whats with the side zip PFDs

Just curious - what is the advantage. I’ve only tried them on a couple of times and it feels weird although I guess you get use to it pretty quick. A front zip just seems so much more natural and ‘by default.’

My favorite 18 year old Lotus Sherman
has a side zip. I just don’t use it. It’s just as easy to pull the thing over my head.

With a side zip you can have a large center pocket vs smaller pockets to either side of the zipper.

The side zip or pullovers tend to be less bulky, since the zipper isn’t cutting straight down the middle where foam is needed.

I personally prefer the side zips for the above advantages. I do agree it is not as natural as zipping a center zip model but the reality is you should only be zipping and unzipping your PFD when off the water anyway. If you feel like you need to zip and unzip on the water for comfort or cooling, you probably need to find a better PFD.

I teach students a technique for putting a type III life vest while in the water. We see so many canoeists with a PFD in the boat but not wearing them. Knowledge of this skill can help talk someone in need through this process and possibly save a life. Side zips make this almost impossible, but they have a larger pocket.

Stohlquist Edge
I picked this side-zip up this spring. Contoured to the torso, it feels great. The front pocket should have been bigger though. Good price, as well.

Wear the PFD
I wouldn’t want to put on a side zip PFD on in the water. I also wouldn’t want to have to tug on all the straps on any style PFD while in the water.

I never understand having a PFD but not wearing it. Kind of like expecting to put on a seat belt right before you have a car accident.

Once you find the right fitting PFD you barely notice you are wearing it.

I got the similar but somewhat fussier
(in detail) Stohlquist Rocker, also a side entry. Compared to my old Lotus Sherman, the side entry system is more complex. I can imagine circumstances where I would be struggling to get that PFD on in a hurry, in order to rescue someone.

I don’t like the Stohlquist tension system to counteract ride-up. I know how to pass crotch straps to and through the spray skirt to deal with ride-up.

My most comfortable and flexible pfd is my old Stohlquist Max, a center entry jacket. And 20 plus pounds of flotation.

My Lotus Sherman is almost as comfortable, doesn’t ride up, but could use 2 or 3 more pounds of flotation.

My Stohlquist Rocker is very well made, and if adjusted carefully, doesn’t interfere with paddling, but it is rather stiff compared to my Sherman and Max.

I’m with you
…and I don’t buy the “it’s too hot” line. you’re surrounded by water.

I think if I had a surfski I might reconsider, but then again, PFDs have become so compact and light that I might not.

Shady, if there is any deficiency with
today’s center zip jackets, it is caused by the designers. Any designers here who can explain the reason for side entry?

I have an old, 20+ pound flotation, Stohlquist Max with a short, easy to work center zip. Gee, only one small pocket, what a deficiency!. There’s strongly sewn down rescue loops all over the jacket. Wonderfully flexible foam, better than any you’ll find today.

I’ve had several previous center zip jackets that worked fine. I find the “drill” to get my Stohlquist Rocker side entry zipped and double buckled to be too time consuming. It could delay my ability to get the jacket on, get my throw rope, and get to a victim.


– Last Updated: Jul-02-14 12:39 PM EST –

If I'm on the water; I'm wearing my pfd.
So, NO issue with getting on the MTI side zip I typically wear.
I find it to be very comfortable, and sufficient floatation for me.
My throw bag is typically attached to the thwart in front of me. Takes a couple of seconds to remove it from the thwart, and open the top. No issue.

Also own a front zip Stohlquist Max. Only wear it when I expect to encounter extreme, or rescue circumstances. Intitial purchase was made when I was being trained as swiftwater rescue instructor, and knew I'd be teaching classes later. I find it overly bulky for most venues I now paddle, and uncomfortable for long term wear.
Have to admit it sure does keep my 225 lbs floating quite high when I'm in the water.

Anyone who is worried about their ability to get a side zip(or ANY style) pfd on while IN the water, needs to be wearing it.

Don't want to wear a pfd; don't wear one. Your option.
Don't think people who make the decision to not wear their pfd(whatever the style) should expect anyone to risk their life for them; if/when negative natural consequences occur.

Too hot to wear a pfd........
BS rationalization.
Get a different pfd, stop & take a break in the shade & rehydrate with water, or jump in the water.


Pagayeur paddles waters that, in summer
can be disgustingly hot. And people don’t always wear their pfds in the bayous, because there isn’t enough justification to do so.

So I see a need for paddlers practicing donning pfds, and I would not have paddlers wearing side entry pfds in the swamps and marshes of Louisiana.

In my experience most canoeists
do not wear a PFD even if there’s one in the boat. They’re more likely to be sitting on it. I have paddled on days where it was impossible to wear a PFD without risking hyperthermia. I had a side zip and realized it was very difficult to put it on if in the water. Unfortunately I found this out during a demonstration in front of a bunch of paddlers. Better then than in an emergency I reckon.


pocket schmocket
For me, I don’t see a single large pocket as that much of an advantage. There is nothing I want to carry on my PFD that I can’t fit in a “normal” sized pocket, and having 2 of those vs 1 large one helps with organizing. Maybe its just what I’m used to though.

There are a few, limited, conditions
where I may take off my life jacket. High heat, flat water, very easy access to land, extremely unlikely that I would flip, etc. On my usual venue, whitewater, or out on turbulent open water, I wear the life jacket.

I once rode my motorcycle for a couple of miles without a helmet. I had to hear a transmission problem.

The Rocker has a:

  • Hands free expandable mesh beverage pocket

    Perfect size to hold a can of beer. Can’t get that in a center zip.

    The Rocker is currently my favorite PFD but I am usually the last one on the river by the time I get my Rocker on. First you have to untwist the side, then realize you twisted it, once that is straightened out you realize you need to let the strap out or you gained a few eating lunch. It is not a quick wear. Fits me perfectly once I get it snug – haven’t found many like that.

side zip life jackets are kind of weird
to put on, but once its on I pretty much forget I’m wearing it, its that comfortable. I own a lot of pfds but my side zip is my favorite. The flotation is solid in the the middle and front- out of the way. A well engineered jacket.

Whitewater vs Flat
All of the side zips and pullovers all seemed to be designed more as whitewater or rescue vests – most people I know who wear rescue vests do not take them off near the water. I am pretty sure that all pullovers are classified as Type V PFDs and must be actively worn to be considered a Type III. These PFDs are meant for kayaking where you expect to be in the water and not used as seat cushions.

Honestly not sure I see much benefit the side zip has over the pullover. I guess it gives you the advantage to loosen it up a little bit at lunch.

The only whitewater branded PFD I can think of with a center zip is the NRS Big Water. Every other center zip PFD I can think of seems to be more designed for touring or rec/fishing. So they make the center zips for the market they know will not always wear them.

If it is insanely hot and I am on mellow water – I would probably just take my Mustang inflatable. If I am on really shallow water, I might not wear a PFD but would probably leave the Rocker on just for some armor against the rocks.

Still when I wore center zips I frequently would just leave them unzipped and unbuckled. Never found one that was comfortable and didn’t like how much padding was high up on my chest. Didn’t have those problems with the side zips so now I always have it on nice and snug – I rarely even know I have it on.

yep, second what shady clip says,
in addition to the side zip I own the nrs bigwater front zip but its kind of cumbersome to wear kayaking- because of the amount and placement of the flotation. Good winter jacket- lots of insulation- or the jacket to have on really big whitewater where the swim could be epic.

side entry PFDs
Most whitewater paddlers these days seem to prefer PFDs with one or more large, solid foam blocks in the front, thinner foam on the back, and little or no side flotation. This type of jacket requires either a pullover or side entry design.

Certainly, not all pullovers are Type V PFDs. If you need a Type V PFD and prefer a front zip design, the Extrasport Swiftwater Ranger is probably your best bet:


because americans must have their

How many cupholders do we need?