7 Best Canoeing Personal Flotation Devices of 2021 (Buyers Guide!)

If you have any experience with canoeing, you know that personal flotation devices aren’t just a recommendation: they’re a requirement. 

That’s because over 2/3 of all boating fatalities are drowning victims, according to the Boat U.S. Foundation. Of these drowning victims, 90% weren’t wearing a life jacket. For more information, our website has an interactive resource for U.S. drowning statistics, worldwide drowning statistics and drowning prevention. 

However, with all the flotation device options, it can be overwhelming or even challenging to sort through which life vests are the best quality. In order to help you with picking the perfect life jacket, we looked at a plethora of selections to find the best personal flotation devices for canoeing, so you don’t have to. 

Finding a good life jacket depends on your personal preferences, so check out our canoeing life vest reviews to weigh the pros and cons of the best options out there. Continue reading for our all-encompassing guide from the most common features to caring for your PFD and safety tips. We’ll also go in-depth to explain why canoeing life jackets are so important, including benefits, and go over some of the most commonly used materials.
(If you need a life vest simply for boating, you can visit; Best Boating Life Jackets)

[product table]

The Best Life Jackets for Canoeing Reviews (Top Picks)

If you’re looking for the best flotation devices for your next canoeing trip, look no further. Here are our top picks — in no particular order — to ensure you’ll have a successful (and safe) canoeing adventure. 

1. Astral Buoyancy V8

The Buoyancy V8 from Astral is self-described as “the world’s first breathable” personal flotation device. This life jacket has been a best seller for a long time for good reason. It comes in three distinct colors — glacier blue, ocean blue and burnt orange — and a multitude of sizes. 

The best thing about the Buoyancy V8 is its airflow system, referred to as Airescape. This technology lets the life jacket “breathe,” so to speak, by allowing the trapped heat from your body to escape through the vent ports on the front and back of the vest. Similarly, the mesh liner and foam also encourage good airflow.

This personal flotation device is also completely free of harmful chemicals like polyvinyl chloride or vinyl (PCV). Astral also is an environmentally-friendly brand as it composts, reuses scraps when possible and recycles everything, so you can feel good supporting the brand.

Pros:

  • The airflow system used — Airescape — is revolutionary. 
  • The Astral Buoyancy V8 also has several pockets that are handy for keeping a few items on your person.
  • High mesh back promotes airflow, so you don’t get as hot or sweaty while wearing it.
  • It’s very lightweight — perfect for a canoeing trip.
  • This life jacket is totally free of PVC, a toxic chemical.  

Cons:

  • It’s a little bulky, which may constrict your movement to some degree.
  • The knife tab feels out of place. 
  • The two blue colors can be hard to spot if you did fall in the water and need assistance.

2. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Vest

This U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket from Onyx is genuinely something to behold. It has an excellent fit and is made of breathable materials like mesh fabric with vented channels, which help you stay cool while paddling your canoe. Even though it has a snug fit, it also has functional mobility, so your movement won’t be restricted while your paddling or moving around the canoe. 

The flotation foam used is comfortable and soft, as opposed to the bulkier foam seen in other life jackets that prevent natural movement. In fact, it’s so comfortable that you might even forget you’re wearing a life vest. The many pockets are also handy, especially if you’re the type of adventurer that prefers to take a few smaller items such as your keys, lip balm or ID.

Pros:

  • This vest has a loop on the back, so you’ll be able to hang it up to dry after use easily.
  • Unlike other models, this life jacket gives you excellent mobility — ideal when paddling a canoe.
  • There’s also an attached whistle you can use if you’re ever in a dangerous situation.
  • It has adjustable parts, like the shoulders with neoprene comfort pads and the side belts, so it’ll fit how you want it to.
  • The MoveVent Dynamic Vest is also made with SOLAS-grade reflective material, so you’ll be seen easily if you ever need help. 

Cons:

  • The available colors aren’t as visible since they’re mostly grey.
  • This jacket seems to have a tendency to ride up your back, so it could be uncomfortable in that way if you’re leaning up against something in the canoe. 
  • It can be a bit difficult to find the right size and fit for children due to MoveVent’s design.

3. Stohlquist Men’s Ebb Life Jacket For Canoeing

The Men’s Ebb Life Jacket from Stohlquist is a lightweight, comfortable option for male canoers. This option has a mesh back that makes the jacket breathable and has padded shoulder straps for extra comfort. The shoulder straps come in handy, especially when you’re carrying the canoe. 

It’s made with polyethylene (PE) foam, which is exceptionally lightweight. Both the sides and back of the Men’s Ebb Life Jacket are ventilated, making the vest even more breathable for those swampy summer canoe trips. This personal flotation device was created specifically to make wearers comfortable when leaning on a seat back in a canoe.

The pockets on the jacket are also relatively large — bigger than many competitors’ pockets — and allow you to carry your cell phone or marine radio with you. Even with the sizable pockets, the Men’s Ebb Life Jacket isn’t too big or bulky — it fits comfortably and allows you enough mobility to paddle without any problems. 

Pros:

  • This life vest has eight points of adjustments so that you can tailor it to your liking and fit. 
  • It fits most men perfectly.
  • You’ll be able to hand-wash your personal flotation device easily. 
  • The chest cinch-strap prevents the life jacket from riding up to your chin.
  • It also has two pockets for personal items. 

Cons:

  • This life jacket is specially designed for men, so it might not fit perfectly if you aren’t a male canoer. 
  • Stohlquist’s life vest only comes in two colors, both of which aren’t very bright or good for visibility.
  • It also could be a bit more buoyant. 

4. MTI Adventurewear Solaris

The Solaris life jacket from MTI Adventurewear has a high-back design coupled with a lower mesh area that promises to work well with the higher seatbacks on kayaks and canoes. This lets you lean back comfortably and relax as you paddle during a canoe trip. 

The pockets are expandable, which puts them a step above more constricting pockets and allows you to carry essentials on your person. Both the shoulder straps and the sides are entirely adjustable, so you can really tailor the life jacket to your natural size and shape. In fact, this model has six points of adjustments, which is a huge plus. 

Although the foam and material are certainly breathable, you’ll be able to open the front buckle straps for more ventilation.
(If you love to play extreme water games, please visit: Best Extreme Water Sports Life Vests)

Pros:

  • The storage pockets are large enough to store the most important things, like your keys or phone.
  • The MTI Adventurewear Solaris also has large armholes, which makes movement a piece of cake.
  • It’s got a key retainer clip in the front pocket, which is handy. 
  • The front and back of the life jacket have reflective striping, which offers added visibility when there are low light conditions. 
  • The hat hanger loop is ideal for securing your hat behind your neck on a windy day.  

Cons:

  • It does have a tendency to ride up at the back, which can be pretty irritating. 
  • The pocket’s zippers can get in the way and rub your arms while you paddle.
  • The zip closure has the potential to get stuck.

5. ONYX Universal Paddle PFD Life Jacket For Canoeing

If you’re looking for a more affordable option or if you’re browsing on a budget, the Universal Paddle PFD Life Jacket from ONYX is a steal. 

The design is both compact and straightforward, with a ventilated mesh lower back. The upper back is foam, making it more comfortable if you have a high-back seat or just want to be able to relax. This life vest comes in two colors (red or aqua) as well as two sizes. 

No matter the size, it’s incredibly adjustable with six points of adjustability so you can cinch the jacket up to fit more snugly. The neoprene shoulder pads will come in handy whenever you’re carrying your canoe to your destination. 

There’s also a convenient place for you to store some gear in the form of expandable front pockets. The heavy-duty zipper also ensures that the vest doesn’t ride up and that the zipper itself doesn’t get stuck. It’s also U.S. Coast Guard approved. 

Pros:

  • The Universal Paddle PFD Life Jacket is very affordable. 
  • Even with lots of paddling and movement, the life vest stays snug on your body.
  • It has a high degree of comfort, perfect for long canoe trips. 
  • The available colors are easily visible, even when in the water. 
  • Although the design is simple, the “flex-cut” design makes the life vest way less bulky than competing options. 

Cons:

  • It’s not as “fancy” as other options with more complex features.
  • This model only comes in two sizes, which could be an issue for some canoers, particularly those with a smaller frame.
  • This life vest also has the potential to ride up in the front near your chin.

6. Stearns Watersport Classic Series Vest

This U.S. Coast Guard-approved Watersport Classic Series Vest from Stearns is an affordable and ideal option for beginner canoers who are looking for complete mobility for rowing or paddling.

Like some other life jackets, it’s made of PE foam, keeping the vest lightweight and comfortable. There are a few other helpful elements that add to its comfortability, including four buckles for adjustability and breathability, as well as the open-sided design. Its nylon material is sturdy and soft, so it won’t irritate your arms as you paddle. 

The life vest itself is attractive, with bright colors that are easy to spot when visibility is low and a comfortable fit. It’s easy to take on and off, which is essential when canoeing, and it’s also generally well-made. 

Pros:

  • The sides are very open, so you’ll have total mobility to paddle to your heart’s content.
  • It’s very versatile, so if you do other water sports such as water skiing, tubing or wakeboarding, this model would be a good fit. 
  • The price is pretty unbeatable for the quality of the life vest.
  • The Stearns Watersport Classic Series Vest is very adjustable, so you can adjust it until you’re happy with the fit. 
  • The four straps are solidly secure, so you’ll feel safe wearing it. 

Cons:

  • It can be a little uncomfortable as this model tends to ride up to your neck. 
  • The Stearns Watersport Classic Series Vest is also pretty bulky in comparison to some of the other models.
  • There aren’t any storage pockets, so you’ll have to find somewhere else to keep your keys, ID and other small items.

7. NRS Vapor PFD

The Vapor PFD life jacket from NRS is one of the most quality life vests you can buy for one of the most affordable prices on the market. It has 16.5 pounds of soft foam flotation that shapes to your body so you’ll be comfortable for the duration of your canoeing trip. 

It’s easy to put on and adjust, so you’ll have a personal fit every time you wear it. You’ll be able to move and paddle easily thanks to the action-cut design that allows your arms unrestricted mobility. Because it’s so lightweight, you’ll never feel weighed down as you row, making the Vapor PFD a great choice without breaking the bank. 

There is a large front pocket and a hand warmer — both exceptional features to utilize on any day — and there’s even a lash tab to keep your knife safe. You can rest assured knowing it’s also a U.S. Coast Guard certified life jacket that’s undergone testing by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for added safety.

Pros:

  • This model has a lash tab for your knife.
  • Its reflective piping makes it an excellent option for low-light visibility situations.
  • There’s a unique handwarmer pouch located behind the pocket where you can warm your hands and fingers on a cold morning or night. 
  • It comes in a plethora of sizes, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a fit for your body type and build.
  • The wide armholes are perfect for not only paddling but fishing if you choose to do so during your canoe trip. 

Cons:

  • It can be a bit uncomfortable for other water activities, like kayaking or waterboarding. 
  • The Vapor PFD is also slightly heavier than other life jacket options. 
  • The vest has the potential to ride up in the back, depending on what water activity you’re partaking in. 

Canoeing Personal Flotation Devices Buyers Guide (Your guide to selecting the best)

With life jackets, it can be easy to get bogged down in the details. Our comprehensive guide will help you understand what to look for in a personal flotation device (PFD), so you can spend less time shopping and more time in your canoe. 

Types of Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) for Canoeing

Because the kinds of personal flotation devices are numerous, we’ve narrowed these life jackets into two categories that are best for canoeing: standard PFDs and inflatable PFDs. Although they’re similar in that the goal is to keep the canoer safe, there are some critical differences worth mentioning.

Standard PFDs

Standard PFDs are the types of life vests you’ll notice other canoers wearing because they’re tried-and-true life jackets and very common. These have flotation material like foam, which keeps you floating and keeps your head above the water. You might hear these PFDs referred to as Type III U.S. Coast Guard approved.

They’re very versatile and can be used for a variety of other water activities, like paddleboarding, fishing, water skiing, and kayaking. Standard PFDs are also easy to care for and usually have pockets for keeping your snacks, keys, or ID safe. They’re also naturally buoyant, so you won’t have to “activate” them for the flotation aspect to work.

The main downside to these more standard PFDs is the bulkiness aspect. Even though they’re commonly used among even the most experienced canoers, they can restrict movement when paddling along. They sometimes aren’t very breathable either, making them hot to wear on a warm day.

Inflatable PFDs

These kinds of PFDs are newer to the market, which is why you might not see canoers wearing this type as often as a standard PFD. They can be referred to as Type III or Type V U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation devices.

The inflatable style is often less bulky, so they’re typically more comfortable to wear. These life jackets either inflate automatically or manually. The automatic inflatable PFDs aren’t as useful for canoers because they only inflate when submerged in water. The manual style inflates when you pull a cord, so it’s typically better for canoeing.

These also keep you cool and often have better ventilation. However, these life vests can be less safe than standard PFDs since you’ll likely have to manually inflate it — that might be impossible (and life-threatening) if you were unconscious or injured. They’re also not recommended for those under 16, so if you have some younger canoers, a standard PFD would be better. 

Sometimes, there are hybrid PFDs — a handy combination of inflatable and standard — but these are usually pretty expensive.

Benefits of Using PFDS for Canoeing 

The No. 1 benefit of using a PFD for canoeing is the safety factor. There’s really no better way to keep you safe during a canoeing trip than wearing a life jacket. 

It doesn’t help that there are a plethora of falsehoods regarding wearing PFDs. You might hear that life jackets are just for children or for people who don’t know how to swim. Unfortunately, that’s a dangerous mindset to have. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s a sunny day or if you know how to swim — drowning accidents don’t discriminate. 

Aside from the life-saving aspect, PFDs can also keep you warm, depending on where you’re canoeing and what your life jacket, in particular, is made of. 

The verdict? Wear a life jacket when you’re canoeing. It’s the only surefire way to keep you safe in case of a water accident. 

Using Your Canoeing PFD The Right Way

Canoeing PFDs are life-saving, but to make sure your life jacket does have the capability to save a life, you’ll have to ensure that you use it correctly. Luckily, using it properly is pretty straightforward. 

First and foremost, make sure it fits. A PFD that doesn’t fit you right could slip off or otherwise but inefficient, which can be dangerous in a life-threatening situation or in an emergency. Test and adjust the straps to make sure those work, too. You’ll get a better fit this way.

If the PFD doesn’t feel snug, there’s a good chance the size is too large. 

You’ll also want to examine your canoeing life jacket to make sure there’s no holes, tears, rips, or other visible damage. Any damage can prevent the life jacket from working correctly, making it a safety hazard. If your PFD is damaged, just get a replacement. 

Every so often, test out the life jacket’s buoyancy by wearing it and wading out into the water. Make sure the water isn’t too deep. While in the water, float on your back. If for whatever reason you start to sink or it seems like the life vest is having trouble supporting your body weight, don’t use it. Instead, purchase another one before you go out on the water. It’s not worth risking your life.

Finally, don’t use your canoeing life vest for anything other than what it’s made for. It might sound obvious, but using it as a cushion or a boat fender is a bad idea.

The bottom line? Use your PFD correctly to keep yourself (and others) safe during your canoeing adventure. 

Features

Although there are many PFD options for canoers, most of the features are similar. Check out a few popular and helpful features of life jackets. 

Ventilation

Ventilation is crucial, especially if you usually canoe in warmer places. Many life jackets have vents or an emphasis on breathable material, so you don’t overheat while you’re canoeing. The vents and mesh material allow body heat to escape, which keeps you cool.

Pockets and Tabs

The majority of canoeing life vests have pockets. These are particularly helpful in storing small items — such as your keys, your ID, snacks or even your cell phone — and are often water-resistant. The size of the pockets can vary pretty widely. 

In a similar vein, tabs will allow you to attach accessories like a whistle or a knife. These tabs can be found on the front or back of a PFD, depending on your preference. 

Color

The color of your canoeing life jacket is also critical. A bright color makes it easier for you to be spotted in an emergency. In addition, life vests will also include reflective tape sometimes to improve visibility when there’s little or low light. 

Common Materials of Canoeing PFDs

It’s helpful to understand what materials your canoeing life jacket is made out of so you can easily recognize if something seems off. PFDs use a few common elements that we’ll provide an overview of here. 

Outer shell

Usually, the outer shell of a life vest is made out of vinyl or nylon. This material is pretty durable and is less likely to tear or rip, although it’s still possible. 

Foam

There are a few materials that are used as a buoyancy material to help life jackets float. Kapok is one of them. This is a fluffy fiber that’s both sturdy and water-resistant. It won’t ever lose its buoyancy, which is a huge plus. 

Polyvinyl-chloride (PVC) is the most common buoyant material used in life jackets. It’s resistant to fire, sunlight, and oil, making it a safe bet. However, it’s not very eco-friendly and can’t be recycled. 

Gaia is another excellent, eco-friendly option. It’s softer than PVC foam and simple to clean. Gaia is lightweight, too. 

Taking Care of Your Canoeing Life Vest

Taking care of your canoeing life jacket doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s actually quite a simple accessory to take care of. 

If your life vest gets dirty — which could happen depending on the water sport you’re partaking in — make sure to hand wash it with soap and warm water. Washing it in a washing machine might ruin it or damage the material. Dry cleaning and using strong detergents or chemicals could also harm it. 

Make sure you also air dry, ensuring that your life jacket is out of direct sunlight. Drying your canoeing life vest near an open flame or direct heat could create a fire hazard or damage your life jacket. 

Safety Tips 

The purpose of wearing a life jacket is to keep yourself safe from harm in case of an accident. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind when wearing a PFD when canoeing. 

1. Make sure your life jacket is totally dry before you store it. 

The buoyant materials in your canoeing life vest — such as foam — can break down if you store your PFD while it’s wet. If the foam breaks down, this will affect the flotation ability, making it a potential safety hazard. Let it air dry after you’ve used your PFD. 

2. Always check for waterlogging and mildew.

If your life jacket absorbs water, it can weigh you down, creating a significant danger. Make sure your PFD doesn’t become saturated after use. If it does, it’s very likely that your life vest is damaged for good, and you’ll need a replacement. 

If your canoeing life jacket smells funny or looks moldy, it’s a clear sign it also isn’t working correctly. Throw it away and find a replacement life jacket.

3. Store your canoeing life vest correctly.

Although this sounds obvious, always keep your life jacket in a dry, cool place without direct sunlight. It’s essential to store it in a secure area too, so it’s less likely that someone will tamper or alter the PFD. You’ll also want to make sure your canoeing life vest is also kept away from heat and excess moisture during storage. 

4. Check for air leaks.

A good test to check for air leaks is to squeeze your life jacket carefully. If you hear air hissing, there’s probably damage somewhere in your PFD. Not only does this mean your life vest won’t be as buoyant, but it also means there are potential places where water could enter and weigh you down.

5. Don’t ever alter your life jacket.

If your PFD is U.S. Coast Guard approved and you alter it in any way, it will no longer have that certification, which can potentially get you in trouble with law enforcement. Aside from that, alterations can also negatively impact the effectiveness of your life jacket, making it less safe. 

6. Make sure buoyant material appears normal.

If your life vest seems smaller than usual or if you think the foam inside your life jacket has shrunk, this is evidence that the canoeing life jacket you’re using won’t actually keep someone afloat. 

Best Canoeing PFDs Comparison Chart 

Product NamePriceSizesSafetyUnique Features
Astral Buoyancy V8$$S, M, L, XLTotally free of toxic chemicalThe airflow system used — Airescape — is revolutionary
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Vest$S, M, L, XL, 2XLAttached whistle can use in a dangerous situationThis vest has a loop on the back, so you’ll be able to hang it up to dry after use easily
Stohlquist Men’s Ebb Life Jacket For Canoeing$-$$S, M, L, XL, UPChest cinch-strap prevents the life jacket from riding up to your chinEasily Hand-wash device
MTI Adventurewear Solaris$S, MHat Hanger loop, key retainer clip, refletive trim for safetyKey retainer clip in the front pocket, which is handy 
ONYX Universal Paddle PFD Life Jacket For Canoeing$X, OVRUS Coast Guard approvedAvailable colors are easily visible, even when in the water 
Stearns Watersport Classic Series Vest$X, OVRUS Coast Guard approvedComfortable neoprene shoulder pads; Large front pocket
NRS Vapor PFD$XS, M, L, XL, XXLUS Coast Guard approved TYPE-IIIReflective piping for low-light visibility situations

Wrap Up

Finding a good life jacket can be time-consuming, and let’s face it: a little boring. From features to materials used and safety tips, you should be able to use our comprehensive guide to make an educated choice on what type of PFD you’d like to wear on your next canoeing trip. 

Whatever choice you select, you can relax and enjoy your afternoon canoeing a little more, knowing you’re safe and protected by wearing your canoeing life jacket.  

Scroll to Top