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March 23, 2022 9 min read

Best Fishing Life vests

Woman wearing a life jacket while holding her paddle board

When there’s a chance of falling into the water, a life jacket, or personal floatation device (PFD) should be at the top of your packing list. That’s especially true for fishermen (and women!) who are slinging fishing lines from their paddle boards.

Paddle board fishing has become extremely popular in recent years because boats can’t go everywhere on the water, making a paddle board the perfect watercraft for your next big catch.

Paddle board fishing has become extremely popular in recent years due to a SUP’s size and how easy they are to transport. Fishermen all over the world are using their SUPs as the perfect watercraft for their next big catch, as larger boats can’t access many out of reach locations.

With fishing, though, there’s significantly more movement while standing on a board and an increased chance of falling in, which is why it’s imperative to be wearing a comfortable fishing life jacket.

We’ve reviewed a bunch of these life jackets and have come up with the 9 best possible products to recommend to you. 

Should I Wear a PFD While Fishing?

When you’re fishing on a boat or a paddle board, wearing a PFD is crucial. There’s always a chance of falling in the water, potentially with heavy clothes on, which can be dangerous. Take the risk out of the equation and wear a fishing life vest just in case you end up in the water.

GILI’s Top Picks: The Best Fishing Life Jackets for Paddle Boarders

Best Budget Life Jacket
Onyx kayak fishing life jacket
ONYX Kayak/Fishing

The ONYX PFD has six adjustment straps, a high padded back, and numerous pockets to store all your fishing gear safely. As it’s on the lower end of the price scale, it’s a great option that won’t break the bank.

Why we like it:

  • Comfortable shoulder pads, which are helpful when fishing
  • Budget price so most people can afford this PFD
  • Six adjustment straps for a snug, comfortable fit

What we don't like:

  • Plastic zippers feel a little cheap
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Most Durable
Stearns Comfort Series Collared Angler Vest
Stearns Comfort Series Collared Angler Vest

Stearns created a durable and secure life jacket with mesh shoulder panels and large armholes for easy movement and increased air ventilation.

Why we like it:

  • Lightweight
  • Lots of pocket storage
  • Excellent ventilation — perfect for hot days
  • The soft collar that prevents chafing

What we don't like:

  • Only one color option
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Most Comfortable
NRS Chinook fishing kayak lifejacket bayberry
NRS Chinook Fishing Kayak Lifejacket

The NRS Chinook kayak fishing life vest has ample pockets for additional tackle, and its soft plushfit foam padding fits your specific body type keeping you safe and comfortable throughout your entire paddle.

Why we like it:

  • Great foam core
  • Multiple color options
  • Made in the USA

What we don't like:

  • Not as much pocket storage
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The Top 9 SUP Fishing Life Jackets

Stohlquist Fisherman

Stohlquist created their fisherman life jacket to be US Coast Guard approved and with type III sea level buoyancy. 

The bottom of the back of the vest is made from mesh to increase airflow, and the padding at the top of the back acts as a cushion while seating. 

Two large EVA pockets on the front side of the vest act as fold-down work surfaces and can store a considerable amount of fishing tackle. 

Stohlquist Fisherman Lifejacket olive green color

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Two EVA pockets that fold down into work surfaces
  • Cross-chest cinch harness
  • Multiple mounting locations for all of your gear

What we love:

  • The fit. This life jacket features a higher mesh back design and a cross-chest harness which prevents bunching.
  • Highly adjustable. A large size can accommodate several different-sized people and accommodate if you’re dressing in layers.
  • Durability. This life jacket is made with tough materials that hold up nicely.

What we don't love:

  • Pricey. It’s a little expensive, but you’re buying a quality jacket.

ONYX Kayak/Fishing

A feature-rich budget fishing life jacket that’s perfect for kayaking or paddle boarding. The ONYX PFD features nine pockets, two of which fold down flat and create a mini workspace to store all your essential items and to keep them close by at all times. 

ONYX equipped the jacket with six adjustment straps to suit paddlers of all sizes, and its high foam back provides an extra layer of comfort, even on high back seats. The lower back portion of the PFD is made of a breathable mesh to promote airflow and keep you as cool as possible while out on the water. 

The common complaint is the plastic zippers, which feel cheap. That being said, metal zippers that constantly get wet are prone to rusting, which is why ONYX went with plastic.

Onyx kayak fishing life jacket

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Tan and black color
  • 1.3 lbs
  • Nylon material

What we love:

  • Comfortable. There are six adjustment straps for a snug fit, and it features a high foam back for extra comfort.
  • Budget price. If you need something affordable, this is your life jacket.
  • Great shoulder pads. When you’re carrying fishing gear on your body, you need comfortable pads on your shoulders.

What we don't love:

  • Plastic zipper. It feels cheap and could potentially break.

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

A premium fishing life jacket that’s high quality, but also comes with a big price tag. The NRS Chinook Fishing Kayak Lifejacket is a quality product with a roomy fit and soft plushFIT foam that sculpts to your body every time you wear it. 

NRS created the Chinook PFD to be US. Coast Guard-approved and is equipped with two accessory pockets, two large zippered pockets, and a tool holder pocket to keep all your essential fishing gear close by. 

The Chinook comes in four sizes and three different colorways, so a design and fit are suited for everyone.

NRS Chinook fishing kayak lifejacket bayberry

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Made in the USA
  • Foam core for a comfortable fit
  • Three different color options

What we love:

  • Fit. It’s quite roomy in the front and snug in the back to ensure it doesn’t move around too much while you’re fishing.
  • Extremely adjustable. No matter your size, this life vest can adjust to your liking.
  • The colors. Bayberry (green), charcoal, or red — they all look great!

What we don't love:

  • Storage. It could have more pocket storage.

Kokatat Bahia Tour

The Kokatat Bahia Tour Personal Flotation Device is designed for kayak or paddle board fishing and has plenty of pockets for storing your fishing gear.  

In terms of size and fit, it can adjust to be snug to your body but still offers plenty of airflow for a comfortable day on the water.

Down the back of the jacket is a mesh panel to circulate airflow, the shoulder pads feature neoprene to improve comfort and the front of the jacket has two large pockets and reflective tape. 

Kokatat Bahia Tour Personal Flotation Device

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • US Coast Guard approved
  • High-back design specifically for paddlers
  • Water-resistant pocket for smartphones.

What we love:

  • Airflow. The high-back mesh is perfect for extra airflow, especially when on a kayak.
  • Pockets. Plenty of storage, plus a water-resistant pocket for your smartphone.
  • Environmentally friendly. The foam core is free of GAIA PVC.

What we don't love:

  • Zipper. The zipper can be tricky at times.

Airhead Fishing Life Vest Deluxe

The Airhead Fishing Deluxe has a lightweight design and ample pocket storage for any and all essential fishing tackle. 

Airhead created the deluxe vest with mesh shoulders, a zippered closure, and belt straps to keep it securely fastened and comfortable on your body.

The vest is US Coast Guard Approved and comes available in two colors and sizes, XS to 4XL.

Beige Airhead fishing life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • 100% nylon
  • US Coast Guard approved

What we love:

  • Weight. This life vest is extremely lightweight — perfect for fishing.
  • Great on hot days. The mesh shoulders and back are perfect for optimal airflow.
  • Reasonable price. It’s not the cheapest on this list, but it’s certainly attainable.

What we don't love:

  • Colors. The colors may not be to everyone’s taste

Stearns Comfort Series Collared Angler Life Vest

Stearns designed their angler life vest with large armholes to make casting and moving easier. The angler life vest is US Coast Guard-approved with mesh shoulder panels for ventilation and a neoprene collar to prevent chafing even after hours of wear. 

Two large front zippered pockets are excellent for essential tackle, and the jacket comes in 3 different sizes with adjustable buckles. 

Stearns Comfort Series Collared Angler Vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • USCG approved
  • Two zippered pockets
  • Two easily adjustable straps

What we love:

  • Large armholes. Great for paddle board fishing or even fly fishing.
  • Mesh shoulder panels. Perfect for ventilation on a hot day.
  • Comfortable collar. No need to worry about chafing.

What we don't love:

  • Pockets. Pockets could be bigger.

Bluestorm Gear Stratus 35 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PFD Life Jacket

The Bluestrom Gear Stratus 35 PFD isn’t exactly designed as a fishing life vest, but if you have a system for your gear that doesn’t require pockets on a life vest, we highly recommend it.

For starters, it has excellent buoyancy in the event you fall into the water. The company claims it is twice as buoyant as traditional Type III PFD.

Secondly, the design of this vest is extremely comfortable, and the slimline design will have you forgetting you’re even wearing it. 

Bluestorm Gear Stratus 35 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PFD Life Jacket for Adults

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • USCG approved Type II PFD
  • Buckle closure
  • 35 pounds of buoyancy

What we love:

  • Size. This style makes it a perfect life jacket for fishing on a paddle board.
  • Bluestorm quality. This company has been around for nearly 90 years and is a proven winner for USCG-approved fishing life vests.
  • Great buoyancy. Hopefully, you never have to find out, but it has 2x the buoyancy compared to a typical Type III PFD.

What we don't love:

  • Lack of Instructions. It needs better instructions on using the manual inflate in case your automation inflation fails.

Kent Type I Life Jacket

The Kent Type I PFD has vinyl inserts to protect its foam filling, reflective tape on the shoulders, and although the color orange may not be for everyone, it is internationally recognized and easy to spot when out on the water

One of our favorite things about the Kent life jacket, and one of the most important factors of a life jacket, is that it’s designed for extended survival in rough waters and will keep your head above the surface at all times. 

Kent Commercial Type I Jacket Style Life Jacket, Orange

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • 1 pound (weight)
  • Bright orange color
  • USCG approved

What we love:

  • The Coast Guard loves it. It’s been rated by the USCG as one of the safest options on the market — great for kids!
  • Works for fishing. You wouldn’t think it would, but it can get the job done comfortably. 
  • Competitively priced. You won’t break the bank. 

What we don't love:

  • Bulky. But that tends to be the case with Type I PFDs.

XPS Deluxe Fishing Life Vest

The XPS Deluxe Fishing Life Vest comes in two different colors and six sizes ranging from small all the way up to 4 XL. 

The vest’s soft padding and large armholes are comfortable while fishing, and the side-entry handwarmer pockets are ideal for cold weather conditions. 

Also featured on the vest are two zip pockets with mesh bottoms for drainage, a pocket for hand tools, reflective tape along the shoulders, and two D-Rings for additional gear.

XPS Deluxe fishing life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Fleece-lined fiberfill collar — no chafing!
  • Two D-rings for attaching gear.
  • Reflective strips for easier visibility.

What we love:

  • The price. This is a value-packed PFD that will be perfect for most users.
  • Safety. We appreciate the reflective strips if you’re out later at night.
  • Comfort. The foam core hugs your body nicely, but doesn’t get in the way of paddling or casting.

What we don't love:

  • Size. It runs a little small, so order up in size.

FAQ’S

🏆 What Is the lightest fishing life jacket?

In terms of style, a PFD that wraps around your waist will likely be the lightest fishing PFD, but you’re not going to have much storage on it for lures and other accessories.


👍 How do I fish from a paddle board?

Very carefully! Fishing from a paddle board is all about stability and definitely requires some intermediate to advanced paddle boarding skills before incorporating a fishing pole into the mix.

It’s preferred you use a wider paddle board — like the Manta Ray Multi-Person Inflatable from GILI Sports — for fishing for added stability and to include room for gear. Finally, you’ll want to invest in a fishing rod holder, which allows you to paddle to your preferred destination without losing your rod.


🏝️ Do you need a PFD for float fishing?

Yes, whether you're kayak fishing, paddle board fishing, or simply fishing on a boat, you need a PFD in order to stay safe.


❓ Is it against the Law not to wear a life jacket when paddle boarding?

While laws can potentially vary by state, the general law is that every vessel in the water needs at least one life jacket on board. You don’t necessarily need to be wearing it, though.

In terms of paddle boarding, a life jacket isn’t required in surf zones or swim areas, but the moment you go out of those areas, you are then required to have a life jacket. Again, err on the side of caution and always wear a life jacket when paddling.

Megan Bryant
Megan Bryant

Based in Bali, her favorite SUP spot is the GILI Islands themselves. Travel is another passion of hers - she dreams to see the entire world one day.


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