Life Savers! The 9 Best Kayak Fishing PFDs in 2021


Kayak fishing is great fun – but we all still need to be careful when we’re out on the water.

According to US Coast Guard statistics, there’s been a steady rise in recreational kayak accidents and fatalities in recent years – the vast majority of whom were fishing at the time.

This can easily be avoided with the right gear and a good deal of common sense.

And you can start by remembering to wear one of the best kayak fishing PFDs in 2021.

They could save your life – and offer a handy place to keep a good fishing multi tool at the same time – so what’s not to like?!

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The 9 Best Kayak Fishing Life Jackets & PFDs

Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

US company Onyx are renowned for making some of the best water sport safety jackets and apparel on the market – all fully certified by the USCG.

It’s no surprise to find them top of the list with this outstanding fishing PFD that comes packed with features.

There are pockets and tabs for all your essentials, including a fold down fly tray, a handy holder for a good pair of fishing pliers, and a two-way radio clip.

The high foam back is specially designed to accommodate kayak fishing seats, and the six adjustment straps make for the perfect, comfortable fit.

Pros

  • Great price point for what you get.
  • Name to trust.
  • Neoprene shoulder pads.
  • Safety whistle.
  • Very highly rated.

Cons

  • It will be a little on the bulky side for some.

Takeaway

Fully certified and offering loads of storage space, this is easily one of the best PFDs for kayak fishing on the market – especially considering the price point compared to some high-end vests.

You should also pick up a good pair of fishing gloves that will help you handle slippery fish and all your tackle no matter the conditions.

Stohlquist Piseas Personal Flotation Device

Manufacturing premium life preservers and based in outdoor capital Colorado, Stohlquist has been saving lives since 1977.

Made with a durable 420 Denier shell and 210 Denier oxford liner, this is a quality PFD that packs in loads of fishing-friendly-features to keep anglers happy.

With two, drawbridge-style pockets as fold-down workstations at the front, a strap for locking down lure boxes, a D-ring for nets, and plenty of tabs and holders for other tools – there’s a lot of useful additions here to something that could save your life in more ways than one.

Pros

  • Name to trust.
  • Excellent build quality throughout.
  • Fully open sides for ventilation.
  • High back for kayak chairs.
  • Dual side adjustments for comfort.
  • Small choice of colors available.

Cons

  • Bulky.

Takeaway

A stylish and practical fishing PFD that is ideal for use in a kayak – if you don’t mind being a little on the chunky side. Still, there’s plenty of space for storing tackle and gear, like these saltwater fishing pliers.

Old Town Lure Angler Life Jacket

They make some of the best kayaks in the business, so why not some of the best kayaking PFDs?

This is a quality entry from Old Town, a more slim-line design than what we’ve been used to so far – and catering for the performance kayak fisher-person.

Constructed of rip-stop nylon, it has fully adjustable shoulder, waist, and side straps, and that all-important high back to accommodate kayak seating.

Fishing features include plenty of zippered pockets and tabs for tackle storage, D-ring attachment points for nets and rods, and stretch mesh pockets for tippets and spools.

And the AirComfort system keeps you cool during those warmer days.

Pros

  • Name to trust.
  • Stylish aesthetic.
  • Lightweight.
  • Small profile.
  • Breathable technology.
  • Excellent mobility.

Cons

  • One of the more expensive options.

Takeaway

A world-class PFD from a world-class kayak company, I would expect nothing less from Old Town. They have been doing this kinda thing for over a century, though.

You should also check out their entry in the best river fishing kayaks for fishing – and a lot more awesome yaks along with it.

Wilderness Systems Fisher Kayaking Life Jacket

Not to be outdone, kayak experts Wilderness Systems offer this premium fishing PFD that has been designed in conjunction with whitewater life jacket specialists Astral.

So, you’re getting two for the price of…two. A super-slim and smart design, it’s been made with premium materials for a highly-durable, yet lightweight life preserver.

Marketed at performance kayakers, it offers unrestricted freedom-of-movement, as well as a thin vent mesh for breathability and comfort in kayak seating at the back.

Multiple pockets provide tackle storage space, and there’s even a stowable hood in the collar just in case it rains.

See more from Wilderness Systems at this review of the best ocean fishing kayaks.

Pros

  • Name to trust.
  • Attractive look.
  • Slim and lightweight.
  • Reflective trim.
  • YKK zippers.

Cons

  • Pricey.

Takeaway

There’s no doubt this is a beautifully made fishing PFD from two of the best names in the business, but that’s reflected in the price point.

And while the rain hood is a nice touch, you should check out this article on the best rain gear for fishing if you’re anticipating a real downpour when out in your yak.

NRS Women's Shenook Fishing PFD

Established in 1972, Northwest River Supplies have been all about the water ever since, and they make some of the best life vests for kayak fishing on the market.

I’ve chosen to include this model for women, which offers a more female-centric cut of their popular Chinook PFD.

Packed with the same features as the male version, the PlushFIT foam panels reduce bulk and mold to the female bust, and it offers plenty of room and breathability for non-restrictive movement and keeping cool.

Zippered pockets and tool tabs keep your gear organized, and there’s a decent knife lash tab for keeping one of these razor-sharp fishing knives to hand.

Pros

  • Lightweight, slim, and comfortable.
  • Multiple adjustment points.
  • Reflective strips for safety.
  • Designed specifically for women.

Cons

  • Take care with the sizing – it’s been known to ride up on some users.

Takeaway

A great option that’s dedicated to female anglers, this is a quality fishing PFD that offers plenty of storage options for tackle and gear, in a stylish, practical, and flattering cut. And while it’s protecting your life, wear one of these fishing hats to protect your head.

Stohlquist Fisherman Personal Flotation Device

Here we have another option from Stohlquist, the appropriately named Fisherman PFD.

Neoprene shoulder straps and a lower back waistband offer the wearer a comfort fit, while the back flotation sections sits above the back rest of your kayak seating.

Made with 500 denier Cordura shell and 200 Denier oxford liner, it’s durable and rugged, yet with plenty of breathability and ventilation.

Within easy reach you’ll find fishing features to stash tools, lures, tackle boxes, and more, as well as having a dedicated pad for flies and zippered mesh pockets inside the drawbridge-style compartments for even more storage solutions.

Pros

  • Quality construction throughout.
  • Well-designed storage and features.
  • Plenty of anchor points.
  • EVA-reinforced work stations.
  • Ideal for kayak fly-fishing.

Cons

  • Again, might be a bit on the bulky side for some.

Takeaway

A highly popular and practical fishing PFD from Stohlquist, the Fisherman offers a lot of features to help you when you’re out on the water.

And if you are purchasing it for fly-fishing, might I suggest you look at this article on the best stand-up fishing kayaks that are perfect for those pinpoint standing casts.

Stearns Comfort Series Collared Angler Vest

This collared angler’s life vest from Stearns is as basic as they come for a fishing PFD, but nonetheless will get the job done.

Ideal if you’re on more of a budget, it’s still US Coast Guard approved and ideal for kayak fishing.

With large armholes for easy casting a full range of movement, the mesh shoulders and back improves breathability, while storage pockets to the front are ideal for stashing your essential tackle.

They also double as hand warmers if things get nippy, and the neoprene collar prevents chafing for comfort at the neck.

Pros

  • Great price point.
  • Simple, no-nonsense design.
  • Highly rated.
  • Lightweight and breathable.

Cons

  • Limited storage/fishing features.
  • Shoulders aren’t adjustable.

Takeaway

It might be a no-frills, budget-friendly fishing PFD, but a fishing PFD it is. The tackle pockets doubling as hand warmers is a nice touch, and folks who don’t really want or need all the bells and whistles will enjoy the slimmer profile.

Try it with one of these cool fishing float tubes.

Bradley Adult Basic Fishing Life Vest

Here’s another great option if you’re really on even more of a tight budget, which comes in a stylish camouflage design that I know is the often preferred color for fishing and hunting on the water.

Made with a durable polyester construction, it features secure, one-inch webbing, and two front pockets for some small tackle storage options.

Fully US Coast Guard approved to be a type III vest, it’s designed for use by adults over 90 lbs, and is versatile enough to be used for a variety of water-based activities.

Pros

  • Great price point.
  • Simple design.
  • Durable construction.
  • Easy to use.
  • Camo design.

Cons

  • Runs small.
  • No space for kayak seating at the back.

Takeaway

If you’re looking for a simple fishing PFD that will do the job without breaking the bank – then you’ve come to the right place. And the money you save can be put to purchasing an even better inflatable fishing kayak.

NRS Raku Fishing Life Jacket

Our final entry is another offering from NRS, this time it’s the Raku fishing PFD.

It provides six adjustment points, so you can get a comfortable fit to your frame, with a five panel construction and PlushFit foam flotation technology.

Designed with casting and paddling in mind, the thin back allows for a full range of movements, and is one of those fishing PFDs with a slimmer profile.

Two large zippered pockets to the front can accommodate small tackle boxes, while accessory pockets have hook and loop closures for additional gear.

Pros

  • Name to trust.
  • Plenty of storage features.
  • Choice of colors.
  • Reflective accents.
  • Two-way radio clip.

Cons

  • Expensive.

Takeaway

Easily one of the best PFDs for fishing on the market – it’s well worth spending a bit more for this level of practical comfort. Buy two, and you and a mate can get out on one of these brilliant tandem fishing kayaks for a fun day on the water.

How to Choose the Best Personal Flotation Device for Kayak Fishing

There’s a lot of things you need to consider before buying a fishing PFD, because getting it wrong can really make a difference both your comfort – and the functionality of the life jacket.

Read on to discover what you should be looking for, with some expert tips thrown in to help you make a choice.

man wearing life jacket and fishing on a kayak in the sea

Why Choose a Fishing PFD for Kayak Fishing?

It’s a bit of a no-brainer when it comes to why you should be wearing a PFD, but we’ll say it one more time for those at the back who maybe can’t hear.

IT CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE.

Now that’s over with, why would you choose a dedicated fishing PFD and not simply a regular one?

The main advantage of using a good fishing PFD is that they function similarly to that of these fishing vests that you might wear when you’re on terra firma.

They offer plenty of space to help store and organize your tackle – which can not only free up room in your kayak’s center console, but keeps your essential gear to hand for when you most need it.

Of course, you can always use a good tackle saltwater tackle bag for the bulk of your gear, but any angler will tell you that keeping essential tools close by is vital for successful fishing.

And the best fishing PFDs will help you do that – and prevent you drowning at the same time. So, it’s really a win-win situation when you think about it.

But even if you’re not throwing a rod in, fishing PFDs can be very useful for storing all sorts of other gear, valuables, and anything else you might like to take with you on a kayak/camping excursion.

Better make that a win-win-win, then.

PFD Types/Regulations

Without going too much into detail (because there’s a lot of it) I would like to briefly draw your attention to PFD types – of which there are five.

You need to be using the correct life preserver type for the water-based activity and conditions you will be out in.

Failing to do so can result in unwanted lawsuits, not to mention unwanted deaths.

But to keep things simple, you’re looking for type III – which covers flotation devices for personal craft – such as kayaks – where the user is conscious and capable of turning onto their back to stay buoyant.

Thankfully, all the PFDs I’ve included in this review are certified by the US Coast Guard, and are therefore type III compliant.

For more information on PFD types, check out the video below, and make sure you’re using the right one.

Sizing

Achieving the correct fit is equally important as choosing the right type of PFD, as any water-safety instructor will tell you.

And with the extra storage space and features, fishing kayaks can be bulky enough without causing sizing problems.

It’s possible that the wearer can fall out of the life preserver in the water if not correctly sized, and if it’s too small it’s going to cause all kinds of problems with movement and restriction – a serious issue when fishing.

Both situations obviously need to be avoided.

Always adhere to the specific sizing guide that’s supplied by that particular PFD manufacturer. It might vary from company to company – although this is rare.

Next, grab yourself a buddy or loved one and get them to measure you up. Don’t simply rely on whatever letter it says on the label of the shirt you’re wearing.

Taking the time to get your numbers down and getting it right the first time will mean less negative reviews, and less of a headache all round.

Materials and Breathability

Kayak fishing PFDs need to be rugged and durable, as they’re going to take a beating over the course of their use.

Fishing can be challenging enough without our gear and equipment falling apart on us, so look for life preservers that have been made with premium materials.

Pay particular attention to the stitching, as well as the zippers and other such hardware.

It’s also worth noting that the best kayak fishing personal flotation devices will be breathable, with good ventilation and mesh that keep you cool even on hot days and when you’re exerting yourself.

Moisture-wicking fabrics are highly advisable, or at least a PFD that doesn’t run hot. With fishing and paddling, you’ll soon work up a sweat – especially in warmer weather.

Range of Movement

And speaking of fishing and paddling – both activities require you to have nonrestrictive freedom-of-movement.

Unfortunately, inferior or – as mentioned – poorly fitting PFDs can cause problems in this department.

Look out for products that offer plenty of space around the arms, and that have been designed to offer you maximum mobility.

Good kayak fishing PFDs will also be fully adjustable, so you can get the best fit possible which will free up your body for casts and paddles.

And don’t forget about your back – it’s important that a kayak fishing life preserver has a raised section that sits up off your lumbar region, so it can accommodate kayak seating and ensure you’re comfortable all day long.

two kayakers in tandem fishing kayak at lake

Fishing Features

What makes a fishing PFD a fishing PFD?

For me, if a life jacket is going to claim to be a fishing life jacket, then it’s got to be packed with dedicated features that cater to the sport.

Look for PFDs with tackle box storage, zippered compartments, tool-holders, D-rings, mesh tabs and hook and loop closures for extra gear, “drawbridge” style pockets that provide a work space, and other useful additions.

Please note that for the purposes of this review, I’ve only chosen fishing PFDs, all of which include these additional features to help anglers get the most out of their time on the water.

As a result, you won’t find any recreational flotation devices, Co2/inflatable emergency life vests, or anything that claims to be a “fishing” life preserver but clearly isn’t one.

Color

It’s not just about making a fashion statement on the water.

The color of a fishing PFD (or any life preserver) can make a difference in an emergency.

Brighter vests are easier to spot in poor or challenging conditions, which can make a difference given the right circumstances.

And there’s no evidence they have an impact on spooking fish away, since they can’t actually see color.

It’s just something else to keep in mind, although most fishing PFDs continue the trend of muted “outdoor” colors like greens, browns, blacks, and grays.

And some folks much prefer camouflage, especially if out hunting on or in the water.

Extras

There are a couple of extra features that you may or may not find included with your fishing PFD of choice – mostly to do with safety.

Reflective strips are useful if you’re out in low light conditions, or if you ever have to portage or walk along a road for whatever reason.

A safety whistle is a great addition – which might be hidden in one of the PFD pockets to keep it out of the way and called upon if necessary.

Two-way radio clips are great for helping you keep in contact with members of your party – which I highly recommend. I regularly wander out of shouting range from my wife and this is an invaluable addition to our PFDs.

Cost

Fishing PFDs vary wildly in price, but you’ll rarely pay more than around $150 for the very best versions.

So long as the vest has officially passed the US Coast Guard regulations to be a type III life preserver (at the very least) then feel free to spend as much or as little as you like.

It just depends on whether you want the latest in comfort technology and all the trimmings, or a simple PFD that just does what it’s supposed to do and nothing more.

fisherman floats on a white fishing kayak in ocean along the coast

FAQs

What is the difference between a PFD and a life jacket?

The main difference is buoyancy. A life jacket is designed to keep the occupant up and floating in the water for an extended period of time, whereas a PFD offers just enough support to enable a conscious wearer to get safely back on board or to shore.

Additionally, life jackets/vests legally have to be in bright colors (red, orange, or yellow) whereas a PFD can be any design the manufacturer chooses.

Because they’re designed to keep the wearer afloat without assistance, life jackets are much bulkier than PFDs, and they’re certainly not suitable for kayak fishing as a result.

Foam vs Hybrid vs Inflatable – which type of pfd is best for kayak fishing?

It depends on what you’re looking for. Foam vests have more storage space and make ideal PFDs for fishing.

However, some users believe them to be too restrictive and subject to run hot in warmer weather.

Hybrid vests try to improve on that – but you’ll still be losing something when it comes to tackle storage space.

Inflatable PFDs provide the best possible freedom-of-movement and ventilation, but there’s nothing about them that’s useful for fishing other than that, and they also need Co2 cartridges to function.

Belt inflatables are often the preferred choice for paddleboarders, given the fact they are the least restrictive. Check out this review if you’re interested in paddle board fishing.

So long as the vest/inflatable/PFD/life jacket/hybrid is type III certified at the very least – then any option can be used for fishing.

It’s just that foam vests are the best choice for tools and tackle storage solutions that best assist the angler.

What is the best PFD for kayak fishing?

There isn’t one PFD that’s better than all the rest – and it largely comes down to personal preference.

For example, all the products I’ve included in this review have tackle storage incorporated (hence “fishing” PFD).

However, some anglers might prefer the freedom of a belt inflatable instead, and that style might be regarded as the best PFD for kayak fishing for that very reason.

It just depends on what you’re looking for and the features you’ll find most useful. As far as I’m concerned, the best fishing PFD is any that passes the US Coast Guard regulations as a life preserver.

And the best PFD for fishing is any that happen to be in this review!

Do I need a PFD on a kayak while fishing?

Not on a KAYAK.

ON YOURSELF.

Recreational boating fatalities are often the result of the victim bringing along a PFD but not actually wearing it. Instead, choosing to stash it somewhere on board whatever craft is being used at the time.

Or, worse, leaving it back at home.

YES, you need a PFD on a kayak.

YES, you need to wear said PFD.

And YES – you’re an idiot if you don’t.

What is a type II PFD?

Type II is for use in light water craft and only in calmer waters close to the shore. Either way, you’re looking for a type III for use when you’re kayak fishing.

For more information, refer to the US Coast Guard’s recreational life jacket standards, and/or the US Boat Foundation for a more visual representation of life jacket types.

What is the best time to wear a fishing PFD?

Anytime you’re in or around water – no matter the conditions.

Remember, you can drown in a puddle, and if you’re fishing anywhere there might be an undercurrent – a PFD is essential.

Can you drown with a life jacket?

It is still possible, but unlikely – especially if you’re wearing an approved life jacket that has passed the required certification. The risks are significantly reduced.

However, both rough conditions and/or if the wearer is conscious or not can make a big difference.

Life preservers are not a guarantee of survival. When it comes to kayak fishing PFDs, they’re there to assist you get back on board a tipped yak, or enable you to reach the shore.

They’re not going to miraculously lift you out of the drink and back to safety without some effort on your part.

Can I wear any PFD for kayak fishing?

It can’t hurt to say it one more time before we summarize – so long as a PFD has passed at least a class III US Coast Guard rating, then you’re free to wear it safely as a fishing personal flotation device.

You should also wear a pair of these fishing shoes while you’re on board as they’ll help keep you on your feet on slippery surfaces, and you can stay out of the water in the first place.

Summary

There are no excuses when you’re kayaking – you need to wear a personal flotation device.

And if you also happen to be fishing, then it certainly doesn’t hurt to wear one of the best kayak fishing PFDs in 2021.

Let me know which one you’ve gone for and why, or if you prefer a completely different style for when you’re out there on the water.

Stay safe, always remember your PFD, and happy kayak fishing!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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