PFD Purchase

Soon to make my first kayak purchase, I have spent many painstaking hours on the selection process w.r.t. buying the right boat. Now it is time to decide on a PFD. I am on the larger side, 5’10" and 250+lbs, buying a 14’ boat and intent on day and weekend trips with some freshwater fishing thrown in. Not sure I want to go with a fisherman PFD (although the Stolquist fisherman looks nice) so I am looking for suggestions/recommendations. I know that these kinds of purchases are like buying stereo speakers in that everyone’s ears are different, but I am looking for people with similar stats that have some positive directions…help!

one person’s opinion

– Last Updated: Jan-07-14 1:43 PM EST –

I've owned quite a few PFD's and borrowed a bunch of others over the years. I found both MTI and Stohlquist models to be bulky and uncomfortable. My favorites so far have been Kokatat and Astral. My favorite of all is the Astral V-8 which is the only vest I like in hot weather due to it's non-constricting cut and ventilation. Quite a few places stock it (REI and LL Bean both have it). As you have correctly observed, PFD fit is highly personal. Just make sure you try any vest on in a seated position to determine whether it will ride up or chafe you during use. If it isn't comfortable you risk being tempted to not wear it. My Astral V-8 is so comfortable that I sometimes forget to take it off until I get in the car for the drive home after paddling. The only drawback is lousy pockets on it, one small one that is not very secure and a tiny one that holds nothing but a whistle. But I can live with that for most of my warm weather paddling. For colder water or trips where I need to keep safety and navigation gear on me I have an Astral Camino, with more pockets and more flotation.

What boat are you thinking about?
For ex - If you are going to get a sit inside it is more important than with a sit-on-top to make sure the PFD back ends high enough not to be whacking the coaming or otherwise causing chafe points.

Sit In Kayak
I have my sights locked in on the Tsunami 140 or 145, sit in kayaks.

Big Guy PFDs

– Last Updated: Jan-08-14 1:22 AM EST –

As with many things you wear if you are bigger you going to find you have problems with the fit. If you have a gut you are going to struggle with many as they are designed for people that the area below the rib cage is smaller then their rib cage. As your gut gets larger your PFD is pushed up higher. Lots of PFDs that fit me fine in the chest would just pop up over my head with a little bit of effort.

I took me awhile but I eventually found the perfect PFD for me. This now meant I actually wear it all the time instead of it somewhere near the kayak or on but maybe not zippered up. I don't even know that I am wearing it and I do not remove it or even loosen it up until I am back at the car.

Do not buy online. You must try these on. Paddling shows come up in the early spring and are great places to try on a ton of PFDs plus the reps will get you a great fit.

With a Pungo you have to worry about the seat back. I believe you can lower them, if so do it and try to get used to kayaking with the back as low as you can go. Some PFDs will clear the seat back on one person but not another.

I like the more white water designed PFDs from Stohlqust for the fit. I have a Rocker, which actually looks small on me. Floats me fine. They might be bulky on a small person, as the padding is on the front and back but is more rounded as is covers less area so it sticks out more. Other PFDs have little foam in the back and more in the front over a large area. This results in a thinner overall PFD but one that requires it to have the bottom straps low. The Rocker is a bit low in the back for some, especially on a rec boat, but at 5'10" you shouldn't have a problem as I am 5'8".

I also thought the DRIFTer fit well but the Rocker was a bit more comfortable for me.

The Extrasport Osprey also is popular with bigger guys and has more pockets. It is really more a hunting/fishing vest as some versions come in camo and have shotgun shell loops. I have seen them in REIs and big box stores at times. Fit well for me and probably would be a second choice.

V8s are Small
Astal V8s are nice but they max out at 51" chests.


– Last Updated: Jan-07-14 9:11 PM EST –

Just noticed you live in Jersey.

Just go to Paddlesport at the end of March.

You will have a ton of PFDs to try on and checkout the pockets as well as knowledgeable reps to help you out.

Prices are really good but you do have an entry fee.

The Pungo is very popular kayak and in the longer 14' is one of the few that big guys fit in. It is good if you just want to paddle mellow lakes and streams but is limited if you want to do more. Paddlesport also has good prices on kayaks -- maybe a bit above clearance prices I have seen. They seem to sell a ton of Pugos every year and have heard people say how they sell out of them early. If you are starting from scratch and looking to buy new, it would be good to save your money until then.

[Ignore the part about the Pungo -- I misread your original post]

Stohlquist have several PFD that extend beyond 50" in the chest. I am 6’1 and 260 lbs. I have used several of their PFD’s and have been very pleased with the fit.

Try on a bunch (and keep good notes so you don’t lose track…) I’m about your size; two I like are the Stohlquist Drifter and the MTI Voyager. The Drifter has a very good adjustment system so it won’t ride up. However, I needed a higher back to clear my seatback, so I’ve just ordered a Voyager, which was not available when I purchased the Drifter. Be sure to sit in the type of seat you’ll be using, and not just stand around when you try it on, and consider what (if anything) you will be carrying with you, so you know if it has the right pockets and attachment points. Paddle on!

5’11" 250 #

– Last Updated: Jan-07-14 5:49 PM EST –

Forget the Tsunami 140, I got one for the wife and I don't fit it. I'll do 30 miles a day comfortably in my 145.

I wear an Astral V-8 Adult Large/X-Large when on big water or practicing Kayak rescue. I have a Stearns fisher men's vest X large catalog # 4156 for times when I could mostly wade ashore. If I had to choose only one I'd get the Astral. The vest is a little more comfortable at 95 degrees and 100 humidity but I wouldn't want to be treading water for any length of time in it, it floats in your face. Whatever you get, go jump in the lake with it at the earliest opportunity. Fishermans vest are NOT the same as kayak vests when you are in the water. The Astral will float me, the Stearns helps me keep myself afloat, if you get the difference.

The Astral is plenty comfortable once you get used to the extra bulk in front of you (as if I don't have enough), my biggest complaint is lack of pocket space which is the biggest advantage of the fishing vests.

Buy a decent paddle. Spend the extra hundred for an aquabound over something from Acadamy Sports.

My suggestion
I’m guessing you’ll want a Tsunami 145 not the 140. You might consider replacing the WS adjustable seat back with a WS back band. IMO The WS seat back is too high for many paddling skills including reentering after a capsize and the high back certainly gets in the way of many PFDs.

There is a good You Tube video that shows how to install a WS back band.

Good Luck.


Comfort in the sun
I’ve found that what I wear under the PFD makes a significant difference in its comfort in the heat. I’ve been wearing a Stohlquist Fisherman for about four years; don’t find it uncomfortable at all when worn with one of the long-sleeve technical shirts – the kind that’s sun-proof and quick-dry. (It has a vent in back too, but that doesn’t play when the PFD is wrapped around it.

I have a Rocker. Torso is very long
so that is no problem, but I find the Rocker a bit more restrictive than my old but still serviceable Lotus Sherman. Probably just need to get it broken in on the river.

I have an old 22 pound flotation Stohlquist Max with the most wonderful soft, flexible foam panels, but it came with no USCG label so I have to be careful where I use it.

Another Astral vote
I have tried and bought many different PFDs over the years and my Astral Green Vest is the second most comfortable I have had. I actually find my ancient, zip front Extrasport PFDs to be more comfortable.

But as others have pointed out, it is all about fit, and what works for me might not work at all for you. If you can attend a gear show it would be best. But if you have the chance, this is the one I would check out:

Astral PFDs are pricey but most everyone who has bought one feels they are worth the price.

Get One That Fits…
…regardless of what it is.

My current PFD - spent over two hours at Halifax’s Mountain Equipment Co-op with a very knowledgeable woman staffer - tried just about every kayak-specific PFD in the place, with her insisting on taking the time and trouble to properly fit and adjust each one. Nope, nope, maybe, nope, maybe, nope…on and on. Finally, she said “Just try this…”, and passed me a Kokatat MsFit. Got it on, she adjusted it, and bingo - far and away the most comfortable PFD I’ve ever had.

The moral of the story - find a store with a decent selection and a knowledgeable salesperson who’ll take the time to adjust each PFD properly, try 'em all, and keep an open mind. The MsFit may be designed for women, but it fits me perfectly. Brand names don’t matter - fit and comfort are the only criteria that count.

A final thought - a kayak-specific PFd is designed to sit relatively high on the body, and I find it interferes less with arm motion and is less prone to snagging on the aft cockpit rim than a canoe-style vest.

Excellent suggestions . Put it on ,
adjust it and sit down ,preferably in a boat.Is it comfortable?

The Astral V-8 is the most comfortable I have found.

Ancient, zip front Extrasport
Funny you should say that Pete, because I really need to replace may old Extrasport Retroglide Saber - it’s getting old and faded to the point that people are starting to comment. Anything close to it today tends to be a rescue vest, and I don’t need the extra floatation or bulk. I carry three things in my PFD - camera, keys and sunglasses, and the pockets on this PFD are prefect. Manufacturers aren’t stupid, so everything today seems to have that sleek, high-back design for kayakers.

At some point I am going to have to bite the bullet - oh well :frowning:

What ever you do.
Do not be tempted to save a little money and get a pfd that is not designed specifically for paddling. There are a lot of pfds that look like they would work, but so much of it depends on where and how much flotation is located. You do not want any flotation on your sides, because it will rub on the coaming.

I would suggest that you opt for a vest that uses the 500 denier Cordura material in its construction if you can find one at an acceptable price. I wish you as much luck as I had when I found an MTI rescue vest at an unbelievable price. It is true that when you find the right vest, you will want to have it on all the time.

Definitely going to be at…
…Paddlesport, I go every year. Haven’t looked too much at the PFDs yet but I was hoping for some reccomendations prior to me walking through the door. Thanks to everyone for their comments/suggestions!