This is the Ultimate Boat Priority Review of the Best Life Jackets for 2021.
Kayaking, Canoeing, Boating – all watersports are great for relaxing. But both novices and veteran swimmers need to stay safe on the water.
Life jackets have saved lives and helped both kids and adults survive water sports accidents.
But how do you choose from the myriad of life jackets available on the market?
We’ve carefully considered buoyancy, rescue support, body fit, floatation medium, and so much more – so the odds will be in your favor if you face an emergency.
In this all-time best Boat Priority review, you’ll learn:
- About the best life jackets for optimum protection;
- The unique features of each one;
- Tips and advice on how to choose the perfect one;
- Lots more…
Let’s dive in!
Best Secured Life Jacket For All
1 – Stohlquist Fit Life Jacket
- Easy to adjust
- Loop for drying and storing
- Quite oversize for small persons
- Sometimes rides up
The Stohlquist life jacket is designed to keep you out of pickles. This Type III PFD approved ultra-lightweight fits 30-52 inch chested adults weighing over 90lbs.
Enjoy paddle boarding, boating, and other watercraft sports in these bright red and grey colored life jackets with three buckle straps that will protect you through rough conditions.
Wait, that’s not all…
The jacket has thin back panels to make you comfortable in seat backs. Also, enjoy cut-away arms for better mobility.
Since the shoulder straps are box-stitched, they’ll last longer for you.
Plus, the 200 denier nylon shell and liner come with a hanging loop you’ll find useful for quick drying and storage.
Read Full Review: Stohlquist Fit Life Jacket
Best Mid Range Life Jacket For Adults
2 – Stohlquist Fit Adult PFD 4 Pack Coast Guard
- Very affordable
- High mobility
- Easy to dry
- Jacket retains water
- Separated layers chafe
The Stohlquist Fit Adult PFD 4 Pack Coast Guard is one of the best life jackets you’ll find on the market today.
The flotation device is an excellent choice for paddling, kayaking, or general boating.
But that’s not all…
As a paddler, you’ll enjoy the front and back foam panels that fit better to make paddling super easy.
This gear comes with a thinner back panel that removes seat interference that an average swimmer experiences on the water.
You’ll enjoy high mobility in this non-restrictive cut with upper buckle placement to reduce the event of a ride up.
The box-stitches are more durable than the typical bar-tac stitching on some life jackets.
Plus, there’s a back loop and zippered bag for proper maintenance and storage.
These life jackets are, without doubt, nice for their price.
Read Full Review: Stohlquist Fit Adult PFD 4 Pack Coast Guard
Best Inflatable Life Jacket
3 – Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket
- Versatile for several activities
- Flexible fit
- Comfortable slim profile
- Made of durable polyester
- Front separated from the back
- No pockets or extra accessories
- Not suitable for larger persons
If you’re looking for the most comfortable and versatile life jacket, the Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket is your best option.
It’s useful for fishing, hunting, waterskiing, tubing, canoeing, boating, and other activities you want to do on calm inland waters.
Look at this…
There are sizing options for children weighing 30-50 pounds and those with a 50-90 pound weight. Adults weighing more will fit conveniently into the 30-52 inched jackets.
The life jacket is both USCG approved, and UL listed, so it comes with an assurance of safety.
The jacket has exposed sides, providing you with a breathable fit and more sports mobility.
Read Full Review: Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket
Best Coast Guard Approved Life Jacket For Toddlers
4 – Toddler Life Jacket Coast Guard Approved
- Wide neck opening
- Quick-release buckle
- Large grab handle
- Durable material
- The neck zipper may chafe
This piece of gear is great to keep your kids safe in the water while splashing around.
The Toddler Life Jacket is one of the best gears to keep your child afloat. The device is designed with armholes that prevent chafing.
Its low back and open sides will make it easier for kids to learn to swim.
This flotation device has a grab handle that stays open in water. Its double collar will cradle your child’s head without sacrificing their movement. And the strap is wide, allowing a firm grip and making the rescue process a breeze.
Also, a zipper and matching buckle runs across the front of the PFD. And there’s a quick-release button by the entry zipper.
This US Coast Guard Approved jacket provides child swimmers with safety without restricting their mobility on the water.
Read Full Review: Toddler Life Jacket Coast Guard Approved
Best Life Jacket For Fishing
5 – Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket
- Six adjustments straps
- High foam back for high back seats
- Comfortable shoulder pads
- Weak zipper pull
- No secondary fall back
The Onyx Kayak Fishing vest is an excellent option for top-notch performance and value.
If you’re a fisherman with a 45-65 inch chest, pick one of these personal flotation devices. You’ll also find that the universal size fits people with a chest area of 30-52 inches.
This life vest has six adjustment straps to give you a snug fit.
When you wear one, you’ll see that its back does not obstruct seating, mainly because of its breathable mesh back.
As one of the best life jackets, this jacket has four pockets to hold essential gear, making your stay on the water enjoyable.
Slip down pliers and radios down the chest pockets, and clamp them to the pocket opening at the top. That way, you’ll easily reach them when the need arises.
Read Full Review: Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket
Best Floating Life Jacket For Teenagers
6 – Stohlquist Fit Youth Life Jacket
- Easy to adjust
- Loop for easy maintenance and storage
- No interference with seat backs
- It is bulky
- May cause chafing
Teenagers need life jackets for their activities on the water. The Stohlquist Fit Youth Life Jacket is suitable for canoeing, lake boating, and riding waves around the beach.
These personal flotation devices are uniquely sculpted for comfort and protection, and they won’t fade in the sun even with consistent use.
Hold on, there’s more…
The graded sizing, foam paneling, and adjustable straps make the life vests easy to wear. With a snug fit, you can easily move around.
Plus, the chest straps are strategically spread out to minimize ride-ups.
You’ll also find a back ring for easy drying on the wall.
This PFD with a weight range of 50-90 will remain suitable for your child, even as they grow into teenagers weighing up to 90 pounds. And the adjustable neck straps, sternum straps, and waist straps give a custom fit that allows some bobbing around.
Read Full Review: Stohlquist Fit Youth Life Jacket
Best Comfortable Life jacket For Adults
7 – Airhead WICKED Kwik-Dry NeoLite Flex Life Jacket
- Quick-release buckles
- Large grab strap
- Comes with a crotch strap
- Neck and zipper too close to the head
- Zipper too tight for some babies
Wearing a PFD is important for your safety in the water.
And of all the Type III PFDs available on the market, the Wicked Kwik-Dry Neolite Flex Vest is one of the most comfortable for adults.
The closed-sided vest life jacket comes with two hidden straps with quick-release buckles and a crotch strap for extra safety. Its front zip has straps that go in between the legs to keep the vest in the right place.
The way the zipper is designed also makes it easy to remove. And the straps are highly adjustable to fit your chest.
Plus, the jacket’s kwik-dry material will dry up in between swims, especially with the PVC foam front that’s exceptionally light. This makes it comfortable to wear for extended water-based activities.
Read Full Review: Airhead WICKED Kwik-Dry NeoLite Flex Life Jacket
8 – Astral V-Eight Life Jacket
- Super comfortable
- It comes with adjustable buckles
- Non toxic PVC
- Not ergonomic
- Not suitable for extended use under the sun
This sailing life vest is designed for your protection without sacrificing comfort.
It has large armholes, and the panels sit tight on the body without disturbing the face.
But that’s not all…
The polyethylene and EVA foam make it a custom fit for both men and women. Plus, the lower chest buckles and adjustable shoulder buckles will help you fit in perfectly.
Also, the mesh expels excess heat on both sides so that you’ll enjoy your time on the boat. And the vest comes with front pockets for keeping an emergency whistle, knife, strobe, and more.
This jacket comes in different sizes and colors, and it is very reliable. It is also buoyant, comfortable, safe to use, and durable.
Yet, it is very cheap.
Best Life Jacket For Kayaking
9 – Kayaks Hi-Fi Kayaking Life Jacket
- Durable 200 denier nylon shell
- Self-draining pockets
- Highly visible
- Only suitable for warm weather
- Quite hard to get hold of
This USCG type III jacket is perfect for kayaking.
Its front zip and two other self-draining zippers around the pockets make it easier for you to store items you might need.
The mesh back and panels on the side will make it easier for you to enjoy the wind and allow water to drain off your body.
Also, the life jacket has a raised back that makes it a great fit for kayaks with back rests. You’ll be more comfortable, as there’s minimal overlapping between the PFD and seat. Plus, there won’t be any ride-ups.
Here’s something interesting…
The front, back, and shoulders have a reflective trim that gives you style and improved visibility.
And the durable 200D nylon shell will chug on through heavy wind.
Best Swimming Life Jacket For Kids
10 – Zeraty Kids Swim Vest Life Jacket
- It comes with a crotch strap
- Adjustable buckles
- Designed for both sex
- Can’t wash with machine
- Weak buoyancy
The Zeraty Kids Swim Vest Life Jacket is safe for any child weighing between 18 and 77 pounds.
It’s very useful for beach holidays, summer surfing and swimming training.
The jacket is made with stretchy material for kid comfort and usability. Easily take off this life jacket made with neoprene for better buoyancy and confidence.
Parents love the jacket because of its extra protective features. It comes with a crotch strap to prevent the jacket from slipping off.
You’ll also find a handgrip at the top to help you pull a falling child from the water or grab them before they fall in.
Why Trust Us?
Being on the water is exciting yet risky. You need to stay safe with a life jacket.
But how do you choose the appropriate fit from the several options available on the market?
Well, here’s something…
We’ve spent several hours researching, testing analyzing different types and brands of life jackets. We considered over 30 models and interviewed several water sports experts and jacket users, both the young and old.
But we didn’t stop there. We further used some of these life jackets ourselves and noted the best ones.
Contemplating durability, flotation, comfort, versatility, and value for money, we’re able to narrow down the myriad of options to ten.
Amongst our top ten, we marked each one according to its strength and functionality. We noted the ones most suitable for different age groups and uses.
That’s why you’ll see the best life jackets for teenagers, youths, and adults, as well as for fishing, kayaking, and other water activities.
The life jackets that made it to our list are the best you’ll find on the market. They are worth your money and will keep you safe.
How To Choose The Best Life Jackets
1. What are the different types of life jackets?
It’s important to know the different types of life jackets available for use. That will help you know which one will suit your needs best.
Offshore life jacket (Type I)
This jacket will keep you afloat on open water even when unconscious. Its buoyancy is circa 22lbs for foam jackets, while inflatable jackets take 33lbs.
People use type I life jackets on commercial ships like freight ships, cruise ships, and ocean fishing boats.
This type of PFD is suitable for all waters, whether the seas or open oceans, especially with the reflective tape that adds bright colors to users.
Near-shore Vests (Type II)
These are less bulky than the type one jackets, with a buoyancy of 15.5 lbs.
The design will keep your face up in inland waters while unconscious. But don’t use them in open waters. They’re safe to use on small lakes or rivers where someone will find you quickly, in case of a fall.
Flotation Aids (Type III)
Enjoy kayaking, water skiing, wakeboarding, canoeing, and more where quick rescue is more likely.
This jacket’s buoyancy level is 15.5lbs, and they are very comfortable.
They won’t keep your face up when unconscious since they’re lightweight.
Rescue- Devices (Type IV)
You can’t wear this life jacket. They are thrown at someone as an emergency floating device.
Examples of Type IV life jackets are ring buoys, horseshoe buoys, and buoyant cushions. And they have a buoyancy of 16-20 lbs.
Here’s something interesting…
Some states require that over 16 feet boats must carry one of these every time.
Special-use Devices (Type V)
As the name suggests, they are only used for specified activities. The inflatable ones rate between 22 and 34 lbs for buoyancy, while the foam models are between 15.5 and 22 lbs.
A lot of offshore deckhands, whitewater guides, and Coast Guard teams wear them. They might use the floatation device to protect a dog, too.
2. Features to look out for
For the best decision, you need to know the features to look out for. These features are what will make your life jacket fit for purpose and make you agree that you’ve made the right choice. Here are some of such features.
Water may cause jackets to pop above the head. Crotch straps give you an extra assurance that your jacket won’t slip off.
When kids are involved, it’s safer to use jackets with crotch straps so that their frames can go in the jackets.
Life jackets without padding often chaff against the stomach and arms when you’re on board for several hours. That’s why you need a life jacket with shoulder padding to keep you safe at all times.
For more comfort, choose life jackets with lower back support. They prevent back pain, especially during extended kayaking.
Pockets and loops
Pockets and loops in jackets help keep supplies like fishing tools, compass, and emergency whistles at hand.
But don’t fill the pockets with unimportant items. That’s because too many items in pockets will affect the jacket’s buoyancy.
This feature is useful for easy location. Asides from bright colors, reflective patches will make it easy to locate you, especially at night.
The patches are usually tape plastered or piped, and they shine brightly in emergency cases.
For your safety, buy a life jacket with harness support. That way, you can clip onto a solid area and even tug yourself up when the need arises.
Harness support is compulsory for white-water rafting and other high-impact sports. You need it in case things turn south.
When in need of rescue, items like whistles and flashlights will draw attention to you. That’s why it’s good to consider life jackets that come with small whistles and flashlights.
You can blow the whistle to call for help and use the flashlight to lead the rescue team to you.
3. Product and specifications explained
This is the fabric or material that constitutes all the parts or major parts of the life jacket. The material affects how durable it is, and how much it retains water.
This is measured in inches for adults and pounds for children. It is the chest size of an adult, not their weight or height.
This describes how much weight a life jacket can keep afloat water. That means that you should not go for one with a lower weight capacity than your body weight.
4. These are things to consider
Before buying a life jacket, consider the following:
Life jackets come in different materials, mostly nylon and neoprene.
Nylon is less expensive and lightweight. It’s comfortable and makes it easy to paddle a boat or cast a fishing reel.
On the other hand…
Neoprene is more expensive, offering a better fit. It’s great for jet skiing, tubing, and water skiing, and its buoyancy will keep you afloat.
Also, it will keep you warm in cold water.
A life jacket needs to be a snug fit, yet remain comfortable on you.
There are different sizing categories for infants, teenagers, and adults. Adults measure their chest, while children use their weight to determine the right fit.
Measure yourself, and check the size of a life jacket before you put your money down.
If the PFD is small, your mobility is restricted, while a big one will make it a challenge to float in water.
If a life jacket is not suitable for your weight, you won’t like the outcome. If the flotation is too much, it’s bulky on you. And where it’s small, it won’t keep you afloat.
You need a weight-appropriate life jacket.
Life jackets come with zips or buckles.
While you can easily adjust buckles, zips turn out to be more secure.
Consider your body size. And for ultra-protection, get one with both fastenings. Those have the front zipper and fastening buckles. You can choose to either buckle up or zip up.
Use Your activities in water determine the most suitable life jacket for you.
As a swimmer, you need a jacket streamlined for swimmers. Tubers need jackets they can toss around- one with a crotch strap.
Fishermen will do better with pockets, and kayakers need topnotch arm fitment and easy arm movement.
Coast-Guard Safety Approval
Many people drown without life jackets. But what’s the point of a PFD that’s not suitable for use?
Make sure you go for a jacket that is Coast Guard approved. It gives an assurance of safety.
5. Jargon buster
Also known as buoyancy, it is the force required to keep a user’s head above water.
The average adult needs 7-12 lbs of flotation in water. Other factors like body fat, body weight, and lung size may affect flotation, meaning that you may need more flotation to survive in rough water.
An inflatable jacket uses gas for inflation. This manually or automatically inflated jacket is easy to wear.
Sailors prefer this kind of jacket since it’s only an emergency measure for overboard falls.
Once inflated, replace the gas cartridge.
Ride-up involves the movement of a life jacket up the body of a wearer. Where straps stay above the shoulders and up the chin, there’s a ride up, and the wearer isn’t floating correctly.
Best Life Jackets Top Tips
Here are a few tips to help you choose the best life jacket:
- Go for bright colors like orange or bright yellow so that you’re more visible in the water.
- Check the label for the size of the jacket.
- Make sure the weight capacity is enough to carry you.
- Choose the jacket most suitable for your age group.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s The Difference Between A Life Jacket And A Life Vest?
There’s no difference between them. Both words are often used interchangeably to describe a vest or jacket designed to keep an individual afloat if they fall overboard.
How Do I Choose A Life Jacket?
Before you choose a life jacket, you need to pinpoint an exact use for it. Consider the kind of activity you’ll be doing on the water and what kind of water you’ll be on.
Then, examine things like the weight capacity, buoyancy, durability, size, and accessories of the options before you.
What Is The Most Important Factor In Selecting A PFD?
Before buying a life jacket, you must consider some things. And the most important of them is the reason you want to buy one.
Consider the type of activity you’ll be doing and the kind of water you’ll be wading through.
To arrive at the best life jackets, we ran surveys, granted interviews, and went on the water ourselves.
There are several quality life jackets available on the market, but we chose only the best, analyzing and testing them thoroughly.
Here’s what we did…
We considered how effective the life jackets were in keeping members of the team afloat. A few times, we played around the buckles, straps, and loops to see whether they would give way.
All the jackets on our narrow list turned out valuable, making us proud of the money we spent.
Of course, a few did better than others in terms of durability, ease of use, and especially versatility, but none of them was a fail.
And after a deeper analysis and comparison of the ten, we concluded.
Look at this…
Stohlquist Fit Life jacket is our Editor’s choice. This decision was not so easy, but it was glaring that this was number one, judging from its level of versatility. Plus, the jacket is easy to use and maintain, guaranteeing its usefulness for a long time.
Right after that, winning our Best Value Award, is the Stohlquist Fit Adult PFD 4 Pack Coast Guard life jacket, with numerous features and accessories that make it worth the money.
Our Top Pick is the Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket, another resourceful and adaptable jacket for your protection. This life jacket stands out for how fit it is for every water activity you can think of.
Want to know exactly how we arrived at our conclusion?
Then, dive in!
Our Analysis, Comparisons & Test Results
1. Value For Money
Though for your safety, you don’t want to spend all your money on a life jacket. You can get a well-performing life jacket at a friendly price.
The jackets in this category are budget-friendly, so you don’t have to rob the bank to buy any of them.
And guess what?
You’ll be glad when you see the features that each of them packs.
For example, our Best Value Award Winner, the Stohlquist Fit Adult PFD 4 Pack Coast Guard doesn’t only protect you, it will keep you comfortable with its foam panels. Plus, you’ll enjoy storing it in the zippered bag.
Without proper maintenance or use, some of them chafe, and won’t look good anymore because of their material. But if you dry them properly and hang or pack them correctly, they’ll remain handy.
These life jackets don’t only perform well, they will last long, alongside the box stitches, extra pockets, and self-draining design they come in.
We set out ourselves to find out how comfortable it is wearing any of these life jackets. What we realized is that apart from the materials being weather-friendly, the buckles and straps are placed strategically for your comfort.
The zippers hold you tight, but not too much. And the straps are adjustable for your snug fit. Even where your body size fluctuates, you’ll fit right into these jackets.
Let’s be honest…
Some of these jackets are more comfortable than others. For instance, the Airhead WICKED Kwik-Dry Neolite Flex jacket has the zipper a little too close to the neck and is even too tight for babies.
But generally, these jackets will provide you with maximum comfort.
People wear life jackets for protection while enjoying activities on the water.
It only makes sense that the safety gear doesn’t end up hindering all the fun that comes with paddling, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and other water-based sports.
The jackets we’ve chosen are designed to allow you to move freely, even while you’re being protected in case of boat accidents.
They have large armholes, and you can adjust the straps to custom fit.
A few come with the crotch strap to hold the jacket down so that it doesn’t pull up by itself and disturb your activities.
And you’ll love the quick-release buckles that snap open the jacket once you’re ready to come out of it.
To determine this, we went beyond field testing, to lab testing.
We wanted to see how much each life jacket holds up in the face of storms, scorching sun, floods, and other natural occurrences.
Plus, we needed to estimate how long they would last, judging from their fabric or material.
Well, here’s something…
These jackets are mostly made of 200 denier nylon oxford material and polyester mesh, which are good enough to survive water splashes and heavy rainfall.
“Absolute Outdoor Inc.” even produced the Onyx Kayak Fishing Life jacket with 400 denier nylon.
These materials are more suitable to prevent chafing as well as rust. They reduce the risk of tears, too.
You should be able to use a life jacket in multiple conditions like during hot weather, extreme cold, heavy storm, or rainfall.
Here’s the thing…
We tested different aspects of the waterboarding experience. We enjoyed water skiing, kayaking, fishing, and engaging in other exciting watercraft. That way, we would know whether the jackets can easily adapt to conditions and uses.
Eventually, we found out that these jackets, especially the Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket come with buckle straps, foam panels, box-stitching, and non-restrictive cuts to keep you safe in any situation.
Without feeling bulky, you’re well protected and will arrive at the shore safely.
5. Ease of Use
We’ve agreed that life jackets are a great safety measure while on the sea. But to optimize one, you need to find it easy to use.
And that includes both wearing it conveniently, and finding it easy to remove after use.
The rescue person needs to know how to get you out of the jacket, after a fall.
These ten life jackets come with straps, buckles, panels, and loops to make it easy for you to wear and remove.
You’ll also find it easy to dry, hang, and even store, in some cases.
Kayaks Hi-Fi Kayaking Life jacket even has self-draining pockets to let out cupped water.
Our Final Verdict: Best Life jacket
After my team and I examined the life jackets on the market today, we can boldly say that these jackets are just what you need to survive on the water.
Without the fear of drowning or losing control in the face of a natural disaster, you’ll enjoy your water activities.
While each jacket varies from the other in terms of material, weight capacity, size, buoyancy, and specific features, they’ve all proved to perform well. They will keep you afloat on water, serving as your first point of help, whether you’re on calm inland water or open water.
Let’s be honest…
These life jackets come with a few flaws, but they are not things you can’t overlook, embracing their top-notch features and performance.
A few are more suitable for kids, some for adults, and others, universally fit for both the young and the old.
Now, see where each one of them sits on the list.
Conclusion: Best Life Jacket
You need a jacket to better concentrate on having fun kayaking, fishing, or doing any other water activity.
But because there are several brands, types, and colors of jackets, it can be confusing to choose one.
We’ve considered the resourcefulness, adaptability, and durability of these lifejackets compared with the money you’ll spend owning one. That way, you can make the best choice, based on your needs.
Here’s the truth…
All the life jackets that made it to our list are award winners. So if you choose any of those here in our review, you’ll be making a great choice.
But, notable amongst our list is our Editor’s Choice, the Stohlquist Fit Life Jacket, for its versatility and topnotch performance on the water.
Next, our Best Value Award Winner, the Stohlquist Fit Adult PFD 4 Pack Coast Guard, packs a punch and will give you a hang of your money.
And lets not forget our Top Pick, the Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket that goes with you on any water activity?
Well, the ball is now in your court – you have all the information you need at your fingertips. We leave the choice to you now.