Best Kayak Fishing PFDs in 2020 – Buyer’s Guide

Kayak fishing is fun, yet a bit dangerous. What if I told you that you could paddle and fish safely with a good-quality personal floatation device (PFD)? 

A PFD is one of the essential accessories you must have while kayaking. It doesn’t only save you from drowning, but it also serves as an extra storage space. And even if you usually kayak in calm water where you’re always near the shore, it’s still advisable to wear one.   

PFDs come at different price points with various features, so choosing one could be confusing. For this reason, I’ve decided to compile a list of the best models on the market, hoping that you find the best kayak fishing PFD. 

In case you don’t know the things you should consider before buying one, I advise you to read the short buying guide as well as the frequently asked questions section before reading the reviews.

 List of the Best Kayak Fishing PFDs:

  • Stohlquist Fisherman – Best Overall
  • Kokatat Bahia Tour – Runner Up
  • Onyx Curve – Budget Choice
  • Stohlquist Women’s Flo – Best Women PFD
  • NRS Chinook – Most Comfortable
  • Stohlquist Men’s Ebb – Best Fit
  • ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket – Best Value
  • Stearns Child Watersport Vest – Best for Children

Comparison Table: 

PFD

Type Material 

Buoyancy 

Stohlquist Fisherman

Standard non-inflatable500 D cordura16.8 lbs.

Kokatat Bahia Tour

Standard non-inflatable210 denier nylon16 lbs.

Onyx Curve

Standard non-inflatable200 denier nylon15 lbs.

Stohlquist Women’s Flo

Standard non-inflatable400 x 200 denier ripstop16 lbs. 

NRS Chinook

Standard non-inflatable200 denier nylon

16.5 lbs.

Stohlquist Men’s Ebb

Standard non-inflatable400 x 200 denier ripstop16 lbs.

ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

Standard non-inflatable400 denier nylon oxford15 lbs.

Stearns Child Watersport Vest

Standard non-inflatable200 denier nylon

15.5 lbs.

The 8 Best Kayak Fishing PFD in 2020 

1. Stohlquist Fisherman – Best Overall 

Stohlquist Fisherman

Stohlquist Fisherman is one of the best, if not the best, PFD for kayak fishing on the market. It’s exceptionally durable, given that it’s made of 500 denier Cordura nylon and 200 denier oxford liner. 

This type-III PFD is approved by the US Coast Guard, which means that it’s guaranteed to keep you safe. If you’re not sure what the Type-III refers to, check the help section below. Besides, you can buy one with a high-visibility color, which helps make you visible in case of emergencies. 

Moreover, you will be comfortable wearing it as it features numerous adjustment points as well as chest cinching straps that help keep the jacket in its place, ensuring that it doesn’t ride up. 

What I genuinely love about Stohlquist Fisherman is that it comes with multiple pockets, offering more storage space. What’s more, the pockets are zipped, EVA foam-padded, and they help keep your gear in your pocket no matter what you do. 

As for the EVA foam padding, it’s a brilliant move on the manufacturer’s side because it helps keep your stuff safe and sound, especially when you’re trying to get on the kayak after you have been in the water. Besides, you can also use them as platforms to help tie hooks and lures. 

Furthermore, it features open sides for ventilation so that you can wear it in hot weather. It’s also suitable for kayaks with high back seats, thanks to its high back foam floatation with a mesh. For added comfort, it has neoprene padded shoulders and back waistband. 

Pros:

  • Approved by the US Coast Guard
  • Visible color 
  • Has zipped and padded pockets 
  • Can be worn in hot weather 
  • Comfortable 

Cons:

  • Small pockets 
  • A bit bulky 

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a kayak fishing PFD that has pockets, is comfortable and can be worn in warm weather, Stohlquist Fisherman is the one. Its visible color and the fact that the US Coast Guard approves it means that it’ll definitely meet your expectations.

2. Kokatat Bahia Tour – Runner-Up 

Kokatat Bahia Tour

The Kokatat Bahia Tour is the second-best choice for many reasons. Made of the relatively lightweight 210 denier nylon, it won’t restrict your movement and doesn’t feel stiff. 

Moreover, if you generally feel safer wearing a visible life jacket, this type-III PFD features reflective strips on the front and back that are approved from The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS.) Plus, it has plenty of reflective material, which proves to be quite handy while fishing in dim lighting. 

Also, if you need to secure a light beacon or even a knife, you can use its two lash tabs, as it has one on the front and another on the back. 

Besides, it is especially great for kayaks that don’t provide much lower back support because it features excellent lumbar support that moves independently, as it is separated from the foam of the upper back by a mesh section that helps with ventilation. 

Moreover, the neoprene padded shoulders and the soft Gaia foam ensure you stay comfortable and relaxed all day long. 

This PFD features a large storage space, as it has two large zipper pockets, where one of them can be used for your pliers and the other for the electronics. What’s more, you can safely store your GPS, mobile phone, and their likes in the electronics pocket. 

The design of Kokatat Bahia Tour is really thoughtful, given that the main zipper pockets are bellow ones. This means that they could expand to take as much gear as possible and flatten whenever there isn’t any gear in them. 

Pros:

  • Large storage space 
  • Visible color with reflective strips 
  • Comfortable 
  • Considerate design 
  • Offers lumbar support 

Cons:

  • Some find it bulky 

Bottom Line 

Kokatat Bahia Tour is one of the most impressive PFDs as it doesn’t restrict your movement. I also love its bellow zipper pockets that expand and flatten according to their usage. Plus, its visible color and reflective strips ensure that you will stay safe and visible at all times. 

3. Onyx Curve – Budget Choice

Onyx Curve

Made of 200-Denier nylon ripstop and nylon oxford, this is a quite durable PFD. Plus, it’s quite visible in the water, as it’s made of a SOLAS-approved reflective material. 

This US Coast Guard-approved PFD provides a lot of comfort with its shoulder and back floatation and bubble foam. It also features shoulder adjustments with neoprene pads.

The shoulder adjustments make it fit many people perfectly. Also, you’ll love how breathable it is, thanks to the ventilation on the front and back of the vest. Besides, if you have a sit-on-top kayak or a kayak with high back seats, Onyx Curve will serve you excellently because of the mesh in its lower back. 

Moreover, it features adjustable side belts as well as a sculpted design that allows it to conform to your body shape. It also offers great mobility for paddling and fishing. 

You needn’t worry about it ever getting unzipped because of its durable and strong zipper closure with a zip assist loop at zipper base.

Pros:

  • Durable 
  • Comfortable 
  • Fits a lot of sizes 
  • Offers excellent mobility 
  • US Coast Guard-approved
  • SOLAS-approved reflective material
  • Budget-friendly 

Cons:

  • Might be a bit bulky for some people 

Bottom Line 

The durable and comfortable Onyx Curve comes at an affordable price. You’ll love fishing and paddling while wearing it because it offers impressive mobility. Some even say that it’s too comfortable that they forget to take it off. Plus, its SOLAS-approved reflective material will keep you visible at all times, increasing your safety. 

4. Stohlquist Women’s Flo – Best Women PFD

Stohlquist Women's Flo

This Type-III PFD is excellent for women. Its built-in bust cups help keep women comfortable throughout the day. Besides, the cinching chest straps prevent the PFD from jumping up, so that women avoid any kind of discomfort they could otherwise experience. 

It’s also puncture-resistant because it’s made of 400 x 200 denier ripstop shell and 210 denier oxford liner. And the best part is that it doesn’t compromise comfort thanks to its lightweight foam. Moreover, the foam has an inner mesh lining for coolness and wearability. Besides, you won’t find any difficulty paddling while wearing it, thanks to its padded neoprene lower back waistband. 

What’s more, you won’t find yourself forced to lean forward because the mesh panel at the lower back raises the foam and lets it sit above the back of the kayak. I’m also glad to tell you that you can adjust the PFD at the waist and shoulders until you reach the shape that fits you the most. 

However, some large-chested women complain that Stohlquist Women’s Flo is not suitable for them, saying that the front padding is directly over the chest and so leaves a gap between itself and your body. Moreover, some complaints claim that it’s bulky.

Pros:

  • Made for women 
  • Mesh panel at the lower back
  • Lightweight foam
  • Can be adjusted at the waist and shoulders 
  • Approved by the US Coast Guard 

Cons:

  • Can be bulky for some women 
  • Not suitable for women with large breasts

Bottom Line

Stohlquist Women’s Flo is one of the best kayak fishing PFD for women. Its cinching chest straps and built-in bust cups provide women with comfort throughout the day.

5. NRS Chinook – Most Comfortable 

NRS Chinook

NRS Chinook is yet another type III-PFD that’s approved by the US Coast Guard. It’s durable, as it’s made of 200 denier ripstop nylon coated with urethane.

It’s also very comfortable so you can use it when you’re kayak fishing for long hours. The reason why it’s comfortable is that it features the soft PlushFit foam, which conforms to your body shape for added comfort. What’s more, it has eight adjustment points, so you can adjust it until it feels truly comfortable. 

Moreover, its back is designed in a way that makes it perfectly fit into the seats of a fishing kayak. The lower back features a mesh section that doesn’t only serve to make you feel more comfortable but also allows you to wear the vest more comfortably in hot weather. Plus, the floatation is more in the shoulder area, which gives you more mobility. 

The lovely NRS Chinook features seven front pockets and three D-rings, so you can be sure that you’ll always have enough room for your gear. Plus, it has even got an integrated rod holder. 

Sadly, it won’t please those who appreciate having a vest with reflective markings. Although it’s a little pricey, it’s worth every penny.

Pros:

  • Comfortable 
  • Lots of pockets 
  • Soft PlushFit foam
  • Approved by the US Coast Guard

Cons:

  • No reflective marking
  • Relatively expensive 

Bottom Line 

NRS Chinook is simply the most comfortable life jacket for kayak fishing. Its soft PlushFit foam is proof that it was designed with your comfort in mind. Besides, you’ll appreciate the storage pockets it offers. 

6. Stohlquist Men’s Ebb – Best Fit

Stohlquist Men’s Ebb

This is yet another type-III kayak fishing PFD. Its lightweight PE foam and the fact that it’s made of 400 x 200 denier ripstop shell and 210 denier oxford liner render it one of the best models on the market.  

Besides, it’s comfortable to wear because it has a mesh back that allows for ventilation, so you won’t feel irritated wearing it in warm weather. Plus, it features eight adjustable straps, so it fits a wide range of body sizes. To make sure you are truly comfortable, the lower and the shoulder straps are padded.  

As for storage, it features zippered pockets as well as two side-entry pockets, where you can secure your tools. 

Pros:

  • Lightweight 
  • US Coast Guard-approved 
  • Padded shoulders and lower straps 
  • Breathable 

Cons:

  • Not visible in the water

Bottom Line

Stohlquist Men’s Ebb is one of those PFD fishing kayaks that fit a wide range of sizes. Its eight adjustable straps allow the users to adjust the vest according to their size. If you’re looking for a comfortable choice with good ventilation, give this one a try.

7. ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket – Best Value 

ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

The outer shell of ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket is made of 400 denier nylon oxford, so it’s abrasion-resistant and will serve you for years. 

It’s also pretty comfortable as it features six easily-adjustable straps. Besides, the high back section features a mesh panel for ventilation, so you don’t get very hot during warm weather.

What I love about this type III-PFD is that it comes in a universal size that fits people with a chest size from 30 to 50 inches and an oversized model that suits those with chest sizes of 40 to 60 inches. 

Besides, it features four zipped pockets. Your tucked gear will be easily accessible because the opening on the top button allows pilers, radios, and all other pieces of equipment to clamp securely to your vest. As for the small tools, you can put them in the tray pocket or the lash tab. 

However, some people claim that it’s only comfortable if you use it on a kayak with no back seats. But if your kayak comes with a back seat, you might not find it comfortable enough. 

Pros:

  • Breathable 
  • Affordable 
  • Comfortable 
  • Comes with a universal and an oversize fit

Cons:

  • A bit bulky 
  • Might not be comfortable for kayaks with back seats 

Bottom Line

This is one of the most affordable kayak fishing PFDs on the market. However, its affordable price doesn’t mean that you need to compromise anything, given that ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket is comfortable, breathable, durable, and has a lot of pockets where you can store all your necessities.

8. Stearns Child Watersport Vest – Best for Children 

Stearns Child Watersport Vest

Have you ever wanted to take your child on your kayak fishing trips, but couldn’t because you’re afraid they would fall in the water? Well, this is no longer a problem with Stearns Child Watersport Vest. 

It’s specially designed for kids that weigh from 30 to 50 pounds. The US Coast Guard also approves it, so you can rest assured that your child will be in safe hands while wearing it. 

Plus, you don’t need to worry about your kid taking off the closed-sided vest because it features three belts for the chest area and a crotch strap, so the vest will always stay on your child until you decide otherwise.   

Moreover, it is quite durable, given that it’s made of 200D nylon over PE foam. Plus, since kids hate feeling restricted in any way, this vest has large armholes to provide kids with better mobility. I like the large armholes because they also spare your kids from any kind of pain resulting from the vest’s friction against their arms. 

However, since there are too many people complaining about the size of the vest claiming that it’s too small for their children.

Pros:

  • Durable 
  • Safe 
  • Designed for kids
  • Closed-sided 

Cons:

  • Could be too small for some children

Bottom Line 

Stearns Child Watersport Vest is the best PFD kayak fishing for your child. It’s durability and comfortability are impressive. You’ll also appreciate how safe it is. 

How to Pick a Kayak Fishing PFD

If you’re in the market for a reliable kayak fishing PFD, here are a couple of features to which you should pay close attention in order to pick out the best option for yourself.

1. Size

You should get a kayak fishing life vest that perfectly fits you in order to provide you with maximum comfort. You should note that your weight has nothing to do with this matter, your chest size does, however, as that’s where the material of floatation rests in the vest. 

Being comfortable in a life vest is extremely important. You don’t need a life jacket that restricts your mobility and holds you back from paddling or reeling comfortably. 

2. Durability

It is essential to check the material of which the PFD is made. Most excellent ones are made of ripstop nylon. However, those made of organic foam, Gaia, Kapok, or PVC are not any less great. You should also check the denier, which is the number that denotes the density of the nylon. The higher the denier, the more durable the vest. 

3. Storage 

Having a life jacket with lots of pockets is such a huge plus, given that storage spaces on kayaks are rarely sufficient. Also, it helps you say goodbye to the awkward twists you do while trying to grab a box or something. 

4. Coast Guard Approval 

A lot of people drown as a result of wearing a faulty life jacket that isn’t approved by the US Coast Guard. So, making sure that the PFD you buy is approved by them and manufactured under the supervision of water life experts will definitely increase your peace of mind. 

5. Type 

According to the US Coast Guard standards, the personal floatation devices are divided into five categories. You must pick the type that suits your needs. Below, you will find the five types with their comprehensive descriptions. 

What Are the Types of Kayak Fishing PFD

Type I PFD: Offshore Life jackets

This type is designed for rough waters and oceans where people won’t be quickly rescued. They offer the best floatation of all PFD types. Besides, they keep people safe even if they’re unconscious.  

However, they are the bulkiest and not comfortable. Plus, this type isn’t sold to the public, and it’s often found on commercial vessels.  

Type II PFD: Nearshore Buoyancy Vests

Like Type I, type II offers excellent floatation. However, it’s intended for near-shore use, where rescue is quick to arrive. It’s less bulky and more comfortable than the former type but is still unsuitable for kayaking, as it doesn’t offer the mobility a kayaker needs. 

Type III PFD: Flotation Aids

This is the most common type for kayaking. Its large armholes provide kayakers with the mobility they need while paddling and casting. It’s also great for paddling because the bulk of floatation is kept away from the arms and shoulder. This type is designed to be used in places where there is a high chance of immediate rescue. 

Type IV PFD: Throwable Devices

The classic life preserver ring is a perfect example of this type that is more of a backup than a PFD. It won’t rescue unconscious people or non-swimmers. Also, it’s not the type of PFD you need with you while kayaking. 

Type V PFD: Special-Use Devices

This type is designed for specific activities. For example, some of them are designed for kayaking, waterskiing, windsurfing, and other similar activities. So, if you decide to get this type, make sure that it’s intended for kayaking or similar activity.  

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the Difference Between a Life Jacket and a PFD?

A life jacket is designed to flip over unconscious people because it has more padding on the front. However, PFDs are designed to rescue conscious people, given that they won’t flip you if you’re unconscious. 

Because of the above information, you might think that life jackets are ultimately better than PFDs; however, there are other things to consider. For example, PFDs are less bulky, so they provide better mobility. They are also more comfortable to wear and they have larger armholes so you’ll be more comfortable paddling while wearing them. 

How Long Does a PFD Last?

There isn’t a specific time after which PFDs become useless; however, their average usage expectancy is ten years. There are some things you could do to ensure that your PFD lasts longer like letting it dry naturally without using a heater before putting it away and storing it in a ventilated place away from direct sunlight. 

Should You Have a Life Jacket/PFD on a Kayak?

Yes, you should. PFDs keep you safe in case of emergencies as they prevent you from drowning. Moreover, the ones that come with pockets help increase your storage room.

Final Thoughts 

By now, I hope you’ve already found the best kayak fishing PFD. In case you’re still confused, I will summarise the above reviews to facilitate the process for you.

If you need a PFD that is designed for women only, there’s no better choice than the impressive Stohlquist Women’s Flo. Its built-in bust cups and cinching chest straps help women stay comfortable throughout the day, as they prevent the vest from jumping up. Moreover, the mesh panel at the lower back allows women to sit comfortably.

Do you have a child whom you want to take on your fishing trips? Why not? With Stearns Child Watersport Vest, this won’t be impossible anymore. It’s durable, safe and has large armholes, so you and your child will enjoy a peaceful trip together.

In case you’re on a budget, you can either go for Onyx Curve or ONYX Kayak Fishing Life Jacket. Both of them offer great value for their money.  

Since all the remaining PFDs are excellent, you just need to make a checklist and pick the vest that suits you the most.