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10 Best Life Jackets (PFDs) for Paddle Boarding of 2021

This guide explores the best personal flotation devices (PFDs) for stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). SUP is an incredibly fun sport, but it doesn’t come without safety risks. Out on the water, anything can happen and you want to be safe at all times. As such, you’ll need a high-quality PFD to keep you safe in the water.

Top 3 Picks

Preview
Best Overall
Stohlquist Edge Lifejacket (PFD)-Red-S/M
Best Price
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, X-Large/XX-Large, Aqua, 122200-505-060-15
Best Light Weight
1 - Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PFD Life Jacket - Pink
Title
Stohlquist Edge Lifejacket (PFD)-Red-S/M
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, X-Large/XX-Large, Aqua, 122200-505-060-15
1 - Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PFD Life Jacket - Pink
Best Overall
Preview
Stohlquist Edge Lifejacket (PFD)-Red-S/M
Title
Stohlquist Edge Lifejacket (PFD)-Red-S/M
Best Price
Preview
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, X-Large/XX-Large, Aqua, 122200-505-060-15
Title
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, X-Large/XX-Large, Aqua, 122200-505-060-15
Best Light Weight
Preview
1 - Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PFD Life Jacket - Pink
Title
1 - Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PFD Life Jacket - Pink

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

The Types of PFD/Life Jackets

Before picking the right paddle boarding life jacket for you, you first need to know about the different types of PFDs available to you.

There are 5 different types and which one you will want to choose will depend on what your specific wants and needs are.

Type 1 PFD

Type 1 personal flotation devices are perhaps the most basic of all of the options. You will likely have seen them on commercial ships/boats/vessels, and any water vehicles over 12 feet long. They are commonly referred to as “offshore life jackets”.

This option can be used in virtually any water conditions (including rough and choppy ones and/or deeper waters). The jackets are large and extremely buoyant, the added materials (mainly foam and fabrics) also help keep you warmer should you find yourself in the cold water. The strategic design keeps your head above the water in the event of a fall into it which allows you to take stock of your surroundings.

Type 2 PFD

A type 2 PFD looks similar to the type 1, just a slimmed down version. They are an excellent choice for calmer waters and skilled swimmers. As these jackets are lighter and more compact, you will likely find that you need to tread water and/or paddle to keep your head above water. They are often used in sports where others are always with you (such as wakeboarding, boating, kayaking and even paddleboarding) where they could help you should you need rescuing. They are not the best option if you are out on the water alone.

Type 3 PFD

Type 3 lifejackets are similar in style to the type 1 and 2, but reserved for much stronger swimmers. They are understood to be more comfortable than the previous options, but not nearly as buoyant. They can keep swimmers floating vertically with the face above the water but aren’t designed to keep you afloat for extended periods of time. As such, they are often used in colder conditions where users have zero intention of ever getting in the water (or putting themselves at risk of falling in).

Type 4 PFD

You might have spotted the type 4 PFD at your local pool, on the deck of fishing boats/yachts, and/or on the coast/beach. They are a great throwable alternative when wearing a PFD isn’t possible. You shouldn’t rely on a type 4 life-float for those that can’t swim, children or anyone unconscious. A good example of a type 4 PFD is a ring buoy – a orange and white, donut/round shaped flotation device which are often found on ferries or cruise ships. They can be used quickly and you can use the attached rope to pull the struggling swimmer to safety.

Type 5 PFD

The type 5 flotation devices are a mix between all of the above designs. They are in the style of the more traditional life jackets and inflated by piercing a CO2 capsule. Others will be activated when the jacket is under water. They are good for experienced swimmers who have spent considerable amounts of time on a boat.

How to Select the Best PFD For Your Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Best life jackets for paddle boarding.

Now that you know about the different types of personal flotation devices and life jackets available, you need to know how to select the best one for you. Use the below steps to identify the right option for you or who you are buying for.

Decide on Which Type of PFD to Buy

The above information makes it clear that there are several types of PFD for you to consider. The right option for you depend on your intended use, swimming ability and personal preferences.

If you are looking for a classic life jacket or vest, you will want to buy a type 2 PFD. Choose a neoprene one (the same materials used to construct wetsuits so it can help insulate your body heat should you fall in to the water) which has adjustable belts and buckles for maximum comfort.

For the more experienced and advanced swimmer, who wants to retain full flexibility, comfort and mobility, a type 4 or 5 PFD will be a better option. They are light, comfortable and will not limit your movement. They will allow you to move and breathe without limit or restrictions.

Look for The Best Fit

Whilst comfort should not be your primary concern when buying a PFD, it is without a doubt an important part of the process. You will find kids, youth/teenager and adult sizes available and most of them are unisex sizes. You can find some life jackets specifically designed for men and women though if you have more unique needs. You can even find sizes for your pets!

The right sized PFD will fit comfortably and won’t be too tight or too loose. The top of the vest should fit securely on the top of your shoulders. Any buckles or belts should be fastened comfortably and these same notes will apply to sizing your pets PFD also.

Buoyancy

Most type 1 and 2 devices have up to 22lbs of buoyancy for adult sizes and up to 11lbs for child ones. The higher type 5 vests have more lbs of buoyancy of 34lbs. You need to ensure that the PFD you invest in has enough buoyancy to keep you floating safely.

Durable, Reliable Material

Of course you will want your PFD to be made from a durable and reliable material such as neoprene or nylon. Any material that keeps the inflatable padding safely inside the jacket is a good option.

The 10 Best PFDs for SUP

1. Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

The Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket is made from mini-ripstop nylon material with a 200D Oxford waterproof liner. The personal floating device is fitted with ultra-soft buoyancy foam, graded to provide a better fit for the different Stohlquist life jacket sizes. The buoyancy foam makes it a perfect life jacket and carrier.

It comes with a comfortable ergonomic WRAPTURE torso design with adjustable padded shoulder straps, and four conforming side pulls for a better body fit, and a waist buckle closure at the front. The shoulder straps are contoured and articulate away from the user’s neck for less chafing. The PFD also features an offset zipper and mesh siding for better ventilation.

2. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest is made of heavy-duty nylon fitted with soft and light floatation foam. The heavy-duty nylon fabric ensures the personal floatation device resists punctures and tears, providing you safety throughout your paddling adventures. The MoveVent Dynamic weighs the same for all Onyx U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket sizes.

The PFD features six neoprene pads-fitted shoulder adjustments that ensure the life jacket’s snug fit for more comfort. It has a mesh panel at the back to ensure it fits kayak and canoe seats and front and back mesh ventilation for breathability. You will also love its zippered pockets, which are expandable and have mesh drainage as well.

3. Onyx Unisex Belt Pack Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

The Onyx Unisex Belt Pack Manual Inflatable PFD is an extremely lightweight paddling accessory covered with the waterproof 200D oxford nylon, eliminating the risk of punctures. The belt is fitted with a concealed CO2 canister that provides enough buoyancy for adult use. You can manually inflate the PFD through its D-ring attachment.

The belt is compact and fits almost any adult, providing much more comfort than a vest. It has an adjustable strap that makes putting it on and off easy for both men and women. 

The belt has a 1-inch buckle and buckle closure. It is low profile and does not affect the paddler’s range of movement.

4. Astral YTV Life Jacket

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

Astral YTV Life Jacket is lightweight but still has a high buoyancy rating. It is built to last with a double nylon lining that ensures it is puncture-resistant, thus efficiently delivering you the buoyancy. The personal floatation device is fitted with PE foam inserts, which are responsible for its excellent buoyancy.

You will love its feather-light build that ensures it doesn’t weigh you down but feels comfortable to carry on your back when paddling. It comes with a simple pull-over design with adjustable side buckles and an adjustable torso lock feature that ensures a snug but comfortable fit of the life jacket as you move.

5. O’Brien Women’s Impulse Neo Life Vest

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

The O’Brien Women’s Impulse Neo Life Vest provides both comfort and buoyancy with its BioLite Technology. The design keeps its weight down, allowing the Coast Guard-approved vest to give you both comfort and excellent buoyancy.

The vest is built with a comfortable and breathable design, including a neoprene outer for a perfect fit and comfort and large armholes to ensure you have unrestricted movements. It features two adjustable belts and a front zip closure to ensure it has a customized fit. It also has multiple front and back hinges for added maneuverability.

6. O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

The O’Neill Men’s Life Vest is made of light polyethylene foam floatation material coated with a strong but soft polyester shell. The design and build make the U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device soft and comfortable, making it a perfect accessory for any paddle boarding adventure.

The vest has a front buckle design with four 1.5 inch wide webbing belts and quick release Delrin buckles for easy adjustment. The design is made for a snug fit for men and easy mobility. The floating material is anatomically cut to ensure the vest remains lightweight and does not weigh you down when paddling.

7. Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

The Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest comes with a sturdy 200D nylon shell fitted with light PE floatation foam on the inside. Its design is U.S. Coast Guard-approved as for an adult life jacket. It is an ideal personal floatation device, even for adults weighing above 90 lbs.

It features four adjustable belts with a front-open design for breathability. Each strap has a one-inch buckle for a secure and comfortable fit. One belt closes the upper side of the vest around the chest to ensure it doesn’t rise to choke your neck when you sit. Its two large armholes allow you free movement even as the webbed straps hold the PFD tightly on your body.

8. Stohlquist Kids’ Escape PFD

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

Stohlquist Kid’s Escape is a Type III Personal Floatation Device built with low profile floatation foam on the front and back sides. The buoyancy foam is extra-soft for added comfort. The kid’s vest is United States Coast Guard-approved, with a sea-level buoyancy of 12 lbs. It is built to last with a 200 denier oxford lining.

You will love the comfort and fit provided by the forward pull adjusters at the sides and shoulders, the waist belt that has side release buckles, and the front zip. The shoulders are padded, and the zip has a front top lock. It has a longer front torso to allow for full coverage and a conventional fit.

9. NRS Vapor Kayak Lifejacket (PFD)

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

This personal floatation device is made of 400 denier urethane-coated ripstop nylon and a 200 D nylon lining. The double-layer nylon covers ultra-soft and light floating foam for buoyancy body-hugging comfort. The 400 D nylon ensures the PFD resists tears and punctures and serves you season after season.

It comes with excellent six-panel design and comfort features, including air mesh panels for ventilation and padded shoulder straps. NRS Vapor Kayak Lifejacket is a type III personal floatation device tested and certified by the U.S. Coast Guard. It will provide you with great comfort paddling on flat water, rivers, and the ocean.

10. NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

*Details last updated on 2021-09-28

This personal floatation device is built for on-the-water effectiveness and comfort. It features Soft PlushFIT floatation foam that provides excellent floatation and an unprecedented level of comfort on your body. The floatation foam combines with a high-back design to deliver added comfort. It is a type III life jacket and provides floatation of up to 16.5 pounds.

The NRS Chinook Fishing PFD features a zippered front-entry with eight adjustment points, allowing you to customize your fit. It also has a mesh lower back ventilation to serve you on warmer days and seven front pockets for storage and quick access to the accessories you need. It provides you both safety and comfort being a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD.

Conclusion

Life jackets and/or personal flotation devices are essential for any water sport including stand up paddle boarding. So, make sure you invest in the right one for you and keep as safe as possible out on your adventures!

Jake Dennon

I am an avid sports enthusiast who has been fortunate enough to train with some of the best athletes and coaches in the world.

As a child, I had a keen interest in football (soccer) and regularly played with my friends and for my school. We had an ex England ace coaching us at one point and he really motivated me to make sports a big part of my life.

Moving into my teenage years I tried everything from basketball to weight lifting and everything in between. I was lucky enough to train weekly at a local tennis club who's head coach was a at one point the 9th best player in India and within the top 100 ranked players in the world.

The combat sport coaches I have been trained by have also trained some of the top fighters in the industry. All of these brilliant trainers (and all the ones in between) have shown me just how rewarding keeping fit and healthy can be.

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