No matter how good of a swimmer you are, wearing a life jacket while paddling is essential. Accidents and emergencies can happen while out on the water, so wearing a life jacket should always be one of your top priorities.
Traditional life vests can sometimes interfere with paddling, and if you prefer more freedom and mobility, a belt life jacket could be the answer to your prayers.
If you’re unsure of what a belt life jacket is, and which you should potentially invest in, keep on reading as we’re going to delve into 8 of the best belt life jackets on the market.
As their name suggests, a belt life jacket is a vest tucked away into a belt that gives paddlers and boaters more freedom when out on the water.
Experienced paddlers and swimmers enjoy the enhanced mobility and peace of mind that comes with wearing life belts.
They also come in incredibly handy for touring and racing purposes as they don’t interfere with stroke technique.
Belt life jackets are compact and have a deflated PFD inside their pouch. On the outside of the belt is a tab or cord attached to an internal CO2 cartridge.
When the tab is pulled, the CO2 cartridge is pierced, and the vest inflates. Once inflated, it acts as a regular life vest and keeps you afloat in the event of an emergency.
The CO2 cartridge in belt life jackets needs to be rearmed every two years to keep it in its top working shape.
Life jackets, also known as personal flotation devices, are a crucial piece of equipment that every paddler should wear while out on the water, regardless of their swimming capabilities.
A life jacket's sole purpose is to keep you afloat. When in the water, the jacket will either turn you into a face-up position or keep your head above the water to prevent the risk of drowning when an emergency occurs.
Life vests come under one of five types:
Belt life jackets come under the type 5 category and are intended to be worn only for specific water sports. The traditional life jackets you’re probably used to fall under the type 3 category and are suitable for waters where there is a good chance of being rescued.
The NRS Zephyr Inflatable Belt Pack comes in black or blue and inflates to be a life jacket that fits over your head.
When worn around the waist, the belt is extremely compact and won’t interfere with paddling or any other movements. You’ll hardly even remember that you’re wearing it unless you’re in an emergency, of course.
For durability, NRS created the Zephyr belt pack out of ripstop nylon and a heavy-duty zipper that won’t rust after contact with water. Once inflated, you can customize the fit of the personal flotation device and tailor it to your specific size.
The zippered pocket on the front of the belt is big enough to hold small personal items and even includes a tether to attach a set of keys.
NRS included extra safety features like reflective accents and a manual backup valve. They even added two D-ring attachment points on either side.
The next of our top belt inflatable life vests is the Astril Airbelt PFD. Most inflatable life jackets, once fully inflated, slip over your head and contain air all the way around. Astril’s, however, has a strap that goes around your neck, and the inflated section of the jacket sits along your chest. This design method keeps you face up while in the water.
The belt itself is slimline with an adjustable buckle that you can customize to your body shape. During the designing process, Astril wanted their belt inflatable life jacket to be heavy-duty, so they used a 200 x 400 D ripstop nylon outer shell, 200 D high tenacity liner, polypro wedding, and non-corrosive coil zippers.
You can store your essential small belongings such as keys and sunglasses in the zippered hip pockets, and for increased visibility in low light, the company added a large reflective logo to the front side of the belt.
The Drift PFD Belt Pack works in a similar way to the Astril Airbelt. Once inflated, the jacket pops out, and a strap is placed around the neck with the inflated section sitting on the wearer’s chest.
Drift created their personal flotation device belt pack to be basic with D-ring loop attachment points and an internal pocket for an additional CO2 cartridge.
The MTI 16G Inflatable Belt Pack is another inflatable life jacket that has a strap going around the wearer’s neck and an inflatable pillow that sits across their chest.
MTI designed their life belt to be bright and colorful, which helps with daytime visibility out on the water. The belt, like many inflatable life jackets of this type, is slimline and sits comfortably on your waist without disturbing your paddle strokes.
Included with the belt inflatable PFD is a whistle to attract attention and a movable D-ring attachment point for additional accessories.
Our mid-range top pick went to the Mad Dog Inflatable Belt Pack because not only does it have an around the neck flotation device like a traditional life jacket, but also a hydration pouch for hands-free water storage.
Mad dog included a small front pocket on the life vest belt to fit small personal belongings like keys or money, and you can adjust the belt strap to achieve a perfect fit.
The Eyson Automatic Airbelt comes in five different colors and automatically inflates when submerged in water or when manually inflated by the wearer.
Eyson’s Airbelt has reflective strips for visibility when it's dark and a waterproof pocket for small personal belongings. Made from lightweight and durable nylon fabric, the air belt will last for many years and can be washed and air-dried easily.
Onyx created their belt pack life jacket in five unisex colors with a manual inflation tab. Once inflated, the jacket opens up with a strap that goes around the wearer's neck and an inflated pillow that sits on their chest, keeping their head above water.
The company kept the design of the inflatable life vest relatively simple and the belt itself is compact and perfect for stand up paddle boarding.
If you prefer manual over automatic life jackets, then Eyson have you covered. Their automatic jacket also comes in a manual inflatable life jacket option that can be inflated with the belt's pull tab.
Like the automatic version, the manual Eyson Airbelt comes in five colors and is made of lightweight and durable nylon fabric. All the features of the belt are the same, like the reflective strips for visibility, waterproof pockets for personal belongings, and easy to wash and dry materials.
Inflatable life belts are categorized under type 5 PFDs and should only be worn by paddlers or swimmers in calm water conditions that are close to shore.
The best PFDs for paddle boarding are type 3 jackets that aid in flotation while paddling in nearshore waters.
More experienced paddlers, however, enjoy the freedom of belt inflatable life jackets as they’re compact, sit around the paddler's waist, and don’t interfere with their paddle strokes.
Type 1 life jackets that are designed for rough open waters are the most buoyant type of life vests on the market. Their purpose is to keep the wearer's head above water in isolated areas where rescue could be delayed.
One of the best features of a type 1 PFD is that they will turn most unconscious individuals to a face-up position. This feature will prevent drowning in most situations.
Here are 8 of the best inflatable belt life jackets currently on the market:
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