Best Life Jackets for Kayak Fishing
Kayak life jackets are often overlooked, but are a vitally important part of your fishing gear. Not only can a life jacket save your life, it typically is loaded with features that make fishing much easier and more enjoyable. I always used to be firmly in the school of thought that life jackets were hot, bulky, and inconvenient. However, ever since I watched my brother flip his kayak on a windy day and get tangled in his anchor line, luckily wearing a life jacket, I’ve come to think a bit differently about them. Once I started wearing life jackets I realized that some of them can be uncomfortable, but if you just do some research to find the right one that fits well and has convenient features then they are well worth it.
The three most important things to look for when buying a kayak life jacket are sizing, comfort, and gear pockets
The PFDs on this list are the best life jackets for kayak fishing and they are designed by proven companies in the fishing industry. Any one of these would be a great choice to use for a day fishing on your kayak. Be sure to read about the top knives for kayak fishing that can easily clip on any one of these or be stored in a pocket.
(Jump to common questions)
The PFD Contenders
|NRS Chinook||USCG Type III||Multiple Pockets|
High Mesh Back
|Astral Ronny Fisher||USCG Type III||Multiple Pockets|
High Back Pad
|Stohlquist Fisherman||USCG Type III||Multiple Pockets|
D Ring Clips
High Mesh Back
|Old Town Lure||USCG Type III||Multiple Pockets|
D Ring Clips
High Mesh Back
|Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket||USCG Type III||Multiple Pockets|
D Ring Clips
High Mesh Back
The NRS Chinook is one of the most popular life jackets out there for kayak fishing, and it is a personal favorite of mine as well. The reason being is that it is just so comfortable and functional. The soft buoyant padding is distributed well so it doesn’t interfere with paddling or casting at all which makes it great for kayak fishing. It also has tons of pockets, a knife clip, and even a rod holder strap which makes it perfect for holding your rod while fly fishing or getting out of your kayak and wading if you chose. One other feature I particularly like is the waist strap on the vest, which lets you tighten it down and prevent it from riding up when paddling.
I have done an in depth review of the very popular NRS Chinook vest that breaks it down even more if you’re looking for additional pictures and info.
- High quality life jacket
- Ripstop nylon construction
- Knife clip, lots of pockets, tool retainer, rod holder
- Adjustable shoulders, sides, and waist
- Waist belt keeps it from riding up while paddling
- Very comfortable while sitting in kayak
Astral Ronny Fisher PFD
Astral specializes in life jackets and footwear so you’d have to imagine that they know what they’re doing if they’re still around. Their PFDs are high end and high quality. The Ronny Fisher life vest is well made and very durable, using 500 Denier Cordura and a 200 Denier High Tenacity Nylon liner with PolyPro webbing and heavy duty hardware and zippers. This all sounds great, but what it really translates to is large zippers that are easy to work with cold hands and won’t get stuck or break, and a life jacket with material strong enough to handle getting stuck in mangroves or thorns when you accidentally drift too close to shore (we’ve all been there with our kayaks). The vest also has excellent pockets that hold at 90 degrees to keep your gear on, a knife clip, a rod holder, and a beverage holder. On top of the beverage holder on the front chest is a rain hood that is hidden in the back of the jacket. Perfect for days when the weather creeps up. Really a high quality life jacket with tons of features and another that I maintain in my lineup.
One other life jacket made by Astral that didn’t make the list, but is equally as good is the V-Eight Fisher. It’s designed to keep anglers cool with a mesh back and lightweight materials. Check it out if you’re looking for something that is designed for fishing in the heat.
- Durable canvas material
- Very useful pockets that fold flat
- Sits high for easy paddling
- Built in beverage holder
- Rod holder, knife clip, tool clip
- Reflective linings for visibility
- Rain hood built into rear collar
- Can be stiff at first, there is a break in period
Stohlquist Fisherman PFD
Stohlquist is a company that makes life jackets for whitewater, paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, and dogs, so it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about what makes a good life jacket. Their Fisherman model is well designed and really optimizes your cockpit management with pockets and attachments gear that could otherwise end up overboard. It has dual front drawbridge pockets with stiff EVA shells to protect the gear, drainage in the bottom of the pocket, and neoprene should pads. It also has a high back float which is vital for making sure your PFD doesn’t interfere with your kayak seat. There is mesh for the lower back to keep you cool while paddling. Overall, it’s a very good life jacket for the price and it will make your day on the water much more safe and enjoyable.
- Fold-down pocket work surface
- Neoprene padded shoulders
- Dual side adjustments
- High back pad sits above seat of kayaks
- Lower back mesh provides cooling
- Nylon outer material
- Materials could be higher quality
Old Town Lure PFD
The Old Town Lure Angler PFD is another high back construction that prevents kayak seat interference while paddling. This is really a feature you must have with a kayaking life jacket, especially with sit on top kayaks that tend to have high backed seats. One unique/cool feature of this vest is that the life jacket has an envelope pocket which is perfect for a GPS unit or drink. The vest also has all the features you’d expect from a vest at this price point with adjustable sides and shoulders as well as D-ring clips and excellent pocket organization. This life jacket really does enhance your experience and take your paddling to the next level – great buy!
- High back pad for seat
- Low mesh AirComfort system for cooling
- Waist belt clip to prevent riding up
- Envelope pocket for drink or radio
- Velcro patch to store hooks/flies
- Well designed and quality build
- Knife clip/shoulder loop could be stronger
Onyx Kayak Fishing PFD
This life jacket is a single offering from Onyx for a fishing life jacket, but you can sure tell they did their due diligence with the design. It has so many features loaded into the life jacket and comes in at an excellent price point. I do wonder what they were thinking with the mix of colors though, especially only offering one choice. However that has not stopped people from raving about this vest and giving it outstanding reviews. This is actually the go to vest for one of our staffers pictured up top. The universal sizing is interesting, but overall people tend to agree that it is adjustable enough to fit well, and the softness of the material and comfort is off the charts. Solid choice for a kayak fishing pfd right here.
- Lots of features included
- Comes in at a very reasonable price
- One size but very adjustable and comfortable
- Highly rated from reviewers
- No color choices
- Zipper design could be better
Common Kayaking Life Jacket Questions
Check your state laws – in most states the law is that you must have at least one U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type I, II, or III lifejacket (PFD) per person onboard the vessel. The lifejacket must be in good condition, be sized appropriately, and be readily available. Reading between the lines this means that you do not necessarily have to be wearing it (unless you’re under 11 years of age), but it also cannot be stored in a kayak hatch out of reach.
They don’t have to be! You can get life jackets that have a mesh back and sides to provide airflow, or you can get inflatable life jackets that are much smaller with less material to prevent heat retention.
Check these out:
Mesh Back PFD
No, a Type III PFD is designed for comfort and activity so you have freedom of movement, but will not support an unconscious person face up in the water. These PFDs allow the user to put themselves in a face-up position, but they may have to tilt their head back to avoid being face down in water. Type III PFDs come in inherently buoyant, inflatable or hybrid designs.
These terms are used interchangeably when talking about your water safety equipment. However strictly speaking a PFD is considered a personal floatation device that assists in flotation rather than keeping you free floating on your back. Usually the difference between a PFD and a life jacket is in the buoyancy and bulkiness. A life jacket or life vest is meant to keep you afloat face up in a life threatening situation. The coast guard classifies life jackets and pfds into one of five categories, see below.
There are five categories of PFDs certified by the U.S. Coast Guard, however the ones most often used by kayakers, and fishermen are Type III or Type V. This is because these types are the most comfortable for these activities.
Type I PFDs are geared for rough or remote waters where rescue may take a while. Though bulky, they have the most buoyancy and will turn most unconscious people into a face-up position. They are the kind of PFD you’ll likely find on commercial vessels. Type I PFDs are available in inherently buoyant, inflatable or hybrid designs.
Type II PFDs are intended for calm inland waters, where fast rescue is likely. They have a very basic design that is less bulky than Type I, and typically less expensive, but they are not as comfortable as Type III. They will turn some unconscious wearers to the face-up position. Type II PFDs come in inherently buoyant, inflatable or hybrid designs.
Type III PFDs are suitable for most paddlers where there is a chance for quick rescue. They offer freedom of movement and comfort for continuous wear. These PFDs are designed so wearers can put themselves in a face-up position, but they may have to tilt their head back to avoid being face down in water. Type III PFDs come in inherently buoyant, inflatable or hybrid designs.
Type IV PFDs are flotation devices that are meant to be thrown to a conscious person who is in trouble and provide backup to a PFD. Examples include life rings and buoyant cushions. Type IV PFDs are not meant to be worn and they are not required for canoes, kayaks or SUPs.
Type V PFDs are considered special-use devices and intended for specific activities. To be acceptable by the USCG, they must be worn at all times and used for the activity specified on the label. Varieties include kayaking, waterskiing, windsurfing, deck suits and hybrid inflatable vests. Type V PFDs come in inflatable or hybrid (inherently buoyant and inflatable) designs.
A PFD is a personal floatation device. A PDF is a computer file.
Replace your life jacket when it either no longer fits, does not remain buoyant, or is damaged so that it no longer works. There is not a expiration on a life jacket, but rather whether it is functional or not.
Not a big deal, it was built to get wet. When you’re done fishing just hang it up to dry. If it was submersed in saltwater rinse it with freshwater first before hanging it up.
Yes, all children 11 and younger must wear a USCG approved life jacket while aboard a boat 65 feet in length or less. Exceptions: Unless in a fully enclosed cabin. Seeing as we’re focusing on kayaks, canoes, and fishing boats this rule likely applies. Also check out how to get kids interested in fishing.
Most life jackets come in a small/medium or large/x-large size. Fortunately these are just sizing starting points and almost all quality life jackets are very adjustable on the sides, shoulders, and waist. Pick the one that will fit your chest size best then adjust straps to fine tune the fit!
Heath lives in North Carolina and is an avid fisherman and all around outdoorsman.All stories by: Heath Anderson
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