Pondering getting a new high-quality PFD

For some context: I paddle on the ocean (whenever I can, not often enough) and do weekly long paddles on lakes in Central NC. I don’t yet roll (starting on that soon), but have done and am comfortable with all of the other BCU 3-star stuff. I love fun, rough water … and seem to have good enough judgement to stay out of what I can’t yet handle.

What do you wear, would you like to wear, would recommend, etc. … and why?


Kokatat Ronin
Very comfortable, stays where it belongs and makes me look cool.

Personal Purchase
A PFD become a highly personal choice of gear.

YOU have to like it enough to Wear every time.

Leaving it in the car, hatch, under bungies, Fail !

Some examples of great paddling vest manufacturers





Simple is good (IMO)
I once paid $150 for a pfd that had uncountable doodaads and gadgets on it—like pockets that closed two different ways. Problem was, the most important feature—tightening the straps to make it fit snugly—didn’t work.

I would say don’t get more features than you need and make sure the basic necessities are simple and functional.

I also like the ronin. I would have bought it but the colors clashed.I’m rolling with a astral Willis these days. Fits good not a lot of junk you don’t need. And of course it looks good.

Ryan L.

GPS and VHF radio and Flare
If they aren’t on your body and the boat slips away

  • you’ll be wanting them in your PFD.

    Newer models combine GPS and VHF into one unit.

High buoyancy lifevest fer me…
Since ah’ gots “heavy” fat an’ sink like a peetrofried Triceratops toyd in a standard 15.5 vest ah’ needs a high float pfd so ah’ waars a Force 6 rescoo vest wit 28lbs. o’ buoyancy.


Find a vest
that is comfortable and has the minimum doo-dads on it. A bunch of crap all over the front of a vest makes re-entry more difficult.

Most folks don’t need more than 15 to 17 lbs of floatation, but it does float you higher in the water…

Any vest you are willing to wear every time out is better than a vest that you are reluctant to put on…


– Last Updated: Aug-12-11 3:52 PM EST –

The people hardest to float are those with compact, dense bodies.
These tend to be people with athletic body builds, with a lot of bone
and muscle mass, and not much fat.

Fat is not as dense as muscle and bone, so people who are overweight
can actually be easier to float than someone who is much smaller and leaner.

Heavy people do not need a higher buoyancy PFD because of their weight.

Most require only about 11 pounds extra buoyancy to keep their head out of water.
That is why a PFD with just 15.5 pounds of buoyancy can provide
adequate flotation for an adult -- even a very large person.
PFDs with 22 to 34 pounds can provide
superior performance for 3 or 4 days immersion at sea.

Ah’s know…

– Last Updated: Aug-12-11 4:52 PM EST –

but de term "heavy" fat gits much better laffs...

Ah' likes ta give me "sinker" demo at aar club's on-de-wadda workshops. Lungs full o' air an' a 16lb. pfd on.... kaplunk - right ta de bottom - no kiddin' fer me. Dats why ah's such a crappy swimmer - too much woyk jus' stayin' afloat.


Try on as many as you can
PFDs come in many different designs and what works for one body may not for another. My suggestion is to find a place that sells good brands where you can try on different styles. Ideally you’ll have a salesperson who knows how to fit PFDs. If you have a local paddlesports outfitter, start there. If they don’t have something in stock, they can make suggestions and order it.

Torso length is one of the things to look at; for example, I’m a small person with a short torso, so many styles are too long for me. On the other hand, you don’t want one that’s so short that the waist buckle is above the bottom of your rib cage, since the waist belt below the rib cage is one of the main things that keeps a PFD from riding up (and off).

Low profile PFDs are meant to be worn low on the torso and have longer shoulder straps, but the bulk tends to be concentrated in a smaller area over the stomach & waist, which can make re-entry difficult. These work for some body types and not for others.

Also look at the fittings & buckles to make sure they don’t impinge on sensitive areas. I had to relocate the top side buckles on my Xtrasport Retroglide Sabre because they abraded my underarms when I went sleeveless in the summer.

Good brands are Kokatat, Astral, Xtrasport, Stearns, NRS, MTI.

It is better to have too many pockets than not enough.

You generally get what you pay for. If you can find a quality PFD on sale, great, but don’t avoid paying full price for a good one if you have to. Cheap PFDs are no bargain.

Kokata MS Fit
For men too - short torso, pockets good. The guide version actually loses a pocket.

The Msfit, Msfit tour, and the Profit tour are currently at sierra trading post for $90, $100, and $150.

I love my Kokatat Ronin

Astral Buoyancy
Over the head = Green Jacket; most visible probably the LE4, most cool factor = reflective embroidered Nepalese waterfall design of the LE5. Yeah I know it’s black but it’s still cool!

Front Zip/Clip - Tempo 200

Just another mfg. to mix it up as many of the previous were for Kokatat.

Also as previously stated, go to a paddlesport store and try them on in person. Especially if there is someone there that knows the tricks for fitting the various designs.


See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY


If you are a guy…
…don’t rule out women’s PFD’s. The shorter torso is great. My last two PFD’s have been women’s models. I’ve used the MsFit Tour for for the past 5 years. When I replace it I will probably buy another MsFit Tour. If not I will look at (because I am a manly-man) other women’s PFD’s first.


A good PFD
Is like an Insurance Policy that might save your life rather than pay your heirs. The difference in price between entry level stuff and the good items one might actually wear, maybe $ 100, probably less seems pretty cheap to forestall death, but, then again, everyone values their life differently.

2nd (or 3rd) Kokatat MsFit
MsFit is great, for both sexes. Compact, comfortable, great pockets.

Customize It Yourself
For the ocean get the highest flotation that does not affect your strokes.

Bring whatever you paddle with to the store to see how it fits (eg light, vhf, handheld compass, etc)

You can sew on lashpoints and d-rings to your hearts content.

Kokatat Msfit

– Last Updated: Aug-13-11 5:26 AM EST –

Very comfortable... and it makes me feel pretty.

Central NC? I bought mine at the REI in Durham. Across the street from the Southpoint Mall.

I switched
to an Astral Greenjacket ww vest for sea kayaking with a lot of outfitting. The Greenjacket doesn’t accept Astral’s hydration bladder, but the NRS one works well. Astral is coming out with a new similar vest designed specifically for sea kayakers this spring. It’s called the Sea Wolf. It will accept the Astral hydration bladder. You might want to wait a bit to see that model.