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Tom's TopKayaker Shop now carries a good
selection of mid-range KAYAKER PFD'S

Tom Tom & Athena's PFD Reviews

Tom helps you choose the best gear available on-line for your sit-on-top adventures. In 10 years as co-manager of Honolulu's busy, year-round kayak shop where many developments in the sport were made, and another 10 here at TopKayaker.net, Tom has modified, repaired and outfitted just about every sit-on-top on the market, used and new. If you don't find your questions answered here email him: Tom @ TopKayaker.net

Reviews of a few popular brands of kayaker PFD'S:
RELATED ARTICLE: "Choosing The Right Personal Floatation Device" by Stan Bradshaw

I have selected some PFDs (Personal Flotation Device or "Life Jackets") that we have used extensively or have had considerable experience with. Check out our current selection in our PFD Section at Tom's TopKayaker Shop. Purchasing through the below banner at REI also supports the articles & forums of TopKayaker.net:

Visit REIIMPORTANT NOTE: When possible try a life vest on in person to be sure of the fit. (Leave room for an extra layer of warm clothing but snug enough to wear shirtless.) So I am hoping that you have had some experience with the life vest you are considering purchasing here with REI, or that you are very confident in your decision. If not, try the vest on as soon as it arrives and send it back if it is not the right size. Test it by snugging it as tight as you can stand and then have a buddy pull up on the shoulder straps. If it comes up to your chin and ears it is too large. I am (male) approximately 160 pounds, about five foot eight inches and I wear a medium (Lotus and Extrasport) PFD in most brands. ALWAYS WEAR YOUR PFD! If you really will not, than consider one of the new coast guard approved inflatable life vest, they are very light and comfortable, but still must be worn to work.

extrasport Extra Sport - High to Mid-end in price. Extrasport Old Town Loon PFD -
The only life vest that I know of that has been designed with the sit-on-top paddler in mind. Sorry folks I have not tried one, and I can not say one way or the other if I would recommend it, but I thought I should mention it here. I really hope to try one soon.

extrasportExtrasport Seaker with Retro PFD -
I used this model for many years. It is a comfortable and practical life vest. The two cargo pockets will allow you to carry your whistle and signal gear.

MTI PFD Economical Life Vests for Adults - MTI Comp II PFD - While working in an educational setting, last summer, my students used this MTI jacket. I only wore one a couple times and found it to have all the features of a quality PDF. I would call this model a very good economy jacket. In my experience you cannot get a good vest for under $50. They are comfortable, made out of soft nylon and supple foam, and they have a nice pocket for a whistle and stuff. Get this one if you are on a budget.

LOTUS PFD - High-end in price - Lotus Rio Grande PFD -
rio grandeThe Rio Grande is a very comfortable jacket with an excellent fastening system. There is a waist belt, (very important), two pair of side straps plus a pair of shoulder straps to accommodate any fit. The front zipper makes it easy to get into and out of. It comes in several sizes and colors. The two front pockets are perfect for a whistle, signaling devices and a power bar. I currently have my Rio outfitted with the Lotus "EFT Pack," a backpack for your PFD, stashed with a towrope and hydration system. The Lotus Brand vests are made from heavy-duty fabric, and will take a lot of abuse.

lotusLotus Strait Jacket PFD -
This one is my all time favorite. It is basically a souped up Rio Grande. In addition to all the features the Rio has the Strait Jacket has reflective stripes for nighttime visibility, a mounting point on the back for a light, (strobe or white) and loops for a belt worn towing rig, called the "Sea Tow." Don't let the name fool you; you're not crazy, just the name is.

infantYouth & Children's PFDs - Pets Too:
(Look for those designed to keep their heads face up and with security attachments between the legs)

childDon't forget the kids! Find out what size your kids are first before buying. PFD sizes for kids are based on weight. Children's sizes are generally as follows: 50 to 90 pounds, 30 to 50 pounds and zero to 30 pounds. Get the right size for your child. Do not get a size too big so they can grow into it! Even if they are close always stay within the suggested weight recommended on the label. The print is often small and hard to read, so I suggest you use a marker to write the weight range in larger letters near the inside label.

jrWhen you are purchasing kids PFDs get a couple extra in assorted weight ranges to handle you children's changing sizes, new additions to the family and your child's friends who may want to join you but not come prepare with their own PFD. Always make kids wear their PFD, set a good example by wearing yours. I'll say it again; double check that the PFD on a child is for the right weight range, it could save a life, and the Marine Patrol and Coast Guard could give you a fine


petDesigned for dogs & available at REI. Yes, do not kayak with you pet if they are not wearing a PFD.

womensPFD's For Women
Athena: The two problems with women's PFD designs have been their riding up into your face; and, of course, discomfort for the full-figured. I wear the BetSea by Stohlquest, not currently carried by REI. It was the first to pay attention to these problems. Kokotat is an excellent product, however and the MisFit offerend by REI is a beautiful vest claiming all the right features - however it is not as contoured in front with the same "lift" as the Stohlquest; however, I especially like the pocket room & placements on the front of the Kokatat Tour model.

Ladies, we are all so different & just have to try before we buy. Here are some observations I've had that may help as you shop:

lotusLotus Lola PFD
Originally designed for a woman's build, the Lola has become just as popular with men seeking a low-profile, functional PFD. I (Athena) bought this when it first came out. Not comfortable for the full figured and I did not like the side zipper as it complicated removal over my hat and sunglasses; but it served me well for several years and is otherwise a well designed, stay-on-no-matter-what, vest.

MsFitKokatat MisFIT Tour Front-Zip PFD -
Designed for female sea kayakers with a contoured, princess-seam foam cut for superior anatomical fit and comfort.See note above.

msfitKokatat MsFIT Front-Zip Vest PFD -
New from Kokatat, this flotation vest offers women an exceptional fit, with great mobility and minimal ride-up. See note above.

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