How to select and/or fit a vest

I’m paddling a Perception Pescador with the CSS seat back. I’m using a half-back vest style PFD and that’s a definite miss-match. The vest back is just low enough and the seat back is just high enough that they overlap about 3-4 inches. HIGHLY uncomfortable.

My question is: How do you select the appropriate PFD (preferably a vest) without taking your kayak to the store and trying them all on? I live in the sticks, and there’s nowhere near that sells any of this stuff. I do most of my shopping on-line both for selection and price. Is there a guide that tells me how to select/fit a vest style PFD? I want pockets on the front and minimal shoulder impediment; those are really my only two wishes beyond comfort.

What input can you offer?

I have bought PFDs without sitting in my kayak in the store and have had two different experiences.

I have dealt with very knowledgeable salespeople, such as the vendor reps, at kayak shows most of them had an amazing amount of knowledge regarding what vests would give me a good fit for my body type (which is hard to fit) as well as being able to clear the seat back in my kayak. Going to a big kayak show is a ton of fun if you enjoy kayaking between the shopping, looking at kayaks and the various seminars or films they have.

Then there is retail big box stores where you are taking a random chance if the person helping you has enough knowledge of the PFDs and kayaks.

You might want to try emailing or calling some of the online vendors like NRS or Austin Kayak and ask a bunch of questions – they like making sales and not have the products get returned so in general their customer service reps seem to do great jobs. When I have bought clothing from NRS they are very easy about returning items that do not fit. I bought a custom spray skirt via Austin Kayak and from the email exchange with their customer support reps it was clear they knew about how my PFD, skirt, seatback, and kayak combo was going to come together.

Those are the two I shop the most – I am sure some of the the other ones out there should be helpful if you contact them.

style suggestion

– Last Updated: Jul-31-13 10:56 AM EST –

This doesn't fully answer your question (the first answer did a good job with that), but I wanted to make a recommendation for a vest that could suit your requirements. After having owned or used a range of PFD's I have found that I really like the Astrals and recently added a Camino to the collection. Unlike my beloved Astral V-8, the Camino has a full length padded back, which I find more comfortable in a couple of my boats with low backbands than the half-backed V-8. I see LL Bean has it on sale right now for $99 and they are known for free shipping and easy and generous return policies. You'll notice it has little shoulder restriction, one of the big reasons I like their vests. The foam is flexible and the vented construction makes them very comfortable, even in hot weather. And unlike some of the vest brands, it has 3 overlapping size ranges rather than just 2.

Here's an ad that shows the back:

Sit down in the store
I doubt you’ll find a half back vest that will clear a tall back rest. Just get one that is comfortable while sitting on the floor. After that walk into the water until you’re floating to discover how snug the straps have to be to not have it float up around your head.

I learned a lesson.
A few years ago, I thought I had happened onto the perfect pfd at a great price. However, when I actually tried it out in the kayak, it couldn’t have been more wrong. Luckily, the store was happy to take it back and just by chance they had another vest that did fit the application and it was an even better price. That was a very good reminder that when it comes to buying paddling accessories it is always prudent to be sure you can bring it back if it doesn’t work.

I hope this is allowed; I’d like to put in a plug for a really great paddle store and that is Alder Creek in Portland, Oregon. They have gone many extra miles in assuring my satisfaction with all my purchases.

Your first two sentences…
reflect EXACTLY how I feel. I have an Ascend Deluxe for men and I love everything about it (including the price and that I’ve already paid it), it just doesn’t fit the seat. Big ruh-roh moment.

You make a good point…
and it makes me wonder … should I change the seat rather than the vest? The CSS has a convex back to it like lumbar support in most new cars. Personally, that’s not comfortable for me, but I could live with it. However, a sling seat sounds a lot cheaper than a new vest, and they’re more comfortable to me; I’m wondering if that would be a smarter thing to do. Maybe I can borrow a sling seat from a local and try it before I pitch another $75-100 at the problem.

That looks like a nice vest
and may be the answer. It sure would be nice if I could find a place to try some of these on. Maybe a long day trip and a half tank of gas would be OK if I knew I could try on a bunch and ultimately find the one I want to buy. However, this one looks promising without that ability. Thanks for that targeted suggestion.