How To Choose The Right PFD | Kayak Angler Magazine | Rapid Media
A man holding a smallmouth bass, wearing a lifejacket Photo by Jeff Little

The new generation of PFDs are all about comfort and safety

My fishing PFD is sun scorched, salt stained and stinky. The nylon is ripped, straps broken and the foam is starting to rot. It’s time to replace my lucky life vest.

Since I have several kayaks and standup paddleboards, I need more than one PFD. For my offshore kayak, I’m looking for a unit with inherent floatation that makes it easier to swim and reenter the boat. My first stop was Matt Porter, product manager at Kokatat. To get the right fit, he suggested I start with their size guide at “Once you get the right size, put it on, zip and buckle it up and loosen the straps,” he told me. Then, adjust shoulder straps to desired height and take in the waist. “Have a friend pull up on the shoulders,” he continues. “If the PFD goes over your ears it needs to be tighter.

Porter adds that materials make the difference with comfort and dependability. Extra-tough, sun and salt-resistant fabric will last the longest and stay cool. The most modern breed of PFDs use biodegradable, ozone friendly scallop-shaped foam to improve air circulation. For a custom fit, the foam is shaved to hug the body. “Over time, Kokatat’s foam actually bends to better fit the angler,” Porter says. There’s no excuse for a bulky, clammy PFD.

For backwaters and skinny water, I’m looking for an inflatable PFD that’s lightweight and low profile to make it easier to stand and cast all day. My old inflatable always slips and rubs my neck. Luckily, the current generation of inflatables are more comfortable and safer. At last summer's ICAST tradeshow, Shannon Ward showed me Mustang’s latest Elite 28K inflatable.

She put me in one to demonstrate. “The 3D chassis is designed to fit around your body, not just hang from your neck,” she explained. With multiple adjustment points, I could snug the PFD so it didn’t slide around. I could also attach accessories and pockets using Molle straps, so I can still carry a strobe light, whistle and personal locator beacon on my PFD.

I’ve always avoided self-inflating PFDs because I’m worried it might accidentally inflate. However, Lili Colby, co-owner at MTI Adventurewear, recommended I check out the most recent line of auto-inflatables. “It’s better to have a reliable system in case you aren’t conscious to manually inflate the PFD,” she points out. Once water enters the valve, it inflates in seconds to 29 pounds of buoyancy. “It won’t inflate accidentally and you can always pull the cord to manually inflate the bladders.”

While I was at it, I decided to pick up a PFD for my standup paddleboard. My foam PFD is too bulky and the inflatable vest doesn’t offer the freedom of movement I enjoy on a SUP. Kayak Angler’s resident SUP pro, Sean Callinan, suggested an inflatable belt-style PFD. “It’s the most important part of my fishing gear,” he insists. The belt PFD stays out of the way while paddling and fishing and it also makes it easier to bend over and stand up. The smallest belts inflate to 17 pounds with a CO2 cartridge— you can then add another 10 pounds of buoyancy with the inflation tube.

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