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8 Best Life Vests for Kayaking, Canoeing, and Rafting – Easy Paddling

Updated: June 23, 2021

Whenever you’re on or near water, it’s common sense to have the right safety gear, but it’s never more important than when you’re out kayaking, canoeing, or whitewater rafting.

Kayaks and canoes are a ton of fun and very useful for hunting and fishing, but they’re also notoriously unstable and prone to landing you unexpectedly in the water.

Even if you’re a strong swimmer, you need a buoyancy aid to keep you afloat while you set about getting your kayak right way up and ready to move on.

Obviously, when in a canoe or kayak, you need to paddle. Freedom of movement is vital which means that your PFD won’t interfere with what you’re doing. When choosing the best kayak life vest, you need to ensure you get one that won’t restrict you or rub uncomfortably.

Here are some excellent choices for when you’re out on the water doing some kind of paddling that will let you get the most out of your time on the water.

See also:  Best Inflatable Kayaks

Our 8 Favorite PFDs for Kayaking and Other Paddle Sports

best-kayak-life-vestOnyx MoveVent Dynamic15.5 lbs35
life-jacket-for-kayakingNRS cVest16.5 lbs32
canoeing-life-vestStohlquist Trekker16.0 lbs46
kayaking-pfdOnyx Curve MoveVent15.5 lbs33
kayak-pfd-reviewsStohlquist Edge16.0 lbs35
best-pfd-for-kayakingAstral V-Eight16.0 lbs35
paddle-life-vestStohlquist Rocker16.8 lbs33
canoe-life-vest-reviewsNRS Vapor16.5 lbs34

Related: 19 Best Places to Purchase a Life Jacket

Kayak Life Vest Reviews

#1 – Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

best-kayak-life-vestThere aren’t many vests that can compare to the MoveVent in terms of fit, comfort, functionality, and cost. High-positioned bubble foam on the inner back improves comfort while also accommodating for kayak seats.

Fully open sides and adjustable side belts mean zero restriction while paddling and unmatched ventilation.

The shoulders have neoprene comfort pads and are fully adjustable. Even the front of the vest is sculpted and designed to be so flexible and well-fitting that you forget you’re wearing the MoveVent. The comfort of the MoveVent also makes it one of our favorite PFDs for stand-up paddle boarding.

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic reviewAn expandable zippered pocket with mesh drainage, zip assist loop, attached whistle, SOLAS grade reflective material, and drying loop round out the many features of this sports vest.

Finding the right size can be a problem for larger individuals, although those with a smaller build or or women with a larger bust seem to be able to fit into the recommended sizes without much difficulty.

ONYX makes an excellent paddle vest for the big and tall that fits chest sizes up to 60″.

It should also be noted that the back is designed for normal kayak seating and may not be appropriate for kayaks with high seat backs.

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#2 – NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD

life-jacket-for-kayakingThe NRS cVest personal floation device has some really great features you don’t often see on other vests. First, it has four large pockets that zip shut on the front for necessities like your keys, cellphone, and small snacks.

It also has four d-rings for clipping on things like a safety whistle. There are also six separate adjustment points that allow for a customized fit, no matter what your body type is.

The cVest by NRS has been designed with a mesh lower back to accommodate the seat back on your canoe or kayak. For your peace of mind, this vest is a US Coast Guard approved Type III PFD and includes 3M reflective accents for added visibility on the water.

We like the open sides on this vest that allow for a full range of motion when paddling. The vest itself is made from 400 denier nylon fabric for durability even under heavy use.

Users especially love this vest for sea kayaking and kayak fishing. They report that it’s so comfortable they often forget they have it on.

Although this kayak life jacket has multiple pockets, none of them are waterproof so you’ll need to keep that in mind if you’re bringing water-sensitive items like a phone or camera.

The NRS cVest comes in two high-visibility colors: red and lime green. It’s also available in three sizes dual sizes, from extra small to XX-Large.

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#3 – Stohlquist Trekker PFD for Kayaking and Rafting

canoeing-life-vestStohlquist’s range of PFDs have a good reputation in the kayaking community. They’re compact and comfortable, and they don’t interfere with paddling. The Trekker is ideal for small craft, combining comfort and freedom with good performance in the water.

The outer shell is ultra-tough 500 denier Cordura, which is perfect for wear in a kayak where abrasion from the cockpit sides can damage lighter fabrics. Obviously it’s also ideal for whitewater rafting where you’re likely to end up scuffing against rocks.

The inner lining is softer 200 denier oxford for improved comfort. The whole vest is easy to clean with soap and water.

The Trekker is well shaped for kayaking or rowing, with the back panel mounted quite high so it won’t catch on seats and ride up around your neck. The front panels are close fitting when properly adjusted and will also stay out of the way.

Two adjustment straps on each side and two more at the shoulders, mean it’s very easy to adjust.

The sizes are slightly snug so it’s probably a good idea to go up one size from what you normally buy, but the good news is the Trekker can be adjusted to fit tall, thin figures as well as bulkier ones.

Many otherwise good vests struggle at this. Stohlquist also makes a similar women’s version of this life jacket that’s worth checking out.

Finally the Trekker also has some good stowage options. There’s a slotted accessory tab on the left upper back, plus two big front pockets. These are high enough that you can still get into them if you’re kayaking with a spray deck, and they have plenty space for keys, snacks and so on.

One word of warning – these pockets are not waterproof, so seal anything delicate in a Ziploc bag or waterproof pouch.

With its excellent build quality and comfortable fit, the Stohlquist Trekker is easily one of the best PFDs for kayaking, canoeing, rowing, or even as a kayak fishing life vest. Definitely recommended.

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#4 – Onyx Curve MoveVent Paddle Sports PFD

kayaking-pfdThe Curve Movevent life vest by Onyx is ideal for canoeing and kayaking because it has open sides and a mesh lower back for excellent mobility when paddling.

Ventilation on the front, back, and sides keep you much cooler than other similar products. The sculpted design conforms to your body and the adjustable shoulder, waist, and side straps provide the perfect fit for a wide range of body types.

Related: What to Wear When Kayaking

This kayak life jacket is made with soft, lightweight flotation foam and a 200-denier nylon outer shell to keep the vest as lightweight as possible.

It is also US Coast Guard approved to meet PFD regulations when canoeing and kayaking. SOLAS grade reflective material provides added visibility on the water.

Paddlers love the large armholes and minimal padding that allow for unobstructed paddling. The snug, glove-like fit can be customized to suit both men and women thanks to all the adjustments. The mesh lower back accommodates the seatback perfectly, so there’s no riding up.

Some users wish the vest had a pocket or some d-rings to clip things to, but that’s a small price to pay for all-day comfort and safety on the water. The Onyx Curve Movevent Paddle Sports PFD comes in three stylish colors and three sizes, from extra small to XX-Large.

This is a reliable, yet comfortable PFD that’s a great choice for all types of paddle sports.

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#5 – Stohlquist Edge Kayak Life Vest

kayak-pfd-reviewsThe Edge life vest from Stohlquist Waterware includes a roomy, top-loading front pocket for easy accessibility and storage of important items.

This vest has graded sizing for added comfort, so the small sizes don’t have as much bulk as the large sizes.

This allows for ideal buoyancy and fit according to your body type. For example, the S/M size has 15 lbs. of buoyancy, L/XL has 16 lbs., and the XXL has 17 lbs. of buoyancy. It’s really a smart way of doing it.

The side, waist, and shoulder straps are also completely adjustable, allowing you to customize the fit even further.

The Edge was designed with a low cut, offset front entry and extra-large armholes for maximum mobility while paddling. This US Coast Guard Approved Type III PFD also has 3M reflective accents for added visibility.

While it’s ideal for canoeing and adventure kayaking, many users also love it for sailing, windsurfing, and other active water sports that require a large range of motion.

We really like the slim fit of this PFD that keeps it comfortable for all-day paddling. It’s easy to put on and it holds up well to rough use. The open sides provide enough breathability to keep you cool and hot days.

The lash point located on the front of the vest makes it extremely versatile for a variety of activities.

Some owners of this PFD noted that the sizing runs a little small on this vest, so keep that in mind when ordering. The Stohlquist Edge life jacket comes in five colors and looks stylish on the water. It is also available in three dual sizes for the best fit on a wide range of body types.

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#6 – Astral V-Eight Life Vest

best-pfd-for-kayakingThis vest was designed to let you work hard, so it’s ideal for active kayakers and rafters. Open sides and unobtrusive shoulder straps mean it won’t cramp your paddling style, and six adjustment straps – two on each side and two on the shoulders – ensure a perfect fit.

A lot of attention has been paid to keeping it well ventilated making it a great pick for warmer weather.

The Astral is also quite secure, with a tough zipper and quick-release waist belt. The foam panels flex comfortably as you move, so this vest can be worn all day with no chafing.

The back panel is high enough to clear most kayak seats, and there are a pair of handy pockets too.

A few users have noted the PFD feels a bit bulkier than it looks and pockets aren’t located in ideal position but for the most part, the Astral Buoyancy V-Eight gets rave reviews and is even one of our favorite sailing life vests.

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#7 – Stohlquist Rocker Personal Floatation Device

paddle-life-vestIf you’re planning on tackling some seriously tricky rapids, this pro paddling life jacket from Stohlquist could be just what you’re looking for.

Compact and tough, it uses high technology materials to give you a great balance of comfort and security.

Diagonal adjustment straps make for easy fitting, while textured inner panels grip your clothing and prevent the vest riding up.

The foam is concentrated round the waist, so there’s no obstruction at all for the upper body. It also has two zippered pockets for small items.

If you’re on the larger side (both men and women), you’ll find the Rocker to be one of the most comfortable kayaking life jackets out there.

The only comfort-complaint you may have is if you tend to paddle with your arms high where the shoulder strap can cause slight irritation if you’re sleeveless.

The Stohlquist Rocker can also be slightly restrictive if you try to bend forward too much, so it’s maybe not ideal for fishing, but for anything from whitewater kayaking or even floating down a river, it’s hard to beat.

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#8 – NRS Vapor

canoe-life-vest-reviewsThe Vapor by the well-respected company NRS is designed to give you that high-cost experience in a budget-friendly package.

This Type III vest easily slips on and closes using two adjustable side buckles. The wide arm cut allows for unrestricted movement and soft, flexible floatation foam molds to your body to provide superior comfort.

A large front pocket is kept secure by a sturdy chest zipper and covers the front of the jacket. Behind the pocket is a hand warmer pouch for those chilly days.

A lash tab and reflective piping add to the functionality and safety of this vest. While designed primarily for paddle sports, the Vapor also holds up well for fishing and other sports.

See also: How to Store a Kayak

Tested by Underwriters Laboratories and Coast Guard-approved, this Type III vest exceeds the required floatation range at 16.5 pounds, making it a safe choice for your paddling excursions.

Be warned: the comfort level and overall design may make you check occasionally to see if you’re still wearing it.

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3 thoughts on “8 Best Life Vests for Kayaking, Canoeing, and Rafting – Easy Paddling”

  1. Thanks for your helpful writing. fishing accessories are different for boats and kayaks, therefore I am sure that there are lot of boat owners who will find this blog post very useful. I look forward to reading more from you about using kayaks.

    • I wouldn’t recommend an auto inflating PFD. Sure it’s going to be the least restrictive but even if you’re an experienced kayaker, one simply dunk even in shallow water can cause it to inflate and then you’re done. If you must use one, at least have a recharge kit on hand.


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