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The Best Life Vests

🕚 Updated April 2022

Water sports are an amazing way to celebrate warm weather and sunshine. Whether you water ski, kayak, or practice yoga on a paddleboard, a life vest is a must-have to ensure your fun is safe. Here are our recommendations.

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  Top Choice Great Fishing Vest The Best Four Pack Classic Choice Best for Kids
MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports CGA Life Vest
Kayak Fishing Life Jacket
Adult-Fit PFD Life Vest
Type II Keyhole Life Jacket
Kids Swim Vest Life Jacket
Our SummaryThis life vest is constructed with comfort in mind with ventilation panels on the front and back of the vest.This kayak fishing life vest has a handy pocket for a small tackle box.A four-pack of Coast Guard-approved adult life vests made by a decades-old PFD company.The classic summer life vest from childhood made for adults.This life vest jacket has 100% UV protection and neoprene for extra warmth and buoyancy.
ProsMesh lower-back panel for ventilation, durable nylon material, six adjustable straps, large armholes for comfort, large storage packet pocket.Multiple pockets for various purposes, drop-down tray pocket for small tackle box, zippered fleece lined pocket, chest pocket, clasp pockets for tools and sunglasses, high foam back, breathable mesh lower back, six adjustment straps.Industry leader in PFDs, U.S. Coast Guard approved, design allows unrestricted mobility, high-sitting upper buckle to reduce ride up, thin back panel for comfort, rounded foam corners, durable box-stitched webbing.Classic key-hole style, U.S. Coast Guard-approved type II, heavy-duty nylon, universal fit.Super cute for kids, pink and blue option, four sizes from extra small to large, jacket fit with crotch strap, two chest buckles, two bottom strap buckles, neoprene material for buoyancy and warmth, 100% UV protection.
ConsMay fit large.Drop-down pocket opens completely, vest comes in only two sizes.Unisex size-fitting PFD may be too large for smaller adults.Limited to certain water zones.CE (Conformite Europeene) certified, which is considered by some to use less stringent standards.
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19 Models Evaluated

9 Hours Researched

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The Best Life Vests

Orange life vest on wooden background.

Buying Guide for Life Vests

Happy little boy with his father kayaking on river.
Max Topchii/Shutterstock.com

Why buy a life vest?

Indeed, you could rent a life vest on or before your outing, but it makes sense to have your own life vest if you get in the water more frequently than on the annual family river trip. Also, not all life vests are created equally. Buy a certified life vest you feel comfortable in, and bring it when you hang out with that friend on their boat.

What should you look for in a life vest?

  • Closure System: Buckles lock in place for a secure and adjustable fit but can be bulky to store or wear. Vests with zipper closures are quick and easy but don’t allow ventilation, making them less comfortable to wear for long periods.
  • Shape: Wide-set straps are more comfortable but should be paired with an adjustable fastening system to avoid shifting. Vests with open sides are less secure but offer ventilation on hot days.
  • Features: Life vests with the U.S. Coast Guard stamp of approval fall within the five types of personal floatation devices and have been designed to keep you safe for specific water activities. Additional pockets and clips are ideal for those traveling at low speeds but avoid storing items while tubing or participating in high-energy water sports.

Which safety class should you choose when buying a life vest?

It depends on what you are looking for and the level and type of water activity you participate in. Type I, II, III, and V US Coast Guard-approved life vests for different water sports, body weight, and other factors. Then there are four design types: inherent, inflatable, hybrid, and special purpose, and each have features specifically made for certain activities.

Our Picks for the Best Life Vests

Top Choice

Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports CGA Life Vest

This life vest is constructed with comfort in mind with ventilation panels on the front and back of the vest.

Pros: Whether you are on a leisurely ride across a lake or rushing down rapids, the Onxy MoveVent Dynamic Sports Life Vest will keep you safe and cool. The mesh lower-back panel promotes ventilation and reduces discomfort when sitting in high-back seats. The nylon material is durable while remaining soft so that the vest is comfortable against bare skin. With six adjustment straps, you will be able to create the perfect fit around your chest, while the large armholes provide ample space for movement. This vest also features a large storage pocket for important items and a lash tab for items that you need to be tethered to your body, such as a river knife or whistle.

Cons: This may fit too large and awkward. We recommend you check the sizing chart before making a purchase.

Bottom Line: This sporty life vest has multiple features like a practical pocket for extra storage and adjustable straps to give you a suitable fit wherever you go.


Great Fishing Vest

Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

This kayak fishing life vest has a handy pocket for a small tackle box.

Pros: If you’re an avid fisher, you likely value life vests with suitable pockets to quickly access fishing gear like pliers and pocket knives. This kayak fishing vest has your back—there are four pockets, each designed for different purposes. There’s a drop-down tray pocket for a small tackle box, zippered fleece-lined pockets, and a zippered chest pocket. Also important are the open-ended pockets to clip sunglasses or scissors. You may appreciate the high foam back, and breathable mesh lower back if yours has high back seats. Also essential are the six adjustment straps to give you the best fit possible.

Cons: A few users warn that the drop-down pocket opens completely, so you may not want to store loose items other than a tackle box. Also, this life vest may or may not fit right with only two sizes.

Bottom Line: This U.S. Coast Guard-approved kayak fishing vest provides safety, comfort, and desirable pockets for essential fishing gear. It’s also attractive, with a blend of tan, dark blue, and orange colors.


The Best Four Pack

Stohlquist Adult-Fit PFD Life Vest

A four-pack of Coast Guard-approved adult life vests made by a decades-old PFD company.

Pros: Why buy one when you can buy four and get a good deal, too? Stohlquist is a big name in personal floating devices or PFDs. They’re known for manufacturing the safest and ideal-fitting life vests. These U.S. Coast Guard-approved adult life vests are built to give adults unrestricted mobility with a high-sitting upper buckle to reduce ride up and a thinner back panel. Additionally, the PFD has rounded foam corners and box-stitched webbing for greater durability.

Cons: This universal, unisex size-fitting PFD may fit large for smaller adults.

Bottom Line: When it comes to these PFDs, safety is a priority, but they also look nice. Choose between a red and gray pattern or black and gray. All four come in a zippered storage bag.


Classic Choice

Airhead Type II Keyhole Life Jacket

The classic summer life vest from childhood made for adults.

Pros: No complaints about bulk and awkward fit here. This is the classic, keyhole-fit, alarmingly bright orange life vest from your childhood, made for adults. It does the trick as an essential flotation device. The point is to keep an adult buoyant if they’ve been in an accident until a rescue team arrives. It’s a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type II life vest, one to wear near-shore—not out at sea or white-water rafting. The heavy-duty nylon vest has a universal fit for adults 90 pounds and over.

Cons: You are limited to certain water zones with this life vest.

Bottom Line: Although not made for the roughest waters, you’ll stand out with this bright and bold orange vest, which is good because you want to be visible for safety’s sake.


Best for Kids

Gogokids Kids Swim Vest Life Jacket

This life vest jacket has 100% UV protection and neoprene for extra warmth and buoyancy.

Pros: Goodness, this kiddo life vest jacket is cute. There’s one for kids who like pink, another for kids who prefer blue. And there are all kinds of cool features to consider. For one, they come in four sizes, from children aged 3 to 4 years and 29 to 33 pounds up to kids 7 to 8 years or 48 to 75 pounds. The Gogokids life vest jacket is much safer than the keyhole standard. It wraps around the body and buckles in two places on the chest and under the crotch with a strap and two buckles. The neoprene material adds extra buoyancy, making the vest great for new swimmers.

Cons: This life vest is not Coast Guard certified, but CE (Conformite Europeene) certified, which some consider to use less stringent standards.

Bottom Line: This Type III life vest jacket comes in a cute dolphin design that keeps kids’ bodies warm and afloat. It’s great for kids learning to swim and more-advanced young swimmers at a lake, for example, close to shore.

Final Thoughts

Life vests allow you to focus on enjoying your time with family and friends without worrying about danger. When it’s time to get back in the water, do it safely with one of these top choices in life vests.

Camryn Lang Camryn Lang
Camryn Lang is a freelance writer and copyeditor that has produced a wide variety of content, from breaking news and memorial tributes to web content and fiction novels. While working on her bachelor's degree in English at Texas A&M University, Camryn led writers and editors at the nationally recognized university newspaper, The Battalion. During her free time, she enjoys reading thrillers and fantasy novels and eating desserts. Read Full Bio »
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