Kayak Vest Recommendation

My wife & I want to buy new kayaking vests. We have sit-in recreational kayaks that we will use in generally calm inland waters. We are looking for Type III vests that are not bulky, close-fitting & allow easy arm movement. I have been looking at neoprene vests. But I want to make sure that they provide adequate flotation.

I would appreciate any thoughts & recommendations. Thank you so much.

Neoprene is hot to wear and most designs that use it for flotation vests are meant for stand up sports like water skiing, sailing and stand up paddle boarding, which means they are not comfortable for paddling because they are so long and can ride up under your chin when seated. You want something cut shorter at the waist and with deep armholes that won’t get in the way when you are paddling.

I’ve owned a dozen PFDs and generally prefer those made by Astral, who makes lots of paddling specific models of Class III PFDs. Take a look at the Astral V8 which has a mesh lower back that won’t interfere with the high back seats that many SOT kayaks have. The V8 is light and very well ventilated front and back. Even on the hottest days I am barely aware that I have mine on.

Just a tip: if you are on the lower edge of the Astral chest measurement for any of size range on their size chart, go with the smaller size. They are very adjustable anyway and I find I have a better fit when I go with the next size down. Astral does often discount some models each year when they change the designs a bit to clear out the older versions. I’ve found them for $20 to $40 off sometimes by doing a Google search on who is selling the close-out models.

If the Astrals are over your budget, the Onyx brand MoveVent models are not bad – pretty comfortable but won’t be as durable as the Astrals.


Thank you so much for the thorough response. I will follow up on your recommendations. I appreciate it.

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Willowleaf: I looked at both the Astral & the Onyx models that you recommended. I liked the generous use of mesh material,especially on the Astral V8. Did you find that both of these vests were comfortable & fit close to the body (assuming the size is correct, of course). Also, did these vests tend to “ride up” off of the shoulders when seated in the kayak? I ask this since my wife is rather short at 5 ft. Again…thank you.

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Kokatat Hustler

I have liked my NRS CVest enough that I bought another. Never feels hot in the summer. Doesn’t restrict movement. I tend to forget it is on.

My wife has liked her Stohlquist Womens Cruiser PFD.

All the vests you can buy that meet Type III certification will have the same minimum flotation.

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Thank you, GoD (sorry for the acronym) & PaddleDog52. I will check out those vests. Much appreciated.

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I have an older, mesh backed Kokatat (I also have an NRS Ninja but I don’t use it much) and my wife prefers an Astral (she also has a Stolquist that doesn’t get much use). I like the mesh backs with the flotation fairly high for warmer weather paddling. Much depends on what pockets you want - I carry a radio, an iPhone and a few other bits and pieces. She carries almost nothing!

My best advice is to find a kayak store with a good selection and try a bunch on. Preferably try them on while sitting in a kayak. If you can’t do that then try them while sitting on the floor with your legs out in front of you.

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kfbrady: Thank you for your input. Since we will likely be kayaking in warm weather, mesh panels make a lot of sense.

Most of the time I wear my Kokatat Hustle, but if I’m taking a leisurely paddle I’ll reach for my Astral Sturgeon because it’s comfy, cool, and easy to put on and take off.

Another vote for the Astral V8. I just replaced my old one last year with another one, that’s how much I like them. Low volume - important for us ladies who already have some natural buoyancy up front. Good pocket space, ventilation and adjustability.

Even though I’m tall (5’11”) I’m short waisted and I’ve not had any problem with the PFD riding up.

Another PFD to look at for your wife might be the Kokatat MsFit. Everyone I know who has one swears by them.

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Thank you, KayakerBee, for the recommendations. My wife will be pleased.

I find Kokatat to be the worst fitting PFD and have been disappointed with the one’s I have bought. Will only buy Stolquist in the future because of the superior fit.

Hi Rizzo26, I use “Stohlquist Women’s Glide”. Bought it because I did not want something too bulky and it has cut-out section for a woman’s chest. It is not perfect (all PFDs feel weird) but I can paddle easily and have done a float test of it and it kept me safely above the waves. I also like the zippered pockets. HTH.

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I appreciate the candid comments. The fit of a vest is certainly subjective; if for no other reason, due to one’s body shape.

I will certainly add the Stolquist Women’s Glide to the short list of considerations Thank you.

After trying several, I’ve been very happy with my Stohlquist women’s Cruiser. I’m 5’4". Fits comfortable, no ride-up, works with my seats.

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This is from my Stohlquist Ebb PFD review. It’s been another year since the review and I still feel the same.

“The perfect PFD. I was looking for a comfortable PFD to use while paddling my canoes, both double and solo. In the solo boat I switch paddles depending on the weather and water and use both double and single paddles. This is the first PFD I’ve ever owned that doesn’t interfere in some fashion with either my arm movements or the high seat back I often use on my solo boat. It’s so comfortable I forget I’m wearing it! The fit is fantastic with eight adjustment points, the foam is very fitting and they taper the edges of the chest pieces where they end at your side so there’s no rubbing on the inside of your arm on your “on” side. The two snap pockets are adequate for my use and are easy to open and snap shut using one hand. And the vest is reasonably comfortable when it’s hot outside. The only thing missing is an attachment point to tie off my whistle so that went into one of the pockets.”
If possible, at the very least go to a shop that has a number of brands and models and try them on. After the clerk fits them to you loosen the straps and try to readjust them by yourself. You’re not going to have that clerk out on the water with you when you paddle. Good luck!

For calm waters, it may be worth investigating the self-inflating lifepreservers. They meet the bouyancy requirements and are very open. I got one for Christmas and am itching to try it out. Seems to have no movement restriction and is completely open in the back. I’m not sure I would use it in a class 2 or higher rapids situation, but I don’t see a problem in flat water or no higher than a class 1 rapid. Full disclosure, I Kayak in a SOT and canoe in a tandem Wennonah 2 canoe for fishing purposes.

aablodgett: Thank you for the thorough response. From what I discern, Stohlquist is certainly a respected brand.