Life Jacket and Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) Comparison Tables 2019

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There are a lot of data points with life jackets and personal flotation devices - sizes, flotation, rating type, weight, straps, buckles - to name a few. The tables below summarize the data we gathered in our research to find our top life jackets and PFDs. With an initial list of more than 25 PFDs, we narrowed it down to a top 5 list of the best life jackets and PFDs, based on reviews from professional testers, reputable gear review sites, personal use, input from adventurers, and poring through hundreds of reviews.

See the Comparison Tables

The Basics

The table below summarizes the Treeline Award, US Coast Guard rating, flotation rating, size range, and weight.

Best OverallIII16.5S-XXL2.3
Best PFD for FishingIII16.25S-XXL2.3
Best PFD for RescueV16.5S-XL2.9
Best PFD for WomenIII16.3S-XL1.76
Best Budget LifejacketII15.5Universal & Oversized1.5

Life Jacket and PFD Buckles, Pockets, Straps, materials, and safety features

Below we summarize the pockets, buckles, straps, materials, and safety features of our top life jacket and PFD picks. Sort the table if you’re looking for a specific set up.

Side buckle126 (4 side, 2 shoulder)200-denier nylon, fleece liner for handsReflective NRS symbol on the front and back for extra visibility
8 (4 side, 2 chest, 2 shoulder)708 (2 shoulder, 2 chest, 4 side)200 denier oxford liner, and eco-conscious Gaia foamReflective symbol on the front and back for extra visibility
Overhead3 (1 big front, 2 back side)1 (safety)9 (6 side, 2 chest, 1 safety belt)Foam Insert: PVC Free Gaia®& PE Foam, Shell Fabric: 500 Denier Cordura Nylon, Liner Fabric: 200 Denier High Tenacity NylonRescue ring, Quick Release harness: Clamshell front pocket with multiple compartments and rope storage pockets; Quick release rescuer's harness tack stitched in (can attach a tow rope); Reflective accents for extra visibility.
1/4 zip11 (front pocket)6 (4 side, 2 shoulder)Foam Insert: Organic Kapok and PVC Free Gaig and PE Foam; Shell Fabric: 200x400 denier Ripstop Nylon; Liner Fabric: 200 Denier High Tenacity Nylon; Webbing: PolyproNone
Front BuckleN/A33200 denier nylon oxford shellNone

PFD and Life Jacket recommendations, pros and cons, Fakespot Grade

See the websites which recommend each of our picks, the pros and cons of each PFD, and the Fakespot grade.

NRS (4.6/5), Paddling (4.7/5), Trailspace (4/5), OutdoorPlay (4/5), Backcountry (4.5/5), Moosejaw (4.7/5), CKS (5/5), Walmart (4.8/5), Amazon (4.5/5), Kayak Guru (#4/9, Best PFDs for 2019)Low profile, works with ladies with large boobs, big pocket, very adjustableOverhead entry/side buckle, Can ride up when sitting low in a kayakA
Adventure Junkies (Best for all around kayak fishing), Amazon (4.5/5), Yakangler (4.7/5), Lifejacketadvisor (#1), FishingKayaksGuide (5/5) Graded Sizing™ provides a better, more appropriate fit for all body typesRides up on some users while sitting down/swimming. A (5.0), Amazon (4.5/5), Astral (4.8/5), Outdoorplay (1 review, 4/5), Coloradokayak (4.5/5), Mtnweekly (4.5/5), Diverightinscuba (9.4/10), Whitewatercanoecenter (1 review, 5/5)Earth friendly (recycled, no toxic PVC), top rated safety, lifetime guarantee Bulky in the front, not good for ladies with big boobs, pricepoint. The knife attachment point is on the outside of the pocket, prominent, easy to catch. N/A (Not enough Amazon reviews)
Amazon (4.8/5), Backcountry (5/5), NRS (3.7/5), REI (3/5), Great boob fit, comfortable material, not super bulky, easy side zip to get into Knife holder placementB
Lifejacketpro (Best Cheap LJ), Amazon (4.3/5), Wirecutter (Budget Pick), US Coast Guard-approved, Soft and durable nylon shell and lightweight PE flotation foam. Only two sizes, not super comfy, can wear out quicklyA

Didn’t Make the Cut

Some of the PFDs we reviewed didn’t make the cut and fell short of the criteria we set, even though they are still popular models.

Shoulder straps can rub; D-rating on FakeSpot for Amazon reviewsIIIWirecutter (Best LJ for Most Watersports), NRS (4.6/5), Amazon (4.8/5)1.9
Could be bulky, hooks could catch on shirt while paddling because of placement, knife attachment should be angled so longer knives can still access pockets. IIIOutside Pursuits (Best LJ for Fishing), Amazon (4.9/5), Wirecutter (Also Great/Runner Up)2.0
PriceIIIAdventure Junkies (Best Overall), Dicks Sporting Goods (4.5/5), Amazon (4.2/5), West Marine (4.7/5)1.7
F-rating on FakeSpot for Amazon reviews; Not for short torsos if you have a high seat back. Tendency to slide up on smaller frames; IIIOutside Pursuits (Best LJ for Flatwater Kayaking), Amazon (4.7/5), 1.3
Bulky in the front (pocket), knife sticks out on the front, have to undo the safety belt every time to get a true side entry; F-rating on FakeSpot (too few reviews) (4.5), NRS (4.9/5), Padling (5/5), Amazon (4.8/5), Outdoor Play (4/5), Backcountry (4.5/5), 3.0
Very minimalist, some didn't like the tiny front pocket. (4.5), (4.5/8), REI (4.7/5), AJ (Best Budget)2.0
Bulky, not a fan of hand pocketsVAmazon (4.6/5), Outdoor Play (4/5), Moosejaw (5/5), 2.7
BulkyIIIWirecutter (Upgrade Pick), 2.0
Older model that is hard to find; B-rating on (4.5), Amazon (4.6/5), Backpacker (Best fitting PFD), 2.3
C-rating on FakeSpot for Amazon reviews; Bulky, doesn't fit smaller frames well IIIGlobosurfer (Editors Choice, 4.5/5), Lifejacketpro (#4), Amazon (4.5/5), 2.0
F-rating on FakeSpot for Amazon reviews; Bulky, short, not for those looking for a slimmer profileIIILifejacketadvisor (#1), Amazon (4.4/5), Globosurfer (#1 for women, 5/5), 1.4