Best Whitewater PFDs 2023 | Complete Guide

Best Whitewater PFDs 2023 | Complete Guide

Simon Coward
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As one of Canada’s leading whitewater paddlesports retailers we have formulated a few opinions on Whitewater paddlesports PFDs over the years. This post goes over what we think are the best PFDs for whitewater kayaking in Canada 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 businesses we only sell brands and products we believe in and we feel fortunate to be in a position to have tried out so many whitewater PFDs over the years.

 

 

WHITEWATER PFD BRANDS WE CARRY

Astral

A long time leader in whitewater rescue PFDs and equipment. We have been wearing and working with Astral for over 15 years.

Shop Astral PFDs

 

Kokatat

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

Shop Kokatat PFDs

 

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 whitewater paddlers.

Shop NRS PFDs

 

WHITEWATER PFD CLASSIFICATION

best whitewater pfd classification

Image Credit: CKS https://coloradokayak.com/

For the purposes of this review we prefer to refer to the US Coast Guard breakdown. For recreational whitewater paddlers the ideal options are typically Type III and Type V PFDs.

Also keep in mind, the PFDs in this article are designed for a Class III / intermediate whitewater level and higher. If you are doing raft float trips, and any flatwater paddling, you might be better off with a recreational PFD. This is because Whitewater PFDs are more expensive, bulkier, and some require special swiftwater rescue training to use properly.

Shop Recreational PFDs

 

TYPE III WHITEWATER PFDS

For the context of this post, Type III PFDs are designed with sufficient flotation for whitewater paddling, come in at least 3 sizes and DO NOT include an in-built towing system. There is no head support system so when in the water a swimmer will not necessarily float face up

You can convert certain Type III PFDs into a Type V PFD with an after market rescue PFD tow system.

Examples of Type III PFDs

 

TYPE V WHITEWATER RESCUE PFDS

Again, for simplicity and context within this post, Type V Whitewater Rescue PFDs are Type III PFDs but with a built in, releasable rescue harness. This system can be used for many applications such as boat rescues, tethering in rescue situations and more.

Pro Tip: Many people think that an integrated rescue harness is the only way to retrieve a boat in whitewater. This is not the case, there are many options that work just as well (or better in many cases). It is worth investing in a river safety and rescue course with a certified provider to learn more about this.

Examples of Type V Whitewater Rescue PFDs

 

BEST TYPE III WHITEWATER PFD

Kokatat Hustle PFD

Kokatat Hustle PFD

Kokatat Hustle PFD

$205.95

Kokatat PFD Buying Guide What to Put in Your PFD How to Properly Fit a PFD Best Whitewater PFDs - Complete Guide The Kokatat Hustle PFD is the perfect blend of fit and performance for whitewater, touring, and sup paddlers.… Read More

OVERVIEW

In total transparency,  I really did not like Kokatat PFDs for a very long time. I found their older whitewater models to be boxy, stiff and not super comfortable. This all changed at Paddlesports Retailer in Oklahoma City when I reluctantly tried a Kokatat Hustle PFD on.

My perception of Kokatat’s PFD design changed 180 degrees instantly for me. We have found the Kokatat Hustle to be super popular with whitewater kayakers, river SUP paddlers, canoeists and rafters. It has also served many recreational and touring paddlers well on long days on the water.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Overall comfort
  • Lightness of the PFD
  • Range of motion and flexibility of paddling
  • The colours are pretty dope
  • Kokatat are a great brand to work with
  • Harmonized certification so it is good for permit purposes in the USA and Canada. It is also approved in the EU!

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • A little on the spendy side for a Type III PFD (darn USD exchange rate to blame here)
  • Some paddlers find the front a little stiff and bulky to start with. This softens up super quickly.

FEATURES

  • 210D high tenacity ripstop nylon shell fabric
  • Gaia PVC-free and PE foam
  • Side Entry
  • Large, zippered front pocket with internal organization
  • Sculpted foam panels that wrap around your torso
  • Adjustable padded shoulder straps
  • Three side adjustments for a secure fit
  • Front lash tab for knife attachment
  • Harmonized (US Coast Guard/Transport Canada) approved
  • ISO (EU) approved

BUOYANCY LB./OZ. XS/S (16/00), M/L (16/00), XL/XXL (16/00)

PRICE

$195.00 CAD + Tax

 

BEST KIDS WHITEWATER PFD

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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OVERVIEW

I have three kids (7, 10 and 12 at time of writing) and the oldest two have been wearing the Astral Otter 2.0 as they learn to whitewater kayak. I think they have been in the Otter for about 3 years now and my youngest (now that he is better at swimming) is getting one this year. 

For youngsters learning any kind of whitewater sport (kayaking, SUP, canoeing or rafting) I cannot heap enough praise on the Otter. It is comfortable, they feel cool wearing it (one less thing to fight with them about.. Ha ha) and super hard wearing.  All the things you want in a kids whitewater PFD.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Fit and range of motion for kids
  • It works great with a sprayskirt, drysuit, drytop, wetsuit etc
  • The kids think they look cool as heck in them
  • Easy for kids to learn aggressive swimming in moving water
  • Comfort for the kids
  • Bright colours are easy to see, the unique design also stands out in a crowd
  • Included leg loops ensure a great fit and kids won’t fall out of it
  • Size range means they won’t grow out of it super quick (if you get it when they are about 50 lbs)

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • It’s pretty darn spendy for a kids PFD
  • If you are looking for a PFD that will float a child paddler face up this is not the PFD for you.

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

 

BEST VALUE TYPE V WHITEWATER RESCUE PFD

NRS Zen Whitewater Rescue PFD

NRS Zen Rescue PFD (clearance)

NRS Zen Rescue PFD (clearance)

$224.95

Best Whitewater PFDs - Complete Guide The NRS Zen Rescue PFD is a low-profile rescue jacket with all the features essential to assist guides and experienced paddlers in a swiftwater rescue situation. With 17.5 lbs of flotation and Canadian Coast… Read More

OVERVIEW

I have been using the NRS Zen Rescue PFD for about 4 years now. I am 165 lbs and about 5’9” and I have the L/XL. I am on the small side for this and could getaway with the S/M (hence the comment about lots of additional strap to contend with).

I teach and paddle about 40 - 50 days per season and my Zen is still in amazing shape. Although it is really a size (or half size) too big for me it is still super comfortable. In a nutshell it is, in my opinion the BEST VALUE whitewater rescue PFD on the market

WHAT WE LIKE

  • You cannot beat the price on a rescue PFD
  • NRS are a great company with amazing warranties and customer service
  • Lots of adjustability in each size range so can easily fit a multitude of either people or outfits (think drysuit vs skin to win!)
  • Front pocket has loads of capacity
  • Integrated rescue harness is well built and intuitive to use
  • Durable and long lasting
  • The Zen is our only whitewater rescue PFD that is Canadian (ULC) Certified

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • The adjustability mentioned above comes with long straps. If you are on the small side of the size range you will have a lot of straps to stash and deal with.
  • I have bung shoulders right now so the side buckle entry can be a bit of a challenge. That being said, if you have good shoulders, no problemo!
  • If you want a built in rappelling harness it doesn’t have this.
  • I don’t love where the knife patch is on the Zen. I have bashed my chin on it a few times when landing drops.

FEATURES

  • The NRS Zen Rescue PFD is a Type V life jacket delivering 17.5 pounds of flotation.
  • Based on the popular NRS Ninja PFD, the low-profile design of the Zen allows unrestricted range of motion.
  • Floating front panel moves freely with your upper body and padded arm holes and sides provide crucial impact protection.
  • The fully-featured rescue vest includes reinforced shoulder straps, 1 1/2" quick-release rescue belt with a carabiner attachment loop for a tow tether, strobe attachment and lash tab.
  • A compartmentalized clamshell pocket is big enough to stow and organize a small first aid kit or other rescue essentials.
  • The hand warmer has an integrated pocket with zippered closure for additional quick-access storage.
  • Six adjustment points for a customizable fit.
  • The Zen Rescue PFD is ULC certified

PRICE

$299.95 CAD + Tax

 

MOST COMFORTABLE TYPE V WHITEWATER RESCUE PFD

Kokatat Hustler Rescue PFD

Kokatat HustleR Rescue PFD

Kokatat HustleR Rescue PFD

$395.95

Kokatat PFD Buying Guide Best Whitewater PFDs - Complete Guide What to Put in Your PFD How to Properly Fit a PFD If safety and comfort in whitewater is wat you are after in a PFD, you might want to… Read More

OVERVIEW

I basically just need to reiterate the summary of the Kokatat Hustle Type III PFD. I really didn’t like Kokatat’s older whitewater models. Immediately after trying on the Hustler for the first time I changed my mind 180 degrees. I personally find the Kokatat Hustler Rescue PFD to be at this time, the most comfortable whitewater rescue PFD on the market.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • The comfort (surprising given the title!)
  • Reasonably priced for a Whitewater Rescue PFD
  • I like the pullover design, super easy to get in and out of
  • Front pocket has loads of storage
  • I love the hidden knife patch. Easy to access the knife but minimizes the likelihood of snagging and losing the knife.
  • Rescue harness is well located and easy to access

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • The Hustler is not Canadian Coast Guard Certified
  • Some paddlers find the front a little stiff and bulky to start with. This softens up super quickly.

FEATURES

  • 500D Cordura outer shell
  • Gaia PVC-free foam
  • Pullover design
  • Large, clamshell front pocket with two way zipper and internal organization
  • Adjustable shoulders and three side adjustments
  • Covered front lash tab for a rescue knife attachment
  • Quick release chest harness and O-ring, tether/tow system ready
  • Sleeve for River Tow Tether
  • Breakaway D-ring for cow tail attachment
  • US Coast Guard, and ISO (EU) approved
  • BOUYANCY LB./OZ. XS/S (16/00), M/L (16/00), XL/2X (16/00)

PRICE

$349 CAD + Tax

 

BEST OF THE BEST TYPE V WHITEWATER RESCUE PFD

Astral Greenjacket Rescue PFD

Astral Greenjacket Rescue PFD

Astral Greenjacket Rescue PFD

$490.00

Looking for a top-of-the-line rescue PFD? Look no further than the Astral Greenjacket Rescue PFD. This vest is designed for extreme environments and situations, making it a favorite among the world's best river guides and expedition paddlers. With a newly… Read More

OVERVIEW

The Astral Greenjacket is straight up the OG of Whitewater Rescue PFDs. There is not too much to not like about this PFD other than the hefty price tag. I have used the Astral Greenjacket on and off over many years and have nothing but great things to report. It has ben long lasting, feels great to wear and looks pretty darn cool too.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • This PFD has been around forever and it has stood the test of time
  • Super comfortable internal build system means you can tighten the PFD up and still have amazing range of motion and freedom
  • It is built to last. Our staff and customers have tested the Greenjacket in all environments and it is a beast
  • Over the head build I find easy to get on and off (some disagree strongly with this..see below)
  • Limited Edition colours come out on an annual basis
  • Backed by Astral a long standing company in whitewater
  • Astral are very focused on building their products with minimum waste and sustainability.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • The price is kinda gross. It will last you forever though
  • I am not a huge fan of the zippered stow pocket for the webbed towline. I understand the why but still prefer a traditional bungee tow tether/pig tail.
  • Some paddlers find it hard to get on and off

FEATURES

  • Entry: Pullover
  • Foam Insert: PVC Free Gaia®& PE Foam
  • Shell Fabric: 500 Denier Cordura Nylon
  • Liner Fabric: 200 Denier High Tenacity Nylon
  • Webbing: Nylon
  • Zipper: YKK Self Locking Vislon® Teeth
  • Hardware: Heavy Duty Acetal and Stainless Steel
  • Weight: 2.9 lbs / 46 oz / 1315.42 gr
  • Sizing: S/M = 31-37” M/L = 38-44” L/XL = 45-51”
  • Design Buoyancy: 16.5lbs
  • Approval Type: USCG Type V

 

BEST SWIFTWATER RESCUE PROFESSIONAL TYPE V PFD

NRS Rapid Rescuer PFD

NRS Rapid Rescuer PFD

NRS Rapid Rescuer PFD

$359.95

Best Whitewater PFDs - Complete Guide The 2022 NRS Rapid Rescuer PFD is built to the standards of rescue professionals, and goes beyond being a simple flotation device. With many advanced features, the NRS Rapid Rescuer PFD is the go-to of… Read More

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OVERVIEW

NRS continues to be at the leading edge of gear designed for fire departments and other rescue professionals. The NRS Rapid Rescuer PFD appears to be continuing along that vein.

This PFD is highly featured and built off the old Rapid Rescuer platform. NRS have applied the plethora of feedback they have received from their rescue partners to continue to improve and evolve this PFD. 

WHAT WE LIKE

  • Built to stand up to the rigours of working as a rescue professional
  • Wide size range fits the universal sizing
  • Loads of reflective tape for maximum visibility
  • Easy front zipper entry
  • Plenty of adjustment options to ensure a snug and comfy fit
  • Well thought out pockets for rescue pros

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE

  • As with all rescue PFDs it is a touch on the bulky side
  • Not Canadian Coast Guard Certified
  • This is new to us for 2022 so have limited experience with it yet

FEATURES

  • Constructed with 400-denier Ripstop Nylon to handle unexpected snags and debris often experienced in rescue situations.
  • Zippered front entry for quick on and off with backup buckles for added security under stress.
  • Four-panel chest design for enhanced comfort and freedom of movement with a single, thin panel of foam in the back.
  • Interconnected webbing creates a harness for maximum security in live bait scenarios.
  • Interior silicone-coated webbing strip on the bottom of the jacket prevents ride up.
  • Pocket configuration designed for maximum functionality with interior organization including webbing attachment points and zippered mesh pockets.
  • 2" quick-release rescue belt with stainless steel ring for live bait and other swiftwater rescue techniques.
  • Integrated connection points for leg straps (sold separately).
  • SOLAS reflective elements for safer night ops.
  • Two 10 x 10cm hook-and-loop patches on the chest and one 27 x 10cm across the back shoulder for departmental placarding.
  • Universal Plus sizing will fit chest sizes between 30 and 58 inches with eight adjustment points for a customized fit.
  • This jacket carries the US Coast Guard Certification through testing by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

PRICE

$339.95 CAD + Tax

 

BEST WHITEWATER PFDs SUMMARY

Thanks for checking out our Best Whitewater PFDs in Canada Post! We offer FREE SHIPPING on all these PFDs across Canada, and our paddling experts are ready to help answer your whitewater PFD questions. Feel free to contact us below, or visit us in store!

 

Shop AQ Outdoors Whitewater PFD Collection

 

Related PFD Articles

Best Recreational PFDs and Life Jackets for Paddling

Best Kids PFDs and Life Jackets

Best PFDs for Inflatable Kayaks

Kokatat PFD Buying Guide

NRS Recreational PFD Buying Guide

Mustang Survival PFD Buying Guide

How to Fit a PFD

What to Put in a PFD

Astral 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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