A Kayak Angler’s Guide To The Best Kayak Fishing PFD

Last Updated on June 15, 2022

We independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here.

After fishing for many years from a kayak, I have learned one never-changing rule; wearing a life jacket while kayak fishing is the single best thing you can do for your safety while on the water. Wearing an NRS Chinook, the best kayak fishing PFD, means you’re behaving like a genius.

Don’t sweat it if it’s too expensive.

The Ascend Paddling/Fishing Life Jacket is an excellent middle-of-the-road PFD.

Or, if you prefer an inflatable PFD, the Bass Pro Shops AM33 Auto/Manual Inflatable Life Vest is as good as they get, even though I don’t recommend inflatable PFDs for kayak fishing.

You can find out why I prefer the NRS Chinook if you keep reading!

Best Fishing PFD Comparison Table

ImageFeaturesRatingPrice
Best Overall
NRS Chinook
NRS Chinook
  • 1.81 pounds
  • Multiple sizes
  • 400-denier ripstop nylon
  • Multiple adjustment points
9
AmazonBass Pro
Best Womens
NRS Shenook
NRS Shenook
  • 1 pound 14 ounces
  • Multiple sizes
  • 400-denier ripstop nylon
  • Multiple adjustment points
9
AmazonFish USA
Best For Paddling
Ascend Paddling Fishing Life Jacket
Ascend Paddling Fishing Life Jacket
  • 400x200-denier ripstop shell
  • 210-denier Oxford liner
  • 3M reflective material on the front and back
  • Eight adjustment points
  • No buckles, just a zipper
8
Bass ProCabela's
Best Inflatable
Bass Pro Shops AM33 Auto/Manual Inflatable Life Vest
Bass Pro Shops AM33 Auto/Manual Inflatable Life Vest
  • Wide neoprene neckline
  • High-vis inflation chamber
  • Manual or automatic inflation
  • USCG approved
7
Bass ProCabela's
Best Budget
Bass Pro Shops Type II Life Jacket
Bass Pro Shops Type II Life Jacket
  • Minimum of 15.5 lbs of buoyancy
  • US Coast Guard approved
5
Bass ProCabela's

Best PFD For Kayak Fishing Reviews

NRS Chinook

NRS Chinook

BEST KAYAK FISHING PFD OVERALL

Specs

  • 1.81 pounds
  • Multiple sizes
  • 400-denier ripstop nylon
  • Multiple adjustment points

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Adjustable
  • Easy to access pockets
  • High back-foam

Cons

  • Expensive

Why We Chose It

NRS has been a leader in the paddling and watersports world for years. They manufacture high-quality life jackets, and the Chinook leads the way. Because the Chinook was designed for kayak anglers and used the best materials, I named it the best kayak fishing PFD overall.

I love that the Chinook is lightweight because you’re likely to load it with tools and gear you have no other place for, so starting with a lightweight PFD is the way to go.

The pockets are large enough for small tackle boxes, and they’re easy to access, so you won’t be fumbling around awkwardly trying to get your tools or gear out of the pockets.

I also love the adjustability and high back design. The adjustability ensures you’ll find a comfortable and secure fit, while the high back-foam won’t force you to uncomfortably lean forward the entire time you’re in your kayak. However, there is enough foam to keep you afloat in an emergency on the water safely.

If you’re beginning to kayak and fish, safety is the area you should splurge. The NRS Chinook seems expensive for a life jacket. However, you will see why I rated it highly and believe it is worth every penny after wearing one.

If you need further convincing, check the video by professional kayak angler Chad Hoover below.

NRS SHENOOK

NRS Shenook

BEST WOMEN’S KAYAK FISHING PFD

Specs

  • 1 pound 14 ounces
  • Multiple sizes
  • 400-denier ripstop nylon
  • Multiple adjustment points

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Designed for female kayak anglers
  • Adjustable
  • Easy access pockets
  • High back-foam

Cons

  • Expensive

Why We Chose It

NRS doesn’t only cater to men’s watersport products. They have many products designed for women, including the NRS Shenook. The Shenook is the Chinook modified to fit lady kayak anglers better. It has all the benefits and functionality of the Chinook, and that’s why I rated it as the best women kayak fishing PFD.

The Shenook is lightweight and comfortable because of the mesh backing and open design. This allows you to paddle and cast easily. It also means you’re less likely to sweat while wearing it, unlike other life jackets that are very restrictive and don’t breathe.

Just like the Chinook, the Shenook has a high back-foam that allows you to sit comfortably in your kayak seat instead of forcing you to hunch over. With all the adjustments the Shenook has, you can make the PFD fit you instead of trying to fit into the life vest.

The Shenook is constructed of durable 400-denier nylon, which will last you a lifetime of paddling and fishing.

The NRS Shenook is for female kayak anglers serious about comfort, safety, and functionality. It offers everything one needs, from a life jacket while kayak fishing. Yes, it’s expensive, but safety is one area I wouldn’t say I like to skimp on, especially if you’re going to be by yourself fishing from a kayak.

Ascend Paddling Fishing Life Jacket

Ascend Paddling Fishing Life Jacket

BEST KAYAK LIFE JACKET FOR PADDLING

Specs

  • 400×200-denier ripstop shell
  • 210-denier Oxford liner
  • 3M reflective material on the front and back
  • Eight adjustment points
  • No buckles, just a zipper

Pros

  • Designed for paddling
  • Front-zip pockets
  • USCG approved Type III
  • Drawbridge-style pockets for fold-down workstations

Cons

  • The lower back padding might cause some discomfort.

Why We Chose It

Ascend is a Bass Pro brand that covers their paddling sports. For the price of the products, they all seem to be of good quality. While I think a few minor changes could improve the Ascend Paddling and Fishing Life Jacket, overall, it’s an excellent Personal Flotation Device.

The Ascend Paddling Life Jacket is protected by a durable 400×200-denier ripstop nylon outer shell, so as long as you’re not poking holes in it with hooks, it should last you for a lifetime. The eight adjustment points mean you’re not forced to fit into the life jacket; it will adjust to fit you.

I love that Ascend thought to put reflective material on the front and back of the life jacket. Many anglers, myself included, are out before the sunrise and past the sunset, so having another way to alert other boaters of our presence is comforting.

I also like that the front pockets fold out to become a mini-workbench, so you’re not working with hooks in your lap, where they always seem to get tangled in my pants.

The Ascend Paddling Fishing Life Jacket is for anglers and paddlers who are not comfortable spending so much money on a life jacket but still want the performance of a good-quality life jacket; that’s why I rated it as the best kayak life jacket for paddling.

Bass Pro Shops AM33 Auto/Manual Inflatable Life Vest

Bass Pro Shops AM33 Auto/Manual Inflatable Life Vest

BEST INFLATABLE KAYAK FISHING LIFE VEST

Specs

  • Wide neoprene neckline
  • High-vis inflation chamber
  • Manual or automatic inflation
  • USCG approved

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Reusable
  • Adjustable for a snug fit
  • Upgraded materials

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Once it’s inflated, you have to purchase a “rearming kit” to use again.

Why We Chose It

Many anglers prefer an inflatable life vest because they’re unintrusive. The Bass Pro Shops AM33 All-Clear Auto/Manual Deluxe Inflatable Life Vest is a go-to for many tournament anglers. However, most anglers fish from a bass boat and not a kayak.

I think the concept of inflatable lifejackets is great because they aren’t as bulky as traditional life jackets, so they’re more comfortable to wear for a long time. I’m not convinced that they’re practical for kayakers because of how wet we can get from waves splashing us.

If enough water were to splash you, it could set off the inflatable life jacket, in theory, which would be a waste of the CO2 cartridge.

With that said, the AM33 Auto/Manual Deluxe Inflatable Life Vest doesn’t interfere while paddling or casting. It’s lightweight, and if you need it in an emergency, it will automatically fill up with air, or you can manually pull the pin.

I only recommend the Bass Pro Shops AM33 Auto/Manual Deluxe Inflatable Life Vest for strong swimmers and kayak anglers who rarely get wet. If you’re prone to getting wet, including fishing in the rain, then I highly recommend purchasing a different life jacket.

Bass Pro Shops Type II Life Jacket

Bass Pro Shops Type II Life Jacket

BEST KAYAK FISHING LIFE JACKET ON A BUDGET

Specs

  • Minimum of 15.5 lbs of buoyancy
  • US Coast Guard approved

Pros

  • Keeps the unconscious face up in the water
  • Cheap
  • It fits a wide variety of people, universal size
  • Open sides

Cons

  • Not designed for kayaking or fishing
  • Bulky in the front
  • One adjustable strap to cinch
  • No pouches

Why We Chose It

The Bass Pro Shops Type II life jacket is really designed to have in a boat as a spare or in case of emergency. However, If this is the only life jacket you can afford, then buy this life jacket. This PFD is better than no PFD. That’s why I rated it as the best kayak fishing life jacket on a budget.

Type II life jackets are all going to be bulky in the front because that’s where all the foam is going to be, except the little bit that sits behind your head. That means they will be comfortable sitting in a kayak seat because you can fully sit back in the seat. It also means casting and paddling will be a little difficult.

They are adjustable and fit many people because the life vest is an adjustable strap that secures you to the foam. God forbid you happen to fall into the water unconscious the Bass Pro Shops Type II PFD should turn your face up in the water so you won’t drown before help can arrive.

The Bass Pro Shops Type II Life Jacket is for those on a small budget. It will not be the most comfortable, but it will help keep you safe when you need it.

Buying Guide: Factors to Consider Before Buying The Best Kayak Fishing Life Vest

Factors to Consider Before Buying The Best Kayak Fishing Life Vest

I recommend wearing your life jacket the entire time you are on the water in your kayak, so with that in mind, several considerations must be front of mind when purchasing the best kayak life jacket:

  • Comfort
  • Breathability
  • Does it restrict your movement
  • Safety
  • And storage compartments

Comfort

You’ll be wearing the PFD all day, so you want it to be comfortable. This includes keeping you seated comfortably. Some life jackets aren’t designed for kayaks and will cause you to sit hunched over, making it difficult to paddle and fish. Others will rub your arms as you paddle and cast, making for a miserably long day.

If you’re not comfortable while you’re on the water, chances are you won’t enjoy your time, so choosing a comfortable PFD is an essential part of having a great day of kayak fishing.

If you think, “I’ll just put it on when I need it.” chances are, that’s not going to be the case. Accidents happen in a split second, and it’s doubtful you will have the time to react quick enough to put your life jacket on before you need it.

Breathability

This goes along with the comfortability of a life jacket. Manufacturers use mesh back to help make a PFD as breathable as possible. We use life jackets most often during the summer when it’s scorching hot outside, and no one likes wearing a vest that’s only going to amplify the heat.

So I recommend purchasing a life jacket that breaths well because it has a lot of mesh or openings, so it doesn’t trap the heat and make you hotter.

Does it Restrict Your Freedom Of Movement?

Does it Restrict Your Freedom Of Movement?

PFDs designed for kayak fishing shouldn’t restrict your natural movements. However, other styles of life jackets will interfere with your paddle stroke or cast. That’s why it’s important to purchase a paddling/fishing-specific PFD.

If you feel like you’re buddled up and unable to move, then kayak fishing won’t be as fun as it should.This is where inflatable life jackets are great, but you must keep them from getting wet and dissolve the plug, so they auto-inflate.

Saftey

If you have only to go off one factor, make it this one. It’s pointless to wear a life jacket that doesn’t keep you safe. The reason you should wear one is to keep you safe, so buy one that you’re not only comfortable in but is also safe.

A good life jacket is certified by the US Coast Guard. If a PFD is certified, there will be a sticker or tag stating it somewhere on the life jacket. More than likely, it will also be in their advertisement so you can know before you purchase it if it’s USCG certified.

Storage Compartments

A good kayak fishing personal floatation device will have zippered pockets. Storage space is limited in a kayak, so making the most of every opportunity for space is important. Only fill the large pockets with fishing gear you need, like pliers, small tackle boxes for lures, or a knife, so they keep a low profile.

Don’t forget to leave room for your phone! Keeping your phone in your life jacket pocket might not keep it from getting wet, but it won’t sink to the bottom of the lake either!

You’ll Also Need

You'll Also Need

If you’re interested in the best kayak fishing PFD, then you’ll need a few other items, more than likely, you have at least a couple of these already.

Fishing Kayak

Kayaks have become specialized for fishing. Many excellent fishing kayaks make fishing from a kayak so much easier. Most fishing kayaks have built-in rod holders and are a little wider, so they’re more stable than recreational kayaks.

I love my fishing kayak and use it more than my Bass Tracker.

Kayak Paddle

The best kayak fishing paddle will go a long way in how well you paddle. A short paddle will cause you to shorten your stroke, so you won’t get as much power, while too long of a paddle is cumbersome and makes paddle efficiently difficult.

Fishing Rod And Reel

You need a rod and reel to go fishing! There are few rods designed for kayaks, but I have begun to see a couple of manufacturers see the value in specialized kayak fishing rods, especially for catfishing.

I use the same rods when I fish from the bank or a bass boat while fishing from my kayak.

Last Cast

PFDs are the single most important kayak fishing accessories you will buy, in my opinion. That’s why I believe we shouldn’t skimp when buying a fisherman PFD.

My top pick is the NRS Chinook. It’s hands down the best kayak fishing PFD on the market. If you buy it, you won’t be disappointed. The same rings true for the NRS Shenook, designed for women.

At the very least, you should always have a PFD, even if it’s the budget-friendly Bass Pro Shops Type II Life Vest.

Remember you have to wear it for it to work! As I said in my kayak fishing tips and tricks article, “Always wear a PFD while kayak fishing!” In the comments, let me know what life jacket you prefer while kayak fishing!

About Post Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.