10 Best Life Jackets / PFDs For Paddle Boarding

10 Best Life Jackets / PFDs For Paddle Boarding

Whether you’re canoeing, rafting, water skiing, kayaking, fishing, enjoying a recreational day out on the boat with your family or indeed paddle boarding (SUPing), a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or sometimes referred to as a Life Jacket or Safety Vest, should be your single most important safety consideration.

Your PFD has one simply function – it keeps you afloat and will save your life in the event of an emergency. Whether you are an experienced swimmer or paddler, emergency situations can and do happen. With the light-weight, sleek and comfortable PFD designs these days, there is really no excuse not to wear one. Just as you would not drive your car without a seat belt, you should similarly not take to the water on your board without your PFD.

Many countries have strict regulations which mandate the requirement to wear PFDs. These regulations have evolved over time and are in place for your safety. With or without these regulations, water safety is of paramount importance.

While many of us will simply jump online or go down to our local sporting goods or camping store and buy what looks like a decent product, there are a number of factors that should be considered before buying a PFD.

Different Types of PFDs

Type I Offshore Life JacketThe United States Coast Guard (USCG) Approved PFDs are categorised into 5 different Types:

Type I: Offshore Life Jackets – are the most basic and most common form of PFD and provide the most buoyancy. They are commonly used on commercial vessels hence the reference to ‘offshore’. They are effective in all water conditions but are most suitable for rougher or choppy open waters. By design, they will help keep the wearers head out of the water in a face up position and are therefore very useful in the event of unconsciousness.

Type II Near Shore Life JacketType II: Near-shore Vests – as the name implies, Type II vests are used nearer to the shore in calmer water conditions where the wearer would not be expected to be in the water for a prolonged period. Whilst they also aid the wearer remaining in a face up position, they are most suitable for people that are able to swim as there will be a likely need to tread water in order to aid flotation. Type II vests are one of the more common forms of PFD used by paddlers, water skiers and wake-boarders.

Type III Flotation AidsType III: Flotation Aids – more so an aid as opposed to a full-blown PFD. Offering less buoyancy than a Type I vest, they are more comfortable to wear and are appropriate for calmer waters. The vests enable the wearer to maintain a vertical position in the water with their face above the water line. They will not automatically right an unconscious wearer who is face down in the water and are therefore not always effective if the wearer is unconscious. Type III vests offer greater versatility than other PFDs (worn as fishing vests / cold weather jackets and other) with some also designed to be inflated only once the wearer enters the water.

Type IV Throwable DevicesType IV: Throwable Devices – typical of what you would see on large cruise ships or hanging on a jetty or wharf. Type IV devices can be either ring or horseshoe shaped units made out of a hard plastic shell with a foam core or as a floating material seat type cushion with side straps. Designed to be thrown to a person in the water, they are not a wearable device but rather a buoyancy aid used until the person can be rescued from the water. Some have a rope or lifeline attached enabling the person to be pulled back to safety.

Type V: Special-Use Devices – these are wearable PFDs that are Type V Special Use Devicessometimes referred to as a hybrid of the other devices. They are light-weight, compact and less cumbersome enabling the wearer to have them on for extended periods of time without any undue restriction in movement or discomfort. They would typically be worn by ship crew or fisherman whilst at work or by windsurfers, kayakers or paddlers for recreational use. They can be worn as either an over the shoulder/chest vest or as a more streamlined belt around the waist. They are only inflated on demand and use a Co2 cartridge for inflation with gas when needed. The gas within the Co2 cartridge is released either manually via a pull-chord or automatically upon immersion when there is an amount of water pressure applied to the vest. There are also blow tubes in the event of failure or to add additional air. The cartridge needs to be changed or rearmed after each use.

<< Like to learn more about Stand Up Paddle Boarding Etiquette >>

What To Consider When Choosing a Paddle Board PFD

>> Laws & Regulations – in many jurisdictions including the U.S., a paddle board is classed as a ‘vessel’ and as such needs to meet minimum safety standards. When you are paddling outside of swimming and surfing zones, one such standard is the requirement to wear a PFD. Beyond the obvious safety benefits, these laws can and do get enforced by the Coast Guard so they should be worn at all times by both adults and children.

>> Get Fitted – PFD’s vary in size but they are most commonly categorised between, child, youth and adult. There are also a variety of sizes available for pets if they too will be taking to the water. PFDs are most commonly unisex although there are versions that are specifically designed separately for both men and women. Without taking into account the type of device, the key sizing consideration is how snug and secure the PFD is on you. Too small or tight, it will be uncomfortable and irritating and may restrict your movement. Too big it will be loose and ride up in the water effecting your buoyancy.

Type II PFDs are the most common paddle boarding vests. They will more often than not have a centre zipper as well as two straps/buckles – one across the chest and the other above the waist. You should be able to comfortably buckle and tighten the straps without being overly restricted. Child vests will usually also have a crotch strap for added security. While the reference to child and youth is based on age, larger children may well have a need to move up to an adults vest although many devices will have weight or size guides printed on the inner lining.

Basic Graphic of PFD>> Buoyancy – perhaps an obvious comment, but being able to sufficiently float and remain above the water is what its all about after all. Type’s I and II PFDs have a minimum level of 22 lbs buoyancy for adults and 11 lbs for children. Remembering that our body weight is significantly less in the water, these levels of buoyancy will be able to comfortably support 200 lbs (90 kgs). If your body weight is above this range then you will need to consider a larger more appropriate device.

>> Comfort – like all apparel, comfort is important as you do not want to become agitated in the water. It should fit securely around your torso/chest (or waist if Type V) with sufficient room to adjust the waist buckles. The greater freedom and range of movement you have the better. If the vest is too loose or too tight then it may cause chaffing or discomfort around your armpits and neck. Neoprene PFDs are typically more comfortable than nylon (less chaffing) although both will still perform as intended.

>> Colour – this shouldn’t be one of your key considerations although it is a matter of preference. Importantly, the PFD should be brightly coloured with high visibility. Some will have fluorescent stripes for increased visibility.

10 Best Life Jackets / PFDs For Paddle Boarding

Okay, we are now familiar with the various types or PFDs and their uses, as well as the factors to take on board when it comes to seeing what will best suit you. If you do your research however, there are literally hundreds of devices to chose from varying in style, size, design, colour, function and budget. The more research you do in fact the more confusing it can become. For our part though we have selected our Top 10 having given consideration to quality, durability, functionality, affordability and customer feedback.

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(1) Onyx Unisex M-16 Belt Pack Manual Inflatable Life Jacket (PFD)

A Type V PFD that is popular amongst experienced paddlers given its sleek design. Worn as a belt, this is a light-weight non-restrictive device that allows for a full range of movement. Onyx are a well-known and reputable outdoor recreation apparel Co. that specialise in inflatable life jackets and flotation apparel some of which include storage and zip-lock features.

The Onyx Unisex M-16 Belt Pack PFD features include:

– sleek low profile light-weight design
Onyx Unisex M-16 Belt Pack PFD– 16 gram Co2 cartridge activation
– adjustable waist belt
– secure pull chord for quick release activation
– U.S. Coast Guard Approved
– suitable for paddlers 16 years and over
– made for durable Oxford nylon
– D-ring attachment point
– up to 17 lbs of buoyancy
– oral inflation tube allowing for buoyancy up to 26.5 lbs


(2) Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

Another Onyx Type V device albeit over the shoulder harness in style. A sleek popular device amongst paddle boarders owing to its light-weight design. The A/M 24 can comfortably cater for most male and female paddlers owing to the flexi-back insert offering comfortable freedom of movement and non-restrictive breathing. Operates via Co2 activation with both automatic and manual modes.

The Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PFD features include:Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PFD

– light-weight, low profile sleek design
– highly durable tear and puncture resistant fabric
– stretchable flexi-back insert
– D-ring attachment point for accessories
– Co2 cartridge activation
– minimum buoyancy rated to 22.5 lbs
– U.S. Coast Guard approved
– comfortable neoprene neckline
– suitable for persons 16 years or older and >80 lbs
– Type V vest offering Type III performance once inflated
– utility pockets for accessories or spare Co2 cylinder
– automatically inflates upon immersed in water
– alternate manual “jerk to inflate” handle with back-up oral inflation


(3) Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

With in excess of 4,000 5-Star Amazon ratings, this is one of the most popular unisex PFDs on the market. The Onyx MoveVent is a body contouring light-weight vest with innovative vented channels to keep you cool while paddling. Specifically designed with paddle sports in mind, the vest allows for excellent mobility and maximum airflow.

The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest’s features include:

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest– lightweight soft flotation foam
– SOLAS grade reflective material for visibility
– expandable zippered pocket with mesh drainage
– 200 denier nylon ripstop and nylon oxford material
– lash tab for small accessories
– attached whistle for safety
– ventilation in front and back to keep you cool
– mesh in lower back fits high back seats and sit-on-top kayak
– sculpted and flexible contoured design
– shoulder adjustments with neoprene comfort pads
– fully adjustable side belts
– strong, durable zipper closure with zip assist loop
– U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III Life Jacket
– four colour schemes with reflective accents
– available in 6 sizes


(4) Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

Stohlquist are a U.S. based manufacturer of water apparel and safety jackets that focus purely on the paddling industry. They offer a full range of products for men, women and children. The Edge is unique in that it offers multiple zip lock storage compartments making for ease of access to your personal belongings. The vest is designed from a light-weight material with range of comfort and movement considered.

Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

Stohlquist Edge Life JacketThe Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket features include:

– ergonomic WRAPTURETM shaped torso
– high visibility 3MTM reflective accents
– adjustable shoulders
– 4 side pulls and front waist buckle
– low cut, offset front-zip entry
– designed to maximise mobility and range of movement
– multiple storage zip lock compartments
– available in sizes small through large
– available in 3 different colours


(5) Stohlquist Women’s Cruiser Life Vest

Another quality Stohlquist PFD albeit specifically designed for women. Whilst most devices are unisex, the typical female body shape considered, having options available for women that cater for additional room and support around the chest and torso makes this PFD more comfortable, less restrictive and body contouring allowing for a greater range of movement.

The Stohlquist Women’s Cruiser Life Vest features:

Stohlquist Women’s Cruiser Life Vest

– graded sizing in multiple colour schemes
– higher mesh-back design
– contoured inner cups and WRAPTURE shaped torso
– cross-chest cinch harness for zero ride-up
– 4-way accessory lash tab on back
– 3M™ reflective on front and back
– ventilated shoulder and back pads
– webbed belt with dual forward pulls for a trim and low profile fit
– large zippered pockets for storage of personal items
– open sides for ventilation
– Type III PFD with buoyancy of 16 lbs
– constructed from an outer nylon shell and Oxford lining


(6) Stohlquist Youth Escape PFD

The 3rd category of Stohlquist PFDs falls within their Youth range which combines all of the essential safety and comfort features albeit with a less busy more focused design. Staying true to the Stohlquist quality standards, the vest is a high quality product more economically targeted on the youth market. Can also fit small adults.

Stohlquist Youth Escape PFDFeatures of the Stohlquist Youth Escape PFD include:

– soft buoyancy foam inside front and back for contoured fit
– full adjustability at sides and shoulders
– light-weight and low profile design
– hand skived foam gives a sleek and contouring fit
– waist belt has front buckle for easy entry
– zippered pleated accessories pocket
– padded shoulders and reflective accents
– Type III PFD with sea level buoyancy of 12 lbs
– U.S. Coast Guard Approved
– constructed from 200D nylon outer shell 200D Oxford liner
– available in 2 colours as well as youth and small adult sizes


(7) Mustang M.I.T 100 Automatic Inflatable PFD

For in excess of 50 years, Mustang Survival have been an innovative leader in the design and manufacturer of personal protective garments and water sports apparel. With more than 30 different PFD models that includes the M.I.T range of inflatable devices, they offer one of the broadest range of flotation products in the market. The M.I.T 100 is a comfortable streamlined automatic inflatable vest that is well suited for all paddling sports.

The Mustang M.I.T 100 Automatic Inflatable PFD features include:

Mustang M.I.T 100 Automatic Inflatable PFD– U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III vest
– Buoyancy rated to 28 lbs (1.5 times regular foam vest)
– adjustable waist belt
– automatically inflates upon water immersion
– will self-right most wearers (face-up) once inflated
– exclusive Membrane Inflatable Technology™ (M.I.T.)
– lightweight flexible fit providing maximum mobility
– inflator inspection window and easy access flap
– 1 fold, easy to repack design
– also includes manual inflation cord
– universal sizing for weights of >80 lbs


(8) Mustang Survival Khimera Hybrid Dual Flotation PFD

Another innovative flotation device from Mustang is their Khimera Hybrid PFD which offers both the slimline profile security of foam with an added ability to boost your buoyancy via the manual Co2 inflation pull chord function.

Mustang Survival Khimera Hybrid Dual Flotation PFDFeatures of the Mustang Survival Khimera Hybrid PFD include:

– dual foam/Co2 gas flotation system
– 20.5 lbs dual buoyancy (7.5 lbs foam + 13 lbs inflation)
– wide arm slots and a minimal silhouette for added mobility
– easy Co2 re-arm and simple deflation system
– light-weight and low profile design
– adjustable shoulder and waist straps for contoured fit
– Bright reflective shoulder patches for added visibility
– front storage pocket for additional Co2 cylinder or accessories
– front shoulder attachment point
– adult size only for weights >90 lbs


(9) Mustang Survival – (Lil Legends) Youth Foam PFD

A step up from the infants and children’s models, the Lil Legends Youth vest is by and large the same as the more junior models albeit this time without the crotch strap. Well supported by a head pillow, front zipper and adjustable waist strap with rear grab handle, the Lil Legends vest is engineered and designed for complete comfort and safety.

Mustang Survival - (Lil Legends) Youth Foam PFD

Features of the Mustang Survival – (Lil Legends) Youth Foam PFD include:

– minimum buoyancy rated to 11.3 lbs
– U.S. Coast Guard Approved
– made from ultra soft stain resistant fabric
– 3-piece collar cradles head for extra buoyancy
– ventilated mesh back
– sturdy grab handle
– front zipper and fully adjustable single buckle waist strap
– imperial red in colour with reflective accents
– youth model weight rated for 55-88 lbs


(10) Old Town Solitude Men’s Life Jacket

Part of the Johnson Outdoors family of Cos., Old Town are a well reputed kayaking and canoe company that supplies a range of paddling accessories and PFDs. The Solitube Life Jacket was designed with performance paddlers in mind and comes equipped with many features and adjustments including a new high-back construction and the AirComfort system for added air flow and comfort.

Old Town Solitude Men's Life JacketThe Old Town Solitude Men’s Life Jacket includes the following features:

– high-back construction
– AirComfort System for unmatched breathability
– fleece-lined hand warmer pockets
– two zippered pockets for secured storage
– adjustable shoulder, waist and side straps
– D-ring and cord loop attachment points
– available in S/M sizes – Chest Fit: 40-46 inches
– constructed from ripstop nylon and mesh with EVA foam
– U.S. Coast Guard Type III Approved vest


While the above article hopefully provides some useful insight into the considerations that are important when it comes to buying your PFD, if nothing else, any device is better than no device. Your safety should be your number one priority whenever you are out on the water. If you follow the tips and suggestions above then we are confident that you’ll be able to make an informed decision as well as taking advantage of some great PFD options that we have selected.

As always we hope you found this review helpful and would love to get your feedback. Please feel free to leave your comments below and we will get back to you.

Until then, stay safe and get wet.

6 thoughts on “10 Best Life Jackets / PFDs For Paddle Boarding”

  1. I actually bought the Onyx AM/24 for my dad on father’s day, and he loved it. He’s a fisherman, so I wanted to make sure that he’s all right when he heads out to sea. I borrowed it a couple of times, and since I liked it so much, I decided to buy one for myself.

    I highly recommend it!

  2. I never thought there were so many inflatable jackets. How much trouble is it to refill them? I currently use a lightweight when out in my kayak, can you use the same on a paddleboard or would the inflatables work better?
    The water is not very rough or deep in most places at the lake where we have property.

    • Hi John.

      Its simply a matter of changing the little Co2 cartridge so a small cost and next to no time. They use the same bulbs that cyclists use to inflate their tires so have been around for a good few years. Kayaks also use many of the same vests so again no issues there either.

      Thanks for your comments and all the best – Jason.

  3. Jason,

    I don’t have a paddle board, but I’ve been wanting one for quite some time. I do have a boat, so we have a ton of PFD’s on the boat in case something happens. It is required by law that everyone have one, but we have a bunch anyways since we’ve seen boats have accidents before. It’s very scary to think about any kids that might have been on the boats without vests.

    I was looking into some better quality ones, so I’m glad I came across your site!

    Great information!


    • Hi Katrina. Couldn’t agree with you more in terms of PFD’s and water safety in general. Whilst PFDs are required by law in many countries now, its unfortunately not something that people always pay attention to. I liken them to helmets for bikes. They may not always be comfortable and nobody really wants to wear one but its called an accident for a reason so better to be safe than sorry.

      Enjoy the water and all the best – Jason.


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