Even though I’ve been paddleboarding for a while now, I still wipe out now and then, and this is why I ensure I’ve my life vest with me when heading out into the waters.
Having emergency floatation is vital for personal safety. I consider it much like wearing a seatbelt in your car. You don’t go out expecting to need it, but you buckle up anyway in case the unexpected happens.
After all, we’ve come across too many stories of paddlers who ventured out on flat water in calm weather and found themselves in emergency situations when the weather turned ugly.
But when finding a SUP personal floatation device (PFD), safety isn’t the only factor to consider. It’s also necessary that your PFD offers a perfect fit. It shouldn’t feel restrictive or limit your movement.
You should also be aware that you can’t just wear any old life vest when riding a SUP. This is because traditional life jackets can feel restrictive when paddling and could limit your movement. I also find regular jackets clumsy, hot, and sweaty when temperatures are high.
Second, traditional life jackets are, for the most part, concerned with safety rather than function. While safety is a priority, it isn’t the only factor to consider when paddleboarding.
On a SUP, you need to move your arms a lot when paddling, and to accommodate this, you need a floatation device with a cut-away design for freedom of movement.
Now, if you’re new to paddleboarding, you’ll need to get familiar with the distinct PFD options you can choose from. And, fortunately for you, we provide you here with a breakdown of the best PFDs on the market.
Table of Contents
The Best Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) for SUP For The Money
#1 Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket - Editor's Choice
Topping our list of the best floatation devices for SUPs is the Stohlquist Edge, a low profile PFD that offers a perfect fit and guarantees safety in different water conditions.
This life jacket comes with several awesome features, making it a great long-term investment for anyone who truly loves water and is enthusiastic about water sports like paddling, kayaking, and canoeing.
But, is it the right life jacket for you?
Features and Benefits
Low profile design
One of the things I like most about this jacket is the low profile design.
The curves and beveled edges are all in just the right locations and have been designed so that they won’t inhibit the full motion of your arms while paddling. And because of this, you’ll find paddling a breeze.
What about the shoulder straps and arms?
The shoulders don’t chaff, and even after extended periods of paddling you won’t find that your arms are sore from rubbing the buckles on the straps.
The PFD doesn’t cause any abrasions whatsoever, yet it offers a full range of motion required for the necessary arm movement.
We like the slim fit for this PFD that keeps it comfortable for all-day paddling.
One element that contributes to this being our choice is the graded sizing which ensures that small sizes don’t have as much bulk as the larger sizes.
This allows for an ideal fit and buoyancy according to body type. For instance, the S/M size has 15 pounds of buoyancy, while the L/XL has 16 pounds, and the XXL has 17 pounds. This is a really smart way of matching weight to size for the perfect fit.
Plus, the model comes with a host of adjustable closures, ensuring that it is possible to achieve a custom fit.
With that being said, most users we reviewed complained about the sizing being less than perfect and also bulkiness on the PFD. So, you may want to keep that in mind during your purchase.
As far as buoyancy goes, the foam padding on this PFD does an excellent job of keeping your face up in the water.
The PFD offers a little over 15 lbs of buoyancy, which is more than enough to slow you down by raising your chest in the water.
While the buoyancy arrangement will take a little bit of getting used to, it’s effective to push your chest backward and keep your face out of the water.
It’s also worth pointing out that the coast guard approves this vest, so you can paddle with confidence knowing the device won’t fail you.
Another convenient feature on the Edge that you’re going to love is the spacious clamshell pocket. Here, you can keep your cell phone, keys, music pod, sunscreen, or just anything else waterproof for your paddling convenience.
#2 Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Life Vest - Best for Comfortable Fit
Our runner-up pick, the Onyx MoveVent, is another flexible life vest that will keep you comfortable all day long.
More importantly, it guarantees safety and will keep you from drowning in the event that you slip and fall into the water.
Features and Design
Paddling with this vest is not restrictive and it won’t impede your movements.
For me, it’s a spacious option, and I love how it leaves plenty of room around my neck and shoulders when I wear it.
I’m able to paddle free of any restriction on the movements of my arms.
Even better, it doesn’t result in chafing or rubbing, even after hours of paddling.
This life vest is also uniquely designed to conform to the shape of your torso, so it feels more like an extension of your body, moving as you do. It’s quite a handy feature, especially when paddling, as the vest doesn’t get in the way at all.
As with our top pick, the Onyx MoveVent is a durable vest, with Oxford Nylon and rip-stop nylon bolstering the vest’s overall durability.
Snagging the vest on rocks or boulder, or using it in rough waters does little to no harm to the vest and won’t compromise its integrity.
The Onyx MoveVent is available in a host of sizes, letting you choose dimensions ranging from 28 to 56 inches around the chest.
This way, it’s hard not to find a size offering the perfect fit for you.
Speaking of fit, this PFD offers a pretty good fit.
It can accommodate a whole range of chests, and added to this, it’s possible to adjust the torso height for a customized fit.
Additionally, the two-panel design separated by heavy-duty front zippers keeps the PFD firmly buckled on your chest, cutting down on the vest riding up as you paddle, while at the same time allowing plenty of arm movement.
Meshed back for breathability
Onyx jackets also come with a mesh lower back area that serves two purposes.
First, it allows the free flow of air through the vest and will keep you from sweating while removing any excess moisture that has accumulated on your body.
Second, the mesh design reaches high up on your back to accommodate a high-end kayak seat. More importantly, the jacket follows through with your movements for excellent mobility,
So, whether you’re just relaxing, sitting back while sailing, or actively paddling, the vest won’t impede any of your arm movements.
If you need a life vest with as much buoyancy as possible, I would happily recommend the Onyx MoveVent.
It has a buoyancy rating of 16.4 lbs, and, when in water, it’ll ride up under your chin and keep you floating in all conditions, provided you’ve adjusted it properly.
The vest also supports strong waders, and if you like taking your paddleboard onto rough water, this might just be the option for you.
#3 NRS Ninja PFD - Versatile Option
The NRS Ninja PFD is such a low-profile and comfortable PFD that you’ll forget you’ve it on.
Perfect for a variety of users, this life vest accommodates the needs of paddlers and freestyle kayakers, boaters, and other water sports enthusiasts.
And much like our previous picks, it is a comfortable option offering uninhibited freedom of movement.
Features and Benefits
One thing I like about this PFD is that it doesn’t get in the way at all when paddling.
With a low cut design around the arms and chest, it’s easy to paddle fast or even change positions with no restrictions whatsoever.
This life vest isn’t completely flat, but it’s not bulky either, and so strapping it on your chest is a breeze.
Durability is something you don’t have to worry about on the NRS Ninja.
With a reliable ripstop nylon construction, this option is sturdy as it can survive usage on rough waters or have you running on class 2/3 rivers without tearing or getting damaged.
It also doesn’t leak easily, and when taken good care of, it’s something that should last you for a lifetime.
Size and fit
The fit of the NRS Ninja tends to incline towards larger guys, although it perfectly accommodates shorter torsos as well.
It offers a snug fit for all, though shorter users might have some challenge in finding their right fit.
However, if the vest is within your size range, you’ll be glad you picked this option because it hugs you comfortably without restricting your movement.
Plus, you’ll appreciate the side and shoulder adjustment closures that are simple to use and allow you to achieve a more tailored and snug fit.
The NRS Ninja is a minimal PFD, with the foam panels with a buoyancy of 16.5 lbs helping to keep you afloat. Yet, the foam doesn’t get in the way of your arm movements.
That said, it’s important to know that if you’re in deep water and at risk of being hit and knocked out, the NRS is not the best choice of PFD.
The NRS is simply designed to offer additional buoyancy and not optimized for keeping you in the perfect position when knocked out.
#4 Eyson Inflatable PFD - Best for Experienced Paddles
The Eyson is a snazzy looking inflatable that comes with a host of accessories such as reflective bands, an emergency whistle, and a rescue strap to make every second of your paddling a safety-filled delight.
This complete emergency kit for an unexpected in-water predicament is also available in various colors, so if you’re looking for an option that would be as unmistakable as would be prudent, the Eyson would be a perfect choice.
But, is it the right life vest for your paddling needs?
Features and Benefits
Straight out of the box, you’ll notice this life vest is lightweight while retaining all the bulkier jackets’ safety parameters.
The PFD goes around your neck and down in front of your torso in two slender strips which won’t restrict your full range of motion at all when paddling.
Using the vest is a breeze, and you’ll love the flexibility that won’t impede your motion.
Easy to use
Depending on your paddling needs, you can choose either an automatic or manual PFD.
Either way, you’ll be pleased to see how the PFD quickly inflates once you initiate the process.
In around five seconds, the vest balloons, pushing you to the surface of the water.
And that’s not all.
The vest is capable of staying inflated for up to 48 hours after the initial pumping.
Nonetheless, I wouldn’t recommend the board for use on rough water. It’s suitable for calm water and is unlikely to hold up to anything more than this.
Adults rarely like the idea of wearing a life vest because of the restrictions that come with personal devices.
However, the Eyson is a delight to wear, thanks to the universal fit.
Yet, it’s not a bulky option and won’t tire you out you even when worn for extended periods.
Securing the vest is a doddle, and the various adjustment closures will hold the vest firmly inside until you’re ready to release it.
That said, this PFD isn’t for everyone, and as we mentioned above it’s perfect for use in calm waters and if you are a strong swimmer.
Otherwise, the support and buoyancy of this vest are not adequate for most users. Ideally, it would be the perfect fit for users with waists of up to 50 inches.
#5 NRS Vapor PFD - Premium Option
We choose the NRS Vapor as our premium pick, thanks to the low-profile design, availability of a range of sizes, and affordable prices.
It’s also a versatile option ideal for various uses and perfect for all skill levels, so it fits the bill for a jack-of-all-trades PFD.
Features and Benefits
This life vest’s low profile design won’t get in your way while paddling and is perfect for various water sports, including paddling, kayaking, rafting, and canoeing.
It’s not restrictive either, and will let you achieve full hand motion for the perfect paddling experience.
While at it, the vest’s performance isn’t marred by challenges such as chafing around the arms and shoulders and will let you paddle for extended periods without getting sore from frequent rubbing.
Fit and size
Sporting two waist straps on each side along with adjustable shoulder straps, fitting this PD onto your body is relatively easier than a wide range of other PFDs.
It also accommodates users with larger chests, and though it’s not rated specifically for women, it’s one of a few non-woman specific PFDs that offer all-encompassing support and fit.
Plus, it includes wide armholes, which provide an excellent range of motion for all activities while also offering superior ventilation.
Comfort isn’t the best attribute for the vest because the back panel can make it more difficult to sit comfortably in the higher-backed seats of some kayaks. It’s not a deal-breaker, though, because it’s all about the fit, and if correctly adjusted to fit close to your chest, it eliminates the issues of the vest “riding up.”
The NRS Vapor is rated as a Type III PFD, perfect for use for both whitewater and flat water.
While it’s not exactly a true “lifesaving” device, it has more than enough buoyancy to keep a conscious swimmer’s head above water in a range of circumstances.
The greatest flaw for the NRS is that it lacks an extra-large front pocket, so has no place to hold your gadgets and accessories.
The NRS has also done away with the lash tab attachment for storing river knives.
All in all, we guess these measures were put in place to cut down on the overall cost.
Best Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) for SUP Buying Guide
With plenty of PFDs on the market, choosing the right one for your paddling needs can feel a bit intimidating.
Fortunately, we’re here to help, and in the buying guide below we outline the most critical factors to consider in your next PFD purchase.
But, before I share the factors with you, let’s first look at the different types of PFD on the market.
Types of Personal Floatation Devices
There are many different types of PFD, but not all of them are suited for SUP due to their design.
So, to keep things simple, I shall only discuss the two types ideal for SUPing, namely:
These PFDs aren’t the most buoyant options, but they offer the benefit of comfort. This is because they’re less bulky and will make it easier for you to move your arms.
Their only fault is they won’t turn you over if you’re unconscious, so they may not be suitable if you’re paddling on your own or in rougher seas.
These PFDs have the least amount of coverage and are incredibly light to wear.
While they make paddling a lot easier, they don’t offer much in the way of buoyancy and should be used by experienced riders and strong swimmers only.
Factors to Consider when Purchasing a PFD for SUP
Now that we know the different types of PFDs to choose from let look at the different factors to consider.
Inflatable vs. foam
After determining your preferred design, the next decision to make is whether your SUP PFD will be an inflatable or non-inflatable.
- Inflatable vest
Inflatable vests, as their name suggests, become inflated only once you’re in the water.
For this reason, they tend to have a rather slim profile and are practically weightless.
While they offer a more comfortable paddling experience, they’re not suited for poor swimmers or kids because they lack the necessary buoyancy.
- Foam life vest
These are the most popular PFDs, and their main benefit is their inherent buoyancy.
In case you fall into the water, they don’t delay bobbing you back up to the surface, so they are a great option for not-so-strong swimmers.
On the flip side, they’re a bit bulky and come with a sizable weight load.
Another critical element for a PFD is the size. After all, there’s little use in investing in a life vest that doesn’t fit you.
However, understand that every brand has its own sizing guide, so you shouldn’t go with sizing labels such as “small,” “medium,” or “large.”
Instead, you should focus on the actual measurements offered by the device.
For instance, consider the various sizes of your body areas such as the torso, and then compare the measurements with the life vest you intend to buy. This is the only way you can be sure a life vest will fit you.
Whenever you’re thinking of getting a personal safety device ensure that it’s as comfortable as possible, as you’ll have to wear it for extended periods.
Now, most of the jackets are made from nylon which is strong but can be irritating if it frequently comes into contact with your skin.
So, when choosing a PD, pick one with some foam or layer between you and the nylon to prevent chafing.
When paddling, you must move your arms frequently. Otherwise, you won’t manage to control or move the board.
But, what if you want to paddle and your vest is stopping you from doing so?
Choose a PFD that allows maximum mobility, ensuring that it doesn’t interfere with your arm movements.
You can check that by looking at the size of the armholes. If they’re pretty large it means they allow mobility, but if they’re congested they may impede your arm movements.
You might think the choice of color is trivial when selecting a PFD, but it matters a lot and will determine whether you get quickly rescue during an emergency or not.
When you fall into the water, it’s challenging for other paddlers to spot you if you’re wearing a dark color because of the lower reflective properties.
On the other hand, choosing highly visible colors like red, neon, yellow, or green offers more visibility by reflecting more in lower light conditions, making it easier for others to spot you.
This might sound silly, but you must ensure your choice of PD can float properly in every type of water and that it can support your weight.
Choose a vest made from buoyant materials and ensure it can comfortably keep you afloat.
The ideal paddleboard life jacket should allow the free flow of air through it, and this should help to get rid of sweat by cooling your body.
If you can find one which wicks away moisture, then that would be all the better.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
All the listed options are incredible PFDs, but I would go with the Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket if I had to select one.
It’s one of the few PFDs that is truly designed to promote movement, making it an exceptional life vest for paddleboarding.
It also remains safe and offers the perfect buoyancy for users of all sizes.