Best Life Jackets (PFD) For Kayaking

Hey folks, KayakDIY here. And today we’re going to talk about PFDs life jackets. What one are you supposed to choose? Here I have a whole bunch of different life jackets and we’re going to talk a little bit about what are the best life jackets for kayakers and how to go about choosing various ones for different types of kayaking that you might be doing.

So before we get too far along, let’s just going to do a quick run through of the various types of PFDs so that way you can make an informed decision after I give you the rest of the information, after this little screenshot here. So type I, type II, type III, type IV, type V. Those are the types of PFDs. Type I is reflective, has high levels of buoyancy, it’s bright color orange, usually very uncomfortable, designed more for commercial vessels that are going further away from areas where rescue would be in a timely fashion. So that’s what type I is primarily for. Type I will help keep your face out of the water should you be knocked unconscious. The other PFDs can’t really say that.

Type II can relatively, with high levels of success, keep your face out of the water, but not as well as type I. Type II PFDs have a little less buoyancy than type I. They are pretty affordable, but they’re also, once again, not very comfortable. They’re a bright color orange. They don’t really look that great, and so a lot of people don’t wear them. They store them on their vessel and they only wear them when they need them.

Type III PFDs are going to be the most common PFDs that you’re going to see in the kayaking world. So we’re going to be mostly focused on type III PFDs, but we will talk about a few type V inflatable PFDs that have performance in the type II and type III categories. Type IV PFDs, not really relevant to the kayaking world that much. Those are throwaway goals. We just don’t really see them that much.

So what life jacket are you supposed to wear though? Because there’s so many and when you’re new to kayaking it can be a little bit challenging to determine what one to pick. What I usually see people doing is they buy the kayak and the life jackets is the afterthought, and then they quick scramble and maybe they run to Walmart and they pick up something like this. While this is a very reliable and good life jacket, let’s be honest, it’s not very flattering and people typically want to look good. It also is not very comfortable for being out on the water all day.

What it is good at doing though is it’s better than your traditional life jacket, kayak life jacket, in helping kind of keep your head above water because if you are knocked unconscious, the majority of kayak life jackets are not designed to keep your head above water. They’re not designed to keep your face out of the water. So if you’re knocked unconscious and you end up facing the water, the most popular and most common life jackets for kayakers, such as even this model right here, the NRS Chinook, great PFD, not designed to keep your face out of the water. And actually neither is this, but this does a better job.

This here is a type II. A type II PFD is a little bit better at keeping your face out of the water and keeping your head kind of above the water because it wraps around your head and it just … if you end up kind of floating on your back a little bit, which this kind of makes you do because these floats don’t really like to be submerged. So you’re going to be kind of sitting like this in the water. So type II pretty good about keeping your face on the water. Not very stylish, not very comfortable. Chances are you’re probably not going to wear it. So how worthwhile is it to even have it?

I mean, if I keep this on the kayak and I flip over last minute, I’m going to have to scramble to find this and then put it on. Just not a good situation. So I don’t recommend that for a PFD for kayaking. There’s this one here, and actually while it’s not really designed for kayaking, this here is designed more for the water sports industry. So for wakeboarding, skiing, it’s designed to be really flexible. It’s a thin neoprene vest. While this isn’t really designed for kayaking, it works, and I really have no complaints over using this. It’s just still not really designed for kayaking.

And one of the biggest things is range of motion for paddling. You want this area of your body to have good range of motion to be able to do the twist, to be able to paddle, and this still feels a little bit stiff. It just isn’t still the right PFD for kayakers. So if you have one, go ahead and use it. You know? And if you can save up money for a true kayaking PFD, great. But I wouldn’t recommend buying one if you don’t already have one. I would just not use this as a kayaking PFD. Next thing, size.

Throwing just a small PFD on this kayak, that doesn’t make me legal, because the coast guard and many state departments are going to require that you have a PFD that actually fits you and it’s designed to fit your size. They go off of chest measurements and weight. So this here is great for a child, not great for just getting by legally, and obviously I can’t fit into this. When we are talking about kids though, that was a child PFD. This is an infant PFD. Don’t try to put an the infant in a child PFD. It’s not designed for them. Once again, use what’s designed for that particular person, that particular size of body.

Now, the other thing is, maybe if you’re taking your dog about on your kayak, think about your dog. You know, if you end up in a bad situation and you thought you were a good swimmer, your dog probably thinks it’s a good swimmer too, but your dog can get tired out quick as well. You might need a PFD for your dog. I like this one because it has a nice handle so that if my dog Roxy jumps off the kayak and I want to try to get her back quick, I can just grab the handle and lift her in. It makes it a lot easier than if she wasn’t wearing one. So even for that feature alone, I like having a PFD on my dog just to be able to lift my dog back into the water.

These are type III PFDs. These were designed for kayaking. They do differ a little bit because kayaks differ a little bit. And so what I’ll talk about here is these here are the NRS Chinook and the Chinook was designed for kayak fishing. It has all these pockets everywhere, and it has on the back here a high float. The float is high on the back and it has this nice breathable mesh. Why do they designed it that way? They designed it that way so that when you’re sitting in the seat, which you see on many kayak fishing seats, they’re high backs, so this is a high back seat. When you’re sitting in that seat, the float is above the back of that seat, and so it’s going to be more comfortable than if you wore something maybe like this.

This PFD has a front flow and a back flow, but the problem with that is the way it’s designed, it’s directly in the middle, so it’s going to be like this and that floats can be directly in the middle of my back and when I sit on that kayak seat, this is going to be hitting up against the back, and it’s going to make for an uncomfortable seated position. These PFDs, this is the NRS Ninja. This was one of the early PFDs I got, and that was really before a lot of these kayak fishing seats were coming out on kayaks. This is probably better for like whitewater kayakers, sea kayakers, ones that don’t have high backs.

Nice thing is too, it’s not really maybe designed so much for impact, but this is a generous flow in the front. And so if you’re doing whitewater or anything, this is a pretty good protective device. Not necessarily always designed for it, but it’s good for that. This has a lash tab here. You’ll find this also on the fishing models. These lash tabs. It allows you to attach accessories. Many people will attach knives to them. This here is just an older other PFD for kayaking. Once again, this does not have a high back float, so if you have a kayak with a really high back seat, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you stick with a life jacket that has a high back flow because it’s much more comfortable.

But this is still a good PFD for everyday kayaking, just not ideal for kayak fishing seats. That’s kind of what how this one fits. And once again, this comes down to sizing. This is a size small. This one doesn’t fit me. It’s basically the same thing as this one here. This is an NRS Chinook. You need to have the right size. I like to keep a variety around just that if our friends and family are around, they have options.

So here is my primary PFD. This is the NRS Chinook. It has a buckle on the bottom. It has a zipper and it has a bunch of pockets here. You got a spot for a knife, which is on that lash tab that I talked about. So you simply squeeze and the knife comes out of the pocket. It is a blunt tip, so you’re not going to accidentally stab yourself. It has serrations on the outside and standard edge on the other. Here is that high back float.

Now at ICAST, I did come across this same company and they did say that they were coming out with an NRS Shenook, and that would be for women primarily. I know a lot of women that still are wearing the NRS Chinook, but they wanted to make a PFD that was going to fit women a little bit better, particularly in the bust area because you want to have a little bit of space in the padding for women. So there’s no space here really for women. So it could get a little uncomfortable on this model. So this model of the Chinook is better for men. They do have some women’s specific PFDs, and basically what you’re going to find is they’re going to have a little bit of cutouts to be able to accommodate for bust.

Okay, so as you can see here, we have the waist pack inflatable PFD life preserver, and here is how it works. We’re going to actually pull the cord here. I could do it in the water, but I didn’t think you’d be able to see it as well. So I want you to be able to see it out of the water. Here’s the pull court, it says, “Jerk to inflate.” We’re going to do that now. One, two, three. And that’s how it works. You simply inflate by jerking the cord and you’ve put the loop around your head and then this will help keep you afloat. You then can also use the inflation valve, the blow valve, to add a little bit more air. So there’s plenty of flotation here to float me right now. That’s how it works.

Now, in order to be able to reuse this, we have to take this cartridge out. You have to put a new arming device in, and then we have to be able to roll it back up. And it gives you all the instructions on how to do that. In fact, it’s actually … a lot of it it’s actually written on here, so pretty cool. I really like these, particularly for areas where I already feel like the risk is lower, but I still want to have a PFD on. You don’t really even notice you’re wearing it, but you have to remember to be able to pull the cord on this one. On some of the other ones, they will auto inflate, so some of them, if I were to jump in the water, it would inflate.

I was never a big advocate early on for wearing a life jacket. I was one of those where I had been swimming all my life. My parents used to have a little trailer home for about 10 years up at a lake. Went up there every weekend, was active in water sports, and I said, “Why would I need a life jacket if I can swim that well?” But then I ended up coming into a few situations where the kayak got away from me.

My kayak is sinking.

Maybe I hit the serve, large waves came, storm came in, just little episodes where just like that I lost focus and I ended up in the water and my gear is in the water, and I’m trying to scramble to get my gear and next thing you know, kind of getting a little bit tired, trying to get back on the kayak. And those can become very deadly situations very quick. No one goes out on a boat or on a kayak and plans on not coming home. They all are planning on coming home. They made plans probably days in advance. We all do, and very easily you can be the one to not come home.