boating life vest

The Best Life Jackets and PFDs 2019

Inflatable life jackets should always be worn when taking part in water sports or when out on the boat. You have the choice of various different styles with confident swimmers choosing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) over the standard life jacket.

The best life jackets are the ABSOLUTE OUTDOOR Onyx A/M-24 PFD with its automatic inflation upon immersion in the water and great value for money.

PFDs are a trimmed down version of a life jacket (not inflated) that can be inflated automatically, manually or orally. They look more stylish than an ordinary life jacket and provide the same level of safety when becoming immersed within the rough sea.

Best Life Jackets

Life JacketsTypeDesign
Onyx A/M-24PFDUniversal Adult
Mustang Survival With HITPFDUniversal Adult
Eyson SlimPFDUniversal Adult
Onyx MoveVent DynamicStandardUniversal
Stohlquist Flo For WomenStandardWomen
Stearns Youth Classic SeriesStandardKids

PFD’s are much more popular but they are not recommended for all activities. It is advised not to wear an inflatable PFD if you are skiing, tubing, wake boarder or white water rafting. If you are a non swimmer, its recommended not to wear these and especially not the manual versions.

It is also worth noting that PFD’s are only available in adult sizes and must be maintained and checked on a regular basis. Standard life jackets are available in all sizes with the design varying from brand to brand.

The weight capacity, gender and the approval by the US coast guard are just a few factors to consider. Below is a list of the best life jackets that contain both standard and PFD types that ensure you and your family safe when around the water.

Onyx A/M-24 Inflatable PFD


Absolute Outdoor produce a wide variety of life jackets and PFDs, which are all approved by the US Coast Guard. The Onyx PFD in particular is a type V life jacket with type III performance and has the ability to be inflated manually or automatically.

Other features of the Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M-24 PFD include:

  • US Coast Guard Approved
  • Red handle for manually inflation
  • Automatic inflation whilst immersed within water
  • Durable 200 denier nylon construction
  • Suitable for 16 year olds or those over 80 LBS
  • Easy to replace CO2 cartridges

One of the great benefits of wearing a slim design PFD like this particular PFD is that is great for use within hot weather. The standard life jackets can become very uncomfortable due to the heat.

For those individuals that are looking for an unobtrusive life jacket to keep them safe on the water, this PFD is perfect. Hopefully you will never have to deploy the emergency inflation of the life jacket, however you can rest assure that this PFD will bring you to the top of the water.

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Mustang Survival Corp Inflatable PFD with HIT


Mustang is a big brand within the inflatable life jacket industry. They are designed for professionals with a range of premium features. This PFD in particular includes Hydrostatic Inflator Technology (HIT for short) that automatically inflates under water pressure.

Other features of the Mustang Survival Corp Inflatable PFD include:

  • Provides 35 LBS of inflation
  • Available in black or red
  • Maintenance free for up to 5 years
  • Low profile design for maximum mobility
  • Automatically inflate when submerged in 4 or more inches of water
  • Includes reflective tape, whistle and a strobe light attachment
  • SecureZipTM closure that remains shut but opens upon inflation

This is the best PFD for those that are regularly in severe marine environments and require the exclusive design for maximum safety. There is a premium price tag but when it comes to your own safety, you should be willing to spend the extra.

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Eyson Slim Inflatable PFD Life Jacket


Personal Flotation Devices are known for being fairly pricey due to their complex design and technology. However, there are some more affordable options such as this Eyson Slim PFD.

In terms of the features of the Eyson Slim Inflatable PFD Life Jacket, they include:

  • CE certificated & SOLAS approved
  • Adjustable belt for a universal fit
  • Washable and easy to dry with a slender design
  • Suitable for adults below 330 LBS
  • Available in 8 different colors
  • Inflates in just 3 to 5 seconds
  • Constructed of a durable ripstop nylon fabric
  • Quick release buckle for easy on and off

Included with this PFD are 2 reflective bands, whistle, cylinder and oral tube for more bang for your buck. For those requiring a cheap PFD that has excellent performance and meets all the regulations, this Eyson Slim PFD is a great option.

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Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Life Jackets


By far the most popular life jackets available are the Onyx MoveVent, which are very popular with kayakers in particular. This is due to the intuitive design where the padding is located at the top half of the rear, which makes sitting on a kayak seat more comfortable and easier.

Other features of the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic life jackets includes:

  • Made from SOLAS graded reflective material
  • No side obstruction for kayaking
  • Expandable pockets with drain holes
  • 7 different sizes and 4 colors
  • Ventilation at the front and rear to keep cool
  • 200 denier nylon ripstop and nylon oxford construction

Overall, the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic is the best life jacket for kayaking with an intuitive design that targets those requiring maximum comfort and mobility. Onyx also provide a wide variety of sizes so that you can also purchase matching life jackets for the whole family.

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Stohlquist Flo Life Jacket For Women


Finding the best life jacket for women can be difficult but Stohlquist have the solution. The Flo Life model by Stohlquist doesn’t create extra bulk in the upper chest area and sit nicely on your back unlike other cheaper proclaimed women life jackets.

Other features of the Stohlquist Flo Women life jackets include:

  • Adjustable straps near the upper chest
  • 4 different sizes and 2 colors
  • 400 x 200 denier ripstop shell
  • Nylon construction
  • Easily washed with soap and water
  • Lightweight PE foam with inner mesh lining for coolness

Life jackets for large breasted women has always involved hours of researching with no luck. Thanks to the adjustable straps near the upper chest, you are able to tailor the life jacket to your exact preference for additional comfort.

If you are a women looking for a life jacket, this is the best option. The days of buying over sized universal life jackets are over thanks to the Stohlquist Flo Life Jacket that is designed specifically for women.

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Stearns Youth Life Jackets for Kids


Safety of your children is paramount when out at sea as they will not be strong or confident swimmers. Using an adult life jacket for a child is a poor choice and not as safe as a specifically designed life jacket for kids.

Features of the Stearns Youth Life Jackets for Kids includes:

  • Three adjustable strap belts
  • Suitable for kids between 50 to 90 LBS
  • Available in 3 different colors
  • US Coast Guard approved
  • Open sided design
  • Durable nylon construction with PE flotation foam

Most kids do not want to be left out from other family members and will become upset if they are. Luckily Stearns have the identical life vest but for adults, which means you can all look the same when out in the water.

Overall, the Stearn Youth design is the best life jacket for kids between 50 to 90 LBS, which will keep them safe if they become immersed in water.

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Life Jackets Buying Guide

For both kids and adults, the life jacket is an essential for maximum safety when enjoying the ocean, river or any water environment. You cannot predict the marine environment and even the most experienced swimmers can get caught out.

Therefore its highly recommended to purchase the best life jackets that suit the activity you are taking part in.

There is a complete range of life jackets available that are in the form of a Personal Flotation Device (PFD for short) or standard styles. You should choose the one that you feel confident wearing as they do differ in their performance to keep you afloat.

To help you make an informed buying decision, we have produced the detailed buying guide below that covers all factors of the life jacket.

infltable life jackets

Difference Between Life Jackets and PFDs

Both life jackets and PFDs do a great job in keeping you afloat on the water but they do this in different ways. Many people often refer them as the same but they are really not. As you can see from the image above, the two people on the right are wearing PFDs and the 5 people on the left of wearing standard life jackets.

Life jackets have more buoyancy than PFDs with the material used for keeping you afloat at the front of the jacket. This means that it is designed to turn an unconscious person from face down to face up in the water, thus allowing them to breathe.

Personal Flotation Devices on the other hand are designed to keep a conscious person afloat. The flotation material is located at the rear, which makes it much more comfortable and less bulky for additional mobility. They are most designed for confident swimmers that wear them on a daily basis for many hours whilst boating.

Choosing between the two should really be dependent upon how confident a swimmer you are.

Automatic PFD or Manual PFD?

This is a topic that is split both ways. The main argument for an Automatic PFD is that if you were knocked unconscious, who would pull the cord to blow up the PFD? Also, if you were to be flung into the water, the automatic inflation will roll you over to provide a clear air way whilst being unconscious.

The main argument for a Manual PFD is that you don’t always want the life jacket to inflate when you get into the water. For example, you may want to swim in the sea and if anything were to go wrong, you could pull the cord, which is not possible with an automatic PFD. On rare occasions, you may be splashed heavily by a wave, which could set the automatic PFD to inflate.

Quite a dilemma but this is your choice to make upon the activities that you have planned in the water environment.

Different Types of Life Jackets

There are five different types of life jacket and PFD that comes in a range of different sizes, styles and safety designs. The types include:

  • Type I – Used for off-shore use and can be worn for long periods of time
  • Type II – Nearshore use and designed for calm water unlike Type I
  • Type III – Designed to be used within physical activities such as kayaking
  • Type IV – Used as a flotation object such as a ring or cushion
  • Type V – Special PFD that include all of the other 4 types.

For further details on the different types of life jackets, check out the BoatUS guide.

Life Jacket For Kayaking

Comfort and Movement

A big factor to consider is how comfortable an inflatable life jacket is because at the end of the day, you may be wearing it for a long time. It can be hard finding a life jacket for all activities and you may find it easier to purchase a specific life jacket for each activity. For example, you may have one for recreational boating and another for kayaking.

On the topic of kayaking and other water sports, you will want to be able to move around freely. As you can see from the image above, the side-less design provides plenty of room for the person to use the oars with the majority of the padding located at the top half of the life jacket.

The material will also play a big part because unless you are wearing clothes (i.e. you are in your swim gear), then it will be rubbing against your skin.

Materials

In terms of life jackets, the two most common materials used in the construction of them are nylon and neoprene. Nylon life jackets are the cheaper of the two and is much lighter but lacks the buoyancy compared against the neoprene alternative.

Neoprene is often a more snug and comfortable fit that stretches slightly and even provides additional heat in cold weather. However, with all these benefits comes additional cost but if you are frequently wearing life jackets, it would be a worthwhile investment.

Features

As brands compete with each other to produce the best life jackets, they often include intuitive features that make a big difference. Small things such as additional zipped pockets, hydration bladders for your own water source, D rings and other features.

All these features really do improve your experience with the life jacket but many people also worry about putting it on in the first place. The entry method of many life jackets differ with the zip being placed on the front or side. Be sure to purchase a life jacket that is easy to put on and off because you will be removing it and putting it back on a lot when not on the waters.

Storing Life Jackets

Unless you work in a marine environment, life jackets are stored for long periods of time and its important that you do this correctly. When they are not in use, ensure that you clean all of the salt and other dirt off the life jackets.

If you store them whilst they are dirty, they do tend to smell badly and even cause defects to appear overtime. If they have been in storage for a longtime, be sure to check for the following defects before using them again:

  • Leaks in the buoyancy material
  • Heavy mildew
  • Tears
  • Jammed zippers
  • General wear and tear

Overtime life jackets will age and become beyond use, which then means they are unsafe to be used in the water. They are fairly cheap to buy and ultimately safe lives, so be sure to replace when necessary and not when its too late.

best inflatable life vest personal flotation device

Conclusion

Investing into a quality life jacket that fits correctly, comfortable to wear and provides excellent buoyancy is a worthwhile investment. As long as you take care of them whilst they are not in use, they can last many years too.

There is a wide range of life jackets available from the standard to the more desirable PFDs. However, we highly recommend going for the standard style for those that are not confident within the water. All of our recommendations cover a wide range of different styles and budgets to suit a variety of people.

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