Kayaking Life Vest Buying Guide

Before we get on to our life vests reviews we’re going to cover everything you need to know before purchasing a life jacket for your next kayaking trip.

What are life vests made out of?

Not all life vests are made the same, and we are not just talking about the style here. Depending on the manufacturer, their personal policies, and specific purposes of the product, you will find vests made of different materials. The three most common ones are Kapok, PVC, and GaiaTMFoam.

Kapok is named after the tree from where it is derived, and this material has gained high renown for being significantly eco-friendly. It has a fibrous structure, which lends it more buoyancy than traditional foam materials, and is appreciated for its lightweight and notable durability.

Perhaps its most popular characteristic is that it does a great job of keeping water out of your vest, which is a huge bonus for people who forget, or just have trouble finding time, to properly dry their floatation aides.

PVC is by far the most commonly employed material. This is what is known as “traditional foam” and has an insanely wide array of applications.

This substance is valued for its high durability and low price but has received a fair amount of backlash in the recent times, due to containing chlorine and certain oils, which make it not as environmentally friendly as the modern trends are increasingly demanding.

Finally, there is the Gaia foam. This is a relatively new material on the market, based on organic compounds of nitrile, and highly regarded for being free of halogens, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), and PVC components.

In addition to being so environmentally friendly, it is also resistant to heat and cold, and rather lighter than most other materials. Vests made of this are much less dense overall, meaning less heavy-feeling.

How to check the buoyancy of your life jacket?

Not everyone will need the same degree of buoyancy ability in their vest, and this is expected. The best inflatable life jackets will be available in enough different varieties to account for all of the different needs out there. Some of the factors that determine how much buoyancy you will need are your clothing, the size and working capacity of your lungs, as well as the percentage of your body fat. It is all highly individual, but there can be said to be this one general guideline to follow: the more fit you are, the stronger your vest has to be, because muscle tissue is by far more dense than fat or anything else.

Now, different life vest types will have different buoyancy levels, although in general, they will always offer slightly more than you need. Always check the label on the vest you are considering for this information – the manufacturer is obliged to list it. Having said that, there is a fairly simple and straightforward way to test your potential new vest and see whether it will actually keep you afloat as well as it is supposed to.

Inflate the vest and put it on properly. Make sure to follow all the instructions for that step – mistaking the basic precautions is the very first thing that might lead you to drown somewhere out in the wild water. Once you have your “test vest” on, get into a body of water, lay on your back, and tilt your head back as well. If the vest has the right level of buoyancy for your needs, your chin and mouth will be comfortably above the water. If either one is dipping in, you need a stronger vest, i.e. one with a higher buoyancy level.

Does a life jacket’s buoyancy change over time?

Yes, it does, although typically not of its own accord. One critical thing to keep in mind is that there are, in fact, ways in which you yourself can lower the efficacy of your floatation device. The two biggest dangers you face are pressure and leftover moisture. If you kneel against your vest at any point, r decide to sit on it for whatever possible reason, you will press the material together which will increase its density in that spot and throw it off balance everywhere else, and by consequence lower the floating ability of the life vest.

The second problem we mentioned is leftover moisture. Now, no matter what it is made of and how hard you try to prevent it, your vest will inevitably pick up some water over the course of its usage. This is natural and perfectly okay, so long as you handle it right. If you put your life vest into storage while it is still wet, the water will get stuck and you will likely find aggressive mold growing all over the next time you pick the floater up. therefore, make sure that you dry it off thoroughly before storing it away.

You may want to read up a little more on things like the physics of buoyancy if you want a deeper understanding of your life vest’s mechanics, but you are covered for the basics! Stay safe and have fun!

Top Kayaking PFD reviews

#1. Onyx Curve MOVEVENT Paddle Sports PFD

Onyx Movevent Curve Vest - Blue M/L
  • Crafted from the highest quality material
  • Perfect for outdoor and even indoor use
  • Made in China

#2. Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest

Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest, 3000001412, Red, Universal
  • US Coast Guard-approved adult life jacket
  • Great for wakeboarding, water skiing, and tubing
  • Soft and durable nylon shell and lightweight PE flotation foam

#3. O’Neill Men’s Reactor USCG Life Vest

O'Neill Men's Reactor USCG Life Vest BLKBLKBLK MEDIUM
  • USCG Approved Personal Flotation Device; Perfect for Wake Sports, Waterskiing, Tubing, and Swimming
  • Segmented Foam Core And Anatomical Flex Points Allow Unrestricted Movement
  • Quick Release Safety Buckles And Heavy Duty Front Zipper Create an Unparalleled Sense of Security

#4. O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest

O'Neill Men's Superlite USCG Life Vest ,Black/Black/Smoke/White,Medium
  • USCG Approved Personal Flotation Device (Type III); Perfect For Wake Sports, Waterskiing, Tubing, And Swimming
  • Designed to fit snug for your safety. Minimal bulk design allows full mobility and easy on and off
  • Anatomically cut lightweight polyethylene foam flotation with durable coated polyester outer shell makes the vest strong yet soft...

#5. Stearns Child Classic Series Vest

Stearns Child Classic Series Life Vest, Blue
  • US Coast Guard-approved child life vest
  • Great for boating, tubing, and swimming
  • Durable nylon shell with PE flotation foam

#6. Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest

STEARNS Infant Classic Series Vest, Blue
  • US Coast Guard-approved toddler life jacket
  • Great for introducing little swimmers to the water
  • Durable nylon shell with PE flotation foam

#7. O’Brien Women’s Impulse Neo Life Vest

O'Brien Women's Impulse Neo Life Vest, Purple, Medium
  • 1.5mm Neoprene outer for comfortable fit
  • Zip closure and 2 belts for security
  • Multiple hinge point on front & back

#8. Nrs Chinook Fishing Pfd Life Jacket

NRS PFD Foam Chinook Unisex Fishing Kayak Lifejacket, Bayberry, Small/Medium
  • Comfortable fishing lifejacket provided to make your fishing experience better, while keeping you safe out on the water
  • Designed to be roomy in the front with a great fit in the back
  • Soft, PlushFIT foam fits to your body type