Best Kayak Fishing Life Vest/PFD in 2020

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: September 3, 2020
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If you are a watersport junkie and love to enjoy kayaking like I do, then you know the significance of safety and protection in this endeavor. As much as we want to be close to the water, accidents and mishaps are just around the corner. Thus, it is very essential to prepare for the worst.

The wearing of a life vest or Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is a strict policy imposed by many states to ensure that you keep your head above the surface of the water. The question is: how can you know if the life vest you want to use is genuine and perfect to use?

To better answer that question, I have reviewed some of the best kayak fishing life vests / PDFs in the market along with a Life Jacket buying guide.

Top 10 Kayak Fishing Life Vest or PFD



What Is A Fishing PFD?

A PFD is also known as a personal floating device and there are significant differences available between a fishing PFD and a life vest. Generally, kayakers prefer PFD because it provides more buoyancy to help them stay afloat in the water. 

Our Top Picks


Budget Friendly

  • Coast Guard approved (Level 3) Jacket
  • Adjustable and comfortable to big guys as well
  • Some extra pockets to easy your life on water

Our Best Pick

  • So adjustable from smaller to Big guys
  • High back floatation to support you with the seats
  • Durable than any other Jackets out there

All-rounder

  • Even perfect for multi-day kayak fishing trip
  • Big pockets to store all the necessary gears
  • Cool design with great durability that matters


My Top Choices of a Kayak Fishing Life Vest



The NRS Chinook life jacket is a PFD that’s ideal for its storage capabilities. It has multiple pockets with seven front pockets to make room for snacks, tippets, and small tackle boxes, along with the gear attachment points and floatation when swimming. With its eight adjustable straps, the NRS Chinook fishing vest ensures a secure and comfortable fit on your body.

The back mesh makes it ideal for fly fishing, extended tours, and kayak fishing because aside from the ventilation it provides during warm weather, it also doesn’t interfere when you are paddling. It is zip style so it is not hard to wear because due to its spacious front-entry.

 On the back of the vest are D-rings and attachment loops perfect for the holder of your nets and loops.

Pros

  • Seven front pockets perfect for storage
  • Eight adjustable straps for fit and comfort
  • Mesh back for ventilation
  • Several attachment loops and D-rings  

Cons

  • A little bit pricey
  • Not suitable for active use

The MTI Adventurewear’s design makes it easier for you to use because the top pockets are open-access, thus stowing the gear is much more convenient. On the lower portion are two large pockets large enough to store spools of line or your reel.

D-rings are readily available at the front and back for your gear attachments. This PVC-free life vest is Type III USCG Standards approved with a verified strength of 50 mph for general boating, jet, and water ski use with a minimum buoyancy of 15 lbs and 8 oz.

Pros

  • Comes with 4 front pockets storage space for fishing tools
  • Features 3 center closure buckles
  •  Adjustable sides and shoulder straps for comfort and fit

Cons

  • Not much variation on sizes
  •  Too short for people with a long torso

The USCG-approved Stearns Child vest is specially designed for kids who weigh around 30-50 lbs. It is designed with three belts for the chest area and a crotch strap to secure the vest in place.

The two armholes are made large enough to permit better and open movements for the kids. The 1-inch webbed strap with a 200D nylon shell is absolutely durable along with the PE foam that is inside the vest. This life jacket is a must-have if you take your kids for a water adventure.

Pros

  • Four secure and adjustable straps
  • Durable and made of strong material
  • Specially designed for kids

Cons

  • Sizing may be limited only to small-framed kids

The Extrasport Osprey is a life jacket suitable for canoe or kayak rafting and fishing. Its standard foam-mesh style is crafted to meet the needs of every angler when it comes to PFDs.

The seven built-in pockets of Extrasport Osprey are excellent for your fishing tools, accessories, and other needs. The shoulder portion is mesh-designed, and its Baja Back pattern is built for comfort and breathability. The front closure design is zipped with two more added buckles for security.

The Extrasport Osprey is a Type III USCG Standards approved with a floatation capacity of 16 lbs 6 oz and has a 300 denier ripstop nylon fabric.

Pros

  • Offers excellent ventilation courtesy of Extrasport’s Baja Back design
  • Mesh-designed adjustable straps for ease of use
  • Multiple pockets and gears attachments and holders

Cons

  • Color fades slowly after so much sun exposure

The Stohlquist Fisherman vest is the perfect life vest for every fisherman. It is made of nylon so it is durable and long-lasting. The neoprene shoulder is padded to provide comfort.

It also offers multiple pockets for storage along with straps and hooks that are perfect for keeping your fishing accessories. The two large outer pockets for storage are thickly lined so that you will not crush the things you put inside the pockets. It is made of Gaia Floatation foam, making it very durable and light.

Pros

  • Multiple pockets for storage and hooks for fishing accessories
  • Easily adjustable straps with ventilation on the side
  • Neoprene padded shoulders for relief and comfort

Cons

  • A little bulky and can restrict movements
  • Not much storage space inside the pockets

The Onyx MoveVent is a PFD that can be easily maneuvered and is likewise comfortable to use. It will not interfere with your paddling movements because it is created to provide ease of use and freedom in your movements. Additionally, maximum breathability is taken into account.

This Type III PFD life vest has a reflective material of SOLAS grade and is also United States Coast Guard approved and guaranteed. Not to mention, it’s also suitable for people weighing 90 pounds and above.

It is very easy to wear. The inner back portion is made of bubble and floatation foams. The Neoprene padded shoulder straps and adjustments are also added to safeguard comfort. The mesh lower back part provides optimum ventilation to the user.

Pros

  • Perfect for unrestricted movements
  • Comfortable and has maximum breathability
  • Made of lightweight, soft, and buoyant floatation foam

Cons

  • No pockets for storage
  • A little thick and bulky

The Astral Ronny vest introduces the thin-vent style that is perfect for high seat backs which can be found in most types of kayaks in the market. It also highlighted its ventilation capacity that is great for comfort and a hassle-free paddling activity.

This life vest contains four-pocket assembly suitable for your fishing tools and accessories, small electronic devices, and other stuff.

It only weighs about 2.16 pounds with a dimension of 28x24x6 inches and has a reflective trim. It is available in various sizes for both men and women.

Pros

  • Comes with pockets for storage
  • Thin-vent perfect for tall back seat kayaks
  • Comes in various sizes to choose from

Cons

  • Zippers access at the ends is a struggle to meet
  • Fillers inside the jacket are not so stable

The Stohluist life jacket is a Type III Personal Flotation Device with 16 lbs and 2 oz of level buoyancy and is US Coast Guard and Transport Canada approved.

 Its mesh back feature allows breathability and ventilation. The eight adjustable straps are used to position the back foam for comfort and proper fitting. It also has zippered pockets as storage for your small fishing accessories and tools along with two side-entry pockets. Both the lower and shoulder straps are padded to add ease and comfort.  

Pros

  • Lower straps and shoulder straps are padded for additional comfort
  • Sides and mesh back allows breathability
  • Front cinch-up strap helps avoid and eradicate life vest ride-ups

Cons

  • Not as buoyant as the others on this list
  • Front pockets are not that spacious

The Stohlquist Contour inflatable PFD employs an inflation cord to be pulled in order for it to be manually or orally inflated.

There are pockets available for storage purposes but only for small items. It is very easy to use. You only need to place it around your waist, and once you find yourself in the water, you can just pull the inflation cord for it to signal and release CO2 for the vest to be inflated.

This life vest belongs to the Type V category but is Type III category performance USCG standards-approved. The CO2 inflation cartridge is universally best-fitted for adults weighing more than 80 pounds.

Pros

  • Zippered-style pocket with low-profile design
  • Oral and/or manual inflation option that can extend up to 46 inches

Cons

  • Cartridge and pin must be replaced to be reused

The Onyx vest comes with a 4-pocket zipped design to store your gears and fishing accessories. Your radios and other tools can be clipped and clamped to the top pocket’s opening. There is a tray pocket and lash tab that can hold your small tackle box, knife, keys, fishing tippets, and other small tools.

The life jacket has six straps that can be easily adjusted according to your activity and height preference. The mesh high back portion of the vest provides ventilation. This comes in a universal size that fits a 30-50-inch chest size and an oversized version that fits a 40-60-inch chest size.

Pros

  • Storage pockets for keeping fishing tools and accessories
  • Mesh back for breathability
  • Comes with universal and oversize fit

Cons

  • Slightly bulky
  • No secondary safety closure aside from the zippers

Things to Consider Before Buying

The 10 listed are my top recommendations for the best kayak fishing life vests. If you still haven’t made up your mind and can’t decide which one you’re going to choose, here are some pointers that might help you.

  • Approved Standards

The first thing you must confirm is if the life vest is approved by the standards set for the best quality of life jackets in the market. Don’t become a victim of defective life vests to avoid drowning and other unfortunate accidents. Check if the life jacket is accepted by one or more of these standards:

- United States Coast Guard (US Standards)
- ISO (International Standards)
- CE (European Standards)
- SOLAS (Commercial Standards)

  • Category

Life vest is generally categorized into five by the US Coast Guard Standards. You must understand that each type of PFD or life jacket is intended for different purposes. These categories are as follows:

- Type I (Offshore Life Jackets)
- Type II (Near-shore Buoyancy Vests)
- Type III (Flotation Aids)
- Type IV (Throwable Devices)
- Type V (Special-use Devices)

Specifically-designed PFD belongs to this category. USCG precisely allows the use of Type V devices for its specified label of activity such as kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, etc.

  • Material

There are 3 common materials employed in the PFD: Gaia, Kapok, and PVC. Gaia is an environment-friendly material which is desired for its resistance to changes in temperature and its ability to lessen the weight without compromising the function of the PFD. Meanwhile, kapok which derives from the Kapok tree seed fibers is buoyant and durable but greatly combustible or flammable. Lastly, PVC (polyvinyl-chloride foam) is the most common material used in PFDs because of its resistance to different factors that can affect the performance of life vests such as the heat of the sun, chemicals, and flames.

  • Size and Fit

The best kayak fishing life vest must always be appropriately sized and fit for the user. Note that the size of the life jacket or vest must not be dependent on your weight but rather on your chest size because the floatation material is being held within the chest area. Additionally, vests with more straps are ideal since it allows for more adjustment options.


What are the Types of PFD for Kayak Fishing?

There are five types of PFDs available for kayak fishing. They are:

Type I PFD: This type of PFD is also known as offshore life jackets and they provide the most buoyancy. This type of PFD is best for all waters; the especially open ocean, rough seas, or remote water. The type I PFD is available in two sizes: adult and child size. The adult size provides at least 22 pounds of buoyancy where the child-size provides 11 pounds of buoyancy.

Type II PFD: It is also known as a near-shore vest and this type of PFD is best for calm, inland water where you can expect a quick rescue. An adult size type II PFD provides 15.5 pounds of flotation where a medium child size PFD provides 11 pounds of flotation and the small child size type II PFD provides at least 7 pounds buoyancy.         

Type III PFD: This type of PFD is also best for calm, inland water where a kayaker can expect quick rescue. This type of PFD won’t turn unconscious wearers to a face-up position like the type II PFD. However, the kayakers may have to tilt their head back to avoid turning face down. This type of PFD provides the same floatation as the type II PFD. Inflatable type III PFD offers higher flotation and it is more comfortable for wearing at all times.    

Type IV PFD: A type IV PFD or throwable device is designed to be thrown to someone who is in the water and in trouble; and this device will provide backup to a PFD. This type of PFD is best for calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic. This type of PFD is not wearable and it includes buoyant cushions, ring buoys, and horseshoe buoys.    

Type V PFD: Type V PFDs are also known as special-use devices. These types of PFDs are designed for special activities like windsurfing, kayaking, or waterskiing. You can also use type V PFD as a deck suit, work vest, board-sailing vest, etc. This type of PFD provides less buoyancy compared to other types of PFDs. Type V PFD also has an inflatable chamber.


Why Do You Need a Kayak Fishing Vest?

Kayaking and fishing is both an outdoor activity that takes place in an environment with waters. Just like any other outdoor activities, safety is a must and always a priority. That is why the use of Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) or life vests has been strictly mandated by most states for the obvious reason – to ensure the wellbeing of the users.

Life vests are used for multiple reasons. Accidents are also bound to happen when having a good time. For instance, a boat, kayak, or any fishing vessel may capsize in the water, and you cannot call out a superhero and ask help from everyone onboard. However, if you are equipped with life jackets, it will surely support you from drowning.

Another scenario where life jackets are employed is during rescue operations conducted in the waters. If the victim is unconscious or in shock, life vests will help him/her stay afloat until necessary rescue procedures will be done.

Additionally, a life vest is not only for safety purposes, it also a great storage for handy fishing tools. It is very convenient to use since you don’t have to rummage and look for tools that you might need.

Even if you are an angler or an expert in kayaking or fishing, water and weather conditions may come out of hand. That is why it is vital to wear a life vest for fishing while journeying in the waters. It is better to be prepared and armed with safety equipment than being sorry for not complying with what is proper and right.


What Type of PFD is Best for Kayak Fishing?

Most of the PFDs that are currently available in the market are standard, non-inflatable PFDs. However, for kayak fishing, most of the experienced kayaker prefers an inflatable PFD depending on their needs. Standard PFD is mostly worn by recreational kayakers, canoers, and stand up paddle boarders. Inflatable PFDs have vests, waist packs and they are comfortable to wear for a long period of time.

Depending on the design and features these types of PFDs are leveled as Type III or Type V USCG-approved PFDs. This type of PFD inflates either manually or automatically. For manual inflates you have to pull a cord but the automatic design PDF inflates once the wearer submerged in water.

Manually inflatable PFD is best for kayak fishing because of the likelihood of getting wet.

How Do You Care For And Clean Your PFD?

It is very important to take proper care of your PFD and clean them every now and then so that the PFD will provide excellent service in case of emergencies. Below are the steps:

Step 1: Gently rinse the PDF with a hose or water

Step 2: Now fill a bucket with 3 gallons of cold water and then add a clean-rinsing detergent        

Step 3: Apply cleaner directly to dirty spots of the PFD and gently scrub the spot with a soft brush. Make sure you don’t apply much pressure on the PFD to avoid damaging it.      

Step 4: Now plunge the PFD into the bucket and then clean the entire PFD and straps with a soft sponge.

Step 5: Now take the PDF off from the bucket and again rinse the PDF with a hose or water.  

Step 6: Allow the air to dry up the PDF; don’t hang the PDF directly under the sunlight as it can damage the PDF.

Step 7: Once the PDF dried up, you can apply UV Protestant to the PDF to protect it from sun damage and fading.

Are Life Jackets And Vests Comfortable When Fishing?

Capsizing can happen anytime when you are kayak fishing or fishing from a boat. So when you are out fishing you have to wear a personal floating device. A life jacket or life vest is also a type of PFD but there are noticeable differences between a life jacket and PFD aside from the design and style.

 A PFD is more comfortable to wear and people can wear them for a long time. On the other hand, a life jacket or vest is bulkier compared to PFD and they are most likely to be seen in boats and other sailing vessels. 

Moreover, most of the life jackets have their buoyancy materials in front of it therefore many people find it uncomfortable to wear when fishing. If you are an experienced swimmer then you can wear a PFD instead of a life jacket. However, a life jacket will turn an unconscious person from a face-down position into a face-up position so a life jacket or vest will be the best option for children or people who are weak in swimming.

What Exactly Is Coast Guard Approved PFD?

The US Coast Guard (USCG) has issued a rule on October 22, 2014, entitled Personal Flotation Devices Labelling and Standards. So a personal floating device or the term “PFD” is used in regulatory language and refers to a USCG-approved buoyant device that is specially designed for assisting and keeping a person afloat in the water.

So there will be type codes to identify the level of performance of an approved PFD. Types I, II, and III refer to wearable PFDs where type IV refers to throwable PFDs, and type V refers to special use PFDs.          

Final Notes

Purchasing a kayak fishing life vest is a no-brainer since it is of utmost importance. The trick is to know what type or category is best suited for what type of activity you intend to use it for. This guide is created to help you compare the best candidates for PFD or life jackets available in the market.


A PFD ensures your safety when you are out in the water kayaking, kayak fishing, or paddling. Moreover, when you are wearing a PFD you will be able to have more fun and can have the best kayaking experience. I hope the article was informative to you and now you have a better understanding of PFDs and life jackets. For further quire leave it in the comment section. I will get to you.


You should not compromise your life by purchasing life vests that are not of best quality. Always remember that your safety is much more important than the fun and enjoyment that watersport and other water activities can bring.


I hope that you get to choose from one of these 10 products I have suggested because I assure you that these are the finest life vests you can find.


Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to share this with your friends.

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