PFDs Under Review
Whether they are called buoyancy aids, personal flotation devices, PFDs, or just plain old life jackets, the fact remains that these things were built to save lives. Oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and ponds can provide great fun with outdoor sport, and buoyancy aids help ensure that the user returns to shore.
Should their kayak capsize, canoe tip, paddle board wobble or what have you, buoyancy aids help water sports enthusiasts keep their heads above water. Each PFD is different, and there are limitations, but in general these accessories keeps the user floating long enough, so that they can swim to shore, be plucked by their rescuers, or affect self-rescue themselves. Dozens of companies exist that currently provide quality buoyancy aids. We have scoured through them to bring you the best 5:
Whether it be kayaking, boating or paddle boarding, this vest has what it takes to provide the user with a great day out on the water. There is virtually no movement restriction due to the large arm holes.
The vest does come with only a single pocket, but it is fairly big and is ergonomically located on the front. It seems that focus with the Onyx buoyancy aid was to provide the most comfortable user experience to the widest array of user types. However, as with most generalist products, the vest does not excel in any particular category or activity.
There are no special features or functions that bring the “cool” factor. With that being said, this is a great all-around PFD, although it is a bit hard to see in the water with the muted colors (light grey with aqua accents, and dark grey with orange accents). Visibility is helped a tad by the presence of reflector strips on the shoulder straps.
What makes it great:
- large arm holes for unrestricted paddling
- single, large (expandable) storage pocket
- Comfortable user experience
|Sizes||X-small/small | medium/large | X-large/2X-large|
|Colors||Orange, purple, yellow, aqua|
|Specialty||All water sports|
As the name suggests, this buoyancy aid was developed specifically for anglers in all water conditions. The Fisherman PFD has plenty of storage for lures, lines, hooks and other tackle that an angler may need, to try and land the big one.
Usually one would want a loud and bright color when it comes to buoyancy aids, as it aids in being seen by would be rescuers. However, this model has darker and more muted colors. Stohlquist had the needs of an angler in mind rather than that of the average user. Muted tones decrease the odds of spooking a fish, and so the colors of the vest help the angler blend in with their surroundings.
The design of the Fisherman PFD is such that it gives the angler multiple points of adjustment to give them as snug a fit as possible, this is logical since fishing usually requires the angler to swing their arms to cast and retrieve, a loose vest would be detrimental. The downside is that the fishing related features (namely all the various pockets for tackle and gear storage) makes the vest bulkier than most. Also, the tight fit does not allow much airflow, which is not usually a problem for fishing sessions, but can be uncomfortable during long trips.
What makes it great:
- Plenty of storage for tackle
- Designed for unrestricted paddling
- Plethora of adjustments allows for a good fit
- Color is purposefully muted to decrease the chance of being spotted by fish
|Sizes||small/medium | large/X-large | Universal Plus|
Most notable about the Granby Splash Dog Life Jacket are the duel rescue handles on the back of the device.
These handles are of particular importance if you own a dog of any size. In fact if you’ve ever tried to retrieve your dog from water you’ll know the difference in weight when the dog is wet, especially if long haired.
Attempting to rescue the dog using just one arm when the life jacket has just one handle can be both unstable (if you’re on a floating vessel) and strength sapping.
Using 2 handles makes the rescue much easier. Also, the handles are positioned at 90 degrees to the spine of the life jacket, this places the hands and arms in a neutral position, which is easier on the body and a more natural movement when lifting.
The foam panels provide good buoyancy with extra extra lift under the neck to assist in keeping your dogs head out of the water.
Outward Hound provide a sizing chart prior to purchase to ensure good sizing.
What makes it great:
- Duel Handle Rescue for larger dogs
- Extra neck lift
- Good sizing guide
- Bright colors
|Sizes||X-small, small, (medium , large, X-large - duel handle system)|
Kokatat is known throughout the paddling industry for developing some of the most trusted PFDs around. Take the Orbit Tour, for example. This vest is not your casual run of the mill water activities PFD.
It was created and developed with the active paddler in mind. The Orbit Tour sits higher up on the chest and does not restrict torso movement.
This also means that it uses less material and is therefore lighter than many of its competitors. Besides the shoulder straps and an adjustable strap on either side of the torso, there are practically no hindrances to arm movement to speak of.
The arm holes are huge and allow paddlers to exercise their full range of motion. This practically makes the Orbit Tour a shoe in for activities like kayaking, paddle boarding and canoeing.
In terms of safety and visibility, the Orbit Tour has a large yellow or red bar of fabric in the front and has reflector strips that run the entire length of both shoulder straps. To bump up the comfort factor, Kokatat has hidden the shoulder adjustment ladder locks to prevent uncomfortable chafing and pinching.
Some may consider the Orbit Tour a minimalist PFD, this is mostly true. But it also means that it lacks real estate for things like storage. A modest duplex pocket allows the paddler to keep only the barest essentials at hand. One of the greatest things about this PFD is that it is light, which was achieved by cutting out large portions of material. However, this presents a bit of a conundrum as it also means that the amount of buoyant material has been significantly reduced. This translates to a theoretical decrease in the actual amount of weight it can actually float.
What makes it great:
- Not as bulky as competitors
- Highly visible due to shoulder reflectors
- Smaller form factor means greater range of motion
|Sizes||small/medium , large/X-large|
|Specialty||Paddle sports - kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing|
This also means that it is highly visible when in the water. This is aided by slim but strategically placed reflective material. However, the big draw for the Xipe comes in the form of the big pocket at the back. This pocket is actually an integrated hydration pack.
When not using it with a hydration bladder, it can be used as a large storage compartment, making the Xipe the vest with the greatest amount of storage in our list. The fit is made secure with an adjustable cinch belt for the waist, to prevent the PFD from riding up. However, this feature may be uncomfortable during longer paddling sessions
Things we like:
- Hydration pack
- Highly visible and stylish colours
- Several large storage compartments
- Reflective detailing allows for greater visibility
|Sizes||small/medium, X-large, 2X-large|
|Specialty||Long duration water activity (hydration pack)|
Buoyancy aids come in all shapes and sizes. The right buoyancy aid will depend mostly on the type of activity that the user wants to engage in on the water. There are also other factors, like how the PFD fits, how much the user wants to carry with them on their paddle, and safety features that will help the user while out on the water.
Mobility and Comfort
The quickest way to ruin a fun day out on the water is with an ill-fitting buoyancy aid. The vest (the majority of PFDs are of the vest type) should be shaped and formed in a way that makes the paddler as comfortable as possible even after wearing it for hours. The fact is that there really is no time limit for water activities. A paddle can last a half hour or weeks in the case of expeditions. The PFD should not restrict movement or feel cumbersome to the user.
Convenience is a luxury not much afforded when paddling out on the water. However, pockets and storage compartments can totally change the paddling experience, particularly long excursions, where a minimal part of the day will be spent on land. Accessing everything from maps, to energy bars to smartphones quickly, without compromising the balance of the craft, is a real godsend.
Buoyancy aids were built for safety. If keeping the user afloat is its first priority, then it can be argued that making the user seen in the water is its second. Brightly colored PFDs with reflectors are the ideal combination for buoyancy aids, as they help turn a small and obscure object in the water, into something that practically begs for attention.
When it comes to the world of buoyancy aids, life jackets and PFDs, there are plenty of options in terms of design, uses, colors, shapes and sizes.
Some may have so much storage space that you can pack an entire day’s worth of supplies, but there is a compromise on comfort and movement. Some may be too colorful to fish in, but others not visible enough to be seen for rescue. But at the end of the day, a PFD must do two things really well, and that is to let the user enjoy their activity with as little hindrance as possible, and the other, and most important, is that it must play its part in the user’s safety.
This is why our two favourites are the Onyx MoveVent Paddle Sports Life Jacket and the Kokatat’s Orbit Tour PFD. The Orbit Tour was specifically built for the paddler to be unencumbered while riding the fine line between comfort and safety. The Orbit Tours unique cut allows the user the greatest amount of mobility when compared to others on this list.
Striking the delicate balance between comfort, safety and convenience is what really set these two apart from the rest.