When you’re out on any water, the most important thing that you can remember is that you can’t possibly predict what water is going to do, no matter how well you may think you know it. This is even more applicable when you’re out on water that is ever-changing in its movements, such as oceans, seas, and rivers.

The best way to keep yourself safe in any such changing conditions is to purchase one of the best kayak life vests for safety. Even if you think you’re a strong swimmer, a life jacket is not something that you want to be without should you take a surprise fall into the water.

In this guide, we’re going to go through what you should look for in a good kayak life vest, including the various different types that are available, and the characteristics of said types and what each offers in terms of where they can be used and in what conditions they perform to their best.

Why Is Wearing A Life Jacket So Important For Everyone?

Regardless of swimming ability, wearing a life jacket is so extremely important. Should you end up in the water for any reason, it will ensure that you stay afloat. Even if you’re a strong swimmer, a life jacket is so important since different factors in any situation could affect your ability to swim to your full ability. For example, the water may be icy cold, or in a  worst case scenario you may hit your head on the way to the water and fall in unconscious. In such a situation, a good life vest could keep you from a fatal accident.

What Type/Grade Of Vest Should I You Opt For?

Life vests are available in a number of different “types.” These types are essentially categories into which the different life vests are placed. Each type refers to what the types of situations that the life vest in question has been designed for use in, as well as how well the jacket performs overall. There are five different “types” of kayak life vest available. Let’s take a look at what each has to offer.

Type 1

Type one is the type of jacket that’s designed for use in some of the most extreme conditions out there. In terms of life saving jackets, this is right at the top of the stack. A Type I jacket is perfect if the wearer has lost consciousness and ends up in the water. A Type I jacket will be able to keep the wearer afloat with their head above the water.

Type 2

Type 2 vests are arguably the most common types of kayak life vest that you’ll find around. They are designed for activities where there is a low risk of you being left stranded in the water for any serious length of time. They’re great as a buoyancy aid, but should not be relied upon for more serious situations. This type of jacket you are likely to find on close to shore activities, and used on inland water activities where the water is calm.

Type 3

Type 3 jackets offer similar performance capabilities to those from the Type 2 category. However, Type 3 jackets are ideal for the more exerting activities that you might be doing on the water, such as kayaking or other water sports. They are more comfortable to where when exerting yourself, and will still act as a good buoyancy aid should you need it. However, Like Type 2, Type 3 jackets should not be relied upon in a serious water conditions, such as out at sea or in a fast moving waters.

Type 4

Type 4 buoyancy aids do not refer to life jackets/vests, but to a physical floatation device such as a life ring.

Type 5

The Type 5 category of life jackets and life vests are different to Types 1-3 too, simply because they may not refer to just a life jacket. Type 5 floatation devices are designed specifically for a use, and will not be particularly useful in any other situation. For example, a life jacket that’s type 5 could be designed particularly for use out at sea, where it is designed to cope with different types of water.


The Best Kayak Life Jackets

Stohlquist Trekker Life Vest

The Stohlquist Trekker is a personal floatation device with a Type 3 rating, meaning it’s ideal for uses in situations where the water is more calm and relaxed, and where you’re not likely to be left without rescue for an extended period of time.

In terms of comfort, the Stohlquist Trekker excels. The Trekker is comfortable thanks to it being well padded as well as ventilated. The jacket features padding on the back which has built-in ventilation. The shoulder pads are also adjustable in position so that the jacket is as comfortable and as snug a fit on your upper body as possible. Unlike other jackets, one is not completely enclosed in the Trekker either. The sides of the jacket are open, making the jacket airy and comfortable. On those warm days, there’s nothing worse than being stuck inside a restrictive and overly-warm life jacket.

Storage on the Trekker is relatively good too, with two zip pockets on the front with enough space for small items of food and accessories.

The Stohlquist Trekker is constructed from different types of nylon. The outside of the jacket is made from 500 denier Condura Nylon, with the inside being constructed from 200 denier Oxford Nylon. The “Denier” of the nylon refers to the weight of the nylon. Nylon that has as smaller denier is, therefore, lighter, and typically more comfortable on the body. In addition to great comfort and durability, maintaining nylon is also extremely easy thanks to its synthetic nature.

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ONYX MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sport Life Vest

The ONYX MoveVent is another comfortable Type 3 life jacket that’s perfect for kayaking. It’s specifically designed for sports such as kayaking, where the movement of arms is required and important for paddling etc. In terms of comfort, there’s no need to worry with the MoveVent – the back is ventilated as well as the front. The shoulder pads are also adjustable meaning you can easily get into the most comfortable fit. To further the comfort of the jacket, it’s also got belts that can be adjusted to allow you to get a nice snug fit – a fit that’s too loose can be both uncomfortable and risky.

The MoveVent is made from 200 denier nylon, that’s both comfortable and practical. It’s also a great jacket for safety reasons – apart from the fact that it will keep you afloat, it’s got highly reflective material on the outside that is effective for attracting attention/making your presence known in the water.

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NRS Vapor

Unlike our previously mentioned jackets, the NRS Vapor does not have a zip on the front, but is instead a pullover jacket. To make sure you can still get the best and most comfortable fit, the jacket can be buckled at the side using the provided straps, that are also adjustable. Getting into a comfortable fit in the NRS Vapor isn’t at all difficult.

The storage on the NRS Vapor is a large zip pocket on the front – with more than enough space for storing a couple of essentials, it’s ideal and all that’s really needed. There’s also a lash tab on the front of the vest that’s ideal for attaching anything else that you may need, such as carabiners or other accessories.

The Vapor is also comfortable and lightweight. It has a 16 and a half pounds buoyancy level, with the exterior of the jacket being constructed from nylon that’s 200 denier – great for being light in weight and durable.

Thanks to how secure the Vapor is coupled with it lightness of weight and great durability, it makes a great jacket for faster-moving water kayakers

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ONYX Youth Paddle Sport Life Vest – Best Life Jacket For Kids

Not only adults like paddling you know! For kids, the ONYX is the perfect option for a safe and comfortable fit. The Youth Paddle Sport Life Vest is designed for those children that weight between 50 and 90 pounds. It’s comfortable, featuring side-adjusting straps, a front zipper, and more space at the arms for unrestricted paddling.

The Paddle Sport has a reasonably sized zipping pocket on the front too – perfect for storing anything that your child may want to take out onto the water.

This ONYZ jacket is very supportive too, being constructed from foam and padded neoprene, the jacket is comfortable as well as safe. In addition to padding, the jacket is durable and light in weight thanks to its exterior being constructed from denier nylon.

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What To Look For In A Kayak Life Jacket

After you’ve found out more information about each of the different categories (types) of life vest that are available for kayaking, you should not simply stop learning there. Before you go looking for your first jacket, you should be aware of some of the best features to be looking out for when you’re considering a purchase.

Durability/High Build Quality

Depending on the type of kayaking that you’re going to be doing, a certain level of durability will be more or less important to you. However, it is always important to ensure that you choose a kayak that has been constructed from high-quality materials, and that is suitable for the use that you’re intending. For example, if you’re going to be going sea kayaking, you want to be sure that you’re getting a jacket that doesn’t have metals that are going to become quickly affected by the saltwater and corrode.

The majority of life vests come made of materials such as neoprene and nylon – both durable synthetic fibers, they offer a great level of quality and suitability for use. A durable kayak life jacket is extremely important for both your safety and finances. The best way to find out about the durability of a kayak is to read about the kind of use that the jacket is designed for, in addition to real-world reviews of the vest.

Level Of Buoyancy

The level of buoyancy refers to the weight that it takes to keep the wearers head afloat, and above the surface of the water. A fully grown adult can need anywhere between 7 lbs and 12 lbs in order to stay afloat – this number varies from person to person depending on their size and weight.

Some jackets on the market are far more buoyant than others and should be chosen appropriately. Type 3 life jackets, for example, in most cases will not be as buoyant nor as advanced as their Type 1 alternatives.

Wearing Comfort

Of course, how comfortable a life jacket is to wear is also extremely important. For all of the time that you’re out on the water in your kayak, you should be wearing your life vest for safety. Again, the comfort level that you should be looking for in a jacket should depend on the intended uses that you have for it.

Of course, the primary usage of the jacket should be to keep you afloat should yoy take an unexpected turn. However, if you’re planning on using your jacket on a hot sunny day over just your skin, you may well find that a lot of options will be quite abrasive and irritating against your skin. Of course, this would not be a problem were you to be in a colder location and wearing clothing underneath. For this reason, you should find out what material the inside of the life vest is lined with, to make sure that you don’t find the jacket unenjoyable to wear.

The comfort of your jacket will depend largely on how you are using it, too. For example, those that are simply sitting on board a boat that are not doing a great deal of moving will be more comfortable than those that are paddling a boat for hours on end. Kayak life vests often come with more room for movability, since you’re going to be paddling all the time and you’re not going to want something that is restrictive.

Storage On The Jacket

Depending on the level of storage that you’ve got available on board your kayak, you may find that you’d like to have a good amount of storage that allows you to keep items on your person at all times. Pockets are very useful for items that you’d like to have access to quickly – it’s a good idea to keep this in mind when looking for the best kayaking life vest.