Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets for Paddling in 2023

Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets for Paddling in 2023

Simon Coward
15 minute read

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As one of Canada’s leading specialty paddlesports retailers we have formulated a few opinions on recreational paddlesports PFDs and life jackets over the years. This post goes over what we think are the best PFDs for recreational kayaking, SUPing, canoeing, and rafting for 2023.

All the PFDs listed below we have worn, beat up, received customer feedback on, used in our kayak school and more. As a business we only sell brands and products we believe in and we feel fortunate to be in a position to have tried out so many recreational PFDs and life jackets over the years.

 

 

Recreational PFD Brands We Carry

Astral

A long time leader in PFDs and watersports footwear. We have been wearing and working with Astral for over 15 years.

Shop Astral PFD Collection

Kokatat

An industry leader in drywear for over 30 years and have been building high quality recreational PFDs and life jackets for many of those. We have worked with and worn Kokatat products since the day we opened over 21 years ago.

Shop Kokatat PFD Collection

 

NRS

A paddlesports powerhouse business, they originally started as more of an outfitter focused brand. Over the 21 + years we have worked with them they have morphed into one of the most recognisable names in paddlesports and a builder of excellent PFDs for recreational paddlers.

Shop NRS PFD Collection

 

Mustang Survival

Mustang is a Canadian business that has been designing and manufacturing watersports safety equipment to keep you dry, warm and afloat for over 50 years. AQ Outdoors has been working with Mustang for over 4 years now and we have seen a huge rise in popularity for their recreational PFDs over that time.

Shop Mustang Survival PFD Collection

 

Level Six

Another Canadian business that is dedicated to building quality products for the Canadian market. Level Six are leaders in drywear, casual wear and paddlesports accessories for all paddlers. Their PFD lineup is focused on kids and youth offerings and they do this very well.

Shop Level Six PFD Collection

 

 

BEST NEW RECREATIONAL PFD FOR 2022

Kokatat WKNDR Recreational PFD

Kokatat WKNDR Thin Back PFD

Kokatat WKNDR Thin Back PFD

$102.98 $205.95

Kokatat PFD Buying Guide Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets for Paddling Best PFDs for Inflatable Kayaks The Kokatat WKNDR Thin Back PFD is a recreational paddlesports PFD designed with comfort and fit in mind for paddlers using high back seats… Read More

BEST FOR

Recreational Kayaking, Canoe, SUP, Kayak Angling and Rafting. 

WHO BUYS THESE

These are a newly released product for 2022 so this is yet to be seen as of writing. From trying on samples they will be a hit with any recreational paddler looking for a thin back PFD. This is ideal for high back recreational seats, pedal drive kayak seats and touring seats. We would also anticipate recreational rafters finding these a comfortable and well priced option.

FEATURES

  • Low profile back
  • 2 side adjustment straps on each side
  • Shoulder adjustments
  • 2 hand warmer pockets
  • 2 zippered side pockets
  • Front entry zipper style PFD
  • Contoured Foam

PRICE

$179.95 CAD + tax

 

BEST RECREATIONAL PFD UNDER $100

Mustang Survival Journey Recreational PFD

BEST FOR

Recreational Kayaking, Canoe, SUP, Kayak Angling and Rafting. 

WHO BUYS THESE

These are a newly released product for 2022 so this is yet to be seen as of writing. From trying on samples they will be a hit with any recreational paddler looking for a price point PFD that is as a step above big box store options in comfort, performance and longevity.

FEATURES

  • Front entry with zipper for ease of putting on and taking off
  • 200D nylon shell is soft and durable
  • Soft 3D contoured foam chassis with open sides create all-day comfort and airflow
  • Six points of adjustment offer a customized fit
  • Large easy-access pocket designed for stashing your smartphone
  • Loops in the front and back for securing gear
  • Buckle-free minimalist shoulders with reflective trim enhance visibility in low light conditions
  • Tethered signal whistle for emergencies
  • Approval: Harmonized Level 70 - USA and Canada (Meets minimum life vest buoyancy of 15.7 LBS)

PRICE 

$84.99 CAD + tax

 

BEST RECREATIONAL PFD UNDER $120

NRS Vapor Recreational PFD

NRS Vapor PFD

NRS Vapor PFD

$129.95

NRS Recreational PFD Buying Guide Best Whitewater PFDs - Complete Guide Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets for Paddling Best PFDs for Inflatable Kayaks The NRS Vapor PFD is a comfortable and well priced recreational paddlesports PFD. With lots of… Read More

BEST FOR

Recreational Kayak, SUP and Canoe Paddlers.  Also OK for lower end whitewater paddling.

WHO BUYS THESE?

Everyone! The NRS Vapor PFD is consistently one of our top selling items both in store and online.  The combination of price, comfort and range of motion for paddling all tie into this equation.

FEATURES

  • Easy Side Entry
  • 1 pocket
  • Shoulder, waist and shoulder adjustments.

PRICE

$119.95 CAD + Tax

 

BEST RECREATIONAL PFD’S UNDER $160 (MENS & WOMENS MODELS)

NRS Men’s Oso Recreational PFD

NRS Oso PFD (clearance)

NRS Oso PFD (clearance)

$119.95 $159.95

NRS Recreational PFD Buying Guide Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets for Paddling Best PFDs for Inflatable Kayaks The NRS Oso PFD is the ultimate full-back recreational life jacket for paddlers and rafters. With a ventilated, thin full back design… Read More

BEST FOR

Recreational Kayaks, Fishing Kayaks and Canoes with high back seats. Work for SUP paddlers too.

WHO BUYS THESE?

The NRS Oso PFD is really comfortable for many paddlers.  Easy front entry, lots of pocket space for goodies.  We mainly see these purchased by those paddling with high back recreational boats and some kayak anglers.

FEATURES

  • Low profile back panel
  • 2 large pockets
  • Front zip entry
  • Shoulder, side and waist adjustments

PRICE

$159.95 CAD + Tax

 

NRS Women’s Nora Recreational PFD

NRS Women's Nora PFD (clearance)

NRS Women's Nora PFD (clearance)

$119.95 $159.95

NRS Recreational PFD Buying Guide Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets for Paddling Best PFDs for Inflatable Kayaks The NRS Women's Nora PFD is the perfect life jacket for female paddlers who appreciate quality at an attractive price point. The… Read More

BEST FOR

Female recreational paddlers and kayak anglers.

WHO BUYS THESE?

Female recreational paddlers and kayak anglers.  We find that women paddlers with limited mobility really enjoy the front zip on the NRS Women's Nora PFD for ease of entry.  Paddlers with pedal drive kayaks tend to prefer the low profile back than the mesh back PFDs.

FEATURES

  • Tailored with female 'proportions' in mind
  • Low profile back panel
  • 2 large pockets
  • Front zip entry
  • Shoulder, side and waist adjustments

PRICE

$159.95 CAD + tax

 

BEST RECREATIONAL PFDs OVER $160 (WOMENS & UNISEX MODELS)

Astral EV-Eight Recreational Mesh Back PFD

Astral EV-Eight Breathable Highback PFD

Astral EV-Eight Breathable Highback PFD

$200.00

  The Astral EV-Eight Breathable Highback PFD is a fully breatheable, bluesign certified PFD with a recycled Polyester Shell. The EV-Eight has been a long time favorite for recreational paddling customers and the new EV-Eight takes the same tried and true… Read More

BEST FOR

Both male and female recreational paddlers. High back recreational kayak seats. Comfort and breathability.

WHO BUYS IT

The original Astral V-Eight Recreational Mesh Back PFD has been a long time favorite at AQ Outdoors for recreational paddlers of all shapes and sizes. It tends to be preferred by paddlers using high back recreational seats and also recreational kayak anglers. From a fit standpoint it has a wide fit range, however, those with short torsos tend to prefer other models of recreational PFDs.

Note: The Astral PFD lineup is not Canadian Coast Guard approved but is US Coast Guard Approved. This doesn’t have any implications as paddlers as the standard is almost identical. If this certification is important to you please check out our lineups of NRS, Kokatat and Mustang PFDs and lifejackets

FEATURES

  • Entry: Center Front Zip
  • Foam Insert: PE Foam & EVA Foam
  • Shell Fabric: bluesign approved, 100% Recycled, 300D Diamond RPET
  • Liner Fabric: Breathable Polyester Mesh
  • Webbing: Polypro
  • Zipper: YKK Self Locking Vislon Teeth
  • Hardware: Heavy Duty Acetal
  • Weight: 1.22 lbs / 19.52 oz / 553.83 gr
  • Design Buoyancy: 16lbs
  • Approval Type: USCG Type III

PRICE

$179.95 CAD + tax

 

Kokatat Women’s Naiad High Back Recreational PFD

BEST FOR

Female recreational kayakers, kayak anglers, canoeists, SUP paddlers and rafters.

WHO BUYS THESE

Female paddlers who are getting out on the water for recreational paddling adventures. The Naiad is ideal for relaxing days on the water and for those needing a mesh back PFD to accommodate high back recreational and fishing kayak seats.

FEATURES

  • Supple, form fit foam
  • 2 x hand warmer pockets
  • Multiple side adjustments
  • Ultra-light, quick drying mesh back and shoulders complements high back seats
  • 2 x hand warmer pockets
  • Multiple attachment points for fishing gear
  • compatible with tributary hydration system

PRICE

$179.95 CAD + tax

 

 

NRS Odyssey Recreational PFD

NRS Odyssey PFD (clearance)

NRS Odyssey PFD (clearance)

$149.95 $199.95

NRS Recreational PFD Buying Guide Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets for Paddling The NRS Odyssey PFD is built specifically with kayak touring and sea kayaking in mind. It is a feature-rich PFD, with all the options needed for sea… Read More

 

BEST FOR

Sea and touring kayakers, also recreational paddlers doing longer trips on open water.

WHO BUYS THESE?

Sea kayakers and paddlers who like carrying a bunch of stuff on their person.  The NRS Odyssey PFD is essentially an Oso with many more features.

FEATURES

  • Low profile foam back to work with technical or high back seats
  • Multiple adjustments
  • Radio pockets
  • Enhanced reflective striping
  • Extra attachment points
  • Waist and shoulder adjustment points 

PRICE

$199.95 CAD + tax

 

BEST INFLATABLE OR DUAL FLOTATION PFD

Mustang Khimera Dual Flotation PFD

Mustang Khimera Dual Floatation PFD

Mustang Khimera Dual Floatation PFD

$299.99

Mustang Survival PFD Buying Guide Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets for Paddling Best PFDs for Inflatable Kayaks The Mustang Khimera Dual Flotation PFD offers you the freedom to move on or in the water. The ultra-slim Khimera was designed… Read More

BEST FOR

Flatwater paddling adventures and moderate open water exposure.

WHO BUYS THESE

The Khimera’s have seen a huge rise in popularity in the last 2 years. Recreational paddlers looking for a super low volume PFD that can provide full flotation in a pinch are drawn to the Khimera. The universal sizing is also appealing as it can fit a wide range of paddlers in a group or family. 

FEATURES

  • 20LBS total dual buoyancy (7.5LB foam, plus 12.5 inflation)
  • USCG/Transport Canada Approved - Level 70 buoyancy aid (equivalent to Type III foam vest performance, approved to new harmonized standard)
  • Compatible with Re-arm Kit G (Model # MA7116)
  • Dual flotation system blends the security of foam flotation with the slim profile of inflatable technology
  • Slim foam chassis keeps you afloat without creating bulk
  • Pulling the manual inflator boosts you to 20 lb of buoyancy, and can be very easily re-armed
  • No repacking required - just squeeze air out of the inflation cell and you're done
  • Lightweight and low profile design offers greater comfort and range of motion, and eases re-entry into your boat from the water
  • Adjustable shoulder and waist straps create a close-to-body fit
  • Bright reflective shoulder patches for visibility
  • Front storage pocket, and slot to hold extra CO2 cylinder (extra cylinder not included)
  • Front shoulder attachment point

PRICE

$259.99 CAD + tax

 

BEST INFANT LIFE JACKET

Level Six Puffer Infant Flotation Aid

BEST FOR

Infants who are hanging out in, on or around the water.

WHO BUYS THESE

At AQ Outdoors we see all kinds of families picking up the Level Six Infant Puffer Life Jacket. From canoe tripping families to those spending time on motor boats; people taking their infant on house boat trips to beach vacations. The Puffer is great for anyone with an infant that wants the piece of mind of flotation when near or in the water.

FEATURES

  • Suggested weight range is 0-9kg
  • 3 piece collar design for head support
  • An integrated tri-webbing adjustment system
  • Quick-release buckle system for diaper changes
  • 80% neoprene / Shell 20% polyester

PRICE

$60.00 CAD + tax

 

BEST PRICE POINT KIDS PFD

Level Six Stingray Child & Youth PFDs

Level Six Stingray Kids PFD

Level Six Stingray Kids PFD

$55.00

Overview of Level Six Stingray and Puffer PFDs Best Kids PFDs and Life Jackets Having your child safe and visible is what the Level Six Stingray Kids PFD is all about. Made from a durable and quick drying Nylon fabric… Read More

BEST FOR

Kids and youth who are playing in on or around the water.

WHO BUYS THESE

Simply families looking for a cost effective, high quality life jacket for their kids to swim and play in the water with. The 2 different sizes make for easy fitting for kids between 14 and 41 kg. The price, comfort and ease of use make this a no brainer for families with younger kids heading to the water.

FEATURES

  • 2 sizes, child and youth 
  • Size: Child: 14-27kg, Youth: 27-41kg
  • Canadian coast guard approved
  • 100% quick-dry nylon body and head rest panels
  • Integrated webbing adjustment system
  • Premium molded quick release buckles
  • Safety quick-grab nylon webbing loop on head panels

PRICE

$54.99 - $59.99 CAD + tax

 

BEST KIDS PFD FOR SWIMMING AND PLAYING

Mustang Survival REV Child PFD

Mustang Rev Child PFD

Mustang Rev Child PFD

$89.99

Mustang Survival PFD Buying Guide Best Kids PFDs and Life Jackets The Mustang Rev Child PFD has bright colors that stand out in the water and the soft-yet-durable material offers comfort while standing up to the rough and tumble antics… Read More

BEST FOR

Youngsters playing in, on and around the water who weigh between 15 - 25 kg (33 - 55 lbs).

WHO BUYS THESE

Parents looking for a comfortable, Transport Canada Approved life jacket for their kids weighing in between 15 and 25 kgs. Parents and kids like the feel of the soft material, the comfort, the additional security of the leg straps and the mobility afforded by this life vest.

FEATURES

  • Ultra soft
  • Stain resistant
  • Segmented foam moves with the body making it comfortable to wear
  • Ventilated mesh back for breathability
  • Wicking liner allows for quick drying
  • Sturdy grab handle
  • Crotch Strap
  • Fully adjustable
  • US Coast Guard Approved: 160.064/4892/0
  • Transport Canada Approved: TC-67329B-18 ANSI/CAN/UL 12402-5
  • Harmonized approval for both US and Canada

PRICE

$69.99 + tax

 

Mustang Survival REV Youth PFD

Mustang Rev Youth PFD

Mustang Rev Youth PFD

$89.99

Mustang Survival PFD Buying Guide Best Kids PFDs and Life Jackets The Mustang Rev Youth PFD is the best vest for active kids who are serious about their marine-environment enjoyment. Made sporty by removing the head pillow and graduating from… Read More

BEST FOR

Youngsters playing in, on and around the water who weigh between 25 - 40 kg (55 - 88 lbs).

WHO BUYS THESE

Parents looking for a comfortable, Transport Canada Approved life jacket for their kids weighing in between 25 and 40 kgs.We have seen this PFD be super popular with young whitewater paddlers and flatwater boaters alike. They are a common sight on family rafting trips in this neck of the woods also.

FEATURES

  • Ultra soft
  • Stain resistant
  • Segmented foam moves with the body making it comfortable to wear
  • Ventilated mesh back for breathability
  • Wicking liner allows for quick drying
  • Sturdy grab handle
  • Fully adjustable
  • US Coast Guard Approved: 160.064/4892/0
  • Transport Canada Approved: TC-67329B-18 ANSI/CAN/UL 12402-5
  • Harmonized approval for both US and Canada

PRICE

$69.99 CAD + tax

 

BEST KIDS PFD FOR THE RIVER

Astral Otter 2.0 Kids PFD

Astral Otter 2.0 Kids PFD

Astral Otter 2.0 Kids PFD

$215.00

Kokatat PFD Buying Guide Best Whitewater PFDs - Complete Guide Best Kids PFDs and Life Jackets The Astral Otter 2.0 Kids PFD is a high performance and super comfortable kids PFD designed for those recreating in whitewater or moving water. This… Read More

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BEST FOR

Kids paddling whitewater craft such as kayaks, SUP, rafts and canoes.

WHO BUYS IT

Families whose kids are paddling whitewater or high performance flatwater. The Astral Otter 2.0 Kids Whitewater PFD is an industry leading PFD for kids that are getting after it at all levels. The fit, comfort and mobility mirror that of a fully featured adult whitewater PFD.

The huge upsides of this vest are the range of motion, comfort and fit for hard paddling kids. As a parent you do need to be aware that it doesn’t have the neck ‘flap’ that keep the swimmer floating face up. It is advisable that kids using the Otter 2.0 are a pretty competent swimmer in the pool without a PFD.

FEATURES

  • Entry: Front Center Buckle
  • Foam Insert: Organic Kapok & PE Foam
  • Shell Fabric: 200 x 400 Denier Ripstop Nylon
  • Liner Fabric: 200 Denier Light Weight Nylon
  • Webbing: PolyPro
  • Zipper: YKK Non-corrosive coil
  • Hardware: Heavy Duty Acetal
  • Weight: 1.3 lbs / 21 oz / 595.34 gr
  • Sizing: Fits youth 50-90 lbs
  • Design Buoyancy: 11.5 lbs
  • Approval Type: USCG Type III

PRICE

$194.95 CAD + tax

 

Mustang Survival Youth Bobby Foam PFD

BEST FOR

Youth paddler looking for a higher performance flotation option.

WHO BUYS THESE

The Mustang Survival Youth Bobby PFD is super popular with youth looking for a higher performance PFD. Given the price point it also has a bit friendlier on the wallet than other higher performance youth PFDs. Ideal for youth paddlers in kayaks, SUPs, rafts and canoes.

Approval: Harmonized Level 70 - USA and Canada (Meets minimum life vest buoyancy of 11.25 LBS for designated weight range).

FEATURES

  • Over-the-head entry with a side buckle provides a secure fit
  • 200D nylon shell is soft and durable
  • Mesh cut out on back increases ventilation
  • Four points of adjustment offer a customized fit
  • Padded adjustable shoulders with buckle covers for increased comfort
  • Large zippered front cargo pocket has mesh drainage
  • Fleece tunnel warms hands
  • Loops on the front for securing gear
  • D-ring for attaching crotch straps

PRICE

$110.99 CAD + tax

 

Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets for Paddling 2022

Thanks for checking out the Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets! We offer FREE SHIPPING on all PFDs OVER $110 across Canada, and our paddling experts are ready to help answer your recreational PFD questions. Feel free to contact us below, or visit us in store!

 

Shop AQ Outdoors Recreational PFD Collection

 

Related PFD Articles

Kokatat PFD Buying Guide

NRS Recreational PFD Buying Guide

Best Whitewater PFDs Complete Guide

Best PFDs for Inflatable Kayaks

Best Kids PFDs and Life Jackets

How to Fit a PFD

What to Put in a PFD

Astral PFD Buying Guide 

Mustang Survival PFD Buying Guide

About the Author:  I am a 40 something year old Australian now living in Cochrane, Alberta Canada.  For the past 12 years I have been an owner of AQ Outdoors / Aquabatics.  A proud father of 3 kids and husband to Nikki.  

I have been into the outdoors for as long as I can remember, family camping and surfing trips as a kid graduated to a lifelong passion for most things outdoors. Whitewater paddling has been a core part of my life over the past 24 + years. My twenties were spent chasing hard whitewater all over the world, much of my thirties spent learning to teach it and now I love getting out in whitewater with my family whenever I can.

Meet the Rest of the AQ Outdoors Team

 

 

AQ Outdoors Contact

Edmonton:  (p) 780 463-4892 (e) info@aquabaticsedmonton.com

Calgary:  (p) 403 288-9283  (e)  info@aqoutdoors.com

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