Whether you call them life vests, life jackets or PFD’s (portable flotation devices), they are essential to everyone that wants to enjoy some outdoor activity, waterside.
Kayak fishing, wake boarding, kite sailing, white-water rafting or even a day of gentle sailing on the lake with the family are not complete without the life vest that, in unforeseen circumstances, can mean the difference between life and death.
Criteria To Consider Before Buying A Life Vest
Regardless of what brand you buy, there are certain things you need to ask before you make your choice. Before we get into the review, let’s have a look at some of the things we need to take into account.
- Are you replacing a vest or buying one for the first time? As a first time buyer you will need to measure your chest and know your weight. For children you’ll want to know only their weight.
- What do you need it for? Are you kayaking, kayak fishing, touring, white-water rafting or sailing? Will you be going out to sea or spending time on the lake? Will you be operating a jet ski or motorized PWC (personal watercraft)?
The Checklist for Judging PFD’s
Sizing the vest – If it is too big you will not benefit from the buoyancy it is designed for. An ill-fitting vest is going be a constant reminder that you have it on, detracting from your enjoyment. It also means the foam front will rise up knocking your chin and, in the event of a man overboard scenario, may not do the job it was designed for.Most manufacturers do 3 sizes. The measurements indicate chest size. Fishing vests may have neoprene shoulders for added comfort while vests for kayaking or paddling may have adjustable shoulder straps for a better fit.
Types of vests – Typically you will be going for a Type III vest with a buoyancy or design flotation of 15 lbs or more. These vests are for recreational use as opposed to the standardized, bulky commercial life jackets which are Type I.
Type III life vests are an adequate safety aid for people who can swim and may find themselves in a situation where a quick rescue will be possible. They may not be suitable or safe if the wearer is unconscious and unable to tilt their head back.
Design and Features – Life vests are usually made of nylon which is lightweight and cheap. Some styles add neoprene for extra comfort. Adjustable straps may appear on the front, sides and shoulder. Some designs have more adjustment features than others. This is an advantage as it allows for wearing additional layers of clothing underneath. It also means that women will be able to get a good fitting vest that can adjust around the bust area without compromising the fit around the waist. Some vests fasten with multiple buckles while others have zippers.
Zippered pockets are practical and convenient whether fishing or kayaking and life vests designed for anglers may have extra loops and D-rings to hold rods.
Mesh backing for good ventilation and comfort. There is nothing more frustrating than wearing a vest that rides up when you are paddling. High back kayak seats and a bulky vest are not a good combination.
Safety First – Reputable brands, like the 5 we have reviewed, will meet all safety and regulation requirements for their type. Depending on the main function of the vest there may be a safety harness built in, with extra looping to attach you to a safety line, for instance, when sailing.
Top 5 Life Vests Review
1. ONYX MoveVent Life Vest
- 200 denier nylon ripstop and nylon oxford
- Mesh in lower back fits high back seats;
- Shoulder adjustments with neoprene comfort pads
Onyx products meet all the safety criteria and has a wide range of life vests to choose from, including vests designed for dogs. They use SOLAS grade, reflective material. For the novices in our midst, SOLAS stands for Safety of Life at Sea. SOLAS grade is reflective tape with a candela range of 1000, meaning it has brightness that cannot be missed by rescue workers.
This design is versatile, designed for sailing, SUP, kayaking and most recreational water sports.
As the name suggests, the MoveVent vest is all about movement and ventilation. The bubble foam on the inner back and the neoprene shoulder pads make it extremely comfortable to wear. The lower back is meshed for good ventilation and comfort, in kayaks with high backs. You can adjust it at the shoulders and the sides to get a good sculpted fit.
Made out of 200 denier, nylon ripstop and nylon oxford, it’s a strong vest that will endure a lot of wear and tear. The mesh is a polyester knit, making it a lightweight, fast-drying fabric.
Dimensions: 26” x 23” x 3.5” (L x W X H)
Special features include:
- Attached safety whistle
- Drying loop
- Expandable, zippered pockets with mesh drainage
- Zipper closures
- Zip assisted loops at zip base
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Vest comes in 3 sizes, for people weighing 90lbs or more.
- XS/S – 28” – 36” (chest)
- M/L – 36” – 44”
- XL/XXL – 44” – 56”
The gray vests are lined with trims in aqua, purple, yellow or orange.
2. NRS Chinook Fishing PFD
- Perfect for kayak fishing, fly fishing and extended tours.. The mesh lower back is a great fit on high-back seats and provides ventilation when the weather gets warm.. The roomy front-entry design with eight adjustment points lets you customize the fit...
- Soft PlushFITƒ,› foam flotation conforms to your body as you wear it for unsurpassed comfort.. A coil tool retractor allows you to clip on line snips, forceps or other tools that you want to have handy.. Includes a D-ring on the back for attaching your...
- Other outstanding features include rod holder loops, a knife lash tab, and multiple D-rings and attachment loops.. 16.5 lbs. design flotation..
The Chinook offers everything you want in a fishing vest. Designed specifically for anglers, but also ideal for kayaking and extended tours.
The foam is a trademarked memory foam called PlushFIT, this jacket is really comfortable to wear. Mesh on lower back allows for comfortable seating in kayaks with high backs and gives good ventilation in warm weather conditions. It is a front entry jacket with 8 adjustment points, (4 on the sides, 2 on the shoulders and 2 on the waist.) It is made from 200 denier, urethane-coated ripstop nylon.
Design flotation: 16.5lbs
Dimensions: 21” x 23” x 6”
Special features include:
- Multiple D-rings and attachment loops for all your gear, including a D-ring on the back for your net, a loop for your rod and a loop for your strobe.
- 7 front pockets for all your bits and pieces from tackle to tippet.
- A lash tab for knives
- A coil fishing tool retractor
NRS Chinook comes in 3 sizes:
- S/M – 33” – 40” (chest)
- L/XL – 38” – 46”
- XXL – 42” – 50”
Choose from charcoal, green or bright orange.
3. Astral Buoyancy V-Eight Life Jacket
Touted as the world’s first breathable PFD, Astral has been designing and selling life jackets for over 20 years. Their brand promotes innovation and clean living, which is always a good selling point, couple that with good quality products that keep improving and you have a winner.
The V-Eight is designed for all recreational water sports, touring, kayak fishing and sailing. The pre-shaped foam in the front and back make it a good fit for men and women. It has a mesh backing to accommodate high back kayak seats and supply good ventilation. Astral’s patented Airescape technology has created a vest with vent ports in the front and back to give better breathability by allowing trapped body heat to escape.
The vest is a zippered, front entry style, made from 200×400 denier, ripstop nylon and heavy duty acetal (so your buckles won’t get damaged from the sun and become brittle.) It only weighs 1.22lbs so it really is lightweight.
Design flotation: 16.2lbs
Dimensions: 20” x 20” x 7”
Special features include:
- Large front pocket and interior storage sleeve
- Quick access knife tab
- Reflective trim
- Zippers with YKK® self-locking Vislon teeth
- Polypro webbing
- PE and EVA foam inserts
The Astral Buoyancy V-Eight comes in 3 sizes:
- S/M – 31” – 37” (chest)
- M/L – 38” – 44”
- L/XL – 45” – 51”
Available in Glacier Blue, Burnt Orange and Ocean Blue.
4. Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket
- Ergonomic WRAPTURETM shaped torso
- Adjustable shoulders, 4 side pulls and front waist buckle closure
- Low cut, offset front-zip entry
The Stohlquist Edge is designed with white-water rafting, SUP, and wetsailing in mind. It is a low profile vest with high mobility. It is very popular with wake boarders and kite surfers.
Stohlquist use trademarked foam, WRAPTURE, and wrap it does! This vest has a side entry zip and a top loading, front pocket for secure storage. The Edge has adjustable shoulder straps, 4 side pulls and a front waist buckle clip. It fits like a glove but the mesh sides ensure good ventilation.
Special features include:
- High visibility, 3M (trademarked) reflective strips
- Soft buoyancy foam for a sculpted fit
- Shoulder straps, padded and contoured.
- Mini-ripstop nylon shell and 200 denier nylon oxford lining
- Graded sizing means the same style fits a wide range of body types, without compromising mobility or buoyancy.
3 Sizes with slight differentiations of design buoyancy
- SM/MD – 33’ – 39” – 15lbs, 8oz
- LG/XL – 40” – 46” – 16lbs, 8oz
- XXL – 48” – 54” – 17lbs, 8oz
5. Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest
- US Coast Guard-approved adult life jacket
- Great for boating, tubing, swimming, and water sports
- Soft and durable nylon shell and lightweight PE flotation foam
This is by far the cheapest, most simple jacket we reviewed. But it does the job without the frills. The Stearns is the classic go-to vest we see at most recreational swimming facilities and at water sports businesses.
US Coast Guard approved this classic style vest is exactly what you need for a relaxing, family day of boating.
Special features include:
- Open sided, 3 buckle design
- PE foam
- Ample arm space
- Durable nylon shell
- Webbed 1” straps
Stearns Adult Classic Series comes in two sizes and two colors.
There are 2 different sizes available:
- Universal – 30” – 52”
- Oversized – 52” – 62”
Choose either red or blue.
Our Final Thoughts
We hope this short guide has given you some insight into the top selling life vests available. Just remember, one size does not fit all when it comes to life vests, so be sure to get your chest measurements right and go according to the recommendations of the particular style you choose.