7 Best Kayak Fishing Life Jacket of 2021 (Reviewed!)

When you head out on the water to go kayaking and fishing, preparation is key. And part of being prepared is taking all the necessary safety precautions, like equipping yourself with the best kayak fishing life jacket you can find.

A life vest is undoubtedly the most critical safety item you can have while kayak fishing. Though being out on the lake or river should be a fun and relaxing activity, it’s all too easy to have an accident or mishap. And keep in mind that in some states, personal flotation devices (PFDs) are mandatory.

So which one should you choose? To help you decide, we’ve reviewed the top models and compiled a list of the most standout products. We’ll give you our in-depth opinion about each one, and after our kayak fishing life vest reviews, we’ll cover everything you need to know before purchasing in our handy buyer’s guide.

(You can also view our special article on Best Kayak Life Jackets)

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The Best Kayak Fishing Life Jacket Reviews (Top Picks)

We’re going to dive right into this review with our top picks for kayak fishing life jackets. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Flotation Device

First up, we’ve got the Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Flotation Device. This model is quite popular among kayak fishers, and with good reason. It combines padded neoprene shoulder pads and Gaia flotation foam for a light and comfortable, yet durable fit. It has multiple adjustment points too, which allow you to achieve the best fit for your body. 

Additionally, this PFD has all the pockets you need for your things while still doing its job of keeping you protected on the water. With its handy array of pockets, zippers, and anchor points for all your angling essentials, it’s ideal for anyone who has a lot of gear. It’s also got multiple D-rings, as well as several elastic bands that you can slip tools like pliers into.

Though some consider the Stohlquist a bit bulky, the storage solutions it offers are well worth it. We also like that this PFD acts as a fold-down work surface when opened.

Pros

  • Multiple storage points
  • Excellent value for money
  • Can be used as a work surface
  • Multiple adjustment points 

Cons

  • Not the most low-profile PFD
  • The pockets aren’t incredibly deep

2. Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

Here’s another option for anglers who need room for their gear and tackle—but at a slightly lower price point. It may have fewer thoughtful details than more expensive life vests, but it does its job and then some.

The Onyx Kayak Fishing LIfe Jacket is designed with a mesh back that provides plenty of ventilation when paddling vigorously. It also features a high foam back to accommodate high back kayak seats and keep you comfortable. Plus, you can adjust the life vest at six different points to achieve the best fit for your body.

This model also features tons of storage space for your gear, including three zipper pockets. These pockets snap, zip, buckle, and Velcro shut, and the vest includes a fold-out pocket to hold essentials and function as a worktop. And fishers who head out in the colder months will appreciate the fleece-lined hand warmer pockets on this PFD.

Overall, we would say that the Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Pros

  • Solid budget option
  • Lots of storage space
  • Has hand-warmer pockets for fishing in cold weather

Cons

  • Somewhat bulky
  • Not as thoughtfully designed as more expensive models

3. Kokatat Bahia Tour

Another fantastic option for kayak fishing is the Kokatat Bahia Tour life jacket. This type III USCG-approved life vest stands out because it includes SOLAS-approved reflective strips all over the jacket. Since visibility is its strong suit, we’d consider it an ideal choice if you’re going to be fishing in low-light conditions.

It doesn’t fall short in the comfort department, either. The Kokatat weighs in at 2.01 pounds, and it’s comfortable to wear with the high back foam and mesh panel. The shoulders have neoprene padding, and the lower back portion of the vest has reduced padding for high-backed kayaks. And with several adjustment points, it’s easy to mold it to your body.

While other PFDs have more storage, the Kokatat has ample pocket space for your basics. It also includes two lash tabs to secure knives or lights. The only real downside is that this vest may be a bit too voluminous for intense kayaking, but whether or not that’s a problem depends on your activity levels.

Pros

  • High visibility
  • Comfortable padding
  • Multiple adjustment points

Cons

  • Not as many pockets as some other PFDS
  • May feel a bit bulky for vigorous kayaking

4. NRS Chinook Fishing Vest

Our next life jacket is one that has a design specific to the demands of kayak fishing. The NRS Chinook Fishing Vest is a type III, USCG-approved PFD that’s adjustable in eight different places. It moves with you and includes a mesh back panel for breathability when you’re paddling intensely. Users highlight how comfortable it is, even after hours of wearing it.

The NRS Chinook is also highly functional. The front zipper makes it easy to put on and take off, and it’s got lots of pockets and D-rings to hold all your tools and accessories. You can also use it as a fishing vest because it has space to keep small tackle boxes, and it even has rod holder loops! All these features make angling not only safer but also much more manageable.

The only real issues were that some users complained about the 90-pound minimum weight to use the NRS Chinook. Additionally, some people found it a bit pricey, but we consider it to be well worth the price. Other life vests keep you safe, but this one goes above and beyond.

Pros

  • Lots of pockets
  • Kayak-specific design
  • Eight adjustable straps allow you to achieve the perfect fit
  • Mesh back for breathability

Cons

  • Must be over 90 pounds to use it
  • Somewhat expensive

5. MTI Adventurewear Helios

Next up, we’ve got the MTI Adventurewear Helios, which is a bit different than the rest of the PFDs on this list. It’s a USCG-approved inflatable-style life vest for anyone who prefers not to deal with the bulk of traditional models. It’s perfect for use in hot climates, or for people who run hot while they’re kayaking.

The MTI Adventurewear will give you the security you need on the water without adding extra volume—perhaps one of the most significant inconveniences to using a traditional PFD. You merely inflate it if needed by pulling on the inflation cord, and the vest fills with air in seconds. It also comes with a manual inflation tube, reflective trim, and a whistle for added safety.

Users love this life jacket, as it allows for the unrestricted movement and won’t make you hot.

The adjustable strap allows you to customize the fit for most adults. Where the MTI Adventurewear Helios perhaps falls a little short is that it has no storage, but that’s a tradeoff you have to make with these types of vests.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Allows for unparalleled mobility
  • Highly buoyant 

Cons

  • The only real downside to speak of is that this PFD has no pockets

6. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Vest

Here’s another option from Onyx, the MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Vest. Like the Kayak Fishing Life Jacket, it’s a type III, USCG-approved model that’s on the more affordable end of the price range. It includes SOLAS-grade reflective material to keep you visible, and it also has a whistle should you need it in an emergency.

Aside from excellent safety features, the MoveVent features a universal design that’s comfortable for all body types. The vest allows for freedom of movement and won’t interfere with your paddling. It’s adjustable at the shoulder and waist, and it has a high back that’s compatible with high-back kayak seats.

Furthermore, the back is made of mesh that provides ventilation so you won’t overheat. And the MoveVent also has Onyx’s proprietary bubble foam that makes this PFD extremely comfortable. Where it falls a bit short is in storage, and some reviewers mentioned that the vest could feel a bit bulky.

Pros

  • More economical price than comparable models
  • Comfortable
  • Allows for unrestricted movement
  • Molds to your body for a perfect fit
  • Has a nice aesthetic

Cons

  • The vest has little storage
  • Might feel a bit bulky

7. Astral Ronny Life Jacket

Last up, and we’ve got the Astral Ronny Life Jacket, which is an excellent option for active kayak anglers. It provides the protection you need while kayaking, but it still allows you to stay cool and comfortable. This PFD features six adjustment points to help you achieve the right fit, and it weighs just 1.02 pounds. 

The cooling effect we mentioned is thanks to the steam-vent design in the back, and the back panel that’s made with thin mesh and foam. Both of these features keep you cool, and they also provide padding when you lean back. Additionally, the Astral Ronny Life Jacket is compatible with the high seats of recreational fishing kayaks.

We like that it includes a handy beverage pocket, a quick-access knife tab, and front-zip entry. This life vest also has reflective trim to increase visibility, and it’s available in several different colors.

Pros

  • Durable construction
  • USCG approved
  • Available in various sizes and colors
  • Extremely comfortable in vigorous activity
  • Lots of pockets to store your items

Cons

  • Might be a bit bulky in the chest
  • Can be challenging to get the zippers up

Kayak Fishing Life Jacket Buyer’s Guide – Your Guide to Selecting the Best Product

Because finding the right life vest can feel complicated, we’ve put together this comprehensive buyer’s guide. Read on for some pointers on selecting the best product.

Safety Standards

The first order of business when purchasing a life jacket is to ensure that the model you’re considering meets safety standards set by the industry. It’s unusual to run across one that doesn’t, but because it’s your life on the line, you should always check. Completing this simple step ensures you’re purchasing only a high-quality PFD.

So what do you need to look for? The life vest should have a certification from one of the following four bodies:

  • United States Coast Guard (U.S. Standards)
  • ISO (International Standards)
  • EC (European Standards)
  • SOLAS—Safety of Life at Sea (Commercial Standards)

If you see certification from any of these names, you can start taking a look at the PFD’s other features.

Types of Kayak Fishing Life Jackets

The second order of business when purchasing a personal flotation device is ensuring you’re selecting the right one for your intended activity.

There are five types, and each one has a specific purpose, as well as potential limitations if you use them in the wrong situation. It’s crucial to have a basic understanding of each type and know which one is best for your activity—in this case, kayak fishing—to protect yourself.

Type I

Type I life vests are the most buoyant life jackets you can find. They’re the best choice for any potentially dangerous offshore activities, especially those that take place in the ocean. A type I PFD is generally considered to be the safest life jacket, which is because it keeps your head above water, even if you’re unconscious.

Their primary downside is that they’re incredibly bulky and significantly restrict freedom of movement. 

Type II

Type II vests are very similar to type I, but their use is more for activities that take place closer to shore. They’re slightly less bulky and a bit more comfortable, but they’re not as dependable as type I life vests. Some, but not all models can keep your head above water if you’re unconscious.

Type III

Type III is the PFD that’s recommended for kayak fishers, as well as kayaking in general. It’s also the best kind of life vest for boating and water activities that take place near the shore. Type III PFDs offer more range of movement than types I and II, which can feel incredibly restrictive. But they offer little in the way of protection against drowning if you’re unconscious.

Type IV

You’ve probably seen type IV PFDs in pools, on boats, or at a marina. It’s a non-wearable type of flotation device, a cushioned ring that you throw to someone. While not a primary life-saving device, type IV PFDs provide an added safety measure near water.

Type V

Finally, we have type V life jackets, which is a specialist category. Activities that require a type V life vest include water skiing and wakeboarding. Inflatable belt packs also fall under this category. 

Standard vs. Inflatable PFDs

Now that you know about the different kinds of life jackets, it’s time to go over the types of PFDs. There are two main categories to choose from when searching for a safety device: standard and inflatable. What is best for you depends on your priorities and also on your swimming abilities.

Standard

A vast majority of the life vests on the market are standard life vests. They’re widely available because they’re the best option for most people.

Standard PFDs have foam panels in their interior, which makes them exceptionally buoyant. If you fall in the water, they work automatically without any need for activation. Additionally, it’s the most reliable type of PFD, as it’s almost impossible for a standard version to fail.

Besides being hassle-free and convenient, another advantage to standard PFDs is storage. Most of them have lots of pockets, as well as elastic hooks and D-rings, to make accessing your angling gear on the water more manageable.

What people dislike about standard PFDs is that they can be bulky, restrict movement, and get hot.

Inflatable

Some anglers prefer inflatable models, which have a much lower profile. They’re incredibly comfortable to wear, and they don’t restrict movement at all. 

Inflatable PFDs work in one of two ways. Some automatically inflate when they come in contact with the water. Others require you to pull a draw tab to inflate them.
(You can read our article on Best Self Inflating Life Jackets)

If you prefer this kind of PFD, our recommendation for kayak fishers is to choose a manual inflation style model. The reason for this recommendation is that you don’t want to inflate the device just by splashing it accidentally. Considering how close to the water you are when kayaking, there’s a real chance it will inflate when you don’t want it to.
(You might be interested in our article specially on Best Manually Inflating Life Vests)

While inflatable PFDs are unmatched in terms of comfort, they’re not without their downsides. The biggest disadvantage is that you have to test them regularly. And if they do inflate, you have to replace the CO2 cartridge before the next use. Additionally, you should be a strong swimmer to use one, and they’re not recommended for children.

Benefits of Using a Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

There are several benefits to using a kayak fishing life jacket.

Safety

Safety is the first and most crucial benefit that PFDs provide. The danger of drowning always exists when performing water activities, and a life vest is your first—and best—line of protection.

For example, it will keep you floating should your boat or kayak capsize, and you can’t get back aboard. It also keeps you safe in rescue situations, especially if you’re injured, in shock, or otherwise unable to swim. And sometimes, weather conditions can shift unexpectedly and catch you by surprise. Life vests alleviate some of the danger of those situations.

Compliance

Another benefit of PFDs is that using one keeps you in compliance with the law and helps you avoid being fined. Most states require you to use them when on the water.

Storage

Although saving your life is their primary function, life vests make your life easier on the kayak. They’re a fantastic place to store your gear, and anglers like them because they put the things they need right at hand. 

Drawbacks

While we’re not advocating for not wearing a PFD on your kayak, they do have a few drawbacks.

The main one is that a kayak fishing life jacket can be uncomfortable to wear if it’s too bulky. It can also make you hot if you’re paddling vigorously or wearing it in warm weather. Thoroughly researching the product and reading reviews is the best way to find options that avoid these issues.

PFDs can also be uncomfortable if they’re not appropriately sized, or if you buy a model that’s not compatible with high back kayaks. We’ll go over how to avoid those things in the features section below.

How to Use Your Kayak Fishing Life Jacket The Right Way

You just throw it on, and you’re good to go … right? Well, actually no.

For starters, if you’re trying on a life vest, you should wear your fishing clothes to simulate the conditions you’ll be using it in. And when you go to put it on, loosen or unfasten all the straps. Then put the life vest on and tighten them.

Pay close attention to how it fits around the bottom of your rib cage, which is the adjustment that will anchor the vest in place. You want the PFD to be snug, but it should still be comfortable without restricting your movements.

To ensure that the fit is correct, you should have someone try to pull the life vest over your head. If it comes off, you need to go down a size. Remember that the PFD has to hug your body and lift your head out of the water. What you don’t want if you’re in the water is to have the life vest covering your head.

Features

Here are some features to look out for when purchasing a PFD.

Storage

Most anglers appreciate having pockets and accessory loops to store and hang their gear from. Fishing from a kayak can be awkward, especially if you have to turn around to grab things. Having storage on your chest is very convenient. Keep in mind that inflatable PFDs offer virtually nothing in the way of storage.

Material

There are three main material types used in PFDs: Gaia, Kapok, and PVC.  

Of the three, Gaia is the most environmentally friendly. This material resists changes in temperature, and it also weighs less without sacrificing any functionality. Kapok, on the other hand, is quite buoyant and long-lasting, but it is rather flammable.

PVC is more popular than Gaia and Kapok, mostly due to its resistance against things that can compromise the life vest’s integrity, like chemicals, UV exposure, and flames.

Besides material type, you want to consider the climate you’re going to use the life vest in. If you live somewhere warm, or if you run hot, a mesh back might be something worth having. Conversely, if you’ll be using your PFD somewhere cold, consider a model with fleece-lined pockets. (We included an option with this feature on our list, the Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket.)

Durability

Your life jacket should be made to last, which means it should have durable materials. Most PFDs use ripstop nylon in their construction. Keep an eye out for a measurement called denier, which tells you how dense the nylon is. A higher number means more durable nylon.

Size and Fit

Aside from choosing the right vest for your activity, proper size and fit is the most critical feature in a life jacket. Always follow the guidelines of the manufacturer when sizing.

Most vests offer some guidance in the way of weight indications, although it’s best to use this information as a starting off point. Chest size is a better way to determine fit, especially given that the flotation material is located on the chest. To find your chest measurement, take your measuring tape and find the width of your chest, just under your armpits.

Another feature to look for is multiple adjustment points. Being able to adjust the life vest in several different areas allows you to achieve the perfect fit.

Women’s Specific

If you’re a woman, you might want to consider looking for women’s specific life jackets. These kinds are specifically tailored to women’s body shape, which can often play a critical role in overall comfort.

High Back

You’ll see that many life vests mention they are suitable for high-back kayaks, and we consider this feature to be a must-have for kayakers. It means that the lower back part of the PFD has mesh, and the bulky part mostly rests above the seatback. This design makes it comfortable to sit in a high-back kayak for extended periods.

Buoyancy

Buoyancy refers to how much flotation the PFD gives you. For type III life vests, the minimum buoyancy is 15.5 pounds, though most adults need anywhere from seven to 12 pounds to float.

If you’re a strong swimmer, 15.5 pounds is plenty. Conversely, if you’re a bit nervous in the water, you might want to look for something with even more buoyancy. Remember that more buoyancy equals more bulk, which may impact your comfort level when kayaking.

Other factors that impact buoyancy include your weight, height, whether you’ll be using the PFD in fresh or saltwater, and your clothing.

Color

Finally, while it may not seem like the most vital feature, don’t overlook color. We recommend looking for something highly visible so that it’s easier to find you in an emergency. Bonus points if the vest has reflective piping, which a few on our list do.

Maintaining Your Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

A critical part of owning a life jacket is taking excellent care of it. The better you care for it, the longer it will last. Here are some simple tips that will prolong your life jacket’s life:

  • Rinse it with fresh water after every use, especially if you’ve been in the ocean
  • Air-dry your life vest before storing it. Doing so prevents mold and mildew from forming, which compromise the vest’s integrity
  • Make sure to store it someplace with proper ventilation
  • Keep it out of direct sunlight when not in use. UV rays break down the material more quickly.  

Safety Tips

Here are some tips for using your PFD safely.

Take the Risk of Drowning Seriously

Did you know that there are around 320,000 drowning-related deaths every year? And in 2018 in the U.S. alone, there were 633 boating fatalities. Of those fatalities, seventy-seven percent of those were drowning deaths.

(You can find interactive information on U.S. Drowning Statistics, as well as Worldwide Drowning Statistics and Drowning Prevention in our resource library.)

Recognizing the risk of drowning and taking it seriously is the best way to keep safe on the water. Most people wouldn’t hesitate to put a life jacket on a child. Why take the risk yourself?

Test Your Life Jacket

Before you head out on your kayak, be sure to test your life jacket in shallow water. This step is an easy way to detect any damage before putting yourself in a dangerous situation.

Inspect it Frequently

Frequent inspection is the best way to ensure your PFD’s integrity.

Regularly look for signs of mildew or any strange smells that indicate that its buoyancy is compromised. Also, check for any physical damage like holes or tears, especially in the straps. You should also make sure the zippers work correctly. And if you notice anything is wrong with your PFD, it’s time to replace it.

Use It Correctly

Only use your life vest as it’s intended to be used. Avoid doing things like sitting on it, kneeling on it, or using it as a bumper.

Wear It

And of course, the number one safety tip is always to wear a PFD when you’re on the water.  

Best Kayak Fishing Life Jacket Comparison Chart

Product NamePriceSize (LxW)SafetyUnique Features
Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Flotation Device$-$$17"x16"EVA stiffened outer shells protect contents when reboarding Kayak from "over the rim"Multiple storage points and can be used as work surface
Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket$21"x15"US Coast Guard approved
Has hand-warmer pockets for fishing in cold weather
Kokatat Bahia Tour$-$$19.96"x16.46"Type-III USCG-approved life vest stands and SOLAS approved reflective stripsMultiple adjustment points
NRS Chinook Fishing Vest$-$$18.5"x13.5"D-rings to hold all your tools and accessoriesEight adjustable straps allow you to achieve the perfect fit
MTI Adventurewear Helios$-$$18"x13" USCG-approved inflatable-style life vestAllows for unparalleled mobility
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Vest$-$$21"x12.5"SOLAS-grade reflective material to keep you visible with emergency whistleMore economical price than comparable models
Astral Ronny Life Jacket$21.06"x15.08"US Coast Guard approvedSix adjustment points to achieve the right fit

Wrap Up

With the abundance of life vests designed specifically for kayak fishing, there’s never been a better time to be an angler. We hope you found this guide to the best kayak fishing life jackets helpful and informative. Have fun out there, and remember, safety first!

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