man kayaking with lifejacket on

13 Best Kayak Fishing PFD’s & Life Vests Reviewed 2019 [The Case of Your Safety]

How many of you have fallen down a YouTube hole in the small hours of the morning?

We’ve all done it – either while procrastinating or being unable to sleep – watching seemingly endless, brain-draining footage on the internet.

Well, it just so happens that as I began writing this article, I stumbled upon a hilarious video on how fishing isn’t for everyone.

And the common denominator throughout – was that everyone fell into the drink, much to the amusement of whoever was recording.

How serendipitous!

I now had my introduction practically written for me about how essential it is to wear a Personal Floatation Device when you’re out on the water.

And this is especially true when you’re kayak fishing.

Check out my review below on the best kayak fishing PFDs with a buyer’s guide and FAQ section to follow.

Because playing fast and loose with your safety isn’t that funny at all.

TOP 13 Best Kayak Fishing PFD’s & Life Vests 2019

Coleman Company Stearns Comfort Series PFD

Review: Hiking and camping stalwarts Coleman kick us off with this basic but functional PFD. It’s US coast guard approved made from a lightweight but durable 200D nylon shell, PE foam and an adjustable webbed buckled strap.

Mesh shoulders and back improve breathability keeping you cool on those warmer fishing trips.

It offers two front pockets for small items of tackle and gear and is made for adults over 90lbs.

Pros

  • Excellent price.
  • Large armholes for ease of casting.
  • Name you can trust.
  • Solid construction.

Cons

  • Pockets on the small side.

Takeaway

A great budget option that is still a quality piece of kit from Coleman. It’s no-frills but it will still save your life.

Onyx Curve MoveVent Paddle Sports PFD

Review: Onyx are an outdoor company that specializes in life-saving devices – I can confidently predict this won’t be their only inclusion here.

This is an entry-level PFD, with a lower back mesh that improves breathability while ensuring you’re more comfortable in kayaks sporting a higher backrest.

It’s made from durable but lightweight materials, soft floatation foam internally, and adjustable waist and shoulder straps with neoprene comfort pads. For adults over 90lbs.

Pros

  • Designed for maximum maneuverability.
  • Simple but effective construction.
  • Great price.
  • Top quality name in the trade.

Cons

  • No pockets – technically not a fishing PFD.

Takeaway

It might not be the best kayak fishing life jacket out there, but it offers a great range of movement with quality construction at a very affordable price.

A solid option if you like to store your gear elsewhere.

Lixada Fly Fishing Safety Vest

Review: This jacket is available with or without floatation pads, but since this is about kayak fishing, we’ll assume that you’ll want the padded option.

There’s a total of eleven pockets throughout, offering generous room for all your tackle and gear.

There’s mesh at the sides and back for breathability, while the adjustable arm straps provide a lot of casting and paddling room.

The PFD is designed for people weighing up to 209lbs.

Pros

  • Versatile design.
  • Loads of pockets.
  • Choice of colors.

Cons

  • A bit on the busy side.

Takeaway

A functional fishing life vest with loads of storage and the option to remove the floatation device if required. There’s a lot going on though which some people might find a little much.

Onyx M Series Belt Pack Inflatable Life Jacket

Review: Switching it up for a moment (and the polar opposite of the previous vest) is the second of our Onyx life jackets.

It’s a belt PFD that is designed to be inflated when required and as such takes up much less room and is far more comfortable to wear when you’re out on the water.

It has a 200 denier nylon oxford protective cover, and a 16 gram CO2 charge provides 17 lbs of buoyancy in an emergency.

For use for anyone over 16 years of age and weighing over 80lbs.

Pros

  • Compact and comfortable.
  • Total freedom for kayaking and casting.
  • Low profile.
  • Quality make and manufacture.

Cons

  • No storage compartments or pockets.
  • Not visible until deployed.
  • CO2 cartridge needs to be replaced after deployment.

Takeaway

A PFD with a polarizing set of pros and cons – it will really depend on what you’re looking to get out of it if you want to choose this one.

It’s unrivaled when it comes to freedom of movement through – a big plus for kayakers of all persuasions.

Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

Review: Onyx step it up here with this PFD that is specifically designed for kayak fishing. It offers well-designed pockets, compartments and tab loops for all your tackle and gear, with six adjustment straps for a snug and comfortable fit.

With neoprene shoulder pads, breathable lower back mesh and a high foam back to accommodate higher kayak seats. It is suitable for anyone over 90lbs in weight.

Pros

  • Loads of storage options.
  • Well constructed.
  • Quality name.

Cons

  • Some might find it a little too bulky.

Takeaway

Another top-drawer Onyx PFD with plenty of bells and whistles to help organize your gear.

Salvs Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

Review: Another CO2 operated life preserver that you can inflate manually if required. This design also offers maximum freedom of movement without compromising safety.

It weighs less than 2lbs, but still has loads of life-saving features once it has been deployed, including safety whistle and reflectors.

It will inflate automatically when immersed in water, or in 3-5 seconds when the rip-cord is pulled. Designed for adults under 330 lbs.

Pros

  • Lightweight.
  • Excellent range of movement.
  • Puncture resistant.

Cons

  • No storage for gear or tackle.
  • CO2 canister needs to be replaced after deployment.

Takeaway

Superb for unrestricted movement but limited when it comes to storage options.

Again – it will depend on your personal needs and preferences if you go for this design.

MTI Adventurewear Reflex Paddling PFD

Review: Offering a durable 300 denier polyester shell fabric with reflective strips, this MTI life preserver is really well constructed with a solid build.

It has two, large zippered compartments for handling some important tackle or gear, and has a total of eight, adjustable points to ensure the best possible fit for a variety of body types.

It is packed with wrap-around floatation foam but it does not restrict movement as a result.

Pros

  • Fully adjustable, comfortable fit.
  • Bright colors and reflectors.

Cons

  • Not specifically made for fishing.
  • Not great with high-back kayak seats.

Takeaway

A top-quality life preserver with a comfortable fit and high visibility. Limited storage options and no lower back mesh are the only downfalls.

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

Review: This Chinook fishing PFD really ups the ante when it comes to this kind of gear.

It’s constructed from 200 denier urethane-coated ripstop nylon with a mesh lower back for use with higher kayak seats.

It offers seven pockets and compartments of varying sizes, while also featuring a coil tool retractor, rod holder loops, and net attachment D-ring.

Designed with anglers firmly in mind, this could well be the best life jacket for kayak fishing on the market.

Pros

  • Excellent quality construction.
  • Well-designed pockets and features.
  • Smart design.

Cons

  • Will possibly run on the chunky side for some users.

Takeaway

A well-made PFD with plenty of storage options all encompassed in a smart, practical design. All round a really good kayak fishing life vest.

Stohlquist Piseas PFD

Review: Stohlquist are world leaders in PFDs, based out of Colorado and offering outstanding quality life savers across the board.

This fishing vest is no exception, a stylish and practical 420 denier shell with 210 denier oxford liner.

It offers open sides for unrestricted movement, a high back for sit-on-top kayak chairs and drawbridge pockets that act like mini-tables when folded down.

There are plenty of other features that could well make this Stohlquist model the best PFD for kayak fishing in 2019.

Pros

  • Excellent design and construction.
  • Plenty of features.
  • Useful storage.

Cons

  • Can ride a little bulky.
  • Choice of colors would have been nice.

Takeaway

Another outstanding Stohlquist life preserver that is perfect for kayak fishing.

Astral Ronny Life Jacket PFD for Kayaking

Review: I’m always a big fan of outdoor companies that actively work to support and sustain the environment – and Astral do just that.

This product is completely free of toxic PVC and where possible they’ve reused and recycled materials. That doesn’t mean they’re cutting corners with quality.

This is a versatile PFD made with a 200 Denier high tenacity nylon shell and liner; PolyPro webbing, heavy duty hardware and zippers with self-locking vislon teeth. Multiple front pockets are useful inclusion.

Great for use with the best recreational kayaks, too – so check them out if you want a versatile pairing on the water.

Pros

  • Environmentally conscious company.
  • Multi-use.
  • Choice of colors.

Cons

  • Let me know if you find one.

Takeaway

An excellent all-rounder, this Astral PFD has got a lot going for it. When it gets the thumbs up from pro anglers – you know it’s a good purchase.

Stohlquist Fisherman PFD

Review: Another Stohlquist offering, clearly made with the angler in mind. It’s constructed of a 500 denier Cordura shell and 200 denier oxford liner, with neoprene padded shoulders, lower back waistband and open sides for improved ventilation and range of movement.

Solid, drawbridge pockets provide a handy mini-tables for assistance with your tackle and gear.

You can pack a lot of really useful stuff in this piece of kit – and it’ll be right at your fingertips when you need it.

Pros

  • Excellent design.
  • Great storage options.
  • Practical features.

Cons

  • Potentially too bulky for the fly fisherperson.

Takeaway

A smart, well designed and constructed PFD that’s made with the angler in mind.

Old Town Lure Angler Men’s Life Jacket

Review: Old Town are a by-word for kayaking excellence having been in the game since 1898.

They make some of the best watercraft around – including outstanding kayaks for kids which you should certainly take a look at when you can’t get a moment’s peace for fishing.

Designed for pro and performance anglers, the Lure is made from ripstop nylon, with adjustable shoulder, waist, and side straps, plus a high-back design that is essential for fishing kayaks.

There’s loads of storage space and features and an excellent breathability system to boot.

Pros

  • Designed to seamlessly fit Old Town kayaks.
  • Quality construction.
  • Name you can trust.

Cons

  • Expensive.

Takeaway

Perfect if you have an Old Town kayak, but even if you don’t – this is an outstanding fishing PFD regardless.

Wilderness Systems Wildy Fisher PFD

Review: Last but not least of our PFD run-down is this Wildy Fisher model from Wilderness Systems – one of the best kayak brands in the world.

It’s a beautiful design, with multiple pockets and a Thin-Vent back which is compatible with all kayak seats and increases breathability and air-flow.

It’s a solid build, too – with a 500 denier Cordura shell and 1000 denier ballistic liner, and 200 denier nylon and polyester mesh.

For quality and practicality, it really doesn’t get better than this – but for that price, you would expect nothing less.

Pros

  • Beautiful design and construction.
  • Top-quality name.
  • Stowable rain hood in the collar.
  • Reflective strips for added safety.

Cons

  • Wildly expensive for what it is.

Takeaway

If you’re happy parting with that kind of cash for a floatation device – this is probably the best you can get.

How to Choose the Best Kayak Fishing PFD

There’s a lot to consider before purchasing a kayak fishing PFD, so I’ve put together this guide to help you make your choice.

Let’s examine what you should be looking out for.

Safety Standards

Before you even consider anything like size, fit and the color of the zippers – you need to make sure the floatation device meets the acquired safety standards.

99.9% of the time they will – otherwise the manufacturers aren’t doing their job right and I’m not doing my job right for recommending them to you.

So, how is all this policed

Well, there are four recognized bodies that make up the global standards for such devices – and you need to ensure your chosen device has been certified by at least one of them.

They are:

  • United States Coast Guard (US Standards)
  • ISO (International Standards)
  • EC (European Standards)
  • SOLAS – Safety of Life at Sea (Commercial Standards)

If there’s a checkmark next to one of these guys then you’re good to go.

man kayaking with lifejacket on

Category

But hold your horses there people – we’re not yet done classifying our personal floatation devices.

You also need to make sure that the device you use is suitable for your chosen activity.

A PFD that is suitable for a calm river or lake isn’t going to cut it in open or rough water.

Here’s where it gets a little complicated, but I’ve included a brief outline of the types of PFD that are available below.

  • Type 1 – Suitable for use in any kind of water. Most of them have the ability to turn unconscious users face up. Ideal if boating offshore or if rescue is likely to be delayed. The trade-off is they’re not the most comfortable to wear.
  • Type 2 – For use in calmer waters close to the shore. Ideal for use in lighter craft. Usually requires the user to actively tread water. More comfortable than type 1 but not nearly as buoyant.
  • Type 3 – Floatation aids for use in personal craft – such as kayak fishing. Will be less restrictive than other devices. For use inland and near the shore. Most PFDs in this review will be of the type 3 variety.
  • Type 4 – Throwable devices such as a ring buoy or “donut.”They’re not designed to be worn, instead used in emergencies as a back-up to the PFD you or the casualty should already be wearing. Not for use if the victim if unconscious
  • Type 5 – Special devices for specific activities.

Of course, this is a very simplified outline of all the rules and regulations PFDs have to adhere to. Thoroughly check all the small print before making a purchase.

Size and Fit

It’s vital that your chosen PFD is a comfortable fit for you. If it isn’t, you’re going to experience more than a couple of frustrating problems.

It’s not unheard of for people to slip out of a PFD because it’s not been measured to fit the user’s body.

Likewise, if it’s too small and tight it can be incredibly restrictive.

And it’s really uncomfortable if it rides up to your chin and over your cheeks.

Apart from the obvious dangers of this being a serious safety issue when you’re trying to enjoy yourself on the water and you can barely move because of your PFD – you’ll likely be turning the air blue.

You’re never going to be able to land a big one in that situation.

Don’t make any assumptions based on your size.

Get out the measuring tape and measure around your chest just under your armpits.

Follow manufacturer’s guidelines when sizing up your new lifesaver.

Although almost every PFD is very adjustable this is only for extra comfort. It needs to be the right size for your frame in the first place, otherwise, it’ll be useless.

lifevests hanging

Buoyancy

On average, a typical adult will need somewhere between 7-12 lbs of extra buoyancy to stay afloat.

Type 3 PFDs (which are ideal for kayak fishing) will usually offer 15.5 lbs as standard.

There will be many other factors to consider such as the size and weight of the person, the conditions and current, if you’re in salt or freshwater and what kind of clothing you’re wearing.

Check the manufacturer’s specifications and find out what level of buoyancy your chosen PFD is likely to provide.

Durability

A PFD needs to be able to take a beating, so you want something that is going to be very tough and durable.

PFDs are made out of a variety of materials, but I’d be looking for a rip-stop 400 denier nylon as a minimum for something really heavy duty.

And don’t forget about UV damage over time – make sure your PFD can stand up to those harsh sun’s rays.

Breathability

You might notice a lot of these PFDs come with a mesh lower back or some kind of breathable back technology.

That’s because sweating yourself silly out on the water isn’t a good look. It can get hot in a PFD – especially exposed on the water during a scorching day.

Large armholes will also help to get the breeze coming through – because you want to be able to stay out there as long as possible.

So, look for those devices with plenty of meshing and vents for the air to circulate.

Color

Not to be overlooked is the color of a personal floatation device.

It might look really cool all in black (and they really do) but is that going to offer you the maximum amount of safety if you get into difficulty?

Being visible when you’re out on the water is highly recommended.

It isn’t proven that fish can see color at all – so being hi-vis isn’t going to scare them away.

Choose a vest that will get you noticed from a distance – you never know when it could save your life.

Pockets and Storage

Having extra pockets, hardware and features on a PFD isn’t essential – its primary role is to keep you afloat if you end up in the water.

However, they are rather useful if you’re doing a spot of kayak fishing – which is why you’re here in the first place.

Consider how much space you’re actually going to need – because there’s often a trade-off with how large and bulky the floatation device can become when laden with tackle and equipment.

Which leads me nicely on to…

Movement

Look for PFDs with larger armholes with pockets and storage that aren’t going to get in your way.

You need to have free and unrestricted movement both for paddling and casting – and if your PFD is stopping you doing either – you’ve got the wrong product.

Again, assess your size and how much you actually need the device to carry before making your choice.

If you can store your gear in a tackle box or other compartments on your kayak, you might find you don’t need a PFD with all the bells and whistles on.

Which means you’re likely to save on the…

man in lifejacket in kayak

Cost

Don’t be put off by cheaper PFDs – so long as they have passed the above standards they’re certified to do the job well.

You can potentially save yourself a lot of money if you decide to go for a simpler model.

Again, ask yourself what you really need and what you’re going to get the most use out of.

And always buy the best you can afford!

FAQs

Do I Really Need a Life Vest in a Kayak?

More and more people are taking up the sport/pastime of recreational kayaking – which is really great!

Unfortunately, what isn’t so great is that people have been playing fast and loose with precautions. Everything from the poor quality of the kayak to not using sunblock.

And yes, not using a PFD – or using an ill-fitted or inappropriate PFD for the chosen activity.

As you might expect, this has led to an increase in paddler deaths over the last few years.

And a great deal of them has been from people who actually own a PFD but didn’t bring it with them on the trip that day.

Long story short – yes – you do need a life vest in a kayak.

And you do need to make sure you bring it with you.

Every. Single. Time.

You can drown in a puddle of water, after all.

How Do You Fit a PFD?

It’s very important that you get yourself a properly fitting PFD before you head out onto the water.

The good news is that it isn’t exactly rocket science to make sure you’ve got the right product.

But rather than me bang on about it for several pages, check out the really useful video below for how to properly fit a PFD.

What’s the Difference Between a Life Jacket and a PFD?

It’s a good question and it’s important to make the distinction. If you want, you can refer back to the types of PFDs in the table above.

To put it simply, a life jacket is constructed in such a way that it will turn an unconscious person over in the water. They are larger and bulkier than PFDs – but they provide much more buoyancy as a result.

You have more maneuverability with a PFD – which makes it ideal for kayaking or other paddle sports.

Life jackets must also be either red, yellow or orange and come with a whistle attached.

How Should I Clean and Care for My PFD?

It’s important to keep your PFD in tip-top condition – which means looking after it when it’s not in use.

You should never mistreat your PFD – using it for anything other than the purpose it was intended for is an affront to the kayak gods.

Keep it clean by washing it by hand with a mild detergent and warm water. Don’t ever clean it with harsh chemicals or put it in the washing machine.

Hang it out to dry naturally – but don’t leave it for long periods exposed to UV rays. Sunlight will damage the PFD significantly over time.

Finally, get into the habit of checking your PFD well before you’re due to go out on a trip. Make sure there’s no cosmetic damage such as holes or tears.

Even if you don’t use it regularly, look it over a couple of times a year to make sure it’s still in good condition.

And give it a try in the water to prove it actually keeps you afloat!

Should I Get an Inflatable PFD or Just a Regular One?

This is entirely up to you – but I will offer some words of advice.

There are clear advantages and disadvantages to each type of PFD – most of which I’ve listed above in the relevant reviews. The big issues here are breathability and restriction.

The huge advantage of an inflatable PFD is that it’s barely noticeable on your body and you’re totally unhindered by its presence.

The downsides (especially when it comes to fishing PFDs) is that it has zero storage capability. But there’s also another issue to consider.

When an inflatable PFD is rapidly deployed it might actually hinder yours from getting back into/on your kayak.

This is why it’s advised that you only use them on paddleboards or sit-on-top craft.

Again, it’s up to you – but you want a definite answer relative to this post, I would say go with a vest that is specifically designed for fishing.

Because they will obviously be the best kayak fishing life vests for this particular task.

Are There Different PFDs for Children and Pets?

Yes! And it’s very important that you learn to distinguish each from the other.

Adult PFDs are not going to be suitable either for your brood or your four-legged friend. And it is essential that you provide them both with the correct devices when taking the whole family out onto the water.

Watch this space – I’ll most likely cover child and pet PFDs at some point in the future.

But for now, you should check out the best kayaks for dogs and give your best friend a real treat – they’re honestly really awesome!

dog in kayak looking over lake

Summary

Finding the best kayak fishing PDF can be a bit of a headache – but I hope this has gone some way to helping you make a decision.

Feel free to comment your thoughts below – or if you think I’ve missed anything vitally important.

I want you all to stay safe and to use the appropriate footwear at all times!

Good hunting!