Buying guide and review of the best PFD for kayak fishing

Young hiker wearing wetsuit putting on a life jacket before sailing on kayak
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Kayak fishing is a total blast, but the fun can quickly turn into a nightmare if you’re not prepared. Even the most experienced kayaker can have an accident out on the water. One of the most essential pieces of equipment any kayaker can ever take is a PFD.

That’s why this article is focused on reviewing the best PFD for kayak fishing on the market. In the end, we also highlight the different types of PFD’s and how to choose one.

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What is a PFD?

PFD is short for personal flotation device. As the name implies, these are designed to provide extra flotation in water. Throw one of these on, and in the event of capsizing in your kayak, you’ll have the buoyancy you need to stay afloat.

The term PFD is often used interchangeably with the term life jacket. Despite both terms referring to a vest that keeps you afloat, there is still a difference between them. A life jacket refers to an inflatable life vest, while a PFD requires no inflating. They are also more comfortable as they are designed for constant wear.

We will explain in detail about the different types of PFDs below. For now, let’s review the best kayak fishing PFDs.

Our Kayak Fishing PFD reviews

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD Life Jacket

The NRS Chinook Fishing PFD Life Jacket is clearly designed with fishing in mind. The compact design provides the buoyancy you need while keeping your arms free to paddle or fish. It’s created to contour to any body type and has six different adjustment points to make sure it’s sturdy but comfortable. Vents in the lower back area provide some breathability on warm days.

This life jacket really shines with all the extra accessories it has specifically for fishing. With two large, zippered pockets, two smaller accessory pockets, and a pocket to hold essential tools, you’ll have everything you’ll need for fishing right at your fingertips. Even better, it features a rod holder and attachment points for additional gear. All these fantastic features do come at a higher price point, however.

Pros
  • Two large zippered pockets and two accessory pockets
  • One tool holder pocket
  • PlushFIT foam fits to your body type
  • 400-denier ripstop nylon
  • Mesh lower back area for extra ventilation
  • Features a rod holder, strobe attachment point, and knife tab
  • Six adjustment points for a customized fit
  • Reflective accents
  • US coast guard approved
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Can get warm while wearing

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest has a play on words right in the title that hints at this design’s breathability. Vents all over the life jacket are designed to keep you cool, even in the hottest conditions. There’s one decent-sized zippered pocket in the front to store things you’ll need on the fly and a lash tab for smaller accessories.

This PFD is designed for comfort in mind with six adjustment straps and extra padding in the shoulder areas.  While not explicitly designed for kayak fishing, it is designed with safety in mind, featuring high-quality reflective material and an attached safety whistle. The only notable downside is that it can be a bulky fit for some. Nevertheless, all its features make it one of the That being said, you’re getting a lot for what you’re paying for, which is why it qualifies as one of the best kayak fishing PFDs.

Pros
  • Provides excellent mobility for paddling or fishing
  • Six adjustment straps for added comfort
  • 200-denier ripstop nylon
  • Expandable zippered storage with mesh drainage
  • Ventilation in both front and back
  • Attached safety whistle
  • Reflective material
  • Sculpted yet flexible design conforms to the body and stays in place
  • Drying loop on the back
  • Lash tab for small accessories
  • US coast guard approved
Cons
  • Can be bulky

Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

Another design with fishing in mind, the Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket checks many boxes for a good PFD. The foam design comes relatively compact for improved mobility, which is beneficial as the fuller vest style can feel constricting for some. The high back is a nice feature, especially when leaning against a seat for hours.

The life vest has a multitude of pockets to store gear, one of which even folds down to function as a small tray for working with bait or flies. It also comes with a lash tab for attaching whatever gadget you might need in a pinch. All these pockets located practically on top of each other can be a bother for some.

Pros
  • Neoprene shoulder pads
  • Zippered pockets to store accessories and gear
  • Drop-down tray pocket
  • A lash tab to hold items
  • Hanging loop for drying
  • 2” (5 cm) woven elastic attachment points
  • Six adjustment straps for comfort and stability
  • High foam back for higher kayak seats
  • Breathable mesh lower back
  • 400-denier ripstop nylon
  • US coast guard approved
Cons
  • Can be bulky
  • Tends to ride up on larger individuals
  • Limited sizing options
  • The pocket area can get cluttered

Onyx Universal Paddle Vest

The Onyx Universal Paddle Vest is designed to be a one size fits most universal vest for paddling. It does accomplish this through a basic design that provides 15 pounds (67 Newtons) of buoyancy in the water. There’s a lot of adjustability with six different straps to ensure that the vest will stay in place. The open arm areas still allow for full mobility for rowing and fishing.

This model has one large pocket in the front but has no way to close the pocket off. It has no additional tabs for gear or accessories. The generic design is nothing to write home about, but it comes in at a very affordable price if you want to stay safe while out on the water.

Pros
  • Made to accommodate many body types
  • 6 adjustment straps for comfort
  • The lower back area is made of breathable mesh
  • Affordable
  • Large front pocket
  • Low profile design
  • Lightweight and compact
  • 200-denier ripstop nylon
  • US coast guard approved
Cons
  • Can be bulky
  • Generic design
  • Can get warm
  • The front pocket is not zippered

Old Town Lure Angler Life Jacket

The Old Town Lure Angler Men’s Life Jacket is another PFD explicitly designed for fishing, and boy does it shine. It works especially great with fishing from a kayak because it has a number of pockets and attachment points that allow you to keep the gear you’ll be using right with you. In addition, it has a nice rod holder built right in for added convenience.

The design is nothing to slouch at either. It offers the snug fit you need but has a unique AirComfort system that customers rave keeps you cooler even on the hottest days. Reflective accents make it easier to see even as it gets dark. The only real downside about this life jacket is the price – it runs at a higher price point. That being said, you’re getting a lot for what you’re paying for. This is why it qualifies as one of the best kayak fishing PFDs.

Pros
  • 240-denier ripstop nylon
  • 6 adjustment straps
  • AirComfort system for excellent breathability
  • Features zippered pockets, stretch mesh pockets, and envelope pocket for holding essentials
  • Rod holder
  • Tab and D-Ring attachment points for securing gear
  • High back design nests comfortably with kayak seats
  • US coast guard approved
Cons
  • On the more expensive side

What Is the Best PFD for Kayak Fishing?

There are some great life jackets out there, and this kayak fishing PFD review highlights a few of the best. Through some tough competition, the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD Life Jacket wins out as the best kayak fishing PFD.

Of the models looked at here, the NRS Chinook is the most durable at 400 denier. It is the most buoyant even though comparable in size to the others on this list. It is designed specifically for fishing, as seen from the rod holder to the pockets designed with fishing gear in mind. Add in the attachment points and knife lash tab, and you’re good to go.

This fishing vest fits very well on many body types and some with some size options to accommodate those differences. The six adjustment straps add that much extra snugness to an already good fit. The ventilated areas give some breathability to stay cooler while out fishing.

We don’t think the other life jackets on here will let you down, but the NRS Chinook hits all the areas we covered in this review and then some.

Standard vs. Inflatable PFD’s

Standard PFD

Inflatable PFD

A kayak fishing life vest can come in one of a few different types. Let’s take a look at these below:

Standard PFD’s

A standard PFD is what you’re probably most used to seeing. These designs look like a vest and rely on a light material (usually foam) on the inside to keep you afloat in water. If you’re wearing one of these, there’s nothing you need to do once you’re in the water. It’s designed to give your body the extra buoyancy it needs to stay above the waves.

These PFD’s are easy to take care of and require little maintenance other than a good cleaning now and then. On the downside, standard PFD’s are on the bulky side, and you’ll always know you have one on. Out in the sun, they can be hot to wear. Even so, these are usually the best kayaking life vest to wear.

Inflatable PFD’s

An inflatable PFD is another option for activities like kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding. They are typically worn like a vest, but some models go around the waist. The best inflatable life vest for fishing is very thin and comfortable to wear – you may even forget you have one on.

As the name implies, inflatable PFD’s need to be inflated in order to provide enough buoyancy in water. Depending on the model you choose, this is done one of two ways. The most common option is a manual design, which requires the wearer to pull a cord. Some inflatable PFD’s are designed to inflate automatically when submerged in water. In either case, a CO2 gas cartridge fills the vest to keep you above water.

In addition to being more comfortable, inflatable PFD’s are a lot thinner than standard PFD designs, and you won’t get as warm while wearing them. That being said, these inflatable life jackets are not buoyant when not inflated, so there is a significant risk if the wearer is rendered unconscious before being able to inflate the vest. Each inflatable also requires replacement of the gas cartridge after each use, which can get quite costly. They are also not suitable for children under 16 years of age.

Hybrid PFD’s

As the name implies, a hybrid PFD contains the best of both worlds. A hybrid PFD is probably the most comfortable fishing life vest, combining a compact inherent buoyancy system in addition to an inflatable option that provides even more buoyancy. While these are excellent fishing life jackets, they are incredibly expensive and can be quite cost-prohibitive to most.

The Flotation Equation – Buoyancy Explained

Buoyancy is, in effect, the ability of an object to stay on or above the surface of the water. The best kayak fishing PFD will ensure that this is where you stay in the event your kayak capsizes. The human body is mostly water with a little fat thrown in – and fat is more buoyant than water. It’s the muscles, the bones, and the like that are quite dense and actually cause you to sink. What’s crazy though is that these dense parts of your body only make up about 5% of your entire weight!

Clothes aside, the average human male only needs about 10 pounds (44.5 Newtons) of buoyancy to stay afloat without any effort. For the average woman, that number is closer to 6 (27 Newtons) pounds.

That means a men’s or women’s PFD for kayaking only needs to provide 6 or 10 pounds (27 to 44.5 Newtons) of buoyancy to keep a person from going under. The more buoyancy a life jacket provides, the higher in the water and the more comfortable you will be.

Size Matters

While your weight is important when choosing the best fishing vest for you, chest size is even more critical. A PFD needs to fit snugly across the broadest part of the chest while still allowing free movement of the arms for paddling and fishing. Getting something too big will run the risk of it coming off in an emergency, and something too small will be way too uncomfortable to use.

In order to maximize the comfort of your kayak fishing life vest, pick one up with multiple adjustment points to ensure the best fit possible. When trying a kayak life vest, it’s a good idea to have someone pull firmly up on the shoulder straps to verify the PFD stays in place on your body.

Extra Features to Look Out For

When deciding on the best men’s or women’s PFD for kayaking, some life vests come with some bonus perks that make them a real contender.

pockets

Most standard PFD’s come with pockets at least on the front for some extra easily-accessible storage. In a small kayak, a few pockets can go a long way. These pockets are usually either zippered or have a clam-shell design that can store smaller items that need to be retrieved quickly. Note that most inflatable PFD’s do not have pockets.

Color

While the color of your fly fishing PFD can give you some points for fashion out on the water, having a brightly colored vest will make you more noticeable in the event you need help.

Ventilation

Standard PFD’s especially can get quite hot while out under the beating sun. If you’re going the standard route, some designs have built-in vents for breathability while out on the water.

Attachment Tabs

The best fishing life jackets have tabs that can be used to attach additional items you want to keep on your person. Such items may include a knife, strobe light, whistle, or tow tether.

Fishing Features

The best regular or fly fishing life jacket will come with loops for a rod, tool hangers, and even a drop-down table to work with lures and flies.

Fishing Features

The best regular or fly fishing life jacket will come with loops for a rod, tool hangers, and even a drop-down table to work with lures and flies.

Material

When it comes to material, there isn’t a wide range of options available. The best kayaking life vest will most commonly be made from a nylon material with a denier rating. This denier number is a measurement of how dense the nylon is. The higher the denier value is, the more durable the kayak life vest will be.

Government Regulations for PFD’s

Depending on where in the world you may be, there are different government requirements for PFD’s. Some are more rigid than others, but just about every country requires at least having a PFD on board with you at all times. When it comes to kayaks where space is limited, it’s always a smart move to wear your PFD whenever you’re on the water. The best PFD for kayak fishing will fit comfortably and allow a full range of motion anyway.

Most countries also have a PFD rating system with a minimum buoyancy requirement, which varies depending on the activity and the intensity. The best kayak fishing PFD will be on the smaller side for maximum mobility while still providing the buoyancy needed to stay above water.

United States Coast Guard Approved PFD Types

The US Coast Guard has a list of five different PFD types for use while out on the water. Each type is recommended for use in certain water activities. Kayakers should choose PFD’s from either type III or type V.

Type III PFD: Flotation Aids

Type III life jackets come with large arm holes to keep bulk away from the arms and shoulders. This is to provide maximum mobility for paddling and casting a line. These vests provide a good amount of buoyancy in the water but are designed to be used in areas where rescue is fast to arrive.

Type V PFD: Special-use Devices

These devices are made for one specific purpose out on the water. This is where you will find life jackets specifically designed for kayaking, or even more specifically, kayak fishing. They have a minimum buoyancy of 7.5 lbs and can be inflated to 22 lbs. Their main selling point is that they are more comfortable, making them ideal for wearing for a long time.

Noah
Noah
Noah is a world traveler who loves getting out in nature any chance he can get. When not exploring the world in search of adventure, he enjoys sharing his experiences with others through content writing and blogging.

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