Since I can remember, I’ve had a passion for the wilderness and adventure. I’ve learned my trade everywhere, from the rock faces of the Himalaya to the wilds of South America and Europe. My vision is simple, to connect more people to the awesome power of the great outdoors.
John is an avid traveler, hiker, and RVer. Moreover, it seems like he knows everything when it comes to fishing and hunting: his father started sharing all the tips and tricks he knew when John was a kid. No wonder we trust his opinion every time a new article is being created.
Last updated: November 17, 2021
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What can be better than spending hot summer days doing your favorite water activity, be it jet ski or fishing? No other picnic comes even close to beach days! However, when you are relaxing and having fun, you shouldn’t forget about water safety.
We asked our water safety experts, including experienced coast guards to help us compare 43 most popular life vests available on the market. In our extensive research, we narrowed it down the 10 best life jackets to make it easier for you to find the right product. The editor’s top pick is the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, not just because of its quality and style but also for its buoyancy, light weight, and amazing reputation. Apart from this model, there are also nine products included if you want to check something a bit different.
We focused on some characteristics that contribute to the quality and reliability of the best life jackets. We paid attention to the sizes so that people can find a life jacket that fits well. Another thing to consider is weight because you don’t want your life jacket feeling heavy and hindering your experience. These products come in various colors for aesthetics, and it helps the coast guard spot you from a distance. We also chose the best life jackets based on the materials and buoyancy. Continue reading, and you will find our detailed reviews of the best life jackets for all ages and sizes along with a buying guide to make things easier for you.
The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest is highly suitable for water sports. Made of 200D nylon, neoprene, and mesh material, it’s tear-resistant, which makes it a reliable option. Lightweight life jackets like this one are the best because they won’t restrict your movements. Therefore, this 1 lbs. life vest can be a perfect choice for everyone because of its lightweight and strong material. It is an adult life jacket that comes in all sizes from extra-large to extra-small. However, this particular model is not available in kids’ sizes. It comes in a grey color with teal, orange purple, or yellow stripes.
This particular model has Type III buoyancy, approved by the US Coast Guard. This means that it is safe for water activities like sailing, water skiing, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. Next, the reflective material makes it noticeable in case of an accident, and the expandable zipper pockets allow better comfort with the mesh drainage. Other great features are a double crimp and funnel entry.
This pick is one of our favorites with its bright red and blue color options. The Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest made it to our list of the 10 best life jackets because of its various sizes and affordable price. Here, you can find a model for infants or adults, with the adult life jacket’s buoyancy of 90+ lbs. However, the manufacturer does not specify the buoyancy for their infant-sized life jacket.
The outer shell material of this particular model is traditional 200D nylon, which is a trusted quality fabric for life jackets. The adult size weighs 1.2 lbs, making it lightweight and comfortable. Other features include buckles that can be adjusted according to size and inbuilt PE floatation foam that helps to keep you on the surface. Thus, it’s safe for challenging water activities. It’s also open-sided, so it leaves more room for arm mobility, making it good for sports. The webbed buckle straps make a firm protective cage to prevent loosening, proving very useful in case of an accident. However, a few people said that it was not tight enough for them.
This is one of our most popular picks, well-known among avid users. This savvy-looking model comes in 4 colors: Glacier Blue (the most popular), Buck Fever, Cherry Creek Red, and Pine Needle Green. It is still a relatively lightweight model with a weight of 2 lbs. It might not be the lightest option, but its extra features make it worth purchasing. The Astral Blue Jacket Life Jacket comes in a range of sizes to pick from, with options of M/L, L/XL, and S/M.
The design of this premium model is fantastic, with different materials used. The outer shell is made of 200D x 400D ripstop nylon with a 200D nylon liner. Next, the buoyancy of the life jacket is Type 3 approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, meaning that it is safe for recreational use as well as sports. Other features include multiple zipper pockets, PVC-free body, and a release buckle entry for easy fastening. We think this is one of the best adult life jackets because of its perfect design and materials, as well as the guaranteed safety technology.
One of the outstanding features of the O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest is its highly aesthetic design that attracts buyers at first glance, but let’s not forget why we’re really here. This life jacket only comes in adult male sizes. This model is a great pick for those who enjoy water sports because of the 4 heavy-duty 1.5 wide webbed belts with quick-release Delrin buckles, making it a suitable option for adventurous people.
The life jacket comes in very tasteful colors, with an aura of brave, adventurous, and daring. You can choose any from Black, Graphite with Smoke, Red, Lime, Yellow, White, Pacific stripes, and Patriot. It will make you feel like you’re starring in a Mountain Dew advert. It comes in the three basic small, medium, and large sizes but also X-XXXX-large sizes, so you know it is for everyone. The buoyancy is Type III, approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, so it is safe for recreational water activities as well as others. It is an airy, lightweight adult life jacket perfectly suited for your water adventures.
The Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket is a great option for adults looking for a safe water adventure like a dip in the ocean, jet skiing, or simply kayaking or sailing. It has a U.S. Coast Guard Approved buoyancy of Type III, which ensures its safety. Many people love this particular model for its shoulder adjustments, 4 side pulls, and front waist buckle to adjust fitting on top of the sizes available. It comes in small, medium, large and extra-large, as well as XX-large. The nylon material makes it quite durable, while a low cut neckline with offset front-zip entry ensures comfort. The reflective stripes are an essential feature that ensures the person wearing is noticeable even in the darkness. It weighs 2 lbs, and it is hands down our best coast guard approved adult life jacket available in vibrant colors, ranging from black, red, royal blue to mango yellow, giving buyers a size and color option of their liking. However, some women might not find it suitable to their liking.
The Stearns Comfort Series Collared Angler Vest made it to our list of the top life jackets due to its guaranteed high safety technology. This has proven to be safe in the experience of several respondents. This model is one of the best adult life jackets you can find on the market, with its U.S. Coast Guard-approved buoyancy of about 16lbs. It can support a heavy person, even in high and dangerous waters. This is a lightweight pick, which weighs only 1.1 lbs. It comes in a camouflage black and green fabric, which, unfortunately, may not be noticeable from afar or attract attention. Next, the material on the shell is 200D nylon oxford with a V-shaped neoprene collar and mesh shoulder panels. The Stearns Comfort Series Collared Angler Vest is available in sizes ranging from medium to XXX-large.
Some outstanding features include flexible neoprene collar, large zippered pockets, and tackle pockets. The vest has large armholes, which are great for fishing. It is a traditional-looking adult life jacket, which works wonderfully in water, ensuring 99% safety in deeper waters.
This model proves an amazing pick for our list because it is an incredibly reliable life jacket. It is highly efficient and comes in sizes for children as well as grown-ups.
The Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jacket comes in an impressive range of sizes for not just children and adults, but also youngsters. It comes in universal adult size as well as adult super large, adult L/XL, adult 2X/3X, and adult 4X/6X. This particular model is also great because of its high-quality, polyester Cordura fabric and closed-cell P.E. foam. It weighs less than 1 lbs, thus making it a great pick for children.
This life jacket comes in typical colors: with the vibrant neon orange, neon yellow, as well as purple, red, and white. The Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jacket has a good Type III buoyancy approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Other fantastic features include a 2-inch webbing with quick-release buckles. The jacket has fully enclosed sides, 1-inch adjustable straps, and it is U.L. listed, making it great for sports. However, it does not have automatic drainage technology.
The O’Brien Men’s Biolite Traditional Life Jacket is a sporty model that comes in all sizes from extra small to XXX-large. It is available in five colors: black, blue, cyan, green, and red. It is made of neoprene instead of nylon that you can find in most of our other picks. This one is a pretty basic adult life jacket that weighs 1.18lbs and has a Type III buoyancy approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. This is one of our favorite picks because it is perfect for a harmless dip in the ocean, diving in safe waters on a yacht or jet ski. However, some sizes run small, so make sure to check the feedback beforehand.
The design is also similar to a universal safety jacket with big armholes to allow mobility, and there is a zip-up closure, making it easy to wear. It has two belt buckles to keep the jacket in place. The design allows maximum movement, making it a good option for an outdoor trip with family or friends.
This particular pick is best suited for boating or fishing, where one necessarily doesn’t go in the water but needs safety regardless. It comes in a standard size for adults, so it can be good for back up at a recreational resort or boat. However, it may not be the best option for water sports. The yellow, blue and red colors that the Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket comes in are all vibrant and easily noticeable from afar, therefore serving the purpose correctly. The polyester oxford material of the life jacket makes it weigh a total of 1.8 lbs., including the CO2 cylinder.
The buoyancy of this particular model is great to keep a person afloat even in harsh conditions and water currents. With its 150N buoyancy, the Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket can support up to 330 lbs. of body mass, which is impressive, considering the thin structure of the life jacket. Other features include light reflectors, adjustable belt, washable design, extra fastener, and rescue strap, making it one of our expert’s favorite choices. Moreover, automatic and manual inflation models are available.
The Full Throttle Youth Rapid Dry Flex-Back Life Jacket is an option for young children or teenagers. With a total weight of 1.3lbs, it has good buoyancy and can support 50 to 90 lbs easily. This particular life jacket is specifically designed for youngsters, so the pattern and style are bright and vibrant. It comes in purple and green, making it suitable for both genders. The stretch polyester knit is a strong but smooth material, making it a safe protective gear. However, it is still not entirely safe for challenging water activities.
Considering that it is designed especially with a certain age group in mind, the life jacket has some properties that make it safer for games young people tend to engage in. It has a comfortable material with a smooth span inner and stretchable inserts that adjust according to the size you need. The quick-drying material is an added bonus. It has a zip-up closure style with two added protective buckles on the waist. However, some people found it somewhat limiting.
What stands out?
Specifically designed for young people
Can hold 50 to 90 lbs of weight
What cons did we manage to find?
May restrict movement to some extent
Things to Consider
We all know the importance of water safety. No one wishes for a tide of hazard or mishap to roll over their fun and adventure, which is why it is crucial to choose the best safety gear for your water activities. When shopping for a life jacket, whether it’s for jet skiing, sailing, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, or cruising, it is extremely important to focus your attention on the quality as well as protective technology of the product. This guide will provide you with all the information you need to make the right decision when buying a life jacket for adults, children, or infants.
Reasons to use a life vest
Most people are aware of harmful incidents that might happen out there on the water. People should be prepared at all times because anything can happen when one’s out sailing, water skiing, or fishing. Life jackets have a number of benefits that, in case of a mishap, will have you grateful that you knew how to get ready for everything. First of all, weather can be extremely unpredictable, and life jackets do not just keep you warm when worn snuggly, but also afloat if an accident occurs. If you get stranded in cold water after a boating accident, a life jacket will make sure your body temperature remains in check. In case you become unconscious, life jackets are designed such that they turn the body face up so you can still breathe. They are reported to prevent 90% of boating-related drownings, so if you’re looking for safety while sailing, get a reliable life jacket!
How to pick the best life jacket?
When picking out a life jacket, you need to check the perfect size. If it doesn’t fit you well, it’s practically useless. It’s also important that you get a neon, vibrant, or any other easily noticeable color that is preferably reflective and should be visible from afar. The most important factor is the buoyancy, which should be expert-approved as well as the material it’s made of because the fabric should be strong and be able to withstand harsh conditions. The weight should also be taken into account before purchasing because if it is too heavy, you’ll have a hard time moving or having fun, let alone saving yourself in an accident.
There are five main types of life jackets that are U.S. Coast Guard approved. Type I is quite bulky, so it won’t be that comfortable to wear for extended periods. Type II is also not that great for the abovementioned activities. However, they are quite affordable. You’ll enjoy using Type III life vests because they fit snuggly and offer you excellent buoyancy rating. Type IV includes throwable devices, so you are not likely to find anything for you here. Finally, Type V is great for those who love jet skiing, sailing, kayaking, and other activities. These show excellent performance.
When it comes to inflatable models, there are manual and automatic ones. A manual inflatable PFD is one that requires you to pull the jerk tab attached to the vest. It activates the CO2 cylinder that inflates the vest. Next, an automatic inflatable PFD is one that inflates when it comes in contact with water.
The size of a life jacket is important because a well-fitted jacket helps you stay afloat. An ill-fitted safety vest may fail to keep you warm and prevent you from slipping out of the vest in a dangerous situation. However, we have shortlisted a range of vests to choose from, with the best life jackets for adults and children, available in sizes ranging from a universal adult, X small to XXX large and in between. Some models like the Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jacket and the Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket come with adjustable straps to ensure a tight fit that helps your life jacket stay in place.
Color and design
The color and aesthetic features of life jackets are important. The color has to be neon or vibrant, which can be easily spotted by the rescue team or any onlooker who can notice a drowning person and get help. This is why a reflective striping or a fully reflective surface is important, as it can be spotted from a distance or at night. Pockets can be useful for carrying essentials. The Stearns Comfort Series Collared Angler Vest comes with pocket zippers.
Zippers and buckles are important because they make a jacket easy to put on and take off. In case of an emergency, if you’re not wearing a life jacket, a zipper would be easier to zip up quickly. Buckles with straps give you better adjustability, making your vest more comfortable.
Open sides allow greater mobility, which is why they are better suited for water sports, while closed sides are safer.
The material of a life jacket is of utmost importance as well. The interior of the life jacket is usually made from materials like polyvinyl chloride foam or polyethylene foam. These are non-absorbent materials that allow the person to stay afloat, even in harsh conditions. Nylon is the most common high-quality material used in jackets because it is a strong fabric that can resist wear and tear in situations like heavy tides, harsh winds, or long periods in the water. A high density of nylon is used to ensure the durability of life jackets, and it also helps keep you warm in cold water. For example, the O’Neill Men’s Superlite USCG Life Vest is made of coated nylon for extra durability.
Life jackets are generally lightweight, and this allows people to wear them for extended periods. When talking about the weight, experts refer to the buoyancy of a life jacket that we will discuss as well. The actual weight of a life jacket is the combined weight of the materials that are used to make it.
The weight is an important parameter because if the life jacket is too heavy, it restricts movements and causes irritation because you have to carry it around.
When you go into the water, it puts extra weight on you, making you feel too heavy. On the other hand, a lighter life jacket will not be able to protect you fully. For instance, the Astral Blue Jacket Life Jacket weighs only 2 pounds and ensures comfort every time you wear it.
The buoyancy of a life jacket allows you to stay on the surface. This tells you how much weight a life jacket can support. This type is suitable for activities such as sailing regattas, dinghy races, water skiing, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. They can support approximately 15.5 lbs of body mass in water. Most of the options, including the editor’s choice, the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest, are U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III life jackets.
The extra features of a life jacket are an added bonus but not a must-have. However, it is always better to have extra safety.
Reflectors are perhaps the most important extra feature you can get because safety vests are supposed to attract the coast guard or rescue teams from afar.
Rescue straps make it easier to pull the person out of water. Considering that the body is already heavier in water, rescue straps ensure a tight grip to pull the wearer to safety. Most of the products on our list of the best life jackets come with unique features, such as the Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket, which has light reflectors, adjustable belt, washable design, extra fastener, and a rescue strap.
The price of these life vests ranges from $17.99 to $235.00, offering a great choice in every price category. You can get our premium pick, the Astral BlueJacket Life Jacket for $235 that offers high-quality materials and multiple pockets, or our best value option, the Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest for a valuable price of $17.99. We can ensure that every item on our list of the best life jackets is a winner regardless of the price. The expensive options, like the Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket, offer better adjustability, have reflective stripes, and are very comfortable.
One of the most popular questions we get is whether life jackets last you for years or not. After all, people want to know if they are totally safe out in the water. Life jackets don’t come with a fixed lifetime per se. However, you can get that from the trusted feedback. Regular life jackets last for up to ten years, so they are a long-term investment. In order to keep them usable for ten years, they require regular maintenance and proper care. As soon as you notice that your life jacket is damaged, or it starts to lose its buoyancy, it’s time to get a new one. This is a much better idea than getting the damaged one repaired.
Life jackets require frequent cleaning, not just for them to look clean but for hygiene purposes as well. You must clean any residue, mud, or sunscreen off your safety vest. You cannot use bleach or any industrial cleaner to wash your safety vest, as it may cause the color to wear off. It is better to clean it manually, as putting it in a washing machine can damage it as well. You must wash it with clean water every time after using them in saltwater. You should also be mindful of not leaving your life jackets out lying under the sun for too long.
Life jackets are not a universal fit, which is why you’re in luck because they come in multiple sizes. Notice that they come separately in male and female sizes. To get the right size, you should measure the thickest part of your chest and match it to the vests measurement specifications. To tell if the vest is too big for you, you can put three fingers between the vest and your shoulders, and if they fit, it’s definitely a size too big for you. Therefore, you will need to adjust the straps if possible. It should feel snug, however, without being too tight because you don’t want to restrict your movement or breathing!
From all of the 10 products that we reviewed, all these models have excellent buoyancy, reliable materials, and great design that ensure maximum safety. We have considered the price, as well as extra features that make all these items special. Now, it’s time to name our top three picks!
The Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest is our Editor’s Choice because it checks all the right boxes. Its convenient pockets allow you to have quick access to your gear, while its lightweight design makes it an incredible option for water activities.
The model from Stearns is a classic adult vest with a more than attractive price. It is very simple to put on and take off thanks to its three buckles.
Finally, the Astral BlueJacket Life Jacket is our premium product made of high-quality materials. There are also a side release buckle and multiple zipper pockets. It’s no wonder why we have this model in our list of the best life jackets.