A successful journalist and news reporter in the past, George is now focused on freelance work to be able to dedicate more time to the most important things in his life: family, friends, his dogs, and fishing.
John is an avid traveler, hiker, and RVer. Moreover, it seems like he knows everything when it comes to fishing and hunting: his father started sharing all the tips and tricks he knew when John was a kid.
Last updated: June 13, 2022
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When going out for a day of fishing, you’ll need to ensure that you bring all of your fishing gear and that you’re well protected. That’s why it’s important to purchase the best fishing life vest. Not only do these vests ensure you’re safe if you happen to end up in the water, but it also is a handy piece of equipment that has plenty of storage space for your tackles.
In this article, we’ll review the top 10 fishing life vests. We came up with these products after comparing over 40 different models available on the market. Starting with our favorite fishing life jacket, the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD, this product has it and does it all. It’s heavier and sturdier than the other ones on our list, but that’s only because it is packed with great features, including 8 different adjustment points and plenty of pockets to keep your fishing gear organized. After our Editor’s Choice, we’ll introduce nine other great options to give you the full showcase of the best fishing life jackets on the market.
After countless hours of research, we’ve created this list to make the purchasing process easier for you. In our review, we’ll evaluate a few key features that we believe make them fantastic products. We’ll focus on the size, color, material, weight, and, most importantly, buoyancy. All of these features are crucial, and we’ll explain why in our buying guide section. Before that, don’t forget to check our detailed reviews of each model. We’ll also answer some of the most commonly asked questions and then wrap things up with our final verdict, where we’ll present you with our top three picks. Let’s get started!
More features: 8 adjustment points, rod holder loops, one removable coil tool retractor, pliers holder, lash tab, multiple D-rings and attachment loops
In terms of the overall quality, we have chosen the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD as our Editor’s Choice. This personal floatation device (PFD) really does it all, and it is hard to find one that shows better performance than this one. Not only is this life vest meant to save your life, but it also will enhance your fishing experience by allowing you to adjust your vest with 8 different points so that you’re always in the most comfortable position to fish in.
This life vest comes in three sizes: Small/Medium, Large, and Extra-Large, and in charcoal and green color. Fishers will love that it features seven front pockets that are handy for small tackle boxes and even tippets. With these seven front pockets, this life vest really is perfect for kayak and fly fishing. On particularly hot, sunny days, it has a mesh on the lower back area, which gives you ventilation so that your body can breathe. A unique feature of this life vest is that it uses soft PlushFIT foam, which basically adjusts to the shape of your body as you wear it more frequently. In terms of buoyancy, this life vest delivers 16.5 pounds of floatation, which makes it a solid medium personal floatation device.
The vast and overwhelming majority of owners absolutely love this vest. However, a few people have noted that it is slightly heavier than other fishing life vests.
More features: 4 D-rings for attaching hydration, expandable front pocket with over-pocket and lashing tab, SOLAS grade reflective strips, PVC-free HydroZote foam
If this is your first venture into the world of fishing life vests, and you aren’t looking for something more fancy and expensive and just want something that will help to keep you safe, you’ll be happy to learn more about our Best Value selection, the Yukon EPIC Paddle Life Vest Jacket.
This life vest is great for everyone because it comes in various sizes: X-small, small/medium, XL- 6XL. It also comes in a few different colors: carbon and light blue or carbon and deep red. It’s made of nylon taslon to ensure its durability. This life vest is also quite comfortable because it weighs 20.8 ounces or approximately 1.4 pounds. If you’re new to fishing, you’ll also like the safety features that come with this life vest, including reflective stripes that help others see you in the darkness. The life vest uses solid foam materials that help to give you a buoyancy of 400N (400 Newtons), which is the equivalent of roughly 90 pounds.
If you’re looking for functional pockets, you might do not want to look elsewhere as this life vest comes with a large expandable front pocket with an over-pocket and lashing tab. This is definitely a fantastic product for people new to fishing life vests, and it even has a segmented hinged body for ventilation and ease of movement.
Why did it make our list?
Great value for first fishing life vest
Good safety features, including reflective stripes
Material: 400-denier nylon oxford, neoprene shoulders, mesh lower back
Weight: 1.35 lbs.
Buoyancy: 15 lbs.
More features: multiple pockets, six adjustment straps, paddle specific foam design, hanging loop for drying
If you’re someone who prefers doing it all when it comes to fishing, including paddling your boat out into the waters, you’ll need to be completely comfortable and not be weighed down by your life vest. With our choice for kayak fishing, that’s exactly what you’ll get with the ONYX Life Jacket.
The word ‘comfort’ can be the name of this life vest as it is very lightweight at 1.3 pounds, and it has six adjustable straps to ensure that your body fits snugly into it. It is made of 400-denier nylon oxford (a lightweight nylon fabric), and it comes with a mesh on the lower back giving your back plenty of breathing space while you’re busy with your kayak. This kayak fishing vest has fleece-lined pockets, and there are plenty of different types of pockets that can fit your fishing items, including even a spot for your walkie-talkie. This life vest is made for everybody as well since it comes in a universal size, which ranges from 30-52 inches, and the company also has another sizing for people with larger builds (40-60 inches).
In terms of buoyancy, this life vest is US Coast Guard-approved so it can handle 15 pounds of pressure, which classifies it as a Type III personal floatation device. The majority of owners of this fishing life vest absolutely love this product, but a few people did mention that the pockets are not waterproof. They were not happy when they found soaked items there.
More features: lower back waistband, multiple pockets with drainage, front zip closure, ultra-soft foam
When it comes to the details of a fishing life vest, in our opinion, it’s really hard to find something that is constructed better than the Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Floatation Device.
There is a tremendous level of detail that goes into this life vest that makes it an excellent purchase, starting with the materials it is made of. It uses 500-denier Cordura material, which gives it a heavy-duty model without adding any extra weight and lines the inside of the life vest with a much softer 200-denier oxford liner. A great design feature is its high back panel cover that ensures that you feel comfortable when you’re in your seat in your boat or kayak. This life vest will also make sure it fits snuggly since it comes with a few different adjustment straps. As we mentioned, its heavy-duty materials do not add any weight at all to this life vest. In fact, it only weighs an amazing one pound, while offering a fantastic 16 pounds of buoyancy.
In terms of its sizing, people will be happy to know that it comes in just about any size from small all the way to extra-large and also has a separate sizing for people with larger body builds with their universal-plus sizing. As fabulous as this life vest is, a few people did mention that it is quite expensive.
More features: convertible from automatic/manual to manual-only inflation, D-ring attachment for small accessories
If you’re looking for a life vest that does not take up too much room and can inflate and deflate rather quickly, you’ll want to pay close attention to the ABSOLUTE OUTDOOR Onyx M-24 Manual Inflatable Vest. This life vest is different from the others in that it manually inflates by simply pulling the T-handle at the bottom of the right flap.
This US Coast Guard-approved life vest is incredibly simple and convenient to use. It’s also different in that it does not cover a lot of your body as well. It has two flaps that come down from the shoulders and has a waist strap to secure it on your body. It also lacks any storage space whatsoever, which, if you’re a serious fisherman, can severely hamper your fishing because you’ll need a separate storage bag to carry with you all your fishing tools. Despite these differences, this personal floatation device comes in a universal size and is made of 300-denier polyester material that is complemented by a soft neoprene neckline, adding more comfort for your neck area.
Even though it has a very minimalistic design, it still weighs 1.5 pounds, but it can provide you with fantastic 22.5 pounds of buoyancy. One thing to note that a few owners did not know of before purchasing this life vest is that you’ll have to replace the carbon dioxide cartridge (the air that inflates the life vest) each and every time you use it. As annoying as this may seem, it is very affordable to do so.
Material: 200 x 400-denier ripstop nylon and stretch polyester lycra shell, 200-denier high tenacity nylon liner
Weight: 1.76 lbs.
Buoyancy: 16.3 lbs.
More features: PVC-free Gaia and PE foam inserts, front pocket with internal divider, compatible with the quick-release belt
We couldn’t possibly talk about the best fishing life vests without taking into consideration the best life vests for women, and that’s what we’ll cover with the Astral Women’s Layla Life Jacket.
This life vest for ladies comes in a variety of sizes from extra-small all the way up to extra-large and is available in three colors: glacier blue, eggplant (purple), and rosa red. This life vest is made specifically for women because it offers great protection and has an internally sculpted bust cup that is shaped with comfortable Kapok foam. It is made of solid materials, including PVC-free Gaia and PE foam inserts that add more protection, and uses 200 x 400-denier ripstop nylon material, which is very durable. It also has a breathable 200-denier high-tenacity nylon liner on the inside that gives your body better air circulation. Women will love that this life vest is extremely safe and durable, and this model has been approved by the US Coast Guard as a Type III PFD.
In terms of buoyancy, it offers a very good 16.3 pounds. This life vest also enables ladies to keep their fishing tools organized by using the front pocket that comes with an internal divider and a key clip to make certain that all items are neatly organized and easily accessible. Despite the great features of this life vest, a number of women remarked that it felt quite heavy when they’re fishing, especially when they had a number of items stored in the front pocket.
More features: adjustable webbed straps, large zippered pockets that work as handwarmers, large armholes
One of the best things that you can find in a fishing life vest is its lightweight design that won’t limit your movements. Fortunately, most of the fishing life vests on this list are fairly lightweight, but our top choice in this category is the Stearns Comfort Series Collared Angler Vest.
With the weight of just 1.1 pounds, many people say that this fishing life vest is almost like a thin layer of clothing but with the added benefit of being able to keep you on the surface. This Stearns life vest is made of a 200D nylon oxford shell and also comes with a neoprene collar to prevent chafing, and its shoulder mesh panels help to improve the ventilation of this life vest. This allows your body to breathe a bit better even when the hot sun is shining brightly. Next, it has large armholes that give your body and your arms the ability to move freely while you’re fishing.
In terms of buoyancy, this life vest is also US Coast Guard approved as a Type III life vest, and it supports 16 pounds. It has large zippered pockets where you can store your smaller fishing gear and tools, or you can use it as a handwarmer instead to help keep your hands nice and warm. As fantastic as most owners of this life vest found it to be, a few people did mention that they wish there were a few more handy pockets with this life vest.
Color: Red, Black, Camouflage, Green, Grey, Dark Green (with or without foam)
Material: ripstop polyester shell and replaceable EPE foam, mesh fabric
Weight: 1.71 lbs.
Buoyancy: supports up to 209 lbs.
More features: multiple pockets, breathable, open sides, light reflectors, multi-webbed adjustable buckle strap
If fly fishing is your hobby, you’ll want a life vest that is comfortable and that allows you to be able to move around freely without being impeded by your life vest. That’s where the Lixada Fly Fishing Vest cannot be matched.
This life vest is great for fly fishing because it enables you to do the best fishing you can by carrying most of your essential tools in its four chest pockets, four zipped front pockets as well as the two mesh pockets on the side of the vest and one on the back. You might think that having these many pockets would make the vest heavier, but at just 1.7 pounds, it’s still fairly light. In terms of colors, this life vest has the most of any on our list, and it comes in red, black, camo, green, grey, and dark green. It’s made of a ripstop polyester shell material. And you can also replace the EPE foam inside if it gets worn down. It comes in a universal size, albeit limited to a weight limit of 209 pounds, and with adjustable shoulder buckle straps, you can play around with it until it fits you comfortably.
Many people love the light reflectors that enable you to be seen in the dark as it’s a handy safety feature to have. However, a few people mentioned that the zippers on the pockets were quite flimsy, and some were prone to breaking quite easily.
More features: two slip pockets, two zippered pockets, one envelope pocket, adjustable side straps, Hypalon tabs and D-ring attachment points
If you’re on the smaller side, and you’ve been having difficulties trying to find a fishing life vest that fits you well, the Old Town Treble Angler Life Jacket just might be your best bet. For smaller people, they will most definitely find this product to be useful for them because it only comes in one universal size. It is also available in only one color, which is the brown and black combination.
This small life vest is made of 200-denier durable nylon, and this type of fabric is the standard type that can be found among the most popular fishing life vests. It also has an envelope pocket for holding a VHF/GPS device. Since this life vest is on the smaller side, it weighs just 1.4 pounds. Yet, despite this low weight, it can hold an excellent buoyancy of 18 pounds. This life vest is very handy when you’re out fishing because it has four large chest pockets that should give you ample space to help store your fishing tools.
Despite its low weight, a few people have mentioned that this life vest can be a bit bulky, especially when you have filled the four pockets with a number of different fishing tools.
More features: reflective stripes, rod hanging loop, adjustable shoulder and waist straps, attachment ladders
While it’s great to have a fishing life vest, sometimes, you want to get more usage out of it and try it for other water activities. With our choice for Best Multi-Purpose Life Vest, the HYOUT Adjustable Fly Fishing Vest, you can do just that. While this life vest is great for kayak fishing, it also can be used for other water activities like hunting, hiking, camping, climbing, wild rafting, and photography.
This life vest comes in a universal size in two color combinations: army green or grey color, and is made of breathable mesh. At first glance, you can’t help but think it looks exactly like a regular life jacket with adjustable shoulder and waist straps. However, it lacks the puffiness from the padding in regular life jackets and has the capacity for 15 pounds of buoyancy. You can also store your items in two chest pockets, two side mesh pockets, or two shell pockets that are opened and closed via a zipper.
A common complaint with this life vest from people is that it tends to ride up while you’re sitting in your kayak, which can make fishing in it a bit uncomfortable.
Why did it make our list?
Great life vest for many water activities
What is not ideal about it?
Tends to ride up when you’re sitting
Things to Consider
Now, after taking a quick look at the top 10 products available on the market today, it’s time to turn our attention to the buying guide. In this section, we’ll talk more in detail about each of the features of these fishing life vests and what makes these features desirable and necessary on a fishing life vest. We’ll discuss why these features are important to improve your fishing experience, and it is our hope that this guide informs you, so you will have a clear idea of what you need. We’ll then answer a few of the frequently asked questions when it comes to these life jackets, and then we’ll wrap it up with our verdict, where we’ll give you our top three choices!
Reasons to get yourself a fishing life jacket
Clearly, the most obvious reason why you should get yourself a fishing life jacket is to provide your safety in the event you either do not know how to swim or if your boat happens to capsize, and you end up in the water. However, unlike regular life jackets that are much bulkier and insulated, the benefit of a fishing life jacket is that they are compact in size and don’t tend to get in your way when you’re fishing. Another reason why you’ll want to invest in a fishing life jacket is the number of pockets it comes with. Depending on the type of fishing you prefer, the pockets can come in handy as you’ll need to store plenty of things in them. These pockets help to keep all your items organized, so you don’t need to carry an extra bag with you. Lastly, there are also legal reasons as well as to why you need a fishing life jacket. Fishermen or people who board a boat or any vessel that takes to the seas is required to have access to a life jacket of some sort. And if you plan on fishing, why not wear yours? They are comfortable to use and don’t restrict your movements.
How to pick the best fishing life vest?
When picking the best fishing life jacket, it really depends on what you’re looking for and the type of fishing you do. There are lots of great features in fishing life jackets, and we’ll touch on each of them to help you with your final decisions. The key things we’ll explore are the type of life vest, its size, the materials it’s made of, its floatation, its weight, design, how comfortable it is, any extra features worth mentioning, and finally, its price.
According to the US Coast Guard, there are five different types of fishing life vests. Here is a summary of each class.
Type I life vests tend to be much bulkier and have more buoyancy, and because of this, you could be out in the water for quite a long time before you’re rescued. It should be okay because this type of life vest is designed to keep you afloat for a long time.
A Type II life vest is the right choice for those who plan on being closer to shore because these are less bulky and are meant for calmer waters.
A Type III life vest is designed for any water activities where you need more mobility, and thus these life vests are less bulky. However, they do a good job of keeping your face above the water.
A Type IV life vest is more of a throwable life vest. It is more commonly used to toss it in the water when someone needs help and does not have a personal floatation device.
Finally, a Type V life vest is meant for active water sports like waterskiing or windsurfing.
Generally, the US Coast Guard recommends a Type III or V if you plan on fishing on the lake.
The size of the fishing life vest is very important because it determines who will be able to wear it. Generally speaking, the best life vests, when it comes to the sizes, are those that offer a universal fit. Universal models are great in that they can be used by a wider range of people. Thus, whether you’re body physique is slimmer or larger, universal-sized life vests should be able to fit your body type. The ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket and the ABSOLUTE OUTDOOR Onyx M-24 are both good options that offer universal sizes.
Fishing life vests also can be worn by children and women as well. For children, there is an extra strap that attaches under their crotch area, and that straps into the back of the life vest for extra support. Many of the fishing life vests come in various sizes as well, ranging from extra small to XX-large. Women should be able to find a size that fits their body type snugly from this range of different sizes. Here, you can see how sizing works: for small, chest area will be 28-32 inches, for medium – 32-36 inches, and for large – 40-44 inches.
In terms of the materials used to construct the fishing life vests, we see that most manufacturers use some form of nylon fabric. Denier is a measurement of weight that you can usually find in the description, and the higher the number is, the stronger the material will be. This tends to be the most common fabric used in life vests because these nylon or polyester materials are quite durable and long-lasting.
Many of the fishing life vests also use some sort of nylon mesh material that is located either on the shoulders or on the back. Having this mesh material is good because it provides your body with proper ventilation.
Sometimes when you’re out fishing under the sun for hours on end, without a mesh layer, the heat would get trapped in your life vest. With the mesh, it allows the heat to leave your body and to help keep you a bit cooler.
When it comes to the floatation, buoyancy is often the term that is used to describe it. Buoyancy refers to the level of force that is needed to keep your head above the water. There are a few factors that go into buoyancy.
For starters, it depends on your body weight and type. You must know that not all of the fishing life jackets are the same and have the same buoyancy. The US Coast Guard has made it easy for people to understand the different classification of these life jackets by splitting them up into five categories. For each class, the model will have different functionality. As a general rule, anything above a Type III is a great choice for fishing.
The fishing life vests are incredibly light and very comfortable to wear while you’re fishing, and you’ll be able to tell this upon first glance. These life vests need to be very easy to maneuver around in because you don’t want something on your body that is bulky and heavy, and that can easily distract you while you’re fishing. What you’re looking for is something that is genuinely light yet effective, and that’s what the best fishing life vests bring to you.
When it comes to the design of the best fishing life vests, they all tend to vary depending on the features they have. As for the color, it can differ as well. You can find charcoal, black, tan, blue, and even cactus models on our list. Some of the life vests also come with reflectors, which is a good safety feature to have in case you prefer fishing when it is dark out.
The best fishing life vests are also known for the number of pockets they have. These pockets are usually zippered ones, and they are great for people who fish as they can carry lots of different things you’ll need to help you fish. Furthermore, these life vests are secured either via a zipper down the middle of your chest or are secured using the waistline buckle.
In terms of the overall functionality, fishing life vests are great at keeping you safe and providing you with plenty of pockets to help you transport and carry the tools you need for fishing. They are also very light and sturdy and are meant to not limit your movements.
The best fishing life vests are extremely comfortable and versatile, so you will be able to adjust them as you need. A large part of the comfort comes from the fact that these life vests are very light and are not overly bulky. Moreover, fishing life vests are different from regular life jackets because they are designed to be worn for hours on end while you’re in your kayak or boat. Bulky life vests or jackets can severely hamper your ability to fish by limiting your range of motion, which is what these fishing life vests do not do. In fact, it’s very easy to adjust your fishing life vest if you feel like it is getting in the way of your fishing. Usually, there will be an adjustable strap that you can tighten or loosen so that it is comfortable for you.
Some of the best fishing life vests also come with a few extra features that give them more value and added benefits. Some products have reflective stripes on them. This enables people who wear these types of vests to be seen in the dark. If you feel like some of the life vests are a bit too tight or you don’t feel like you have sufficient space to maneuver around in it, there are models that come with open sides that give your body a bit more space. Or you could just opt for the ABSOLUTE OUTDOOR Onyx M-24 Manual Inflatable Vest, which comes with two panels that run down the front of both shoulders. Lastly, not many of the best fishing life vests have this, but some like the Lixada Fly Fishing Vest allow you to remove or add the foam.
As with any product, the prices vary quite a bit. Generally speaking, the price of a fishing life vest is quite low, and seeing how they are meant to protect your life while out on the water, it’s a worthwhile investment to make. Starting with our Best Value selection, the Yukon EPIC Paddle Life Vest Jacket, this product will cost you approximately $35, which is a fantastic price, and we ranked it as our second best fishing life vest. On the other hand, the most expensive fishing life vest on our list is the Stohlquist Fisherman, which costs approximately $170. In between these price tags, you’ll find other models, including our Editor’s Choice, the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD, which will set you back only about $125.
Smaller people will benefit from fishing life vests that are smaller in size. While it can be hard to find the appropriate sizes for them, a good place to start is with the Old Town Treble Angler Life Jacket, which only comes in the one extra-small size. As for kids, and it is advisable to look for fishing life vests that are built specifically for children. Women also tend to have a few issues trying to find a fishing life vest that is adequate for their needs, but some companies produce those models, and the Astral Women’s Layla Life Jacket is a great example here.
Fishing life vests can last you a number of years, depending on how well you maintain it and how often you use it. The longevity of a fishing life vest ultimately depends on when the vest will begin to lose its ability to keep its buoyancy. When your fishing life vest is unable to retain your weight, it will be of no use to you as it won’t help to protect you anymore. It’s advised that it’s best to keep it in a cool area for storage and to prevent it from excessive usage to prolong the life of your fishing life vest.
Some of the best maintenance tips for a fishing life vest include testing it out in shallow water to ensure that it’s still working, give it a good rinse after using it to get rid of any dirt and check your fishing life vest’s foam. If you notice any funky smells, this may be a sign that the foam will lose its ability to keep you on the surface. Finally, after using it, find a nice and cool place to store it so that the fishing life vest will serve you longer.
In our verdict, we’ll present to you our top three picks.
Kicking things off with our Editor’s Choice, the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD, this one has it all and does it all. It’s a bit heavier than other life vests, but it has fantastic buoyancy at 16.5 pounds, and it is designed to increase the comfort level while you’re in the ready position to cast your line out to fish.
Next up is our Best Value option, the Yukon EPIC Paddle Life Vest Jacket. This one combines tremendous affordability with the great overall quality. We particularly love that this life vest is light and has two large pockets in the front for easy access. Also, a 6-month money-back guarantee is great for people new to fishing to give this one a try.
Lastly, we have the ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket. This model boasts six adjustment straps and has multiple pockets to store your gear. On top of that, its materials are reliable. That’s why this model takes third place on our list of the best fishing life vests.