Life jackets for paddle boarding are becoming more specialized the more the sport grows, and whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, it’s important to have a good PFD.
Staying safe out on the water is just as important as having fun, and there are a plethora of options to choose from. But not all life vests are created equal, and it’s important to get a personal flotation device that matches the conditions you’ll be paddling in.
We’ve got you covered with our top ten picks of the best life jackets for paddling, along with a guide for the different types of PFDs and key considerations to keep in mind before you buy.
Quick Answer: Best Life Jackets for Paddle Boarding
|Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket||Premium foam & ripstop nylon shell||III||$$||View on Amazon
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|Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Vest||Ripstop nylon, mesh, neoprene pads, lightweight foam||III||$||View on Amazon|
|NRS Ninja Kayak Lifejacket||AirMesh, nylon, foam||III||$$||View on Amazon
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|Astral GreenJacket Life Jacket PFD||PVC-free Gaia & PE foam, nylon||III||$$$||View on Amazon
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|Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable PFD||Neoprene neckline, nylon, CO2 cartridge||V||$$||View on Amazon|
|Absolute Outdoor Onyx M-24 Manual Inflatable Vest||Heavy duty nylon, padded AirMesh, CO2 cartridge||V||$$||View on Amazon|
|STEARNS Suspenders Manually Inflatable Belt Pack||Nylon, CO2 cartridge||III||$$||View on Amazon|
|Onyx Unisex Belt Pack||Nylon, CO2 cartridge||V||$||View on Amazon|
|NRS Chinook Fishing Kayak Lifejacket||PlushFIT foam, nylon, mesh panels||III||$$||View on Amazon
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|STEARNS Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest||Nylon, PE floatation foam||I||$||View on Amazon|
10 Best Life Jackets for Paddle Boarding
When it comes to finding the best life jackets for paddle boarding, check out this round up of our top 10 picks to get started!
Features: Non-restrictive cut | Thin back panel | Back loop | Box-stitched webbing | Extra high upper buckle to reduce ride up
The perfect combination of comfort and safety, this PFD from Stohlquist Edge is one of the best life jackets for paddle boarding.
The super-soft foam and 4-way adjustable shoulder straps reduce chafing, and the extra-large armholes and mesh sides allow for maximum mobility. The straps are also reflective, making this SUP life jacket even safer by enhancing your visibility out on the water.
Another bonus of the life vest is that it comes with a top-loading front pocket which makes for easy accessibility for any snacks or extra gear you may have with you.
This is a type III personal flotation device, meaning it can take on the rough rapids of whitewater, but will also do well for touring and casual paddling.
You may want to size up this life vest, as some paddlers complain that it runs small.
Features: Lash tab | Heavy duty zipper | High back mesh ventilation panel | Large storage pocket
Another great life jacket for paddle boarding is this personal flotation device from the much-loved brand, Onyx.
It’s made from heavy-duty nylon and neoprene padding on the shoulders, making it one of the most comfortable life vests on the market. The mesh backing and open sides help keep you cool while you paddle, and the large armholes will prevent any chafing.
This SUP life jacket is a type III, and you’ll be extra safe thanks to the built-in safety whistle and the SOLAS grade reflective material on the straps.
The only complaint about this life vest is that the pocket is too small, but hey, any pocket is better than no pocket, and this small criticism isn’t enough to detract from the overall quality of the PFD.
Features: AirMesh fabric for ventilation | Six adjustable points | Front clamshell pocket w/ internal organization | Lash tab
Compact and comfortable, the NRS Ninja is one of the best life jackets for paddle boarding.
Available in a variety of bright neon colors, you’ll be easy to spot while you’re out on the water. You’ll also be quite comfortable in this SUP life jacket thanks to the thick foam, and you’ll have plenty of mobility thanks to the open armholes.
The suspender-style shoulders traps are adjustable in two spots, and the side straps offer four different adjustment points for a custom fit. This makes the life vest a great option for larger paddlers, though the life vest will fit virtually anyone.
One of the best things about this personal flotation device is the roomy, clamshell pocket on the front that’s large enough for some snacks or brewskis once you’re ready to take a break from paddling.
This PFD is a type III – perfect for paddle boarding so long as you know how to swim (which is really a must for all paddlers in the first place).
Features: Two-panel fit system to reduce rid-up | Pullover style | Adjustable side buckles | Extra durable materials | Clamshell front pocket w/ multiple compartments | Quick release harness
Those looking for a heavy-duty PFD would be hard-pressed to find a better life jacket for paddling than this bad boy from Astral. That being said, it has a seriously hefty price tag, but if you’re looking for the cream of the crop, this is it.
Originally designed for white water rescue, this type III personal flotation device is all about safety. It’s made with high-quality nylon with reflective accents and will keep you afloat even in the harshest conditions.
This SUP life jacket has a two-panel fit system to help you stay comfortable and mobile, and there’s a clamshell front pocket with multiple storage compartments.
The bottom line is that this life vest is the best when it comes to harsh conditions, but if you’re just paddling in calm water, you can probably save your money and opt for a more affordable PFD.
Features: Automatically inflates when in water (or tab is pulled) | Backup oral inflation | Lightweight, low profile design
Some of the most popular life jackets for paddle boarding are harness-style life vests. This automatic inflatable design from Onyx is well-loved for its ease of use and its comfortable, lightweight design.
You’ll have no restriction in your movement, and the low profile of this personal flotation device may have you forgetting that you’re even wearing one. Once you hit the water, the PFD will inflate automatically, and if you run out of CO2, you can inflate this versatile vest manually.
This SUP life jacket is a type V, so it will work great in calmer waters, but should not be used if you’re going down rapids or taking on other rough waters.
Features: Manually inflates w/ “Jerk to Inflate” handle | Backup oral inflation | Lightweight, low profile design | Fleece lined pockets | D-ring attachment | Padded air mesh panels
Almost identical to the A/M-24, this manual-only inflatable life vest offers the same basic design without the automatic inflation.
It’s comfortable and lightweight, and you’ll have a free range of motion, just like the A/M-24. The only difference is that this personal flotation device only has the “jerk to inflate” setting whereas the former offers automatic inflation. Some people actually prefer the manual life vest to the automatic because it uses a lot less CO2 when you hit the water. The price point doesn’t differ much, however, so many paddlers opt for the A/M-24.
This manual SUP life jacket is also a type V, so experienced paddlers will be well protected as long as they stay in calmer waters.
Features: Manual lanyard to inflate | Backup oral inflation | Inflates via 16-gram CO2 cylinder | Discrete design
Belt pack PFDs are increasingly popular with experienced paddlers and make some of the best life jackets for paddle boarding.
Suspenders is a generous term for this belt pack and the name is slightly misleading. This personal flotation device sits around your waist without any shoulder straps. Once inflated, there is a strap to pull over your head in the water, and the belt inflates into a pillow pad for you to grab onto.
This SUP life jacket will not inhibit your range of motion or restrict your airflow, which makes it a great choice for those looking for something that will stay out of their way – heck, you probably won’t even notice it’s there! There’s a small velcro storage pocket in the back to store your keys or an emergency whistle as well.
The only downside to this type III life vest is that the small green pull protector tends to pop off easily, and once the PFD is inflated, you’ll have to purchase a rearming kit.
Features: 16 gram CO2 charge | Pull tab for inflation | Backup oral inflation tube for extra buoyancy | Low profile design
Another great life jacket for paddle boarding for those looking for a low profile design is the belt pack from Onyx.
This personal flotation device is similar to the belt pack from Stearns, but it will cost you quite a bit less. That’s not to say it will work any less efficiently, however. Once inflated, it’s slightly larger than the other model, and it sits closer to your chin to help keep your head afloat.
It’s a type V life vest, which is perfect for paddle boarders who aren’t looking to take on swift rivers or white water.
Although there is no pocket in this belt pack, there is a D ring for your keys or emergency whistle.
Features: Designed for fishing | Roomy in front, fitted in back | Foam fits different body types | Multiple adjustment points | 4 pockets & tool holder
Popular with paddlers and anglers alike, this multi-faceted PFD is one of the best life jackets for paddle boarding – especially for those looking to reel in some fishies while they’re out on the water.
This type III life vest will keep you safe out on the water and has some seriously impressive storage space. There are two large main pockets in addition to two accessory pockets and a tool holder pocket.
The personal flotation device is made with super soft plush-fit foam and large armholes to ensure you a comfortable experience without any resistance or chafing.
The high back makes it easy to stay cool while you paddle, and will even accommodate most kayak seats.
Features: Lightweight foam & durable nylon | Open side design | 4 adjustable buckles | Designed for water sports
The best budget life jacket for paddle boarders is this no-nonsense design from Stearns. It’s got the classic look you would associate with a life vest, and it will keep you safe out on the water, and albeit basic, it gets the job done.
It’s both durable and comfortable thanks to the high-quality foam interior and nylon shell. This is a great option for beginner paddle boarders or those looking for a versatile SUP life jacket that can be used for a variety of water sports.
This is a type I life jacket, and the one size fits all style may not be suitable for larger paddlers. Although it can be adjusted with various straps, this may not be the best pick for paddle boarders because it does not offer a great range of motion and may chafe around the neck and shoulders.
Why You Need Life Jackets for Paddle Boarding
Although it’s common knowledge that you should use a life jacket whenever you are out on the water, the Coast Guard has started classifying paddle boards as proper vessels. Slowly but surely, more and more areas are starting to require paddlers to wear PFDs, especially if you’re venturing out into open waters.
You can always look up your local area’s requirements, but it’s best to play it safe and protect yourself regardless.
There are five different types of life jackets, and each one is made for a variety of conditions and situations. We’ve highlighted the main features of each below.
Types of Life Jackets
Here are some quick bullet points to give you a general idea about the different types of life jackets and what type of conditions they work best in.
- Most common type of life vest
- Commonly used on off-shore vessels and can be used in all types of water conditions
- Bulky with lots of foam
- Fits over the head with adjustable chest straps
- One size fits all
- Used for inshore and calm waters – not meant for rough waters
- May require you to tread water to keep your head afloat
- Simple over the head design with adjustable waist strap(s)
- Commonly used by kayakers, wakeboarders, and paddle boarders
- Good for experienced swimmers
- More comfortable than type I and II
- Keeps the wearer vertical in the water with their head above the water
- Fits like a jacket
- Often have pockets
- Less buoyancy, best for experienced swimmers
- Throwable flotation devices
- Used to toss to someone who has gone overboard
- Usually found on passenger ferries and ships
- You do not wear this kind of PFD
- Uncommon for paddle boarding but may come in handy if you’re taking children along
- Hybrid of all other types of PFDs
- Inflatable with CO2 cartridges
- Manual and or automatic inflation
- Compact, lightweight, and low profile – offer a wide range of movement
- Most popular type amongst paddle boarders
What to Look for in a SUP Life Jacket
With all the different types of life vests out there, you’ll want to find one that is right for you to ensure that you have a fun, safe experience while you’re out on the water. Consider the following before you purchase your PFD.
Buoyancy and Float
The most basic function of a life vest is to keep you afloat, but not all personal flotation devices are made equally.
Before you purchase a SUP life jacket, be sure to check the specs provided by the manufacturer and make sure that the vest will work for your body size and type.
You’ll also want to make sure that the PFD matches your swimming skills and is right for the kind of conditions you’ll be paddling.
Comfort, Maneuverability, and Flexibility
The best life jacket for paddle boarding will obviously keep you afloat, but it will also be comfortable enough that you’ll forget that you’re wearing one. With a comfortable PFD, you’ll be able to stay out on the water for hours at a time without complaint.
You’ll want to find a life vest with a wide range of motion and breathable materials. Look for large armholes, nylon fabric, and reflective details for added visibility.
Sizing and Fit
The fit of your life vest will also affect how comfortable it is, and each brand will have different sizes. Although most SUP life jackets are adjustable, you’ll still want to adhere to the weight, chest size, and waist size recommendations of the personal flotation device to ensure a correct fit.
If possible, it’s a good idea to try on the PFD before you purchase it to get the perfect fit.
Some life vests, particularly type III and V, offer automatic inflation once they hit the water. These are usually low-profile belts or suspender-type personal flotation devices and are popular amongst experienced paddlers who want a large range of motion while they paddle.
The technology is similar to that of a car airbag and can be invaluable if the rider becomes unconscious for any reason.
Most SUP life jackets that offer automatic inflation also have a manual option, either a jerk to inflate tab or a blowpipe in case the automatic system fails.
Type (PFD Regulations)
No matter which type of PFD you choose, make sure you select one that is Coast Guard approved.
You’ll also want to look into the type (as mentioned above) and select one that matches the conditions you’ll be paddling in. Some life vests are better for calm, shallow waters, while others can match up against rough rapids and other fast-moving bodies of water.
Of course, you’ll want to find a PFD that fits into your budget. Although some of the best life jackets for paddle boarding tend to have a hefty price tag, it’s important to buy something of good quality when it comes to safety. That being said, there are some great personal flotation devices that will keep you afloat for under $100.
The best life jacket for paddle boarding will always be the one that you will wear. Although local area requirements for wearing PFDs will differ, we recommend wearing one whenever you go out on the water. Be sure to select a life vest that is specific to the conditions you’ll be paddling in and one that is comfortable. Above all, the PFD should allow you to feel confident and safe whenever you hit the water.
Looking for more paddle boarding gear? Check out these posts:
- 10 Best Wetsuits For Paddle Boarding in 2023
- The Best Cheap Paddle Board: 10 Quality Picks 
- 10 Best Stand Up Paddle Boards for Yoga