PFD help

I want to replace my current PFD with a much more comfortable one. I am having a hard time find a brick and morter store that has much selection in stock. I have been to REI and Dicks. I don’t mind ordering online but I really would like to try it on before I spend $$ for a quality PFD. Any suggestions of retailers that carry a good selection in stock. Gander Mountain and Bass Pro are drivable but if I make the drive I don’t want to be disappointed. If anyone has any suggestions on favorite models that would be appreciated too.

My advice would be to go to REI as they have a nice selection of PFD compared to the other stores you mention and if you are member they will gladly ship a PFD to a store and not give you any grief if you don’t like it in the end.

You really have to try PFDs on and spend some time keeping them on. They are not a good online purchase unless you can easily return them. PFDs only have a single measurement for fit (chest size) but there is a ton of variation in fit. You either need to know how to determine if the fit is perfect or have someone help you (sometimes the staff at REI is excellent and sometimes not). Fit and comfort is most important. You want something you will keep on all the time in the water.

After that worry about the pockets, styling and the rest. Also, if you have a high seat back that may limit the PFDs you can wear in that kayak.

Personally I like the way the Stohlquist Drifter, Rocker and Towmotion fit me. I have a Rocker and is my favorite PFD. I had a Kokatat Bahia, nice PFD, but not a good fit for my build.

The Astral V-Eight is very popular – doesn’t fit me well.

I always liked the pockets in the NRS C-vest but another PFD that doesn’t fit me right.

You also hear of lots of guys that seem to like the Kokatat MsFIT, a woman’s PFD. Not sure what body type finds them perfect – maybe smaller build guys, which is not me.

REI Worked For Me
I swear I’m not a cross-dresser but the wiminzez pfd fits me the best. Kokatat MS Fit. Short torso.

You could check online first at Gander Mt. and Bass before driving over, to see what they offer and what’s in stock.

My first .pfd was a MTI. Sold to me by the gal in the kayak department where I purchased my kayak. She recommended it and also told me that I didn’t need to wear the .pfd all the time, just to keep it in the boat with me. Told her I disagreed with her, but bought the MTI anyway. And hated it. The foam padding was like rock and it didn’t fit properly.

Went to an reputable outfitter who had staff who knew what they were doing and now wear a woman’s Stohlquist, which I love. It fits perfectly and is very comfortable.

Whatever you finally choose, I think it’s a plus to have padded shoulder straps and plenty of adjustment straps.

Call your local paddling kayak rental
outfitters and ask what they use for their guides and customers. I bet you will see a wide range of cheap to mid-range priced PFD’s and they will probably let you try them on and offer you a deal on a new or used PFD.

I plan to spend a few bucks on my next PFD and get a MTI Voyager from REI.

I like to carry a lot of stuff in the pockets on my PFD.


my two cents
I’ve got 5 different PFD’s at this point (and have sold off 3 others). Not a compulsive PFD hoarder – they often come with used boats that I buy (and I will admit to being a bit of a kayak hoarder.) The most comfortable by far is the Astral v-8 with its flexible foam and ventilated design. In fact even on the hottest days I am not even aware I have it on and have often gotten into the car for the drive back from the take-out and only then realized it was still on my carcass. both REI and LL Bean brick and mortar stores usually have tis one. The drawbacks are that it does not fit some folks and it has just about the crappiest pockets imaginable. One partial mesh one that closes with an awkward snap and a miniscule little pouch in the edge seam in front that barely holds a tethered chapstick. I did get an Astral Camino to have one that would be similar but have a couple of decent pockets and more flotation for open water, but I regret to say it has not been quite as comfortable.

I honestly do not care for either MTI or Stohquilst – foam is too stiff and the neckline comes up too far in the models I’ve owned. I did recently get an Extrasport Equinox DLX (came with a used kayak I bought) and have used it once – found it pretty comfortable and well-designed with nice padding on the shoulder straps and spacious pockets.

Unfortunately, most retailers tend to only stock one or two brands any more. Kind of a drag in this case, since PFD fit is almost as personal as hiking boot fit. I’d call the stores in the area and ask what brands they stock and how many models they have.

two things
Do not be tempted to get a pfd that is not specifically designed for paddling. It should have no flotation on the sides. It will rub on the coaming.

Do not go for a cheap model. In my experience the really good fitting durable pfds are mostly made with the 500 denier nylon, or the equivalent.

If you’re into looking for a bargain, take a look at what Portland’s Next Adventure paddle store has to offer.

Have you done a search for a Paddlesport specialty store within driving distance? The bigger the box store usually the wider the category offerings but te shallower the product and knowledge depth.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY

My $00.02
I’ve run through many PFD’s on 40 odd years of paddling. I liked the Astral group as soon as they started because they were willing to experiment with new designs. I currently use and like the Astral Camino for two major reasons. First it is vented very well to allow the torso to breathe, yet without sacrificing strength. Second, most of the floatation is lower which allows for large arm holes and freedom in the upper body. This adds to safety by enhancing better control. It is very adjustable.

Other considerations are: amount of floatation, in heavy water I like 16 to 18 lbs. In easier water 15 will suffice. Look at your own body weight to determine as well. Longevity, materials, and strength of construction are others. If going WW don’t scrimp. Your life could be on the line.

I have a Stahlquest Wanderer
I like it’s high mess back and lots of points of adjustment so you can get it to fit just right. They have them at EMS. And EMS has a sale on right now too. For a few bucks more you can get the Trecker which is basically the same thing with an extra pocket and padded shoulder straps. Really just depends if you want to spend under $100 or over $100 and how much you like pockets.

What I find alarming is a whole new breed of truely newby paddlers out there using no PFD. So green they hardly know how to paddle and not a PFD to be seen. It’s not even in their vehicle never mind in the boat and heaven forbid they should wear one ! So you know they left home without it. I look on our local creek and think you idiots. More and more of them. Anyway, rant mode off.

PFD’s made for ‘women’ IMO are
misrepresented at times. Yes, they have cutout area for our busts but this can also be a comfy fit for men who may work out and have generous chests. My hubby finds our Extrasport Chicas very comfortable and due to the thinner lower back they fit some of our kayaks that have higher seat backs. This makes for a smooth, comfortable seating while on the water and they don’t tend to ride up around ones neck while paddling, as long as it’s snug on your body.

Another vote for the V-8. By far the
most comfortable and coolest I have owned. Not that any of them are very cool.