So when I go to buy my PDF, what am I looking for beyond appropriate size? Should I look for something with a higher back so it doesn't interfere with the seat? Are there PDF's specifically designed for sea kayaking? Do they have ratings of how well they float with certain weight loads? Info please....
Yes, to the higher back. There are
several. Try it on and fit it with the straps, then sit down and see how it feels.
Mine is a Lotus Mildwater , which has a mesh back.
Manufacturer’s Sites and catalogues
But I think you want a PFD rather than a PDF (three of which I just moved to a web site)...
The floatation poundage is usually in the catalogue for each model of PFD, whether said catalogue is hardcopy or online. But they are all within a couple of pounds of each other - floatation doesn't tend to be a make or break thing on any model for an average sized guy. The catalogues/web sites will also generally indicate whether it is a PFD intended for open water or more contained uses.
It needs to fit tightly enough that it can't ride up if you swim, and there is not complete uniformity between manufacturers' concepts of size. This is something that you want to try on to best gauge size, overall fit and comfort thru the shoulders and arms for movement.
Get one with pockets and lash tabs. You'll find that you want them.
Jus’ ta let yer know
(yer probably already know) de Mildwater was recalled by Lotus due ta an insufficient flotation problem. Ah' had one - nice an' comfy but ah' kept sinkin'.
If you use a hip band
instead of a seatback, the standard length PFD backs shouldn’t block rotation. However, the short backs do feel better to me. Unfortunately, they make up for the flotation by using thick front panels, which I’m not too fond of.
Have not found a PFD that I’m totally satisfied with. The Tempo 200 has the best fit without riding up but the thick front is an obstacle to me during re-entry. Not an impossible one–but more difficult than with a thinner PFD or no PFD at all.
that’s all you’re looking for
and one that doesn’t ride up
Look at the NRS article
PDF?? Open your Adobe Acrobat
software and see what they say.
Comfort and price
Look for a comfortable PFD so that you’ll actually wear it, and a low enough price because you’ll need to replace it every 3-5 years depending on handling. A $90 PFD is a bit hard to chunk into the garbage, even though it needs to go there. A lot of the PFDs designed for paddling are a bit of a ripoff at that price - you are paying for the cache of it being a “kayaking” vest, without getting any more protection or features. Better to go for a decent waterskiing or fishing PFD for $30-$40, and they can be had for even less.
Why do you replace PFDs…
after only 3 to 5 years of use? Does the foam inside start to break down that quickly? The first PFD I bought was a neoprene waterski vest. As soon as I put it on and got in the boat, I knew there was a problem. It was way too stiff around the arms and neck. Returned it right away and got a comfortable model made for paddling.
Most are around 16 lbs. floatation. I’m happy with my Tempo 200, (Astral). Like others have said, if it’s comfy buy it. Also think what you might want pockets and lash tabs for? Some companies sizes are really small. Bought one on-line and had to return it.
Thought is loss of floatation
From change in the foam. Also, after a few years of hard use you could find that the stitching is beginning to weaken.
My last 3 vests were notably deteriorated after 1 year. The stitching fails first and fading is severe. I’m in the north so I don’t know how folks in the south make anything last.
I won’t try to tell you what to buy
But comfort is paramount.
It should be comfortable IN and out of the water.
I have a Lotus Rio Grande that I love because it is really comfortable to swim with and also because I can easily put is on when I am in the water and have it quickly adjusted to where it’s secure and easy to swim with.
Especially if your one of us who doesn’t always wear it while in the boat. I mean one of them.
I actually swim with mine on quite frequently just to do it(for the added warmth and to spend extended amounts of time swimming in deep water).
I have a ten year old Sherman, used
50+ times a year. The cloth is not a bit faded, and there is no loss of flotation. I have a Stohlquist Max dating to pre-94. It is unfaded, and seems to have its 22# of flotation. Floats darn high, anyway.
I think that routine replacement of PFDs at 5 years is only a big, wasteful carbon footprint.
So mostly comfort and pockets for accessories. That is good to know. I am considering a mesh back for the comfort factor. Over the next couple of weeks I will visit various shops and try them on…
I was thinking something similar
I wonder if perhaps the PFDs which degrade that much in only five years have been used a lot for rolling practice in a pool? I do a lot of lap swimming, and my swimsuits don’t last very long at all. I bet chlorine is bad for the fabric of PFDs too. My PFD is six years old and gets used (or at least lays in the sun in my boat) at least once or twice a week, on average, from March to November, and it looks virtually new, except for stains from scraping on wet tree bark.
Living in Spokane…
You are going to have a pretty limited portion of the year where the mesh back will do much of anything for you like handle being hot. And once you learn to roll and scull you'll be handling being hot mostly by dropping into the water. In sum, unless there is something about a mesh versus solid back that is huge in terms of comfort for you, the mesh back mostly complicates having desirable floatation by putting more in front of you (unless it is inflatable like the Kokatat H2O) and removing a likely surface for lash tabs for things like lights.
You indicate that you want to paddle on the ocean, at some point. The stuff that you have to be able to carry in a pocket or clipped onto your person to handle dusk near a shipping lane or fog can get more complicated than inland.
I am not saying that a mesh back would be a big problem for the moment, but if you are only going to buy one vest now you should consider how well it'll do everything for you. Take a look at the stuff that most guides have on them. There's a reason for that stuff, and if you are paddling alone you are more likely to need some of it in an emergency than if you are with a group.
I was hoping someone would object to tossing a PFD after only a few years. I have an MTI model that’s around 5 years old that has seen a lot of use. Stitching is good, still floats just fine. Only thing wrong with it is the sunscreen stains around the neck. It won’t get tossed in the bin just yet.
Compared to the unrecyclable packaging
that most consumer products you use every day come in, tossing one PFD every 3-5 years is a drop in the bucket. If it bothers you that much, find a way to recycle the material, or reuse it for bumpers between boats and docks, seat cushions, whatever. Sounds to me more like you rationalizing that you know more than the PFD manufacturers, Coast Guard, and ASTM because it would cost you, what?, $125 to replace that Sherman. The foams used in vests have a predictable chemical breakdown rate, just like the plastics used in helmets. Careful usage and storage only prevents acceleration of that breakdown rate, doesn't stop it. You may do everything right to keep your PFD in serviceable condition as long as possible, may actually be able to get a little more life out of it than manufacturer guarantees, but the replacement schedule is a good rule of thumb with a conservative safety margin for a safety device under normal use, especially by the majority of the public who will not necessarily care or know to take care of it as well as you do - people like novices on this site who ask basic questions regarding buying a first PFD (eg The R/C man)