What do you do about life jackets?


I am getting started here, I got a kayak yesterday now I am getting it ready for fishing.

Would you get the orange ones that are real cheap at around $8 or would go more expensive?

I plan on fishing lakes and ponds, no moving water.



I recommend a Type 3 PFD
I recommend getting a comfortable one that you’ll wear. If it’s too hot or too uncomfortable, you’ll be tempted not to wear it and that would be a mistake.

Here’s some that are affordable and comfortable looking:


NRS also sells them, and if you’re looking for a ubiquitous big box store, then check in with Dick’s, Bass Pro Shops, or Gander Mountain’s paddle sections.

  • Big D

old nickname for the cheap orange …

– Last Updated: Apr-19-10 6:06 AM EST –

...... one is "Horse Collar" .

Believe it or not , at least one (adult) still wears one . I just saw him wearing it in some pics. someone posted .

If you are going to wear it "always" while out in your kayak , then you have sense , but won't like the way it feels very much .

If you don't plan on wearing a PFD , then go out into the middle of the lake or river and jump in and ... see if you change your mind .

When was the last time you found yourself having to stay above water way out from shore , without floatation aid ??

What , can't afford a modern comfortable PFD vest so you can wear it "always" while in a paddle craft , or just thinking you won't be needing it to save your life ??

Get this , your chances of taking the big swim from a kayak or canoe are about 1000 x's greater than a power boat (small or large) .

Don't worry , they find "most" of the drowning victims who weren't wearing a PFD when they took the long swim , and something like 99% of drowning victims weren't wearing a PFD .

My paddle partner
One of my frequent paddle partners is a past president of Virginia Search & Rescue. He is swift-water rescue certified. He always wears a PFD. Over the years, of the rescues he’s done that have turned into body recoveries, every single one of the victims was not wearing a PFD.

Another friend who’s been a professional hero (Rescue crew) for close to twenty years says that he can count on one hand the number of body recoveries he’s done that were wearing a PFD.

Just wearing one will not guarantee survival, and not wearing one does not guarantee death. But of those who die, nearly all are not wearing life jackets. Of those who survive, nearly all are.

I wore the horse collars for years. Nothing wrong with them. But they don’t do a blessed thing for you stuffed behind the seat. Wear it. If it’s not comfortable enough to wear, get one that is.

The only time I don’t wear a PFD is when the air is so hot that wearing one puts me at more immediate risk of heat stroke than not wearing one puts me at risk of drowning. This is usually August and the rivers I’m on are shallow. It is a tradeoff of real risks, and not a decision made on the mistaken assumption that ‘nothing could happen’. And now that I’ve bought a strap-based PFD, there’s only rare times when it is hot enough to be a health risk. I also take a cotton shirt and hat to dip in the water and wear to allow the evaporation to cool me on those days when heat stroke is a severe risk.

  • Big D

get one with pockets
works great for holding fishing gear. everything with in reach.nice velcro closures. great for wading too.

It entirely depends on your budget. Those “cheapo orange” ones arent that bad. They’re not the most comfortable thing out there, but after wearing it a bit you kinda forget you have it on. My buddy wears one and I never hear a complaint out of him. I have an Osprey vest, with pockets. It’s comfy, and I really like the pockets. I fly fish so that pfd takes the place of my fishing vest when I’m in the boats. Nice to have the storage. I agree, wearing one is really a must. People think they can grab one in an emergency, but I think they dont realize that a lot of boat drowning victims have been found with mild head trauma. During a flip, you can wack your head on the gunwhale, a paddle, cooler, a log or rock, etc. Under those circumstances you arent going to grab anything.

So are you planning to wear the PFD ??

type III pfd
I just got a new cabelas mesh life jacket and i love it.I wouldn’t go with the orange one it is very uncomfortable. Go with anything breathable. I think NRS has good ones.

Waist belt PFD
I went with the MTI Zephr waist belt PFD. I tried wearing a paddling type PFD but never could get comfortable in it and even when not hot outside it still made me very hot.

The Zephr works great for me and it is like wearing nothing. I’m not out in could weather but if I was then I might switch to a more standard paddling PFD but the waist belt type for the recreational paddling I do and fishing I do is a perfect match for me.


chances are…(I’m going to catch hell)
you won’t be wearing it much. If thats the case, buy a cheap one and throw it behind you in the boat.

If you will wear it all the time, then get a good one, and make sure it is comfortable.

What Type Of Seat?
I just got into kayaking and Dick’s Sporting Goods had decent PFD’s on sale. Buy one, get one free so we got 2 for $40. My problem is, my kayak has the small backband so I spend a lot of time either pulling the PFD down or pushing it up a bit because it kind of hits the backband on the lower edge. If you have a taller seatback any of the PFDs should be comfortable. They do get a bit warm when the temperature gets over 100. :slight_smile:

Captsmollets answer is right on. If your not wearing it does it matter? If you are buy top of the line that fits you. I only wear inflatable as I hate standard jackets.

PFD is the worst thing to go cheap on
Is your life worth an extra $30?

re pfd
spend a little more, ur talking about a device that can save ur life, dont buy cheap, many good brands to choose from at reasonable prices,

do you wear a seatbelt?
I think many here aren’t giving you the benefit of the doubt, as it sounds like you plan to wear the PFD!

you’ve probably already found your PFD so this message may be moot.

I like to think of the life jacket as a seatbelt, and I never ride in the car without buckling my seatbelt. I have an MTI PFD that has vest pockets, perfect for flyboxes and an inside clip for forceps, nippers or what not. I hardly notice that it’s there. Get the good PFD so you don’t look like a shmuck.

I wore an orang horse collar
until about three years ago. It floated me just fine during my out of boat experiences.

My MTI Orleans that I wear now is more comfortable, fit wise, even if it is hotter.

I always wear a PFD. It’s so easy to bump one’s head and be incapacitated.

Wha’t your life worth?
The cheap “Mae West” type ones are about the most uncomfortable thing you could wear. The $15-$20 “3 pannel vests” are more comfortable and less bulky but still a PITA. Consequently, an uncomfortable PFD will end up stuffed under the seat or (worse yet) in the car when you need them.

I personally swear buy the (manual) inflatable harness type. So comfortable that you forget your wearing them. (Read: You WILL have it on when you need it.) They go on sale for $70 now and again and are a worthwhile and lifetime investment. ( I still have one that works fine from 25 years ago!)

Get one that is comfortable

– Last Updated: Jul-27-10 11:13 AM EST –

so that you will wear it. Don't let anyone tell you that you have to pay more for safety, any USCG PFD will do the job, as long as you are wearing it. Price really has little to do with the choice anymore. There are plenty of PFDs these days that are well-cut for paddling comfort (less floatition around the shoulders and under the armpits, higher cut so they don't ride up when you are sitting down), that don't cost an arm and a leg. You might have to replace PFDs faster if you are buying cheaper ones, but it's arguable that is the safer way to go. If you have a PFD that cost $20 to $40, you aren't going to have much trouble replacing it at the first sign of wear. A top-end one you paid $90 or more for, you're going to be more attached to, and are likely to rationalize keeping it around. I've seen guys on the water with top-end PFDs that are faded, frayed, and probably should have been replaced several seasons before.

I used to have an Extrasport PFD that cost me $90-95 dollars. When it wore out, I bought a different model of Extrasport, still cut very comfortably for paddling, but with lots more pockets, even came with a whistle, for less than $40.

USCG approved is USCG approved
A brand-new $20 PFD is no less safe than a brand-new $100 PFD. They both have to meet the same USCG testing standards. They are all going to have to have at least 15.5 pounds of buoyancy, and they are all going to be tested for the same duration before approval. The difference between an expensive PFD and a cheap PFD is features and materials. The feature have nothing to do with safety. Materials can affect safety. So, a cheaper PFD may have to be replaced significantly sooner than a more expensive one. While this may, at first glance, seem to be an argument in favor of more expensive PFDs, that’s not necessarily so, for two reasons.

First, most of the extra money put into more expensive PFDs is in the external materials and construction. The floatation material is usually the same no matter what you paid for your PFD (with some exceptions I will get to in a second). That floation material is going to break down at the same rate no matter what it is sheathed in. However, we don’t - we can’t judge whether or not our PFD is ready for replacement based on what the insides look like, we judge them based on the condition of the outsides. So a PFD made from cheaper outside materials is going to give you a visual indication it needs to be replaced sooner than a more expensive PFD, which is going to give you a greater margin of safety.

now, about that exception I mentioned earlier - kapok. That’s right, kapok is back, a new gimmick marketed as an earth-friendly floatation material. Of course, kapok was replaced in the 70s with synthetic materials because the synthetics are cheaper and there is not the concern that buoyancy would be lost if the bladder is punctured as is the case for kapok. That last part makes foam a more reliable flotation media during its effective life.

Since we’ve covered cheaper PFDs “notifying” you sooner that they need to be replaced, we’ll move onto the second reason one could argue that cheaper PFDs are safer than more expensive ones, and it too has to do with replacement. $30 for a PFD? Shoot, it costs more than that to take my family of 4 out for a decent sit-down lunch on a Saturday. Most people will replace a $30 PFD after, say, 5 years of use, without even batting an eyelash. However, a high-end PFD that someone paid $100 or more for - you get emotionally attached to. You don’t want to toss that, so you are going to rationalize keeping it beyond when it is really safe to do so.

When I fist got into kayaking, in the mid 90s, sure, I bought a ~$90 PFD, because if you wanted a PFD that was cut comfortably for kayaking, PFDs in that price range were all that was available. The rest of the Type III market were ski vests that weren’t comfortable for the seated position or arm movement of kayaking. but in the 15 years since, kayaking has boomed in popularity, which created a lot more economic justification for making kayaking equipment at all price ranges. You can get a comfortable paddling PFD for $35 bucks. I replaced my original ~$90 Extrasport PFD with a $35 Extrasport PFD that is just as comfortable, and has more pockets.

The old saw “how much is your life worth to you” was never accurate when it came to the actual function of cheap PFDs versus expensive ones, but now you can’t even claim that you have to buy an expensive PFD in order to get a comfortable one that you will be wearing when you need it. There are PLENTY of reasonably priced, comfortable, and safe PFDs out there these days, so let’s stop giving out gear-snobby advice that never was true.