I don’t know about you, but I think that one of the best parts of summer is spending time on the water. Whether it’s a lake, ocean, or rivers, I love exploring in a kayak. There is nothing like the thrill of gliding through the water, feeling the sun warm your shoulders, and taking in the sights. I’m sure many agree that kayaking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors!
Experience has taught me that kayaking is so much more fun with a quality, comfortable life jacket. They say the best life jacket is one you will actually wear. It really is worth the investment to purchase a good life jacket to keep you safe on your kayaking adventures.
What to Look For in a Kayaking Life Vest
Let me save you some time and share my findings on what to look for in a kayaking life vest. I’ve done considerable research and have a good idea of the features to look for to ensure easy paddling on a kayak.
- You want it to be breathable! I work up quite the sweat kayaking, so it’s important to me to have a life jacket that will keep me cool. Mesh generally helps keep it well-ventilated.
- Make sure it is comfortable. The most comfortable life vests for kayaking won’t push you forward so look for one that is lightweight and has a high back. You’ll also want one that has large arms holes or minimum bulk to allow for easy arm movement.
- Find one with pockets. While this isn’t a necessity, I find it very convenient to have a life jacket with sufficient storage for my essential accessories. Decide if this is important to you.
- Make sure it is made of high-quality materials. You won’t want your life jacket to tear, so look for one that is resistant to punctures. Like I mentioned above, mesh material is also a good choice because it won’t overheat you.
- Safety is the top priority. The best life vests are U.S. Coast Guard approved. Also, ensure it is reflective and brightly colored to keep you safe on the water.
Top Kayaking Life Jackets
|Hardcore Life Jacket|
|Stohlquist Women's Cruiser|
|Hardcore Water Sports|
Onyx MoveVent Paddle Sports Life Vest
Let me tell you why you’ll love the Onyx MoveVent life vest: it is exceptionally comfortable! Since it is made with soft, lightweight foam, you won’t mind wearing this vest for hours at a time. The flexible foam conforms to your body and stays in place as you paddle. It is so easy to move in and not too bulky, making it perfect for kayaking and other paddle sports. And thanks to the mesh material, you will stay cool and dry off quickly.
In addition to feeling great, this life vest from Onyx MoveVent is perfectly functional for a great price. As a U.S. Coast Guard approved vest, it is designed with reflective material for visibility and heavy-duty fabrics which shouldn’t tear or puncture. With plenty of pockets and a lash tab, you’ll be able to store any accessories you need. It even comes with a whistle attached to a thin cord in one of the pockets.
It will fit any body type over 90 lbs since it comes in sizes XS-2XL. There are a several adjustable straps that will ensure the fit is just right. You can pick from aqua, orange, yellow, or purple.
NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD
If you plan on spending a lot of time kayaking this summer, this NRS life jacket is for you. One look at it and you’ll see why: it was clearly made for kayakers! The flotation panels are placed high on the back so it won’t interfere with your kayaking seat or push you forward. The lower back is mesh which means it will keep you well-ventilated. Overall, it is a great design that allows full mobility of your arms while paddling.
With large zippered pockets, two lash tabs, plenty of D-rings and attachment loops, and two clamshell pockets, there is more than enough space to store all the gear you’ll need quick access to on the water so it would be great for fishing as well.
In addition to all of that, it is so comfortable that you might even forget you’re wearing it! Since it has six adjustment points, you can count on a snug, secure fit. Also, it’s made to last, with nylon fabric proven to resist tears and abrasions, and keep you safe, with plenty of reflective tape. You can’t go wrong with this option!
Hardcore USCG Approved Life Jacket
If you are new to water sports and just need the essentials to get started, this is the life jacket for you. While it provides good flotation and dries quick, it doesn’t offer as much shoulder rotation as other options. But you can’t beat the price so it’s perfect if you just plan on kayaking recreationaly from time to time.
These Coast Guard approved approved life jackets come highly rated so all you need to do is pick the colors your family will approve of. They come in highly visible colors like neon yellow and orange which will keep you safe in the water. I love that there are sizes for everyone in my family; you can get a child size up to adult 4X/6X. And with the straps you can adjust the fit so it conforms to your body perfectly.
You can also use this versatile life jacket for other activities as well, such as water skiing or fishing.
Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket
It’s safe to say that this is one of the best options for kayaking on our list for several reasons. If you’re ready to spend close to $100 on a flotation device, go with this one!
Stohlquist made this life jacket specifically for paddlers. The unique side zipper design minimizes bulk and leaves room for a large top loading pocket in the front. This makes it easier to re-enter a kayak when needed. Also, it won’t ride up and impede the free arm movement necessary when paddling.
Best of all, this ergonomic flotation device offers a secure fit with maximum comfort. You won’t feel tight and restricted wearing it because its foam contours your body’s shape. The size options will fit a wide range of body types because of the adjustable straps. This means that small framed people, including youth, can fit into the same size as larger adults. The XXL fit has more foam and flotation suitable for larger body sizes.
Stohlquist Women’s Cruiser Life Vest
Ladies, you want this life vest from Stohlquist! It is specifically designed for women’s bodies, which makes it the most comfortable option for those of us who feel constricted in traditional life vests. You will love how it curves with your body and has a smaller cut more suitable for shorter torsos. With supportive inner cups, your breasts won’t feel smashed at all.
In my opinion, this is a top of the line life vest. It may be pricey, but it’s worth the money if you spend a lot of time in the water. Why? Because it offers complete mobility and won’t interfere with your ability to paddle, keeps you well ventilated with open sides, and like all good kayak life vests, it has higher mesh in the back to accommodate taller kayak seats. This vest even has two large zippered front pockets so you can store the essentials, like your phone and keys.
Note that these run true to size so you can order your usual size.
A good option for adults with shorter torsos, this vest has a low profile and boasts great range of motion, as all of the flotation material is concentrated in one smaller place. It is adjustable at six different points—two at the shoulders, two at the waist, and two at the hips. The outside is made from strong 400 denier nylon, while the inside is filled with soft foam panels, including a floating front panel that moves with you.
On cooler days, the slit pockets at the front of the vest can be used as hand warmers, while the mesh fabric on the shoulder straps and inner panels are helpful for keeping you cool and comfortable on hotter days. The zippered pocket at the front of the vest has internal organization for your valuables and can even be used to keep drinks cool. Best of all, this vest is USCG-approved to give you peace of mind.
Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket
We had to include another life jacket from Hardcore Water Sports because they are such a great company. Their customer service is based in California and they pride themselves on their top-notch customer service. If you have any issues at all with their products, they encourage you to reach out to them so they can make it right.
Like the other Hardcore Water Sports option we went over earlier, this one has multiple sizing options. You can get sizes for the whole family since they offer vests ranging from child to adult super large. Just keep in mind that they run small so you might want to order a size up.
Although this vest can be used for other water activities, it works well for kayaking since it stays put and doesn’t ride up. With open sides, it is breathable and suitable for paddling.
O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest
There’s no denying that O’Neill is a trusted brand in water sports. Their Men’s Superlite life vest holds up to that reputation with an impressive design. It’s made of lightweight, water resistant materials and overlock stitches making it super sturdy.
When you go to order it you can refer to a detailed sizing chart to find the perfect fit. I recommend sizing up for a more comfortable, relaxed fit. These are designed to fit snuggly, which is great because with minimum bulk they provide ample mobility.
Overall, this Coast Guard approved life vest is an excellent choice for any man looking forward to a summer full of water recreation!
Onyx Universal Paddle Vest
The Onyx paddle vest is the ideal balance of quality and affordability. For a reasonable price, you get a really nice flotation device that works great for kayaking and is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Here’s why it’s perfect for kayaking: not only is it compact lightweight, but it also provides sufficient buoyancy. It’s not confining at all when paddling because of large arm holes and it won’t ride up when you lean against the seat because of the mesh material at the back. Also, you will stay cool while paddling rigorously thanks to the open-sides. The large expandable pocket in the front gives you a place to transport the essentials on your kayaking adventures. You’ll find that this vest doesn’t get in the way at all!
You’ll see that this nylon life vest only comes in two sizes: universal (30″-52″ chest) and oversize (40″-60″ chest). However, since they are fully adjustable they work for all body types. There are six adjustable straps, including one on the shoulders which ensure a precise fit.
With a side zipper entry and adjustable straps at the hips, back, and tops of the shoulders, this vest is completely customizable for the best fit. It also has open sides and a segmented, hinged body made from multiple pieces of foam—rather than the usual front two pads most vests have—for maximum range of motion. The breathable mesh fabric on the lower back area and neoprene shoulder pads ensure you’ll remain cool and comfortable as you set out on the water.
Made from tough 400 denier nylon, this vest is both lightweight and durable. And should you roll and flip your kayak, drain vents in the vest will automatically remove any water accumulation. Whether you prefer this vest in the turquoise color or the blue, you’ll have reflective stripes to make you visible when paddling at dusk and keep you safe.
And look; it has pockets! That’s what you’ll tell all your friends when you show off this snazzy vest at the lake (or, you know, wherever) this summer. It has three pockets, to be exact—two expandable zippered ones in the front and a thin envelope-style one in the back. Also in the back is a breathable mesh fabric to help keep you cool. The shoulders are made with a soft neoprene fabric for comfort, while the outer fabric is a durable nylon.
For the greatest possible mobility, the sides of the vest are open, and adjustable straps at the waist and shoulders let you customize your fit. You can also customize your look with five different designs to choose from, each predominantly gray with colorful accents in either aqua, orange, purple, red, or yellow. Six holes at the bottom of the vest efficiently drain water, and if safety is an important consideration, you’ll love the attached safety whistle and reflective strips.
Stohlquist Fit Life Jacket
Our list wouldn’t be complete without one more life jacket from Stohlquist, a brand you can count on with a 40 year track record of delivering quality products. Unlike the other two Stohlquist life jackets we reviewed earlier, this one is inexpensive and affordable. With that said, it will do the job but you might want to save up until you can afford some of Stohlquist’s higher end products if you plan on kayaking on a regular basis.
The Stohlquist Fit comes in adult universal (30″-52″ chest) and adult oversize (48″-60″ chest). You can customize the fit with adjustable buckles, but it may be too large if you have a very small build. I like that the straps are reinforced with box stitching and that they are sheathed so they won’t get in your way. However, it does tend to ride up as your paddling so keep that in mind.
Rest easy knowing the U.S. Coast Guard approved this life jacket for paddling and general boating. In addition to being appropriate for kayaking, this life jacket also works with boating and other water sports.
What makes a good kayaking life jacket?
As with any life jacket, you want it to buoyant, comfortable, and easy to use. For kayaking, it’s important that there is plenty of room around the arms so paddling doesn’t result in chafing. You also want to make sure it is made of quality materials so it will last.
Should a kayaking vest be U.S. Coast Guard certified?
Life vests that are certified by the Coast Guard are proven to be safe and effective. While other vests may also work well, you can decide whether the peace of mind of the certification is worth it. Often those that are Coast Guard approved are more expensive.
What is the difference between a kayaking life jacket and a regular life vest?
A kayaking vest is made for easy paddling, with larger arm holes. It also typically has more pockets and sometimes has a higher back to accommodate for a kayaking seat. To make it more breathable, a kayaking jacket also often has mesh panels.