How to Choose a Kayak Life Vest

Before you hit the water for your next kayak adventure, make sure you have the right personal flotation device.

June 05, 2019

Time out on your kayak can be an exhilarating experience. No matter if you are paddling around a rural lake or traveling up a scenic shoreline, it can be a day full of adventure and relaxation.

But before you hit the water, you should always think of safety first. And that can start with having the right life vest, also known as a personal flotation device (PFD). There are a variety of life vests to choose from. Pro Tips is here to make sure you find the right one for your kayaking adventure.


When choosing a life vest for kayaking, there are several design features you’ll want to look for.

The first is large arm holes that don’t restrict your range of motion. By having a life vest with sizeable arm holes, you’ll have maximum movement for paddling.

Some kayak life vests will have mesh in the back at the bottom. This allows the flotation to sit above the seat and provides comfort for your day on the water.


One of the most important aspects of any life vest is that it fits properly.

“Your PFD should also fit snug and comfortably,” professional kayak instructor Carson Lindsay says. “It should be snug to ensure that if you would fall into the water, your PFD would actually stay on you. And it should also be comfortable to make sure you actually want to wear the PFD the entirety of the time you’re spending on the water.”

To make sure your life vest works as designed, you need to make sure you have it on properly. Lindsay suggests these steps when putting on your life vest:

  • Start from the bottom when buckling your straps.
  • Work your way up and continue buckling your straps. They should be nice and tight.
  • Once all the straps are tight, take your thumbs and attempt to pull up on the life vest at the shoulder. If it moves, it is too loose. If it doesn’t move, you’re good to go.


You may want to choose a life vest with extra storage. Zippered and mesh pockets can be useful to store essential equipment like signal mirrors, signaling whistles and snacks. Small D-rings can allow you to attach other pieces of equipment.

Some kayak life vests will include pouches for hydration bladders. This can allow you to stay hydrated while paddling.

One final tip: The color of your life vest is important.

“Bright color PFDs can contrast well against the water, making [it] easier to be seen,” Lindsay says.

Wearing a life vest when you are on the water is essential. By heading to the water prepared, you can have an enjoyable day of paddling to new memories.