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When you’re kayaking, there are a few pieces of essential gear that you need to have with you.
In addition to your paddle and kayak, one of the most important items is a paddle float.
This can help keep you safe if you capsize or find yourself in another difficult situation where you need to re-enter your kayak.
But with so many different paddle floats on the market, it can be hard to know which one is right for you.
So today, we’re going to take a look at some of the best paddle floats available (including our top pick, the NRS Sea Kayak float) and help you decide which one is the best fit for your needs.
At a Glance: Recommended Paddle Floats
- NRS Sea Kayak Paddle Float (best overall)
- Sea to Summit Solution Inflatable (runner up)
- Riverstones Paddle Float
5 Best Paddle Floats For Kayakers & Paddlers
1: NRS Sea Kayak Paddle Float (best overall)
The NRS Sea Kayak Paddle Float is an inflatable paddle float that features dual air chambers for increased buoyancy and safety. Each air chamber is designed to displace as much as seven liters of water when used as an outrigger. This means it has a total of 14 liters of water displacement combined.
A great feature of this paddle float is the bright yellow nylon fabric for safety and visibility. You’ll also find reflective strips for added visibility in low-light conditions.
This is designed to be easy to use and quick to inflate, with two twist-valves for easy inflation. You only need to inflate one air chamber to use the paddle float in a self-rescue so the second chamber can be useful as a backup in an emergency.
The paddle float is designed to fit a range of sizes of paddle blades and benefits from having a barrel lock draw-cord closure. It also has the added advantage of a quick-release buckle closure with a one-inch webbing strap for added security.
Another great feature of this NRS paddle float is the two-inch webbing grab strap. With the paddle float being inflatable, this means it can be easily stored flat and takes up minimal room on your kayak.
- Dual air chambers
- Reflective tape for visibility
- High water displacement
- Draw-cord and buckle closure
- Not cheap
2: Sea to Summit Solution Inflatable Paddle Float (runner up)
This Sea to Summit paddle float can be an excellent choice if you’re looking for a compact paddle float that should take up very little room on your deck. This inflatable float rolls up for convenient storage and fits inside its own durable storage pouch which can be attached to your deck with the hook-and-loop attachment.
The storage pouch helps to protect the paddle float from UV damage and weathering. It’s made to be easy to access, with a red pull-tab allowing you to quickly access the paddle float from your deck while it’s still in its pouch.
This paddle float has a single air chamber with a two-way lockable valve for easy inflation and to prevent water from getting in. It also has a foam section for increased buoyancy.
Another good feature is the highly visible, durable nylon exterior with reflective prints for added safety. You’ll also find an attached safety whistle.
The Sea to Summit float benefits from having a buckle closure and a mesh paddle garage for improved drainage. This paddle float should ideally be inflated before you attach it to your paddle blade.
- Comes with a protective storage pouch
- Safety whistle included
- Very compact
- Quick-access red pull tab
- Takes a little while to inflate
3: Riverstones Paddle Float
This Riverstones Paddle Float can be a more affordable option. This is a durable nylon paddle float that features two inflatable air chambers for improved buoyancy and backup. The chambers are inflated using a twist air valve. Each chamber has its own twist valve for convenience.
The inflatable chambers are both on the same side of the paddle float, with a mesh section to hold your paddle blade on the opposite side. The mesh section can be useful as it can allow water to drain through the fabric and can potentially let you use your paddle if you need to avoid a wave or manage the current during your self rescue.
The bright yellow fabric can be beneficial for safety, helping to improve visibility during emergencies.
Your paddle blade can be secured into the float using the quick-release buckle closure but this may not be sufficient if you have a narrow paddle blade, as the strap can only be tightened so far.
The float also features loops on the bottom so that you can easily secure it to the deck of your kayak for easy access.
- Affordable paddle float
- Two air chambers
- Buckle closure
- Mesh panel
- Not great for narrow blades
4: NRS Foam Paddle Float
The NRS Foam Paddle Float can be a good choice if you’re looking for a paddle float that doesn’t require any inflation. This is made from a block of expanded polyethylene closed-cell foam, which is inherently buoyant. This means it will provide buoyancy immediately upon hitting the water.
This rectangular float has a 400-denier nylon outer shell for added durability and the flat sides may improve its flotation qualities compared to the rounded design of an inflatable one.
There are silver reflective strips to improve visibility and there’s also the added benefit of the fabric being a bright orange color.
The paddle blade slots into the pocket on one side of the float and can be secured using the webbing strap and buckle closure.
Because of its foam design, it won’t be as compact to store compared to an inflatable paddle float. But you may be able to get creative and use it as an under-seat cushion if space on your deck is limited.
There is also a webbing strap grab loop on the bottom of the float.
- No inflation required
- Durable fabric
- Reflective strips
- Closed-cell foam construction
- Bulky to store
5: Wiseman Trading Paddle Float
This Wiseman Trading Paddle Float can be a good choice if you’re looking for an affordable paddle float or you want to stick to a tighter budget. This one features two air chambers, so it offers a good level of buoyancy for added safety during self rescues.
It features highly visible yellow nylon fabric for durability. It is also available in a high-visibility red color. The inflatable design means it can be stored flat or rolled for convenience.
The paddle float has two twist air valves to make inflation quick and easy. The two inflatable chambers are on the same side of the float. The opposite side features mesh fabric for drainage, allowing you to continue to have some use out of the paddle blade.
The paddle blade can be secured in the mesh panel of the float using the buckle closure, which can be adjusted for a tighter fit. There are also two loops to allow you to secure the paddle float to your kayak when it’s not in use.
Additionally, this Wiseman Trading float is made in the USA.
- Easily stored
- Mesh drainage panel
- Dual air chambers
- Affordable option
- No reflective strips
Paddle Float Features To Look Out For
There are generally two types of paddle floats: foam and inflatable. Foam paddle floats are usually made with closed-cell foam, similar to many standard life jackets. This material is buoyant by nature so it does not require any source of inflation to work as designed.
Foam floats usually feature a type of nylon exterior to protect the inner foam.
A closed-cell foam float will generally take up more room on your kayak than an inflatable as it cannot be crushed or folded down. This means it may not be suitable for everyone, especially if you don’t have a lot of free space on your deck.
However, you may be able to use a foam paddle float as a seat cushion if you want to save space.
Closed-cell foam floats may be easier to use, as it means you don’t have to worry about inflating the float while you are trying to stay afloat yourself after a capsize. A closed-cell foam float will be ready to use immediately. This can be particularly useful if you’re a beginner or if you’re paddling in very cold or rough conditions.
Inflatable paddle floats require you to inflate an air chamber for them to become buoyant as, unlike closed-cell foam, they are not inherently buoyant.
However, because they are air-filled before use, they can be considerably easier to store. Most inflatable floats can be stored flat or rolled up for storage so they don’t take up as much room on your kayak compared to a closed-cell foam float.
Some inflatable paddle floats feature a single air chamber and others have two air chambers. You may find that with many of the dual air chamber floats, you sometimes only have to inflate one chamber to provide enough buoyancy to allow you to re-enter your kayak from the water. However, you may need both chambers in certain conditions, such as rough water.
Inflatable floats generally have air valve tubes. These are mouthpieces to let you manually inflate the chambers by blowing air into the tubes.
Video: Kayak Paddle Float Self Rescue
Air-filled paddle floats can provide more buoyancy than closed-cell foam ones, which might be beneficial in choppy waters or if you’re a larger paddler. This can be useful in aiding your self-rescue as it can give you more elevation and stability as you climb back into your kayak.
When you’re kayaking, it can be important to be as visible as possible so that you can stay safe. A higher level of visibility on your kayak means other water users will be more likely to see you. And in emergencies, you can be more easily spotted by a rescue team.
Most paddle floats will tend to be made in brightly colored materials for added visibility on the water.
Reflective fabric strips can provide an extra layer of visibility for safety and can be useful when conditions are not the best and lighting is low.
Another nice feature that you might find on some paddle floats is a safety whistle. A whistle can be used in conjunction with the high-visibility features to help alert your fellow paddlers or a rescue team.
Having a decent closure system on a paddle float can be important, as you don’t want your paddle blade to come loose during an emergency rescue situation.
There are different types of closure systems, with many of them featuring a buckle closure of some type that usually loops around the shaft of your paddle.
The way the buckle closure attaches to the paddle may differ between brands and models. Some may also feature secondary closure systems, such as draw-cords, which can provide an extra layer of security.
Ease Of Use
One of the main purposes of a paddle float is to act as an outrigger to allow you to re-enter your kayak easily and quickly if your kayak capsizes and you fall out. This means you want your paddle float to be as easy as possible for you to access and use.
Ideally, you should keep your paddle float within easy reach of your cockpit. Depending on the size of the float and your available deck space, you may want to secure it to the deck bungee cords so that you can easily grab it when you need it.
If you opt for an inflatable paddle float, you should be able to inflate it quickly and easily from the water. If you think you might be unable to do this or the conditions will be cold, a foam paddle float may be more suitable, as you can simply attach the foam float to your paddle and you’re ready to go.
You may want to use your paddle float for other things. And you can. With both foam and inflatable paddle floats, you can use them as seat cushions or as added lumbar support on your kayak seat.
You might also want to use them instead of float bags, to provide additional buoyancy to your kayak. This could be useful in choppy water or if you somehow manage to damage your boat during an ambitious stunt or collision.
If you’re after the best paddle float we think it’s the NRS Sea Kayak Paddle Float. It can displace a high amount of water during a rescue. It also benefits from having dual air chambers, reflective strips for visibility, and is quick to inflate.
Additionally, it has the added layer of security of having two closure systems to keep your paddle secure.
A fantastic runner-up is the Sea to Summit Solution Inflatable Paddle Float because it’s durable, super compact, and comes with a handy protective pouch with an easy-to-access pull tab. It also has the added safety feature of an attached whistle.
Remember to think about your own experience and likely paddling conditions before you choose one, as our best options may not be the right paddle float for you. Whether you opt for a foam or inflatable paddle float will generally be down to personal preference and the type of conditions you plan to paddle in.