20 Best Kayak Life Vests in 2022

A variety of life vests for kayaking

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The importance of wearing a good quality life vest can not be understated. According to the US Coast Guard 85% of people who drowned in kayak related accidents were not wearing life vests.

You especially need good freedom of movement too.

There are hundreds of kayak life vests on the market right now. That’s why we’ve looked at 25 of the most popular paddle boards to present the best 20 life vests on the market for your consideration.

The best kayak life vest is easy to find as long as you know what to look for. Read these reviews and you’ll easily figure out how to choose the best kayak life vest for your adventures.

Check out our buyer’s guide at the end of this article for more information on kayak life vests.

The Top 10 Kayak Life Vests in 2022

All the Kayak Life Vests We've tested

nrs-chinook-featured
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NRS Chinook is the high-end life vest designed for kayakers who don’t mind fishing from time to time too. 

The roomy fit makes it a versatile piece of equipment that can be worn over your regular clothes. Thanks to the PlushFIT foam that conveniently molds to your body, you are bound to feel your best wearing the jacket for long hours.

It comes with a variety of adjustment points for customizing it any way you want. The 2 zippered pockets in conjunction with the 2 accessory pockets and a tool holder pocket allow you to keep all of your necessities at hand. 

This model has a USCG certification, which makes it a sound garment with a high security rating. 

Specs & Features

  • Material: 400-Denier ripstop Nylon
  • Entry System: Front zip
  • USCG Type: III
  • Flotation: 16.5 lbs.
  • Sizing: X-Small - XX-Large

Our Overall Review

4.8

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The mesh lower back provides ventilation
  • check-mark
    The rod holder comes in handy when fishing

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markThe price tag is relatively high
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Where to buy:

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NRS Chinook Fishing

stohlquist-waterware-edge-featured
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For a roomy kayak life jacket that fits like a glove, consider paying attention to the Edge model designed by Stohlquist Waterware. Featuring the top-loading front pocket for the ease of accessibility and storage space for small knick knacks, it is the real deal. 

The graded sizing makes it a universal piece of equipment that can accommodate everyone regardless of their weight and height. 

The fit is entirely customizable – the shoulder, waist, and side traps can be adjusted to achieve that perfect look and feel. 

The low-cut design enables you to fit your arms with no troubles whilst also feeling secure. 

The high-visibility 3MTM reflective accents help others to spot you during the night, whereas the center lash tab allows you to bring a variety of utility attachments on board with you.      

Specs & Features

  • Material: Mini Ripstop Nylon, 200-Denier Oxford
  • Entry System: Offset front-zip
  • USCG Type: III
  • Flotation: 15 lbs. 8 oz (Small)
  • Weight: 1.21 lbs.

Our Overall Review

4.8

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The mesh sides provide you with the maximum ventilation
  • check-mark
    The ergonomic WRAPTURE shaped torso sits comfortably on your chest

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markRuns a little small
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Where to buy:

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Stohlquist Waterware Edge

Most Comfortable

coleman-comfort-series-featured
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The last thing you want to be doing when kayaking on a hot day is to be wearing a heavy life jacket with no ventilation. Coleman Comfort Series life vest is anything but that – it features large armholes alongside the back and shoulders’ mesh airing system for cooling down when needed. 

Approved by the USCG, this vest can accommodate every adult weighing over 90 pounds. 

The Nylon shell combined with the PE foam material and an adjustable buckle strap makes it a snug piece of equipment that is bound to last you a long time. 

You are given two front pockets for storing your necessities, which comes in handy when going for long kayaking trips. Slide it onto your chest, adjust the waist belt and the front zipper, and you are good to go.     

Specs & Features

  • Material: 200-Denier Nylon, PE foam
  • Entry System: Front buckle and zipper
  • USCG Type: III
  • Flotation: 15 lbs.
  • Weight: 1.63 lbs.

Our Overall Review

4.7

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The custom fit allows you to adjust the jacket depending on your preferences
  • check-mark
    The durable construction speaks about the long-lastingness of the vest

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markIt is bulky
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Where to buy:

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Coleman Comfort Series

Best for Women

kokatat-life-vest-featured
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Kokatat has been on the market for many decades already, and it shows. Their women’s life jacket we are about to review is the proof of the high quality for which the brand is known for.

Starting with the 500-Denier Cordura and 200-Denier Nylon fabrics and ending with an extensive size range, there is nothing this vest is short of. The lower back panel is crafted from mesh for that desired airflow, which is further supported by the PVC-free GAIA foam with recyclable properties. 

Other features include thermo-formed shoulders, 3 side adjustments, and 8 zippered pockets. This means that you can customize your life vest in any way you want for that comfortable and free-movement fit. 

The reflective tape is also integrated – it is particularly helpful for those kayaking trips in low light conditions. 

Specs & Features

  • Material: 500-Denier Cordura and 200-Denier Nylon
  • Entry System: Buckle and zipper
  • USCG Type: III
  • Sizing: Small - X-Large
  • Weight: 2.2 lbs

Our Overall Review

4.5

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The life vest has 3 certifications, including USCG, ISO, and Transport Canada
  • check-mark
    The adjustable shoulder straps and sides make it a fully customizable life vest

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markSince the upper half of the back consists of foam, it can be tricky to wear a pack
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Where to buy:

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Kokatat

Best Value For Money

onyx-movevent-dynamic-featured
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It’s hard to find a kayak life vest that could fairly compare to the MoveVent Dynamic model from Onyx. This one wins at comfort, functionality, fit, and cost every time. 

The sides of this vest are fully open, while the side belts are fully adjustable – a combination that enables zero movement restriction and a hundred percent of unparalleled ventilation. 

The shoulders are customizable too – they have comfort pads made from Neoprene that sit on your body comfortably throughout the entire kayaking trip. You might even forget you are wearing a life jacket when you are wearing it. 

The zippered pocket has a couple of handy characteristics too – it is extendable, has mesh drainage integrated into it, features a drying loop, and SOLAS-grade reflective accents. 

This USCG-approved life vest can quickly become your go-to life jacket whenever you venture out for kayaking, canoeing, or fishing adventure. 

 

Specs & Features

  • Material: 200-Denier Nylon
  • Entry System: Double-crimp, funnel
  • USCG Type: III
  • Chest Sizing: 28”-36” (X-Small/Small), 36”-44” (Medium/Large), 44”-56” (X-Large/2X-Large)
  • Weight: 1 lb

Our Overall Review

4.5

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    It is extremely lightweight
  • check-mark
    It has whistles for additional safety

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markNot suitable for larger individuals
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Where to buy:

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Onyx MoveVent Dynamic

Best for Mobility

nrs-vapor-featured
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This buoyancy aid by NSR is a superior kayak life vest that is designed to provide you with the high-cost experience at a moderate price.

The construction of the jacket is straightforward – it slides over your head and secures with the help of the side buckles that are fully adjustable. 

The arm cuts are wide enough to accommodate kayakers of all shapes and sizes. You won’t be restricted in your movements, especially when supported by the soft flotation foam that molds to your body like glue. 

The large pocket in the front has a diagonal zipper that is meant to keep the stuff you store in the pocket secure. Behind the pocket, there is a hand warmer pouch for keeping your limbs warm in the chilliest of the days. 

The life vest is approved by the USCG, which makes it a safe choice for long kayaking excursions.

Specs & Features

  • Material: 400-Denier (&200-Denier) Nylon
  • Entry System: Side Buckle
  • USCG Type: III
  • Flotation: 16.5 lbs.
  • Weight: 1.85 lbs.

Our Overall Review

4.4

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    It features padded shoulder straps and a reflective NRS logo
  • check-mark
    The six-panel design includes flexible foam that moves with your body

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markSome customers say the straps are too long
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Where to buy:

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NRS Vapor

stohlquist-mens-trekker-featured
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Kayaking and rafting can’t be imagined without a Stohlquist Trekker life jacket. The good reputation of the company within the kayaking community gives it credibility that, in turn, continues to boost sales on a yearly basis.

The construction of the jacket is near-to-perfect: it is compact, lightweight, and customizable. The outer shell of the jacket is crafted from the 500-Denier Cordura, while the inner lining features 200-Denier Oxford fabric – the duo works together for providing the wearer with comfort and damage-free performance. 

Whitewater rafting, for instance, is the perfect activity in which you can indulge when wearing this life jacket. The back panel of the vest is mounted high so that it doesn’t catch on the seat or ride up your neck during the boat ride. 

The adjustment straps make it easy to customize the fit which will enable the water sports enthusiasts to carry on gliding through the water all day long.  

Specs & Features

  • Material: 500-Denier Cordura, 200-Denier Oxford
  • Entry System: Zipper
  • USCG Type: III
  • Flotation: 16 lbs.
  • Weight: 1.7 lbs.

Our Overall Review

4.3

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    There are a couple of storage options available, including an accessory tab on the left upper back and two front pockets
  • check-mark
    The shoulder and back pads are ventilated

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markRuns small
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Where to buy:

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Stohlquist Men’s Trekker

absolute-outdoor-onyx-featured
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A wide range of motions without bulky feeling is what Absolute Outdoor Onyx inflatable life jacket is all about. Granted, it’s not designed for weak swimmers, but those who are skilled swimmers can easily reap the benefits of it.

You can inflate the vest either manually – by pulling a T-cord – or let it automatically inflate when in the water. The sleek design of the jacket keeps the swimmer cool in the hot weather, while the Neoprene neckline provides you with the comfort for kayaking or fishing all day long. 

The Nylon incorporated into the construction of the life vest is made to be durable – there is zero chance of you starting to notice any signs of wear and tear in the first year of use. 

The cherry on top is the reflective piping that comes in handy once the sun sets. 

Specs & Features

  • Material: Nylon, Neoprene
  • Entry System: Buckle
  • USCG Type: V
  • Flotation: 22.5 lbs.
  • Weight: 1.6 lbs

Our Overall Review

4.2

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The fabric is durable enough to resist punctures
  • check-mark
    The two inflation mechanisms give you peace of mind (should an emergency occur)

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markThe one-size-fits-all means that swimmers weighing over 200 pounds won’t find the device useful
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Absolute Outdoor Onyx

Best Temperature Control

astral-v-eight-featured
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You will get the most security when kayaking while wearing the Astral V-Eight life jacket. Made from 400-Denier Ripstop Nylon, PolyPro webbing, and self-locking Vislon Teeth zippers, it is as tough as a life vest can get.      

The quick-release buckle combined with foam panels allows you to move comfortably so that you won’t have to call it a day after merely an hour of kayaking. The sides of the jacket are open, and the shoulder straps are made to be unobtrusive – you won’t have trouble paddling in your preferred style. 

The manufacturer ensured the jacket is fully ventilated, which is a must for warm days spent under the direct sunlight. 

Being completely free of toxic PVC materials, the jacket can be recycled without ending up in the landfill. This is a win-win.  

Specs & Features

  • Material: Nylon, Polyester
  • Entry System: Buckle and zipper
  • USCG Type: III
  • Flotation: 16 lbs.
  • Weight: 1.35 lbs.

Our Overall Review

4

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The Airescape system helps to eliminate the excess heat and maintain a comfortable temperature
  • check-mark
    The recyclable materials make this jacket stand out from the crowd

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markCan be bulky
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Where to buy:

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Astral V-Eight

Most Stylish

eyson-life-vest-featured
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One of the life jackets worth including in your narrowed down list of vests to purchase is the Eyson’s inflatable life jacket. With 2-3 seconds of automatic inflation time, there aren’t many personal flotation devices out there that could stand the chance with it. 

Even though it is not suitable for non-skilled swimmers, it is perfectly compatible with swimmers looking for a supportive piece of equipment that is easy to use. 

 

It is crafted from the durable waterproof fabric that resists punctures while remaining lightweight and soft-to-the-touch. 

The perfect fit can be achieved by pulling the buckle and by adjusting the webbing straps. Additionally, you are given the opportunity to employ the pull cord when manually inflating the jacket and a rescue strap for quickly getting out of those emergency situations.

Specs & Features

  • Material: Polyester
  • Entry System: Buckle
  • Chest Sizing: 29-62 inches
  • Flotation: 33.72 lbs.
  • Weight: 1.7 lbs.

Our Overall Review

3.9

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    It is CE approved
  • check-mark
    The high buoyancy helps to keep you afloat

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markNot approved by USCG
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Where to buy:

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Eyson

stearns-youth-featured
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You can’t leave out the younger population either – regardless of their swimming abilities, they need a life vest too. This is where STEARNS Youth Boating vest comes into play. 

Designed for kids weighing anywhere between 50 and 90 pounds, it is built from the durable Nylon with PE flotation foam.

The hefty construction will last you quite some time before you will have to replace it. The open-sided style of the vest features 3 buckles that are fully adjustable and can fit a wide variety of shapes and sizes. A secure fit with no movement restrictions is guaranteed. 

The life jacket is further certified by the USCG, which is a license worth having when it comes to your personal safety. 

Specs & Features

  • Material: Nylon
  • Entry System: 3-Buckle
  • USCG Type: III
  • Dimensions: 16.5 x 15.5 x 3.2 inches
  • Weight: 0.86 lbs.

Our Overall Review

3.8

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The 3-buckle design ensures the highest possible level of safety
  • check-mark
    Compatible with swimming, kayaking, boating, and tubing

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markRuns small
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Where to buy:

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STEARNS Youth

nrs-cvest-with-mesh-back-featured
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Designed with kayaking in mind, NRS cVest with mesh back is a gem for water sports adventurers searching for a long-lasting life vest. This PFD is approved by the USCG, which makes it a trustworthy gear. 

With 3M reflective accents that aid in increasing visibility in the water, you can rest assured that you are safe.

The open sides of the vest mean your movements are not restricted at any point. When combined with the 4 large pockets and 4 d-rings for clipping knick-knacks like whistles, you get a full ensemble without needing to purchase anything else. 

The 400-Denier fabric gives you the opportunity to safely practice kayaking or canoeing for years before having to replace the life jacket. 

If you are into sea fishing, you will get a lot of use out of this vest too.  

Specs & Features

  • Material: 400-Denier Nylon
  • Entry System: Zipper
  • USCG Type: III
  • Flotation: 16.5 lbs.
  • Weight: 2 lbs.

Our Overall Review

3.8

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    You get plenty of storage space for our essentials
  • check-mark
    You can customize the fit by using the 6 adjustment points integrated into the jacket

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markThe pockets are not waterproof
Read full review

Where to buy:

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NRS cVest with Mesh Back

oneill-mens-superlite-uscg-featured
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For a budget-friendly life vest that works just as well as its high-end counterpart, go for O’Neill Men’s Superlite life vest. With the easy-to-determine sizing and USCG certification, it is the gear with which you can’t go wrong.

Designed to be used in every kind of water sports (think water-skiing and tubing apart from kayaking), this personal flotation device is super versatile. Its construction that features heavy-duty Nylon, webbing belts, and quick-release Delrin buckles enables you to adjust the fit quickly and efficiently. 

The foam on the inside of the vest is made to mold onto your body for that glove-like comfort. The body of the life jacket isn’t bulky – it has just the right amount of fabric to allow for the best mobility possible.

Specs & Features

  • Material: Nylon
  • Entry System: Quad buckle
  • USCG Type: III
  • Sizing: Small - XXXX-Large
  • Weight: 1.6 lbs

Our Overall Review

3.7

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The exterior is water-resistant, which is exactly how you need your water gear to be
  • check-mark
    The overlock is stitched with a super strong seam for durability

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markRuns small
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Where to buy:

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O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG

hardcore-water-sports-featured
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Another kids-friendly life jacket is the one manufactured by the Hardcore Water Sports company. 

It has 2 sizing options that will suit children weighing between 30 and 50 pounds and those weighing between 50 and 90 pounds. This basically covers the majority of the youngsters who are willing to make their parents a company. 

The jackets are crafted from high-quality Polyester Cordura with closed-cell PE foam. They feature 1-inch adjustable straps along with the quick-release buckle that provide an unparalleled safety when on the boat or kayak. 

The life vest has open sides for a breathable fit and a possibility to loosen the straps if needed. The between-leg strap is a practical feature too – it significantly adds up to the general safety of your child.    

The company made sure to certify these youth life jackets (USCG) to give parents peace of mind.

Specs & Features

  • Material: Polyester Cordura
  • Entry System: 2-Buckle
  • USCG Type: III
  • Sizing: Child (30-50 lbs.), Youth (50-90 lbs.)
  • Weight: 0.6 lbs.

Our Overall Review

3.6

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The life vest has adjustable straps for achieving the desired loose or tight fit
  • check-mark
    The jacket is affordable

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markCan run short for taller kids
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Hardcore Water Sports

obrien-traditional-life-vest-featured
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Here’s a recommendation for everyone who is consciously purchasing eco-friendly clothing only – check out O’Brien’s traditional life vest. This sleek and comfortable piece of equipment will make you fall in love with every water sport regardless of how fit you are.

Featuring BioLite material, the jacket is breathable and quickly-drying – the two characteristics you should be looking for in a life vest. 

The segmented panels that include a front hinge and large armholes allow you to freely move with the jacket without being physically restricted. 

There are 2 adjustable belts and a full front zip closure for getting that snug-but-not-tight fit that keeps you safe on the water. The Traditional vest also has a PWC lanyard attachment ring that keeps the lanyard out of your way.  

Specs & Features

  • Material: BioLite
  • Entry System: 2-Buckle and zipper
  • USCG Type: III
  • Sizing: Small - X-Large
  • Weight: 1.7 lbs.

Our Overall Review

3.5

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The life jacket has the right fit that is snug but not tight
  • check-mark
    The eco-friendly construction makes it an appealing piece of equipment

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markRuns small
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Where to buy:

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O’Brien Traditional

trc-recreation-kids-featured
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It is easy to help your younger ones learn how to swim with the TRC Recreation Kids Super Soft life vest. 

This jacket is approved by the USCG, which gives you, as parents, peace of mind about your child’s safety. 

If features foamy construction that is similar to the composition of the life vests used by water parks and resorts. 

This design makes the jacket comfortable to wear, which is extremely important for small children who struggle to keep clothing on for more than a minute. With the size ranging from X-Small to Medium, there is certainly something that will suit every child. 

When choosing what jacket size to purchase, keep in mind that this personal flotation device should fit your kid snugly. This way you will ensure his ultimate safety no matter how deep into the water he goes.

Specs & Features

  • Material: Vinyl-coated foam
  • Entry System: 2-Buckle
  • USCG Type: III
  • Sizing: X-Small - Medium
  • Weight: 3 lbs.

Our Overall Review

3.5

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The life jacket fits children of 3 to 8 years old
  • check-mark
    It is approved by the USCG

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markA lot of customers complain about the missing leg strap
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Where to buy:

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TRC Recreation Kids

airhead-wicked-kwik-dry-featured
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For a fun design, look into Airhead’s WICKED kwik-dry life jacket created for infants and older children. This bold and quirky life jacket will quickly become your children’s favorite piece of equipment – you won’t even have to force them to wear it. 

Approved by the USCG, it features closed-cell PVC foam front and a Poly-E foam back. The durability of the vest is unquestionable, which is exactly what parents want from kids’ gear. 

A novice incorporated into the jacket is the segmented hinges that allow for movements in every direction. With a zippered closure and adjustable body strap featuring a quick-release buckle belt, your child is guaranteed to stay safe throughout the entire kayaking trip.    

Specs & Features

  • Material: PVC, Poly-E
  • Entry System: Buckle and zipper
  • USCG Type: III
  • Sizing: Infant (up to 30 lbs.), Older child (30-50 lbs.)
  • Weight: 1 lb

Our Overall Review

3.4

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    Body and crotch straps ensure the ultimate safety of your child
  • check-mark
    The Kwik-Dry NeoLite properties make the vest lightweight and quickly-drying

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markThe zipper can be tight on some babies
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Airhead WICKED Kwik-Dry

body-glove-phantom-featured
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The Phantom life vest by Body Glove is the perfect blend of style, comfort, and durability. Built from Yamamoto Neoprene and PVC foam, it provides the much-needed ventilation for warm days while also keeping you cozy and snug.

The sides of the vest are lined with Spandex, and the armholes are made to be oversized – both of which increase your overall mobility when paddling. The 1.5-inches belts placed at the front of the jacket are further backed by the zipper so that your security is guaranteed. 

The side straps on the back are not only concealed, but they also feature drain holes that help to shed water from the life jacket. Basically, every feature is responsible for keeping you safe and comfortable during your entire time kayaking. 

Specs & Features

  • Material: Yamamoto Neoprene
  • Entry System: Zipper
  • USCG Type: III
  • Sizing: Small - XX-Large
  • Weight: 2 lbs.

Our Overall Review

3.4

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The lumbar protection pad increases your flexibility
  • check-mark
    The advanced air form technology gives you the maximum comfort

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markCan be a little too short for tall people
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Where to buy:

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Body Glove Phantom

zeraty-mens-life-jacket-featured
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Zeraty Men’s life jacket is a top-quality piece of equipment that looks like nothing you’ve seen before. Made from the combination of Neoprene and Lycra, it features a skin-tight construction that feels like the second skin.

The vest comes with 2 adjustable waist belts and a front zipper for achieving maximum security. The buckles don’t slip, and neither does the zipper, which is a top priority for kayakers who tend to spend long hours on the boat. 

The large arm holes allow for free movement that is not hindered by extra fabric under the arms. 

And since one size doesn’t fit all, Zeraty manufactured 4 sizes that will suit everyone from big to small.     

Specs & Features

  • Material: Neoprene, Lycra
  • Entry System: Buckle and zipper
  • UPF: 50+
  • Sizing: Medium - XX-Large
  • Colors: Orange, Blue

Our Overall Review

3.3

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The entry system makes the life vest super secure
  • check-mark
    It is affordable

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markNot approved by the USCG
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Zeraty

perception-kayaks-hi-fi-featured
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This personal flotation device is designed for those with chest size ranging between 30 and 36 inches – the sweet spot for the majority of people. 

With USCG approval and 200-Denier Nylon fabric, this vest is a real jackpot.

Costing less than $100, this life jacket couldn’t be any more feature-rich. It has two self-draining zippered pockets for storage in the front, a breathable mesh back and side panels for ventilation, and reflective piping for safety measures. 

The high back is responsible for minimizing the friction often encountered between the jacket and the kayak seat. This means that even after several hours of kayaking and canoeing, your back will feel just fine. 

Choose between the three sizes available for purchase, and purchase the one that seems to have the right fit. (It also helps to read a couple of customer reviews to get a better idea of the jacket’s fit).   

Specs & Features

  • Material: 200-Denier Nylon
  • Entry System: Buckle and zipper
  • USCG Type: III
  • Flotation: 16.5 lbs.
  • Sizing: X-Small - 2X-Large

Our Overall Review

3.3

Reasons to buy:

  • check-mark
    The front-zip design makes it easy to slide the jacket on in a matter of seconds
  • check-mark
    It has one of the best price/quality ratios on the market

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • check-markIt can be hard to get a hold of
Read full review

Where to buy:

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Perception Kayaks Hi-Fi

Related Reviews

BUYING GUIDE

From the quality of the material to the right fit for your body shape, there are several things to consider when looking for a kayak life vest. To ensure your purchase lasts you a long time, read on for determining what characteristics of the life jacket you should pay close attention to.

Certified Standards

Since safety is your primary concern when gliding through the water, you shouldn’t take it lightly when choosing the supporting gear. A life vest that is approved by the United States Coast Guard, International Standards, European Standards, or Commercial Standards is, therefore, a must.

Apart from these certifications, life vests are further divided into 5 categories, each of which serves different purposes. Depending on your intent of usage, not every type of a life jacket will be relevant to you.

Here is the classification:

  • Offshore Life Vests (Type I): the most versatile equipment that is equally compatible with open sea, oceans, and every other body of water. They are not the most comfortable jackets to wear, but they do come in handy in the event of emergencies.

 

  • Near-Shore Buoyancy Jackets (Type II): most commonly used in calm waters and during emergency situations. They are not as buoyant as offshore life vests, but they do a pretty good job of keeping you afloat in still lakes.

 

  • Buoyancy Aids (Type III): the primary target audience for these life vests is fishermen and sailormen. They are comfortable enough to be worn all day long without restricting any of your movements.

 

  • Throwable Flotation Devices (Type IV): this type of gear is suitable for skilled swimmers only (or those who are unconscious). It acts as a backup for a life vest that is usually thrown to those in need of a helping hand.

 

  • Special-Use Devices (Type V): Personal Flotation Devices, or PFD in short, are the ones that belong in this category. They are designed for a variety of water sports including but not limited to kayaking, waterskiing, and windsurfing.

Material

Kayak life vests are often crafted from strong materials with a high number of Denier (thickness) to ensure the best possible buoyancy. This typically includes fabrics like Nylon, Gaia, Kapok, and PVC.

While Nylon and PVC are the most common materials used for manufacturing life jackets, Gaia and Kapok are the most environmentally-friendly fabrics. The first two have already earned the reputation of being sun-, flames-, and chemicals-resistant, whereas the last two are still newbies that, despite the relatively new appearance, continue to gain momentum among those living an eco-conscious lifestyle.

Size

The comfort you will experience while kayaking or fishing largely depends on the size of the equipment you wear. Life vests are not an exception.

A lot of life jackets are known to have double sizes – small/medium, medium/large – which are harder to choose from if you are a rookie. These vests, however, can be adjusted to your chest for the ultimate comfort, even though the initial choice of the size can be tricky.

Those that are sized like other pieces of clothing, on the other hand, are the easiest to select. Measure the circumference of your chest, look up the size guide created by the vest’s brand, and you are cleared for making the purchase.

For additional confidence in your size choice, compare the size of the vest you chose with similar vests from other brands and their recommendations. Alternatively, read reviews from people who have already purchased that particular life vest.

Customization

Even if you choose the correct size for your life jacket, there is still the possibility of it not fitting as well as you would like it to. This is where customization, also called adjustability, comes into play.

Long days out and about require you to feel comfortable in your equipment, which is why you need to make sure your life vest is not too loose or too snug at any point of the trip.

The basic elements of the life jacket that have to be adjustable are the sides and the front part. The ability to customize these segments of your jacket will allow you to adjust its general fit.

The cherry on top would be the possibility to regulate the shoulder pads that are in charge of your mobility. This will ensure your movements are not restricted even after hours of kayaking while sitting in the same position.

Additional Features

Although the availability of additional features is not a must, it is always a nice bonus to have extra storage pockets and a reflective tape aside from the basic quick-release rescue belt and lash tab and attachment points.

A kayak life vest with multiple D-rings and rod holder loops for fishermen is what a paddleboard with extra bungee storage is to a paddler. It is a handy asset to have when taking a break from the activity and wanting to relax while snacking on something or browsing social media.

A reflective tape, in its turn, is the most useful for those kayaking in low light conditions when safety measures have to be significantly upped. It gives you the much-needed peace of mind that in case of an emergency, you will be found.

If you already have a kayak life vest or you just bought one, leave a comment in the comment section below and share your experience with it.

FAQ

Frequently asked questions

Is it illegal to kayak without a life jacket?

From the legal perspective, kayaking without a life jacket is not punishable. Besides the law enforcing life jackets to be worn by children under the age of 13, there aren’t any other kayak-specific orders.

This means that if you have a life vest within the close proximity in the kayak, you are most likely to not be fined or prosecuted.

What is the best life vest for kayaking?

What is the best life vest for kayaking?

To avoid accidents when kayaking, you need to make sure your gear is of the highest quality. Apart from a dry bag and a pair of waterproof watches, your kayak life vest should be your top priority.

So, we took it upon ourselves to create an in-depth guide for you to consult with before making the purchase. The following kayak life vests, as a result of the rigorous testing, turned out to be the best-performing ones:

  • NRS Chinook Fishing Life Jacket
  • Stohlquist Waterware Edge Life Jacket
  • Coleman Comfort Series Life Vest
  • Kokatat Women’s Life Jacket
  • Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Life Vest
  • NRS Vapor Life Vest
  • Stohlquist Men’s Trekker Life Jacket
  • Absolute Outdoor Onyx Inflatable Life Jacket
  • Astral V-Eight Life Jacket
  • Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket

Read full reviews of each kayak life vest on DIVEIN.COM by clicking the links above.

Do inflatable life jackets expire?

Technically speaking, life jackets don’t have an expiration date. Practically speaking, however, their material does tend to lose its ability to maintain buoyancy with frequent wear.

As a result of the wear and tear of the vest’s material, the performance of the jacket starts decreasing (which isn’t what you want when stranded in the middle of the river). For this reason, try your best to keep your life jacket in a dry and cool place and check for signs of abrasion after every use.

What should you wear to kayak?

When choosing what to wear for a kayaking trip, you should take into consideration the weather conditions on that particular day. Mild conditions, therefore, will require you to wear hiking-like attire that involves a waterproof jacket, quick-drying bottoms, and water-resistant shoes.

For colder weather, think about wearing a dry suit (instead of a wetsuit that is warm weather-friendly) made from a waterproof material like, for instance, Neoprene. It insulates your entire body by keeping a thin water layer heated by your warmth near your skin.

At what age do you have to wear a life vest?

The general guidelines for wearing a life vest when kayaking vary from one state to another. That said, the average age of children who must wear a life jacket is 13.

This number may increase or decrease depending on the regulations adopted by the kayaking safety officials.

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