Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs): they can be uncomfortable, might restrict your movement, and are not always the most flattering. If local law permits it, some paddlers don’t wear one at all. But even if you’re an expert swimmer, wearing one could save your life, especially if the water’s not calm.
Winds can quickly stir up large waves, tidal currents are often stronger than you think, and unseen obstacles lurking beneath the water can hurl you out of your boat. Suddenly, you’re in the water, wondering where your paddle has gone and where there’s a safe place to reenter the boat. The last thing you need to worry about in this situation is keeping your head above water.
How to Choose a PFD That Works for You
Kayak PFDs need to adhere to a slightly different design that you would have for jet skiing or even canoeing. First of all, since your back is always against the seat, the PFD needs to be shorter. Second, a standard PFD would be very uncomfortable around the shoulders and wouldn’t allow for full range of motion. Kayak PFDs have larger armholes to accommodate this movement. Since women typically have smaller upper arms, women’s kayaking PFDs usually have slightly smaller armholes to prevent the jacket from slipping off and over the head.
Since flotation material needs to be kept away from the lower back and shoulders, many PFDs take on the appearance of having two large blocks strapped to your chest and upper back. But good PFDs will spread the flotation material out and contour it to your body so the jacket stays tight. If it’s not tight, it can slip off and over your head.
One final attribute that makes for a good kayak PFD is accessory pockets; no one wants to go searching around the boat’s cockpit for small objects that would be better kept on your person.
However, the most important aspect of a PFD is that it’s comfortable for you. If it’s not comfortable, you won’t wear it – and if you don’t wear it, you’ll spend a lot more energy staying afloat.
The Best PFD for Kayakers
There are hundreds of PFDs on the market, so the best way to choose one is to pick the most comfortable model that fits you well and is within your price range. Despite the price of some higher-end models, a PFD is just a few pieces of foam stitched into a fabric jacket, and lower-cost options usually work just fine.
The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Vest is one of the most comfortable PFD options out there and is available for less than $100.
While there are many suitable PFDs on the market for kayakers, the one that allows you to paddle comfortably (meaning you’ll actually wear it) is going to be the one that saves your life if the boat capsizes. The Onyx MoveVent is one of the most comfortable PFDs out there, and therefore the best choice for many paddlers.