Choosing the Right PFD

NRS Vista PFDChoosing the right PFD will depend on the type of kayaking you plan on doing.  The most important thing to be concerned about – besides the fact that it actually floats – is comfort. 

If your lifejacket isn’t comfortable, if it is rubbing in certain areas or riding up in the back, you will not want to wear it.  Getting a PFD that fits well and suits your style of paddling will make all the difference.


Proper fit will ensure that you are comfortable and equally as important that you float properly in the water (hopefully you won’t end up there).  When purchasing a pfd online it is really important to read the reviews.  It can sometimes be hard to know if the lifejacket you are looking at is going to fit your body properly.  By reading other user reviews you can get a fairly accurate idea of how you will feel in the pfd.  Also watch for pfd’s that are specifically for men, women or unisex.

For range of motion look for a PFD that offers good stretchy material.  Many will offer mesh sidings which really helps with breathability as well.  Also beware of where the zipper is placed and if it is easy to get on and off.


The design of your pfd will determine how it floats you.  If the flotation foam is positioned low on the body it will ensure that it is submerged and therefore provide good lift.  Any foam above the waterline when you swim does not help to float you.  It is nice however to have some padding on the tops of the shoulders.  Keep in mind that you will float lower in lakes than in the ocean and even lower in whitewater surf.

Touring vs. Whitewater Kayaking

Usually PFD’s that are made for touring are full-torso styles.  They will often have pockets to hold things that you would like to be easily accessible.  Whitewater pfd’s however are usually lower-body styles.  They have minimal to no pockets and are geared for maximum mobility.  If you are simply a recreational kayaker than I would recommend using whichever type of you find the most comfortable as long as it is an approved PFD.


You will find approved PFD’s in an assortment of colors.  It would be wise however to stick to the high-visibility colors like red, yellow, or orange as they are much easier for someone to spot you should you need help.


It can be tempting sometimes to sit on your PFD especially if you don’t have a proper seat in your kayak.  However this is not recommended as sitting on your PFD will cause abrasion and compression (and it also means that you are not wearing it!).  Make sure it gets completely dried out before storing it so you don’t get any mildew and store it out of direct sunlight.  If you need to clean your lifejacket use warm water and a gentle soap and clean it by hand.

Let’s be honest, an awkward, uncomfortable lifejacket is simply not going to get used.  It is worth having one that feels like it is almost not there (if that’s possible).  Put some thought into your PFD purchase and it will probably be the only one you ever have to buy.

For the best selection of PFD’s check out our list of online retailers for kayaks and gear.

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