How To Choose The Right Rescue PFD For You

How To Choose The Right Rescue PFD For You

AQ Staff
5 minute read

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Are you venturing into more challenging whitewater, leading trips with safety in mind, or seeking a highly functional Rescue Personal Flotation Device (PFD)? Or, perhaps you're simply curious about whether Astral's legendary Greenjacket is worth the hype?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’ve landed in the right place. At AQ Outdoors we’re paddling enthusiasts through and through, with a strong whitewater pedigree. Our staff have plenty of experience with all kinds of rescue PFDs whether it’s helping customers find the right one, leading trips down bouncy rivers, or heading out after work with a group of friends.

In the video review below, we’ll look at the NRS Zen Rescue PFD, the Kokatat Hustler PFD, and the often-imitated, but never duplicated, Astral Greenjacket Rescue PFD.

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What is a rescue PFD?

The main difference between a rescue PFD and a non-rescue PFD is the tow system: a quick-release belt that wraps around your torso and features a "pigtail" for ease of towing boats to shore. It can also be used in various rescue scenarios if there’s a swimmer in the water. For advanced rescue techniques, we recommend taking one of our industry-leading Paddling Courses

There are other differences like more (and bigger) pockets, better fit, and better overall function due to increased mobility vs cheaper PFDs. These features help keep you focused on the paddling (or the rescuing) by keeping your arms and upper body mobile and free-moving.


Top pick for functionality & affordability

The NRS Zen PFD is not only an affordable pick, but it's also our highest buoyancy PFD. It comes in at 17.5lb of buoyancy, which is quite substantial. This flotation helps keep you on top of the water if you’re swimming, and especially if you’re rescuing someone. 

The Zen is based on the same low-profile design as NRS’s other performance PFD, the Ninja. It features a big front pocket for rescue gear/pin kit, a handwarmer, and 6 adjustment points to really help dial in the fit.

If you’re looking for a value rescue PFD that gets the job done without breaking the bank, then the NRS Zen Rescue PFD should be a top choice for you.

NRS Zen Rescue PFD (clearance)

NRS Zen Rescue PFD (clearance)

$224.95 $299.95

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

Kokatat Hustler Rescue PFD

Top pick for comfort & sculpted fit

Coming in at $100 more than the Zen, the Kokatat Hustler is the mid-range of our rescue PFD lineup.

One key feature of this one over the Zen is comfort. In fact, some paddlers think the Hustler has the best fit of all the rescue PFDs we carry. It uses environmentally friendly PVC-free 3D sculpted foam that wraps perfectly around your body to create a really low profile fit, which is why it is so comfortable.

The Hustler has many other premium features like a Cordura shell for enhanced durability, a 2-way zipper on the front pocket (to prevent fumbling around when seconds count), and a covered front lash tab to keep your rescue knife extra secure.

Kokatat HustleR Rescue PFD

Kokatat HustleR Rescue PFD


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

Astral Greenjacket PFD

Top pick for reliability, durability & design

The Astral Greenjacket has been considered the highest-end rescue PFD for quite a few years.

Off the top, one of the premium features of this PFD is the quick point to attach for a harness. This enables you to use a sit or sling harness with the PFD attachment being the equivalent attachment point of a chest harness.

The Greenjacket also has a hidden pocket that can hold 8-10ft of narrow webbing or sling, along with a carabiner, if you’re using that kind of tow system.

This rescue PFD also has independent panels which hug your body but still float freely, giving you plenty of mobility considering how geared it is to whitewater rescue performance. There’s also thick foam on the back which helps with impact protection.

If you’re planning on spending a ton of time on the water, especially if you’re hitting more technical creeks pushing Class IV/V and want an investment that’ll be there for you in a variety of situations, the Astral Greenjacket can’t be beaten. This rescue PFD has been top of the pack for years because of how well-designed, built, and reliable it is.

If you want to learn more, check out the [Astral Greenjacket Rescue PFD Review]

Astral Greenjacket Rescue PFD

Astral Greenjacket Rescue PFD


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

Choosing the right Rescue PFD for you

So that’s the full rundown of our whitewater rescue PFD collection from the budget-friendly NRS Zen, to the mid-range and more comfortable Kokatat Hustler, and the top-of-the-food-chain performance designed Astral Greenjacket.

Above and beyond this list, when shopping for a Rescue PFD, we recommend you pay attention to three main factors.

Comfort and fit: seek a well-fitted PFD with adjustable features, ensuring unrestricted movement and enhanced comfort during water adventures. You’ll want a snug fit, with straps that can be synched in at your torso. A loose PFD can be a hazard in itself.

Tailored features for your needs: The type of paddling you are participating in will determine which type of PFD you should be using. Choose a PFD equipped with specialized elements that align with your preferred discipline.

Safety standards and performance: Prioritize PFDs that meet recognized safety standards and offer sufficient buoyancy for your weight and activities.

If you have any further questions about any of these rescue PFDs, or the many other PFDs we carry, feel free to contact us or visit us in store!

Shop Rescue PFD Collection

Related Articles

Best Whitewater PFDs

Astral PFD Buying Guide

Kokatat PFD Buying Guide

AQ Outdoors Contact

Edmonton:  (p) 780 463-4892 (e)

Calgary:  (p) 403 288-9283  (e)

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