- Read our review guidelines
A kayak fishing life vest can be one of the most important pieces of safety equipment for kayak fishing. But how do you choose a new life vest?
Because kayaking PFDs (Personal Floatation Device) are important we’ve made a guide to help you find the best kayak fishing life vest (and the right PFD).
- Stohlquist Fisherman (Best Overall)
- Kokatat Bahia Tour (Best for Visibility)
- Stohlquist Women’s Flo (Best for Women)
- Stohlquist Men’s Ebb (Best Value Fishing PFD)
- NRS Chinook PFD (Best for Comfort)
13 Best Kayak Fishing PFDs Reviewed
1: Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Flotation Device (best overall)
- Weight: 2 pounds
- Size: SM/MD to XXL (ranging from 33 to 52 inch chest)
This Stohlquist Fisherman PFD can be one of the best kayak fishing life vests. It has multiple pockets for accessories so you can keep your essential gear within easy reach. But it might feel bulky.
The front pockets also have protective EVA foam. These large pockets also double as bridges so you can use them as platforms.
It features multiple adjustment points for a perfect fit, and benefits from chest cinching straps to keep it in place.
Extra features include neoprene padded shoulders and back waistband, high back flotation for kayak chairs, and open sides for ventilation and maximum mobility.
- Accessory pockets
- High back design
- May feel bulky
2: Kokatat Bahia Tour Personal Flotation Device (great for increased visibility)
- Weight: 2.01 pounds
- Size: S/M to XXL (36 to 58 inch chest)
The Kokatat Bahia Tour PFD can be the best fishing PFD that features SOLAS approved reflective strips on both the front and back, for increased visibility.
This kayak fishing life vest is ideal for kayak fishing because of its fishing specific features, reduced padding at the lower back and a mesh panel for ventilation. It also has a lightweight outer shell.
It features large pockets for accessories and pliers, as well as front and back lash tabs. For a more customized fit, there are multiple adjustment points and side straps. But it’s not the best if you’re a smaller kayak angler.
The neoprene padded shoulders and the soft Gaia foam helps to improve comfort for all day kayak fishing.
- Reflective strips
- Accessory storage
- Fully adjustable
- Not great for small anglers
3: Stohlquist Women’s Flo (best for women)
- Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Size: XS/SM to Plus (ranging from 28 to 46 inch bust)
The Stohlquist Women’s Flo is a Type III PFD with durable materials that’s designed for women and comes in exclusive graded sizing with the same features as the men’s version. It features built-in supportive bust cups to provide more comfort for all day wear and benefits from cinching chest straps to prevent it from riding up.
It has lightweight foam with a durable ripstop nylon shell and features a padded neoprene lower back waistband for paddling comfort. But it might feel bulky at the front and there are limited mounting points for tools.
It also has high back construction.
As well as the adjustable chest straps, the cinch vest can also be adjusted at the waist and shoulders, so you can get the best fit for your body types.
- Made for women
- Bust cups
- Neoprene back panel
- Ripstop nylon outer shell
- May feel bulky
4: Stohlquist Men’s Ebb (best value fishing PFD)
- Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Size: SM/MD to XXL (ranging from 33 to 52 inch chest)
This Stohlquist Men’s Ebb is a high quality PFD that offers great features and great value.
It features a mesh lower back panel for added ventilation and to allow for a more comfortable sitting position in your kayak, especially in yaks with high back seats. The sides are also open for added ventilation for a hot day.
The adjustable waist, shoulder and chest straps help to give you a customized fit and the Wrapture foam is designed to fit around your body for optimum comfort and buoyancy.
However, this cinch vest has limited storage for essential gear.
- Quality materials
- Comfortable fit
- Good ventilation
- Minimal storage
5: NRS Chinook PFD (best for comfort)
- Weight: 2 pounds
- Size: XS to XL/XXL (ranging from 28 to 58 inch chest)
This NRS Chinook PFD is built for kayak fishing and long hours on the water. it has graded sizing but it can be a little pricey.
One of its main features is the soft PlushFit foam, which is designed to mold to the shape of your body, for added comfort. It also features eight adjustment points so that it’s securely and correctly fitted.
There are plenty of pockets with hook and loop closures, and D-ring points, meaning it can double as a fishing vest, with enough room to keep small tackle boxes, tools and accessories. It even has rod holder loops.
For extra comfort, the PFD also has a mesh panel at the lower back.
- Ample storage
- Made for fishing
- Great for high back seats
- Not cheap
6: Old Town Lure Angler PFD
- Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Size: S/M, L/XL, 2XL/3XL (ranging from 40 to 60-inch chests)
The Old Town Lure Angler PFD has been designed specifically for kayak fishing. It has as many as seven pockets, including two large pockets and top pockets, so you can streamline your gear on deck and keep it on your person within easy reach.
This angling PFD has been made to integrate with Old Town kayak seats, so the back foam panel should sit above the back of the framed seat, allowing a kayak angler to sit comfortably.
It features an AirComfort system for maximum breathability on hot days and a front zipper for ease of use. It also has multiple pockets, including D-ring points and a Hypalon tab.
This kayak angler PFD can be better for larger anglers as the smallest size may not be small enough for smaller paddlers or women, even with the adjustment straps.
- High-back foam
- Easy to get on and off
- Multiple pockets
- Not suitable for small paddlers
7: Astral V-Eight Fisher PFD
- Weight: 1 pound 6 ounces
- Size: S/M, M/L, L/XL (ranging from 31 to 51-inch chests)
The Astral V-Eight Fisher features a lower back mesh panel for comfort while seated and a foam panel that sits above the top of your seat.
The back panel also features a mesh lining, as part of the Airescape Air Flow System that helps to maintain breathability for the kayak angler.
There are several attachment points on the life vest and a dedicated holster for your pliers. There’s also a knife lash point (or for a light).
The large front pocket can be ideal for storing gear and line cutters or a variety of lures or leader line – perfect PFD for a kayak angler. However, there is only one secure pocket, so it may not be the best if you’re a kayak angler looking for multiple zippered pockets.
- Designed for high-back seats
- Lots of attachment points
- Pliers holster
- Only one zippered pocket
8: Stohlquist Contour Inflatable Life Jacket (best inflatable)
- Weight: 1.21 pounds
- Size: Universal sizing
This Stohlquist Contour PFD is a Type V PFD that is primarily designed for stand-up paddle boarding but can be ideal for recreational boating and kayak fishing.
This inflatable vest is designed to be worn around the waist. It has universal sizing with an adjustable waist strap that fits up to 45 inch waists.
It features a manual inflation system with a pull cord that activates the CO2 cartridge. This means it won’t inflate until you pull the cord unlike foam PFDs. Once inflated, the neck strap can help keep you afloat.
This life jacket’s also got small zippered pocket that can be great for storing keys, but it’s not waterproof, there are no anchor points, and there’s no room for tackle. So you may want larger pockets elsewhere for your multi tool.
- Manual inflation
- Waist belt
- Limited storage
9: Lixada Fly Fishing Vest (best budget PFD)
- Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Size: Universal adult
The Lixada Fly Fishing Vest is designed as a fishing vest but with the added benefit of foam flotation inserts for added buoyancy. The foam inserts can also be removed making it a quick answer for a combo fishing vest and PFD in one.
This budget vest is designed with a universal size to fit most adults. However, the buoyancy of the PFD is only for adults under 209 pounds, so if you’re a larger person this may not be adequate. It also doesn’t have a cross chest cinch harness.
The Lixada is built for fishing and has more pockets than most and tool pouches to store your small accessories. There are also several attachment loops for clipping on other items.
- Budget PFD
- Fishing vest
- Lots of storage
- Not for large kayak anglers
10: Kokatat Leviathan PFD
- Weight: 3 pounds 2 ounces
- Size: XS/S, M/L, XL/XXL (ranging from 32 to 55-inch chests)
The Kokatat Leviathan PFD comes in a good range of sizes to fit most paddlers and could be ideal for both men and women. But it’s not the lightest of options.
It features PVC-free Gaia foam flotation, which is designed for flexibility and can mold to the shape of your body. It also has internal foam contouring for a custom feel and a snug fit, plus ventilated shoulder panels.
There are a total of 14 pockets, including eight zippered pockets. So there’s plenty of space to store all your essential tackle as well as your phone.
- 14 pockets
- Soft foam padding
- Unisex fit
- Not lightweight
11: MTI Spirit Women’s PFD
- Weight: 1.9 ounces
- Size: XS/S, M/L, XL/XXL (ranging from 30 to 56-inch busts)
The MTI Spirit PFD is designed specifically for women, with comfort and support around the bust with the handy Adjust-a-Bust system.
It’s designed to suit the needs of women kayak anglers, with a lower mesh back panel and high foam panel to better fit high-back fishing kayak seats. This also allows for ventilation.
There are two large zippered pockets for fishing tackle and a storage loop for your sunglasses. But there aren’t many external attachment points.
It has a simple design three-buckle front closure. There are also two side cinch straps and adjustable shoulder straps for a tailored fit for your body type.
- Made for women
- Buckle closure
- Limited attachment points
12: Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket
- Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Size: Universal or Oversize (30-52-inch chest or 45-65-inch chest)
This Onyx Kayak Fishing life vest can offer good value as it’s packed with fishing features and has plenty of pockets to stash your tools.
However, if you’re a smaller kayak angler, it may require a bit of adjusting for a snug fit. It may be better suited to larger anglers. It does have six adjustment straps so you can tailor the fit to your body.
It has a high foam padded back, with a mesh lower back, which can be ideal for high-back kayak seats. It also benefits from having comfortable neoprene shoulder straps.
- Good for large paddlers
- Six adjustment points
- Lots of storage pockets
- Not the best for smaller anglers
13: Astral Sturgeon PFD
- Weight: 1 pound 10 ounces
- Size: S/M, M/L, L/XL (ranging from 31 to 51-inch chest)
The Astral Sturgeon life vest can be great if you’re looking for a durable PFD with plenty of pockets and six adjustment straps.
This lets you organize your tackle in five different centralized pockets for convenience, offering space for pliers, flies, your knife, and radio.
This is designed with large arm openings for range of movement. There’s also a mesh back panel to allow for air flow.
There are six points of adjustability for an easy custom fit. However, the largest size may not fit the largest anglers. And it doesn’t have a cross chest cinch harness.
- Well-placed tackle storage
- Easy to adjust
- Not great for very large paddlers
Do I Really Need To Use A PFD For Kayak Fishing?
You should be wearing a PFD, whether you’re paddling, fishing or general boating.
In some states and areas, you may be required by law to wear a PFD in a kayak, such as New York (between November and May) and New Mexico.
In the US, it’s the law to have a correctly sized PFD for every person on all types of vessels, including fishing kayaks. To comply with the law your PFD should be approved by the US Coast Guard.
Children under the age of 13 are required to wear a USCG approved PFD at all times while they are in a kayak or other open deck vessel.
What Type Of PFD Is Best?
There are five types of PFD, with four of them being wearable types and Type IV being throwable.
- Type I is generally the most buoyant and often the bulkiest. It’s designed for offshore and rough water. Turns you face up if unconscious.
- A Type II PFD is designed for inland waters close to shore. These can be either standard or inflatable, with the standard option sometimes able to turn you face up if unconscious.
- A Type III PFD is probably the most common type of life vest used for kayaking. It’s recommended for recreational boating and near shore activities. Can be either inflatable or standard.
- Type IV PFDs are throwable devices that are used alongside marinas and pools, as well as on vessels longer than 16 feet.
- Type V PFDs generally include specialist PFDs (inflatable belt packs).
Inflatable vs. Standard Foam – Which To Choose?
Inflatable PFDs can be more comfortable than other life vests because they tend to have a lower profile than standard ones. This could make it easier to move your arms for fishing and paddling.
However, inflatable PFDs will only become buoyant when they’re inflated, unlike foam vests. You will usually have to pull a cord to inflate it. There are fishing life jackets with automatic inflation that inflate when in water but these may not be suitable, as they could inflate when they’re not needed.
Inflatable life jackets will generally have less storage options because of their low profile nature, meaning you may not have anywhere on the PFD to keep your fishing accessories.
You might also want to consider the additional costs of using an inflatable fishing life vest. Once it inflates, you will usually need to purchase a new CO2 cartridge so that it’s armed and ready for your next kayaking trip. This could become expensive if you frequently need to inflate your PFD.
A standard foam PFD is an inherently buoyant PFD. This means it’s designed to float instantly and provide you with buoyancy to keep your head out of the water without having to pull any strings – safer for kayak fishing life vests. The foam material is what makes the PFD float.
These types of fishing life jackets can be beneficial for kayak fishing because they will often have pockets or loops to attach your gear. This can be especially useful in a kayak where you might not have a lot of room for additional accessories or you want to make sure your fishing tackle is within easy reach.
What Features To Look For When Buying The Perfect Fishing PFD?
Some fishing life jackets will also have D-rings or attachment points that can let you clip on other accessories or safety gear for quick access.
For the best life jackets or any safety gear, size is important. It should fit you correctly so that it can work as intended if and when you need it. If it’s too big it may come off and if it’s too small, it may not be able to hold your weight.
Video: How To Fit A Life Jacket
It can be a good idea to opt for PFDs for kayak fishing with multiple points of adjustment, and side straps, as this can give you a better, more secure fit than one that only has one or two adjustable straps.
If you’re a woman, you might find that a women’s specific PFD might be more suitable, as the best life jackets can better accommodate your body (and other features).
High Back Float
Some fishing life jackets for kayaking have high back flotation. This is for comfort while you’re seated in your kayak so it rests above the back of your seat.
Some may have other features such as hand warmers or a stowable hood.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Adults And Kids Have To Wear PFDs When Kayak Fishing?
Children under 13 must wear a PFD. Some states have different laws that include children up to 16. Adults are required to have a correctly fitting PFD on board but it doesn’t necessarily have to be worn, except in some states.
What Exactly Is Coast Guard Approved?
The US Coast Guard is the maritime law enforcement agency that approves life jackets for use in the US. It approves PFDs based on their use and buoyancy. If a PFD is Coast Guard approved it means it meets US standards for use as a buoyancy aid.
How Do You Care For And Clean Your PFD?
Rinse safety gear in clean water after each use, using mild soapy water beforehand. Hang up to air dry somewhere with good ventilation.
Are Life Jackets And Vests Comfortable When Fishing?
It should be comfortable if it fits well. However, there are some lower profile options you can choose if you want less bulk.
If you’re after the best PFD for kayak fishing then the Stohlquist Fisherman PFD is our favorite vest. It has plenty of places to keep your gear and is comfortable to wear.
If you’re a woman, the Stohlquist Women’s Flo is also a great PFD, with a range of sizes and a comfortable fit.
A great PFD is a no brainer and the most important piece of equipment when you’re kayak fishing and in some cases it could be the law.