A PFD (personal flotation device) is the single most important piece of safety gear you can bring when you’re out kayaking. But PFDs also serve another important purpose for kayak anglers – they need to double as a fishing vest.

Honing in on a kayak fishing PFD that offers the right mix of safety and angler-friendly features can be tricky with such a huge variety to choose from. This article will break down what to look for and offer a shortlist of some of the best PFDs for kayak fishing currently available on the market.

best pfd for kayak fishing

The first half of this article is full of advice on what to look for in a kayak fishing PFD. If you know what you’re after, feel free to jump ahead to the reviews section for our top picks.

Types of PFDs

What type of PFD is best for kayak fishing?

You can really get away with any PFD that fits well and is certified by the US Coast Guard. Having said that, most of the PFDs you’ll see on the market are designed for recreational boating, which isn’t as active and doesn’t require the same freedom of movement needed to paddle a kayak or cast a rod.

Investing in a PFD specifically designed for kayaking is well worth it, even if you don’t consider yourself a serious kayaker. The US Coast Guard specifies 5 different categories of PFDs, but kayak anglers are almost always best off with Type III or Type V PFDs as they provide the greatest comfort and mobility.

Type I PFDs – Intended for boating in rough or remote conditions where rescue may be slow to arrive. They offer the best flotation but are very bulky and fairly uncomfortable. These are what you’ll typically find on a commercial vessel – they aren’t really sold to the general public.

Type II PFDs – These are the publicly available version of the Type I PFDs. They offer good floatation but are intended for near-shore boating where chances of immediate rescue are good. They’re not as uncomfortable as Type I PFDs but they’re still fairly bulky and aren’t well suited to kayaking.

Type III PFDs – Ideal for activities where chances of immediate rescue are good. They have large arm holes and tend to keep the bulk of the flotation away from the arms and shoulders, which gives you the full range of motion you need while paddling and casting.

Type IV PFDs – This is a throwable PFD that is more of a backup to one of the other types of PFDs. A good example would be the classic life preserver ring. These aren’t required for kayaks.

Type V PFDs – These are special use life jackets that are designed for a specific activity. The Coast Guard only deems them sufficient if they’re worn while performing the activity they were designed for. If you decide to go for a Type V PFD, make sure it’s specifically designed for kayaking or similar activities.

Buoyancy

Type III PFDs have a minimum buoyancy of 15.5 pounds, while Type V have a minimum of 15.5 – 22.5 pounds as mandated by the US Coast Guard.

If you’re confident in your swimming ability, 15.5 pounds of flotation should be plenty. On the other hand, if you’re not the strongest swimmer, you may feel more comfortable in a PFD that has a bit more flotation. Just keep in mind that the more buoyant a PFD is, the bulkier it is likely to be.

Standard vs Inflatable PFDs

Foam vs Inflatable PFDs

Most PFDs you’ll see on the market use foam to provide flotation. Inflatable PFDs are another option that can be a good fit depending on your priorities.

Foam (Standard) PFDs

These are by far the most common PFDs used by kayak anglers. The foam is shaped into panels and some manufacturers contour them for added comfort.

Pros

  • Automatic buoyancy
  • Low maintenance
  • More Storage

Cons

  • Bulkier

Non-inflatable PFDs are inherently buoyant, so they’ll automatically provide flotation without having to manually activate them. They’re also very reliable and don’t require any real maintenance other than storing them out of the sun and drying them out before stowing them away. The other major advantage is that they typically have more storage space than inflatable PFDs.

Inflatable PFDs

Inflatable PFDs are a relatively new style of PFD with their major advantage being their slim profile. They’re so unrestrictive that you’ll probably forget you’re even wearing it.

They inflate in one of two ways – manually by pulling a draw tab or automatically when they are submerged in water. Kayak anglers are generally better off with a manual inflatable to reduce the risk of accidentally activating it by splashing water on it.

Pros

  • Better comfort

Cons

  • Higher maintenance
  • Not suitable for children under 16 or non-swimmers

The major downsides to an inflatable PFD is they require regular testing to make sure they’re functioning correctly. After being inflated, you’ll also have to replace the CO2 cartridge before you can use it again. Inflatable PFDs generally aren’t recommended for children or weaker swimmers, so consider your swimming ability before deciding to get one.

What to look for

What to look for in a kayak fishing PFD

Comfort – The first and most important quality of a good kayaking PFD – fishing or not – is excellent comfort and mobility while sitting in and paddling a kayak. After all, it’s not going to do you any good if you leave it at home because it’s so uncomfortable to wear or is too restrictive.

Storage – Having a PFD with lots of pockets and accessory loops is generally a plus when fishing from a kayak, where storage space is already at a premium. Twisting around and grabbing a tackle box can be a bit awkward at times so it’s nice to have handy access to your most frequently used gear.

Durability – The material used in the construction of most kayaking PFDs is ripstop nylon. Denier is a measurement of how dense the nylon is – the higher the number, the more durable it is.

Best PFDs for Kayak Fishing

Kayak Fishing PFD Reviews

Stohlquist Fisherman

Overall Score: (4.6/5)

Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Floatation Device

Specifications:

USCG Classification: Type III

Flotation rating: 16.25 pounds

Type: Standard non-inflatable

Material: 500 denier nylon (Cordura)

Features:

Comfort:

Durability:

Value:

Features: 3 zipper pockets, 4 velcro pockets, lash tab, fly patch, multiple D-rings, pliers holder, retractable tool holder, rod holder loop

Best for: Anglers that are on a budget but still want excellent value.

 from $108.95

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-03-25 at 01:29 – Details)

Review

The Stohlquist Fisherman is a popular PFD among kayak anglers and for good reason. It offers plenty of storage space with two large pockets, multiple D-rings, and several elastic bands that you can slide your pliers, a knife, or line snips into.

One of the unique aspects of the Fisherman’s zipper pockets that sets it apart is that they’re made from molded EVA and act as a fold-down work surface when they’re opened. This is a nice touch when you’re tying lines or juggling tackle.

The downside is that the pockets do add a bit of bulk, so it may not be ideal if you’re looking for something with a slim profile.

The Fisherman also does a great job in terms of comfort. It includes Stohlquist’s ergonomic Wrapture shaped torso, which uses contoured foam for a better fit. The cross-chest cinch harness located along the upper torso also helps prevent the Fisherman from riding up throughout the day. And like any decent kayaking PFD, it has a mesh along the lower back so it works well with the high-backed kayak seats.

Kokatat Bahia Tour

Overall Score: (4.5/5)

KOKATAT Bahia Tour PFD

Specifications:

USCG Classification: Type III

Flotation rating: 16.5 / 17 pounds

Type: Standard non-inflatable

Material: 210 denier nylon

Features:

Comfort:

Durability:

Value:

Features: 3 zipper pockets, 4 velcro pockets, lash tab, fly patch, multiple D-rings, pliers holder, retractable tool holder, rod holder loop

Best for: Anglers that need plenty of storage space and flexibility for organizing gear and tackle.

 from $139.00

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-03-25 at 01:29 – Details)

Review

The Bahia is a comparatively streamlined and lightweight PFD that isn’t cluttered with lots of features that you may or may not use. It uses a lighter 210 denier nylon, which helps prevent the Bahia from feeling stiff and restrictive.

It still has plenty of storage space with two large zipper pockets, a pocket for your pliers, and an electronics pocket that works well for storing a VHF radio, GPS unit, or your cell phone. The main zipper pockets are bellows pockets, which means the can expand to hold lots of gear but they sit relatively flat when there’s nothing in them, minimizing unnecessary bulk.

It has two lash tabs – one front and one rear – for securing accessories like a knife or light beacon. It also has a good amount of reflective material for added safety while fishing in low light conditions.

One of the Bahia’s unique features is the lumbar support around the lower back. It’s separated from the foam located along the upper back by a mesh section, so it moves independently and still works well with high-backed seats. It could be a nice addition if you find that your kayak’s seat doesn’t quite offer you the lower back support you need.

Where the trend in kayak fishing PFDs is to add more elastic bands, clips, and pockets, this can sometimes make them feel a bit cluttered. The Bahia takes a more streamlined approach that minimizes bulk and maximizes comfort while still providing the storage space required by today’s kayak anglers.

NRS Chinook

Overall Score: (4.4/5)

NRS Chinook Fishing Lifejacket-Charcoal-L/XL

Specifications:

USCG Classification: Type III

Flotation rating: 16.5 pounds

Type: Standard non-inflatable

Material: 200 denier nylon

Features:

Comfort:

Durability:

Value:

Features: 3 zipper pockets, 4 velcro pockets, lash tab, fly patch, multiple D-rings, pliers holder, retractable tool holder, rod holder loop

Best for: Anglers that need plenty of storage space and flexibility for organizing gear and tackle.

 $109.95

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-03-25 at 01:29 – Details)

Review

The Chinook has some nice anger-friendly features and lots of storage space so you have handy access to your essential gear and tackle.

There are a total of three zipper pockets and four velcro pouches that give you lots of flexibility on how to organize your gear. The two main zipper pockets are just the right size for storing small tackle boxes or your cell phone. The third zipper pocket is a bit smaller and includes a key clip so you don’t accidentally lose your keys overboard when the action heats up. The velcro pouches vary in size and provide lots of flexibility for organizing gear.

There are a number of thoughtful features like the fly patch and retractable tool holder that works well for keeping your line snips accessible. It’s also got a rod holder loop so you don’t have to set your rod down to tie line and a lash tab for securing a knife. The D-ring on the back of the vest works well for holding your net if you decide to park your kayak and fish a particular hole for a bit.

The Chinook is also designed for all-day comfort with a total of nine adjustment straps so you can get just the right fit. Like any kayaking PFD worth its salt, it’s also designed with high flotation in the back and mesh along the lower back, so it works well with the high-backed seats you find in most fishing kayaks.

ONYX Kayak Fishing Vest

Overall Score: (4.4/5)

Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket, One Size, Tan

Specifications:

USCG Classification: Type III

Flotation rating: Not specified

Type: Standard non-inflatable

Material: 400 denier nylon (Cordura)

Features:

Comfort:

Durability:

Value:

Features: 3 zipper pockets, 4 velcro pockets, lash tab, fly patch, multiple D-rings, pliers holder, retractable tool holder, rod holder loop

Best for: Anglers that need plenty of storage space and flexibility for organizing gear and tackle.

 from $48.96

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-03-25 at 01:29 – Details)

Review

While its name is a bit uninspired, the ONYX Kayak Fishing Vest is a solid contender if you’re working with a budget.

Despite its lower price point, it manages to pack in some decent features and a good amount of storage space.

There are three main pocket areas that are secured using a combination of zippers, buckles, snap buttons, and velcro. It actually has quite a few different pockets, but they ‘stack’ on top of each other and effectively share the same storage space. There’s still a good amount of room for gear but you won’t be able to fully utilize all the pockets at once.

The fleece-lined hand warmer pockets are a nice touch if you’ll be fishing in cooler weather. It also has a ‘fold-out pocket’ that can hold a small tackle box and doubles as a workspace to free up your hands.

While perhaps not quite as thoughtfully designed or as well built as some of the other PFDs, you’ll be hard pressed to find an angling PFD that offers a better bang for your buck than ONYX’s Kayak Fishing Vest.

ONYX A/M-24 Deluxe

Overall Score: (4.3/5)

Onyx A/M-24 Deluxe Automatic Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

Specifications:

USCG Classification: Type V

Flotation rating: 22.5 pounds

Type: Inflatable

Material: 420 denier nylon

Features:

Comfort:

Durability:

Value:

Features: 2 zipper pockets, reflective piping, lower back mesh ventilation

Best for: Paddlers that want as little bulk as possible.

 $114.99

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-03-25 at 01:29 – Details)

Review

The ONYX A/M 24 Deluxe is an inflatable PFD that has a very slim profile and a soft neoprene neckline for added comfort, so there’s a good chance you’ll forget you’re even wearing it.

The inflation mechanism can be set to either the auto/manual or manual only setting, which means it’s suitable for other types of water-based activities besides kayaking. Just make sure to keep it in the manual only setting while you’re kayak fishing so it isn’t accidentally activated by splashing water.

Despite its slim profile, the A/M 24 Deluxe has two fairly generous side pockets that offer handy access to essential gear. It also has a bit of reflective piping throughout the vest, but it’s not quite as obvious as some of the other models.

As with all inflatable PFDs, the downside to the A/M 24 Deluxe is that you’ll have to replace the CO2 cartridge if you end up deploying it. While it’s not prohibitively expensive, the rearming kit could add up over time if you make a habit of going for unexpected swims.

If you want to fully embrace the anti-bulk and comfort benefits of an inflatable PFD, the standard version of the A/M-24 ditches the pockets and will also save you a few bucks.

Wrapping Up

Fortunately for kayak anglers, the growing popularity of kayak fishing means there are plenty of good options for PFDs. Personal preference plays a significant role in choosing one, but our top pick of best PFD for kayak fishing is the Stohlquist Fisherman. Besides filling the basic safety and comfort requirements of a PFD, it also does an excellent job running double duty as a fishing vest with lots of storage space and some nice angler-friendly features.

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