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How to Choose a PFD

One of the most important pieces of personal equipment you’ll need when you're out doing whatever water sport activity is a good personal floatation device (PFD).

This article will help you in choosing the right PFD so you’ll know what to expect when you shop for your new PFD. We offer many different styles to make sure there is an one that comfortably fits all body shapes and sizes, and fits your needs- so let us cover what differences our PFDs have.

Wear a PFD, Even If You're a Strong Swimmer

Even if you're a confident swimmer, wearing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or life jacket during watersports activities significantly increases your safety and survival chances should you end up in the water. PFDs are vital in rough conditions like rapids or cold water. A properly fitted life jacket can literally save your life.

Most adults need at least 15 to 18 pounds of buoyancy to keep their head above water. For strong swimmers, a 16 to 18 pound life jacket is usually fine. Non-swimmers may prefer a heavier life jacket, around 22 to 27 pounds, for extra peace of mind. The more muscle mass you have, the more buoyancy you need.

Heavier life jackets float you higher and help you pop to the surface faster. However, they are bulkier and less comfortable. The most important thing is finding a life jacket that is comfortable to wear.


5 PFD Types According to US Coast Guard Classifications


The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has established five types of PFDs based on their intended use and performance characteristics. 


Type I PFDs are designed for rough, open water and provide the highest level of buoyancy. They can turn an unconscious person face up in the water, making them ideal for situations where rescue may take some time. This type provides the most buoyancy.

Type II PFDs are suitable for calm, inland water where a quick rescue is likely. They also turn an unconscious person face up in the water but provide less buoyancy than Type I PFDs.

Type III PFDs are designed for activities like water skiing, fishing, and kayaking. Ideal for users who are conscious in calm lakes and rivers, or situations where help can arrive quickly.  They allow for a wide range of motion and provide good buoyancy, but they do not guarantee face-up flotation.

Type IV PFDs are throwable devices like life rings and buoyant cushions. They are not designed to be worn but can be used to aid in rescue situations.

Type V PFDs are specialized devices designed for specific activities like windsurfing, paddling, or white-water rafting. They must be used in accordance with their labeling instructions, which may require additional training or experience.


Jacket Design

PFDs for Stand Up Paddling
Some prefer belt-style inflatable PFDs like the MTI Inflatable Belt PFD, that don’t need to be inflated unless separated from the board and in the water. 

Most of the time, SUP paddlers would prefer PFDs that are minimalist so they have the maximum amount of freedom for movement. 
Vaikobi’s V3 & VXP PFD for example, has a lightweight design and no side panels for maximum breathability.

PFDs for Kayaking
Kayaking PFDs often have more pockets than other PFD designs. They might also have a special pocket designed to hold safety devices. 

To sit more comfortably on high-back raft and kayak seats, PFDs like the C-Vest, Chinook, Clearwater or Zoya from NRS are designed for exactly that.
By concentrating all of the back flotation up high, your lower back is free to rest against your seat. There is added ventilation from high-back PFD jackets for hot days on the water. 

Front-zip vs. Pull-over vs. Side-entry

Which way you put on your PFD is really up to personal preference. There are typically three types of entry methods for PFDs, Front-Zip, Side-Entry or Pull Over.

Front-zip PFDs are easier to get in and out of, but one small downside to it is that it tends to be bulkier than other kinds of PFDs since the zipper displaces the foam, which takes away surface area. Which is why some paddlers opt for a Side-Entry or Pull-Over type PFD. 

Side-Entry and Pull-Over PFDs are usually low-profile PFD designs and favoured by Stand UP Paddlers or water sport activities that require more movement.