Personal Challenge: Picking out a legit life jacket (Personal Flotation Device)

March 30, 2023

A compilation of information about PFD's to help you make an informed decision on which one might be right for you.
Personal Challenge: Picking out a legit life jacket (Personal Flotation Device)

A PFD is perhaps the most worn piece of your kayaking kit, and it is your most basic and reliable form of safety equipment. Therefore, you should like it and it should be comfortable. The best way to select a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is by trying them on. And that is exactly what Eddyline rep Dan Arbuckle with Headwaters Kayak does in his YouTube video How to choose a life jacket for kayaking. Arbuckle does a great job breaking down the aspects of PFDs that kayakers should look for and how to select a life jacket according to each kayakers personal style of paddling (i.e. sea kayaking, recreational kayaking, whitewater kayaking, kayak fishing, etc). Here’s a summary of Arbuckle’s advice…


Top Brands
PFD or Life Jacket brands that kayakers look to that fulfill the criteria laid out by the coast guard and keep it fresh with modern designs and features include Astral, NRS and Kokatat. Model PFDs from these brands will be mentioned in each section of this article.


How to properly fit a life jacket
First, loosen all straps. Then unzip all zippers. Once the life jacket is on your person, start tightening side straps alternating from side to side. Finally, adjust the shoulder straps. Be sure all buckles are buckled. Be sure to wear a similar outfit to what you would wear when paddling. In fact, add a layer or two to be sure you have enough bandwidth in the straps for extra layers on cold days. It is important the life jacket can be further tightened once straps become saturated. Many paddlers tighten their life jackets throughout the day. If your life jacket isn’t tight enough, you could slip out of it in an involuntary swimming situation. Lastly, to conform to the different dimensions of the torso of a man versus a woman, check out women's specific PFDs like NRSs Zoya and the very popular Astral’s Layla. For video instruction, check out this video from the Headwaters Kayak YouTube channel.


Range of motion
Once the life jacket is properly fit, try to move your arms in the motion you would while paddling. Do your shoulders and torso feel comfortable?  Do you have a full range of motion to accomplish wide strokes? Be sure the cut out and fit over the chest allows for the movement articulation necessary for your comfort. Kokatat’s Hustle Vest, Astral’s Blue Jacket and the NRSs Ninja are all good examples of PFDs that allow for comfortable range of motion. Pull over vs. side entry is also a consideration in range of motion.


High back
High foam on the life jacket back with no foam on the lower portion of the back is a popular design for kayakers with a high seat back in their kayaks. This way there isn’t a bulky piece of foam between you and the frame. It also allows for air movement and can make a vest lighter weight. The NRS Clearwater Mesh Back PDF or Astral’s EV-Eightoffer this feature.


Maybe you like to fish and need hands free compartments for your accoutrement. Or, maybe you’re like Arbuckle and shoot kayaking footage on your phone while you are paddling and need a roomy holster for your phone camera. If you're packing lots of gear that you want accessible on your person, look for a PFD with pockets. 


See below for a list of resources on what types of life jackets are required by local governing bodies that preside over waterways.


5 things to know when choosing a life jacket - United States Marine Corps

Wearing your life jacket - US Coast Guard