10 Best Life Jackets for Kayaking in 2017 | Top Kayak PFD Reviews

Life jackets are a safety necessity and typically a legal necessity when kayaking. Many kayakers kayak with bulky awkward jackets for a long time, before realizing how many sleek, versatile options are on the market today.

When considering your own Personal Flotation Device, or PFD, for your kayak, make sure you consider the adjustability of the jacket, the reflectivity on the PFD, and storage options on the life jacket.

10 Top Life Jackets for Kayaking

Image

Product Name

Fit

Buoyancy Weight

Extra Features

Price

Stohlquist Men's Trekker Life Jacket

Fits well, May ride up

16 pounds

Two Large Bellow Pockets Lots of Ventilation

MTI Adventurewear Fisher Kayak Fishing PFD Life Jacket

Rides up

15 pounds 8 ounces

Four Pockets D-Rings Rated at 50 MPH

MTI Adventurewear Helios 2.0 Inflatable Yoke Style PFD Life Jacket

Light fit, no issues

20 pounds

Built-in Window Light for hot regions

Extrasport Men's Evolve Life Jacket

Very light fit, secure

15 pounds 8 ounces

Air Comfort Great for Men and Women Buckles and Zips

Stormr Strykr Jacket

52 pounds

Not rated

Full sized Jacket

​Astral Buoyancy V-Eight Life Jacket

Very lightweight, not cumbersome

16 pounds, 4 ounces

Basic Jacket Reflective

Stohlquist Rocker Personal Floatation Device

Light, but stiff

16 pounds, 12 ounces

Reflective Beverage Pocket

NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD

Very lightweight

Not Rated

Reflective Lots of storage!

KOKATAT Bahia Tour PFD

Lightweight, Comfort Fit

Not Rated

Lots of storage Reflective

MTI Voyager PFD

Heavier, lots of padding

Not Rated

Only for kayakers who are elderly or have arthritis

Choosing a kayaking life jacket is crucial, because it is the single most important item which will keep you safe while you are kayaking. However, each kayaker needs to find a life-jacket or PFD which supports their personal choices while kayaking. The biggest difference in PFDS for kayaking are the number of pockets, the type of reflective material, and the adjustability of the fittings.

Best Life Jackets for Kayaking in 2017

1. Stohlquist Men's Trekker Life Jacket

This Trekker Life Jacket by Stohlquist is an excellent, nylon PFD.

The jacket has adjustable straps at the chest, the shoulders, and the sides. This ensures that the kayaker can adjust the PFD to their specifications and will not have to readjust while kayaking.

The shape of the jacket also aids with comfort, as the design follows the natural curve of your body. More comfort is found in the side, shoulder, and back ventilation.

This way, even if it is stifling outside, you will find yourself comfortable.​

The jacket is made of soft neoprene, but the outside layer is nylon, keeping it sturdy and puncture resistant. The outside is also reflective, allowing you to be seen easily if you are out while it is dark. The front of the jacket has two very large bellow shaped pockets. These can store phones, snacks, your kayaking GPS or other necessities.

One word of caution--this jacket does have to be hand washed, only with soap and water. This may be a deterrent to those looking for easy cleaning.

Pros

  • Two large bellow pockets
  • Reflective
  • ​Made of Neoprene and Nylon
  • ​Shaped for your body
  • ​Ventilation: Shoulders, back, and sides
  • ​Adjustable straps: shoulders, sides, and chest
  • Zipper

Cons

  • Hand Wash Only

2. MTI Adventurewear Fisher Kayak Fishing PFD Life Jacket

This PFD made by MTI Adventurewear is designed especially for fishing.

An ideal PFD for anglers has many storage pockets for gear. This jacket does not disappoint. TO begin with, the MTI Fisher PFD has pockets on the top of the jacket for small gear, like hooks and flys. On the bottom of the PFD are large pockets--in fact, they can hold a phone, a spare reel, or snacks. On the front and back of the jacket, you will find D-rings which allow you to clip on even more gear.​

Unlike the Stohlquist by Trekker, this life jacket has buckle front closures which provide the extra venting. This may be more cumbersome to take off than the zipper on the Trekker.

Adjustability is not abandoned on this jacket, however. Kayakers will find adjustable straps at the side and shoulders.

A final major perk is that this jacket has been tested at 50 miles per hour. In other words, if you were going 50 miles per hour and fell out of your boat, this jacket would stay on you without flaw.

Pros

  • D-rings
  • Small top pockets
  • ​Large bottom pockets
  • ​50 MPH tested
  • Adjustable: Sides and shoulders

Cons

  • Buckles

3. MTI Adventurewear Helios 2.0 Inflatable Yoke Style PFD Life Jacket

MTI is one of the large companies when it comes to making kayaking PFDs. The Helios 2.0 is very different from the Fisher, and has completely different perks.

First, this jacket is incredibly lightweight and is perfect for those living in hot places. Why? The jacket is an inflatable PFD for kayaking, of course! This means that if you are wearing it uninflated, you have a very small piece around you. Once you tug the ripcord, however, this kayak PFD can hold you in the water.​

Afraid it will not inflate? Check the window on the bottom of the vest, which allows you to check that the CO2 cylinder is connected. Additionally, there is a pocket on the life jacket where you can store the C02 cylinder and other essential items.​

Still afraid this PFD will not support you? There is a backup tube which you can inflate yourself. If that still does not calm you down, the jacket has a whistle on it which you can blow to alert nearby boaters or swimmers.

Pros

  • CO2 Cylinder and viewing window
  • Backup tube for self inflation
  • Whistle for emergencies
  • ​Great for hot regions
  • Very lightweight

Cons

  • Some may not feel safe

4. Extrasport Men's Evolve Life Jacket (Women’s)

Extrasport has designed a PFD for men and women. These separate designs feature many of the same things, but allow for the perfect fit for both genders.

First, comfort is key with this PFD. There are three sets of adjustable straps. There is a shoulder strap, a side strap, and a waist belt, all of which allow the kayaking PFD to fit you just perfectly.​

This kayaking PFD also has venting due to the AirComfortSystem. This comfort system creates extra airflow by placing mesh against your body wherever possible.

The back of the Evolve is also almost fully mesh, allowing for constant airflow, even when pressed against your kayaking seat.

This vest also has large pockets which zip shut--but they are fleece lined. Even though the Evolve designers were concerned about warm climates, they were also conscious of cold water.

There is extra storage on this PFD due to the D-ring in front and rear, and this vest, like the Trekker, is reflective.

Women’s Evolve

The key difference between the men’s kayaking PFD and the women’s PFD for kayaking is design.

First, the women’s Evolve has the option to include decorative stitching on the front, giving it a feminine flair. This jacket for women also has less padding at the bust, allowing for more airflow and less pressure.

This Evolve for Women by Extrasport is easily the best women’s PFD for kayaking. If you are considering a different kayaking PFD, compare it to the Evolve first.

Pros

  • Men and Women’s jackets
  • Lots of airflow
  • Two hand warmer pockets
  • ​Zipper and Buckle
  • Adjustability: Shoulder, Side, and Waist

Cons

  • Can feel bulky

5. Stormr Strykr Jacket

The Stormr Stykr Jacket is a one of a kind PFD and may be the best life jacket for kayaking. This PFD is actually a full-length jacket, just like you would grab on a cold fall morning. However, instead of grabbing your jacket and your life jacket, you have an all-in-one.

This jacket does not have any flotation panels, but it does have neoprene construction, which means it should help keep you afloat.​

It also has a fleece-lined interior and a waterproof exterior, meaning your should be kept warm if you end up in the water. However, if you plan on attempting to use this in a situation where you are constantly being slammed with waves, this jacket will not hold up.

Unlike the other PFDs on this list, the Strykr does not have adjustable straps, but this is partially because it is a full-sized jacket. This jacket should be comfortable for any size kayaker.

If you purchase this jacket, you will want a different life jacket for the summer season. You also want to keep a certified life jacket in your kayak, for legal reasons.

Pros

  • Will help keep you afloat
  • Waterproof exterior
  • ​Fleece-lined interior
  • ​Neoprene construction
  • All-in-one

Cons

  • May need a life jacket in the kayak with you
  • Some complaints of jacket not being correctly sealed

6. Astral Buoyancy V-Eight Life Jacket (2015)

This PFD vest by Astral Buoyancy is a small, lightweight jacket. If you do not care for much storage and simply want a vest to keep you buoyant, this is the jacket for you.

Astral Buoyancy designed the V-Eight to be a breathable PFD. If there does not need to be padding on this vest, there is not. It also has a similar system to the Evolve, but this is called the Airescape system. It allows for maximum breathability.​

There is one very large pocket, and an interior sleeve, but no where near the storage of the other vests on this list.

One nifty piece to this life jacket, however, is the quick access knife tab. This allows you to access a knife quickly if you or your kayak become tangled. Many kayaking life jackets have tabs, but most of them are not already equipped as a knife specific tab.

Additionally, this vest is reflective, allowing you to be safe and visible at night.

Pros

  • Extremely lightweight
  • One large pocket
  • ​One small interior pocket
  • ​Quick Access Knife Tab
  • ​Airescape system
  • Reflective

Cons

  • Little storage

7. Stohlquist Rocker Personal Floatation Device

Another PFD by Stohlquist, the Rocker is similar, but has a few extra features. These extra features set the Rocker aside as one of the best life jackets for kayaking.

To begin with, the Rocker has a D-ring on the top, which is perfect for storing your keys or whistle. There is one beverage pocket and another very large pocket on this PFD. It also has 6 different adjustable straps-- at the side, waist, chest, and shoulders.​

Additionally, this PFD has an amazing toso which is designed in body wrapping foam. This means that it adjusts to different body shapes with ease. Stohlquist calls this technology WRAPTURE technology.

Stohlquist has placed an interior non-slip panel on this vest, but there is still some slipping with occurs while out kayaking. This may be in part to the zipper entry, which can cause for a more stiff jacket.

Finally, like many of the other kayaking PFDs, this one is reflective. Keep in mind, the Rocker does not have reflective tape like many of the other kayak PFDs, instead this jacket is almost entirely reflective, allowing for maximum safety.

Pros

  • Zipper Entry
  • WRAPTURE technology
  • ​One large pocket
  • ​Beverage pocket
  • ​D-Ring
  • ​6 Adjustable Straps
  • ​Non-Slip Panel

Cons

  • Slips Up
  • Hand wash only

8. NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD

This PFD vest, designed by NRS, has pockets and mesh galore.

To begin with, the entire back of this life jacket is mesh--which allows for kayakers of all sizes to be comfortable in all types of weather. Where is the flotation? On the front of the vest and behind the shoulders, allowing you to lie comfortable on your back if in the water.​

Pockets are everywhere on this PFD. There is one very large pocket on the front left. This pocket is perfect for snacks or a kayaking GPS. There are also two smaller on the front right, one of which is a radio pocket. Finally, there is a cell phone pocket on the top right of the jacket.

There are also multiple lanyard tabs and loops. These tabs and loops are designed to attach strobe lights or knives for easy reach. Keep in mind, once installing one of these items it can be very difficult to uninstall.

Finally, on the top of the two larger pockets on the front are two small pockets. The pockets are not large enough to keep much more than a small snack or some small pieces you may need for your kayak.

This vest also has reflective tape, but it is low-light visibility, meaning that even in worst lighting situations, the vest can be seen from a distance.

For adjusting this vest to fit you perfectly, NRS has provided 8 adjustment points. There are four on the sides, two at the shoulder, and two at the waist.

Pros

  • Beacon loops
  • Lanyard loops
  • ​Radio Pocket
  • ​Lash Tab
  • ​Phone Pocket
  • ​Mesh Back
  • ​Reflective tape
  • ​Eight Adjustment points
  • ​Six Pockets Total

Cons

  • May need a life jacket in the kayak with you
  • Some complaints of jacket not being correctly sealed

9. KOKATAT Bahia Tour PFD

This PFD for kayaking is very similar to the cVest by NRS. Pockets are everywhere and it is as slim as possible.

To begin, this jacket has two large front pockets, an electronics pocket, a pliers pocket, and a window for your license. There are also several tabs. These tabs are most often used to attach a knife, although they can be used for attaching lights.​

This vest is mainly foam, although there is a small mesh vent panel in the back. Compared to the other vests on the list, this is not nearly as much mesh.

There are side adjustments and shoulder adjustments, allowing this vest to fit snugly with your body. Additionally, this kayaking PFD zips shut instead of buckles, which is a perk.

Finally, as is expected, this vest comes with reflective striping on it. This allows kayakers to be seen in dangerous weather.

Pros

  • Zipper
  • Lots of pockets
  • ​4 adjustable straps
  • Reflective

Cons

  • Not as much airflow as other PFDs

10. MTI Voyager PFD

Another PFD by MTI, the Voyager is possibly even more unique than any of the others on this list. This vest is actually designed for elderly kayakers or those who have arthritis.

The strap on the zipper on this vest is very long, and there are no buckles. This makes it much easier to zip for those who hands are riddled with arthritis or old age.​

Additionally, as those with arthritis often struggle when their hands gets cold, the pockets are fleece lined to help keep the hands warm.

Also, the padding on this vest is not just for flotation, but to keep the kayaker comfortable. The padding hits places which often become sore during kayaking, such as the lower back and the shoulders.

Added comfort comes in form of a pocket for eyeglasses, which is a must-have for kayakers of many age groups. In case a health concern would arise while kayaking, a safety whistle is also attached to this vest.

Another feature is an ID patch, which allows kayakers who have passed out or are no longer alive to be identified. Finally, this life jacket is reflective for visibility.

Pros

  • Zipper with long handle
  • Fleece lined
  • ​D pockets
  • ​Eyeglasses pocket
  • ​Safety Whistle
  • ​ID patch
  • Reflective

Cons

  • Not for all kayakers

How to Buy a Kayak PFD

You must know your needs when you are purchasing a PFD for kayaking. These PFDs can be very specialized, like the Voyager or the Fisher, or they can be basic vests fit for many different kayakers.

Whatever the case, you want to choose a kayak life vest which is perfect for your needs. Take reflectivity, number of pockets, and adjustability into account.

Reflectivity

If you plan on kayaking at night or near nighttime, you certainly want to make sure the jacket as reflectivity. Some jackets are full reflective material, these are the best as they create the largest reflection and they do not run at risk of peeling.

Others simply have taped reflectors on them. If you are considering a life jacket which has this, be cautious. These tape reflectors can peel off over time, causing safety risks.

Number of Pockets

Pockets can be of extreme importance. If you are a fisherman, or a photographer, or planning on camping overnight in the woods, pockets are necessary to keep essential gear close, even if you end up in the water.

However, if you are simply taking your kayak out for a few hours, having lots of pockets may be more cumbersome than anything else.

Women’s PFD for Kayaking

Take note of which kayak PFDs have options of women and men. For women, it is extremely important to find a comfortable kayaking life jacket, and to find one which fits well in all areas.

The most popular and easily the best women’s PFD for kayaking is the Women’s Evolve PDF. This vest creates maximum comfort for women and provides feminine nuances, without losing any of the benefits of the best kayaking life jackets.

Adjustability

No matter what you features you want in the best kayak life jacket, you are guaranteed to want adjustability. Adjustability not only allows you to get the best possible fit in different stages of your life, but if other people use the kayak PFD, it allows them to get the best possible fit.

It is important to have waist straps, shoulder straps, and chest straps. Chest straps are especially important for female kayakers, as they allow extra room to breathe in the life jacket.

Our Final Review for the Best Kayak PFD

Choose carefully and choose wisely. It is incredibly important that you choose a life jacket which you know can keep you safe. All of the life jackets on this list provide maximum safety.

However, each of the life jackets on this list differ in their top priorities. Some focus on pockets, some focus on reflective materials. Others focus on specific activities or types of kayakers.

Know which features are most important to you and choose wisely! Fore more kayak accessories, visit our dedicated review page.

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