Best Inflatable Life Jacket
There are many inflatable PFDs out there that claim to offer the best features and fabrics. But that makes choosing one all the more difficult.
We’ve put this guide together to help you find the best inflatable life jacket as well as some information that might help you narrow down your search.
The Top Choices At A Glance:
(these take you to Amazon)
9 Best Inflatable Life Jackets Reviewed
1: Absolute Outdoors Onyx A/M 24 Inflatable Life Jacket (best overall)
This Onyx A/M 24 inflatable life jacket is a Type V US Coast Guard approved inflatable PFD.
The main feature of this PFD is that it has both automatic and manual inflation systems. This means you can decide to use the manual only setting, where you would need to pull a cord to trigger inflation, or have it set to a combined automatic and manual setting.
This can give you the option of switching off the automatic mode if you think you might frequently come into contact with the water and don’t want the vest to inflate unnecessarily.
It has an adjustable waist strap which is connected to the shoulder straps to allow you to get a suitable fit with just one buckle closure.
It has a soft neoprene neckline for added comfort and a lightweight, low profile design that can make it easier for moving during certain activities. There is also a D-ring.
2: Rrtizan Children’s Inflatable Life Jacket Snorkel Vest (best for kids)
The Rrtizan Children’s inflatable life vest is designed as a snorkeling vest for children. This means that it is not designed for life saving, as it may not keep your child’s head out of the water.
The life vest is inflated using the attached mouthpiece. The vest can also be adjusted at the waist and along the back to provide a secure fit for children from ages 5 to 14 and up to 130 pounds.
However, this life vest is not approved by the US Coast Guard andinflatable PFDs are not intended for children under 16.
This Rrtizan PFD is aimed at recreational snorkeling in shallow water where your children will always be under supervision. It’s also recommended that your child knows how to swim before wearing this life vest.
3: SALVS Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket (highly rated)
This SALVS Automatic/Manual inflatable life jacket can be a great option for fishing or other activities where might want a high quality but low profile PFD.
It is designed to automatically inflate when submerged in water but there is also the option of manual inflation where you pull down on the cord to activate the air flow. It comes with a CO2 cylinder and also a whistle for added safety.
It is made from durable material that is designed to resist punctures and it also has the benefit of a neoprene neckline to provide added comfort both when it’s inflated and deflated.
It features an adjustable waist and back strap for a customizable fit and it is designed for adults up to 330 pounds.
4: Spinlock Deckvest LITE Plus Life Jacket (money is no object)
The Spinlock Deckvest Lite Plus is a high quality inflatable PFD that comes in one size that can fit chest sizes between 23.5 inches and 57 inches.
This life jacket is designed to be comfortable and lightweight so that you can fish or boat without your PFD getting in the way. It features an automatic inflation system that is designed to inflate in water but can be converted to manual using an optional conversion kit, sold separately.
The life jacket features an adjustable harness with a single crotch strap for a secure fit. There are also several optional extras that can be added to this life jacket, including LED lights and a sprayhood.
This particular life jacket is not USCG approved but there is a Coast Guard approved version.
5: Mustang Survival M.I.T. 100 Inflatable PFD
The Mustang Survival MIT 100 is a lightweight, high quality inflatable life jacket that has recreational Type III US Coast Guard approval as well as Type V commercial approval when worn.
It features an automatic inflation system with an exclusive Membrane Inflatable Technology inflation cell that is designed to be lighter and more flexible for added comfort. The PFD also benefits from a manual inflation cord that can be pulled to inflate the vest.
The life vest is designed to fit chest sizes from 30 inches to 52 inches with an adjustable waist strap to help customize the fit.
6: Lifesaving Pro Auto/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket (best budget)
This Lifesaving Pro inflatable life jacket is a budget life vest that can be ideal for fishing and other activities where you’re less likely to be in the water. It features an automatic inflation system that is designed to inflate upon entering the water but it also features a toggle for manual inflation.
It benefits from having a soft neoprene neckline to make it more comfortable to wear. It’s also low profile when deflated to minimize restriction of movement.
The life vest has an adjustable strap to allow for a secure fit. For added safety, there are also reflective strips and a whistle.
7: Absolute Outdoors Onyx M-24 Manual Inflatable Vest
The Onyx M-24 is a US Coast Guard approved Type V PFD. It features a manual inflation system that is activated by pulling on the cord. This can make it a good choice for activities where you may frequently get wet, such as stand-up paddle boarding.
This is a lightweight PFD that is designed with a neoprene neckline for improved comfort. The adjustable waist strap lets you find a secure fit. The life vest can be suitable for both men and women over 16 years, weighing more than 80 pounds.
For added visibility there is reflective material on the durable outer fabric. There is also a D-ring on the front that can be useful for attaching rescue lines.
8: Night Cat Inflatable PFD
This Night Cat inflatable PFD is a manual inflatable life jacket. This means that you will need to pull down on the toggle in order to inflate the vest.
It is designed to fit most adults over 88 pounds and up to a 60 inch chest. It features an adjustable waist strap with a buckle closure and a chest strap. It also benefits from having reflective material on the outer shell for added visibility and an attached rescue rope loop.
For added comfort, the life jacket has a soft neoprene neck and lightweight fabric. It also features a waterproof pocket on the front, which could be ideal for small gadgets or a small phone.
9: Eyson Slim Inflatable PFD
The Eyson Slim Inflatable PFD is a low profile life jacket that features a manual inflation system that is triggered by a pull cord.
It has a universal adult size that can fit up to 62 inch chests and it has an adjustable waist strap with a buckle closure. The fabric is a lightweight polyester with reflective strips for added visibility. It also features a neoprene neck.
For added buoyancy there is a mouth tube that can let you top up the air in your life vest. There is also a safety whistle attached to let you attract attention in emergencies and a D-ring where you can secure a rescue rope.
Buyer’s Guide: How To Choose An Inflatable Life Jacket
Inflatable life jackets can be great for some water activities but they may not be suitable for certain sports, such as whitewater kayaking or rafting.
Because inflatable PFDs tend to be less bulky than standard foam ones, they can often be more comfortable to wear, especially during certain activities where movement is important.
These types of life jackets can be idea for stand-up paddle boarding or similar activities, where you are likely to be close to shore and in calm water.
Inflatable PFDs may not be great for kayaking, particularly on fast moving rivers or other moving water where there’s a risk you could be knocked unconscious during a capsize. They are also not suitable for children and non-swimmers.
A standard life jacket might be more suitable for kayaking because they’re inherently buoyant and they might offer a more customized fit for different body shapes and sizes.
Video: Choosing The Right Life Jacket For Kayaking
Coast Guard Approval
The US Coast Guard is the body that approves life jackets. Life jackets are categorized by types depending on the level of buoyancy and the features.
Most life jackets for recreational boating will be either Type III or Type V. Inflatable life jackets can fall into both of these categories and they can be suitable for inshore or near shore boating but not ideal for high impact water sports.
Not all inflatable life jackets will be US Coast Guard approved. If your state requires you to wear a US Coast Guard approved PFD then it’s important that you choose one that has the required rating.
Manual Or Automatic Inflation
When you’re choosing an inflatable PFD, you’ll notice there are both manual and automatic life jackets available. An automatic one is designed to inflate when you hit the water.
While this can be helpful in certain situations, it may be an annoyance in others. For example, some life jackets may inflate in heavy rain.
Life jackets with manual inflation can be better for activities where you plan to be in the water or know you may get wet, such as when you jump off (or fall off) a paddle board.
A lot of inflatable PFDs will usually come with a CO2 cartridge. This is how the PFD inflates, either by manually pulling a cord or automatically upon entering the water.
However, once the CO2 cartridge has been used to inflate the life jacket it will then need to be replaced. This could potentially be an expensive ongoing cost, especially if your life jacket inflates frequently.
You will also find that inflatable life jackets could require more maintenance because of the air cylinders. These cylinders will often need to be checked prior to use to make sure that they are in good condition and within their expiration date.
For most inflatable life jackets, the CO2 cartridge is what makes the life jacket buoyant when inflated, so it is a vital component of the PFD. Without it, the life jacket won’t work.
Many inflatable life jackets tend to have a universal size so that one size should fit most adults. They should have adjustable straps that can allow you to secure the life vest around your body for a correct fit.
Sometimes you’ll find that it is just the waist strap that’s adjustable. Usually this will also adjust the fit at the shoulders.
If you’re an average sized adult, this could be fine for you. However, if not, you may find that a standard PFD may offer more specific sizes that might fit you better.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Inflatable Life Jackets OK For Kayaking?
This depends on the type of kayaking you plan to do. If you plan to be in calm water and close to shore, an inflatable PFD could be sufficient, if you know how to swim. They might not be suitable for sea kayaking or whitewater.
How Do You Clean Inflatable PFDs?
Using mild soapy water and a sponge, clean the material after removing the cylinder and bobbin. It can be helpful to cover the mouthpiece before you do this. Rinse the PFD in clean water and hang it up to air dry.
In our opinion, the best inflatable life jacket is the Absolute Outdoors Onyx A/M 24. This life jacket can be ideal for inshore boating, fishing or paddle boarding. The benefit of being able to switch the inflation system to manual only helps to give it the edge over its competitors.
Having adjustable straps to ensure a correct fit can be important for the life jacket to work properly when inflated and be comfortable when deflated.
If the Onyx A/M 24 is not for you, the Mustang Survival MIT 100 PFD can be another great choice, with its convenient manual inflation system and adjustable waist strap.
Another important feature, found on both the Onyx A/M 24 and the Mustang PFD, is US Coast Guard approval, which can be necessary for some activities in certain areas. Remember, though, that inflatable PFDs are generally not recommended for children and may not give you adequate buoyancy for long periods in rough waters.