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Best Kayak Fishing PFDs - Kayak Life Jackets

As the season turns over and fall sales arrive, it’s a good time to inspect, upgrade and replace the most important piece of safety equipment you own - your PFD or personal flotation device.

See the Best Kayak Fishing PFDs of 2021.

Up north, the cooler fresh waters of late summer are heating up the fall fishing season, while in the big lakes fish are feeding hard before they move into deep water for winter and offshore, the snapper blues are in. Down south, September marks the beginning of bass season in many places, and the next few months will see the big catfish start to come in. On the West Coast, many fall seasons run through the end of October or November; and along the Gulf it’s inshore fishing for red and black drum, amberjack and triggerfish.

If you’re anything like us, you're fixated on your tackle, your boat, your clothing, your truck...anything but your PFD. And if you’re anything like us, you just went out and looked at your go-to personal floatation device and realized you got it in 1999.

That’s way too old. Dangerously, irresponsibly old. While the shell or floatation material might (or might not) still be good, we know from hard experience that plastic buckles, especially those exposed to UV and weather, are the first things to get brittle and fail. We can’t tell you the number of times we’ve picked up an old strap or backpack and had a buckle break (although that number includes twice already this year). That’s inconvenient when it’s a backpack, but could mean death if it’s keeping someone’s head above water, so we strongly recommend upgrading your PFD every 10 years. Go ahead and keep the old one as an emergency throw, but don’t trust it with your life. By the way, don’t sit on your good life vest as a cushion, over time it will break down the foam and lose floatation.

PFDs for kayak fishing have some of the toughest requirements of any of your gear. You already know how hard it is to find one that fits properly and doesn’t interfere with paddling (which we’re convinced is one of the main reasons for the explosion in popularity of sit-on-tops). Add to that the need for the features and toughness specific to the needs of paddle fishing, and we’re thankful to have not just our own experience, but the tens of thousands of hours of knowledge shared by our friends and peers in the forums to sort through and find the Best Fishing PFDs of 2021.

See the Questions To Ask When Buying a Fishing PFD

Best Kayak Fishing PFDs

NRS Chinook OS Fishing PFD

by NRS

Editor's Pick: This is the best of the best, a premium Type III vest with a high front and back to stay out of your way; oversize tackle pocket; dedicated radio/GPS pocket, three velcro pockets, rod holder, two knife lash tabs and much more. It’s six-way adjustable in three sizes, and we love the blaze orange for visibility. Remember, it’s all about power boats seeing you and avoiding an accident in the first place.

  • Material Description: 400-denier ripstop nylon

Additional Attributes

  • The Chinook OS is a Type III, medium profile life jacket delivering 16.5 pounds of flotation
  • PlushFit™ foam and a high-back design combine to create an extremely comfortable vest for any type of raft or kayak seat
  • A mesh lower-back offers added ventilation on warm days
  • One large, zippered tackle pocket, with internal organization, plus one smaller tackle pocket
  • One zippered pocket sized for a VHF radio and three accessory pockets with hook-and-loop closure
  • Also features a rod holder, two strobe attachment points, two knife lash tabs and extra reflective accents for low-light visibility
  • The zippered front entry and six adjustment points offer a customized fit
  • The Chinook OS carries the US Coast Guard Certification through Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

NRS Chinook OS Fishing PFD Reviews

5 out of 5 stars
(4 Consumer Reviews)

Great PFD! It is comfortable…

Great PFD! It is comfortable while paddling. The pockets are handy for small gear and my iPhone. It easily kept me afloat when I needed it.

Great PFD - not only for…

Great PFD - not only for fishing. I photograph from my kayak and all the pockets make it easy to hold extra batteries, filters, cleaning equipment, etc. The coil-retractor is… read full review

As we all know it’s important…

As we all know it’s important to wear your PFD. As a fisherman it’s hard to find a comfortable one to wear while you fish. This one was built by Yak fisherman for Yak fisherm… read full review

Fisherman PFD

The Fisherman provides excellent cockpit management with places for the little things that could end up in your seator overboard. Dual front-mounted tool pouch pockets have protective EVA stiffened outer shells to protect pocket contents, and act as fold down workstations.

Additional Attributes

  • 7.5” X 7.5” EVA pockets act as fold-down work surfaces
  • Choose low-vis Cactus color or high-vis Mango color with 3M™ reflective
  • Open sides for ventilation
  • Neoprene padded shoulders and lower back waistband
  • Dual side adjustments
  • Mounting locations for tippets, retractors, nippers, leader-line, etc
  • Multiple pockets, all with drainage
  • High back flotation rides above the seat back of sit-on-top kayaks
  • Cross-chest cinch harness adjustment for zero ride-up

Fisherman PFD Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
(5 Consumer Reviews)

I used to use a standard life…

I used to use a standard life jacket for kayaking, but once I switched to the Stohlquist high back PFD life was so much better! Plenty of pockets for gear and enough adjustme… read full review

I picked this lifejacket up…

I picked this lifejacket up off of ACK.com last week and have only been out in it once so I can only speak to the comfort and fit as that's all I've really had time enough to… read full review

As a big guy I got the…

As a big guy I got the universal size. It fits great with multiple points of adjustment. I chose the mango color for visibility on the water. The color is bright with reflect… read full review

Ascend Paddling Fishing Life Jacket

by Ascend

Step up to the luxurious yet rugged quality of the Ascend Paddling Fishing Life Jacket. Drawbridge-style pockets create fold-down workstations—a small yet game-changing design feature you'll find new ways to enjoy with every trip. 400x200-denier ripstop shell construction with a 210-denier Oxford liner outperforms any ordinary fishing PFD in comfort and durability. 3M® reflective material front and back enhance safety for peace of mind. 8 adjustment points, ventilated shoulder and back pads, and a cross-chest cinch harness with zero ride-up ensure this Ascend life jacket delivers a more customized, "Ahh"-inducing fit than any life jacket you've ever worn. Zip front pockets let you bring along the day's go-to gear. Fits adults over 90 lbs. with 30"-52" chest. USCG-approved Type III.

  • View all products from Ascend

Ascend Paddling Fishing Life Jacket Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
(3 Consumer Reviews)

This is similar to the…

This is similar to the Stolquist Fisherman for about 3/4 the price. Offered by Bass Pro Shops. I'm not sure if Ascend is the manufacturer or if it is made by another PFD manu… read full review

Wife & I bought these after…

Wife & I bought these after researching brands and prices online. We went to the store to try on and bought them there. They fit well and had a zippered left chest pocket b… read full review

Great life jacket. I weight…

Great life jacket. I weight 220lbs just over 6 feet tall and this jacket fits great in size L/XL The seat back sits above kayak seat on SOT and Sit in kayaks I own. The fro… read full review

Kayak Fishing Vest

The Onyx Kayak Fishing vest is feature-rich but yet a great value! Designed with four different pocket designs and functions to hold your essential gear and keep you fishing longer. In addition to the zippered fleece-lined pockets and the zippered chest pocket, radios or pliers can slip down and clamp to the pocket/vest through the opening at the top of the pocket, to keep them easily accessible. The one-button push drop down tray pocket holds a small tackle box. A lash tab to hold a knife, whistle, etc. is also included and can also be used to hold fly fishing tippets, sunscreen, keys, etc. The six adjustment straps can be adjusted up or down depending on your activity or the heights of the boat seat or kayak. The high back of the vest does not get in the way of the seats and has mesh for breathability. There is ample drainage to keep the vest dry when not in use.

  • Material Description: 400 denier nylon oxford

Additional Attributes

  • Low profile, paddle specific foam design
  • Six adjustment straps to cinch vest up for a snug fit
  • High foam back accommodates high back seats
  • Breathable mesh lower back
  • Comfortable neoprene shoulder pads
  • Pockets designed for your essential gear
  • 2” woven elastic attachment points
  • Hanging loop for drying
  • Lash tab for small accessories

Kayak Fishing Vest Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
(3 Consumer Reviews)

I bought the onyx fishing…

I bought the onyx fishing and kayak pfd from amazon. It is by far the best PFD I own. I have quite a few NRS, Onyx and some generic brands. I even have a few type V from must… read full review

So comfortable and beautiful…

So comfortable and beautiful color

This PFD is made with…

This PFD is made with fishing in mind. I'm not a fisherman. But I bought this PFD anyway for my casual paddling. The pocket layout makes sense and works great. It's very adju… read full review

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

by NRS

With all the organization and attachment points needed for your fishing accessories, the NRS Chinook Fishing PFD is the world's best-selling life jacket for kayak anglers. Not only is it designed to make you more effective on the water, the comfort of the Chinook simply can't be beat.

  • Material Description: 400-denier ripstop nylon

Additional Attributes

  • The Chinook is a Type III, medium profile life jacket delivering 16.5 pounds of flotation
  • PlushFit™ foam and a high-back design combine to create an extremely comfortable vest for any type of raft or kayak seat
  • A mesh lower-back offers added ventilation on warm days
  • Two large, zippered pockets, sized for tackle boxes, with internal organization, plus two smaller accessory pockets with hook-and-loop closure
  • A fifth, tool holder pocket offers quick access to pliers, line cutters or other fishing gadgets and accessories
  • Also features a rod holder, strobe attachment point, reflective accents and knife lash tab
  • The zippered front entry and six adjustment points offer a customized fit
  • The Chinook carries the US Coast Guard Certification through Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
(7 Consumer Reviews)

This product has held up…

This product has held up well over the past two years. Flotation is good and there are plenty of pockets to stash your gear. None of the pockets are big enough to hold a larg… read full review

I have owned this PFD for…

I have owned this PFD for two years at this point. Other than a couple of stains, it still looks great. All zippers and straps are working perfectly. It is fully adjustable … read full review

I weight 200 lbs and…

I weight 200 lbs and purchased the large and this PFD fits me like a glove. It has ample storage where I need it, anchors for clips and tools and the back flotation rests per… read full review

Piseas

Large “drawbridge” front pockets act as fold-down work surfaces when opened. Right pocket includes adjustable strap for locking down long lure boxes. Left pocket features 3-D inner pocket with hook and loop closure sized just right for thread spools. Other features include anchor points, lash tab, and “D”-ring for net attachment.

  • Material Description: 420 denier Cordura® outer shell, 210 denier oxford liner

Additional Attributes

  • Open sides for ventilation.
  • Neoprene padded lower back waistband.
  • Dual side adjustments.
  • High back flotation rides above the seat back of sit-on-top kayaks.
  • Adjustable 1-1/2” webbing shoulder straps.
  • Cross-chest cinch harness adjustment for zero ride-up.
  • Type III PFD with sea level buoyancy of 16 lbs. 12 oz.

Piseas Reviews

(0 Consumer Reviews)

No one has submitted a review yet for the Piseas. Please help out the community and share your experience!

Sturgeon

by Astral

The Sturgeon is a pfd brought to you by Astral. Read Sturgeon reviews or submit your own review to share with the paddling community. Check out a few other pfd recommendations below or explore all pfds to find the perfect one for you!

Sturgeon Reviews

(0 Consumer Reviews)

No one has submitted a review yet for the Sturgeon. Please help out the community and share your experience!

A-33 In-Sight Deluxe "Tournament" - Automatic Inflatable Life Jacket

The Onyx A-33 In-Sight Deluxe "Tournament" Automatic Inflatable Life Jacket automatically inflates upon immersion in water or when wearer pulls the “Jerk to Inflate” handle and is also equipped with back-up oral inflation. In-Sight feature shows GREEN if the product is armed and ready to use and shows RED if not ready to use. This life jacket provides comfort, safety, and peace of mind, without knowing you have it on, until you may need it. Not recommended for non-swimmers or weak swimmers.

Additional Attributes

  • Soft extended neoprene neckline for all day comfort
  • Padded air mesh for additional comfort
  • Reflective material for greater visibility
  • Durable fabric resists tears and punctures
  • Dual adjustment body belt fits up to a 65” chest
  • D-ring attachments
  • For persons 16 years of age and older; and over 80 lbs.
  • Minimum buoyancy of 35 lbs. when inflated

A-33 In-Sight Deluxe "Tournament" - Automatic Inflatable Life Jacket Reviews

5 out of 5 stars
(1 Consumer Reviews)

Wish i could put more than 5…

Wish i could put more than 5 stars I would put 10 stars. One of the most comfortable vests that I have ever worn. I bought to recreational kayak and just never took it off. I… read full review

A/M-24 - Automatic / Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

The Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket automatically inflates upon immersion in water or when the wearer pulls the “Jerk to Inflate” handle and is equipped with back-up oral inflation.
It is convertible from AUTO/MANUAL inflation to MANUAL ONLY inflation and provides comfort, safety and peace of mind without knowing you have it on, until you may need it in a comfortable, lightweight, low profile design. Not recommended for non-swimmers or weak swimmers.

Additional Attributes

  • Soft neoprene neckline for all day comfort
  • Durable fabric resists tears and punctures
  • For persons 16 years of age and older; and over 80 lbs.
  • Minimum buoyancy of 22.5 lbs. when inflated

A/M-24 - Automatic / Manual Inflatable Life Jacket Reviews

5 out of 5 stars
(3 Consumer Reviews)

Absolutely LOVE this PFD!…

Absolutely LOVE this PFD! This is my second season using the Onyx A/M life jacket. It truly is hard to even notice that you have it on, so you do actually wear it. That al… read full review

I absolutely love this life…

I absolutely love this life jacket. Most life jackets I have had are very bulky and get in the way constantly. This life jacket is sturdy and well designed. It is very ligh… read full review

The A/M 24 Inflatable Life…

The A/M 24 Inflatable Life Vest is so comfortable you forget you have it on. This is a type II vest made by Oynx. It is auto or manual inflation. Pro - No padding on the… read full review

MIT 70 Manual Inflatable PFD

One vest to take you into your many inshore marine adventures. And, one of the most exciting innovations to come out of the Mustang Survival Innovation Lab. Why? We took our most loved inflatable and made it even more flexible, comfortable and lightweight - without compromising on durability, quality, or safety. The MIT 70 is the smallest inflatable PFD approved in North America, making it your new favourite vest to pack for every inshore adventure.

Exclusive Membrane Inflatable Technology™ (M.I.T.) creates a lightweight, flexible fit. Manual inflation model activates by pulling the inflation handle. Easy-access inflator eases re-arming. High visibility, contrasting fabric when inflated for increased visibility in rescue scenarios
Belt extender sold separately (model #MA7637). Provides 15.7 LB buoyancy when inflated.

Additional Attributes

  • Automatic inflation model inflates upon water immersion / Manual inflation model inflates by pulling the activation cord
  • Exclusive Membrane Inflatable Technology™ (M.I.T.) creates a lightweight, flexible fit
  • Easy-access inflator eases re-arming
  • Provides 15.7 LB buoyancy when inflated
  • High visibility, contrasting fabric when inflated for increased visibility in rescue scenarios
  • Belt extender sold separately
  • Harmonized Level 70 approval

MIT 70 Manual Inflatable PFD Reviews

5 out of 5 stars
(1 Consumer Reviews)

I was surprised with how…

I was surprised with how comfortable and almost stylish this PDF is! I feel like it's a PDF from the future. Manual inflation works like a charm and the compact design makes … read full review

Questions To Ask When Buying a Fishing PFD

  • Do you need a Type I, II or III? We don’t recommend anything less than a Type III, and if you expect to be on water other than protected ponds, a Type I is a good investment.
  • Is it built for paddling? You need good, free arm movement and if you’re in a low seat, a high back.
  • Is it comfortable? Look for vests that have many adjustment options and that are sold in different sizes. You want it to be comfortable when snug—a loose PFD is useless.
  • How many pockets do you need? We had a life vest with far too many and we could never find anything. But you might have gear that needs to be separate.
  • Is it made for your type of fishing? If you’re fly fishing, does it have a patch for your flies? If you’re in salt water, you want to avoid metal zippers that can (will, trust us) corrode.
  • Does it have a warranty? As we said, your life—or someone else’s—might depend on it. Our top pick from NRS comes with a lifetime guarantee, but all reputable brands stand behind their products.
  • Is it approved? Never buy a fishing life jacket that doesn't have a Coast Guard Approval Number AND a UL seal. European standards for life jacket testing are not as good.

The perfect fishing PFD for you is probably not going to be the one we like, or your friend likes. You might be spending your time on a five-acre pond fishing for bluegills, where something built for the ocean would be overkill. You might not want any pockets or features, and choose an automatic inflatable to keep down the bulk; or you might have 18 little boxes of flies and want a fly fishing vest with floatation. But more than any features or even absolute quality, what’s important is that you’re going to wear it. It’s much better to have a cheap life jacket that you wear every time than an expensive one you use as a cushion.

About the Author

David's family history with boats goes back to when one of his ancestors fell off the Mayflower (they fished him back out), and they've been getting in trouble on the water ever since. He grew up sailing with his grandfather, while his parents were early adopters of folding kayaks, taking him on numerous adventures in the Adirondacks. For his bachelor party, he spent a week paddling in Maine with his best friend just after ice out. His current fleet includes 10- and 12-foot recreational kayaks and a monstrous 18-foot folding kayak that is only at home on open waters.

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