Reviewed by our experts:

The Best Life Jackets For Every Budget 2019

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We gave our Gear lovers one job:
Test 20 different Life Jackets and write reviews of the best.

The result is 11 of the best Life Jackets on the marked today.

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Momchil Koychev

Outdoor and Gear Author 

Momchil is our fantastic gear and tech guy.

torben lonne

Torben Lonne

Editor at Divein
Torben is a dive nut, with a passion for traveling and gear.

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You love being on the water, whether it’s kayaking, boating, or snorkeling, but as you probably know, safety first.

And that's precisely what we are going to talk about in this buying guide - life jackets and Life vests.

A life jacket is a must in every time you go out on the water! Period.

And the simple reason for that it provides a fantastic reliability and can save your life without any exaggeration.

Some life jackets are cheaper and come with fewer features, others are more expensive hence are designed with greater features. No matter the case, in this guide you’ll find some of the best life jackets on the low-end and the high-end when it comes down to the price.

You’ll be able to relax your mind, knowing this guide will deliver you every single necessary thing you need to be aware of when purchasing a life jacket.

Without further ado, let's dive right into it:

The Best Life Jackets In 2019

You can skim through our quick top 19 life jackets or go further down and read in-depth descriptions. There you'll find the things we like and don't like about each PFD.

See our quick top 11, or go further down and read our in-depth reviews.

You can put your worries at peace, knowing that whatever life vest you choose from this guide, it will, undoubtedly, be high in the high rankings when we speak of life security and durability.

We've assembled three different sections depending on your budget:

  • Budget life jackets.
  • Mid-range life jackets.
  • High-End life jackets.
best budget life jackets

Best Budget Life Jackets

If you have a spending limit and you aren't able to invest more than $40 in a life jacket, don't worry. We have found PFDs of incredible quality, durable enough to keep you above the water and protect you from any potentially dangerous situations... e.g. recirculating holes.
best mid-range life jackets

Best Mid-Range Life Jackets

Here you can find pricier options but with a higher quality and life endurance. More convenient features, such as pockets and additional foam, can be found here so you can feel more comfortable in the life vest.
best high-end beach wagons

Best High-End Life Jackets

If you have the budget and you are willing to invest in a high-quality life jacket, this would be the perfect section for you to explore. Oodles of features, effectiveness, comfort, a utility is what a high-end life vest brings to the table. The cost here starts at $100 and can go up to $350+.

The Best Budget Life Jackets

As we mentioned above, this would be the perfect section for if you are looking for an affordable pick for under $40...

And at the same time with enough durability and reliability to keep you safe.

In this budget section, we will take a look at 4 of the best affordable PFDs on the market.

Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest

If you are looking for a comfortable option for yourself and your partner, then you might consider choosing the universal Stearns Series life jacket. It is made to fit all sizes. However, if you happen to be quite more considerable or slim, you might want to refer to a jacket that is designed specifically for your weight & size. That's because if you don't feel the PFD tight enough when you dive in the water, it can loosen up and slip from your body. And this is something you definitely want to escape if you find yourself in jeopardy. It is made from nylon which means you can move and paddle without any issues. It's suitable for a vast array of water sports such as kayaking, wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing, and more. In order to provide extra comfort and convenience, the vest comes with 3 adjustable straps so you can make amends depending on your comfort and preference.
stearns adult classic series vest
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • The vest is available in 2 colors: Red and Blue.
  • Constructed from Nylon
  • 3 buckle straps available
  • It's suitable for adults who weigh over 90 pounds.
  • It's priced at $25
What we like:
  • It has added nylon foam to its design which delivers extra comfort and convenience when you put the life jacket on.
  • Suitable for multiple water-based activities. It's definitely a reliable option which you can use any time even when diving.
  • The PFD is quite comfortable to adjust so it can fit your size and create a coveted comfort without much effort.
What we don't like:
  • It's not particularly suitable for any size. As we mentioned earlier, if you are overweight or very skinny, you might want to refer to another life jacket that covers your weight & size.
All in all, it's quite an attractive option. And that's because it has a simple design, yet it is highly comfortable and able to sustain you for extended periods. 3 straps are available for maximum adjustability. If you don't know what's going to be a convenient pick for you and you want a couple of pairs for your wife and kids, this would be the perfect option to go with if you are on a budget.

AUTO-VOX Adult Inflatable Life Snorkeling Vest Jacket

A perfectly suitable pick for a wide variety of sports, which is also extremely lightweight. Even if you have plans to dive, this would be a fantastic pick for you. And let us tell you why:

It's small in size and comes with an adjustable strap that can tighten the vest enough to your body to avoid any slippery. It's quite comfortable. However, this wouldn't be a smart pick for you if you find yourself in the high numbers on the weighing machine. As we stated above, it weighs like a feather, and you can fit the vest in almost any backpack you bring with yourself.

auto-vox adult inflatable life snorkeling vest jacket
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the
AUTO-VOX Adult Inflatable Life Snorkeling Vest Jacket
:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • Quite small in size. It's suitable for multiple water-based sports activities. However, it's not ideal for larger people.
  • Quick inflation and deflation within 15 seconds.
  • Waist and crotch straps are provided.
What we like:
  • It's suitable for multiple water activities, even for diving. Our opinion is that if you dive a lot, but you don't have the budget to get a high-end life jacket, this would be the perfect option for you. Inflation and deflation within 15 seconds so you can put it on and remove it quickly. It is incredibly lightweight, so you can operate and move without any issues.
  • 2 straps are available so you can adjust the vest correctly to your body and get the maximum comfort you can extract from this PFD.
  • As we said, extremely lightweight. It is easy to pack, and you can fit it in almost any backpack you bring with yourself.
What we don't like:
  • A disadvantage here is that there aren't any additional pockets available. This means you aren't able to bring some vital accessories with yourself, such as a knife or a whistle.
Overall, it's a decent PFD, and it is perfect for people who want to experience more freedom in their movement. Lightweight and suitable for the vast majority of sports. It's definitely worth every penny.

Onyx General Purpose Boating Vest

Similar to the Stearns Series the Onyx boating vest comes with 3 adjustable straps for excellent comfort. It is also approved from the US Coast Guard. A cool and significant feature adding more comfort and convenience would be the added padding around the neck. However, due to this additional cushioning, it becomes quite hard to move your head around. The life jacket is provided with large armholes for better movement when participating in different water-related activities.
onyx general purpose boating vest
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the Onyx General Purpose Boating Vest:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • The life vest is available in 2 different colors - orange and yellow, which are one of the most bright shades. And this is highly important so you can be easily noticed when the jacket is put on.
  • 3 adjustable straps
  • Large armholes
  • Lightweight
  • Priced at $13
What we like:
  • Additional foam and cushioning are added to this life jacket assuring you will feel comfortable enough.
  • 3 adjustable straps so the PFD can fit easily and tight to your body.
  • Large armholes are designed so you can move freely without any issues.
What we don't like:
  • Due to the added padding near the neck, the head movement is restricted.

 

On the whole, the Onyx General life vest is a highly comfortable and convenient option. It's suitable for many water sports, but keep in mind that you will have some issues with your head movement. It's very lightweight, and you can pack it easily anywhere without much effort.

Onyx Universal Paddle Vest Universal Paddle Life Vest, Red, Oversize

If you are looking for a compact life jacket, that has an eye-catching design and isn't bulky…

The Onyx Universal Paddle Vest would be an excellent option for you. Unlike the previous model, this PFD comes without neck cushioning, and you can move your head around easily while paddling. Large armholes are also provided so you can move freely without any issues. A cool feature here that misses most budget PFDs is that this one has additional pockets. Extra pockets are handy when you have to store essentials in a hand-reach. A great avail here is the mesh added to the bottom half of the back. This allows the PFD to filtrate better and produce more excellent airflow so you can avoid any sweat on your back.

onyx universal paddle vest universal paddle life vest, red, oversize
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the Onyx Universal Paddle Vest Universal Paddle Life Vest, Red, Oversize:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • Made from neoprene
  • Breathable mesh lower back.
  • Durable foam back that accommodates back seats
  • 6 adjustable straps available for maximum comfort
  • It's priced at $35
What we like:
  • Due to the lack of neck cushion, this paddle vest would be an incredible pick for a vast majority of water sports.
  • The large armholes provide extra comfort and free movement when you take part in water-based activities such as kayaking, swimming, boating, and many more.
  • The foam added to the back adds incredible comfort.
  • It's exceptionally lightweight and allows you to fit it in any backpack.
What we don't like:
  • A bottom strap isn't available. This might result in an inappropriate fit and cause the vest to slip off.
  • The zipping might cause overheat during a hot day.
All in all, it's an excellent option for people who participate in watersports most of the time. The life jacket is very lightweight, and you can wear it anywhere without any issues. A decent pick when it comes to comfort and safety.

The Best Mid-Range Life Jackets

You've gone through the budget vests, but it seems like you can spend more in order to get awesome and incredible features added to your life jacket. If I am right, this would be the section for you. Here we will take a look at mid-range PFDs that comes with oodles of amazing features and are priced between $40 and $100.

So if you think, this would be a budget suitable for you, sit back, relax and keep reading. You might find the perfect pick for you in the following 4 astonishing life jackets under $100.

Premium Quality Manual Inflatable Life Jacket Lifejacket PFD

So you are looking for a lightweight mid-range life jacket with heaps of features that allows moving without any restrictions? You might find the Premium Quality Manual Inflatable life jacket to be quite a good pick for your preference. The remarkable advantage here is the waist wrap. There aren't any chest straps to withhold you so you can move freely. What's even better is that reflective bands can be added to the waist to increase visibility if you happen to stumble upon a dangerous situation.
premium quality manual inflatable life jacket lifejacket pfd
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the Premium Quality Manual Inflatable Life Jacket Lifejacket PFD:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • Built from high-quality materials: Nylon, Neoprene, Polyester
  • Free movement due to the lack of chest straps
  • Additional zipped pockets and compartments
  • Made for adults under 330lbs (150kg)
  • Priced at $85
  • Adheres to the SOLAS standard
What we like:
  • Due to the waist straps, arm and neck movement becomes quite an easy task.
  • A few zippered pockets and compartments are added so you can keep crucial stuff such as a knife and rope in a hand-reach if you come across at a perilous situation.
What we don't like:
  • Can't offer you much warmth because a lot of cushioning is missing. However, it can be worn comfortably on a neoprene suit.
In general, this is one awesome PFD, allowing you to move freely and it is incredibly lightweight. Due to the lack of weight, you can utilize the life jacket in the vast majority of water-based activities. Absolutely worth every single penny.

Onyx Curve MOVEMENT Paddle Sports PFD

Amazing comfort and attractive design in one single PFD? Yes, and that would be the Onyx Curve life vest. Unlike the previous life jacket, the Onyx Curve comes with additional cushioning to provide warmth and comfort to the body. And what's even better is that it has a mesh back design so it can cool faster and offer excellent airflow. If you are wondering if the vest provides free movement allowing you to take part in most paddling sports… then my answer is simple... Yes, it offers incredible comfort and enables you to move your hands and neck without any restrictions. This is probably one of the most comfortable vests on the market due to Amazon reviews.
onyx curve movement paddle sports pfd
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the Onyx Curve MOVEMENT Paddle Sports PFD:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • Multiple sizes available
  • Soft and lightweight cushion
  • Mesh lower back design
  • 'It's priced between $40 and $100, depending on size and color.
What we like:
  • Suits perfectly to the body. If we have to describe this life vest with a single word that would be comfort.
  • Extremely lightweight. After wearing it for some time, you'll literally forget that you are equipped with a paddle vest.
  • Smooth movements are a definite part of the overall assessment of this product.
What we don't like:
  • The life jacket misses pockets. And D-ring attachments aren't also available.

Truth be told, if you are only looking for exceptional comfort, you will probably won't find a better option than this. However, if you are planning to keep essentials in a hand-reach when participating in watersports, this isn't the pick for you. That's because extra pockets aren't available.

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

By the name, we can tell that the Chinook life jacket is mainly used for kayak fishing, fly fishing and fishing in general. The great advantage of the NRS vest is that it provides fishermen with several various sized pockets. You'll be able to handle any tint and accessory you find useful in the vest's pockets. Similar to the previous model, this one comes with mesh designed back to provide better airflow and comfort.
nrs chinook fishing pfd
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • A great pick for fishing
  • Several different sized pockets
  • Mesh back design
  • Priced at $85
What we like:
  • As you already know, it delivers remarkable effectiveness to every angler due to the multiple added compartments.
  • Rog-holder is available, as well as Net attachment D-ring.
  • Adheres to the US Coast Guard standard
What we don't like:
  • Due to the large and bulky front design, overheating might occur.
All in all, if you are a fisherman and you are merely looking for an effective PFD, this would be the best option for you among all other mid-range life jackets. Comfort and utility are what brings this vest to the table. An astonishing pick that every angler should have added to its equipment.

NRS Vapor PFD

Quite unusual and compelling is how we would describe the NRS Vapor life jacket. It features a lightweight and side-entry design for faster and easier put-on and off operations. What's even better about this PFD is that there is a large zippered compartment of the front side of the vest. Besides small stuff such as a whistle and a band, you can keep larger essentials in the pocket too. On top of that, a lash tab is added to the front design that keeps your knife comfortably and in a hand-reach.
nrs vapor pfd
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the NRS Vapor PFD:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • 18 inches wide
  • 1 large zippered compartment
  • Side-entry design
  • Features soft and flexible foam
  • Made of high-quality materials - 200D Nylon
  • Priced at $80
What we like:
  • The large front compartment allows you to keep essentials in a hand-reach.
  • Added cushion for excellent comfort and convenience. You simply put this life vest on and participate in any water-related activity without any movement restrictions.
  • The life jacket is extremely lightweight, and you can carry it anywhere without much effort.
What we don't like:
  • Some customers complain about having a rash during paddling. So if you are highly allergic to any kind of Nylon or polyester, you might skip this option.
All in all, the PFD features quite an unusual design, but it is highly convenient. You can use it in multiple watersports. Keep in mind if you have relatively soft and gentle skin, a rash can occur. And this is something you definitely want to avoid when you are picking a life jacket. Otherwise, it is a fantastic pick that features quite a large zippered compartment.

The Best High-End Life Jackets

Here you will find only end-game life jackets for real professionals. And by professionals, I mean people who spend the majority of their days at the sea or the ocean. In these cases, you must be absolutely ruthless when it comes to picking a life jacket. You need to get the highest quality vest with added foam for warmth, extra pockets to keep your knife and other crucial rescue accessories. But keep in mind, the high-end life jackets come at a substantial price of $100 and up. Not the best option for everyone.

O'Neill Men's Reactor USCG Life Vest

The first pick for the high-end life jackets would be O'Neill 'Men's Life vest. That's because if you are seeking for impressive comfort, design, and free movement, and you have the budget to spend on it… O'Neill life vest would be the perfect fit for you. It comes with an attractive and non-thick design. Extra cushioning is added for maximum comfort and reliability.
o'neill men's reactor uscg life vest
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the O'Neill Men's Reactor USCG Life Vest:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • Suitable for multiple watersports
  • 2 easy-to-remove buckles
  • Minimal bulk design
  • Priced at $136
What we like:
  • The comfortable structure and design make it perfectly suitable for various water-related activities.
  • Due to its elegant design, the person using it is granted with considerable mobility and freedom.
  • US Coast Guard approved.
What we don't like:
  • The stomach padding area is too thick, and this might cause overheating.
  • There aren't any pockets, and this counts as quite a considerable disadvantage when we are speaking of high-end life jackets. On the other side, comfort, design, and effectiveness are the things that make it up for the price.
On the whole, this is an excellent life vest. It is elegantly designed, and it comes with extra cushion and padding for greater comfort during watersports. It is definitely worth the cost.

Astral GreenJacket Life Jacket PFD for Whitewater Rescue, Sea, and Stand Up Paddle Boarding

When we are speaking of high-end life jackets, it would be disrespectful not to mention the Astral GreenJacket life jacket PFD. Truth be told, this is the most expensive pick on our list, guarding its price of $270. However, when it comes to rescuing missions, there wouldn't be a better option on the market. The vest features a pullover entry so you can put it on and remove it from your body in just a few seconds. As most high-end PFDs, this one is designed with oodles of features such as PE foam inserts, PVC-free Gaia, durable Nylon, and many more that add to the overall comfort and design of the jacket.
astral greenjacket life jacket pfd
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the Astral GreenJacket Life Jacket PFD for Whitewater Rescue, Sea, and Stand Up Paddle Boarding:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • Features high-quality material - nylon
  • Additional pockets are available.
  • Attractive and comfortable design
  • Highly expensive - $270
What we like:
  • The life jacket is perfect for river guides and expedition paddlers equally.
  • PE foam inserts are added to the design so you can move comfortably and experience free movements when participating in paddling sports.
  • Made highly durable so it can be your "buddy"" life jacket for extended periods. You'll won't have to search for another vest for years to come.
What we don't like:
  • The only disadvantage we see here is the high price. If you can afford it, go for it, this is probably the best pick on the market.
All in all, it is worth every penny. If you don't have a spending limit and you are ready to invest in the real deal, this would be the perfect option for you.

Astral Ronny Fisher Life Jacket PFD for Fishing, Recreation, and Touring Kayaking

As the name suggests, the Astral Ronny Fisher PFD is designed explicitly for expert anglers. It features a front zip entry, and it comes with multiple storage options so you can keep essentials in a hand-reach. What's even better about this life jacket is the added cushion and mesh back design. This allows you to experience unmatched comfort and you will be able to relax on your seat without rubbing your skin against the jacket.
astral ronny fisher life jacket pfd
We've done all the work for you and found the best prices on the Astral Ronny Fisher Life Jacket PFD for Fishing, Recreation, and Touring Kayaking:
Our recommendations:
  • Amazon with worldwide shipping
Specs & Features:
  • Primarily made for fishing.
  • Features front centre zip entry
  • Made from nylon
  • It's priced at $183
What we like:
  • It's highly comfortable and features several various sized compartments to keep your essentials in a hand-reach.
  • The mesh-back design provides better ventilation so you can avoid finding your back in sweat.
What we don't like:
  • The life vest is quite bulky, and if you plan to dive, you won't be able to see your feet. Keep in mind it's quite heavy too.
In general, this is an excellent pick for every expert angler who plans to have successful fishing campaigns. The multiple compartments allow you to have a knife, whistle, and other crucial stuff in a hand-reach. It's definitely worth the price.

The Best Life Jackets: Buying Guide (2019)

There are a couple of crucial things to consider before investing in a life jacket. To come with a vest that fits your personal style and preference perfectly, you'll have to be aware of essentials such as size, design, weight capacity, color, and others that add supremely to the overall performance of the PFD.

Size

Everything comes down to the size of the life jacket. If the vest is too small, there will be a movement restriction. If it happens to be too large, you'll have trouble staying afloat. The perfect size is determined when you have the jacket put on, and someone tugs the PFD up. If the jacket doesn't go up to your neck and nose and stays in its place, congratulations, you've found your perfect size.

Design

It's crucial to have mesh drain panels added to the life jacket. They allow the PFD to dry quicker than average (hours faster), and provide proper ventilation. Thus you will be able to deliver excellent care to your back, avoiding sweating and perspiration.

Weight Capacity

It's crucial to be aware of the floating capacity when you are choosing a life vest. Besides the size, the weight also takes a critical place in for our guiding list. That's because if you are overweight and buy a jacket that is meant for lighter people, you might find it quite useless.

Color

The thought "color being unimportant" probably goes through your mind right now, but let me tell you why this is wrong. Brighter colors, especially orange and yellow, provide better visibility. And people will be able to see you if you are 100 meters away from them. Therefore rescue you.

Materials

The last essential pillar that constructs the buying decision. Nylon and neoprene are what you are looking for. They provide better durability than other materials. For example - a polyester life vest will last up to 5 years, while a neoprene one will do it for 6 and a half years.

So, after you've read this whole guide, you now know why a life vest is crucial to your safety and how to choose one. If you don't want to bother yourself with buying decisions, we've done the dirty work for you and listed the best life jackets, depending on your budget.

Leave a comment below if you already have a life jacket and we will be happy to assist you with anything!
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