Looking for coolest least restrictive PFD for marathon canoe paddling

This year’s Adirondack Canoe Classic is requiring PFDs to be worn at all times. Even though it takes place in September, the Adirondacks is liable to offer up a very warm humid day or two for the event. I’m looking for the a PFD that won’t over heat me if I chose to wear it this summer training or on this fall for the ACC. I’ve seen the Kokatat Orbit Tour recommended in the past but it appears that Kokatat not longer makes that model.

While we’re at it, do any of the inflatables make sense?

Thanks for any informed replies.


Check out Vaikobi. Best I’ve had.
I have an orbit–not really a fan

Orbit was probably dropped because of the Hustler they now make.

That is a major change in the rules for the 90 miler. Even though always a good idea, normally in the past wearing of PFDs was only made mandatory by the race director only when extreme weather conditions so dictated. Wearing of PFDs is of course 100% mandatory during the Yukon River races, and I and many of my paddling parters like the Kokatat Orbit model. Very comfortable, no arm or torso resriction at all to race paddling movements. easy to put on and take off, it has pockets for other mandatory Yukon emergency necessities (whistle and signal kit, fire starter kit, etc.)

I have been wearing the Spinlock Wing PFD. which is called a “buoyancy aid”. Designed for dinghy sailing but is super low profile, close fitting and gives me plenty of buoyancy. Its my go-to for surfski racing. As a bonus its also not too expensive.

The popular PFD for venting is the Mocke Racer PFD. Kind of expensive at $150

I might be inclined to ask if the ACC is going to require a USCG certification on the PFDs. If they’re going to be sticklers about it, that changes things. While great PFDs, neither the Mocke or Vaikobi are USCG certified. It’s silly, but technically they are not. They are ISO 12402-5 approved, which is an international cert that most countries use. I went through this a few years ago when my work required me to wear a PFD, and it had to USCG certified.

Will they care? Maybe, maybe not. I’d love to see the Mocke, Vaikobi, and Nelo PFDs get a USCG cert, and they are way safer than a lot of the crappy box store vests that are certified. There are a few permitted rivers out west where you will be turned away or cited if your PFD isn’t USCG certified (most famously the Grand Canyon). If I were running the ACC I might be inclined to turn a blind eye to these PFDs. Unfortunately, in this litigation crazy country where nobody likes to take personal responsibility, a drowning without a USCG cert on a PFD can open up a whole can of worms.

It’s pretty expensive, but the Mustang Khimera Dual Flotation PFD might be one to at least check out. It uses a hybrid system of some foam, which gives it a much slimmer profile than many pfds, and some additional inflatable cells which gives it a pretty high level of flotation when they’re inflated. They have a USCG certification showing on their website.

To be technically accurate and legal, NYS requires US coast guard approved PFDs to be on board every boat for every person while on the water. Also must be worn from 1Nov to 1 May only. That would also apply to any racing activity.

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It’s true that they are not USCG certified, likely because they originate in South Africa and Australia respectively. But I can honestly say that in probably 60-80 races I’ve never been dinged on the USCG certification and have always worn the Mocke or the Vaikobi.

I doubt anyone is going to go racer to racer to check certification.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there could be a first time.

You are correct that probably no one would check during a race, but as I said, to be tecnically legal in NYS, it needs to have the USCG certification whether you are racing or not. I know that DEC officials and sheriff’s boats do sometimes check and ask to see PFDs at other times (but mostly when they have questions of crowded boat parties, or families) But again, I know that the NFCT newly taking charge of the Adirondack races has already proven to be anal about some issues.

Protest at a race. Not worth the risk.

I agree that I doubt anyone is going to go racer to racer, but I think I’d have a backup option just in case. A question of legality may end up coming from another (disgruntled) racer. It would really suck to be DQed because all you brought was a Vaikobe. I just wanted to throw the cert issue out there just to give folks a heads up. It’s been a long time since I’ve raced the Canoe Classic. I think I first ran it in 1984 or 85! I did quite a few of the early ones.

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Thanks to all who have offered up their valuable insights regarding what I feel may be a “hot” topic as the summer progresses. You’ve given me a good start on my quest for a cooler more comfortable PDF.

Paddle on


Yeah, that’s exactly how I did it. I had my Orbit as a back up.


How do you feel the heat shedding ability of the Vailkobi compares to the Mocke? I really run hot when paddling hard and am looking to stay comfortable in the warmest muggiest conditions.



Although not a personal fan of Type 5 inflatable PFDs, if they accept them that might be an option. Be aware that if that is the only PFD you have with you in any watercraft, it must be worn at all times, not just readily available per USCG and most state’s laws.

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I tried an Oracle inflatable a few years ago and haven’t looked back. WAY cooler than traditional vests and Coast Guard approved. You’ll have to wear it all the time but that hasn’t really been a problem from my perspective. FWIW

I started with the Mocke and switched to the Vaikobi. The Vaikobi felt much more natural. I did not ever feel like I was overheating because of the PFD, nor did it feel restrictive.
Another feature I liked was the lower profile setup and the smooth surface of the fabric made remounting very easy.

That’s the thing with PFD’s, they have to put the buoyancy somewhere. So if you look at the Orbit for example, it is very low profile under the arms, but the lower back and abdomen area protrudes out pretty far–that’s the trade off. The Vaikobi distributes the buoyancy equally, and was still able to keep the area under the arms pretty open by using straps. It’s a good design.

The mocke was a little more high profile, but it wasnt bad.

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Thanks for the clearly explained rational. I see that Vailkobi makes two appropriate models, the V3 Ocean Racing PFD and the VXP Race PFD. Which one are you wearing?


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