Best Fishing Life Vest to Keep You Afloat

Every angler knows that the waters are unpredictable. It can be calm and steady at one point, and then waves are crashing on your boat in a blink of an eye. That’s why wearing a fishing life vest is a must for all anglers! If it’s your first time picking one up, we’ve rounded up the best fishing life vest options, including a handy buying guide.

What You Should Consider Before Buying a Fishing Life Vest

There are hundreds of personal flotation device options available. It can be tricky to know the best fishing life jackets for your needs. Do you opt for a low-profile, inflatable vest? A kayak life vest for fishing that has a high-back design? Do you need a lifejacket with extra storage for fishing gear like small tackle boxes? To help you make the right decision, here is everything you need to consider when shopping for a fishing life vest.

Life Jacket Types

When shopping for a fishing life vest, you’ll come across Type I, Type II, Type III, Type IV, and Type V. These indicate the type of life jacket. Each one has its pros and cons. So, let’s delve right into them.

  • Type I: Also called an offshore life jacket, a Type I life vest can turn your face up if you get unconscious in the water. And, as its name suggests, it is best used in open and rough waters, where rescue may be slow. However, this type of life jacket is heavy and has a bulky design.
  • Type II: When you are fishing near the shore, a Type II or near-shore life jacket is what you need. This life jacket is slightly less buoyant than an offshore life jacket but still does a good job turning your face up if you get unconscious, especially when you opt for an inflatable version. 
  • Type III: This jacket is also called a floatation aid. As its name suggests, it ensures that you keep floating with your chins out of the water. However, they don’t turn an unconscious person face-up in the water. Although this PFD is more lightweight, it provides adequate buoyancy to keep you afloat in most cases.
  • Type IV: Type IV is a throwable floatation device. It is not meant to be worn but instead thrown or given to someone who has fallen off the boat.  
  • Type V: Also called special-use devices, Type V life jackets are made particularly for kayakers or kayak anglers. It is a hybrid life jacket, meaning it has a built-in foam and either a manual or automatic inflatable system.  

Standard vs. Inflatable vs. Hybrid

Life vests fall into three categories— standard, inflatable, and hybrid. So what sets them apart?

Standard vests rely on foam material to keep your head above the water. However, they are often bulkier and heavier compared to other types. 

On the other hand, inflatable life vests resemble standard vests but tend to be lighter and less bulky. They have a compressed gas cylinder or co2 cartridge built into them that can inflate the vest fast once you pull a ripcord. Depending on the design, inflatable life vests get categorized as automatic or manual.

Lastly, a hybrid life vest combines inflation and flotation. Although design varies, a regular hybrid life vest typically has a foam core surrounded by air-filled chambers.

Material

Life jackets have developed from the generation of animal skins to the present foams and fabrics. These materials automatically activate buoyancy when the life jacket gets submerged in the water. Or you can activate it manually by pulling the ripcord. Let’s find out which material best suits your kayaking and fishing needs.

Foam

PE (polyethylene)foam is commonly used in vests worn in the water because it has a higher buoyancy rating than EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam. On the other hand, EVA can ward off cold temperatures and has better protection against UV rays.

Fabric Material

The fabric of fishing life vests can vary. Common fabrics include:

  • Neoprene vs. BioLite: The synthetic rubber used in constructing neoprene makes it sturdier to withstand extreme temperatures. On the contrary, BioLite fabric is a tubular woven fiber synthetic fabric that makes it lighter, comfy, and more versatile.
  • Nylon vs. Polyester: Both fabrics are strong. However, if you’re looking for a material that will survive in all kinds of weather, nylon should be your ideal choice. Polyester has higher tensile strength, making it excellent if you want your vest to be super secure on the water.
  • Polypro vs. Mesh: Polypro is known for being quick-drying, lightweight, and having a minimal stretch. Mesh fabric is the more breathable alternative to polypro. It lets air flow while protecting against wind chill and splashback.

Always consider the denier rating of each fabric before deciding on your next life jacket. Denier rating describes the fabric’s weight and can help you determine its durability and breathability.

Extra Features

Regardless of whether you prefer an inflatable life jacket with adjustable shoulder straps or a regular life vest with soft foam and side adjustments, you should always consider extra features, especially if you’ll be wearing it during fishing. 

  • Pockets and Loops: Most lifejackets for fishing have multiple front pockets, allowing you to store small fishing accessories. Some can even have loops so you can clip tools with a D-ring. As a rule of thumb, always choose a vest with as many pockets and loops as possible – they are handy to have!
  • Ventilation: Unless you prefer night fishing, always get an inflatable PFD with ventilation. Most fishing life vests have mesh ventilation at the lower back for breathability.
  • Reflective tape: If you’ll be casting until the break of dawn, make sure to get kayak PFDs with reflective tape. Yes, fishing vessels are mandated by law to keep their headlights on at night, but extra visibility is still helpful.

Comfort & Fit

Large, oversized life jackets may not keep your head above the water, thus increasing your chances of drowning. On the other hand, small jackets will make you feel uncozy. It can also burst open during inflation due to limited room for expansion.

What Are the Best Fishing Life Vests?

While numerous factors determine a perfect boating experience, selecting the best fishing life vest is always challenging. Let’s look at some of the finest PFDs to make your next fishing expedition safer. We reviewed hundreds of life vests to come up with these recommendations, but you should make any selection choices on your own to ensure the life vest meets your needs and you are comfortable with the instructions on how to use it and what safety features it has.

1. NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

This US Coast Guard Certified fishing PFD from NRS is one of the best life vests for anglers. At the front, two large zippered pockets can hold hooks, lures, and even a tackle box. Surprisingly, this lifejacket has a rod holder and a knife lash tab for your fishing convenience. The only downside? This life jacket is expensive.

NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

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2. Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

Onyx’s kayak fishing life jacket also boasts multiple loops and three pockets. It also has six adjustment straps (two on the shoulders and two on each side) for a snug fit. What makes it different from Chinook is the addition of the padded foam back which can come in handy if your kayak has a high back seat. It also has a mesh back panel that allows heat and moisture to escape.

It’s got a downside, though. The front pockets use velcro and are awkwardly angled forward that it will most likely get in the way when you are paddling.

Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

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3. Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Old Town Lure Angler Men’s PFD / Life Jacket

Old Town’s lifevest is a combination of NRS and Onyx. You get plenty of pockets at the front to store your fishing tools, licensing documents, and snacks all in one place! And you won’t have to worry about your stuff falling out because the pockets are deep and well secured.

A mesh back panel is also available to keep you cool as you paddle or fish. Like Onyx, there is a high padded back as well. However, it is a Type III jacket. As we’ve mentioned earlier, Type III jackets don’t turn an unconscious person face-up in the water.

Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Old Town Lure Angler Men's PFD / Life Jacket

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4. Stohlquist Fisherman Lifejacket

The Stohlquist Fisherman Lifejacket is your best option for comfortability and ease of use. Its foam backrest makes it comfortable to wear, while the ergonomic design reduces bulkiness. One issue with this vest is that it misses out on sizes small enough for kids or teens. So, if you have a child who loves to go fishing with you, you need to explore other options first.

Stohlquist Fisherman Lifejacket

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5. Onyx A/M-24 Absolute Outdoor Inflatable Life Vest

If you don’t need pockets and loops and would prefer a fishing life vest that is minimalist yet reliable, Onyx’s A/M-24 Absolute Outdoor Life Vest is a wonderful choice. And unlike other options on our list, this life vest has an automatic inflatable system that immediately kicks in if you fall into the water. If it doesn’t work, you can pull the handle, and it will inflate.

On the downside, this life vest lacks reflective patches that would make other boaters try to spot you in the dark or low-light conditions.

Onyx A/M-24 Absolute Outdoor Inflatable Life Vest

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6. Mustang Survival Industrial Mesh Vest

If you are on a tight budget, the Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jacket won’t empty your pockets. Although it is 30%-40% cheaper than other life vests on our list, you’ll get a life vest that is highly visible (it’s brightly colored and includes reflective panel squares on the front and back) and adjustable waist straps.

Although it has two large pockets, they only use velcro to keep your valuables where they should be.

Mustang Survival Industrial Mesh Vest

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7. Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jacket

Hardcore Water Sports’ life vest is also a US Coast Guard approved. Unlike other lifejackets, it comes with open sides, helping with breathability and mobility as you fish. Don’t worry, though. This design choice doesn’t affect fit since you get three adjustable straps with quick-release buckles.

The best advantage of this fishing life vest is its visibility. It’s brightly colored, making it easy for other anglers to spot you if you fall off your boat. Unfortunately, this jacket doesn’t come with any pockets.

Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jacket

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8. Kokatat Leviathan PFD

The Kokatat Leviathan PFD goes above and beyond to make sure your next fishing trip is not only safer but also more comfortable. It’s the only option on our list that has handwarmer pockets! This feature may not be suitable for most anglers, but you’ll appreciate it if you are night fishing or ice fishing.

If that isn’t enough, you can attach a tributary hydration system, which is handy if you want to stay hydrated without leaving your rod unattended. Other notable features include a total of 14 pockets and multiple side adjustments.

Kokatat Leviathan PFD

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Lifejackets Can Save Lives

Fishing can be dangerous. Always wear a fishing life vest even if you know how to swim or never have had an accident before. Remember, lifejackets can save lives!

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