August 07, 2020 18 min read

Best PFDs for SUP

Stand up paddle boarding is quickly becoming a much-loved activity for water enthusiasts and newcomers. Whether you are new to the sport and are learning how to paddle board or a seasoned paddler, it's important to be safe on the water.

Top Life Jackets for SUP we reviewed at GILI Sports (read on to find out why)

Some life jackets are more affordable yet have fewer features, while the more expensive life jackets tend to be constructed better with more features. No matter your budget, this guide has you covered. Here are our top 3 paddle board life jacket picks:

Best For Most Paddlers
Onyx Movevent Paddle Board PFD

Onyx Movevent Dynamic PFD

An affordable PFD designed with paddle boarding in mind.

Why we like it:

  • Lower mesh back and high cut shoulder design allows for maximum movement: ideal for SUP and high back kayak seats
  • High-quality nylon with soft, durable foam
  • Simple design with reflective neoprene
  • Solid shoulder adjustments
  • Affordably priced: under $150
  • U.S. Coast Guard approved Type III PFD

What we don't like:

  • The zippered pockets are a bit small
Check Latest Price
Best Quality
Astral SUP & Rescue PFD
Astral GreenJacket PFD

Designed for Whitewater Rescue, Sea, and SUP, this Life Vest is by far the highest quality on our list, and we also found it to be the most comfortable.

Why we like it:

  • 2-panel fit system allows for maximum mobility and eliminates ride-up
  • Very comfortable, and the most buoyant on our list
  • Very durable with YKK zips, nylon webbing and lining, 500 Denier Cordura Nylon shell & 200 Denier High Tenacity Nylon Liner
  • The choice for the world's best river guides and expedition paddlers
  • Roomy, zippered pockets for rope storage & more
  • Breakaway quick-release harness for emergencies
  • U.S. Coast Guard approved Type V PFD

What we don't like:

  • Expensive
Check Latest Price
Best Budget
Onyx Belt Pack PFD for SUPs
Onyx M-16 Belt Pack PFD

The M-16's unique design allows a complete range of motion - perfect for paddleboarders - while still keeping you safe.

Why we like it:

  • Unique design allows for a no-compromise in movement
  • CO2 charge provides 17 lbs of buoyancy
  • Oral inflation tube provides over 26 lbs of additional buoyancy
  • Very low profile
  • Made of high-quality 200 Denier Nylon material
  • US Coast Guard Type approved Type V PFD

What we don't like:

  • 16 and up. Not recommended for extreme paddling like rivers, whitewater, etc.
Check Latest Price

Do you need a life jacket for paddle boarding?

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is beginning to recognize SUPs as vessels. This means there are certain requirements you should take into consideration when heading out on the water, which include:

  • Wearing a life jacket / personal flotation device (PFD)
  • Carrying a whistle for areas not designated for surfing, bathing, or swimming
  • You can find the USCG Rules and Procedures for Vessels here
  • Responsibility to report any boating accidents and/or injuries to the authorities if you come across them while paddle boarding

So, do you need a life jacket when paddle boarding? It depends on where you are planning to be paddling and exploring.

Officially, the USCG does not require you to wear a life jacket if you are staying within the surfing, bathing, or swimming zones. However, if you are planning to explore outside of these spaces then you are required to wear a PFD. We strongly recommend you always wear a PFD or have it on your SUP at all times.

Do make sure you are compliant with your state’s individual regulations before heading out.

It is deemed good practice to use a PFD while paddle boarding, especially when you explore deeper and more remote waters.

paddle board life jacket man on board

Types of Life Jackets

There are five classifications of life jackets that are Coast Guard approved for paddlers and other watercraft users. Make sure you are familiar withType I, II, III, IV, and Vbefore heading out to go stand up paddle boarding.

Type I - The Offshore Life Jacket

Type I is the standard style that most people will instantly think when imagining a life vest. This Offshore PFD tends to be bulky with additional foam around the neck area to keep you afloat easier with your head clear out of the water.

You generally see these on boats and ferries for passenger safety precautions with a “one-size-fits-all” style. They are suitable for every water condition and feature high visibility elements such as reflective strips and a torch.

Type II - The Near-Shore Buoyancy Vest

Type II is a simple vest design that fits over the head and straps around the waist. Due to being more lightweight, this vest is not good in rough conditions and should only be used in near-shore conditions when a rescue can be fast.

The person is required to tread water to keep the head fully above the surface. It is typically used by wakeboarders, kayakers, and boaters that have a decent level of swimming.

Type III - The Floatation Aid

A Type III flotation device offers a significantly lower amount of float than Type I or II PFD’s, so only those super comfortable with the water and swimming should go for these. They fit more like a jacket and are considered a comfortable option.

These life jackets are great for fishing adventures with the versatility of pockets and comfort bonus.

Type IV - Throwable Device

You don’t wear a type IV float, these are designed for life-saving purposes or to assist those that cannot swim. Either in a ring buoy or seat cushion design, they are often found on passenger ferries and boats available for immediate use.

It is unlikely that you should need one of these while paddle boarding, however, they are worth considering if you are taking young children out with you.

Type V - The Specialty Use Device

Type V is a hybrid design that makes use of features from all the other classifications. They are inflatable which makes them compact and discreet - a perfect personal flotation device for gentle stand up paddle boarding.

These PFDs contain CO2 cartridges that inflate either manually on a pull tab or automatically when submerged in water. Every style should include a blowpipe to top up the float if required.

Because of the lightweight design, no restriction of movement is encountered and the user has full mobility while in the water.

Features to look for when buying a PFD for paddle boarding

So now you know the different types of PFDs, let’s make note of the key features you need to be aware of when shopping for a life jacket paddle board specific.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Buoyancy and float
  • Comfort, freedom of movement, and flexibility
  • Sizing and fit
  • Inflation method
  • Ease of use
  • PFD regulations(as mentioned above)
  • Price

Hitting all these qualities on the head will make your stand up paddle boarding experience safer, giving you more time to focus on relaxing and enjoying your adventures.

Buoyancy and Float

You need to make sure you float. That is the whole purpose of a personal flotation device. It is vital you check the level of buoyancy.

The float comes down to the materials used in relation to your body size. All of this information should be supplied by the manufacturer in size charts and product information.

The varying types of PFDs provide differing amounts of buoyancy. If you are heading into deeper waters, or plan to take a child out for the ride, consider using a Type I style life vest. If you are going for an endurance race then a Type V would be a good idea.

Comfort, Freedom, and Flexibility

A paddle board life jacket has to be comfortable. There is no question about it, especially if you are planning to be out on the water for a long period of time.

By making sure your PFD is comfortable, you will soon forget that you are wearing it. If it is uncomfortable, however, then you are more likely to take it off which defeats the purpose.

Breathability in the materials and design is important to give you optimal comfort. This airflow will be a blessing for those hot summer day paddle outs as well.

A well fitted and comfortable life jacket offers flexibility and a complete range of motion while enjoying the adventure. This maneuverability is a must for paddle boarders.

paddle board life jacket fishing

PFD Sizing

PFDs should be well fitted and accurately sized to the user to achieve the best results. Sizes do vary depending on the brand, model, and type of life vest. For correct sizing, you need to consider:

The PFD should feel snug across your chest without restricting your movement. Some PFDs features specific designs that have women in mind to achieve a snugger fit around curves and bust.

While most personal flotation jackets will have adjustability with straps, this will only be to a certain degree. It is always best to “try before you buy” and make sure you get the perfect fit.

Automatic Inflation

If you are considering buying a Type V style PFD we recommend you look for something that has an automatic inflation function. These work similarly to an airbag in a vehicle, but they inflate when hitting the water.

This is an invaluable feature in case of emergency and the rider falls unconscious for any reason.

Most will also have a manual pull tag or even a blowpipe as a backup if the automatic system fails.

Ease of Use

Any jacket you use for stand up paddle boarding should be easy to use. No one wants difficulty in any equipment or accessories.

The ease of use of a PFD is measured by how easy it is to put on, take off, and adjust. If there are bonus features like a torch or whistle, are these easily accessible while you are paddling?

Paddle boarders don’t need complications while out on the water. A simple and efficient life jacket goes a long way.

paddle board life jacket girl pfd

SUP and PFD Regulations

As previously mentioned, it is important you check the local regulations and Coast Guard advice and guidance. Lakes, ocean, rivers, and shallow waters. It doesn’t matter where your adventure takes you, just make sure you are keeping in line with the rules and regulations.

Most of the popular PFDs available will be Coast Guard approved and suitable to use for paddle boarding.

A final feature to consider is the color you choose. SUP and PFD Regulations don’t strictly state it, however, a bright color is a recommended choice to increase visibility.

Price

We know price is important for most shoppers - but we suggest not cheaping out on a paddle board PFD - after all it is your life! That being said, you can still find a quality life vest under $150. For the best value for the money, check out the Onyx Movevent Paddle Sports Life Vest.

The Ten Best Life Jackets for Paddle Boarding

These are some of the best paddle board life jacket options available on the market. Each has its own qualities that make them a great option for paddle boarders and water sport enthusiasts.

1. ONYX MoveVent Dynamic SUP Life Vest

This PFD from ONYX is excellent for water sports and as a SUP life jacket. It is designed specifically for comfort and usability. There is also a fantastic size range so you can find a great match for your body type. We love that Onyx chose to build this PFD with reflective material - an added safety bonus.

ONYX Movement Dynamic Paddle Board Life Jacket

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • High cut shoulders & adjustments
  • Made from heavy-duty Nylon
  • Built with reflective material
  • Storage Pocket

What we love:

  • Super visible PFD with SOLAS material
  • Neoprene pads on shoulder straps
  • Mesh panels give breathability for extra comfort
  • A safety whistle is attached ot the PFD in case of emergencies
  • Very comfortable life jacket

What we don't love:

  • The zipper pocket is small: too small for a phone.

The foam panels are strategically placed around the torso and the sides which give comfort. They have utilized mesh panels to help with airflow while wearing and to stop the PFD from rising to your chin in the water. The Onyx Movement Dynamic PFD is a great choice for a paddle boarding - it not only looks good, is lightweight, it will save you in an emergency.

2. Astral Greenjacket Rescue PFD

For the serious paddler, look no further than the Astral GreenJacket PFD. Chosen by the world's best expedition paddlers and kayakers, this life jacket sports a host of saftey features designed to save lifes, and it's also the one of the most comfortable jackets we tried. Sure, this jacket is the most expensive on our list, but it's worth it if you have the extra cash.

Astral GreenJacket PFD

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Made from 200 & 500 Denier Cordura Nylon
  • Two-panel fit system eliminates ride-up
  • 16.5 Lbs of buoyancy
  • Large storage pockets

What we love:

  • Super comfortable and allows for maximum mobility
  • Large pockets easily fits your phone or extra gear
  • Quick-release system for emergencies
  • High quality YKK Zippers
  • Chosen by whitewater rescue teams and expedition paddlers

What we don't love:

  • Pricey

Orignally designed for Whitewater Rescue, the Astral GreenJacket Life Jacket has been adopted by serious paddlers and kayakers alike. You won't finder a higher quality PFD, but it comes at a price. We think it's worth it, and it's our favorite paddle board life vest. It's the pricest PFD we've reviewed - the only reason why it's second on our list. We don't paddle a river without it!

3. Onyx M-16 Belt Pack Manual Inflatable PFD

This low profile USCG approved PFD is great for more advanced paddlers. Only weighing 15 ounces, you'll barely notice this must-have SUP accessory around your waist. Our favorite for SUP yoga and relaxed, recreational paddle boarding.

Onyx M-16 Belt Pack PFD

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Compact & discreent for experiended paddlers
  • Fits allmost any adult
  • D-Ring to clip on small accessories
  • Includes one CO2 canister
  • Bright yellow pull cord

What we love:

  • The least restrictive PFD on the market
  • Very lightweight - you'll barely notice you're wearig it
  • Our go-to PFD for SUP Yoga
  • No compromise range of movement
  • Coast Guard approved Type V PFD

What we don't love:

  • Not recommended for beginners or paddling in extreme conditions. Does not inflate automatically.

Remember, this is manaully inflated life vest. The pull cord is a bright yellow so it can't be missed in emergency situations. Idea for recreational paddling, we love the Onyx M16 Inflatabale Belt Pack for Paddle Board Yoga. If you want the maximum range of movement with the lightest weight, discreet PFD available, this one's for you. Not recommended for children.

4. Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

This low-profile PFD allows for high mobility, which is much appreciated on a paddle board. Side-zip design with a roomy front pocket, not only is this PFD comfortable, but it's also great if you're on a budget. The Stohlquist Edge is a Type III PFD and is rated for 15 to 17 lbs of buoyance (depending on size).

Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Soft, premium foam with nylon shell
  • Shoulder straps articulate away from your neck to reduce chafing
  • Extra large armholes
  • Low cut, offset zipper
  • Mesh siding for ventilation

What we love:

  • Affordable: great value for the price
  • Great mobility and comfortable fit
  • Refelctive accents
  • Large front zipper pocket
  • Type III PFD

What we don't love:

  • Not for everyone: runs small and is slim fitting.

Great for paddlers on a budget, and is much higher quality than other PFDs in this price range. We wish they included a safety whistle and offered more colors, but for this price range it's hard to complain. Reember, try before you buy as this life jacket tends to run small and is slim fitting. Grab the Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket for your next adventure.

5. Astral YTV Life Jacket

A great mid-range PFD, the Astral YTV life jacket is great option for paddle boarding (and kayaking too). This is a pullover style PFD - featuring Astral's Torso Lock fit - ensuring a snug, tight fit that's still comfortable.

Astral YTV Life Jacket

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Buoyancy rating of 16. 5 lbs
  • Pullover PFD with Torso Lock Platform
  • Locks into place below your rib cage
  • Made from 200 x 400 Denier Ripstop Nylon
  • YKK Zippers

What we love:

  • Great mid range pullover PFD
  • Two zipper pockets for stashing small gear
  • PVC Free
  • Lightweight construction: only 1.76 lbs
  • Type V PFD

What we don't love:

  • Pullover style is not for everyone. Could have larger pockets

We love how lightweight the Astral YTV Life Jacket is. If you're comfortable with the pullover design, this could be a gamechanger for you. With its unrestricted motion and how light it is, this may be your favorite life jacket you'll ever wear!

6. Budget Pick: Stearns Adult Classic Life Vest

A budget pick and a classic. If you're looking for a comfortable option that fits most people, and aren't looking to spend a lot of money, consider the universal fit Stearns Classic life jacket. Despite it's universal fit, if you're more substantial or slimmer than average, we suggest getting a life jacket specifically designed for your weight and size. If your jacket is too lose, it'll ride up in the water and potentially slip. If your PFD is too tight, it may be hard to escape from in an emergency. This jacket is versatile and great for a variety of water sports, with that being said, you may find it less comfortable for paddle boarding.

Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Life Vest

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Nylon construction
  • Universal, one-size-fits-all
  • Type I PFD
  • Designed for adults over 90 lbs
  • Very affordably priced

What we love:

  • Nylon construction with a reliable design
  • Versatile: can be used for many water-based activities
  • Adjustable enough to be comfortable for most people

What we don't love:

  • Not great for any size: if you're very thin or overweight choose a different PFD from our list.

A suitable pick with it's simple design: this is the exact image people will have in mind when we say life jacket. The Stearns Classic Series is a US Coast Guard approved Type I PFD that is great for beginner paddle boarders. This style is durable and effective, which is why it has been so popular for so many years. Even though it is basic, it gets the job done. Again, if you're big and tall or fairly thin, it may not be the best option for you. While there are better picks for paddle boarders, it's a great to have a few extra of these lying around for friends and family.

7. Best Youth Life Jacket: Stohlquist Escape Youth Fit PFD

It's tough choosing the right PFD for your kids, and they grow so fast! We recommend choosing an affordable ( Coast Guard approved) life jacket. The Stolhquist Escape Youth Life Jacket is comfortable, tough, and will fit kids 50 lb to 125 lbs with it's two sizes.

Stohlquist Escape Youth Fit PFD

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • 200D nylon construction
  • 200D oxford liner
  • Two sizes for kids up to 125 lbs
  • Type III PFD

What we love:

  • High shoulder cut for mobility
  • Fantastic buoyancy
  • Affordable

What we don't love:

  • The design feels a little outdated

In our testing, this PFD worked out very well when we had our kids on our SUPs. This Coast Guard approved Type III life vest is incredibly soft and very comfortable. There's nothing worst when your kid has an uncomfortable life jacket he wants to take off. Fret no more, the Stohlquist Escape Youth Fit PFD is a great choice for youth paddle boarders.

8. Best PFD for Taller Paddlers: NRS Vapor PFD

NRS’s Vapor PFD is a more tailored option for taller paddlers and water lovers with the narrow shaped torso and long length of this Type III life jacket. The extremely low cut sides allow full movement making this a perfect option for the more extreme SUP surfing or rapid river paddling.

NRS Vapor SUP Life Jacket

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • 200D nylon construction
  • Side buckle entry system
  • 16.5 lbs flotation
  • 2 Side, 2 waist, & 2 Shoulder adjustments
  • USCG Certified Type III PFD

What we love:

  • Great for taller paddlers
  • Soft foam fits your body snuggly
  • Action cut design for unrestricted paddling
  • Side buckle entry system
  • Great PFD for SUP

What we don't love:

  • They removed the zipper pocket and hand warmers.

NRS, if you're listening, bring back the hand warming pouch and front zipper pocket, please! Otherwise, this is a perfect PFD for taller riders with its high cut shoulder design and side entry system. Comfortable and lightweight, we really enjoy using the NRS Vapor PFD on our SUP.

9. Best PFD for Women Paddlers: NRS Vapor PFD

When you're paddle boarding you want largely want three things from your PFD: a large rage of motion, buoyancy, and comfort. The NRS Women's Siren PFD uses a six panel foam design we found to be very comfortable. With a fit specially cut for women, the NRS Siren is a great choice for female paddlers.

NRS Women's Siren PFD

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • 400D ripstop nylon outer fabric
  • 200D nylon inner lining
  • 16.5 lbs flotation
  • Side buckle
  • USCG Certified Type III PFD

What we love:

  • Great cut and design for most women
  • Comfortable, soft foam contours to your body
  • Front zipper pocket
  • Side buckle entry system
  • AirMesh inner pannels for ventilation
  • The best PFD for women paddlers

What we don't love:

  • We'd love it if it came in more colors

The NRS Women’s Siren PFD has purpose-designed low profile sides to be a better fit for the female figure. With fully adjustable shoulder and side straps, this is a great choice to fit most women's body types. The near-perfect women's life jacket for every SUP adventure, the women's NRS Siren PFD also features AirMesh side vents for maximum airflow on those warm, sunny days.

10. Onyx A/M 24 Automatic Life Vest

And last but not least, the Onyx A/M 24 Automatic Vest. This is a harness style Type V life jacket. The belt buckle style fastening and stretchy back make this an excellent choice for most body types. It is highly loved by paddle boarders and water sport enthusiasts.

Onyx A/M 24 Automatic PFD

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • Lightweight automatic pfd
  • Backup manual inflation
  • Utility pockets for spare CO2 cylinder
  • 1" buckle and body belt
  • USCG approved Type V PFD

What we love:

  • Very large range of motion
  • Lightweight & comfortable
  • Includes C02 Canister
  • very low profile
  • Made from durable fabric material

What we don't love:

  • Don't leave it outside - can self-inflate when not stored properly.

The Onyx A/M 24 Automatic Life Vest is an automatic inflatable PFD that also has a manual option in case the CO2 cartridges run low (and has pockets for extra canisters). The design is predominantly about versatility and comfort with stand up paddle boarding in mind.

Bonus: The Best SUP Fishing Life Jacket: NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

Paddle board fishing is an exciting way to reel in some big ol' bass or trout - and as an angler, you'll need a proper fishing life jacket to keep you safe and store your gear. The NRS Chinook is a best-seller for a reason: it's designed to hold all your fishing gear, keep you safe, and to be comfortable.

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

Where to buy:

  • Amazon (ships worldwide, best price)

Features & Specs:

  • 400D ripstop nylon
  • 5 front pockets & 1 lash tab
  • 4 side, 2 shoulder, 1 waist adjustment system
  • Rod holder, strobe holder, shoulder strap keepers
  • 16.5 lbs of flotation
  • USCG approved Type III PFD

What we love:

  • Pockets and rold holders galore
  • Comfortable, yet still roomy
  • Lots of adjustment to get that perfect fit
  • Mesh lower back provides ventilation
  • High shoulder design for maximum shoulder articulation

What we don't love:

  • It doesn't come in camo

Seriously, if you like fish from your SUP, just buy this PFD now! The NRS Chinook Fishing PFD is made with Plushfit foam and high back design which keeps you cool and comfortable on your paddle board, and it will work well with kayak seats. It's got two huge zippered pockets for your tackle, two smaller accessory pockets, and a tool holder pocket for easy access to your line cutters and pliers. NRS has added a rod holder, strobe attachment point, a knife lash tab, and reflective accents. With six adjustment points, this PFD is made for anglers of all shapes and sizes.

What is the best life jacket for paddle boarding?

Finding thebest life jacket for paddle boardingrequires research. You need to determine exactly what you need from your PFD. Are you taking a relaxing paddle across a lake? Or are you planning to be going more extreme in the waves? Perhaps a fishing trip is on the cards?

Once you know exactly what you are going to be doing, then you will know what specific features you need.

All of the PFDs listed above are great options to keep you safe on the water while paddle boarding.

What size paddle boarding life jacket is right for me?

All personal flotation devices should come with a sizing chart and guide to help you get the right fit.

As we briefly mentioned above, you need to consider yourweight, waist, chest, and heightmeasurements to get a decent fit.

Most PFDs come in sizes ranging Small to Large with adjustable straps and panels to create the snug hug you need.

A PFD should hug your body closely without being too tight and restricting movement. Too loose and you will experience possibly chafing or even risk losing the jacket if you fall into the water.

A simple test to see if your PFD is too big for you:if you can fit 3 fingers between the jacket and your shoulder then the jacket is TOO big. This will not keep your head above the water. If you have access to a pool then give the life vest a test run before heading to deep water.

Standard Life Jacket Sizes For Adults

Most life jackets for adults come in sizes S, M, L, XL. Some models go down to XS for a more petite fit.

All PFDs are adjustable to help fit those that are in between the standard sizes. Be sure to check the fitting and size charts before purchasing.

Standard Life Jacket Sizing For Kids

PFDs for youths are designed typically for under 16 years. Young children and toddler style life jackets often come with crotch straps to give a more overall secure fit.

The sizes are generally focused more on the weight as children’s sizes vary often. These tend to come in two options:

  • Child size - 30 to 50 lbs
  • Youth size - 50 to 90 lbs

paddle board life jacket girl life vest

Wrapping Up

Overall, it is considered decent and good practice to wear a life jacket on a paddleboard. Be sure to check the legal requirements for your local area to be 100% sure if you have to wear one.

The specific SUP activity you have planned does affect which PFD is best for you. If you are planning to take your family out on the water make sure you keep them safe.

Do you have a dog in your family? Check out the best life jackets for dogs that are available and be sure you knowhow to paddle board with your dog before hitting the water.

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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