Best Life Jackets for Kayak Fishing: 2020 Buyer’s Guide

PaddleGo is supported by its readers. If you buy through our links we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more.

Asian girl

One of the most important accessories you’ll use on your kayak is a life jacket, especially if you’re new to the sport and not feeling very confident in your kayaking skills. But even the experienced kayaker can have trouble picking out a life jacket, one that’s durable, easy to put on and take off, and one that offers the right fit. But finding the best life jackets for kayak fishing shouldn’t have to be difficult.

I’ve created a buyer’s guide that will go over all the important features to look for, how to size a jacket correctly, and why using a life jacket is so important. I’ve also reviewed many of the bestselling models on the market, narrowing it down to five life jackets that have what it takes to keep you safe out on the water. You’ll find a comparison chart below that lists each of the models that made it to my must-have list, in addition to some of their most important features and how they rated.

Life Jackets for Kayak Fishing Comparison Chart

ProductTypeStyleSize OptionsRating
NRS Chinook Fishing PFD
Shop On Amazon!
StandardRecreation1
ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket
Shop On Amazon!
StandardRecreation2
Stohlquist Fisherman PFD
Shop On Amazon!
StandardRecreation3
Boat Buoyancy Aid Life Jacket
Shop On Amazon!
HybridWhitewater1
Stohlquist Piseas PFD
Shop On Amazon!
StandardRecreation3

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD


Our Rating: (5/5)

This life jacket is specifically designed with the angler in mind. This model features a total of seven pockets located on the front of the jacket, so you can keep all of your hooks and other angling accessories highly accessible. This jacket is perfect for fly fishing, kayak fishing, and features a sixteen and a half pounds flotation rating. The jacket’s mesh lower back makes it perfect for kayaks with high back seats and provides the type of ventilation you’ll need during the hotter summer months. The front-entry design is very roomy and comes with eight adjustment points that will allow you to achieve a custom fit for improved security and comfort. The plus fit soft foam flotation material will conform to your body, providing top of the line comfort. The included coil tool retractor will allow you to clip-on forceps, line snips, and other types of tools that you want to keep accessible. On the back of the jacket, you’ll find a D-ring that you can use to attach your net, in addition to a strobe holder loop which will come in handy in low light conditions.

Pros

  • D-ring located on the back of the jacket
  • Pocket-heavy design
  • Features eight adjustment points
  • Mesh lower back promotes ventilation
  • Wide armholes allow you to cast easily

Cons

  • Only one size option available
  • Bulky design can be uncomfortable for some wearers

Conclusion

The Chinook life jacket is designed specifically for kayak anglers and comes with a variety of pocket sizes, attachment points, and wider armholes that allow the wearer to paddle faster and cast easily. This jacket is a great buy for the serious fishermen in need of extra protection when they’re fishing on a fast-moving river, ocean angling, and other potentially dangerous water conditions.

ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

The ability to adjust a life jacket will be crucial in order to achieve the perfect fit. Fortunately, the latest jacket by Onyx features a total of six adjustment straps that you can use to cinch the jacket for a perfect fit. Its high foam back will accommodate most types of kayak seats and can promote a more comfortable paddling experience. The included pockets will allow you to store personal items and fishing accessories. This model also comes with thick shoulder pads that are made out of neoprene, for improved comfort.

Pros

  • Six adjustment straps
  • Includes four pockets
  • Lower back is made out of breathable mesh
  • Works with most types of kayak seats

Cons

  • Only two size options available

Conclusion

This model is feature-packed, offering more adjustability compared to competing models. It comes with a total of four pockets, so you can store essential personal items, and a thick mesh back that promotes breathability and is designed to keep you nice and cool during the summer months. This model is only available in two size options, which can be an issue for smaller kayakers. Overall, the jacket offers the type of comfort and adjustability that most kayakers are looking for, in addition to a highly breathable design.

Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Floatation Device


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

This model is pocket-heavy, so you can store all of your personal items and fishing gear, keeping them easily accessible. The high back foam design will work with high back kayak seats, for improved user comfort. There are also many attachment points on the front of the jacket, so you can secure other gear, in addition to padded neoprene shoulders and a front zip entry closure. The jacket is padded with ultra-soft Gaia flotation foam. The dual front-mounted pockets are equipped with stiff outer shells that are made out of EVA foam, for improved buoyancy.

Pros

  • Loaded with pockets
  • Front has several attachments
  • High back design
  • Front-mounted pouch pockets

Cons

  • Adjustability is limited

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a jacket that comes loaded with pockets and attachment points, then you’ll be impressed with this new model by Stohlquist. Comfortable, heavily padded, and breathable, anglers can comfortably wear this jacket for several hours on the water. The feature-packed jacket may even replace your usual fishing vest, thanks to the variety of storage options. This model is reasonably priced and designed with the wearer’s comfort in mind.

Boat Buoyancy Aid Sailing Kayak Fishing Life Jacket


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

This jacket features a multi-pocket design that allows you to keep fishing accessories and personal items highly accessible. The included crotch strap prevents the jacket from coming off in the water if you’re fishing in whitewater or other harsh water conditions. The jacket is also heavily padded with EPE foam and detachable EPE foam plastics. The 600 denier waterproof terylene oxford material is durable and can easily be cleaned with warm soapy water. This jacket only allows you to adjust the fit in the shoulder area, in order to improve the range of motion for casting. This lack of adjustability will be a deal-breaker for some anglers.

Pros

  • Loaded with pockets
  • Equipped with EPE foam plastics
  • Heavily padded
  • Crotch strap prevents the jacket from slipping off in the water
  • Can handle whitewater conditions

Cons

  • Lacks adjustability
  • One size only

Conclusion

The jacket is designed specifically with the angler in mind and features several large pockets that will keep your personal items secure and dry. The jacket is available in one size and can only be adjusted in the shoulder area to improve the range of motion for casting. The jacket itself is made out of durable material but the lack of adjustability will be a big issue for those who cannot achieve a snug fit.

Stohlquist Piseas Personal Floatation Device


Our Rating: (4/5)

Equipped with a tough four hundred and twenty denier nylon shell with a two hundred and ten denier oxford liner, this jacket is basically indestructible. The heavily padded back of the jacket rides up in the back, which makes it better for sit-on-top kayaks. The big front pockets will work as a fold-down work surface when fully unzipped. The pocket on the right features a highly adjustable strap that can be used for securing a lure box. The 3D inner pocket on the left features a loop and hook closure that’s designed to hold thread spools. Other standout features include a D ring that can be used for a net attachment, lash tab, and anchor points. The lower portion of the jacket features a padded waistband designed to improve user comfort. This jacket is also highly adjustable thanks to the dual side adjustments and the webbing on the shoulder straps.

Pros

  • 3D inner pocket with loop and hook closure
  • Anchor points
  • D ring attachment
  • Large pockets
  • Highly adjustable

Cons

  • Runs a size small

Conclusion

This is a feature-packed life jacket that any angler will love. The many storage options allow the wearer to organize their gear, keeping it handy and readily accessible. The large front pockets can hold plenty of your essential fishing accessories, or you can use it to store important personal items such as your phone or wallet. This is a great life jacket for the angler since it doubles as a fishing vest, the only real difference here is that this jacket can save your life in the event of a water accident. This model is a best-seller for a variety of reasons, and it’s also available at a reasonable price. Comfortable and durable, the only real drawback is that the jackets tend to run a size small, so be sure to pay close attention to the sizing chart before you order.

Life Jackets for Kayak Fishing Buyer’s Guide

A life jacket is also commonly referred to as a PFD or a personal flotation device. The PFD is an important piece of gear that can keep you safe when you’re out on the water. When you’re paddling through dangerous water conditions, struggling to keep water out of your kayak, these jackets can help to keep you afloat in the event your kayak capsizes and you’re pulled along by a strong current. These safety devices should be worn at all times when you’re out on the water.

Since there are so many things to consider before you purchase a life jacket, I’ve created this buyer’s guide to walk you through the different features to look for, so you can find a model that works for you, your safety needs, and where you plan to fish.

Buoyancy Rating

The first thing you’ll want to consider when you’re shopping for a life jacket is the buoyancy rating. These jackets are often rated based on activity. As an example, for recreational use on rivers, oceans, and lakes, you need to use a jacket that has a USCG type lll, with a minimum of fifteen and a half pounds of flotation for adults. For kids, the jacket should have eleven pounds of flotation. Type V rated jackets offer a buoyancy rating of fifteen and a half pounds up to twenty-two pounds for adults. For kids, the rating comes in at eleven pounds up to fifteen and a half pounds. These are the standard ratings to follow unless the kayaker needs a specialty vest. Type l and type ll vests are not recommended for use on moving water.

Sizing

How well the jacket fits will be crucial. These jackets are often sized based on a chest measurement, which tends to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Each manufacturer will have their own sizing chart, so you’ll need to measure your chest and pay close attention to each manufacturer’s measurements for each size to determine which size you are. You may be a size large for one manufacturer and a size medium for another.

Comfort

How comfortable a jacket is can have a major impact on how often you wear it, or if you wear it at all. These floatation devices are only useful if you wear them at all times. Of course certain models will fit some body types better than others, which is what can make finding a model that feels comfortable very challenging. The best way to determine if a jacket is comfortable or not is to try them on. But if you’re ordering a jacket online in order to save a lot of money, then you may not have the opportunity to go to your local sporting good store to try on a variety of jackets. If possible, that’s exactly what you should do, then you can order the model that provides the best fit, online. If you don’t have a chance to try any jackets on before you order one, then pay close attention to user reviews, where you can find out important information regarding fit, durability, and overall quality.

Adjusting a Life jacket

Young hiker

When you put on a life jacket first, you’ll need to loosen each of the straps to their limit, beginning with the lowest, moving up to the highest. The jacket should sit in the correct position and should feel comfortably snug. If the straps are tightened to the max capacity and it still doesn’t offer a snug fit then the jacket is too large. If it’s loosened to capacity and it feels very snug, then the jacket is too small. A jacket that offers the perfect fit will leave enough room for layering your gear. Basically, you should be able to wear the jacket with minimal clothing, comfortably. In order to ensure your jacket fits correctly, place your thumbs under the shoulder straps and push up, if the vest begins to ride significantly, then it’s too big. If the jacket remains in place, then it’s the right fit.

Life Jackets for Women

Models that are specifically designed for women will have shorter panels because women usually have a shorter torso compared to men. Additionally, these jackets will also have more room in the chest area and are available in feminine designs and colors. Female kayakers don’t need to wear a vest that’s women-specific. In most cases, a unisex vest will work just fine.

Life Jacket By Water Type

Choosing a life jacket based on water type will also be important, since this is what can have an impact on the cut and fit, improving your range of motion.

Whitewater

Fishing in a kayak will require freedom of movement through the shoulders. In order to promote freedom of movement, whitewater kayakers should look for a model that features a low profile and an unrestrictive cut. Additionally, you’ll also need to consider multiple straps that can be used to make adjustments that will ensure a better fit, and a variety of attachment points that you can use to secure personal items such as a watch or knife, and pockets that you can also use to store items and keep them highly accessible. Vests with a low profile design are perfect for the whitewater angler.

Recreation

Kayak angling can also fall under the recreation category, as can canoeing or using a stand-up paddle board. These vests come with a low profile and ample storage, and a fit that provides improved comfort. Jackets in this category will come with larger armholes that are designed to accommodate the angler’s range of motion in the shoulders, which will allow you to paddle more efficiently. Some models will come with a diminished back panel design and mesh backing. The diminished back panels are meant to prevent the jacket from interfering with the backrest of the kayak’s seat and can also help to keep the paddler in an upright position in the event of an accident. The pockets on these vests will come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes that the angler will appreciate since it will allow them to organize their fishing gear and accessories.

​Types

While I’ve discussed the different styles of jackets available, based on water type and activities, these jackets can also be categorized based on the type of buoyancy materials that are used. Below, you’ll find some of the basic types available, how they work, and which type of water activity they’re best suited for.

Standard

Standard jackets are made with naturally buoyant materials, such as foam, which will provide instant floatation as soon as the wearer hits the water. These jackets can be a great choice for a wide range of watersports, but the angler will need a different cut since this type of jacket doesn’t promote an improved range of motion in the shoulder area.

Inflatable

Inflatable jackets will only provide buoyancy if they’re inflated. These jackets are often available in two design options: automatic and manual.

The automatic models are made to automatically inflate as soon as the wearer hits the water. These jackets will also come equipped with a manual inflation pullcord or mouth tube. The manual models are designed so that the wearer can inflate them manually as soon as they hit the water. This is usually done via a pullcord.

Inflatable jackets often come with a CO2 cylinder that has to be replaced after each inflation. These jackets are not a good choice for children that are under the age of sixteen and are not recommended for people who don’t know how to swim.

Hybrid

This jacket features a unique design. Basically, it’s a combination of an inflation system and materials that are very buoyant. This means that the jacket will provide a level of buoyancy before the inflation system even kicks in, providing the wearer with the benefits of both the inflatable and standard jackets.

Choosing the Right PFD

Usually, these jackets are designed for anyone who will spend time in or on the water. They can be worn for safety purposes for a wide range of water activities. If you’re kayaking on a calm river, then you may think wearing a life jacket is overkill, but considering the strong pull of the currents, you’ll find that these jackets are definitely necessary and can even save your life, in the event you’re unable to handle waves in your kayak and you capsize. If you don’t paddle on a rushing river, then freedom of movement in the shoulder areas may not be important to you, however, this cut will come in handy when you’re reeling in a fish that’s putting up quite a fight.

A jacket with larger armholes is the way to go since these Jackets will allow you to paddle easily, with no resistance. Jackets with a high back design will allow you to sit more comfortably in the kayak. Just like a recreational kayak, a life jacket will be a crucial part of your fishing gear. Models with a low profile can be a better option for some anglers because they will give you more freedom of movement when you’re casting. Models that are equipped with additional storage, pockets, and D-rings will also be a great choice since these jackets are designed with the angler in mind.

Color Options

A brightly colored life jacket can help improve your visibility when you’re on the water. This can be crucial during a rescue, especially for the angler who’s adventurous and loves to kayak in more challenging waters. If this sounds like you, then opt for a brightly colored jacket.

Some models will also come equipped with reflective materials that are designed to improve the wearer’s visibility in low light conditions. Other jacket manufacturers will offer more masculine options with camouflage designs and darker, muted colors.

Materials

These jackets are made out of a variety of materials such as polyester, nylon, and neoprene, each of which will improve the jacket’s overall durability and prevent the jacket from ripping when you’re paddling around in a challenging environment. The core of these jackets is made out of buoyant materials which will usually include closed-cell foam or EPE.

​Pockets

Pockets can always come in handy, but for the angler, they can be essential, since they allow you to store important personal items that you want to keep highly accessible. Pockets will be important to the angler, especially those who are guilty of bringing along too much gear. Life jackets for anglers are often pocket heavy in order to allow them to bring along all the essentials. Most pockets are zippered or will feature a hook and loop closure design.

Price

Angling life jackets tend to be pricier than your average life jacket, simply because they’re specifically designed with the angler in mind, which means you can expect to find several pockets, loop and hook closures, attachment points, D rings, and other accessories that will allow you to keep important fishing accessories readily on hand. In terms of price, you can expect models that range from thirty dollars up to two hundred. Obviously, higher-priced models will come with more pockets and attachment points, improved adjustability, and a more comfortable fit.

Jacket Maintenance

Properly caring for your jacket can help to extend its life. You can keep your jacket clean using a mild soap and warm water, then allow it to hang dry before storing it. The jacket must be completely dry before storing, otherwise, it can become a breeding ground for mold and bacteria.

To ensure your jacket is working properly, make sure you perform a float test before you go on your next fishing trip. Perform this test in calm waters, such as a wading pool.

If you have an inflatable jacket, then you’ll need to ensure that the CO2 cartridge is working correctly.

Once you notice any signs of wear and tear, such as damaged, faded, or torn material, the jacket must be replaced. Signs of damage can mean that the jacket will not work as intended and may not be able to keep you afloat in the event of an accident. Make sure you inspect the condition of your jacket regularly. This will involve checking the attachment points, straps, seams, and fabric. A jacket that has straps that are frayed can mean that it’s no longer able to handle pressure in the water. A ripped seam can mean that the foam suffered severe damage, which will have an impact on the jacket’s buoyancy. Fabric that’s faded is a clear indication of UV damage, which can weaken the interior.

Final Thoughts

The best life jackets for kayak fishing will offer the perfect fit and larger armholes that will promote better range of motion, which will make it easier to paddle and cast. These jackets are an essential piece of equipment for any type of watersport but can be even more important for the whitewater angler, the ocean angler, or for those who love to fish on fast-moving rivers. The models included in my top five list are designed to keep you safe on the water and provide an extra layer of protection and comfort which will encourage you to use your jacket properly and wear it at all times so it can protect you in the event of an accident.