PFD… now that I have my “new” used Tripper… I need a PFD for myself. My local shop has some MTI brand paddlesport PFDs starting at around $40 after a 40% discount…

I was hoping for some recommendations on brands, models, etc. and where to buy.


MTI are a great value
We’ve had plent of them. When you need everything, most folks can’t splurge on everything. MTI is an easy decision.

correct and comfortable fit foremost
otherwise you will not wear it and benefit from it in the water. Any new make and model sold in US will meet USCG standards for materials and flotation.

MTI, Astral, NRS, Extrasport and Kokatat are all great brands with a range of price, features and colors.

What works for you…
I’ve used a lower cost MTI for several years, and my wife uses a much nicer Stohlquist. The difference is weight (mine is heavier), materials (hers has more mesh and is cooler), and mine has more padding under the arm than I like so movement is a little inhibited. Mine cost about $50 less than hers, but both do what they were made to do.

Try on several. Several good brands were mentioned already. It really comes down to what you like, and your budget.

Sounds like a good price
Find something comfortable you’ll wear all day. I have a paddle vest with extra cutouts and lot’s of mesh for hot weather I paid over $100 for. I started out with Wal-mart vests that were less than $20. The paddle vests are designed for kayaking, a regular PFD comes too low on the back and makes a kayak seat uncomfortable. Not an issue in a canoe. When canoing flat water in very hot weather I wear a fishing PFD.

Look for comfort, freedom of movement, and pockets.

Also, most places require you to have a whistle, preferably pealess and some type of light for nightime. Full moon paddles are the Best!!

I own two MTI’s as well as a Lotus, a Stohlquist and an Astral. The MTI’s are the bulkiest and most restrictive, to be honest. I got them because they were cheap, to lend to friends when I share my kayaks with them. The Stohlquist is the next from the bottom in bulk and stiffness. The Lotus is nice but they don’t make them any more. Best of the lot is the Astral (V-8 model). So incredibly comfortable – hardly feel I have it on, even on hot days. But it is around $100. Same with Kokatat – I’ve used a borrowed MsFit and loved it too, but also more than twice the price of the MTI’s.

I know it’s tempting to go for the cheaper vests when you are starting out, but you might want to try on the Astrals before you commit (LL Bean and REI usually have them in stock.) PFD models can feel radically different. This is a piece of gear which, like your paddle, you are going to be “intimately” familiar with for a long time and the comfort of it can have a substantial impact on your paddling enjoyment.

Two minds on this.

– Last Updated: Mar-22-12 8:24 AM EST –

A $50 PFD is money down the hole if it turns out to be uncomfortable (too hot, chafes, poor fit, etc.) enough so that you dread wearing it for extended periods. This happened to me with a more expensive one. That's not to say the lower-end PFDs don't offer good value for occasional paddlers, though.

As others have said, your PFD is perhaps your most important piece of equipment. IMO, it's worth patronizing your closest well-stocked paddling outfitter to try on as many various models as you can and get good advice on fit. Sure, it may cost 10-20% more than online, but personalized service has real value and, with a PFD, should be part of your investment in your safety and enjoyment.

When I finally replaced that uncomfortable PFD after years of "living with it", I kicked myself for waiting so long.

Of course, this all assumes that you will love paddling and stick with it. If you're unsure, you can always buy a discount PFD to start, upgrade later, and keep the first one for guests.

Edit: Willow, I went to the store to buy the "V-8", and I liked it, but the staff talked me into the Astral "Camino", since my main complaint with my old one was overheating, and, I have to say, I'm glad I had the sense to listen to them. I've been loving it!

I guess I’ve been lucky
Every PFD I’ve ever had I bought without trying it one. Every one suited me just fine. Except one was sent to me a size bigger than I ordered.

I have to disagree that the PFD is perhaps the most important things to a beginning paddler. Beginning paddlers are usually on mild water. All you need for that is a coast guard approved PFD. Of course you need to wear it too. But none of them, not even the cheapies at Wall Mart are too uncomfortable to wear. Not in my experience anyway.

I’d put the extra money into a better paddle, or maybe some dry bags.

Okay, three minds then.

– Last Updated: Mar-22-12 11:09 AM EST –

But if I could choose only one piece of equipment to have when things go bad, it would be my PFD, making it the most important.


Well, here’s what they have at LL BEAN. What do you guys think of the ones that are on sale? I actually have a credit there.

I agree with Clarion, No need to fuss.
I do a lot of sea kayaking and can honestly say I’ve never found myself paying any attention to the life jacket I’m wearing. But I’m a pretty active paddler, so unless something is literally rubbing through my skin, or binding my movement somehow, it’s probably not a part of my thought process. They’re vests that you snug up around your torso with a few straps. I’m not sure where any of mine would really restrict movement any differently, although there are some different design approaches with them.

I’ve got Stohlquist, Astral, and MTI life jackets. I bought an expensive Astral once, thinking it might matter. For whatever reason, a relatively inexpensive MTI ended up my go to lifejacket. I just bought a replacement MTI again a couple years ago, and it’s what I always use. But I don’t think it’s ever amounted to a hill of beans in my mind which one I’m wearing. I’d grab one of those MTI’s at 40% off. I’m confident that if you lose or win a race, fail or complete a roll, live or die after going for a swim, are happy or grumpy after a paddle, it won’t have anything to do with whether you bought this $40 MTI or a $140 MTI or whatever other brand.

This one?

– Last Updated: Mar-22-12 9:36 AM EST –

Looks comfortable with freedom of movement...

I read one post that said the should straps should go down through the vest to a waist strap making it stronger.

I bought a Cabela’s one with mesh shoulders and top of back and 2 large pockets. It isn’t the most graceful or beautiful thing out there, but it fits and works perfectly, and I’m not having any trouble with my high backed seat and the low backed PFD either.

That cost me under $30 on sale new.

But you should try on whatever you will wear, because if it bunches up under your arms where you need freedom of movement, then it WILL be a problem, no matter the brand.

That one looks pretty good to me

– Last Updated: Mar-22-12 10:00 AM EST –

Just don't load up those front pocket with stuff or it may inhibit good single-blade form.

I'd follow Astral's sizing chart. Don't get one larger than they recommend. If you're right on the cusp of two sizes, I'd take the next size down. There will be plenty of room to adjust. But one too large can balloon out on you at the top if you have to swim, acting like a sea anchor.

best to try on before buying …
… when trying on adjust up all the variious straps to fit you “snugly” .

Best to wear only a T-shirt when trying on , this is to simulate Summer clothing (hot Wx) . For Summer hot Wx the lightest , smallest design , least restrictive types will be the most comfortable … if possible try on the more expensive Astral Camino or simular smallish style before making a final choice .

Personally I don’t like mesh anywhere on the front of a PFD , and as minimal of it elsewhere . Mesh seems to get hung up on things easier IMHO …

When it’s cooler or cold out you have more clothing on that the PFD will go over top of . Actually , for cold Wx I like the bulkier PFD (more body coverage) because it becomes a noticable body insulater as well .

Careful buying sporting goods PFDs
Most are made with the weekend powerboater and bass fisherman in mind, whose range of motion consists primarily of casting lines into the weeds and repeatedly hoisting a can of light beer, while resting in a comfy seat.

If you take an unintended swim, it will probably help keep you afloat, but a more trim-cut PFD designed for paddlers—even a cheaper one—will fit better, allow a wider range of motion for paddling, and allow more cooling for your physical activity.

Good luck!


Camino looks very nice
Tktoo: I wish they had that Camino when I bought my V-8 (it was an impulse purchase at REI) – would have been worth the extra $10 for those nice pockets (the pockets on the V-8 really suck) and the narrower straps and lower back. V-8 has the same ventilation but looks like the Camino addresses my only complaints about the V-8 nicely.

I suppose I should have mentioned in my criticisms of the fit of the MTI’s that I am a shortwaisted D-cup female. So the MTI and Stohlquist models are probably more uncomfortable on me due to personal anatomy than they would be on the average longer bodied and flatter chested guy. Th guys to whom I have loaned the MTi’s have not complained about them.

Another thing I didn’t see mentioned in the suggestions for selecting a PFD is that many kayakers prefer a PFD with little or no flotation in the lower back that can interfere with cockpit comfort and re-entry. I have low back bands in most of my kayaks so I prefer that type of foam free lower back design. I only wear a full foam back PFD when I am canoeing and have no back strap.

The Camino has more lower back
flotation, so it may not be the best for some kayaks. I’m primarily a canoer, and it’s not an issue for my SOT, but YMMV.

The things I love most about it are the weight (or lack of), the ventilated design (works really well), and the unisex “shelf” design (my moobs appreciate freedom!). It’s nicely made, too.

That said, the V-8 is a great PFD, too.

say get a good one. I spent about 130 on one and I’m very happy with it. I enjoy putting it on and forget that I did because it feels so good.


Weed and beer?
What sort of boating are you accusing me of? LOL

Hey, this one fits surprisingly well and does allow very wide freedom of movement. Most would not, as you suggest.