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Trying to find the best PFD for women is not the easiest task. There are many options out there that are designed for men but these can often be ill-fitting and uncomfortable.
So to help you find a better, more comfortable life jacket for kayaking, we’ve put together a list of our favorite options as well as some information on what to look for.
9 Best Women’s PFDs
1: Stohlquist Women’s Flo Life Jacket (best overall)
- Weight: 1.3 pounds
- Sizes: XS/SM to Plus (28 to 46 inch busts)
This Stohlquist Flo life jacket is made specifically to fit women’s bodies. This means you can get a more comfortable and secure fit.
One feature of this PFD that can improve comfort is the built-in inner cups that can help the life jacket to conform to your body, giving you a better overall fit.
There are also cross-chest cinch straps which you can adjust for a more secure fit around your bust. These chest straps are designed to prevent the life jacket from riding up, helping to keep it lower on your torso.
This Type III PFD features mesh shoulders and back, as well as open sides that can help with ventilation and can be particularly beneficial if you’re kayaking in warm climates.
The Stohlquist Flo can also be ideal if you have a high back seat on your kayak, as the life vest benefits from having a mesh panel at the lower back, so the padded section should sit above the seat back.
- Made for women
- Cross-chest cinch straps
- Ideal for high back seats
2: Stohlquist Betsea Women’s Kayak Life Jacket (best for petite women)
- Weight: 1.7 pounds
- Sizes: Petite to Plus (24 to 46 inch bust)
The Stohlquist Betsea life jacket is designed specifically for women and features Wrapture technology that helps to create a comfortable fit that wraps around your body. It also features inner foam contoured bust cups for added comfort.
This life jacket can be a great choice if you’re small or slim and often struggle to find small sizes. The petite size, for example, is designed to fit 24 to 30 inch busts and the XS/SM (the next size up) is for 28 to 34 inch busts.
It is a Type III US Coast Guard approved PFD that has a 500 denier Cordura nylon exterior and a 200 denier nylon lining, so it’s built for durability. Reflective strips increase visibility and the ventilated shoulder and lumbar pads add comfort and breathability.
Another feature of this life jacket is the extra wide arm holes that are designed to let you move more freely, for example, when you’re paddling. It also benefits from having a cinch harness across the chest to help stop the life vest riding up while you’re wearing it.
- Designed for specifically for women
- Small bust sizes
- Adjustable chest straps
3: NRS Ninja PFD (most comfortable)
- Weight: 1.96 pounds
- Sizes: XS to XL/XXL (28 to 58 inch bust)
The NRS Ninja is a low profile life jacket that is designed to offer more comfort than a standard life jacket. This means it can be easier to move when paddling and can be less bulky when sitting on your kayak.
It is a Type III US Coast Guard approved PFD that has AirMesh fabric on the inner panels and shoulder straps which can offer breathability and help to prevent overheating.
While this PFD is not specifically designed for women, it is designed to fit shorter torsos, which can give an improved fit for both women and teenagers. The six point adjustment system can help you get a secure fit.
The zippered front pocket can be handy for storing smaller items and there are pouches inside the pocket to help you keep everything organized.
- Low profile
- Air-Mesh fabric
- Type III USCG approved
4: Astral GreenJacket Life Jacket (best for large busted women)
- Weight: 2.9 pounds
- Sizes: S/M to L/XL (31 to 51 inch bust)
This Astral GreenJacket life vest is a Type V US Coast Guard approved life jacket that is designed for whitewater rescue. It is a pullover style, so you put it on over your head and secure it around your waist with the adjustable straps.
While it’s not designed for women, it can be a good choice if you have a larger bust because of the sizes available. It also benefits from having a tectonic foam system that secures around your torso for a more comfortable and customized fit.
The Astral GreenJacket has plenty of zippered pockets for storing all your small accessories, including dedicated space to store a throw rope.
Another handy feature of this PFD is the quick-release rescue harness that is attached to the PFD and is rated for up to 1,200 pounds of rescue capacity.
- Pullover style
- Type V USCG approved
- Lots of storage
5: Kokatat Women’s UL MsFit Tour PFD (good quality)
- Weight: 2 pounds
- Sizes: S to XL (32 to 49 inch bust)
This Kokatat Women’s UL MsFit PFD is a Type III US Coast Guard approved life jacket. It is crafted using high quality materials, including a 500 denier Cordura nylon outer shell and a 200 denier nylon inner shell for added durability.
It is an ergonomically designed women’s life jacket that benefits from eight points of adjustment, so you can get a suitable and comfortable fit. It also features soft, low density Gaia foam, which is PVC-free and designed to provide improved comfort when moving.
There are also plenty of places on the life jacket to store all your small accessories, with an electronics pocket, front and back lash tabs, as well as front zippered pockets.
- Quality fabrics
- Made for women
- Storage pockets
6: Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M 24 Inflatable Life Jacket (best lightweight life jacket)
- Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Sizes: One size
The Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M 24 is an inflatable PFD that is built for comfort and ease of movement.
It features both automatic and manual inflation, so you are able to pull on the cord to inflate it manually or it is designed to inflate automatically when submerged in water. But you are able to set it to manual inflation only, which can be useful if you plan to enter the water frequently (on purpose).
This is a Type V US Coast Guard approved life jacket with a minimum buoyancy rating of 22.5 pounds when inflated. It’s designed for adults who can swim and weigh more than 80 pounds. It is not suitable for weak swimmers or under 16s.
The Onyx PFD has a low profile design that can be more comfortable and less bulky to wear. It also has an adjustable strap that can give you a secure all-around fit.
- Less bulky
- Automatic and manual inflation
7: Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest (best value women’s PFD)
- Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Sizes: XS/S to XL/2XL (from 28 to 56 inch bust)
This Onyx MoveVent Dynamic life vest can offer good value as it is lightweight, designed to be comfortable and even comes with an attached whistle for extra safety.
One of the great features of this PFD is that it has a lower back mesh panel, which can make it more comfortable to wear if you have a high back seat in your kayak.
It is an inherently buoyant Type III US Coast Guard approved life jacket that is made using durable nylon and features reflective material for added visibility.
It features a zippered front closure, adjustable side straps and adjustable shoulder straps with neoprene pads for improved comfort. The PFD also benefits from having a small zippered front pocket with mesh drainage system.
- Less bulky
- Automatic and manual inflation
8: Astral Women’s Layla Life Jacket (best budget PFD for women)
- Weight: 1.76 pounds
- Sizes: XS to L-XL (from 27 to 51 inch bust)
The Astral Women’s Layla life jacket can be a great budget option as it is designed specifically to fit women’s bodies and is made using durable materials. It features internal sculpted foam bust cups for added comfort and a more ergonomic fit. It also benefits from adjustable shoulder and side straps.
This Type III PFD is US Coast Guard approved and has a buoyancy rating of up to 16.3 pounds.
Another feature of the Astral Layla life vest is the handy front pocket. This pocket has space for a phone, but remember you’ll need to purchase a waterproof phone case or pouch if you don’t already have one, because the pocket is not waterproof.
There are another couple of pockets on the PFD for smaller items such as your car keys or a whistle.
- Made for women
- Type III USCG approved
9: Hyperlite Indy CGA Wakeboard (women’s budget PFD)
- Weight: 1.9 pounds
- Sizes: XS to XL (from 28 to 48 inch busts)
The Hyperlite Indy Wakeboard Vest is a durable PFD that features segmented foam panels for improved comfort and fit. It is a Type III US Coast Guard approved PFD that can be ideal for a range of watersports.
It features a zippered front closure and two waist straps that buckle at the front. The waist straps have the advantage of being concealed within the fabric of the vest at the back for improved safety and to minimize bulk.
This PFD also benefits from having a soft neoprene exterior, which can make it more comfortable on your skin, as well as being quick to dry.
- Women’s sizes
- Neoprene shell
- Segmented buoyancy foam
Why Wearing A PFD Is So Important
A PFD can be a vital piece of equipment if you’re kayaking, as it can potentially save your life if you inadvertently end up in the water.
Wearing a life jacket can help to prevent drowning, as it can help to keep your head and mouth above the water.
Most PFDs are designed to be worn (except a Type IV PFD which is a throwable device) but if you are not wearing it at all times while you’re on the water, it may not be able to save your life.
While it may not be a mandatory law to wear a PFD in a kayak, unless you’re a child, it is recommended that you wear one whether you’re a passenger or paddling. You should wear a life jacket even if you consider yourself to be a good swimmer, as in 90% of deaths from drowning involving watersports, the victims were not wearing a PFD.
Different Types Of PFD For Women
If you’re a woman, choosing a women’s PFD can be a better idea than opting for a men’s one or even a unisex one. Women’s PFDs are designed to fit a woman’s body and this means they can offer a better fit, which can be safer.
Women’s PFDs will often have features that are designed specifically for a woman’s smaller frame and/or curvier physique, such as contoured bust panels or chest straps.
However, there are some PFDs that are not designed specifically for women but they may sometimes have design features that are suitable for a woman’s body, such as shorter torso lengths. But this availability will usually depend on your size and what you’re looking for in a life jacket, in terms of style and features.
Top Features To Look Out For
When it comes to getting the right fit in a life vest, knowing your bust size can be important. Your bust size is usually the measurement around the fullest part of your chest.
Most PFDs are sized using chest size, so keep this in mind when you’re choosing your size. If you opt for the size closest to your own bust size, you can usually adjust the straps in order to get a correct and snug fit.
The benefit of a women’s PFD is that it will generally be designed to accommodate your bust, meaning it should be more comfortable after you’ve tightened up the rest of the straps.
Coast Guard Approved
It can be important to choose a PFD that is approved by the US Coast Guard, especially if you plan to wear it in situations where it’s mandatory.
There are various types of PFDs that can be suitable for kayaking, with Type III usually being a good option for a range of paddlers, as it can provide adequate buoyancy for near shore and inland waters.
Standard Or Inflatable
A standard life jacket is designed to provide instant buoyancy with no further requirements, as it is made using inherently buoyant materials, usually foam.
An inflatable life jacket will usually need to be inflated for it to become buoyant. Some are designed to automatically inflate in the water and others are manual, requiring you to pull a cord to start the inflation.
The type you choose will usually depend on your personal preference, as well as your swimming ability and the type of kayaking you plan to do.
A standard life jacket can be bulkier than an inflatable one but you can get low profile ones that may offer less bulk for added comfort.
Remember, with an inflatable life jacket, you will likely need to replace the CO2 cartridge after each inflation. Additionally, inflatable PFDs are not recommended if you’re a weak swimmer.
Having pockets on your PFD can be a bonus, as this can give you a handy place to store smaller items while keeping them within easy reach. If heading out on the water for any length of time, pockets can be great places for keeping your emergency whistle, small sunscreen tube or even your car keys.
A lot of PFDs will usually have some sort of pocket or attachment point. But if you already have great storage on your kayak you may not feel the need for the added bulk of additional pockets on your life jacket.
Common Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Mandatory To Wear A PFD?
Usually for children, it is mandatory to wear a PFD when kayaking. However, for adults this is usually not the case, but it is necessary that you have enough life jackets on board for every person in your kayak or canoe. Some states have additional laws.
For certain water sports, including waterskiing, wearing a PFD is required.
How Tight Should A PFD Be?
It should be a close fit but not too tight that it’s uncomfortable: snug enough that it doesn’t move around on you while you’re wearing it.
Are Women’s PFDs More Expensive?
Not necessarily. Just like with men’s PFDs, you can generally find women’s PFDs in a range of prices to suit various budgets.
What’s The Difference Between A Women’s PFD, Life Jacket, And Life Vest?
Life jackets and life vests are both styles of PFDs and these three terms are often used to describe the same thing.
How Should You Keep A PFD Clean And Fresh?
Hand wash using mild soap and then let it air dry away from direct sunlight.
If you’re looking for the best women’s PDF for kayaking, it will probably be the Stohlquist Flo, with the Stohlquist Betsea coming in at second place. These two PFDs are designed to fit the contours of a woman’s body and provide comfort and safety while you’re paddling.
The addition of the mesh panel at the lower back on the Stohlquist Flo makes it a great choice for kayaking, allowing you to sit more comfortably in your seat. It also benefits from being lightweight, breathable and has pockets for your accessories.
A PFD that is designed specifically for women can result in a better fit, which can also mean there is less chance of the PFD riding up either while you’re seated or in the water.