There are two styles of life jackets on the market: inflatable and foam. Some of the inflatables are U-shaped and fit around your head, and some are a pack you wear around your waist. While the foam-filled life jackets are the most common PFD, they range from the bulky orange ones to the kayak fishing-specific vests that offer every feature possible. For the sake of this article, we will talk mainly about the foam-filled PFDs.
With the paddlesport industry booming, companies have started to make a wide variety of life jackets to accommodate the growing sport. There are many styles of kayaks on the market that offer a wide variety of seats for the paddler. The seat you have on your kayak may make the difference on which PFD would be most comfortable. The basic style offers a back that’s the same thickness from top to bottom. Others offer a horizontal split design. These are usually thinner on the bottom and thicker on the top. Companies have also found ways to offer thinner materials that offer the same amount of flotation to reduce bulk, especially for the back.
One of the main complaints people have about wearing a life jacket all day is that it makes you too hot, which causes you to sweat a lot. We all know any time you add another article of clothing to your body you’re bound to be a little warmer, but companies have gone to great lengths to reduce the amount of heat PFDs hold in. Many companies are adding mesh to the arms, the center of the back, and the shoulder straps to help make them breathable. Having areas where the breeze can go through will help keep you cool on the water.
As kayak anglers we have precious little room for our gear. We try to add storage wherever we can, including our life jackets. Companies have added not only basic pockets but a knife holder, tie down points, cup holders, hoods, tackle storage, and more! These features make carrying gear you want to be at your fingertips a piece of cake. Especially if you turtle, you want some of that gear at your side so you don’t have to fumble looking for it.
Will you wear it?
We’ve about features of a PFD, but I didn’t tell you what life jacket works with what kind of seat, or with your body type. And frankly, I won’t. Why? Because just like kayaks, everyone has their personal preference. Someone may like a solid thin back for their high seat, when another prefers a split back. Same with breathability and (especially) features. The only way to know what will work for you is to go and try them on. Some companies may let you return it after a trip or two, but if not, practice paddling in the store while wearing it. Visualize yourself on the water and chasing your favorite species and see if it’s comfortable. It needs to be comfortable and work for you. If it isn’t, then you most likely won’t wear it. So go out, try them on, and see what works for you!
Good luck and tight lines!