Which kayak life jacket is best?

Kayakers know there’s nothing quite like gliding over pristine water, skimming the surface in a sleek boat with your paddles effortlessly pulling you forward. They also know that kayaking can be a dangerous sport, and drowning in even the calmest water is a possibility. The best kayak life jacket is a critical piece of safety equipment that every kayaker needs to wear.

The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports CGA Life Vest performs its function well while allowing easy movement for paddling and maneuvering in the boat. 

What to know before you buy a kayak life jacket

Inflatable vs. padded

There are two main types of kayak life jackets to choose from: inflatable or padded.

  • Inflatable: Inflatable life jackets allow for greater movement of the arms while still providing protection when you enter the water. Some are manually inflated with a tube, but others come with a canister of compressed air that automatically inflates when you hit the water. This may not be ideal if you frequently practice rollovers. These are also not recommended for whitewater kayaking or children under 16.
  • Padded: Many boating life jackets are padded. There is usually more storage space on a boat, and less range of motion is needed. These also require less maintenance and are ready to go the second you put them on. But they can be bulky and get hot.

Life jacket materials

Most life jackets are made of either nylon or neoprene.

  • Nylon: Nylon is lightweight, durable and inexpensive. It’s a great choice for kayakers because it allows for free movement. 
  • Neoprene: This material is better suited for cold water or water sports that have you actually in the water instead of on top of it. It fits more snugly than nylon, and it can be more expensive. 

What to look for in a quality kayak life jacket

Large arm holes

You’ll need plenty of room for your arms to move. Look for life jackets with deep-cut arm holes or open backs. 

Bright colors

In a worst-case scenario where you find yourself separated from your boat, you will want the brightest color life jacket you can find. Dark colors blend easily with surging water. Instead, you should choose a kayak life vest in neon colors. 

Zippered pockets

Although it is ill-advised to bring your keys with you on your kayaking adventures, you might want a place to stow safety gear. Zippered pockets and D rings work well for this purpose and can also hold small snacks. 

How much you can expect to spend on a kayak life jacket

The price depends on the material, the size and the type of life jacket. Expect to spend $30-$150.

Kayak life jacket FAQ

How do you find the best fit?

A. Your life jacket won’t do you any good if it doesn’t fit. It should be snug but comfortable. This increases the chance that it can save your life and that you will actually wear it.

Adult life jackets sometimes correspond with clothing sizes but often use chest measurements. On the other hand, children’s life jackets fit based on their weight. 

How you put on the jacket matters, too.

  • Slip the jacket on.
  • Start by buckling the straps at the bottom first. Make sure each strap is tight as you work your way up.
  • Once your jacket is buckled, slide your thumbs underneath the shoulders of the jacket and pull up. If it moves, you’ll need to tighten the buckles again, starting at the bottom. 

Make sure to wear your paddling clothes when you try on life jackets, and move your arms around once the vest is in place. If you find it tight or chafing when trying it on, imagine what it will feel like after an hour or two on the water. 

What is buoyancy, and how much is necessary for a kayak life jacket?

A. Buoyancy, also known as flotation, is the measure of force needed to keep your head and chin above the water. The average adult requires 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy, and U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation devices meet this standard.

To check the buoyancy of your kayak life jacket:

  • Enter deep water that allows you to float without touching the bottom.
  • Stop moving and tilt your head back. Relax.
  • If your chin is not above the water without effort, you need a higher buoyancy rating.

What’s the best kayak life jacket to buy?

Top kayak life jacket

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports CGA Life Vest

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports CGA Life Vest

What you need to know: It has the best features of inflatable and padded life jackets all in one. 

What you’ll love: The padding is only in the front for more free movement. The mesh back is comfortable against a kayak backrest. The shoulders are padded and adjustable. Zippered pockets hold whistles and safety gear. 

What you should consider: Because of the vague sizing, this may not be the best choice for people with larger chests.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods

Top kayak life jacket for the money

Lyuwpes Inflatable Snorkel Vest

Lyuwpes Inflatable Snorkel Vest

What you need to know: If you prefer an inflatable vest, this one inflates quickly and works well for more than just snorkeling. 

What you’ll love: Easily adjust the fit with waist and groin straps. The vest slips over your head and buckles to stay secure. The slim line allows for a full range of motion. It is brightly colored for better visibility.

What you should consider: The straps around the groin may take some getting used to when sitting in a kayak. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

O'Neill Superlite USCG Life Vest

O’Neill Superlite USCG Life Vest

What you need to know: This lightweight vest is adjustable and comfortable for kayaking. 

What you’ll love: The outer shell is nylon, and closed-cell foam is lightweight and comfortable. Four 1.5-inch wide webbing belts have quick-release Delrin buckles that you can adjust to fit different people. It sheds water easily and stays relatively cool in the sun.

What you should consider: Measure yourself carefully. The sizing for this vest is different than for regular clothing sizes. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Suzannah Kolbeck writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

 

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