6 Best Life Vests for Kayaking of 2021

Last update: 2021-03-03

What do you carry when going kayaking?

A pair of shoes, a pair of shorts, a sport shirt, etc.?

Specialized clothing is useful when you do water sport as it will help you stay comfortable the whole time. But most importantly, you have to stay safe, and you can do that by wearing the best life vest for kayaking.

Here are the best life vests for kayaking (Mar 2021 Update):

  • Best Overall: Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
  • Best for Short Women: O'Brien Women's Impulse Neo Life Vest
  • Best for Beginners: Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jackets
  • Best for Young Kayakers: Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket
  • Best for Big Guys: Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket
  • Lightweight: Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket
6 Best Life Vests For Kayaking
Best Overall
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
    Best for Short Women
    O'Brien Women's Impulse Neo Life Vest
      Best for Beginners
      Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jackets
        Best for Young Kayakers
        Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket
          Best for Big Guys
          Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket
            Lightweight
            Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket

              Best Overall: Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

              Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
              Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
              10Perfect
              Pros
              • Feel comfortable – wide arms opening & the special design for less bulky while kayaking
              • Breathable - the netting part on the lower back
              • Safe - the built-in whistle, and the little zip pocket with mesh drainage
              Cons
              • The mesh looks a little tacky

              If you’ve been looking for the right life vest for kayaking, this is worth a look.

              It feels very comfortable with the arm openings wide enough for comfortable paddling and the back of the vest being up enough not to interfere with the seat of the kayak.

              Unlike others, the life vest has nothing to do with sizing and everything to do with bulk. You’ll barely notice you are wearing them.

              We really like the netting part on the lower back for airflow on those hot summer days, the built-in whistle, and the little zip pocket with mesh drainage. Very useful and practical!

              Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest Specifications

              Material

              Heavy-duty nylon fabric; soft, lightweight flotation foam

              Accommodate

              90 pounds

              Highlight Features

              wide arms opening; Expandable zippered pocket; Shoulder adjustments

              The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest is our Editor’s Choice Award winner this year based on its overall performance.

              Best for Short Women: O'Brien Women's Impulse Neo Life Vest

              O'Brien Women's Impulse Neo Life Vest
              O'Brien Women's Impulse Neo Life Vest
              9.6Outstanding
              Pros
              • Able to fit short women – include size XS and S
              • Comfortable to use – not come up into your neck when sitting
              • Look fashionable and girly
              Cons
              • The material soaks up a lot of water
              • Hot when not wet

              This is our recommendation for short women who don’t want to look like a kid wearing her dad’s life vest for kayaking because it comes with XS and S size.

              It fits tight to the body to not in the way or come up into your neck when sitting in a tube. A big plus is that you’ve got lots of range of motion in the arms for kayaking. It also comes with a D-Ring to attach a SeaDoo throttle key.

              This life vest seems very durable, and the design is excellent.

              Our female testers particularly like its colors and subtle patterns as they are beautiful.

              O'Brien Women's Impulse Neo Life Vest Specifications

              Weight

              1.7 Pounds

              Material

              Nylon & foam

              Accommodate

              100-150 pounds

              Highlight Features

              1.5mm Neoprene outer; include size XS and S

              We do appreciate the thoughtful design of O'Brien Women's Impulse Neo Life Vest when it not only includes various size charts but also improves the design (both fit and aesthetics) for female kayakers who have a short torso.

              Best for Beginners: Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jackets

              Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jackets
              Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jackets
              9.4Outstanding
              Pros
              • Give superb flotation - made from closed cell PE foam and high-quality polyester Cordura fabric
              • Flexible and easy to wear - quick-release buckles & one-inch adjustable straps
              • Easy to see when kayaking - High Visibility white color stripes
              Cons

              Costing a reasonable amount, we are amazed by the quality of this life vest.

              It works great, dries quick, and is made of good materials that give superb flotation without feeling too bulky or getting in the way of paddling too much. An extra compliment for its sturdy craftsmanship.

              It is universal that it can fit both kids and lightweight adults (around 50-90 pounds of weight), all thanks to the loosen straps. Just loosen them up and the life vest is very easy to put on or take off.

              As an unexpected bonus, it ended up being a great color for visibility when kayaking.

              Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jackets Specifications

              Weight

              12 ounces

              Material

              high-quality polyester Cordura fabric and closed-cell PE foam

              Accommodate

              50-90 lbs.

              Highlight Features

              High Visibility white color stripes; quick-release buckles & 1" adjustable straps; made from closed cell PE foam and high-quality polyester Cordura fabric

              The Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jackets are our suggestion for beginners who are new to kayaking and just want to get the essentials for an easy river float.

              Best for Young Kayakers: Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket

              Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket
              Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket
              9Outstanding
              Pros
              • Affordable – priced under $35
              • User-friendly design - a low, lightweight profile, comfy shoulder pads, 6 adjustable straps, and breathable netting on the back
              Cons
              • A bit fewer color options

              The Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket is a good inexpensive option to keep your young kayakers safer on the water.

              It highlights a low, lightweight profile with comfy shoulder pads, 6 adjustable straps, and high foam back design with breathable netting. It fits snugly to kids within 5 to 10 years old, or as long as they weigh under 90 pounds.

              Unlike other counterparts, it doesn’t seem to be bulk at all.

              We love that it still gives them some extra room around the arms to move without restriction yet keeps them safe. Handy little pocket upfront, too.

              Onyx Youth Paddle Sports Life Jacket Specifications

              Weight

              4.8 ounces

              Material

              foam

              Accommodate

              50-90 pounds

              Highlight Features

              a low, lightweight profile, comfy shoulder pads, 6 adjustable straps, and breathable netting on the back

              Our testers were impressed with everything about this excellent life vest for young kayakers.

              Best for Big Guys: Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

              Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket
              Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket
              9.2Outstanding
              Pros
              • Ideal for big guys – wide size chart
              • Give good fit - side pull adjustments, ultra-small footprint, contoured shoulders, and ultra-soft foam padding on the back
              • Safe - Transport Canada, USCG, ULC, and UL listed
              Cons
              • It would be better with a back band
              • A little bulky in the front

              The Stohlquist Edge is a low-profile life vest for whitewater kayaking.

              It stands out for high mobility and innovative construction with side pull adjustments, ultra-small footprint, and contoured shoulders for better body-wrapping fit.

              It’s also praised for the articulated WRAPTURETM shaped torso which is decently ergonomic without slipping and touching your chin/neck when you sit down. Like other counterparts in our list, it meets all the safety standards, including Transport Canada, USCG, ULC, and UL.

              Fans of this life vest are commonly big guys because its size chart is vast, up to XXL with ultra-soft foam padding on the back for extra comfort and fit while the mesh sides still ensure you’ll feel breathable during hot weather.

              Very highly recommended!

              Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket Specifications

              Weight

              SM/MD: 15 lbs., 8oz LG/XL: 16 lbs., 8oz XXL: 17 lbs., 8oz.

              Accommodate

              100-250 pounds

              Highlight Features

              wide size chart; side pull adjustments, ultra-small footprint, contoured shoulders, and ultra-soft foam padding on the back

              The Stohlquist Edge impressed our testers for its wonderful performance and we feel their generous size chart is a big plus for big guys.

              Lightweight: Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket

              Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket
              Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket
              8.6Great
              Pros
              • Very compact and convenient for storage - inflatable life jacket
              • Easy to inflate – automatically inflate within 3 seconds or there’s a back-up oral inflation tube
              • Versatile – fit both adults and youth as long as they’re under 330 pounds
              Cons
              • Just wish it was coast guard approved.

              This is an inflatable life jacket, meaning that it’s very compact and convenient for storage or transport. Manually pull the handle, it will automatically inflate within 3 seconds to adjust and keep your head above the water.

              In case this handle is broken or somehow doesn’t work, don’t worry, there is still an oral inflation tube as a back-up plan. Find it on the left of the product.

              This new type of life vest is favorited for its ease of air dry, washable, and reusable properties for cost-saving in the long run. Besides, it is the lightest life vest in the market whereas able to fit an adult weighing up to 330 pounds.

              There is an adjustable belt for a better fit, no matter that’s a youth or adult. So convenient!

              Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket Specifications

              Material

              Nylon + TPU

              Accommodate

              330 lbs (150kg)

              Highlight Features

              inflatable life jacket; a back-up oral inflation tube; weight capacity of 330 pounds

              At a reasonable price, we feel the Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket is a high-quality, convenient, and lightweight model, ideal for different users – from youth to adults.

              How To Choose The Best Life Vest For Kayaking?

              Types

              First thing first, before doing anything to choose a life vest, you must know what type of life vest you are looking for. Below are all the types available:

              • Offshore vests: this type of life vest is mostly used on ships traveling at sea for a long time. Such life vests can help you cope with rough sea conditions. They look and feel bulky which might be uncomfortable for some to wear.

              • Horse collar vests: These are orange life vests specifically used for near-shore conditions where you can get assistance in case of an accident. They are similar to offshore vests and make you maintain in an upright position.

              • Comfy fit: These life vests fit you but aren’t too tight, featuring large armholes so you can comfortably paddle in your kayak. They are made for inland water conditions where you can get help quickly.

              • Flotation rings: this type of life vests comes with puffy rings as well as cushions, usually thrown to swimmers when they’re in the water already. You can’t wear these like a life vest, so there are safety regulations requiring you to pair them with an actual life vest to ensure safety and performance, especially when you paddle.

              • Customized vests: when using these life vests, you often have to follow specialized instructions to use them properly based on applications and activities. They are particularly helpful in sports and activities like sailing, paddling, and fishing.

              • Dog life vests: if you have a pet and want to take them with you when kayaking, you need a life vest of this type. These life vests feature grab loops that help you keep your dog afloat in rough water conditions.

              • Women’s life vests: these are customized to adapt perfectly to the women form, including panels or princess seams.

              • Children’s life vests: life vests are a must for children, especially infants. A life vest for children should feature 11lbs of flotation capacity while that for infants should feature 7lbs of flotation capacity.

              Fit & Adjustability

              Once you’ve known what type of life vests you want to buy, the next step is considering fit and adjustability. A life vest must fit the wearer, it shouldn’t be too large because you may slip out of it, and it shouldn’t be too tight because you need to breathe and do activities.

              One problem is, even when you have got a life vest that fits you perfectly, there will be times when you want it a bit looser or tighter, which is why adjustability is important.

              It should allow you to adjust the front and sides for overall comfort. It would be even better if you can adjust the shoulder pads.

              Durable

              A durable life vest is the one that keeps you afloat on the water. Most life vests are made of either high-tenacity 210D nylon or 200-denier nylon, both of which are very durable.

              In general, you won’t have to worry about this factor as all manufacturers have to get their life vests safety certified before putting them on the shelf for sale.

              Which Brands Make The Best Life Vest For Kayaking?

              O'Brien

              Over half the century, this brand has been working to help you get the best time on the water. It focuses on creating products for family fun, designing, testing, manufacturing, and improving all products.

              Onyx

              This brand promises to offer dependable, reliable, trustworthy gear for you to have a great experience. Its products include inflatable life jackets, rainwear, pet vests, hunting, and fishing live jackets, as well as paddling life vests.

              Stohlquist

              With over 40 years of experience in this industry, Stohlquist provides that best life vests for its customer by innovating, refining, and using the latest raw material development and manufacturing know-how.

              FAQs

              Is it illegal to kayak without a life jacket?

              Yes, it appears that in most states, you are required to wear a life jacket when kayaking.

              The life jacket must be Type I, II, or III approved by the US Coast Guard and must be in good serviceable condition, readily available, and with an appropriate size.

              How much weight will a life jacket hold up?

              In the water, a life jacket doesn’t have to support your entire body weight. Instead, it will hold up between 7 to 12 pounds only.

              Do I have to wear a life vest when kayaking?

              Yes, most of the 50 states in the US require that you wear a life jacket when you’re on board a vessel, or in this case, a kayak. This is stated in the law.

              What is the difference between a PFD and a life jacket?

              The difference between a life jacket and a PDF is that while a PDF is made to support a conscious person, a life jacket can support an unconscious person.

              From this basic difference, the PDF is more widely used by kayakers, paddle boarders, and other water sports enthusiasts because it’s designed to both protect a person and allow them to move freely. Meanwhile, a life jacket is less comfortable and bulkier.

              Can you drown with a life jacket on?

              It’s very rare that a person can drown with a life jacket on.

              A life jacket is designed to ensure your mouth or face is above the water surface so you can breathe. But in some cases, if you don’t wear a life jacket properly or it’s too loose, it can slip off and you may drown.

              Conclusion

              Overall, before choosing the best life vest for kayaking, you must know all the types of life vests available and pick out the most suitable type for you. Make sure you pick the best life vest from a reliable brand that fits your body the most.

              Choosing the perfect life vest is very vital because if anything goes wrong when you’re kayaking, it could be the one thing that saves your life, so pay close attention.

              Bryan Listor
              Bryan Listor

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