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December 11, 2020 12 min read

Let’s get this out of the way now: No matter if you’re paddleboarding or white-water rafting, canoeing or even fishing, a life jacket - aka a personal floatation device (PFD) - is an absolutely essential item for anyone heading out for a day on the water. If there’s any chance you will end up in the water, you must wear a life jacket.

A fishing life vest isn’t just for emergencies, it’s also portable storage! Lugging around a tackle box can be awkward and weigh you down. If you like to move from fishing spot to fishing spot, fishermen life jackets are an amazing way to keep your gear on-hand and allow for more mobility when fishing. They are also particularly handy for fishermen who might prefer smaller boats, kayaks or canoes, fishing from shore, or even paddle boarding. Fishing life jackets ultimately save you space and can help you travel lighter while doing what you love.

P.S. If you're looking for a fishing SUP, we recommend inflatable paddle boards.

Try paddle board fishing

If you haven’t tried it yet, paddle board fishing allows you to access fishing spots that you otherwise couldn’t with a boat and offers more visibility of the fish and water. Curious to try? Check out our favorite fishing paddle boards.

No matter what type of fishing you do, this guide will break down what to look for and shortlist some of the best fishing life jackets available.

Types of personal floatation devices

Before you jump and buy the first PFD you see, let’s go over the different types of life vests available.

  • Type I PFD - These are the most buoyant life jackets on the market and typically designed for “off-shore” use. They are meant for longer emergency periods, in all waters, where rescue may be delayed. They can be quite bulky but will keep unconscious persons face-up and afloat.
  • Type II PFD - These are the life jackets you’ll see on cruise ships or other commercial boats. They are designed for “near-shore” use and in situations where a quicker rescue is likely.
  • Type III PFD - These life vests are the ones people are most familiar with. Designed for continuous wear, these are the life jackets for fishing, kayaking or canoeing, water skiing or any other recreational water-based sports. Type III life vests offer the same buoyancy as a Type II but are usually more comfortable and stylish.
  • Type IV PFD - These are your throwable floatation devices, intended for calmer waters where immediate rescue is possible. These aren’t worn and are typically in the shape of rings or cushion shapes.
  • Type V PFD – You’ll sometimes see a fifth type of PFD approved only for “special uses” or specialized activities.

Best Fishing PFDs

What to look for in a fishing life jacket?

  • Make sure you’re able to wear it comfortably while sitting in your fishing boat, canoe or kayak
  • Look for wider cuts around the arms to make it easier to paddle or casting and reeling
  • Consider the fishing gear you typically carry and if the life vest offers enough loops, hangers and pockets
  • You’ll likely be looking for a Type III PFD

What is the best life jacket for fishing?

Let’s get right into it! Out of all the fishing PFDs that we reviewed, these are the best fishing life jackets:

Most Comfortable
Astral Ronny Fishing Life Jacket

Astral Ronny

The most comfortable fishing life jacket we tested.

What we like:

  • Thin-Vent back is compatible with all seats
  • Mesh lining keeps fishers cool on hot summer days
  • Designed for the needs of a variety of fishermen
  • Adjustable side and shoulder straps lets you dial in the fit

What we don’t like:

  • Offers multiple pockets but they are a bit smal

    Check Latest Price

    Best Quality

    NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

     

    A professional quality vest that boasts maximum comfort and functionality for all fishermen

    What we like:

    • Fantastic range of storage options from pockets to d-rings
    • Comfortable and breathable with its PlushFit™ foam
    • Designed for the needs of a variety of fishermen
    • Durable and well-constructed

    What we don’t like:

    • It's a bit pricey (though you get what you pay for) and we wish they had more sizes
      Check Latest Price
      Best Budget
      Onyx Kayak Fishing Vest

      Onyx Kayak Fishing Vest

      A solid contender if you’re on a budget!

      What we like:

      • High-foam back for high-back seats

      • Breathable mesh lower back

      • Adjustable straps for a snug fit

      • Low profile, paddle specific foam design

      What we don’t like:

      • You can’t use all the different pockets at once, as they share the same storage

        Check Latest Price

         

        Keep reading for the rest of our comprehensive guide to fishing life jackets and detailed reviews. No matter your budget or style of fishing, this guide has you covered.

        Our Top 7 Fishing Life Jackets (PFDs)

        NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

        The NRS Chinook Fishing PFD is a prime example of a life jacket designed to keep you afloat should you accidentally end up in the water, while still offering maximum storage and all the bells and whistles!

        NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

        Where to buy:

        Features & specs:

        • Reflective accents
        • Pockets with internal organization
        • Shoulder strap keepers

        What we love:

        • PlushFit™ foam and a high-back design for an extremely comfortable vest
        • Seven pockets of different sizes
        • Multiple D-ring attachments and hooks
        • Rod holder, strobe attachment point, reflective accents and knife lash tab

        What we don't love:

        • It's one of the most expensive on the list, and it could have more sizes

        The NRS Chinook is perfect for a variety of fishermen, who fish from canoes, kayaks or other small boats, and need to save space wherever possible. It is consistently praised for its comfort while offering maximum storage and would definitely be classified as a professional-quality vest.

        Astral Ronny

        This multi-pocket fishing life jacket has been designed for maximum comfort and usability.

        Astral Ronny

        Where to buy:

        Features & specs:

        • Free of toxic PVC
        • High seat back
        • Adjustable shoulder straps
        • Durable and abrasion-resistant nylon outer shell

        What we love:

        • Thin-Vent back is compatible with all seats
        • Mesh lining keeps fishers cool on hot summer days
        • Adjustable side and shoulder straps lets you dial in the fit
        • Multiple storage pockets and convertible beverage holder

        What we don't love:

        • Pockets are on the smaller end
        • You’ll need to order direct or from a local dealer

        The Astral Ronny might just be the most comfortable fishing life jacket we’ve ever tested. The vest does offer multiple pockets but they do fall on the smaller end on the spectrum. If you pack light, this is the life vest for you.

        Stohlquist Fisherman PFD

        Stohlquist is a household name in the fishing community and their Fishermen PFD stands up to the brand’s reputation offering one superb quality vest.

        Stohlquist Fisherman PFD

        Where to buy:

        Features & specs:

        • Heavy duty Cordura shell
        • High-seat back panel
        • Available in high or low vis colorway
        • Neoprene-padded shoulders and lower back waistband

        What we love:

        • Relatively affordable compared to other options
        • Incredibly durable

        What we don't love:

        • Can be a little warm in summer
        • Might not work for fly fishers

        This life jacket really packs a punch with its functionality. The Fisherman offers multiple pockets with drainage, customizable attachments, adjustable shoulder and side straps, plus a comfortable and ergonomic design. For most fishermen, you don’t need more than this.

        Kokatat Bahia Tour

        If you’re a kayak fisher then the Bahia Tour is for you. This life jacket boasts plenty of storage space and flexibility for organizing gear and tackle

        Kokatat Bahia Tour Fishing PFD

        Where to buy:

        Features & specs:

        • GAIA® PVC free foam
        • Lightweight, durable 210D high-tenacity nylon inner and outer shell
        • Variable thickness foam back, with mesh vent panel
        • Adjustable neoprene shoulder padding

        What we love:

        • A high back with mesh panel to maximize airflow against high-back seats
        • Multi-adjustable side and shoulder straps give a complete custom fit
        • The lumbar support around the lower back

        What we don't love:

        • Can be a little warm in summer
        • More streamlined storage than other models

        The Bahia Tour has plenty of storage with multiple pockets but remains quite lightweight and comfortable for kayakers. The standout feature is the lumbar support in the lower back that works with reclined or high-backed seats. If your kayak doesn’t offer any low back support, this PFD would be a solid choice.

        Onyx Kayak Fishing Vest

        If you’re working with a budget, the ONYX Kayak Fishing Vest manages to pack in some decent features and a good amount of storage space at its price.

        Onyx Kayak Fishing Vest

        Where to buy:

        Features & specs:

        • High-foam back for high-back seats
        • Breathable mesh lower back
        • 400 denier nylon oxford
        • Six adjustment straps to cinch vest up for a snug fit

        What we love:

        • The fleece-lined hand warmer pockets
        • Low profile, paddle specific foam design
        • Neoprene shoulder pads

        What we don't love:

        • Pockets “stack” on top of each other and share storage space

        While the Onyx might not be the most durable or thoughtfully designed as the other life jackets on this life, we feel this offers the best bang for your buck!

        Lixada Fly Fishing Vest

        If you’re a fly fisher who needs a ton of pockets and storage - look no further! With 11 pockets, a plethora of attachment options, and open sides for paddling and casting, this is our favourite fly fishing life jacket.

        Onyx Kayak Fishing Vest

        Where to buy:

        Features & specs:

        • Premium ripstop polyester shell and replaceable EPE foam
        • 11 different sized pockets
        • Available in 4 different colors

        What we love:

        • Open sides offer room to paddle, cast or aim
        • Multi-webbed adjustable buckle straps will fit almost anyone
        • Multiple accessory loops and attachment ladders offering maximum customization
        • Mesh back and inside deliver high breathability

        What we don't love:

        • The zippers can be a bit finicky

        Stohlquist Piseas

        We had to include another Stohlquist life jacket in this guide because the brand and their products are just that reliable. Similar to their Fishermen model, this life vest offers all the bells and whistles that you could possibly want.

        Stohlquist Piseas

        Where to buy:

        Features & specs:

        • Open sides for ventilation
        • Neoprene padded lower back waistband
        • Dual side adjustments
        • High back flotation rides above the seat back of sit-on-top kayaks

        What we love:

        • The two large “drawbridge” front pockets that act as fold-down work surfaces
        • Adjustable strap for locking down long lure boxes
        • Net attachment point
        • Choice between high and low vis color

        What we don't love:

        • Could be a little warm in the summer

        While some fishers feel the Stohlquist vests could be a bit more breathable, and have wider arm holes, but this life vest would be perfect for most everyday fishermen.

        MTI Striker

        Built on a classic design, the Striker fishing life vest is a no-frills item for a fisher’s day on the lake, river or ocean.

        MTI Striker

        Where to buy:

        Features & specs:

        • 200D nylons shell
        • Expanding cargo pocket with mesh drainage
        • Front entry with buckles
        • Reflective trim on shoulders, front and back

        What we love:

        • Top loading pocket that allows for easy access
        • Chest attachment loops and lash tab for adding gear
        • Fleece-lined handwarmer pockets
        • Soft, flexible EPE/PE foam makes for a comfortable fit, while keeping down bulk.

        What we don't love:

        • Potentially not the most durable on this list

        The MTI Striker might not offer the widest range of attachments and storage options but it is a reliable, lightweight and low-profile jacket for those on a budget and tend to travel light on their fishing trips.

        Evaluation criteria

        • Safety: At the end of the day, this is the most important feature of any life jacket. When shopping for a life vest, make sure you are looking for one designed specifically for your chosen activity (ie. fishing), as buoyancy ratings can differ between the different types of PFDs, as noted above.
        • Sizing:You’ll also want to make sure that you’re buying one in your appropriate size, as a life jacket that doesn’t fit is no life jacket at all! Size is one of the most important parts of safety. This means you also need to find child-sized life jackets if you plan on taking your kids out.
        • Comfort: This is another really important consideration when looking at the right fishing life jacket for you and one reason why we do ultimately recommend going in-store to try on the life vests you are considering, before pulling the trigger on a purchase (even if you end up buying online!)

          If your life jacket isn’t comfortable, you’re not likely to wear it and we all know how important it is for you to wear it! With this in mind, try on some different life vests from this guide and pay attention to how they fit and the materials they are made with. Consider when and how you fish - do you need more breathability? Do you need one to fit a reclining position? Etc.
        • Functionality: A fishing life jacket should not only be comfortable, but practical and help you avoid lugging around a heavy tackle box. When shopping for one, think about the kind of fishing you do and the gear you commonly like to have on-hand. Consider the number and size of the pockets offered and if you’ll be able to carry all you need comfortably.
        • Style: This would be the least important consideration for us when shopping but still something to think about! Once you’ve ticked off the boxes for safety, comfortability and usability, you can start to look at your style preferences - whether you want something more streamlined and minimalist, or perhaps something in brighter colors. There are a number of choices out there!

        Do fishermen wear life jackets?

        Responsible fishermen do! Like we said up top, if you’re spending a day on the water, you need to wear a life jacket - even if you’re standing on the shore of a calm lake or fly fishing on a creek. If you were to find yourself in a life-threatening situation on a fishing trip, your life vest would suddenly become even more important than your rod!

        The storage is a good perk, too. If you take a look at any professional fishermen, they are likely all wearing a fishing PFD with their lures, hooks and other gear attached right to them! If the pros are doing it, you should too.

        How much will a life jacket hold up?

        Finding a life jacket that was designed for your specific water activity, such as fishing, will ensure that you’re as safe as possible and can hold up to what you’ll be doing with it.

        Each life vest is categorized by type and comes with a buoyancy rating or capacity to let you know how much floatation they offer so you can gauge exactly what you need.

        Final Thoughts

        We’ve said it already, but we’ll say it again: if you’re on the water, wear your life jacket! Every single year, dozens of people lose their lives while boating and statistics show that many of these deaths could have been avoided by wearing a well-fitted ife jacket.

        Hopefully you never need to use your fishing life jacket in this kind of emergency situation, but if that moment ever comes, you’ll be glad that you invested in one! If you never end up in the water, then we hope our guide helped you find functional and comfortable options to look for before your next fishing trip!

        FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT FISHING LIFE JACKETS

        🏆 What is a PFD?

        Life jackets should be cleaned immediately if there are visible stains but we also recommend quickly rinsing your life jacket off after each use if you’ve been in the water. After cleaning, we prefer to dry our life jackets in the sun and then store in a cool, dark place


        👍 What is the difference between a PFD, life jacket and life vest?

        A PFD is a very broad term that refers to any device that aids in flotation or keeping the wearer afloat. With that in mind, a life jacket or a life vest is essentially also considered to be a PFD. You may also hear them being referred to as life preservers, life belts, life savers and more.


        🏝️ How should a PFD fit?

        Having and wearing your life jacket isn’t enough - it needs to fit well in order to perform properly. Your life jacket should fit snug without being too tight. We like to describe this as “comfortably snug”. A good sign of a well-fitting life jacket is that it doesn’t ride up over the chest and the shoulder straps don’t extend past the ears when pulled up on.


        ❓ How should I care for my life jacket?

        Life jackets should be cleaned immediately if there are visible stains but we also recommend quickly rinsing your life jacket off after each use if you’ve been in the water. After cleaning, we prefer to dry our life jackets in the sun and then store in a cool, dark place.


        📦 Are there life vests for children?

        Yes! As mentioned already, a life jacket that doesn’t fit is essentially useless. This means you need to find a PFD designed specifically for children if you plan on bringing any kids with you on your fishing trip. Using an adult life jacket simply won’t cut it in terms of safety.


        📦 Why do I need a fishing life jacket?

        For two reasons – safety and law. A life jacket will keep you afloat and safe at the time you need it the most but in some cases, it’s actually illegal not to wear one!

        Jay Regan
        Jay Regan

        Chief Paddler - Jay has been surfing and paddling for over 5 years. When he's not dreaming up new stuff at GILI, he's writing articles about paddling, out paddling, or often traveling.


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