Best life PFD for kayaking regardless of price!

Well it’s official after 7 years with only a few recreational rentals in between, I’m jumping back into the sport! I just aquired 2 Easkey 13’s i believe they are 13’ 6" or 13’ 7" in actuall length. I’m also pick up 2 Aquaterra 18 footers next week with rudders and the whole nine yards. I’m definetley not in my top physicall condition of when I used to be more active and thats part of the reason I’m getting back into this. I’m also dragging in my fiance who surfs a few times a year but has virtually no yak experience other than a few recreational 10-12 footers on calm alpine lakes in the Sierra Nevadas. We are going to take some rescue classses this Summer and hone our skills as well. I am looking to buy two of the best possible PFDs for kayaking… I’m talking rivers, lakes, sea. We will weekly be hitting up places like Tenya Lake, Mono Lake, American River, Merced River, Morro Bay, Bodega Bay, Suisun Bay, Lkae Kaweah, Huntington Lake… I’m talking the entire gamit of paddling. I want opinions on the BEST all around SAFEST and Comfortable life jacket on the market. I currently am leaning towards 2 options. My first choice is Astrals Green Jacket at 300 bucks each. My second option is the NRS Zen also in the type 5 configuration not the type 3 that it is also available in. I have the following questions…

  1. Which is better and by better I mean Safer first and then Comfort second. I’m not concerned with price as I would spend 1,000 or more on a pfd if it was truely better. I’m just looking for the BEST period. I don’t believe this is the place to skimp on getting back into this sport… a friend of mine drowned off a pier in Lake Michigan when I was in highschool in relitively calm waters when a rip came off the pier and pulled him out and under.

2.) Is there something better than either of these?

3.) I will also have rescue floats on the bow of each boat and paddle floats as well. Am I missing something? Also a pump for bailing will be on board.

4.) Finally let her rip here! Is Astral worth the spend? Is it a superior prouct or does it just look nice? Guides seem to love them. I ask because for example North Face used to be an amazing brand! Now I wouldn’t touch their stuff with a 10 foot pole and stick with Patagonia or HH. WHen they became popular and demand rose quality decreased. So I am full aware brand doesn’t always cooralate to best. So are these guides hyping the brand paid spokes people, trying to look cool or is Astral Green Jacket really just the best?

I’m open to all input here but I want to get something ordered by Friday so let er’ rip!!! AND thanks in advance for your input. I love this forum!

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Safety! If you’re into kayak safety you’ll definitely learn to brace and roll. You’ll want a pfd that works well with your brace and roll. For me that’s the Kokatat Msfit. It rides high. Easy to do layback stuff. Good luck in your future endeavors.

Agree w above, Kokatat MSFit for me, actually for both of you. Kokatat also just put out a new design for a rescue oriented vest that may be worth a look.

But there are other excellent brands. Mostly you want a short back to stay above the skirt and allowance for lots of freedom of motion.

I don’t see that you need to spend $300 though.

Plz explain what you mean by rescue floats - do you mean floats for use in a paddle-float self rescue? If there are two of you I would consider going with an inflatable one that you stick behind the seat. The big space consuming paddle floats are mostly useful for very cold weather paddling. For typical use an inflatable one with a double chamber is fine.

You have not said anything about the sizes of your and your fiance. It is likely that you will end any goal of paddling together long term if she is a good bit smaller than you and whatever model boat you are talking about is for an average (meaning male) sized paddler. The boat could have too much volume thus making it a misery for anything including successful rolling.

You will be way ahead financially if you can get classes first THEN purchase.

The “best” is one that you wear ALL the time and it adjusted to fit you properly. That combined with good judgement to know when and where not to paddle and constantly improving your skills will reduce your chances of becoming a boating statistic.


I will make two suggestions;

  1. Astral Blue Jacket, lots of positive options and fit on me, which is the segway to the second suggestion.

  2. Try then on in person. Go to a kayak specialty store that stocks the model you are interested in to try it on for fit. Taking the two that have been mentioned (Kokatat MsFit/Guide and Astral Blue Jacket) they are very distinct designs that fit varying body geometries differently.

Not close to a Store? Something I’ve done before is shipped two models for someone to try on and they send back the less best vest.

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The best one is the one that’s comfortable on your body. I’ve used a MsFit but I like my Stohlquist Cruiser better. It’s designed specifically for woman with a carve-out for the chest. Much more comfy for my body, but I’m guessing not yours. Maybe your fiancée’s though. I would say go to try a bunch on but that might not be feasible now. I love my PFD. my spouse has an Astral V-8 since he prefers a really breathable one. The MsFit is now our loaner.

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The Green Jacket is designed as a rescue vest. That is why you may see guides using them. It is not safer for a casual user than others. Same thing for the Zen rescue. You need to understand swiftwater rescue to make use of these. Take are read here: I do highly recommend the Astral Blue Jacket. We have two and the same size fits two very different body types. The others mentioned here are also well worth your attention.


You’ll only find the “best” PFD by trying as many as you can. Safety wise, all of the PFDs made by reputable manufacturers (Kokatat, NRS, Stohlquist, Astral, etc.) are pretty much the same. The differences include how many pockets and where they are, where the flotation is, how easy it is to don and doff, and of course - the most important thing - how it fits you. It also depends on what you intend to carry with you. A whistle is mandatory and doesn’t take much room, but I also carry a knife, and I frequently take along a marine radio as well as a cellphone in a waterproof (“Lifeproof”) case, so I’m usually wearing a Kokatat Bahia Tour, but I also use a much simpler NRS Ninja, especially in really hot weather. My wife prefers the simplest PFD she could find, in her case an Astral. Women’s specific designs are a really good idea too.

Venture Easkys are very capable boats and a good choice for a beginning, but serious, kayaker. With bow and stern sealed hatches so you really don’t need extra flotation. Before buying up every single accessory you think you’ll ever need I’d suggest that you both take a few classes. Take a basic introductory class to get your paddling strokes sorted out and take a self-rescue class. Then you’ll know what works for you and what doesn’t.

Finally, don’t skimp on paddles. A quality lightweight carbon paddle like a Lendal or a Werner makes kayaking a lot more fun.

Make sure you try it on sitting in your boat. I got a NRS that has a mesh back with flotation on the upper back. Vests with padding in the back against the seat back were not comfortable regardless of the make or model.

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There is not best that is universal. It has to fit properly and you have to be so comfortable that you will always wear it and feel naked in the boat if you are not wearing it.

Don’t be a statistic. We added another today. Two men and an eight year old in a canoe yesterday that overturned . The father had turned around to make sure his son in the middle had his PFD adjusted correctly. Over they went. One man and the child were saved.

Maine Warden Service divers are out again looking for the father’s body.

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In a normal time, I would be piling all in on recommending that you get to a shop and try on as many PFDs as possible. Find the most comfortable one that meets your need, so you are sure to wear it. I usually tell people to go to a shop and try one on and then walk around an shop for other stuff while wearing it. Maybe try sitting in kayaks, if you can. You want one that is so comfortable that you forget you are wearing it. Maybe with the slight easing of the CA shelter in place orders which are allowing more retailers to open you could have the opportunity to try on some.

In general, you want a Type III PFD. They all have the same basic specs (amount of flotation and the like). Comfort and pockets are 2 of the areas you start seeing variations.

Rescue PFDs were mentioned. These are Class V and come with some additional flotation (needed in extreme cases of white water where the water is highly aerated, which reduces the ability of PFDs to float) and buckles for quick releases for throw/tow lines. These really are meant for the pros/guides, and not something a regular person would get any benefit from. Basically, you would be paying more money for features you don’t really need. I’d stick to Type III pfds.

I have owned quite a few PFDs over the years. Of those, my favorite by far has been the Astral Green Jacket. Part of that is due to comfort. The articulated front foam panels are much more comfortable than one monolithic foam block.

If you don’t need the quick release rescue belt feature you might prefer the Astral Blue Jacket. My Astral Green Jacket is quite a few years old. I don’t know if overall quality has changed.

If you turn out to be a paddler like me and a lot of others, you likely will accumulate a bunch of pfd’s I do have one that I wear more than the others (a rescue jacket), but it sort of depends on which boat I’m using and somewhat on how warm it is. When it’s hot, a big rescue jacket could get pretty warm. The NRS Ninja works good for hot.

I have the Stohlquist because it fits me better as a woman. Agreed it’s best to try it in the boat.

I second everything that is said above. Yes, it has to fit.

But nobody has mentioned something that is important me. Pockets! I need 3 and want 4.

Pocket 1: Camera (aka phone)
Pocket 2: glasses in their case
Pocket 3: knife
Pocket 4 (optional) bug net.

Whistle is tied to the zipper, don’t get a whistle with a pea in it, they’re actually pretty indistinguishable under certain conditions.

I guess you didn’t read my post, where I mentioned pockets. :smile:

And the number and placement of pockets needs to be weighed against how easy it is to get back in your boat after a capsize. An oversized or stuffed center pocket can really get in the way of a reentry via the rear deck.

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Congrats on thinking safety first! Your two options listed are both fantastic, however both are rescue oriented PFDs. If you plan on lots of WW, you cannot go wrong with either. My guess is that the Astral Green Jacket will be more comfy than the NRS Zen.

As for me, I have owned and worn off and on a Zen along with another discontinued NRS PFD for about 5 years. Since I am not a WW paddler, I looked at the Astral Blue Jacket for open water kayaking. It is the most comfy PFD imagined. Lots of storage space and it flexes to make it so comfortable. Highly recommend the Blue Jacket. Only drawback for me is it does not have a dedicated VHF pocket though it does fit in the big storage area - and my VHF is over 15 yrs old so it is not tiny like the modern ones.

This thread got me looking at PFDs. I ran across this and it LOOKS really nice on my computer screen. Can only hope it’s as comfortable as it looks. Well,JPete4985, since you’re into safety you’ll be learning to brace and roll your kayaks and this looks like the ideal design for that. I’d try one on for sure if I was in the market.

You have gotten good suggestions here – yes there is a quality difference amongst the brands and the materials, design and assembly seems to be best in Astral, Kokatat and NRS. Most expensive is not “best” for any particular user. As has been remarked, the more costly vests tend to have the specialized accessories that guides and instructors need, like a belt for towing a disabled boater and excess pockets to carry EPIRB, radio, etc. Not needed for what you will be doing.

Once you have narrowed your style choice, fit is critical. I happen to love Astral and have 4 different models from them now. The V8 is my choice for hot weather as it is the best ventilated PFD I have ever used (a lot of people who paddle in hot climates seem to prefer it for that reason). I also have an Astral Camino for cold weather (thicker and warmer with a little more flotation and more pockets), an Abba for comfort on long days (it has the softer encapsulated kapok flotation rather than foam) and a low profile YTV for white water. I have also had PFD’s from Lotus, MTI, Extrasport, Stohlquist and Yak – the Astrals just seem to fit me better than those brands but your experience may vary.

I have paddled for years since I outgrew horse collars and have only 2 pfd. The Astral V8 is my favorite because it gets got here for months.