October 11, 2021 14 min read

Updated on: January 14, 2024

Kayak Life Jackets You Should Consider

Man kayaking on a red life jacket

If you’re in the market for a new life jacket for kayaking, you’re in the right place. We’ve narrowed down and reviewed the top 15 life vests for kayaking available to buy now. 

A life jacket ensures your safety as you drift across the water in your kayak, but don’t disregard the importance of your comfort. A bulky kayak life jacket will poke you as you lean back in your kayak seat, and you need large armholes in the life jacket so your arms are freely mobile to paddle.

We’ll review the qualities needed as well as our recommendations for the best kayak life jacket.

Our Top Fifteen Best Kayak Life Jackets

A personal flotation device is necessary for your safety on the water, and finding a kayak life jacket that protects you while providing comfort for a long day cruising the water is the ultimate goal. 

We’ve reviewed the evidence and narrowed down our list of favorite kayak life vests. Additional details and features will be examined below.

1. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic

The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic is a great kayak life vest because it is lightweight and designed for freedom of movement so it won’t interfere with your paddling. It has lash tabs to attach your knife and an expandable pocket with mesh drainage. 

The high mesh back means you’re not leaning back against bulky material when you sit in your kayak. It will keep you cool on a hot day and keep you afloat if you get wet.

Orange Onyx movevent dynamic life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Made of 200D Nylon
  • Mesh on lower back keeps you cool
  • Shoulder adjustments
  • Neoprene comfort pads
  • SOLAS grade reflective material for visibility
  • Expandable zippered pocket with mesh drainage
  • USCG approved Type III
  • Attached whistle for safety
  • Double crimp funnel entry into vest
  • Lash tab to attach gear

What we love:

  • Mesh extends higher on the back and is great for kayak seats
  • Full open sides for freedom of arm movement
  • Pockets for small gear
  • Lightweight
  • Safety whistle attached

What we don't love:

  • Funnel entry less suitable for large individuals

2. Stohlquist Edge

The Stohlquist Edge has everything needed in a kayak personal flotation device. It allows for freedom of movement with a low neck and large armholes, and the mesh sides allow for breathability. It is USCG approved for safety and is a great kayak life vest that also adapts for use in other water sports.

Stohlquist edge red life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Side entry with offset zipper reduces bulk
  • Graded sizing of foam for a better fit
  • Sheaths over shoulder straps for comfort
  • Ripstop nylon shell
  • Extra large armholes (easy padding)
  • Mesh sides for breathability
  • High visibility reflective accents
  • Lash tab for utility attachments
  • USCG approved Type III PFD
  • Adjustable shoulders and side pulls

What we love:

  • Close and comfortable fit
  • Graded sizing
  • Mesh sides for good ventilation
  • Allows for great mobility
  • Useful for many water sports
  • Reflective accents provide better visibility

What we don't love:

  • Runs small

3. Onyx MoveVent Curve

Similar to the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic life vest listed above, the MoveVent Curve allows for freedom of movement with open sides and breathable mesh on all sides. The mesh back extends high enough to prevent bulky padding in your kayak seat. The main difference between the Dynamic and Curve is that the Curve does not have the included pocket and whistle.

Blue onyx movevent curve dynamic life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Mesh ventilation in front and back
  • Low back mesh makes sitting in kayak comfortable
  • Open sides for good mobility
  • Adjustable shoulder, side, and waist straps
  • 200D Nylon shell is durable 
  • Reflective material for good visibility
  • Neoprene padding at the shoulder
  • Durable front zip closure
  • US Coast Guard approved Type III
  • Conforms to fit your body

What we love:

  • Durable nylon
  • Breathable mesh on the front, back, and sides
  • Lightweight and comfortable

What we don't love:

  • No added pockets or lash tab

4. NRS Vapor

The NRS Vapor is a great kayak life vest with a side entry design that makes it easy to put on and off quickly, and it has storage compartments and a lash tab to attach extra gear such as a knife or light. The personal flotation device is designed with open space to allow for freedom of arm movement.

NRS vapor green kayak life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • High quality 200 denier nylon shell
  • Built for mobility - large armholes
  • Side entry design
  • Zippered pocket on the front for a whistle, keys, or small gear
  • Lash tab on front to attach a knife
  • Can be used for multiple water sports
  • Reflective NRS logo for visibility
  • Six-panel construction to flow with your movement
  • U.S. Coast Guard approved Type III  PFD - low profile

What we love:

  • Open arm space perfect for paddle boarding or kayaking
  • Lash tab to attach knife, light, or other gear
  • Large front zippered pocket
  • Padded shoulders
  • Loop on top to hang dry

What we don't love:

  • Full coverage is less breathable on a hot day

5. Stohlquist Women’s Flo

The Stohlquist Women’s Flo is a kayak life vest designed specifically for women. It conforms to fit with adjustable straps and includes built-in inner cups for support. It has an open breathable design with mesh on each side that extends high up the back for kayaking comfort.

Stohlquist Women’s orange kayak life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • 400 x 200 Denier Nylon ripstop shell
  • Designed specifically for women
  • Open sides for freedom of arm movement
  • Mesh sides and back for air movement and comfort
  • Neoprene padded waistband
  • Built-in inner cups for support
  • Cross chest and waist belts cinch to fit
  • Graded sizing
  • USCG approved
  • Two front pockets

What we love:

  • Designed for women
  • Open design for no hindrance when paddling
  • Mesh back for comfort in kayak seat
  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight design
  • Front pockets

What we don't love:

  • No obvious dislikes

6. NRS Chinook

The Chinook is a kayak vest predominantly for fishing and has a  multitude of storage compartments in various sizes. You can keep lures, leaders, and all your other bits and pieces right at your fingertips. It has a comfortable, breathable design perfect for a full day of fishing.

Black Nrs chinook fishing kayak vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Mesh back comfortable for kayaking
  • Comfortable design with large arm holes for a range of motion
  • Seven front pockets of different sizes
  • Integrated rod holder
  • Lash tabs, D-ring, and clips for tool attachment
  • U.S. Coast Guard approved Type III PFD
  • Great design for kayak fishing

What we love:

  • Multiple pockets and can store lures as well as small tackle boxes
  • Mesh back is breathable and comfortable in a kayak
  • Attachment points with lash tag, D-ring, and clips
  • Room to move arms for casting
  • Comfortable as well as useful

What we don't love:

  • Bulky front design can get hot

7. Astral V-Eight

The Astral V-Eight PFD is designed for kayaking but can be used for multiple water sports. The mesh back and breathable design helps you sweat less on a hot day and provide more comfort when seated in your kayak. It contains storage compartments and attachment points for small gear.

Red Astral V-eight multi sports life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Lightweight construction
  • Designed to be mobile - great for paddle sports
  • Airescape air flow system prevents you from overheating
  • Ripstop nylon outer shell
  • Lash tab to attach a knife
  • Mesh back for comfort while seated
  • U.S. Coast Guard approved Type III PFD
  • Two mesh pockets
  • Reflective trim

What we love:

  • Provides for excellent mobility
  • Breathable with mesh back and air flow system
  • Pockets for storage
  • Lash tab to attach light or knife
  • Astral uses recycled materials and toxic-free PVC

What we don't love:

  • Pockets awkward to access and are lined with mesh - cannot put phone or valuables in pocket

8. Mustang MIT Inflatable

The Mustang MIT is an inflatable kayak life vest that has pros and cons. It has an open design and doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a life vest, but when you hit the water and pull the cord, you’re floating as well as most foam kayak vests.

It will keep you cool on a hot day, but it’s not the best option for non-swimmers or in high risk activities where you could become unconscious and be unable to inflate it manually. An inflatable life vest works well for good swimmers in low risk activities.

Black mustang MIT inflatable kayak life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Lightweight and flexible fit
  • Manually inflates with pull cord
  • USCG approved
  • One-fold design makes it easy to pack and store
  • Fantastic buoyancy rating comparable to some foam competitors
  • CO2 cartridge included with purchase 

What we love:

  • Designed for freedom of movement
  • Will keep cool on a hot day without full coverage
  • Easy to inflate with the pull of a cord
  • Great buoyancy

What we don't love:

  • Not useful if you’re unconscious
  • Need to ensure CO2 is up to date

9. Astral Ronny Fischer

The Astral Ronny Fisher PFD is a high-end kayak life vest designed for fishermen, but it can be used for kayaking and general recreation. It has a front zipper closure with multiple pockets to hold extra lures or hooks and attachment points for your pliers.

Gray astral ronny fischer high end kayak life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • USCG approved Type III 
  • Full length center front zipper
  • Mesh lined for breathability and comfort
  • Lightweight design of 200D nylon
  • Multiple pockets for lures, line, or tools
  • Back with thin foam and mesh for comfort while seated in boat/kayak
  • Stowable hood in the collar
  • Collapsible beverage holder
  • Lash tab and velcro for easy tool attachment

What we love:

  • Comfortable with breathable design
  • Room for free arm movement
  • Multiple pockets and attachments for fishing gear
  • A beverage holder!
  • Keeps all your gear within reach
  • Astral line uses toxic-free PVC and recycled materials

What we don't love:

  • Bulky and heavy for non-fishing life jacket use

10. Stearns Adult Classic Vest

The Stearns Adult Classic life jacket is comfortable and lightweight and comes with a great price tag. It is a USCG Type II vest that works for general recreational use and most any water sports. It is cheap enough to keep as an extra life vest on board for your boating friends.

Red stearn adult classic life jacket

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Lightweight for comfort - weighs only one pound
  • 200 Denier nylon shell with PE foam
  • Four adjustable one-inch straps
  • U.S. Coast Guard approved Type II PFD

What we love:

  • Lightweight design
  • Easy to put on and off
  • Four straps for snug fit and security
  • Inexpensive
  • Reliable design for safety

What we don't love:

  • Bulky for paddle sports
  • Hot on a sunny day

11. O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG

The O’Neill Men’s Superlite is an inexpensive life jacket that is reliable and perfect for any water sport including, boating, skiing, kayaking, or simply floating with friends. With four adjustable straps to buckle around your chest, it ensures a snug fit for safety. Generous armholes provide more mobility than others, and it comes with a great price tag.

Black O'neill men superlite uscg cheap life jacket

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Coated nylon outer shell - lightweight
  • Easy fastening with four belts with a buckle
  • Overlock stitching of seams for durability
  • U.S.Coast Guard approved Type III PFD

What we love:

  • Easy to move around in
  • Secure fit with four buckles
  • Mesh lining for aeration
  • Dries quickly
  • Very lightweight

What we don't love:

  • Can run large - may need to size down
  • No included pockets or lash tabs

12. Onyx M-24 Absolute Outdoor

The Onyx A/ M-24 inflatable life vest is lightweight and comfortable. It inflates automatically upon immersion in the water, or you can manually pull a handle for instant inflation. 

It is not recommended for weak or non-swimmers or for users under age sixteen because it is not inherently buoyant unless inflated. It has a breathable design making it less bulky and hot on a sunny day and makes a nice option for kayaking when risk of injury is low.

Red onyx M-24 inflatable life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Neoprene neckline for comfort
  • Padded air mesh panels
  • Can be adjusted to manual or it can automatically inflate by pulling T-shaped rip cord
  • Made with durable ripstop nylon
  • US Coast Guard approved Type V life jacket for specific activities
  • Utility pockets - fleece lined for sunglasses
  • D-ring to attach valuables
  • Reflective piping to improve visibility in low light
  • Mesh carrying bag
  • V-back design

What we love:

  • Lightweight and comfortable for hot weather
  • Does not need to be inflated until necessary
  • Keeps you cooler on a hot day
  • Designed for ease of movement with good arm range of motion
  • Great option for paddle sports
  • Pockets and D-ring for storage
  • Low profile design

What we don't love:

  • Not recommended for weak swimmers
  • Not for children under age sixteen

13. Stohlquist Rocker

The Stohlquist Rocker is a kayak life vest with a unique design. The foam wraps around the chest, and the low neck and open arm holes allow ease of movement. It has pockets and a lash tab to keep tools at your fingertips. It cinches to fit in multiple areas with adjustable straps to allow for a snug fit.

Black stohlquist rocker kayak life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Foam wraps the chest with ergonomic design
  • Self-tensioned shoulders make for better fit
  • Gripp-loc non-slip panel inside prevents life vest from riding up
  • Six areas to adjust for best fit
  • Ventilated lumbar pad
  • Low cut front for better ventilation
  • Reflective fabric
  • Pocket to store small tools or valuables
  • D-ring attachment for tools, whistle, or keys

What we love:

  • Open airy design for freedom of movement
  • Gripping panel inside prevents it from riding up
  • Pocket for storage space
  • Attachment points with D-ring
  • Compact and durable
  • Great for large people

What we don't love:

  • Can be restrictive if need to bend forward often

14. Coleman Comfort Series

The Coleman Comfort Series is a great budget option for a kayak life vest. It has an open design to allow for easy mobility to paddle, and the mesh back and shoulders prevent you from overheating on a hot day. The reflective tape makes you visible in low light, and pockets allow you to keep tools within reach.

Green coleman stearn comfortable life jackets

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • Mesh shoulders and back for better air movement
  • Large arm holes for paddling or fishing
  • US Coast Guard approved
  • Two front pockets for gear or valuables
  • D-ring to attach tools
  • Front zipper
  • Side and waist best adjustments
  • Durable 200D Nylon shell

What we love:

  • Durable for long lasting use
  • Inexpensive
  • Pockets and attachment points
  • Open arm holes for ease of movement
  • Mesh back and shoulders to keep cool on a hot day

What we don't love:

  • Bulky design

15. Stohlquist Men’s Trekker

The Stohlquist Men’s Trekker is a kayak life vest that allows for freedom of movement and contains ample storage space and attachment points to keep your knife or other tools close by. It is lightweight, comfortable, and durable and perfect for a long kayak float down the river.

Blue stohlquist men trekker kayak life vest

Where to buy:

Features & Specs:

  • High back mesh to make kayaking more comfortable
  • Ergonomic fit at chest
  • Cross chest cinch to tighten and prevent riding up
  • Large zippered pockets to keep gear within reach
  • Ventilated shoulder and back pads
  • Padded shoulder straps for comfort
  • US Coast Guard approved
  • Four-way accessory lash tab
  • 500D Nylon fabric

What we love:

  • Cross chest straps for snug fit
  • Large pockets for storage
  • Durable nylon shell
  • Open sides for better ventilation in hot weather
  • Comfortable snug fit
  • Front zipper with easy pull tag

What we don't love:

  • Pockets are not waterproof

Considerations When Buying a Kayak Life Jacket

Man wearing of yellow and red life vest on a whitewater kayak

Obviously, a kayak life jacket should keep you afloat, but what other features should you consider? In addition to the safety features, we’ll review the different styles of kayak life jackets, the materials, correct sizing, and other potential features.

Style of Vest

There are different style options when buying a life vest: the traditional style foam vest or inflatable PFD options. We’ll review the differences to help you determine which type works for you.

Inflatable Vest

While an inflatable life jacket is not appropriate for high-impact water sports, it is a great kayak life vest option. They can be manually inflated with the pull of a cord or automatically inflate when they get wet. 

Inflatable life vests tend to be more comfortable with less bulk, and the open design keeps you cool on a hot day. They provide plenty of freedom to move your arms while you paddle.

An inflatable life jacket is usually less buoyant than foam alternatives and requires inflation before it can protect you from drowning. If you happen to be in a kayak accident and can’t get the vest inflated before hitting the water, this is an issue. 

Inflatable life vests are not recommended for kids under 16 years of age or for non-swimmers, but it is a nice option for a strong swimmer on a regular kayak cruise.

Paddle Vest

Paddle vests are filled with foam for buoyancy and can be used for other water sports in addition to kayaking. They are designed to keep you afloat the minute you the hit water.

Paddle vests will often have additional features such as attachment points for tools and pockets to store small valuables. They can be designed with large armholes for freedom of movement but tend to be much bulkier than inflatable options. 

They can keep you warm on a cool day kayaking, but also make you hot when the sun is beating down.


Man and a woman wearing an orange life jacket on a sit on top kayak

A kayak life jacket should be crafted with materials that ensure adequate buoyancy. Most life vests are made from PVC, neoprene, or nylon and are sun, flame, and chemical resistant. Newer materials might include Gaia and Kapok, which are environmentally friendly. 

Durable materials like neoprene and nylon will resist hard surfaces and saltwater damage and provide many years of use. Neoprene will also prevent chafing at contact points to make your life jacket more comfortable.


Ensuring that your life vest is the appropriate size will keep you safe on the water. A life jacket should be snug so you cannot easily slip out of the vest in the event of a fall. Refer to a life jacket sizing chart or manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure the appropriate life vest size but to get the best fit, try it on before purchase.


Some life vests will have built in storage capacity which comes in handy when fishing to have pockets to hold your favorite lures or spare bobber. D-rings come attached to some life vests so you can clip your pliers for easy reach. Lash tabs are attachment points for knives or whistles.

A life vest with pockets allows you to keep your sunglasses, sunscreen, keys, or cell phone close at hand. 


A PFD’s buoyancy is the force required to keep someone’s head above water. Many things factor into buoyancy such as body weight, body fat ratio, and the water conditions.

The heavier the person, the more buoyant a life vest needs to be. If you’re kayaking in high winds or rough water, you will also require increased buoyancy. A life vest will have a buoyancy rating to refer to when purchasing. 

Additional Features

When kayaking, you want a life vest with large armholes for freedom of movement and one that is comfortable sitting in a kayak seat for a long day. Ensure the life vest is not too bulky to cause a sore back. 

Some life vests come in bright colors or reflective tape to make you visible in low light situations. This feature can increase your safety in the case of a water rescue. 


Man wearing a blue life jacket on a sit inside kayak

Before you kayak down the river or enjoy kayak fishing on a lake, find the best kayak life vest to keep you safe. A coast guard approved life vest means it’s been tested to ensure your safety. Review other important features such as the materials, sizing, buoyancy, and added features like pockets or D-rings. 

The best kayak life vest is one you hardly know you’re wearing, so it doesn’t interfere with your kayak adventure. 


🏆 Is it illegal to kayak without a life jacket?

State laws vary, so it’s essential to check your local regulations before kayaking. Federal rules state that riders younger than 13 must wear a fitting life jacket, while adults must have a life jacket on board for every passenger - but not necessarily wear it. 

👍 What is the best life jacket for kayaking?

In general terms, the best life jacket for kayaking would be comfortable to wear for prolonged sitting and gives you the freedom to move your arms when paddling. 

The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic is our pick because it has a snug fit with open sides for freedom to move as you paddle. It has pockets for small valuables and includes a safety whistle for emergencies. 

🏝️ Do inflatable life jackets expire?

Inflatable life jackets work by using a carbon dioxide tank to fill the vest. The life jacket itself does not expire, but the CO2 tanks typically expire after 1-3 years. Check the tank’s expiration date before venturing out onto the water. 

❓ At what age do you have to wear a life jacket?

The best answer is to wear a life jacket at any age to ensure your safety. Accidents happen to even the best swimmers and a life jacket ensures you stay afloat until rescued. 

Legally, the age depends on local and federal regulations. Federal requirements state boaters under 13 years of age should be wearing a life jacket at all times, but adults simply need to have a life jacket accessible.

Pat McCaw
Pat McCaw

Author, physician, mom and lover of all things outdoors. If there’s water or a hiking trail nearby, that's her happy place. Throw in family and a couple of dogs and it's paradise!

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