PFD: white water vs. sea kayak

What’s the difference to look for for PFD that are used primarily for sea kayak vs used for white water?

I can’t think of much difference with the two. But maybe there are some differences? Those of you that do both, what’s your first hand experience?

Sea kayakers like lots of big pockets. Whitewater folks prefer having less to snag or drag. Sea kayaking models are often just the basic whitewater model with more pockets, lash tabs, and reflective tape added.

Lots of folks use the same PFD for both.

What he said.
Personally I use the same for both. Lots of folks I know use one with more storage for sea kayaking.

depending on level of whitewater…
I would add in addition to the issue of pockets, that you may want a ww pfd that offers more padding/protection on sides and further up the back. If you come out of your boat or are upside down, you may want more protection in the case of impact against a rock/boulder. I believe there are even extreme creekin vests that you can add extra padding inserts to for when extra protection is wanted. When I retire my current pfd, I would like my next one to have padding that comes further up the center of the back to better protect my spine from an impact. Hopefully never need that protection, but I’d like to have a bit more coverage than what my current vest offers.

…are generally a bit smaller and a bit snugger

and have a bit more room for swinging arms


Sea PFD’s probably have more bouancy, after all

there’s a big difference between swimming for

shore a couple of miles out at sea and 15 yds

to an eddy.

same same

– Last Updated: Feb-08-06 12:19 AM EST –

all pfd's can be worn for the all activities. ultimately it depends on how you paddle and your interests. it's like Angstrom says, the same pfd's with different skins for storage options, rescue belts, etc, tuned for different applications but the pfd's for both activities are the same, or cross over infintely. the same can be said about pfd's for canoes and pfds for kayaks: there aren't any- they are the same pfds....

while i'm not calling the person wrong, but buying a ww pfd that has protection like impact equipment is totally extreme. i am a ww paddler and know many more who are harder core than i and none wear this type of pfd. they may exist but would be HIGHLY specialized and very rare. only the nuttiest creekers expect to smash off things when they paddle and most of these people welcome pain, broken bones and near death experiences as far as i can tell.

Size matters
I canoe in ww and sea kayak. I see folks in canoes that have pfd that are too long in the waist to wear over a spray skirt. So I’d say overall size of the vest may vary.

Some sea kayakers get pfd with a quick-release belt for towing. I’m not aware if ww kayakers are concerned about towing because I don’t know much about ww kayakers, beyond their role as targets for “yak dozers” (aka, canoes :wink: )

Lastly, don’t some pfd have neck collars for either protection or to float the head of an unconscious victim? I don’t know which discipline that applies to. Maybe both.

torso protection

– Last Updated: Feb-08-06 11:35 AM EST –

The vests with special inserts ARE for extreme creeking, which is what I said.

However, you do not need to be a class V boater running steep creeks to want a PFD that distributes the foam floatation in such a way that it will help cushion a blow from a rock during a swim. Better torso protection can be a valid difference between sea kayaking and whitewater vests, which is what the poster was asking about.

The issue of torso protection was taught to me during a whitewater safety class during equipment review. Some PFD's have all the foam fairly low in the back, while others extend the center foam further up the back of the spine. That padding gives you floatation, but if you have to swim through a rock garden, it can also help protect your ribs, your spleen, your kidneys. Our instructors pointed out that the foam running further up could help protect your upper spine from a nasty black and blue (or worse) if you took a hit from a rock in the upper back. I know of several class III (nothing too "extreme") rapids that if I were to swim (or even just be upside down at an inopportune moment, I indeed might want a bit more torso protection. Frankly, I can think of some class II rapids that could bruise you up if you were unlucky. Maybe our rivers are rockier than where you are, and so this discussion is more relevant for the conditions we encounter on our local creeks and rivers.

While I am personally very enthusiastic about whitewater paddling, I have no desire whatsoever to take a thrashing and walk away from a river bruised and broken. Given that, I found the discussion of torso protection to be of interest, and something I am going to consider in future pfd purchases. Since I found this information useful, I thought some others might as well.

Just trying to share what I have learned from others; by all means when readers shop for a pfd they can take this information into consideration, or decide it does not apply to the conditions they paddle in.



– Last Updated: Feb-09-06 1:18 PM EST –

I realized this after a swiftwater rescue class when I noticed all the rock-slime streaks on the upper back of my PFD. If you're on a rope -- as rescuer or rescuee -- you can take some pretty good hits as you come in to shore. It's nice to have the padding.

I've got nothing against low-cut PFDs -- I own one, and *lots* of whitewater paddlers wear them -- but buyers should realize that there are tradeoffs.

It really depends on what you’re paddling. If you’re a playboater, you want the smallest, least restrictive PFD you can find that will give you the most freedom of motion. On the other hand, for a river runner/creeker, protection may be more of a concern. I’m a wannabee playboater so for me comfort is the biggest factor. Even with the technical rock garden runs that surround me, more often than not I’m fairly safe from any big hits. With that said, I’m also a sea kayaker so my PFDs are both sea kayak pfds that I use in whitewater since I personally like the pockets and the fit. If you’re going into any river with any real potential of walking away from the river “bruised and broken” my initial thought would be that you are paddling beyond your comfort level rather than thinking you need better protective gear.

Appreciate all the response.

I wasn’t sure if there’s difference. Now I know there are some. So I can make an informed decision based on whether those issues applies to me or not and find a PFD that has all the feature I care to have.

choices of pfd
lets see i have three pfds…

for surf i have a lotus designs Lola: she has great rib protection and full coverage up to the collarbone…i am VERY glad that i have it and wear it in the surf one day i was onut and a guy was surfing 4’ waves in a Capella 166-i thought (as did he) that he knew what he was doing…he ended up slamming into me driving the bow of the boat directly below my right nip…even through that thick padding i had a bad bruise (prolly even crakced something-but as an EMT do i get checked out???NO!)

for touring i have a lotus lolita and a stohlquist drifter…drifter is older-love it…newer ones-i do not like the pockets on them now…nice short back…i use it more while i am teaching on flatwater…

lolita is LOW profile…added the lotus hydration pack on the back and i can go and play in big stuff in a long boat…less on me with lots of floatation…

i have tried astrals and other companies but keep returning to these ones…