10 Best Life Vests For Kayak Fishing

Kayaking is a great outdoor sport. It can be exhilarating out on the open water fishing to relaxing on extending trips down a lazy river.

One major component when kayaking that seems to be overlooked is the life vest, also called as life jacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD). A PFD is required by law in many states whether out on a typical sailboat or a kayak.

Not all life vests for kayak fishing are created equal.

For a woman, it is best to find a life vest that is suited to their gender instead of using a universal life vest.

The life vest should fit snug and not chafe while wearing them and fit the natural curves of the woman’s body.

It is also important to know that for adults, an extra 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy is required to stay afloat.

You'll have to consider several features before you make your pick of a life vest for kayaking or kayak fishing.

And, to make the research easy for you, we've tested, analyzed and reviewed ten of the best life vest you can buy right away.

Best Life Vests For Kayak Fishing​ (Top 10)

Why is life vest necessary?

Life vests are created to help in case of: 

  • A boat capsizing during rough water.
  • If a vessel should sink.
  • When a person is tossed from the boat in the occurrence of a collision or rogue wave.
  • If an injury occurs from running into rocks, reef or other submerged objects.
  • If a person slips off the ship, paddle board or kayaks into freezing waters where the body will go into shock.
  • When fishing and the angler is caught off balance.
  • When waterlogged by heavy clothing or equipment and unable to swim to the surface.

If you are an angler who goes out fishing occasionally, you might not know the water conditions. Even if you are an expert, you need to remain safe and secure so that you don't sink even when your kayak gets into trouble. 

Life vests or jackets are life savior and you surely should wear them all the time when in water.​

Things to consider when buying a kayak life vest

Several factors come into consideration when purchasing a life vest, some of which are:

  • What category the life vest needs to be for proper use.
  • The materials that make up the vest.
  • The size and appropriate fit for the life vest.

​All these factors need to be addressed before going out on the open water. If a life vest doesn’t fit well, it won’t help keep your head above the water, or it may slip off when needed the most.

That is why it is also important to know what category the life vest is since there is not a universal life jacket for all occasions.

The categories

There are five different categories for life vests that are situated for various experiences. Most kayakers should use a Type III or V USCG-approved life vest.

The vest needs to provide buoyancy and help keep the kayaker faced up in the water should they fall out of their vessel. To determine which one is necessary it is important to know the different categories.

Type I life vest is used for those kayakers who crave adventure and white water or those offshore where rescue may take a bit more time.

These vests are usually very bulky and are presented in bright neon colors so that rescuers can spot the stranded easier in open waters.

The PFD in this category will turn an unconscious person face up and keep the head well above the water until rescuers can get to them.​

Type II life vests are more for those closer to shore and in waters that are not rough. Although it is important to point out the PFD in this category will turn most people face up, but not all.

That is why it is imperative to have a properly fitted vest before going out on the water.​

Type III PFD’s allows more freedom to move about which is typical for paddlers and provide the most comfort. The devices in this category are gear for those who can put themselves in an upward position and possess the ability to tilt the head back to breathe properly.

Type IV is the cushions or rings that typical sailboats supply when someone goes overboard. They are not required for kayakers, rough waters, canoes, or non-swimmers.

Type V is for special activities like waterskiing, kayaking, and windsurfing. The devices in this category are marked accordingly on the vest itself, so there is no confusion as to the PFD’s purpose.​


The material in the PFD is just as important to know as the category.

While there are several different materials used to create the personal flotation devices, the most common are Gaia, Kapok, and PVC.

Gaia is an organic foam that is eco-friendly, halogen-free and does not include CFCs. Gaia is much softer than PVC foam and resists extreme temperatures. Gaia is preferable due to the low density which reduces the weight without reducing the performance of the device.

Kapok is super light and highly buoyant and comes from the fibers off the seeds from the Kapok tree. The Kapok material is more durable than foam but is highly flammable.

PVC or polyvinyl- chloride foam is the material used most often in PFDs because it is durable and resistant to sunlight, weathering, flames, and chemicals.


All life vests for kayak fishing must be Coast Guard approved, that includes being in a serviceable condition and properly sized for the wearer. Life vests must also be checked once a year and tested for buoyancy, tears or damage and to make certain that it still fits properly.

The best method for ensuring the PFD fits properly is to remember that your weight does not determine the size of the kayaking life vest. The adult chest size is what matters most as this is where the vest holds the material for flotation.

When purchasing a PFD, make sure to loosen the straps before putting on the life vest. Once the vest is in place, zip and begin tightening the straps. The more straps on the vest, the more adjustable the PFD, will be.

Begin with the lowest strap and move up on the vest, tightening the shoulder straps last. Finally, have someone lift up on the shoulders to make certain the vest doesn’t move past the nose. If after several adjustments and the vest still is moving, remove the jacket and find a smaller fit.

The ideal PFD will give the wear freedom of movement will not be restrictive or uncomfortable and will be made of a breathable material that keeps the wearer above the water during distress.

The most traditional colors of life vests are neon orange, yellow and green so that it is easily seen from the air or from afar. It is vital to find one that has a low “V” neckline, large armholes and narrow straps on the shoulders.

Caring and maintenance

Caring for a PFD can increase the life span of the life vest. While there is no standard time frame of when a PFD becomes faulty, taking proper precautions before, during and after use can help increase the lifespan of the vest.

It is also important to dispose of a life vest properly by shredding it so that it is evident the jacket is faulty. Here are a few more pointers as to how to take care of a life vest.

  • Test the PFD in shallow waters before attempting to go out into the open waters in case there is unforeseeable damage to the vest.
  • Rinse life vest after every use to ensure the vinyl material doesn’t become faded or worn out as faded material may be a sign of loss of strength.
  • Make sure there is no waterlogging or funny smells like mildew coming from the device as this may be signs indicating a lack of buoyancy.
  • Inspect the life vest for tears, holes, smells, as well as the zipper and straps are working properly before going out onto open waters.
  • Drip-dry before storing to reduce mildew or mold in the fibers of the vest and store in an area that is out of the sun and ventilated.
  • Check the life vest at least once a year and replace the vest when it becomes waterlogged, moldy or damaged.
  • Do not alter the vest in any way to make it fit. If the life vest does not fit, replace it with one that does.
  • The PFD is not a cushion for sitting or kneeling on. Nor should it be used as a boat bumper.
  • When fishing, don’t overload the pockets with heavy items as it will decrease the buoyancy of the life vest.
  • Sunshine will cause the materials to break down rapidly, so stow the life vest out of direct sunlight when not in use.
  • Never use harsh chemicals as it will damage the life vest.

10 Best Life Vests For Kayak Fishing

Now that the basics have been established, finding the best PFD is hard considering all the options available.

Here is a list of the top 10 life vests to use when kayak fishing. These PFD's are all Type III, which is the standard for kayakers and paddlers alike.

1. Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Floatation Device

Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Floatation Device

The Stohlquist is the best life vest with comfort and safety in mind and is perfect for fisherman.

The Stohlquist comes with an array of pockets with anchor points for everything one needs for a day out on the water.

This life vest features front zip entry, padded shoulders, and Gaia flotation foam.

This PFD offers mounting locations for tippets, retractors, nippers and pliers, everything a fisherman needs in a convenient location.

The vest offers open siding for ventilation, yet is secure should one find themselves in the water.

It won’t ride up as other’s might do allowing the comfort one needs while on long trips.

​Similarly, it is made with nylon and is easy to wash and take care as well. 6" high and 18" wide in design, it is also extremely comfortable to wear.

Features I like​

  • Comfortable to wear and extremely safe.
  • Good cockpit management when in seat or overboard.
  • Padded shoulder and protective pockets.
  • Enough storage to keep tools and necessary materials.
  • Can be packed to fit in small size.

2. NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD

NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD

The Chinook is ideal for fishing in a kayak as the back mesh doesn’t bind when paddling, yet keeps the wearer comfortable by allowing the life vest to breathe.

The Chinook features seven front pockets to hold everything from tackle to a light snack on the water.

It comes with eight adjustable straps to customize the fit, and the PlushFit foam conforms to the body.

Similarly, the Chinook also features a coil tool retractor allowing the wearer to clip on line snips and other tools that are needed while out on the water.

This life vest also offers multiple D-ring for attaching a net or other accessories while fishing including a rod holder loop for trolling.

Designed especially for kayak fishing, I particularly love this vest because of the comfort and security it provides. 

Features I like​

  • Designed specially for kayaking.
  • 7 front pockets to store anything.
  • Good ventilation and roomy front-entry design.
  • Easily customizable for comfort and security.
  • Multiple D-rings and attachment loops.
  • Fits perfectly for any body size.

3. ONYX Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

ONYX Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

The ONYX conforms to all body types, whether male or female and offers a mesh back side to help relieve perspiration when paddling.

The ONYX vest comes with reflective material for spotting the wearer in rough waters.

The ONYX is also equipped with a knife holder and pockets for storing small items like a camera or phone.

The ONYX is made with unique bubble foam instead of the standard stiff foam for added comfort while paddling in a kayak or canoe.

This vest offers a large “V” neck and large arm holes for all motion and provides the wearer with a peace of mind due to the vest’s design should emergency situations arise.

The mesh does not bind when paddling and comes highly recommended.​

Features I like​

  • Safe and comfortable floatation.
  • Perfect for paddling and kayaking.
  • Made with reflective material for visibility.
  • Innovative vented channel for good air flow and comfort.

4. Astral Buoyancy V-Eight Life Jacket

Astral Buoyancy V-Eight Life Jacket

The Astral is ideal for those who enjoy long duration of sun and fun.

The revolutionary air flow system offered by Astral helps to keep the body temperature normal and reduces perspiration and overheating.

The Astral life vest for kayak fishing provides a mesh back for comfort in the hot sun while the pre-shaped foam keeps the body upright in emergency situations.

The Astral features a large front pocket to store personal items as well as an interior storage sleeve for essential items that could get lost if the boat capsizes.

The overly large arm holes allow for full range of motion making the paddling more enjoyable with less chafing.

This life vest also offers a secure notch for attaching a knife. The straps on the shoulders provide Velcro to keep the flaps in place while on the water or windy conditions.

The vest also offers cut-outs in the chest area to suit a woman’s body making this another Universal PFD.​

Features I like​

  • Created specially for outdoor recreation and kayak fishing. 
  • Large front pockets for enough storage. 
  • USGS verified PFD, secure and comfortable.
  • Good air flow system, great for warm weather.

5. MTI Adventurewear Reflex PFD Life Jacket

MTI Adventurewear Reflex PFD Life Jacket

The Reflex is ideal for kayaking or canoeing due to the deep “V” neck, soft panels and all around foam distribution.

The Reflex offers 16 pounds of flotation and eight points of adjustment to keep the life vest secured.

The Reflex features a hat hanger loop, reflective trim for emergency personnel to spot easier in all water conditions as well as a durable polyester shell for quick drying.

It has taken into consideration all water activities and has created a vest that is remarkably lightweight, and customizable for all body types.

The Reflex life vest is truly a universal vest that is perfect for men and women alike who are planning to hit the water for kayak fishing.

Features I like​

  • Designed especially for kayaking and canoeing. 
  • Eight point adjustment for better comfort throughout the day. 
  • Extremely durable fabric. 
  • Fits perfectly well and suitable for any body shapes.

6. Hobie Kayak Life Vest

Hobie Kayak Life Vest

The Hobie Kayak Life Vest is designed with a side entry that requires pulling the vest over the head before zipping up.

The side feature entry ensures the PFD to remain securely fastened while on the water.

The vest features mesh side panels for storing items and has padded shoulder straps for comfort.

This life vest is adjustable with seven adjustable straps located on the shoulders and chest area.

However, the Hobie is not suitable for emergency situations as it requires the wearer to be able to adjust themselves accordingly to conditions.

The Hobie is situated higher around the chest area than the entire torso.

While the Hobie is lightweight and offers a broad range of motion, it is best to take into account the conditions of the activity and should not be used for white water rafting sports.​

Features I like​

  • Side entry life vest for good fastening.
  • Mesh side panels for enough storage.
  • Suitable for slow water streams.
  • Easy and comfortable even when in motion.

7. NRS Vista Personal Floatation Device

NRS Vista Personal Floatation Device

The Kayak NRS Vista is a high-quality life vest that allows for seven different adjustments to be made to ensure proper fitting and comfort.

The Vista outer shell is made with 420 denier nylon to prevent snagging or tearing.

The Vista comes with two pockets for stashing valuables to fishing gear as well as a lash tab for attaching a knife for emergency situations.

The Vista is made with PVC free foam that still provides 16.5 pounds of flotation that will ensure that the head remains above water.

The Vista offers shoulder straps for adjustment to fit those with longer torsos making it super comfortable during kayak fishing.

The large open armholes allow freedom of motion and the deep “V” neck provides comfort while out on the water. The zipper is wide and provides snag-free access for putting on or removing the vest.​

Features I like​

  • Inexpensive and extremely comfortable.
  • Large pockets for storage of tools.
  • Seven adjustable points to wear as required.
  • A little heavy but stable and easy to wear. 

8. Highdas Kayaking Life Vest

Highdas Kayaking Life Vest

The Highdas is a unique life vest that has adopted EPE foam that gives the Highdas a higher buoyancy in all water conditions and features a crotch strap ensuring the device is kept on during rough waters.

The vest is ideal for those who participate in all water sports including fishing to skiing.

The vest comes standard with a distress whistle for emergency uses and is offered in bright colors for spotting from the air or boat.

The Highdas is equipped with a “V” neck for comfort and interior outlets to dry off quickly reducing mildew.

Although this life vest does not have the shoulder straps, it is still an adjustable vest with three straps to ensure proper fitting.​

Features I like​

  • Designed for water recreation like kayak fishing.
  • Nylon shell fabric that dries quickly.
  • Good buoyancy.
  • Perfectly sized floatation foam to add more comfort.
  • Does not hinder body movements.

9. Harmony Gear Fit Life Jacket

Harmony Gear Fit Life Jacket

The Harmony universal refers to the fact that it is made with both men and woman in mind.

The Harmony however not equipped for children or toddlers. The Harmony features three straps that adjust around the torso, waist and chest.

The Harmony is suited for individuals weighing more than 90 pounds and offers release buckles for added convenience when putting on, or taking the vest off.

The Harmony vest is ideal for kayakers due to its light weight of only being 1 pound, yet versatile and equipped for white water.

The open armholes allow for the freedom of movement that kayakers need.

The bright colors offered are standard in the case of emergency and makes the life vest easy to spot during kayak fishing.

Features I like​

  • Unisex PFD.
  • Low profile design and quick release buckle for easy wearing.
  • Good for variety of water sports.
  • Lightweight, yet versatile and safe.
  • Inexpensive and durable.

10. Hardcore Waterproof Life Jacket

Hardcore Waterproof Life Jacket

The Hardcore life vest suits everyone’s needs. The low cut arm holes allow for full range of motion while still conforming to the body.

This life vest is made of polyester that allows for quick drying and is suitable for kayaking and canoeing.

The foam around the shoulder area offers added support and buoyancy. The vest offers three adjustable straps that unfastened easily.

The Hardcore waterproof life vest is suitable for quiet activities like calm water river trips or even a day at the beach but is not recommended for white water rapids or rough ocean tides.

The bright colors allow the wearer to be spotted quickly in open waters and are very basic life vest.​

Features I like​

  • Extremely durable nylon construction.
  • Good webbing for more security and safety.
  • Suitable for calm water kayak fishing. 
  • Bright color design for more visibility.

The Verdict

You should never go out on water without proper security and life vests are what makes up for a great deal when it comes to safety.

We've used and tested all of these life vests that we've mentioned here and even though the ones near to the end are cheap and durable, they don't have the versatility compared to those we've ranked on top. 

I especially like the Chinook Back Fishing PFD wich is not only durable, comfortable and safe to wear, but also a bang for the buck. It also provides enough storage and has a great design. 

Make sure to select the right fit according to your body size when you make the purchase.​

James Moore

Hey, I’m the founder of Fishing Kayaks Guide. As a professional angler for over 10 years now, I love to hear and share experience and knowledge about kayak fishing and get connected to all of you people who are enthusiastic to hit the water.

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