Best PFD for Sea Kayaking, Fishing, Whitewater and Touring

A lot of people ask why it is necessary for them to wear a PFD (personal flotation device) whenever they are embarking on trips to the waterside. It only makes sense to wear the right gear to ensure your safety if you unexpectedly take a tumble into the water during sea kayaking or fishing activities. Putting on the best PFD for Sea Kayaking is bound to keep you safer.

Even strong swimmers need PFDs to keep them afloat when the tide of the sea suddenly takes a turn for the worse.  Sea kayakers particularly need the buoyancy features of PFDs when struggling to steady their kayaks in such harsh conditions.

In this article, we will highlight the features and specifications of the best kayak PFDs in the market right now.

What is a Personal Flotation Device (PFD)?

A Personal Flotation Device (PFD is any device that helps a swimmer afloat. The best PFDs in the market are:

10 Best PFD for Sea Kayaking, Whitewater, Fishing & Touring

1. Astral Blue PFD Life Jacket for Sea, Whitewater, Fishing & Touring Kayaking

This PFD was designed primarily for sea kayaking but can also be used for paddling. You can easily store your accessories in the large pockets that are designed to open up in a clamshell fashion. There are also zip pockets to store and easily access small essentials.

Lighting can be attached to the PFD by means of a strobe attachment point to improve visibility in low light conditions. You have to buy the lighting separately though. It also comes with reflective accents that aid visibility as well, making for easy sighting by rescue personnel.


  • Flotation: 16.3 pounds
  • Weight: 32 ounces
  • SIZE: S/M (31-37”), L/XL (38-44”), XXL (45-51”)
  • USCG rating: Type III


  • The pockets are designed in Clamshell style and have zips.
  • It comes with reflective accents that improve visibility
  • It has a strobe point to attach lights to aid visibility.

2. Stohlquist Men’s Drifter Comfort Lifejacket (PFD)

The Stohlquist DRIFTer is the ideal choice if kayaking is more of a hobby and you only go sea kayaking on flat-water. The outstanding feature of this vest is its cross-chest cinch strap that can be tightened to make you comfortable.

It is great for paddling on flat-water because it is made from nylon material, which is resistant to high tension paddling.

The pockets are insulated with soft fleece linings to safely keep your essentials and keep your hands warm in the cold times.  It has reflective attachments that make you easily visible to rescuing authorities even in low light situations.


  • Flotation: 16 pounds, 10 ounces
  • Weight: Unavailable
  • Size: S/M (33-39”), XXL (48-54”)
  • USCG rating: Type III


  • It is made from nylon which makes it highly resistant to abrasions.
  • The Cross-Chest Cinch Strap makes it fit comfortably.
  • Large insulated pockets with linings of soft fleece  
  • Reflective attachments for visibility

3. Stohlquist Rocker Personal – Best PFD for swimming or paddling

The Stohlquist Rocker is made from nylon which makes it resistant to abrasions and degrading effects of sunlight.  It also has a cross-chest cinch strap that makes you feel comfortable when you are swimming or paddling.

The fitting of this PFD is very snug as it comes with shoulder straps that are adjustable and six points of adjustment. The pockets can be expanded to keep your water bottle safe as you paddle.


  • Flotation: 16 pounds, 8 ounces
  • Size: S/M (33-39”), XXL (48-54”)
  • USCG rating: Type III


  • The nylon exterior makes it resistant to abrasions and UV rays of the sun.
  • It comes with shoulder straps that are adjustable.
  • It has expandable pockets.
  • The cross-chest cinch strap makes it comfortable. 
  • Beverage Holder
  • Multiple Storage Pockets

4. Stohlquist EDGE – Best PFD for whitewater kayaking

If you plan on wearing your PFD for long periods of time, the Stohlquist Edge is perfect. You feel cool every time, even in hot weather, courtesy of the mesh sides.

Visibility is increased in lowlight conditions courtesy of the high visibility reflective patches attached to the vest, making the wearer easily spotted. The vest is very comfortable and allows for freedom during movement.

Finally, it comes with large pockets for easy storage of your essentials.  


  • Flotation: 15 pounds, 8 ounces
  • Weight: 26.5 ounces
  • Size: S/M (33-39”), L/XL (40-46”), XXL/XXXL (48-54”)
  • USCG rating: Type III


  • It comes with a large front pocket for storing accessories
  • It has an offset front zipper.
  • The arms openings are large for flexible movements
  • Top-Loading Front Pocket
  • Mesh fabrics make it comfortably worn all day.

5. NRS cVest Mesh Back PFD – Best for kayaking

The NRS cVest Mesh Back is designed for making long kayaking trips. It has plenty of D-rings for securing your needed accessories while you paddle. The six points of adjusting the vest makes it very comfortable and have a very snug fitting for the wearer.

You can also keep your essentials safe with the large zip pockets and smaller clamshell style pockets attached to it. You can easily put on and off the vest by means of the front zipper entry system. Breathability is easy courtesy of the low back made from mesh.


  • FLOATATION: 16.5 pounds
  • WEIGHT: 30.4 ounces
  • SIZE: XS/M (30-42”), L/XL (42-52”), XL/XXL (50-56”)


  • Six points of adjusting the vest for snug fitting
  • Easy securing of items with the large zip and clamshell pockets
  • Easy putting and off via the front zipper system

6. NRS Ninja – Best PFD for boating

This PFD is ideal for kayakers with short body lengths. It is made from soft fabric that stretches for easy movements. There is no front zipper on his PFD, as you have to put it on through the side.

You can easily put it on by means of the buckles on both sides. It comes with four adjustment points on the side and two shoulder adjustable straps to make the wearer feel very comfortable and a snug fitting in it. The zip pockets are quite large for storing enough essentials.


  • Flotation: 16.5 pounds
  • Weight: 31.2 ounces
  • Size: S/M (33-40”), L/XL (38-46”), XXL (42-50”)
  • USCG rating: Type III


  • It is made from a soft fabric that easily stretches for flexible movements
  • Easily put on and off through the quick release buckles
  • It comes with large zip pockets.

7. Astral V-Eight PFD Life Jacket for Recreation, Fishing and Touring Kayaking

The Astral V-Eight is perfect for kayakers who live in hot regions. It has a Airescape airflow system that helps to cool you feeling cool, by radiating heat and sweat away from your body as you paddle. It comes with shoulder straps that are easily adjusted as well as webbed side straps to keep you very comfortable. 

You can sit comfortably in in kayaks with high back seats courtesy of the PFD mesh back. The pockets of this PFD are very large for easy storage of your needed accessories.  


  • Flotation: 16.2 pounds
  • Weight: 19.8 ounces
  • Size: S/M (31-37”), L/XL (38-44”), XXL (45-51”)
  • USCG rating: Type III


  • Airescape airflow system that gets rid of heat
  • Adjustable shoulder straps for snug fitting
  • Large mesh pockets for easy storing of accessories.

8. NRS Zen – Budget-friendly life jacket

The NRS Zen PFD is specifically designed for swift water kayakers who need to be rescued without prior information. This PFD has a quick-release rescue belt and a carabiner for attaching a tether rope as well as the strobe.

You can also make use of the rescue belt if you feel unsafe. The pockets are well insulated to keep your hands warm. It also has a zippered pocket that allows you to easily keep your essentials as you addle.


  • Flotation: 17.5 pounds
  • Weight: 48 ounces
  • Size: S/M (31-37”), L/XL (38-44”), XXL (45-51”)
  • USCG rating: Type V


  • Flexibility during motion
  • The sides and arm holes of this PFD are well padded to cushion the effect from sudden impacts.
  • It comes with a quick-release belt
  • Hand warmer

best pfd for sea kayaking

Factors to Consider When Purchasing a PFD

There are a number of factors you have to put into consideration when you want to buy a kayak PFD. These factors are:


The first thing on the mind of any sea kayaker is safety. The price of a kayak PFD plays a role on how safe you would be during sea kayaking. If the budget you planned towards the purchase of a PFD is able to get you the best for kayaking, go for it. However, if you cannot afford it, forget a PFD that has a good number of safety features without pockets attached to it.

USCG Classifications

The kayak PFDs we discussed earlier in this article are mostly Type III or Type V flotation devices, but there are five classes of Personal Flotation Devices according to the United States Coast Guard (USCG). We would briefly discuss each class so you can make your choice on the right PFD for you.


Type I PFDs are great for use in all water bodies, as they come in vibrant colors aiding easy visibility and are the most buoyant of all PFDs. Sometimes they keep an unconscious kayaker in the face up position.  PFDs that are made from foams and are inflatable are under this class.


Type II PFDs are used where the sea conditions are settled and the chances of quickly been rescued by authorities are very high. They possess features that enable them to turn an unconscious swimmer into a face up position. Their flotation rating is less in comparison to the Type I PFDs.


Type III PFDs are mostly used by boatmen and water paddlers in situations where the chances of being quickly rescued are high.  They provide a comfortable, snug fitting which allows for flexible movements. They are designed for easy maneuverings into the face up position. 


The Type IV classifications are the types that are usually thrown to swimmers who are conscious but have difficulty wading through extreme sea conditions. The flotation rating for this class is the same as that of Type II and III PFDs. Examples include rings, buoys and cushions.


The Type V PFDs are utilized for specific purposes such as sea kayaking, water skiing, sailing, windsurfing and more. The flotation rating for this PFDs class is much higher than the Type II or Type III classes. 


This factor is very critical when you want to buy a PFD. Buoyancy is the amount of water a PFD displaces and is measured in kilograms. Most PFDs possess the minimum buoyancy requirements, but we would recommend that you buy a PFD that has more.

The higher the amount of water a PFD displaces, the more the buoyancy. A PFD with 3.5kg buoyancy is adequate to keep the head of an adult above water.

Individual body size, weight, height and clothing worn during a kayaking trip do play obvious roles when making a choice of the buoyancy of a PFD.


Choosing a PFD that comes in a vibrant colour is very important. This makes you easily spotted by rescue authorities in the event of you getting stranded during sea kayaking.

Vibrant colours such as red and yellow are the best colors. If you are particularly in love with the color black, make sure that it is vibrant enough or has a patch of a vibrant colour attached.


PFDs that have pockets attached to them come in handy during sea kayaking. With pockets you could safely keep and have within reach your necessary accessories. 


The fitting is an important factor to consider when purchasing a good personal flotation device for sea kayaking.  You could purchase a PFD that comes with the best features but still end up not using it because it does not fit you perfectly. 

Before buying a PFD, make sure to try out the adjustment straps. When you adjust all the straps, you should end up feeling comfortable and with a snug fitting. If you find out that you would not be comfortable and your movements are limited, you should not buy it. 

You can also try out the fitting of a PFD by simulating the typical body movements during a paddling position. If you find yourself feeling comfortable, the PFD is ok. Avoid PFDs that would cause irritations in your crotch area as well.

Free Movement

It is important you buy PFDs that gives you free movement in cases where you need to engage in paddling or swimming through swift water. Buying a PFD that restricts your movement would only limit your ability to maneuver your way out of extreme sea conditions.


Materials used in the making of PFDs are quite important. In this instance, you would often hear the term ‘denier’ a lot of times.  Denier is the tensile strength of the material used in weaving the kayak PFDs.

It is common for PFDs to be made from nylon because it is highly resistance to scratches and deteriorating effects of sun rays. 

Pockets of high quality PFDs usually have insulated fleece linings to make hands cool even in summertime.

PFD Size

Having a PFD that fits your chest size is more important than body weight for adult kayakers.

A quick way to find out if the PFD fits your chest size, simply get a measurement of the broadest part of your chest and compare it with the specifications of the PFD brand you intend buying.

This goes a long way in determining how comfortable you feel with the PFD especially when you have to engage in paddling.

best pfd for whitewater kayaking

Features Of a PFD

Lash tabs and points of attachment

The lash tab and other attachment points are the parts of a PFD where you can easily keep your kayaking accessories such as whistles, strobes, knives and tow tethers.

Points of adjustment

These are specific points on a PFD that can be easily adjusted to get a good fitting, according to your body structure. A PFD that provides plenty of points where it can be adjusted for a good fit, regardless of individual physique is recommended. This prevents the wearer from being in a state of discomfort.

Rescue Belt

This feature is not present in all PFDs used in kayaking. The kayak PFDs that possess this feature are however the best when it comes to wadding your way through harsh sea conditions and for swift water paddling.

The rescue belt which has quick-release ability is used in attaching a tow tether to the PFD of a kayaker who is finding it difficult to find his way ashore.

In cases where the kayaker who is towing a fellow kayaker is at risk to his or her safety, the quick release rescue belt allows for easy detachment.

Entry System

This refers to the way a PFD is securely worn by a sea kayaker. There are different entry systems such as:

  • Front entry, where you have the zipper right down the middle in the front
  • Offset front entry, with the zipper put on either side in the front
  • Side entry, with the zipper on one side only; or
  • Over-the-head entry, with the PFD pulled over the head and shoulders as there is no zipper in place.

Clamshell pocket

As the name implies, this pocket is styled to be opened as a clamshell does. Then the benefits of a clam shell pocket over your typical zip pocket is that you can easily find small kayak accessories kept in a clamshell styled pocket.

Proper Maintenance of a Kayaking PFD

When you take time out to maintain your PFD in the proper manner, you would definitely have a PFD that would last for many years to come.

A lot of kayakers are guilty of not taking off their PFD vests after purchasing it, leaving it to accumulate dirt and moisture.

This only leads to a gradual deterioration of the general state of the PFD through mold growth, rust and rotting of the important features of a PFD.

To have your PFD lasting for many years, dip it inside water after sea kayaking. Then hang it out to dry, making sure it does not come in direct contact with rays of the sun.   

Another maintenance tip is to avoid using it as a seat when you are in need of rest in Rocky terrains. This act tends to break the metal clasps of your PFD vest. This means you have to buy a new one altogether as most PFDs do not come with replaceable clasps.

Maintain your PFD properly and you can be sure of your safety when you wear it.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What type of PFD is used for kayaking?

The PFD that allows for free movement is recommended.

What is the best PFD?

The Stohlquist Drifter is the best PFD in the market today.

What is the difference between a PFD and a life jacket?

Life jackets come with features that turn an unconscious kayaker into the face-up position whereas most PFDs do not have this feature designed into them. Most PFDs can only keep an unconscious kayaker afloat in the face-down position, making breathing difficult.

PFDs are more comfortable because they have their buoyancy features on the back rather than the front as is seen in life jackets.

PFDs come with a design that allows for more freedom and flexibility in movements in comparison to your typical lifejacket.

Most PFDs come designed with features that make them more suited to certain sports like kayaking in comparison to life jackets.

How long does a PFD last?

With the proper maintenance culture, a typical kayak PFDs could last up to ten years.


Gone are the days when all that sea kayakers depended on were life jackets in the event of unexpected tumbles into the sea. Now, the best PFD for sea kayaking fishing are so many that one can make a choice from.

The PFD industry has made some great strides in the areas of aesthetics and advanced technology to make sea kayaking a safe experience.

PFDs have times without numbers saved people’s lives, so it is a must-have one on your next sea kayak trip. Put it on, maintain it, and always be safe.

Last update on 2022-08-10 at 01:03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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