Life Vest for Small Woman

I am fairly new to paddling and have been using a loaner life vest but it is too large for my small frame. I have been waiting for my local store to have its big sale which is occurring this weekend. I went up to try to find a life vest for myself. I am a woman with a small frame (5’3" and weigh 107 lbs. and have a small bone structure / narrow shoulders). I tried on every vest they had and found none that fit. The youth vests they had did not meet the weight criteria as they topped out at 90lbs. I am at a loss for what to do. Included in the vests I tried were several women specific vests including Stohlquist, Astral and MTI. Surely I cannot be the only person to have this issue. Any advice. I have a Wilderness Tsunami 140 so I need a vest with a high back. I am planning on doing long paddling including preparing for the MR340 so I need something that fits well and isn’t going to chafe. Any advice would be appreciated.

If you find a youth vest that fits, the
90 pound weight limit may not matter. Check what the claimed flotation is. Nobody is ever going to check whether you’re wearing a youth vest unless it has “My Little Pony” prints or similar on it. Or even then.

I hope another svelte gal will come along with a specific suggestion. Recent pfds have become a bit bulky in my view, like today’s furniture. My very old Stohlquist Max and Lotus Sherman are more comfortable that the modern equivalents I’ve tried.

Don’t limit your choices to the mesh back versions due to a high back rest. I’m personally not a fan of the super high back trekreational seats but they do adjust back to accommodate the back foam of a pfd. Given that I’d take a look at the Astral Otter. I’ve a number of petite River Connection Paddlers that have found that to be the best fit in a more traditional Type III PFD.

I don’t know if you tried the Astral V-8 but in the small size the height of that is quite short and it provides the half mesh back like you were looking for.

While I don’t have personal experience with it, the Kokatat Tour or the Stohlquist Brik would also be super low profile Type-III.

The last option I’ll put forth is what I use for racing in predictable conditions. Get an inflatable belt style pfd. Has all of the profile of a forward worn fanny pack.

Hope the $.02 helps in some regard.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY

Have you tried a Kokatat MS-Fit, small?

– Last Updated: Feb-22-14 12:42 PM EST –

I am half an inch off your height, though carrying 25 to 30 more pounds, and wear a women's medium. Give it a try. (A small I mean, to account for your being leaner than me.)

As to the back part - the Tsunami 140 comes with a seat back. You need to lose it and replace it with a back band if you want comfort - at your height you can't do anything to avoid hitting the darned thing. I would have put you in the 135 personally if it had to be a Tsunami boat, but even there you probably would want to lose the seat back.

As to the event and what it suggests about your longer term goals, get what you can out of this boat but don't fall in love with it. You will find that you want to get to one that is narrower, less deep and altogether better rated for your size after some seat time. Used boats are a fine way to start until you find one that really feels like "it".

Tough to find
My wife has a Salus Amyot in XS-s. At under 100lbs It fits quite nicely and she says it is very comfortable. It fit way better than all the commonly carried models we could find did. We saw a suggestion on here for the Kokatat Aries in the adult XXS-YL for petite ladies. Always looking for a better fit we’ve ordered one to have a look since no one carries that size in Canada.

MTI Helios Inflatable
You might want to check into Inflatable PFD’s. They are a little pricier, but you will be very comfortable.

Don’t shy away from the youth sizes
The fairly new Kokatat Aries might fit you. I would love to try one on but so far haven’t seen any in shops–or on a person, for that matter.

I usually wear a Stohlquist youth sized Escape. Its recommended paddler weight range tops out at 90 lbs…but it does float me in the water even though I weigh more than that. Fits better than any adult-sized PFD I’ve ever tried, gender-specific or not.

The adult-sized PFD I also have covers a larger area of my torso, which is nice if I will be in places with large pointy rocks and rough water. It is also less comfortable for that exact reason, plus it is thicker and doesn’t let me get folded up as tight as I can without wearing it. I prefer wearing the youth PFD instead, for that reason.

I once rented a kayak from a place on an island off of California. The shop proprietor immediately said, “That [adult small] PFD looks too big on you.” I told him I knew that and usually wore a youth PFD at home. He immediately offered to let me use one of his youth PFDs if it fit (it did). He only asked, “Would you actually WEAR it?” to which I answered yes. His rationale: He would rather that I wear a youth PFD that fit and floated me, than just carry an adult PFD that I hated wearing. He probably had had too many customers wear the detested PFDs until they were out of sight and then stash them under the bungies.

How zealous your local PFD enforcers are might influence your decision, though.

check with NRS
Had a lot of good experiences with NRS and their customer support team is very knowledgeable.

Thank you
Thank you very much for all the great info :slight_smile:

Thank you
Thank you very much for all the great info :slight_smile: I wound up with the 140 to get a bit of extra room for hauling gear. I’m looking to do some multi-day trips as well as the MR340 so my outfitter recommended the 140 over the 135 - even though the 135 did fit me a bit better. I appreciate your input regarding the seat - I wasn’t aware I could even change that. Shows you how new I am. I still have much to learn.

Thank you
Thank you very much!

Thank you
Thank you very much!

Thank you
Thank you very much, I will check into that.

Thank you!
Thank you very much for all the great info. I am going to check out some youth vest options.

Kayaks and gear
However you make the migration, camping out of a kayak tends to force a reduction in the size of gear compared to a canoe. So compression sacs for sleeping bags, compact stoves and a number of smaller sized dry bags.

I am not sure what you bring camping, but a lot of people camp fine for a few days out of smaller kayaks as long as they have gone to more compact stuff. If you haven’t assembled that yet, or if you start looking at a week, it gets more challenging.

I don’t personally have experience with swapping out a seat back for a back band in a Tsumani, so it may require a further post to this web site to look for tips on doing it. But being close to your height, I do know that a seat back is more likely to interfere than not.

If you decide you want ot learn rolling, don’t start in this boat. It’ll be an uphill climb and, at your size, you could spend just a couple of hundred bucks and find an old beater kids whitewater boat that would be tons easier to learn in (as well as haul around). And it leaves you with something that you can go creek crawling in when half the trip is going to be dragging a boat over logs.

write to jackL s
contact Nanci who is JackLs lovely bride. She is around the size you specify and has more time in and around PFDs then any one I know. If she is at a race I know that I am doomed…

Ocean Paddler PFD from Australia
Is what my 14 year old daughter settled on after ocean testing many many highly recommended PFDs. Yes, I kept buying and buying many PFDs for her to try out in actual open ocean racing conditions. Trying them on in the store does not cut it. You have to wear them in the actual conditions you’ll be using them in.

Best thing about this PFD, besides passing the ocean racing test, is that there is a pouch in the back that fits her 2 liter size water bladder that was suffient enough to finish the Blackburn Challenge with.

The Ocean Paddler PFD is available from Ocean Paddle Sports in Costa Mesa, CA. They only have size XL right now for $100. Ask DeAnne, if she can bring in a smaller size for you?