Since 1854 seafarers have had the security of knowing if they went down, they had a tool that could potentially save their lives … the life jacket. There have been many upgrades since then including their name, now called personal floatation devices by professionals (normal people still call them life jackets).
Now, there are many different designs of life jackets to choose from. Some are made for women; some are made for kids. There are models designed for sailing, for fly fishing and any type of water sports you can think of. So, which one is the best for you? What style should you be looking for?
In this guide, we are going to break down several of the best life jackets of 2019 as well as give you the tools to make your potential lifesaving decision with confidence. So, let’s get to it!
Best Life Jacket Reviews
O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest
O’Neill is one of the brands every surfer knows but they may be unfamiliar outside of the surfing world. Started in San Francisco in the early 1950s this brand has grown to become one of the premier water sports accessories and clothing manufacturers. Built with innovation and functionality, this life jacket is imbued with the spirit of O’Neill.
Made specifically for men this lightweight jacket has a lot to offer including a seal of approval from the Coast Guard. The features of this jacket include:
- Lightweight design
- Quad buckle closure
- Enlarged armholes for better mobility
- Enhanced drainage system provided by the built-in mesh
- Reinforced stitching
- High quality and durable exterior designed with a polyester coating
What's to like about the O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest
O’Neill has made a life jacket that does its job without sacrificing comfort and security. You will forget that you even have this PFD on as you enjoy whatever water sport you are into, and with durability like no other, this will be your floatation device for years to come. This means that you will look awesome as not only is this a high-performance life jacket but is a fashionable one at that. With a wide variety of colors and sizes to choose from there is a Superlite USCG life vest for everyone.
What's not to like about the O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest
Though versatility is one of the words you would use with this life jacket, that does not extend to size adjustment. There are many reviews that complain of the reduced ability to adjust the size of the vest once on. Also, if you are looking for thicker padding, which some consider necessary to have a great buoyancy, then this vest is not the one for you.
In order to make this vest lightweight for a wider range of motion, the team at O'Neill opted for thinner padding, and this may not work for everyone. The only other common complaint is that the vests tend to run small and short. Even with these drawbacks, this is a nice-looking well-designed vest that could be perfect for your needs.
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
Onyx’s mission statement is to create durable gear that keeps you safe when you are on the water so that you can enjoy your time without worry or stress. Equipment like the MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports vest is a perfect example.
The MoveVent paddle sports life vest uses innovative technology to enhance many functions of this vest. Some of the amazing features you get with this vest are:
- Increased range of motion with its lightweight design
- Built-in mesh for increased airflow
- Increased comfort with the addition of bubble foam
- Constructed of high grade and durable materials (ripstop/nylon oxford)
- Reflective material included for added visibility in low/no light situations
- Zipper pockets that are expandable with an improved drainage system
- Safety whistle included
What's to like about the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
The MoveVent paddle sports life vest is a lightweight and durable vest. It fits well and offers an increased level of mobility due to its innovative and thoughtful design. You will also stay cool as you paddle your heart out because the team at Onyx has added mesh ventilation to both the front and back of this vest.
With the increased airflow, you will feel cool no matter what and that will help you enjoy your time on the water even more. Not only does this vest offer high performance but it is designed with increased security in mind.
With the inclusion of a safety whistle as well as the reflective material used in this vest’s construction, you can rest easy knowing you are set for any emergency you may experience. So, if you are looking for a great vest that offers all that and an easily adjustable fit then check out Onyx’s MoveVent Paddle Sports Life Vest.
What's not to like about the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest
There is so much about this vest that shines but there are a few common complaints that we need to address here.
There are many reviews from customers that mention a common occurrence of the vest riding up while sitting in your kayak. This could be very uncomfortable and could be a reason to look at other models. If, however, this is not a major concern, maybe this is the right vest for you.
Stearns Classic Series Vest
This division of Coleman, Stearns, like its umbrella company, specializes in camping equipment and other sporting goods. Stripped down to the basics of what you need from a life vest the Stearns Classic series vest does what it needs to do without the distraction of too many extra bells and whistles. It does what life jackets were designed to do — save your life.
Simple, yet effective — that is what the Stearns Classic Series Life Vest is all about. Stripped down to the basics this low-profile vest comes with these features:
- Seal of approval from the USCG
- Adjustable chest straps (3 webbed)
- Body constructed of durable nylon and PE foam
- Open side design
What's to like about the Stearns Classic Series Vest
Though this vest may not be as stylish or tricked out as other vests, the Stearns Classic Series Life Vest does the job. Allowing a great range of motion while keeping a snug fit for safety, the vest is a versatile piece of equipment. Being able to be used in many different water adventure scenarios, the vest offers so much for 3 times less the price than some of its competitors.
What's not to like about the Stearns Classic Series Vest
Now we have already mentioned that this is a stripped-down vest, not offering any extras like storage capacity, but there are a few fit issues that many users mention when reviewing this vest. There is a consistent issue with the vest riding up and fitting short.
There is also an issue with extended sun exposure weakening the material which results in easy tearing. Taking care of your vest is especially vital with this model. But if you can overlook those few issues and are looking for a budget-friendly effective vest then taking a chance on the Stearns vest is a good bet.
Stohlquist Youth Fit Life Jacket
This relatively young company founded by a couple from Colorado brings attention to detail when it comes to efficiency and durability. When you are looking for safety gear for your child, that is exactly the focus you want.
With their focus on functionality over fashion the team at Stohlquist have given you a vest with the following features:
- Simple adjustability with front straps (3 bundles)
- Enhanced range of motion from the use of molded foam
- Decreased thickness of back panels for lessened obstruction with seat backs
- Body of vest constructed with high-grade nylon
- USCG approved sea level buoyancy
What's to like about the Stohlquist Youth Fit Life Jacket
This youth vest must be a well-designed vest to get the approval of the USCG — and it is. Easily adjustable with a sea-level buoyancy, the Stohlquist vest is a great choice to ensure that your kid is safe during their water activities. Your child will be safe and secure and still have a good range of motion which means that they will be able to enjoy their time in the water.
What's not to like about the Stohlquist Youth Fit Life Jacket
There is not much to find fault with this youth vest. The one issue that many seem to experience is the fact that this vest tends to ride up when in the water. If you can find a way to work around this issue, this Stohlquist vest is a great offer.
O’Brien Women’s Impulse Neo Life Vest
O’Brien has been crafting water sports equipment for over half a century with a focus on making quality products that last a long time. Wanting your memories and time sent on the water to be worry free the team at O'Brien brings you the Women’s Impulse Neo Life Vest.
Spending time to make water sports equipment that takes away the worry and allow you to just enjoy your time on the water, O’Brien has designed this women’s vest with the following features:
- Neoprene outer shell (1.5mm) that is lightweight and environment-friendly
- Extra security with both a zipper and buckle closure
- Front and back hinge points
- USCG approved
- Enlarged armholes for enhanced range of motion
What's to like about the O’Brien Women’s Impulse Neo Life Vest
This vest form O'Brien is a great choice for women if you are looking for a durable floatation device that does not ride up. With a wide selection of colors, you can have all the safety a life vest should afford you while maintaining a great level of mobility and look good too!
What's not to like about the O’Brien Women’s Impulse Neo Life Vest
Though there are many pluses to this vest, there are a few issues with the fit that need to be discussed here. It is hard to find any form of clothing that will fit all body types of women and so when you read the reviews you will see that this is just as true with life events as it is with jeans.
This vest has a tendency to run small so adjusting the size you purchase is advisable. It is also heavier than other models on the market. These are issues that are small but the fact that there are some reports of the foam shifting in the back could be an issue that many cannot overlook.
It should be noted that this is not a universal issue with this product so if you like the other features and positive qualities you may have found the perfect floatation device for you.
Making sure you find the perfect life vest for you can be very important. After all, your safety is the most important thing to consider when venturing into any form of water sport. With the following buyer’s guide, we will break down the key factors that should contribute to making your decision.
The type of vest is one of the biggest concerns when beginning your research on the perfect vest for your needs, especially considering that there are many types available. Here are the types that you should be looking at and considering based on your needs:
These are the types you will find on lifeboats. Meant to be able to float no matter what, these are what you would need in a real serious life and death situation.
Just like Type I but a smaller version.
This type is good for water sports as it offers a great level of buoyancy and mobility.
These are the donut shaped life preservers that are thrown into the water when there is a serious situation.
A smaller version of Type III, these life vests are used for certain water activities like windsurfing.
When you are considering fit, there are two things to think about — the size and fit. Most vests have two options when it comes to sizing — one size fits all, and individual sizes. This depends on the manufacturer. The individual sizes offer an easier way to ensure the actual fit.
When finding the perfect fit, you want to make sure that once on the vest does not come over your nose and that you have enough range of motion to be able to enjoy your activity.
Most jackets come made in one of two materials, each with their own benefits.
This material offers a higher level of buoyancy and often a better overall fit. This fabric also has a better stretch and stores the heat that your body radiates which makes this material great for water sports.
Nylon may not be as buoyant as neoprene, but it is lightweight budget-friendly material.
All jackets will have a weight range that they can handle. Finding the one that is right for you is key to making sure you get the best performing vest for you. The other side of this is considering the weight of the vest itself and how much it will affect your range of motion while enjoying whatever water sport you are into.
You are wearing the vest, right? In case of an emergency, you want to be able to float to safety. The average adult will need 12 pounds of buoyancy but make sure that you consider your body mass when looking at the buoyancy levels. The less body fat you have the more you will need. The perfect buoyancy will keep your head completely above the water level.
There is inevitably a lot of questions that have sprung up as you researched life vests, and which one will fit your needs. So, we have compiled some of the most common questions for you below.
How to Clean Life Jackets
Keeping your vest clean is key. By keeping it clean you can extend the life of your life vest. Here are the steps you need to follow to clean your vest:
- Hose down your vest to remove surface dirt.
- Fill a bucket with cold water and mild detergent.
- Take a stiff brush and scrub the vest thoroughly.
- Make sure to concentrate on the straps with the brush as well as opening and closing and tightening and loosening the straps to get out as much dirt as possible
- Then begin submerging the vest in your bucket and wiping down with a sponge. Repeat the process several times.
- Take a high-powered nozzle and spray the vest with your hoes to get rid of the remaining soap left.
- Hang or place the vest in a well-ventilated spot to air dry. Make sure it is not in direct sunlight as that can cause the vest to warp.
How to Put on a Life Jacket
Even though putting on a vest seems to be a super easy task to complete, there are common mistakes when executing it. Below is a video to help ensure that you do not have any issues:
How Do Life Jackets Work?
Life jackets work on the principle of buoyancy and are made of materials that float easily. Buoyancy is achieved by air being trapped in the materials of your jacket and because air weighs less than water the jacket rises to the top of the water and keeps the jacket and its wearer afloat.
How Should a Life Jacket Fit?
According to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines, it should fit comfortably snug. In other words, your life jacket should fit tight but not too tight. If you can’t get it snug, then it is too big and if you have lots of room even after you have tightened as tight as you can, then it is too large.
What Age Do You Have to Wear a Life Jacket?
By law, anyone who is under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket when in a moving water vehicle. But there are life jackets for older children as well and for safety purposes, all people on a vessel should be provided one. When participating in any water sports or activities, it is up to the parent, but a good rule of thumb for all children to wear one.
Making sure you and your family are safe is perhaps the most important thing when it comes to planning your vacations or downtime activities. Hopefully with this guide we have made choosing the right life jacket just a little bit easier for you.
Out of all the available options of the best life jackets, our favorite is the Stohlquist Youth Fit Life Jacket thanks to its great fit, easy mobility, and it’s simple adjustability with the 3 straps.
Plus, who can forget that it has a great design that has the approval of the USCG for sea level buoyancy. With features like these, you can relax with the knowledge that your family will be safe every time that they are near or on the water.