Light weight cool womens PFD

My wife is interested in getting a COOL (literally) PFD for our hot South Carolina summers. She Sea Kayaks and cannot swim so an inflatable might be out of the question since it requires her to take action to inflate it. I want to get her a light color that breathes excellent and has good sized front pockets for Cell phone etc. She only weighs 105lbs so I am tempting to get a childs PFD but afraid it will not provide her the safety factor in keeping her head above water. Any recommendations?

Regarding “head above water”. I see some potential confusion in your post and thought that I would try to clear that up:

Usually, sea kayakers will use a buoyancy aid (called a “swim west” where I live) which will ONLY provide buoyancy. It will not keep the head above water in a position where the person can breathe if he/she becomes unconscious.

A real life jacket would keep the correct position of an unconscious person’s head so he/she could breathe.

So why do sea kayakers make that choice? We do it, because we find it more important to be able to actively save ourselves if we capsize. A byouyancy aid gives us just the amount of buoyancy which is needed for rescuing ourselves, and it does not hinder our movements during the rescure. A real life jacket would be a hindrance in that situation as it would try to force us into a position which is correct for passively staying alive, but wrong for performing a self rescue.

(At least, that is the theory. I have actually never tested my ability to rescue myself while wearing a real life jacket.)

So what is the upshot of this? In my opinion, she should go for a buoyancy aid designed for sea kayaking, even though it does not ensure that the head is above water in the correct position. But she should be aware that this requires her to actually train rescues so she will be able to handle a capsize and use the advantage of a buoyancy aid to get herself back into the boat.

As far as I know, Kokatat has made a hybrid buoyancy aid / life jacket. In normal use it is just a sea kayaking buoyancy aid, but if the sea kayaker for some reason ends up in a situation where he/she will have to stay in the water and risk becoming unconscious, there is another part of the pfd which can be inflated and turn the boyancy aid into a real life jacket. That model is not availiable here in Europe, so I have no experience with it.

I agree with Allen’s comments. If face out of water is required, with little action on the part of the capsizer, then the only PFDs rated for that are the bulky type that would restrict motion.

Sea Kayaker Magazine (RIP) reviewed the Kokatat Sea 02 a few years ago. I was interested in buying one but decided not to because it is sized for men and I am a short woman. There wasn’t one near to try it on.

I have used two models of kid’s PFDs in their largest size. They fit on me with all but the waist strap on the loosest adjustments possible. Yes, they float me and I weigh 107 lbs, but there are three big differences from your wife.

First, I CAN SWIM.

Second, I can do all of the following:

– Roll up on either side
– Wet exit and re-enter the boat in deep water and then roll up
– Wet exit, right the boat, and then get in using cowboy remount, solo
– Wet exit, right the boat, and then get in using a paddle float to assist, solo
– Wet exit and get in the boat using one or more kinds of assisted recovery

Third, and maybe the starting point of all the above, is that I am constitutionally unable to rely on only mechanical aids or other people to get out of a pickle.

So, for your wife, I would NOT recommend using a kid’s PFD because even if it floats her, it simply doesn’t have as much buoyancy as an adult’s PFD does. This means her chin may be barely above water in DEAD CALM WATER. How does she feel about getting doused when a tiny wave or boat wake hits? Does she know enough to instantly grab a breath before the water hits and stay calm for a couple of seconds till she can take another breath?

At the least, some swimming ability, including treading water, would reduce or eliminate the fear of water that most nonswimmers have. That in itself goes a long way toward reducing tenseness in the boat, which translates to less risk of capsizing.

Most kayakers in my neck of the water wear Type III or type V PFDs. The type V pfds are inflatables. Most of them wear the manual inflatable rather than the automatic. Most Type III are buoyant all the time and made specifically for kayaking. (high backs and big arm holes) The definition of Type III, “TYPE III PFDS / FLOTATION AIDS: For general boating or the specialized activity that is marked on the device such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and others. Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue. Designed so that wearing it will complement your boating activities:.” See

The only PFD my late non-swimming spouse would routinely wear was an inflatable, “suspenders” design automatic. Of course she’d wear it as a belt cause it was “too hot”.

I suggest these mesh back models or similar.

In SC there is no real cool temperature relief PFD when kayaking. I lived there once. Just like Florida in the summer you need to wear technical shirts under the PFD and wet them from time to time. The rapid evaporation will cool the wearer some. Also a wet bandana or buff aids relief. I take the wide brimmed Tilly hat and dip it in the water, drain, and place on head for additional cooling.
Oh yeah, Adult size starts at about 90 pounds for the wearer. Get the real size.

No matter what jacket she gets she needs to have some experience in the water with a PFD on. This will avoid panic if something does happen. Not just flat water either even floating at beach in some waves.

Because yatipope’s wife is a nonswimmer doesn’t mean she fears water. She paddles a sea kayak and it appears he is looking for a PFD which will be cooler to wear than the one she currently uses.

From the USCG website:
"Buoyancy - The tendancy [sic] of a body to float or sink in water or any other fluid. Most people will naturally float in water, especially if they fill their lungs with air. Most require only about 11 pounds (50 Newtons) of extra buoyancy to keep their head out of water. That is why a PFD with just 15.5 pounds (70 Newtons) of buoyancy can provide adequate flotation for an adult – even a very large person. PFDs with 22 to 34 pounds (100 to 155 Newtons) can provide superior performance.

“It also follows that the people hardest to float are those with compact, dense bodies. These tend to be people with athletic body builds, with a lot of bone and muscle mass, and not much fat. Fat is not as dense as muscle and bone, so people who are overweight can actually be easier to float than someone who is much smaller and leaner. Heavy people do not need a higher buoyancy PFD because of their weight.”

I’m one of those people who does not naturally float in water. I’m a sinker, discovered when I took swimming lessons as a kid and went straight to the bottom of the pool. Thus, I’m a lousy swimmer but that doesn’t make me tense in my boat or afraid of water. I’ve cannonballed off pontoon boats, sailed (and capsized) sailing dinghies, and paddle my own sea kayak with no concerns because I wear a PFD. I practice wet-exits, swimming with my boat, etc. (but haven’t learned to roll).

I’d be concerned about using a youth or child’s vest because their buoyancy ratings are lower than adult vests. Don’t know the weight of yatipope’s wife, but at 105# am guessing she is compact and trim.

The Astral V-8 has been suggested in other threads here as a good PFD for hot weather.

For some reason Astral doesn’t list buoyancy ratings at its website or on its products. I have two Astral YTVs and neither list that information on the PFDs, which I find odd. My summer weight is 106-110#. The size small is okay when wearing a drysuit and a few layers underneath, but I wish it was a bit snugger while wearing just a rashguard. But it’s buoyancy is good even while not totally snug and it doesn’t ride up, which I discovered last month doing wet exits in the pool. I wore swim goggles for the first time and saw that I don’t hang upside down - the vest kept me up at angle. Maybe that will be good for rolling lessons.

I have several Astrals and the V-8 is by far the coolest PFD of any brand or style I have ever used and is my “go to” in the hottest weather. Mine is the pumpkin orange – I don’t think color has that much effect other than visibility. The foam insulation neutralizes any dark color absorption factor anyway. The V-8 is very well ventilated and has a mesh back. I barely notice I have it on even on the hottest days. Often don’t realize I am still wearing it until I get in the car after loading at the take out and realize it is pushing me forward in the car seat. BUT, one drawback of the model is kind of crappy pockets. I think they have improved them in the newer versions (mine is 6 or 7 years old) but because of the vent openings in the chest they can’t really extend large pockets over that area. I have considered sewing an accessory pocket onto the front.

I also like my Astral Abba with the sealed kapok insulation – soft and flexible so it’s comfortable though it also has minimal pockets. I have not found it to be hot. to wear I notice that they have a new women’s PFD model, the Layla, that uses that same kapok flotation and has a large center pocket and offcenter zip. It does have a solid rather than mesh back though. It is based on the Lotus Lola (the folks at Astral were originally with Lotus) which is the first PFD I owned – I found that to be a comfortable women’s vest but rather warm in hot weather. With the kapok rather than the foam in my old vest, it might be less warm.

You might want to look at the NRS Ninja which is good for people with short torsos, the biggest fit problem for us smaller folks, though the size range for the NRS models is a couple inches larger than the smaller sizes with Astral. Their cVest model probably has the most pockets of the mesh back models but I have no experience with how it fits.

I see REI has the women tailored version of the Astral V-8 on sale right now for quite a good price and it has larger pockets than my “beta” version:

3rd on the Astral V8. I love mine and you know how petite I am.

WOW Jim I was wondering what that tiny object strapped to your upper torso was! I suppose it might keep your nostrils above water! Well I am thankful for the responses from all those above,… petite or not! I will get the V8!

It comfortably keeps my head and chest above water.

That’s great Jim I just bought one for Nora,… the LADIES PETITE version!

I guess I’m too late with this, but in case anyone else is interested, here’s one that has an option for the head.

The addition of the head pillow means maybe it could be used instead of a crappy pool float, for just cooling off and kicking the feet around while lying back, exploring in and out of little coves. When you see a place you want to get out and explore on foot. you’d just get out and hoof it in your Keen water sandal/shoe hybrids.

Why can’t she swim?
It’s an easy skill to learn.

I agree, basic swimming is a pretty necessary skill if you are going to kayak anywhere where the water is deeper than 3 feet, which is just about anywhere. I took swimming lessons as an adult and am glad I did so – most YMCA/YWCA’s still offer reasonable cost lessons. I don’t swim with any sort of style or grace, but I am confident enough in deep water now to be relaxed about it,so I can concentrate on remounting my boat without panic over potential drowning. And I know I can tread water almost indefinitely or swim to shore in most conditions.

Honestly, I never take anyone kayaking unless they can assure me that they can swim.


Interesting tidbits:
The ability to swim is not mentioned in the ACA’s Essential Eligibility Criteria for skills classes. I’ve never been asked that question before any class nor has it appeared on any event or symposium registration.
Same criteria for L4.

BCU prerequisite for 2* is: “Candidates must be able to swim 25 metres wearing a buoyancy aid.”

When I took the PADI dive course we had to demonstrate ability to swim and to tread water. It strikes me as really bizarre that the ACA doesn’t mandate even basic swimming for their skills classes. That would seem to me to be absolutely critical. Do you think they just presume that nobody who wanted to take the course could possibly be a non-swimmer?

25 yards is nothing – not even half the length of an Olympic pool. I learned to swim in college in a 50 meter pool and was expected to warm up with 4 lengths of it at the start of class.

But at least someone who can swim 25 yards is demonstrating comfort in the water. I have been around non-swimmers who genuinely go into mortal panic mode when dumped in the water, risking drowning themselves and anyone who tries to help them with their desperate flailing. And such people are rarely competent paddlers, being so terrified of immersion that they never really relax.

Has she used the V-8 yet? Does she like it.

Swimming is the third most important survival skill right after ducking and running.