The 6 Best Kayaking PFDs in 2020 [Reviews & Guide]


Ever came across that meme which mentions that Rose could’ve saved Jack since there was enough space on the door for both of them? Ever thought that maybe both could’ve been saved without needing that door in the first place? That’s precisely why PFDs (personal floatation devices) come in handy!

Now of course not all such trips into the sea are equally dangerous. It’s a fresh summer day, you rented a lake house for a couple of days with your friends, and someone mentioned kayaking. You’re writing a list of what needs to be included on the kayaking boat, and someone mentions PFDs, generally known as life jackets. Which one should you be looking for? 

Since all PFDs serve the same purpose, safety comes first when buyers make their choice, but that’s not as easy as it seems. Safety encompasses other factors that should ensure the wearability of the device. These factors include size, feel, comfort, mobility, and the ability to be used by different bodies. 

Hence, before you invest your money in a PFD, you need to make sure it meets your needs. We’ve taken that trip into the aquatic world and researched on our quest to compile you a list of the six best kayaking PFDs!

At a Glance: 

1. Astral V-Eight – Best for Hot Weather

2. NRS Ninja – Best for Shorter Torsos and Hardcore Paddlers

3. Stohlquist Edge – Best for All-Day Activity

4. NRS Ion – Best for Low-Profile Comfort

5. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic – Best for Durability

6. Mustang Survival Corp – Best for Severe Maritime Conditions

The 6 Best Kayaking PFDs in 2020

1. Astral V-Eight – Best for Hot Weather 

Astral V-Eight PFD

The Astral V-Eight PFD enjoys a myriad of features that make it the perfect choice for someone who goes kayaking in hot weather, chiefly because it has developed an air-escape airflow system, comes in adjustable straps, and guarantees comfort and versatile movement while paddling.  

Thanks to Astral’s Airescape system, the Astral V-Eight maintains a comfortable temp that both eliminates excessive body heat and allows fresh air in, hence ensuring that you can stay cool no matter how high the temperature gets. 

Speaking of the design, the V-Eight makes for a unique and comfortable paddling experience since it allows the paddler to recline against the usually high seatbacks. This feature is essential to guarantee comfort and a sound paddling posture, especially for recreational paddlers. 

Additionally, one plus feature that makes the V-Eight design stand out is its adjustable side and shoulder straps. As any wearable garment, the PFD should snug right up to your body shape in order to guarantee natural, unrestricted movement; something that the V-Eight promises and ensures, for both genders.

For environment enthusiasts who would love an environment-friendly model free of PVC, the V-Eight is definitely an option you should consider since the company has a free PVC approach.

One feature that some of the team members liked but others found useless is the pockets! The V-Eight comes with front pockets, which are useful to store your stuff but are difficult to access since they are placed towards the sides.

Pros:

  • Breathable design
  • Adjustable straps
  • High mesh back 
  • Comfortable design
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Difficult to access pockets

Bottom Line

The Astral V-Eight is the perfect choice for recreational paddlers who would love an aquatic adventure in hot weather. It’s a comfortable jacket that would snug perfectly well and ensure both safety and smoothness of movement. It also comes in a bright color that will make you seen on the water, in case a team of paddlers wants to join in, or in case you need help! 


2. NRS Ninja – Best for Shorter Torsos and Hardcore Paddlers

NRS Ninja PFD

The NRS Ninja PFD is among our top picks because it preserves a wide range of mobility. It enjoys a comfortable inner fabric and a room for adjustability. Thanks to its four side adjustments and two shoulder adjustments, it is the best choice for kayakers with shorter torsos.

To begin with, the Ninja has a soft interior fabric, making it absolutely comfortable to wear on bare skin without worrying about it rubbing against your body. Additionally, the padding is also concentrated into a small, low area, widening the scope of shoulder mobility.

While it ensures complete ventilation through the shoulder fabric straps and inner panels, the NRS Ninja, unlike the Astral V-Eight, is designed preferably for cold weather. It has a cozy hand warmer pocket to enable the paddlers to warm up in chilly weather while providing fresh air.

Design-wise, this PFD is best for people with short torsos because it has six adjustment points for a secure fit that make it out of the way while doing paddling strokes. As it rides low on your torso, this device stays put tight around you while you’re paddling, taking a spill in the water, or swimming back to your boat.

One more feature that we like is that the vest has quick-release buckles on the side to guarantee you can easily take it on or off when needed.

However, one thing to watch out for is that some women and beginner paddlers might find the design somewhat restricting. The vest has an unbending shape, making the movement of women’s upper bodies a bit uncomfortable. Additionally, the concentration of padding into a small area makes leaning back in the fishing chair less pleasant and enjoyable.

Pros:

  • Soft interior fabric
  • Numerous adjustments for body postures
  • Complete ventilation 
  • Unmatched mobility
  • Quick-release buckles
  • Versatile aquatic activities

Cons:

  • Relatively heavy (28 ounces)
  • Slightly uncomfortable for women
  • Unbending shape

Bottom Line

The NRS Ninja is the best bet for avid paddlers since it enjoys a soft interior and a durable exterior. It features a top-notch performance as well as a wide range of adjustability and mobility. The only thing you need to watch out for is that it’s not the best purchase for either women, slim paddlers, and newbies.


3. Stohlquist Edge – Best for All-Day Activity 

Stohlquist Edge PFD

If what you’re looking for is something that would perfectly fit you and grant you all-day comfort, you better get the Stohlquist Edge PFD! It displays a set of distinct features like its graded sizing, comfort, ease of movement, and highly visible, reflective accentuated colors to be noticed by other boaters!

To begin with, the key feature that we appreciate the most about this device is that it has a graded sizing that perfectly matches your body. While most PFDs depend on the straps to tighten or loosen the grip, the Stohlquist Edge matches the foam’s cut to each size to guarantee unhindered mobility. 

Other features that make it comfortable for an all-day trip include its material, the extra-wide armholes, and the mesh sides. The Stohlquist Edge has soft foam and a mini-ripstop nylon shell for a better feel on the skin. The armholes preserve unrestricted mobility for an extensive paddling day, and the mesh sides ensure better ventilation for hot weather.

Regarding the design, two other factors contribute to why we love the Stohlquist Edge. First, and perhaps more important, is that they come with different high-visibility reflective accents. This would enhance your chance of survival in the event of capsizing, for other boaters will see you. 

The other feature is the standard spacious clamshell pocket that would perfectly store anything you need! Whether it is your keys, music pod, sunscreen, or just anything else you need to keep!

The only downside we noticed to the Stohlquist is that it can be a bit restrictive to your upper body, especially if it is bulkier or if you tend to use maneuvering techniques while in water.

Pros:

  • Guarantees all-day comfort
  • Has graded sizing
  • Has a soft touch on the skin
  • Extra-large armholes
  • Good ventilation
  • High-visibility accentuated colors
  • Seamless mobility 

Cons:

  • Relatively inefficient maneuverability

Bottom Line

If you decide to ditch everything and spend a relatively long period with your paddling-enthusiastic friends and you intend to spend whole days in waters, then you should opt for a Stohlquist Edge! Unlike the NRS Ninja, it’s back won’t reduce your comfort at all. In fact, it ensures comfort and hence can be used for a variety of aquatic activities.


4. NRS Ion – Best for Low-Profile Comfort

NRS Ion PFD

Thanks to its flexible fit, the padded shoulders, smooth strap garages, and the large zippered pocket, this PFD just gets all the details right! If you’re looking for a low-profile life jacket that would make you so comfortable that you won’t feel it on your body, then the NRS Ion is what you should get!

To begin with, the NRS Ion is chiefly designed to encourage you to keep it on. It has a neat little design that would enable you to practice different sea activities, mainly because the free movement it promises is unmatched!

Another key feature that we loved is that the adjustment straps have strap garages. This ensures that the straps won’t hang down while you’re paddling and, hence, amount to unrestricted movement.

Furthermore, this PFD comes with a nice front pocket with a vertical zipper, unlike other PFDs that have a horizontal one that might just be annoying to left-handed people. It’s much easier to zip up and down, and the pocket is relatively large so that it can keep all your stuff in just one place!

Additionally, this device is suitable for both hot and cold weather. For hot weather, it has raised foam panels that extend over your spine to ensure the vest breathes well and lets fresh air in, while for cold weather, it has a nice handwarmer pouch to keep your hands warm on chilly days.

Last but not least, the NRS Ion has outstanding ergonomics that you will even forget you’re wearing one! It’s light and adjusts perfectly to most body shapes since it comes in different sizes, and it never rides up on you!

Perhaps the one disadvantage of the NRS Ion is that it’s not as durable as other designs, and it probably won’t be the best bet for a hardcore paddler.

Pros:

  • Neat, compact design
  • Unrestricted movement
  • Adjustable strap garages
  • Suitable for hot and cold weather

Cons:

  • Not durable compared to other PFDs

Bottom Line 

To sum it up, the NRS Ion is a good buy if you’re considering a mid-range, low-profile PFD that will get the job done without being restrictive or cumbersome. It’s neat and comfy, but unlike the Stohlquist Edge, it’s not designed for hardcore paddlers who can spend a whole day on a boat.


5. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic – Best for Durability

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic PFD

One of the highly-rated PFDs among users is the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic life jacket. It has earned wide popularity thanks to its durable material, comfort, and the fact that it is indeed budget-friendly!

To start with, the Onyx material is very sturdy, without being heavy or hard on the skin! It features a sculpted flexible foam that adjusts to your body and stays in place while you paddle. 

Think that sturdiness contradicts with comfort? Absolutely not! This device combines both in a way that makes it stand out! It has a heavy-duty front zipper to prevent vest ride-up. It also has high back foam to accommodate high back seats and mesh backing to guarantee comfort and keep you fresh while paddling.

One extra feature that we appreciate about the Onyx is that it enjoys SOLAS grade reflective material to help with visibility in the water.

However, one thing that needs further consideration is the triangular shape of the PFD, which makes it harder to strap around the waists of the relatively thin paddlers. Securing the vest around the chest somehow closes the mesh vents and prevents significant air circulation on the front.

Pros:

  • Sturdy and durable
  • Soft foam
  • Lash tab for small accessories
  • Extra whistle for safety
  • Reflective material for visibility 
  • Excellent for recreational paddling sports in general
  • Back and front ventilation

Cons:

  • Not the best purchase for relatively thinner people

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a simple vest that doesn’t sacrifice sturdiness for the sake of design, then you should invest your money in the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic that, as the name suggests, ensures seamless mobility and high-level safety. It just gets the job done without breaking the bank!


6. Mustang Survival Corp – Best for Severe Maritime Conditions

Mustang Survival Corp PFD

One device that is getting increasingly popular with paddlers is the Mustang Survival Corp that promises you safety, even underwater! Under test conditions, it has proved wonderfully efficient thanks to its automatic inflating floatation method, among other key features.

Firstly, the Mustang has successfully managed to cram 26 lbs of buoyancy in a small, lightweight package. Worthy of mentioning is that other traditional PFDs offer an average of 16 lbs. 

Secondly, thanks to the hydrostatic inflator technology this vest uses, it offers reliable inflation that will only inflate when submerged in 4 or more inches of water. Factors like spray, rain, or humidity won’t make it inadvertently inflate.

Thirdly and not surprisingly, the Mustang is perhaps the best bet for a severe marine environment since it’s a HIT inflatable PFD. It comes with bright fluorescent colors and a safety whistle. Both are needed for visibility and rescue conditions.

Another important feature this vest displays is that it has a secure zip closure that ensures it will remain closed under the most rigorous activity. Still, it remains effortless to open upon inflation, and hence it grants you both mobility and safety.

The single downside to the Mustang is that it is indeed expensive to buy the re-arming kits, but you don’t want to take any chances when it comes to your safety, right?

Pros:

  • Better flotation power
  • Effective and quick inflation
  • Bright colors for safety

Cons:

  • Recharge kits are expensive

Bottom Line

If you have the money and are willing to invest it in a PFD that lasts under severe maritime conditions, what you should get is the Mustang Survival Corp PFD.


How Can I Choose the Right PFD for Kayaking?

In theory, perhaps it is thought that personal floatation devices are all the same. But this is not the case. That’s why we have different manufacturers and different designs, each promising you various features. 

It is agreed that the job of any PFD, as the name denotes, is to ensure your safety on the water, but when you’re making your purchase, there are some questions to answer first. Who is going to wear the jacket? Where are they going to wear it? Do I have any personal preferences that could steer me in a particular direction? We’re here to help! 

Age, Gender, and Weight

One fact to consider is who is going to wear the vest. To elaborate, for young children, the PFDs should have a collar to support their heads and a strap between the legs to ensure their safety in case anything happens. 

Although the adult floatation devices are generally similar in the features they display, what you need to focus on in this regard is how they’re set. Does the size fit you? How the PFD fits, determines whether it will be practical and comfortable or not. The best PFD is a PFD you can actually use!

Additionally, the determining factor for children is their weight, while for adults, it is the chest measurements. Gender also is pivotal, since some devices suit women better than men and vice versa.

One example of how gender determines your choice is the NRS Ninja. Despite being highly efficient for men, its unbending shape is a bit restrictive to women.

Location

Speaking of where the device is to be worn, this is also a crucial factor. If you’re living or kayaking in a hot climate area, you definitely need something with better ventilation to let fresh air through the vest and into your body. You might consider the Astral V-Eight, the NRS Ninja, or the Stohlquist Edge for hot weather. 

As for colder weather or severe cold weather conditions, your choice will definitely be different. You need proper ventilation, but a warmer pocket is more vital for you to consider. You might want to consider either the Ninja or the Ion.

If you don’t feel knowledgeable about the area where you are, then maybe consider asking for advice from a local vendor or local kayaking groups. The rule of thumb here is that a PFD you can wear is a PFD you should buy.

Design

The last factor is whether or not you have personal preferences regarding the shape or the color. Back in the time, PFDs came in a C-shape and either poor yellowish color, or bright orange.

Picking a certain color might seem trivial, but believe me, it’s not. The brighter and more visible your device is, the better are your chances of being spotted on water.

As the weather shifts and becomes rough and choppy, it’s not unusual to have several capsizing boats. You need to consider a device with bright colors and reflective materials, in case something bad happens and the emergency services need to locate you.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do I Really Need a PFD While Kayaking?

Usually, when someone mentions PFDs, the first image that comes to mind is the picture of an orange, bulky, and uncomfortable vest, and the first question is, do I really need one? First off, it might be relevant to pinpoint that while it’s not generally the case, in some states, wearing PFDs is compulsory by legislation.

Capsizing often happens with unexpected swiftness. In rough weather where the wind is strong and there’s no predicting of caps and currents, you don’t want to end up with your boat down in the water while waiting for the emergency to arrive! Of course, this is the worst-case scenario. Still, you should have a safety-oriented mindset, especially when you’re in the water.

We understand that you might think wearing a life jacket is old-fashioned, but it’s quite the opposite. The era of uncool designs and uncomfortable fits is over, and nothing is as common between kayakers as PFDs are! 

With a PFD on, your primary concern won’t be keeping your face above water. You can reach out to other people around you or get yourself and your boat to shore in almost no time.

The point we’re making here is that wearing a PFD is safer, cooler, and efficient. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t get a suitable one.

Are There Types of PFDs?

Now, if you search for different models, you will find that they come in different types, widely categorized into three main types, and we’re here to help you understand each briefly. 

Offshore Life Jackets

This type is best for all waters where rescue might be delayed for a while. They come in two types, foam ones are bulky, while inflatables are not. Additionally, they have high buoyancy and can turn unconscious people face up in the water. However, they’re uncomfortable if worn while sailing.

Near-shore Vests

These are perfect where a quick rescue is possible and are usually better for wearing at all times. As is the rule, foam types are bulkier than the inflatable ones. However, the inflatable ones offer better comfort and higher floatation.

Flotation Aids

These are generally preferred since they offer higher floatation and smoother movement, even if you decide to wear it at all times. The majority of the PFDs introduced here are Type IIIs.

Final Thoughts

Having elaborated that PFDs are important to wear for safety matters, and having clarified what makes one device better than the other, our last advice for you is to narrow down the scope of research by determining what you need from a life jacket and choosing one that serves your needs as well as the weather conditions of where you kayak. 

If your natural habitat is usually hot, then get the Astral V-Eight, if it’s the opposite, maybe you should consider the Mustang Survival Corp. If your journeys last all-day, then, by all means, get the Stohlquist Edge. Our personal favorite is the NRS Ion, which ensures freedom of movement and suits other aquatic activities, not only kayaking! 

Now that you have our advice based on extensive research and hands-on trials, what’s stopping you now from getting a super cool PFD and taking a plunge with friends?

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