The new hybrid PFD's.

I apologize if this topic has already been discussed here–I’ve been less present than usual on over the winter, 'cause of too much work, mostly.

Two ads caught my eye recently. Both advertised a new form of PFD (one Kokatat and one Astral). Each has a minimal amount of bulk and bouyancy–7 or 8 pounds. But each also can be inflated, giving over 20 pounds of bouyancy, i.e. much more than the usual kayaking PFD.

This idea seems to me to have several upsides and one (literal) downside:


  1. Less bulk and weight should make it easier to wear–and therefore more likely to be worn.
  2. Less bouyancy should make it easier to swim in one of these vests, which could be a major safety plus.
  3. Less bulk would likely make rolling easier.
  4. When inflated, the large amount of buoyancy could be life-saving, e.g. allowing an unconscious paddler to be kept breathing.


  5. Will one of these float you up to the surface if you’re capsized and injured? Will one of these float you if you’re out of the boat and unconscious, and didn’t have time to inflate it?

    I’m curious if anyone’s yet tried one, and what others’ thoughts are.


I agree with you both:
these vests don’t make sense for emergency situations like surf or whitewater… but for touring on the ocean, where some people are advocating inflatable-only vests… ?


Other variables
The only time I rolled without wearing a PFD was while using a WW kayak (SINK, not the Twister) in a pool. I found it easier to roll without a PFD, but I suspect the greater ease had as much to do with the smaller, lower kayak as use/nonuse of PFD.

But I too am considering the hybrid PFD, because it is possible that 8 lbs flotation is enough for my small size/weight. I wonder if there is a formula for determining this, e.g., “5% of body weight = minimum flotation”.

The BLM and Coast Guard staff have to do what their rules dictate, but due to the enormous variation in people’s weights, I think the system is ridiculous. What if that 8 lb hybrid on me is equivalent to a 20-lb-rated PFD on a 275-lb person? I bet they don’t forbid the latter from paddling.

What about different PFD ratings for someone who is 200 lbs of mostly muscle and bone vs. 200 lbs with high body fat %? The minimum buoyancy ratings seem a little too one-size-fits-all, IMO.

I also like the hybrid idea because the noninflated vest can be pumped up to full buoyancy when temps drop (better insulation) or conditions worsen. With the traditional big bulky PFD, if conditions are calm, I sometimes don’t wear it because it does hinder full range of motion. If a hybrid’s 8 lbs of uninflated flotation are adequate for me, I’d wear it on all but the hottest summer days.

(But if we had surf here I’d wear the standard PFD for that.)

Valid variables
Those with higher body fat content do float easier. At 6’ x 155#, I sink like a rock. During the days when I used to have time (what’s that?) I used to swim laps, a mile in a session. The porky swimmers could lollygag along in the lanes with no problem. I had to keep moving or back float to keep breathing. I also read somewhere that most swimmers bodys will tend to retain fat for bouyancy and warmth. No such luck. Whether I’m swimming or X-C skiing, to stop is to be cold. I use a Mildwater PFD that floats me pretty good. It would be interesting to find out the minimum. The Navy taught us to float on some pretty small bubbles of air. We even used our ball caps and/or dixie cups (the traditional sailors hat) held underwater with air trapped under them. Forget using a Tilley for that, they have holes in the sides.


Good idea for folding kayaks
I am considering the Kokatat SeaO2 PFD for traveling with my Feathercraft K1 or my Alpacka Yukon packraft. It is approximately 40% the volume (most important for packing) and about 70% of the weight of a traditional PFD like my Locean. I will add air to the PFD when at my destination and it should function like a conventional PFD. I will continue to use the Locean for my hardshell kayaks. The possible exception would be paddling on warmwater lakes in warm weather.

The downsides appear to be that the new SeaO2 cannot comfortably accommodate a towstrap on the waist and a bailout pocket/hydration system on the back like my Locean does.

Since I know how stupid and clumsy I can be when I’m cold, tired, and scared, I’d like to keep my safety systems simple. I don’t want to have to think about my pfd status in a stressful situation.

But I don’t disagree with the percived advantages. Far better to wear a hybrid than not wear a pfd at all.

To be inflatable …
You must have a bladder. The bladder must hold air reliably.

Why throw in more points of failure if you don’t have to? Gh

Great! Thanks for the info…
I would consider such a PFD for very rough and cold waters.

For now, the SOSpender which I keep in a little backpack and have never used do not bother at all and allow me a proper forward stroke.

Personally, I don’t consider a PFD as necessary as my paddle leash and skills to get back on my ski.



Transport issues for CO2 cartridge?
Can you transport the CO2 cartridges by air? I’ve never tried, but when I’ve looked into mail ordering inflatable vests I seem to remember issues with sending the cartridges by air.

CO2 even though nice and fast, it is not needed. You might do it manually in a couples of seconds.



PS: don’t you think it is redundant to have it imflated when not needed.

But can you remove the cartridge completely and still have the vest work properly? I should try that and see if it works. I don’t particularly like having the CO2 cartridge there, but I’ve always sort of assumed that it was supposed to be there and I shouldn’t take it off. OTOH, if I ever actually needed the vest, I’d probably just blow it up to save myself the cost and hassle of replacing the cartridge, so I’d be just as well off without it.

One other issue…
Type III PFDs generally have little tendency to turn a person face up, you can float in any orientation. This will of course vary with the different PFD designs.

Type V PFDs have a very strong tendency to turn most people face up and hold you there. This is a large safety advantage if incapacitated. Should the new hybrid PFDs perform more like a type V (and I’m merely guessing that they might) this may be a valuable safety feature. Note that when wearing a wet suit or drysuit (and maybe a neoprene skirt) you already have adequate flotation to float comfortably, particularly with the 7 or 8 lb an uninflated hybrid PFD provides.


I haven’t tried yet

– Last Updated: Mar-15-05 12:46 AM EST –

because I don't want to waste a charge! But if one day I need it, I would not use the CO2. It inflates quite fast with the mouth...


I wondered the same thing,
Ralph. Makes me all the more curious to try one.


Can’t air transport the CO2 cartridge
I usually stop by a bike store at my destination and pick up a CO2 cartridge. Alternatively I just manually put air in my vest before I go out on the water.

The cartridge isn’t needed
The cartridge is only punctured when you pull the activation lever. You can remove and then replace the cartridge at will. With the cartridge removed, just blow air into your vest and it will stay inflated. The cartridge valve is one way; it won’t allow air to leak out.

I guess it could
But being a type V doesn’t really mean it floats you face up. It just means it’s a non standard design. For example, a pullover is a type V and it won’t float you any differently than a type III. So I think it all really depends on where the inflatable buoyancy is. But potentially, yeah, it could float you face up. It’d be interesting to find out if that tendency is designed in.

I’d just echo some of the others sentiments. When you start adding valves and seams that must stay air tight, you start to add some common points of failure in other gear that utilizes similar technology.

The reason to think there might
be some face-up advantage is that the major place they reduce foam in these designs is in the back. That bouyancy in the chest should float you face up, although it may not actually raise your face above the water to breathe.

As for the reliability of inflatables, offshore sailors typically use fully inflatable vests, i.e. with no un-inflated bouyancy, so the technology must be pretty good. And one could easily test the vest every few outings to make sure it was not leaking. Still, I share your preference for simplicity (I don’t like rudders either, having had one jam and turn me in circles for an hour).



Isn’t this proven in the military ?

I have the same curiosity. Isn’t this already proven to be of value in the military. Should be plenty of research on this. Don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.

Additionally, it might be easier to get back in one’s kayak without it being inflated in less difficult conditions, however, how might this affect reentry if fully inflated as all or most in front?