Kayak Fishing Life Vests | 7 Performance PFD’s

River PFD's
Photo courtesy of Mestengo Productions

PFD’s are the single most important piece of equipment on any paddler’s boat. But, just because they’re safety equipment doesn’t mean they need to be boring. Kayak Fishing Life Jackets offer paddlers easy access storage, added comfort, and a little more style than the old orange horseshoe molding on the jon boat. After a lightweight paddle a new life vest is one of the best bang for your buck upgrades to make an impactful difference on the water.

The kayak fishing life vests below are all USCG Type III certified. That means they all have at least 15.5 lbs of buoyancy and are suitable for inshore and protected waters. From a life saving perspective these vests will keep you floating long enough to be rescued. They won’t turn you face up if you’re unconscious in the water. And they aren’t suitable for dangerous waters such as the high seas or rapids. Compliance with Canadian and other country’s maritime regulations will vary. But they’re generally close to USCG regs (expect to do some lbs-force to newton conversions if you’re using metric.)

As always we vehemently recommend you wear a PFD at all times when you’re out on the water. If you’re unsure as to how to pick the right one for you then check out the selection guide after the list.

Kayak Fishing Life Vests

NameWeight (lbs)PocketsImage
NRS Chinook25NRS Chinook Front
Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket1.354Onyx Kayak Fishing PFD
Stohlquist Keeper Fishing PFD 20211.94Stohlquist Keeper
NRS Matik Inflatable 20211.81NRS Matik
Astral V Eight Fisher1.32Astral V Eight Fisher
Kokatat Leviathan PFD3.114Kokatat Leviathan
Old Town Lure Angler Life Jacket1.847Old Town Life Jacket

NRS Chinook

NRS Chinook Front

The NRS Chinook is one of the best known kayak fishing life vests, and for good reason. Like its helicopter namesake the Chinook does some heavy lifting; and its set the bar as one of the most comfortable and versatile PFD’s specifically made for kayak anglers.

There are two standout features about the Chinook. First is the overall positioning of the vest. The posterior padding is smaller and sits higher on the body closer to your shoulders, while the front portion of the vest sits closer to the waist. This positioning accommodates lawn-chair style kayak seats perfectly and won’t distort your posture. A lower-riding front vest offers easier and more natural storage access – you won’t need to make any T-Rex arms to open a pocket zipper right near your chin.

Secondly the Chinook features a built in knife lash on the left front strap. It’s suitable for quick access to pliers or a multi-tool, but it really shines when fitted with either the NRS Neko or NRS Pilot knives. There simply isn’t a better place for a paddler to keep a knife, and it doesn’t hurt that it looks cool as hell.

In addition the NRS Chinook has 5 front pockets for tool and lure storage. And multiple adjustment points on the sides, shoulders, and waist to ensure a perfect fit. All in all there’s little, if anything, that the Chinook will leave you wanting. This is one of the most popular vests out there should easily be a top pick for anglers.

Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

The Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Vest is a value packed budget option that incorporates the same features of vests twice its price. A high-seated thin foam back provides added comfort for paddlers on sit-on-top (SOT) style yaks. Three molle straps on the left chest plate provide handy access for stickbaits, shades, and other small accessories. On the opposite side is a knife mount atop a small pouch that’s great for some spare split-shot or leader line. Two lower large pockets are great for keeping pliers, snacks, and other essentials.

So with all these features how does the Onyx cost so much less than its competitors? Well the secret’s in the sauce – and that sauce is the materials. The Onyx is primarily made from nylon fabric and has heavy duty plastic zippers. These are perfectly suitable options for a maritime environment; but are more susceptible to rips and breakage than stronger options.

It’s also only available in two sizes; universal and oversize. The latter accommodates chests 40″-60″; and the universal size fits chests between 30″-52″. That’s a pretty huge range for both sizes; so if you’re on the thinner side you’ll have to cinch the straps down quite a bit. Luckily 6 adjustment points and neoprene shoulders will provide security for most folk; but be aware that they run large.

The Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Vest is available online and at Dick’s Sporting good; so if you’re concerned about fit this is one you can easily try before you buy.

Stohlquist Keeper Fishing PFD 2021

Stohlquist Keeper

Stohlquist’s Keeper Fishing PFD bills itself as the ultimate kayak fishing life vest. That’s a bold claim, but one that’s readily backed up. The Keeper was designed as a “hybrid” to incorporate the unending pockets of fishing vests with the life saving abilities, and regulatory compliance, of a USCG Type III PFD. Like other premium kayak fishing life vests the Stohlquist Keeper has a high price tag.

Perhaps the most innovative feature of the Keeper is its approach towards fit with graded sizing. Rather than relying on universal foam inserts the Keeper provides foam inserts appropriately sized for the wearer; providing a consistent amount of buoyancy across body types. This is a pain from a manufacturing standpoint, but provides added space for ample storage.

The Keeper eschews a high-seated back for a full body-length back with thinner foam. This design provides a more traditional fit without riding up when sitting in a lawn-style chair and opens up real estate for pockets. Two front mounted EVA lined pouches protect from crush damage and fold out to serve as mobile work stations. Ventilated shoulder and back panels will keep you cool in Summer, while built in hand warmers behind the top pockets are clutch for cool weather canoeing.

The Stohlquist Keeper is a high quality life vest that’s available in three striking color schemes (Mango, Lime, Grey) and are properly sized for a wide range of paddlers. Top notch materials, design, and functionality are proof positive that the Keeper really is, a keeper.

NRS Matik Inflatable 2021

NRS Matik

While some angler’s prefer storage galore others opt for a more bare-bones experience. And it doesn’t get much lighter than inflatable PFD’s. This style of life vest relies on a built in moisture sensor to activate a CO2 cartridge which in turn inflates a sealed bladder, providing buoyancy. This style of PFD is lightweight, unobtrusive, and a boon for those seeking freedom of movement.

The NRS Matik Inflatable is a manual-only PFD; and this is hugely important. Automatic or hybrid style inflatable PFD’s inflate after a water soluble switch is triggered. Cheaper triggers work based off the length of exposure (usually 30 seconds to a minute) while more expensive hydrostatic pressure valves only trigger at a certain depth. These types of vests are great in situations where you’re prone to getting knocked unconscious, like, for example, in a high speed sailing race.

In less demanding scenarios premature deployments are a costly nuisance; replacement cartridges can range between $10 and $30 per charge. The Matik’s manual only option mean’s there’s no chance of accidentally burning through your wallet due to rain or a bit of splashing. The only way this vest inflates is by pulling the cord; which makes a lot of sense given that kayak fishing isn’t exactly a high impact sport.

If your goal is light-weight and safety only then the Matik is an excellent option. Sizing can be a little too snug on large-chested individuals – so if you’re in that category be sure to try before you buy.

Astral V Eight Fisher

Astral V Eight Fisher

Even though life jacket’s are the most important piece of safety gear on your kayak plenty of paddler’s still choose not to wear them. And one of the biggest reasons is; they’re uncomfortable. When the Sun’s high and the breeze is dead a large bulky PFD isn’t fun to wear.

Astral’s entry in kayak fishing life jackets takes aim at this problem and fires with gusto. This PFD was built for breathability and comfort; and is billed as “The World’s first breathable PFD“. Breathability is accomplished through Astral’s patent pending Airescape® system. A layer of pre-shaped egg-crate style foam is surrounded by mesh to reduce body to vest contact area by ~70%. Air ports on the front and sides provide channels for heat to dissipate, rather than getting trapped and providing unwanted insulation. With a weight of only 1lb 5oz the V-Eight is one of the lightest options on our list, yet still provides 16 lbs of buoyancy.

Lightweight and breathability are further bolstered by a straightforward and simple design. Two front pockets and a tool mount provide limited storage for essentials only. A high back section will keep you comfy while seated and multiple adjustment points ensure a snug fit. We’re also really big fans of the waist-buckle to compliment the front zipper which is super useful for getting a perfect fit.

The Astral V-Eight Fisher is an excellent choice for angler’s in warmer climates looking for maximum breathability and comfort.

Kokatat Leviathan PFD

Kokatat Leviathan

Do you like pockets? What about pockets with pockets on top of pockets? If you’re looking for a vest with Inception level pockets (5 pockets deep) then breath easy brother; your journey is over. The Kokatat Leviathan is a beast of a vest with truly impressive amounts of on-person storage.

With 14 different compartments the Kokatat is as close to a hands-free tackle-box as you can get. 8 zippered pockets, 4 mesh pouches, and two hand warmers round out the storage array on the Kokatat. If you’re still hurting for more gear there’s a pelthora of mounting points for knives, pliers, retractors, and more. D-rings, shoulder loops, and straps are strategically placed to provide anchor points for strobe lights and landing nets. The front is held together by a beefy YKK zipper and features contoured foam inserts for a more comfortable fit. And the back portion rides high for comfortable seating.

All this storage is crammed into a relatively small front profile. To compensate the foam inserts are a bit thick which causes this kayak fishing life vest to protrude from your chest quite a bit more than others. It’s definitely not a deal breaker, but could interfere with your casting. All in all the Leviathan is a great vest for fly fishermen who enjoy a pit stop for wading, or anglers who can’t leave any lures at home.

Old Town Lure Angler Life Jacket

Old Town Life Jacket

If you’re familiar with Old Town then you’ll know they make some of the best canoes and kayaks in the business. After 100 years building boats you tend to pick up a few tidbits of knowledge about what paddlers want, and how to give it to them. That expertise has bled from wood strips and HDPE over to the foam padded world of PFD’s with the Old Town Lure Angler Life Jacket.

The Old Town Lure aims to be an excellent all around kayak fishing life vest. To that end its incorporated multiple advanced features to provide a stylish and robust vest. The Lure’s “Aircomfort” tech reduces body contact and assists air flow with egg crate style foam, mesh, and air vents to accentuate breathability. The high back will fit kayak chairs and three large zippered pockets on the front are perfect for a comms-device and a bag of soft plastics. Rather than plastics the Lure Life Jacket opts for multiple loops and D-rings around the vest. This approach confers most of the storage benefits of extra pouches without the added bulk.

The Lure also features a waist buckle for a snug fit and the lower band is great for hanging a landing net or water bottle. Over the last few years the Old Town Lure has grown in popularity and is a stout contender for the title of “Best Fishing PFD”. It’s a quality piece of kit and is available in Moss Green and Grey. If you’re already rocking an Old Town Auto-Pilot or Sportsman kayak than this pfd should be a no brainer. Go for that “Yeah, I’m sponsored” aesthetic (fire).

How to Choose the Right PFD

Finding the perfect PFD isn’t rocket science, but it does take a little effort. Below are our recommended criteria when sourcing your next life vest.

Comfort and Fit

It doesn’t matter how fancy or basic your life vest is, if it’s on the deck and not on your body it won’t do you any good. And the number one reason people don’t wear PFD’s – they’re uncomfortable. Most vests are bulky and restrict movement. Plus they ride up your neck when you’re sitting down. On a hot day when you’re sweating a sticky nylon vest strapped tight to your sunburned skin sounds miserable. For these reasons it’s critically important to find a vest that fits your body type and is comfortable for long spans of time.

When possible make sure to try on a vest before committing to the full purchase. Also make sure to tighten the straps to ensure a snug fit. Make sure it doesn’t come loose or slip off too easily. It doesn’t matter how comfy your vest is if it won’t stay on in a crisis.

Style

Do you bring saltwater gear when you’re hitting up a lake, just in case? Does it take you longer to load up your lures than it does your boat? If you answered yes to either then you’re not exactly a “Grab and Go” angler and that’s OK. But it also means you’ll probably want to opt for more pockets than the average fisher. On the flip side is the phrase “Suns Out Guns Out” more of a lifestyle choice than a chance to pose? Do you consider fishing “active tanning”? You’re gonna want to opt for something light and minimal – like an inflatable vest, you saucy beefcake.

No matter what style of angler you be honest with yourself about what features are must haves versus nice to haves. The PFD’s on our list, and off our list, cover a wide range of prices and styles. If you think paying over $100 for a vest is crazy then grab that faded jetski vest and get out there bruh! Just be sure you wear something any time you’re over water.

Overview on Kayak Fishing Life Vests

Modern fishing PFD’s are an awesome but pricey upgrade for your kayaking game. Added comfort and personal storage will go a long way in increasing your enjoyment overwater, whether it’s a 2 hour jaunt or a 10 day trek. Let us know your favorite vest; tag us on IG with #Yaklogic if you’ve got some cool pics to share. Tight lines wet paddles!