Inflatable PFDs worn around the waist

What brands of these have people used and found good for kayaking in? I recently bought a hydration vest designed for runners and found it so comfortable for hiking in (it really does stay put when running, too) that I’d like to wear it on longer paddles. That means wearing a typical PFD is out of the question. But the hydration vest sits high up enough that I can wear a fanny pack with it, so I am looking for a good waist-belt inflatable PFD. The inflatables MUST be worn, not just kept handy on the boat. (Besides, if I have to remove the hydration pack and then put on a PFD, in the kind of conditions that would pose high risk of capsizing, then the PFD had better be on my body already.)

Yeah, I know that a tow belt could not be worn then. I have one and learned how to use it but normally don’t wear it anyway. It is far less of a concern than staying well-hydrated in this dry, sunny climate that gets pretty hot for the “liquid” part of the year.

I have an MTI FLUID Inflatable (belt-pack style), that I use for racing in hot weather, that has given me good service. Inflatables can be either type III or type V. The MTI Fluid is a type III device, so technically, my understanding is that the CG doesn’t require for it to be worn, unlike a type V device that does need to be worn to satisfy CG carriage rules. However, I wear it when I use it. Some state laws have additional carriage requirements.

I have been stopped by the marine patrol once, but they apologized once they realized I was wearing an inflatable.

I don’t know how much water you plan to carry, but FWIW, I used to carry water on my torso but quickly grew tired of the added weight. Water is heavy and over time can affect posture, affect torso rotation, and worn high on your torso can also affect balance. It wouldn’t be a big deal for a day trip in calm conditions but for any kind of long distance travel, especially over several days, I prefer to have that weight off my torso. I carry hydration bladders behind my seat (provides ballast) and have a grommet on the deck for my drinking tube. That said, it’s fairly common for surf-ski vests to include a hydration pocket, so this is personal preference, and I hope it works for you.


I have an NRS one I use paddle boarding, sometimes the velcro comes undone, and it ends up hanging down like a skirt. Wouldn’t purchase again but seems to be holding up pretty well otherwise.
Make sure you practice inflating and putting it on in the water, you don’t want any surprises when if you need to use it.

Why not use something like this, that allows you to wear a traditional PFD?

Personally, I just carry a jug of water in my day hatch. Even with it being one of the only items in there clunking around, I can still roll just fine. I can reach back and grab it on the water for a nice long guzzle of water, unlike the small sips you get from most hydration packs.

Greg, I never liked wearing water bladders on my back before; couldn’t believe how many mountain bikers wear them. They SLOSHED. Then I tried this one on (Osprey Dura/Dyna). It is only 1.5 liters and, carried in a snug yet elastic vest, does not bother me while hiking and clambering around. I haven’t yet worn it kayaking because my day paddles rarely call for more than a 28-ounce bike bottle of water. But I have always tended to underdrink, which becomes cumulative in the warm season.

The bladder has dividers running part of the way from bottom to top. I think this, along with enough stretchy vest sizes to choose from, allows the bladder to sit more securely. When I tested it by running up a rocky trail, the water left at that point (about half the bag) moved up and down in their divisions but did not move side to side.

When I have tried it on a paddle, I’ll write a review.

Will check out the MTI inflatable unit–thanks for the suggestion.

I’m pretty sure that Colorado requires inflatable PFDs to be worn when on the water.

The vest is nice because it works great for hiking, which a bladder in a PFD would not. Just the thought of that makes me overheat. Also, I prefer many frequent sips instead of occasional guzzling gulps. They sit better in the stomach, and I feel more energetic.

The Stohlquist Contour bills itself as a Type V that “behaves like a Type III,” whatever that means. Sounds like a way to force people to wear it at all times regardless of differences in state boating laws, while not requiring the PFD to float user face up.

It does have one nice feature, the backup oral inflation tube.

Does the MTI Fluid have a backup inflation tube?

Yes, the MTI Fluid has a backup manual inflation value, I think most of them do. On the MTI, it is only accessible once you pull the PFD out of the belt-pack . I think it’s normally meant to adjust the air pressure after you have pulled the “rip-cord”, but you could inflate it completely manually if desired.

Regarding carrying water on your back, I understand what you mean by the water “sloshing-around” and have wondered why more systems don’t have baffles to control water movement. That is more of an issue for hiking for me, since I use a Camelback for alpine hiking. For kayaking, it’s simply the weight. After several days on a long trip, as my core gets tired, I have to fight to prevent my posture from slumping, due to the added weight, if I’m carrying water on my back, or if I just have too much stuff in/on my PFD. YMMV.