Best PFDs and Life Jackets for Stand Up Paddleboarding | 2024

Best PFDs and Life Jackets For Stand Up Paddleboarding
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All sports and activities come with some level of risk. Thankfully, Stand Up Paddleboarding is a relatively safe sport. However, each year hundreds of people around the world are injured or killed in boating accidents – including on SUPs. Leashes offer some degree of safety for paddlers, however the number one commonality in all boating fatalities is the victim not wearing a PFD – Personal Flotation Device. PFDs, also called Life Jackets or Buoyancy Aids are specifically designed to help keep you afloat and safer on the water.

Life jackets have come a long way in design and comfort from the summer days at cub scout camp (though those horseshoe-style PFDs are still around if you want a bit of nostalgia!). Modern PFDs are cut and shaped to work well and without interference for specific activities like paddling. Inflatable PFDs can be worn like belts and are smaller than a bottle of water.

It’s also important to be aware of any local regulations regarding life jackets. Where I live, it is required by law to wear a PFD whenever you are using a paddleboard (or kayak, canoe, etc). In many other places it may be required to have one on board, but not necessarily wear it, but you should always Wear It!

PFDs are like seatbelts – the moment you realize you need one, it’s going to be too late to put one on. We here at inflatableboarder.com always wear our PFDs (and leashes) while paddling, whether it is required by local regulation or not, and we encourage you to do the same.

So we’ve gathered up a list of our favorite PFDs for different types of Stand Up Paddleboarding and for different types of Stand Up Paddleboarders. Whether you are SUP surfing, stomping some whitewater, or just out for a relaxing cruise, these Life Jackets are up for the task of keeping you safe and comfortable.

Best PFDs and Life Jackets Comparison Chart

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Top PFDs and Life Jackets

PFDBEST FOR

PFD TYPEWARRANTYPRICE
Onyx M-16 Belt

Onyx M-16 Belt

Nixy Pro 3k Carbon Fiber
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Best Inflatable Belt Pack
Type V Inflatable1 Year
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Astral YTV

Astral YTV

Astral YTV
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Best Low Profile

Type III
Foam
Lifetime

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Mustang Survival Khimera

Mustang Survival Khimera

Mustang Survival Khimera
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Best Low Profile


Type III
Inflatable + Foam
1 Year

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Astral E-Linda

Astral E-Linda

Astral E-Linda
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Best Women’s PFD
Type III
Foam
Lifetime



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Astral Sturgeon

Astral Sturgeon

Astral Sturgeon
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Best for Fishing

Type III FoamLifetime

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Kokatat Neptune

Kokatat Neptune

Kokatat Neptune
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Best for Expedition/Touring

Type III FoamLifetime


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Kokatat Hustle R

Kokatat Hustle R

Kokatat Hustle R” Ride
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Best for Whitewater

Type V FoamLifetime

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Onyx MoveVent

Onyx MoveVent

Onyx MoveVent
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Best on a Budget
Type III Foam1 Year



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Onyx M-16: Best Inflatable Belt Pack PFD

Onyx M-16: Best Inflatable Belt Pack PFD
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The Onyx M-16 belt pack PFD is a manually-inflatable PFD that is worn around the waist. Inflatable belt packs are a great, out of the way, solution for experienced paddlers who are confident swimmers and paddle in open water. The Onyx M-16 is a manual inflatable – so it will only deploy when you pull the “ripcord” or if you open the belt pouch yourself. A CO2 canister will then inflate the PFD and you place a retainer strap around the back of your head. There’s also a manual inflation tube you can use if the CO2 canister doesn’t work, or if you want to increase the amount of buoyancy.

Bottom Line:The Onyx M-16 inflatable PFD is one of the smallest, lightest, most out-of-the-way PFDs available for adults.


Astral YTV: Best Low Profile PFD

Astral YTV: Best Low Profile PFD
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The Astral YTV is an ultra-slim, fully buoyant, PFD. If there’s a thinner full-flotation Type III PFD on the market, we haven’t found it yet. The lightweight foam panels hug the body comfortably and the extremely large arm holes make the YTV feel like it’s not even there while paddling. We do wish the pockets were a little bigger, but if you’re looking for the lowest profile PFD filling it up with gadgets and gizmos kind of defeats the point. The YTV is my PFD of choice for quick paddle trips and river surfing (prone or paddle).

Bottom Line:If you are looking for a full-flotation, but very low-profile, PFD, the Astral YTV is the answer you are looking for.


Mustang Survival Khimera: Best Low Profile PFD

Mustang Survival Khimera: Best Low Profile PFD
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The Mustang Survival Khimera shares the same honorific as the Astral YTV for Best Low Profile PFD. The Khimera is actually even thinner and lower-profile than the YTV, however it’s not fully buoyant on its own. There’s only half as much foam needed to meet the USCG Type III flotation requirements, but this benchmark is left in the dust when you activate the CO2-inflated inner chamber. Because it is a partially-inflatable PFD, the Khimera is also not certified to be used by kids under 16 years old in the US.

Bottom Line:If you are looking for the lightest, thinnest PFD that still has some inherent flotation aid, and full flotation with the pull of a cord, the Khimera is just the thing for you.


Astral E-Linda: Best PFD for Women

Astral E-Linda: Best PFD for Women
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Astral Designs E-Linda PFD is made specifically for women. In addition to the high quality and excellent comfort found in all of Astral’s PFDs, the E-Linda features a vented back panel and form-cut front panels to provide a better, more comfortable, fit for women paddlers. The front zip entry is quick and easy to use, and the side pockets are easily accessible and expandable.

Bottom Line:The Astral E-Linda is a comfortable and functional form-fitting PFD for women.


Astral Sturgeon: Best for SUP Fishing

Astral Sturgeon: Best for SUP Fishing
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The Astral Sturgeon fishing PFD makes it easy to keep everything you need within easy reach, and helps minimize dropping smaller tackle, flies, and other accessories. There are several lash-tab points around the front of the Sturgeon for hanging zingers and retractable cords for quick use items like nippers and pliers. However the bulk of the front is dominated by a large clamshell pocket. I prefer this to multiple small zipper pockets for a few reasons. First, the interior still has organizational pockets and straps so you can keep your equipment tidy and in place, but still see it all at a glance. Next, the clamshell opens to 90° and stops, so it acts like a large, hands-free platform to work from (and catch any dropped lures, sinkers, bobbers, etc.).
The side zip entry maximizes the space for the front pouch and still makes it easy to get in and out of your PFD.

Bottom Line:The Astral Sturgeon is our pick for the best PFD for SUP fishing thanks to its comfort and functional design.


Kokatat Neptune: Best PFD for Expedition/Touring SUP

Kokatat Neptune: Best PFD for Expedition/Touring SUP
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The Kokatat Neptune PFD is made for the long-haul. The Neptune is fully adjustable around the waist, chest, and shoulders to create a near-custom fit, and thanks to the front-entry zipper, once you get comfortable, you won’t have to readjust again just to get it off and on. The Neptune has several pockets on the front for your essentials, including a dedicated pocket for a marine VHF radio and lash tab for a strobe light (critical safety equipment for ocean expeditions). But where the neptune really shines is in its ability to work with a slew of other accessories from Kokatat like a 1.5L hydration bladder and large back pocket that integrate seamlessly with the Neptune. You can even add a quick-release belt for your leash.

Did we mention it also comes in a women’s-specific design?

Bottom Line:The Kokatat Neptune is completely customizable and built for your next great adventure.


Kokatat Hustle R: Best PFD for Whitewater SUP

Kokatat Hustle R: Best PFD for Whitewater SUP
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The Kokatat Hustle R is a lower-profile Type V whitewater/river rescue PFD designed to give you the most comfort and flexibility possible. The low-riding, low-profile design allows for complete shoulder and arm mobility while the eight adjustment straps keep the Hustle R firmly and comfortably on your torso. The front clamshell pocket has enough room for your instant-access needs, and there is a lash tab under the pocket designed to hold a river knife out of the way when you don’t need it, but easily accessible in an emergency. The Hustle R shares basically the same design as the Hustle PFD, but with the addition of a quick-release belt and steel O-ring. This is a must-have for whitewater SUP paddlers to safely use their leash on the river (never attach a leash to your ankle or leg while paddling in moving water).

Bottom Line:The Kokatat Hustle R is the low-profile, high range of motion, PFD of choice for whitewater SUP.


Onyx MoveVent: Best PFD on a Budget

Onyx MoveVent: Best PFD on a Budget
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PFDs made for specific purposes like whitewater or expedition paddling are not only often way more intricate than most people need or want, but also way more expensive than what most people want to pay. As the owner of several whitewater PFDs (among others), I get that! For the casual paddler just looking to stay safe while having a great time on the water, simpler is much, much better. The Onyx MoveVent is everything a PFD needs to be without all of the extra bells and whistles you don’t need. The segmented foam panels wrap comfortably around the body and the highly ventilated back section keeps you cool while standing on your board. There is one thing that the Onyx MoveVent has that no other PFD on this list does – a whistle. Whistles are one of the best signaling devices when on the water, and everyone should carry one attached to their PFD.

Bottom Line:The Onyx MoveVent is a comfortable, ventilated PFD that will help keep you safe and won’t break the bank.


PFDs and Life Jackets for SUP FAQs

If I can swim and use a leash, why do I need a PFD?

The number one common factor in all boating fatalities in the US is not wearing a PFD. Leashes can help keep you connected to your board, but leashes (especially if older and not properly cared for) can break, and paddleboards can break or deflate in extreme circumstances. Wearing a PFD is a great way to keep you afloat if your leash comes off (or you forgot it!) or something else happens. Leashes also don’t help you while you are in the water – you still need to be able to get back on your board. If you are incapacitated by cold water, medical condition, or something else, a PFD will help keep you floating high in the water. Cold water, even water as “warm” as 50F/10C can cause Cold Shock response and incapacitation of even the best swimmers in as little as a minute. PFDs are like seat belts, by the time you know you need one, it’s too late to put it on. Lastly, wearing a PFD (or at least having one with you) may be a regulatory requirement, and nobody likes to get a ticket while they’re out having fun on the water!

Should I use an Inflatable PFD or a Full Flotation PFD?

Choosing whether to use an inflatable or an inherently buoyant (full flotation) PFD will come down to three factors: Age, Ability, and Conditions.

Age: in the United States, the US Coast Guard only certifies inflatable PFD’s to be used by people 16 years old or older. Sorry kiddos, but if you can’t drive, you can’t use an inflatable PFD.

Ability: Inflatable PFDs should only be used by those paddlers who are comfortable and confident in the water conditions in which they will be paddling. Inflatable PFDs don’t provide any flotation aid until activated, and then must be re-charged with a new CO2 canister before they can be used again.

Conditions: Inflatable PFDs are great for those warm days out on open, deep water. If you are paddling in colder water, shallow water, or in conditions you wouldn’t be comfortable swimming in, then you should opt for an inherently buoyant/Full Flotation PFD.

What “Type” PFD do I need?

The US Coast Guard certifies five Types of PFDs based on the amount and placement of flotation and the environment in which they are intended for use. Most Stand Up Paddleboarders will use an inflatable or inherently buoyant Type III PFD, or an inflatable or inherently buoyant Type V PFD. All of the PFDs in our list are certified as either Type III or Type V by the USCG.

Type I – Offshore/Abandon Ship PFDs with at least 22lb of flotation for use in rough conditions where rescue may be slow.

Type II – Near Shore PFDs with at least 15.5lb of flotation for use in calm or inland waters with a good chance for fast rescue.

Type III – Activity-specific PFDs with at least 15.5lb of flotation and designed to compliment your activity. For use on calm or inland waters with a good chance for fast rescue.

Type IV – Throwable PFDs like ring buoys and certified seat cushions.

Type V – Special-use PFDs with at least 15.5lb of flotation, including certain types of paddling PFDs, and certified flotation work wear.

There are other sets of regulations for PFDs in other parts of the world. CE/ISO standards requirements are commonly used in many other countries. Always make sure that whatever PFD you are using is certified for use in your region.

Final Thoughts – Best PFDs for SUP

The best PFD is the one that you’ll wear. It’s worthwhile to try on several different types and sizes of PFDs to find the ones that fit you most comfortably. A comfortable PFD becomes unnoticeable after just a few minutes and wearing a PFD can save your life. Paddle safe!

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