PFD Buyers Guide for Kayaking

PFD Shopping Links
Men's PFDs
Women's PFDs

The most important thing to look for in a kayaking PFD (personal floatation device - not pdf which is a file type, aka "life jacket") is fit and comfort. There's no way to generalize all the factors that go into finding a good fit, so we go into detail about that in our individual descriptions of each PFD we sell, and we stock a wide variety of kayaking PFDs by Kokatat and Stohlquist. Kayakers are the most demanding of all users, so over the past few decades it has been kayaking PFD's the have led the way to better fitting PFD's. First Lotus, then Kokatat and Stohlquist built modern kayaking life jackets made of more durable materials with more pockets, lash tabs for knives, and other safety features. These features also make kayaking PFDs popular for canoeing, rafting, and sailing. PFD's for kayaking need to be short so they won't ride up when sitting. But as they get shorter, they get thicker because you have to put the floatation somewhere. When taken to an extreme, this gives some of the river kayaking PFD's a thick "blocky" look and feel, but with a few exceptions, most PFD's designed for kayaking are also the best in terms of fit and comfort for canoeing, rafting, and sailing. Now that manufacturers offer women's life jackets, most women are better of with a women's model. Women generally have smaller diameter upper arms, so women's fit PFDs have smaller arm holes which helps prevent the jacket from floating up around your face when swimming. Some guys find they initially like the fit of women's PFDs, but due to the smaller arm holes on women's models, a guy is likely to get chaffing under the arms after a long day of paddling.

When trying on a pfd, first loosen up all the adjustment straps (there typically are two or three on each side, shoulder straps, and some have an adjustable belt below the zipper while others have chest straps on the front too), the put it on and snug up all the straps. After getting a first impression about the feel of the PFD, have someone grab it by the shoulders and pull up firmly then let go. If it slips upward more than an inch, it is not a good fit and will be unpleasant to swim with. However, some body types may have to accept this (i.e. pear shapes would need a crotch strap to keep the PFD for slipping upward, but none of the kayaking PFD's come with such a strap). If you buy a PFD from us and it fails this test, please call us -- we can help you find a better fitting one after talking with you about your build (emailing us a photograph that shows your shape will help too).

If you have a question, please e-mail us at or call us at (866) 306-1825. Local and international customers can reach us at (206) 527-1825.