For those of you that love water sports or activities, a PFD is a must. The only way to be completely safe out on the water, is to have one of these. We don’t want beginners or professionals without a PFD (personal flotation device).

We know for a fact, that there are lots of models, but there are certain features a PFD should have. But don’t worry about it, our goal for this guide is to clarify some of the major doubts you may have.

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Model Weight (pounds) Type Minimum Buoyancy When Inflated (pounds) Price
Absolute Outdoor Onyx 1 5 22.5 $$
Onyx M-24 Belt Pack 1.33 5 22.5 $$
Onyx MoveVent 1 3 22.0 $
Stohlquist Ebb 1 3 16 $$
Onyx Universal 3 2 50 $
Stearns Classic Series 1.4 2 50 $
Astral V-Eight 1.22 3 16 $$$


Reviews of The 7 Best Lightweight PFD

1. Best Overall Lightweight PFD – Absolute Outdoor Onyx

The Absolute Outdoor Onyx has two adjustable options: you can either keep it on the manual/automatic mode or change it to manual. We strongly suggest to keep it on the manual and automatic option, for safety reasons.

With this option, the PFD automatically inflates as soon as you’re in the water. You can also pull the red handle located on the right side.

In order for you to wear this, you must be over 16 years old, and weight more than 80 pounds. We think that this model might be a good pick for confident swimmers. As in for the price, it has an accessible digit, that could keep you safe at all times.


  • Durable fabric that resists tears
  • Lightweight model which is good for hard activities
  • Stretchable back that can be adjusted to your size
  • Low profile design to keep you cool inside the water


  • Collar can feel a bit uncomfortable
  • Doesn’t come with any pockets
  • The handle can feel somewhat uncomfortable when sitting down

2. Best Lightweight PFD for Experienced Swimmers – Onyx M-24 Belt Pack

The Onyx M-24 Belt Pack comes in a universal size. The item is manually inflatable, which can be done by repeatedly moving the T cord. It also has an oral inflation tube for emergent cases.

We like this model because of its size. It can be a great pick for those of you that love to paddleboard. Another alternative model could be the Onyx M-16 Belt Pack.

Another reason we think it would be a very fitting choice for paddleboarding, is the D-ring feature, as this is an advantage. Lastly, the model comes with small pockets that can be used for important identification. It has a suitable price as well.


  • Comes with pockets for important storage
  • Good size which makes storage easier
  • Does not restrict arm movement when paddleboarding
  • It’s easy to swim with


  • It’s difficult to fold after it’s inflated
  • Not recommended for back wearing
  • Can feel a bit heavier than other belt packs

3. Best Lightweight PFD for Kayaking – Onyx MoveVent

The Onyx MoveVent adapts to fit your body. It’s made from 200 denier nylon ripstop and nylon oxford. It comes with bubble foam on the back and neoprene pads on the shoulders, for greater comfort.

This model has vented channels which can keep the airflow going, and keep you cool. This PFD has a zipper pocket that can be used for storage. It comes with a whistle attached too.

We think this model has a good price considering its features. You should know it’s the only item in the review to include a whistle.


  • The arm holes are big for better maneuverability
  • It comes with a whistle which means you don’t have to expend extra
  • Comes with a rubber tab so you can attach items


  • The back is not high enough which could be an issue for people with high seats
  • It slides up behind head which can feel a bit uncomfortable
  • Can feel bulky at times

4. Best Lightweight PFD with Large Pockets – Stohlquist Ebb

The Stohlquist Ebb has ventilated pads on the sides and back, to keep you cool throughout the day. The arm holes are also quite big, in order for you to feel comfortable.

The model has two pockets on each side, where you can keep important objects. It has adjustable straps on both sides. Lastly, this model makes a great pick for high seats on kayaks.

Up until now, this is the only model suitable for high seated kayaks. As in for the price, it seems appropriate. One more thing, the Stohlquist Flo is a more suitable option for women.


  • It has a high back which makes it suitable for kayaking
  • It’s quite comfortable and it adapts to your body
  • Big armholes for increases comfort


  • The pockets are placed sideways and that can be inconvenient
  • Doesn’t have a tab to attach accessories
  • The excess straps can get in the way

5. Best Lightweight PFD for Calm Waters – Onyx Universal

The Onyx Universal should be used for activities that are not too far from the shore, where help can be delivered quickly. This model doesn’t have many features as it’s quite simple.

The product is very lightweight which makes it a great option for watersports, as it won’t limit your body due to weight. It comes with a clip strap for better and safer adjustment.

Something we like, is the bright color because you can be detected easily. We think this model might be right for you, if you stick to simple activities. This is the most budget-friendly item from the review. It has also received satisfying customer feedbacks.


  • Orange color makes you stand out which could be helpful in an emergency
  • Lightweight model which makes it convenient for simple activities
  • Keeps your head above water if unconscious


  • Can feel uncomfortable if wore for too long
  • Doesn’t have any pockets
  • Can’t be folded which makes it hard to store

6. Best Lightweight PFD for Beginner Swimmers – Stearns Classic Series

The Stearns Classic Series is made from nylon. It’s a 3 strap design for maximum security. It has a polyester shell and a cross-tech foam, to keep you floating. We recommend this model for adults as it comes in a universal size.

This model could be a great pick for activities in calm waters. We don’t recommend it for extreme sports. It’s a good product to purchase if you are looking for a simple PFD, to do kayaking. The price is very much accessible as well.


  • Good choice for people that can’t swim
  • Great price for a low budget
  • Lightweight model which makes it good to take on trips


  • The straps don’t seem to be very tight
  • Not recommended for extreme water sports
  • Rides up high which can feel uncomfortable
  • There have been a couple of issues with the universal size

7. Best Lightweight PFD for Fishing – Astral V-Eight

The Astral V-Eight is made from 200 x 400 denier ripstop nylon. The design has a zipper in the middle, and a clip strap placed on the bottom for increased safety.

This model has advanced technology, that allows the vents on the sides and back to release all the body heat being kept. We like the fact that it’s available in three bright colors, that make you stick out from long distances.

The product has two pockets on both sides, for essentials to be kept. It has a rubber square where you can attach extra equipment. This could be the PFD you’ve been looking for, even though it have a higher price than other models.


  • Comes with pockets for important belonging to be kept
  • It has adjustable straps on shoulders for resizing
  • Comes with rubber pad for equipment attachment


  • High price which could be more than you intend to spend
  • The sideways pockets can be difficult to open
  • Padding can feel a bit thick

Shopping Guide for the Best Lightweight PFD

Do Different Water Sports Activities Require Different PFDs?

There are definitely some PFDs that are more suitable for certain water sports. PFDs are not exactly made for each activity but there are surely some models more comfortable for each one.

We are going to go over some points, that you should consider for each activity.

PFDs for Kayakers:

  • The vest shape is commonly used
  • Zipper and adjustable straps to be completely safe
  • Pockets are helpful for licenses or permits
  • Rubber pads to attach tools
  • Material should keep you cool

PFDs for Paddlers

  • Both vests and belt packs are common
  • Both models should have pockets
  • Automatic inflation is quite important but mostly common in vests
  • Rubber squares for equipment attachment, whistles are required in some places
  • Should be very lightweight considering you’re going to be standing up.

PFDs for Snorkeling

  • There are two types of vests: the common one and a simpler one
  • Vest doesn’t have too many attachments as anything can get caught in corals
  • Adjustable straps
  • Oral inflater to help you stay afloat if needed

PFDs for Fishing

  • Vests are mostly common
  • Pockets to keep lures or any important equipment
  • Pads to attach tools you may need
  • Adjustable shoulder straps for maximum comfort
  • General adjustable straps to keep you secure in case you fall in

What Are the Different Types of PFDs?

As you may know, there are different types of PFDs. We want to explain each one, so you are clear about everything, once you decide to choose a model.

Type I: these models are used in offshore activities. In most cases it takes emergent help a while to get to you. It should leave the average person with their head above the water, if unconscious.

Minimum Buoyancy: 22 pounds (adults)

Type II: this type is for activities near the shore where help can get to you quite quickly. Mostly for calm and flat waters. It only turns some unconscious users with their head above the water. It doesn’t do well in rough environments.

Minimum Buoyancy: 15.5 pounds (adults)

Type III: this kind of model is suitable for paddlers, as it provides comfort for long hours of use. This is not a survival PFD, so help should be nearby.

Minimum Buoyancy: 15.5 pounds (adults)

Type IV: this type of PFD is not a wearable kind. It’s a floatable device, used to throw to aid anyone in need that is conscious. It should be kept within quick reach.

Minimum Buoyancy: 18 pounds (square cushion)

Type V: these types of PFDs are only permitted with certain activities. Must be worn at all times to meet the minimum US Coast Guard demands.

Minimum Buoyancy: 15.5 pounds (adults)

How to Pick the Right PFD Size for Me?

Picking the correct PFD size depends on the size of your chest. Some PDFs come in universal sizes, they all come with a maximum size they can hold. You can also find models that have 3 sizes available, each one is specified with the measurements.

If that’s the case, then you should relate it to your clothes size. You should know that it shouldn’t fully depend on that measurement, as it’s not always reliable when buying PFDs.

You should always try it out. We recommend you do so, with the type of clothes you’re actually going to be wearing with it. Try to move your arms or body around, depending on which activity you’re buying it for. Do the usual movement you do when in the water.

Our Closing Thoughts

We hope to have helped you make your choice and answered your doubts. We suggest you go over every detail very carefully. It’s always a good idea to read what customers have to say about each product.

Take a close look at the Shopping Guide, to make sure you don’t miss anything when choosing your new PFD. Remember to look for a model for your specific activity in order to feel comfortable at all times.