3 Best Life Vests For Kayak Fishing

The best life vests for kayak fishing aren’t just intended to save your life, they should also be functional and integrated into the way you fish. Your Personal Flotation Device (PFD), or life vest, is the most important piece of safety equipment you can have with you on your boat. But, that safety doesn’t have to impose on your comfort, your space, your mobility, or limit how you fish. To help you stay safe and sane on the water, here’s a look at what makes a good life vest, plus three of the best for kayak fishing.

What Makes A Good Life Vest for Kayak Fishermen

Safety. Your life vest is intended to save your life, and save your life it should. Any life vest you use for kayak fishing should be a United States Coast Guard (USCG) approved flotation device. The coast guard classifies life vests into five different types, each with different applications. Most life vests specifically made for kayak fishing fall under Type III PFDs, Type V PFDs or special use devices.

Comfort. If you don’t want to end up stuffing your life vest somewhere on your boat instead of keeping it on your body, comfort is key. In a kayak, you’re in a small space and you’re sitting for hours at time. The best life vests for kayak fishing will be light enough that they won’t make you feel too bulky and they’ll work with your seat. Today, many life vests made specifically for kayak fishing offer high backs to help you sit comfortably in your kayak seat.

Mobility. For a life vest to be a worthy fishing companion, it can’t limit your ability to fish. Luckily, most life vests made specifically for kayaking tend to have large armholes and keep the bulk floatation lower on the body, away from the shoulders and upper chest giving you a full range of arm and upper body motion for angling and paddling.

Storage (or lack thereof). Many kayak fishermen will tell you one of the most important things to consider when choosing a life vest for kayak fishing (other than its ability to save your life) is pocket space. A life vest with ample pocket space gives you the option to store your tools for quick and easy access eliminating the need for a fishing vest or waist pack, and unnecessary grabs for gear on your kayak.

On the other hard, some kayak fisherman prefer to have their life vests as minimal as possible to ensure the least amount of movement restriction and the most amount of the ‘you’ll forget you’re even wearing it’ factor.

3 Best Life Vests For Kayak Fishing

As mentioned above, the best life vest for kayak fishing isn’t just intended to save your life, it should also be functional and integrated into the way you fish. Below are three of the best.

NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD

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Safety. The NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD is a U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III PFD with 16.5 pounds of flotation to keep you above the surface when you take a plunge.

Comfort. Eight adjustment points ensure a perfect fit. High-back flotation means you sit comfortably in your kayak seat and the mesh lower back panel helps keep you cool in warm weather.

Soft PlushFIT™ foam flotation conforms to your body as you wear it for unsurpassed comfort without making you feel too bulky.

Mobility. The NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD fits more like a fishing vest than a flotation device and for mobility that’s a good thing. Ample room for arm and upper body movement will keep you casting away comfortably.

Storage. Designed with anglers in mind, the NRS Chinook Mesh Back Fishing PFD features seven front pockets to keep fly boxes, tippet, and additional fishing gear easy to reach. Lots of gear attachment points and a coil fishing tool retractor lets you keep your line snips, forceps or other lightweight fishing tools handy. A D-ring on the back can be used for attaching your net, and there’s a strobe holder loop for fishing in low light conditions. If that isn’t enough, the NRS Chinook Life Jacket also includes rod holder loops, a knife lash tab, and multiple D-rings and attachment loops.

ABSOLUTE OUTDOOR Onyx M-24 Manual Inflatable Vest

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Safety. The Absolute Outdoor Onyx M-24 Manual Inflatable Vest is a U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type V PFD with Type III Performance and a minimum buoyancy of 22.5 pounds when inflated. This PFD automatically inflates upon immersion in water or when the you pull the “Jerk to Inflate” handle and can be converted from auto/manual inflation to manual only. Its equipped with backup oral inflation.

Comfort. Erring more on the side of ‘you’ll forget you’re even wearing it,’ the Absolute Outdoor Onyx M-24 Manual Inflatable Vest is comfortable, lightweight with a low profile design. A soft neoprene neckline provides all day comfort and there’s padded air mesh for additional comfort.

Mobility. Due to it’s compact size and design, the Absolute Outdoor Onyx M-24 Manual Inflatable Vest tops the list in providing anglers with the least amount of restriction to their movement. It’s slender straps reduce the amount of friction you might normally encounter in a PFD when speed jigging or with the rod butt under your arm. This PFD is also the Official Life Jacket of Major League Fishing.

Storage. What the Absolute Outdoor Onyx M-24 Manual Inflatable Vest provides in comfort and lightweight design, it loses in storage. But, it’s not totally without. It has a D-ring that is useful for attaching items like your paddle leash and rescue whistle.

Additional Considerations. As with any inflatable device, it’s important to consider the possibility of malfunction — you’ll only really know it works when you need it. An inflatable life vest may not be the best option for big water where you’ll want flotation foam, but if you’re kayak fishing calm waters and lakes, it will fit the bill nicely.

Men’s Ebb Life Jacket/Personal Floatation Device

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Safety. The Men’s Ebb Life Jacket/Personal Floatation Device is a U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III PFD with 16.2 pounds of flotation to keeping you on the up and up when you need it.

Comfort. The lightweight design uses PE foam for flotation, with a 400x200 ripstop outer shell and a soft 200D inner liner. The mesh lower back area reduces weight, keeps you cool and won't interfere with your kayak's seat.

The Stohlquist's cinch-strap system raises its back, and draws the foam panels closer to your body for a comfortable fit. Neoprene padded back lower waistband and mesh shoulders and back make for enhanced comfort and breathability.

Mobility. Made with paddlers in mind, the Men’s Ebb Life Jacket/Personal Floatation Device fits like a vest, gives you ample space around your shoulders and arms, and won’t interfere with your paddling or casting. It’s a no-frills life vest, suitable for paddlers alike.

Storage. The two chest pockets are handy for quick access to small fishing gear and have built in drainage. One pocket has an elastic strap you can use to secure additional tools.

Making Safety Work for You

In a kayak where your safety, comfort and space is at a premium, choosing the right life vest is critical to your success on the water. Now that you know what makes a good life vest for kayak fishing, you’re one step closer to the PFD that not only works, but works for you and how you fish. After all, the best life vests for kayak fishing should enhance your fishing experience or at the very least not limit it.

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