There is something people love about being out on the water in a kayak. It’s a great workout, but it will also give you a wonderful sense of adventure and be a powerful stress reliever. That being said, kayaking is not without its dangers. You want to make sure you’re safe out on the water, and nothing is more important in that regard than getting the best kayak life vest.
That’s why we have completed eight extensive reviews to find your perfect life jacket. In our research, we have found that the Onyx Kayak Fishing Vest is the most impressive product out there. It offers you amazing buoyancy, gives you a comfortable fit while also allowing you to move your arms freely. It could be, however, that you prefer a different type of life jacket and we have looked at seven other brilliant options.
Top 8 Kayak Life Vests Review 2020
With all the researches, we have spent over 50 hours gathering all the facts. We have consulted with the experts and examined the official websites to make sure we don’t miss any important facts or features of the life jackets. We’ve looked at their size, color, material, weight, and buoyancy to give you all the information you need. The result of our research is broken down into an easy to scan comparison table as well as those in-depth reviews of each product. After that, there is a comprehensive buying guide and the FAQ section. Finally, we sum up our results and announce our three favorite products. Finding the best kayak life vest has never been easier, so read on to find out more!
Onyx Kayak Fishing Vest – Editor's Choice
- Gender: man
- Size: Universal (30” – 52”), Oversize (40” – 60”)
- Color: brown / dark blue
- Material: 400D nylon oxford, mesh back, neoprene shoulder pads
- Weight: 1.35 lb.
- Buoyancy: approx. 16 lb.
More features: zippered large pockets, six adjustable straps
This life vest by Onyx is going to be perfect for you. It has all the features you’d expect while also giving you a great level of safety. It provides you with a very comfortable fit and is fantastic for all-day wear.
There is a vast range of pocket options that will allow you to have everything at hand at that crucial time. Those include two large pockets, which are great for boxes and other large pieces of fishing gear. The vest is able to have all those features while still having an impressive level of breathability.
The materials used are of high quality, and that includes neoprene shoulder pads that add comfort. The zipper can be a little stiff, but it is also durable. Another wonderful feature of this vest is the adjustability. You’ll be able to get the exact right fit for you so that you can concentrate on your fishing adventure.
- Comfortable fit
- Brilliant pocket options
- Highly adjustable
- Breathable design
- Zipper can be stiff
Stohlquist Trekker – Best Safety Rating
- Gender: man / woman
- Size: Small / Medium, Large / X-Large, XX-Large, Univ Plus
- Color: bright green, deep red, sapphire blue, black, fireball red, mango
- Material: 400D nylon outer shell and 200D oxford liner
- Weight: 1.8 lb.
- Buoyancy: 16 lb. 12 oz.
More features: ventilated shoulder and back pad, 16 lb. 12 oz. buoyancy, front zipper, zippered pockets, reflective material on front and back
Stohlquist is a highly reputable brand in the water sports industry, and this vest is a great example of high-quality gear. It doesn’t have as many pockets options as other vests in this list, but it’s amazing for those who don’t have to carry much gear.
Whereas many life vests are only available in a universal fit, this one has many size options to choose from. That’ll allow you to get the perfect life vest for you. There is a range of color options, too, to get a vest that matches your style. If you’re looking for kayak life vests with the highest safety rating, this is a marvelous option.
The ventilated shoulders and mesh back that make this vest very comfortable, and you aren’t going to get any problems with it riding up. It is going to give you a good level of buoyancy, no matter how big you are. This is an astonishing life vest for anyone who kayaks a lot and is looking for a durable product that will last for years.
- Durable materials
- Doesn’t ride up
- Several color options
- Fewer pocket options
NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD – Best For Paddling
- Gender: man / woman
- Size: XS / M, L / XL, XL / XXL
- Color: red, lime
- Material: 400D ripstop nylon fabric
- Weight: 1.9 lb.
- Buoyancy: 16.5 lb.
More features: Reflective material on front and back, 4 pockets, 2 last tabs, front zipper
Here we see another jacket, which is suitable for either men or women. It has several buying options so a comfortable fit is guaranteed. It has many zippered pockets that will allow you to store away any items that might be very useful while kayaking.
The fit can be a little high if you’re especially tall, but for most users, it will be very comfortable. The wide-open arms prevent the vest from being restrictive. It makes it very easy to paddle and grab anything from the kayak that you need.
It is easy to adjust, and there is reflective material on the front and back that gives you a much higher level of visibility. The wide zipper is a useful feature, and it’s a part of this whole vest being very easy to use. It’s another magnificent option and one that is very well made.
- Multiple pockets
- Wide zipper
- Easy to adjust
- Doesn’t limit you
- Can feel a little high for tall users
Kokatat OutFIT Tour PFD – Best Buoyancy
- Gender: man
- Size: Small, Medium, Large, X-Large, XX-Large
- Color: red, mango, navy
- Material: 500D Cordura outer and 200D nylon inner shell
- Weight: 2.2 lb.
- Buoyancy: 16 lb. 5 oz. – 17 lb.
More features: front zipper and buckle, multiple pockets, lash tabs, PVC-free foam
This kayak life vest has quite a unique look with a front zipper that is slightly off-center. It has three pockets across the front that are all highly secure. They are quite large too and will help you to store plenty of items and tools.
The life vest can fit a little high for some people. Therefore, make sure to check the size of the product. If you get it right, then you’ll find this life vest to be very comfortable and one which is going to give you plenty of arm room. Part of the reason for that is the high level of adjustability it has.
As soon as you get the jacket, you can feel the build quality inside of it. It’s going to last, even for those more adventurous kayakers. Most importantly, it has a very good level of buoyancy and will keep you afloat whenever you are in trouble, making it one of the best sea kayak life vests out there.
- Highly secure pockets
- Highly adjustable
- Comfortable fit
- High build quality
- Can fit high
Astral Layla – Best Women’s Life Jacket
- Gender: woman
- Size: X-Small, S / M, M / L, L / XL
- Color: glacier blue, eggplant, rosa
- Material: 200D x 400D ripstop nylon shell and 200D high tenacity nylon
- Weight: 1.76 lb.
- Buoyancy: 16.3 lb.
More features: front pocket with internal divider, compatible with quick-release belt, PVC-free foam
If you’re looking for a life vest that is designed specifically for women, then you don’t need to look any further than this. It’s an excellent life vest and one which will give you a lot of confidence. Should you ever fall into the water, you’re going to be perfectly fine.
It is a little expensive in comparison with some of the other models that we have looked at, but what you get for that price is a high degree of quality. It fits well around the body, which can’t be said for many other universal life vests. It helps to make it very comfortable to wear but also to paddle with the wide-open arms it has.
It is made of heavy-duty nylon, and you know that it is going to last. There aren’t many pockets, but the ones that are present allow you to organize your gear easily. It makes it a life vest that is very easy to use and one that we’re sure you’ll be happy with.
- Excellent for women
- Durable materials
- Organized pockets
- Wide-open arms
- A little expensive
Astral Ronny – Best Durable Vest
- Gender: man
- Size: S / M, M / L, L / XL
- Color: blue, burnt orange, cherry creek red, cloud grey, conifer green, deep water blue, oceanic blue, spruce green
- Material: 200D high tenacity nylon, mesh liner
- Weight: 1.02 lb.
- Buoyancy: 16 lb.
More features: front zipper, multiple storage pockets, PVC-free foam, breathable
If color is important to you and you haven’t found your perfect life jacket yet, this could well be the one for you. There are eight different colors available together with the three different size options. That should ensure you get the product you like.
Hot conditions are another area where this life vest is able to shine, as it is breathable. Therefore, it will prevent you from sweating. You don’t have to worry about damaging the life vest as it is very hard-wearing and highly durable.
This could work as a great life vest for fishing, but it could also be used for plenty of other activities. The pockets are excellent and will allow you to store many things in them. Some may find it to be a little bulky, but that is something that we can’t avoid in order to have a high level of buoyancy. This vest will ensure that you stay safe at all times.
- A wide range of colors
- Keeps you cool
- Durable fabrics
- Good pocket options
- A little bulky
Coleman Sportsman’s Life Vest – Budget Pick
- Gender: man / woman
- Size: Small, Large, X- Large, XX- Large, XXX- Large
- Color: green
- Material: 200D nylon shell, mesh shoulders and back
- Weight: 1.5 lb.
- Buoyancy: not specified
More features: two front pockets, adjustable straps, front zipper and buckle
If you’re looking for the ultimate in breathability, then this life jacket will appeal to you. The back area and shoulders are almost all mesh. This will help to give you a fantastic level of comfort even if you’re out there kayaking under the hot sun.
The large armholes help with that ventilation, and you can comfortably paddle without your arms catching on the vest. This jacket is amazing for all types of kayaking activities but is especially good for fishing, although it could have more pockets.
The durable nylon shell should be able to last for many years of continuous use, even for the most passionate of kayakers. It’s suitable for both men and women with enough adjustability to make it comfortable for all body shapes. It’s a perfect life vest and one that is very easy to wear.
The best part about it is the price. With this budget-friendly option, you will be able to save some money to invest it in other important parts of the gear.
- Breathable mesh shoulders
- Large armholes
- Great for fishing
- Durable nylon shell
- Limited buying options
- Only two small pockets
Stohlquist Ebb – Best Adjustability
- Gender: man
- Size: Small / Medium, Large / X-Large, Univ Plus
- Color: red / gray, steel green
- Material: 240D ripstop nylon outer shell, 200D nylon liner, neoprene padded waistband, inner mesh lining
- Weight: 1.5 lb.
- Buoyancy: 16 lb. 4 oz.
More features: PVC-free foam, adjustable shoulder and side pulls, two large pockets, front zipper, open sides for better ventilation
The buoyancy of this life vest is very high thanks to two large sections on the front, which are filled with foam. All the materials used on this life vest are of the highest quality, and this includes a neoprene waistband to go along with the tough nylon shell and liner.
Although the pockets could be better, this model is all about giving you the highest levels of safety should you end up in the water. It doesn’t rise up or from with the problems that many other life vests encounter. However, some customers complained that it might run small.
The wide-open arms make it easy to paddle, and that is helped by the lightweight nature of the life vest. Moreover, It adds to the breathability as well as mesh shoulders and back. Next, It provides a lot of comfort because of its shape and adjustable pulls. It doesn’t sacrifice anything in terms of safety, and, therefore, this is an all-around brilliant life jacket.
- Lightweight design
- High-quality materials
- Doesn’t ride up
- Wide-open arms
- Poor pockets
- Might run small
The clue is in the name with life vests. They are there to potentially save your life. You hope that you never need it for that, but you never want to take any chances. Due to this, you want to get a vest that is of high quality and able to give you all the support you need. Once you have the safety aspect sorted, you want to check that the features are going to be working for you. Here we look through those key features to give you all the information you need.
Choosing the best kayak life vest
All the life vests that we looked at have been approved by the US Coast Guard, which means that they have high buoyancy and safety levels. As you don’t have to worry about that, the next step is to know what is important to you.
Will you be fishing? Are you quite tall? Is color important? These are the questions you need to ask yourself. As you go through this buying guide, it’s a good idea to note each feature to get a clear picture of what you need.
Size and fit are vital for a life vest. If it is too small, it won’t be able to close properly. If it is too large, you risk the life vest slipping off. If you’re unsure of the size, then the wisest move is to measure yourself. It’s a good idea to check the customer reviews to see if there are any fitting issues.
There are quite a few different materials used with the shell and liner of this vest. The majority of them are made from nylon, but there are other materials such as Cordura and polyester. These materials are all made to be highly durable, and their thickness is measured in denier. You want the denier to be 200 at least and ideally 400 on the shell, with the Stohlquist Ebb being a great example of that.
On the shoulders and back, you will often find mesh, which can be crucial. This will allow air ventilation and therefore stop you from sweating and overheating, Coleman Sportsman’s Life Vest is an example of a life vest with brilliant breathability. Other vests will have neoprene on the shoulders, which is a breathable material with a natural level of stretch.
While all of the life vests that we have looked at here are quite light, even a small difference in weight can have a significant impact over a full day. 2lbs is an ideal weight for most kayakers, as this will be able to keep you comfortable.
If you consider anything above that, then you will want to make sure that you have the strength to be able to take the weight on your shoulders. If you are quite petite, then ideally, you’d want to be looking at a life vest under 2lbs as this is going to be more comfortable. The Onyx Kayak Fishing Vest at just 1.35lbs would be an excellent option.
There are five types of life jackets with types 1 and 2 being used for emergency situations where you might be in the water for a long time. The most versatile kayak life jackets are type 3, which don’t have quite the same buoyancy but allow for more freedom of movement.
These life jackets will be able to keep your head above water to help you get to the shore.
The color of a life jacket isn’t just about personal preference, and it can be an important safety feature. If you’re worried about safety or kayaking in a remote location, then it would be a good idea to choose a kayak vest that has a bright color. This would make it easier for someone to spot you in the water.
In addition, another useful feature is reflective strips that will allow you to be a lot more visible in lower light. Of course, there is a matter of personal preference. Some companies offer a lot more color options than others, and, therefore, if you’re looking for something specific, your options could be more limited. If you want a wider range of options, check out the Astral Ronny life jacket.
The range of pockets will vary quite a lot from one life vest to the next. This will depend on what type of activity you’ll be doing. If you are going to be fishing on your kayak, for example, then you will want to have more pockets to be able to place your gear and boxes there. For example, the Onyx Kayak Fishing Vest has multiple pockets, including zippered and velcro ones.
If you are going to be kayaking just for a few hours of gentle paddling, you’ll only be interested in having secure pockets in which to place your valuable items.
What else should I look at?
Closure – Some kayakers will have their preference in terms of how their life jackets close. Some will have buckles, some zippers, and others will have a combination of both. They should be in a comfortable location, which allows you to put it on and take it off easily.
Adjustability – This is a key part of a life vest, as you want to fit to be comfortable but also being tight enough so that it sits in place if your kayak flips. Having straps across the shoulders and cinch straps across the waist will allow for the perfect fit.
With life vets, you will have budget options, premium options, and a regular priced vest. For a budget option, the Coleman Sportsman’s Life Vest at under $40 is a wonderful choice as it is still USCG approved and offers all the safety you need. It provides a comfortable fit with perfect breathability.
Next, the Astral Ronny would be a great call at around $100, as this has a bit more quality with additional features. The durability is very impressive, and this vest should be able to last for many years.
If you’re looking for the premium quality, then it’s hard to look past the Kokatat OutFIT Tour PFD at a little over $150. The materials used are excellent, and it has a high level of buoyancy. The pocket options are marvelous, and the vest will be comfortable for a whole day of use.
These kayak vests that we have looked at here are very well made. Even the ones on the budget end of the scale should be able to last for a very long time. You do get what you pay for, and the premium vests do have a bit more quality to them.
A good life vest should be able to last for a lifetime. Even with regular use, they are designed to take a lot of punishment and deal with anything your adventure throws at them. You do want to make sure that you keep them clean and out of direct sunlight when you are not using them.
The inflatable personal flotation devices are popular among some users since they are less bulky don’t weigh as much as life jackets. The problem is that they have to be activated, and that could be difficult if you are disorientated or tired.
Some other types of inflatable PFD’s will automatically inflate when they hit the water, but that isn’t suitable for kayaking activities as they might inflate when you don’t want them too. One advantage is that they do have more buoyancy when inflated, but regular life jackets give you more than enough buoyancy anyway and can last you a lifetime.
The definite answer to this will depend on a few different factors, but no. They are quite thin on the body and shouldn’t stop you from doing anything that you want. Some are bulkier than others, but even they should be able to give you a lot of freedom for movement.
The kayak life vests should have wide-open arms to allow you to paddle freely. If they don’t offer this, then it’s going to make your life very difficult. This is also why you’d want a life vest that is designed specifically for kayaking as other options may well restrict your movement.
With eight brilliant options here, it’s hard to pick the best one. For us, it would be the Onyx Kayak Fishing Vest, as this gives you the perfect balance between safety and comfort. While it’s excellent for fishing, it’s also great for any other type of activity.
For those who want to get a comfortable life vest with great ventilation and safety rating, we recommend the Stohlquist Trekker.
If you’re looking for the ultimate in paddling comfort, then the NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD will be able to give you that as the arms are wide open and won’t be limit your actions.
You might be looking for something else, so there are other fantastic products on this list. All that’s left to do if to choose the best kayak life vest for you, then you’ll be able to paddle with comfort and peace of mind knowing you’re protected should an accident occur.