The 9 Best PFDs for SUP (2022)

A SUP PFD (personal flotation device) keeps you safe on the water and is a legal requirement in the US. That said, a bulky or ill-fitting life jacket can quickly suck the fun out of paddling.

Safety is always my top priority when I take my family on paddle boarding adventures. I’ve researched and tested tons of SUP life vests to find the 9 best PFDs for different paddlers.   

My top pick overall is the Onyx M-16. It’s a belt PFD, which means it doesn’t get in the way of your paddling. It’s so lightweight and discreet, you’ll barely notice you’re wearing it.

Read on to learn about the different types of PFD and find the best PFD for SUP for you, your kids, and even your dog!

RELATED: Discover the best stand up paddle board accessories for even more SUP fun.

Quick Summary

If you’re in a hurry, here are our top paddle board PFDs. Or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.

  • Best Overall: Onyx M-16 belt PFD
    “A featherweight belt pack for expert swimmers who want an unobtrusive PFD. It doesn’t restrict your movement or give you tan lines!”
     
  • Best Budget Vest: ONYX MoveVent
    “The MoveVent has huge arm cutouts, giving you plenty of room to paddle. The high-back design fits nicely over a kayak seat. A great budget buy with lots of features.”
     
  • Best Vest for Women: Astral Layla
    “The Layla has articulated panels, soft, flexible foam, and three side straps, so you can get a snug fit around your curves.”
     
  • Best for Teens: Stohlquist Fit Youth PFD
    “A basic, no-frills PFD with a narrow back and large armholes for easy movement. It has a tendency to ride up, but if you can get the fit right, it’s a great budget option.”
     
  • Best for Kids: Stohlquist Child PFD
    “A double-collared vest for toddlers and youngsters. But note: it’s not technically a life jacket, so it’s not guaranteed to flip them face-up.”
     
  • Best for Dogs: Stohlquist Dog PFD
    “This dog PFD comes in 7 sizes to fit all breeds of dog. The foam chest panel helps keep their head above water and the grab handle is large and sturdy.” 

The Best Paddle Board PFD Reviews

1. Onyx M-16 Manual Inflatable Belt Pack PFD – Best Overall

onyx m 16 belt

Belt PFDs are a great option for paddlers who want to stay within the law (you’re legally required to carry a PFD when paddling in the US) but don’t want to wear a cumbersome vest. The Onyx M-16 weighs just 11 ounces and packs tidily into a low-profile fanny pack.

The M-16’s strap fits up to a 52-inch waist. You don’t need to worry about height, chest size, or having enough room to swing your arms, which makes this an easy PFD to buy off the shelf.

The Onyx M-16 is one of the thinnest belt packs around. It really contours to your body, even if you have a slim build. Honestly, I almost forgot I was wearing it!

There are a couple of things to bear in mind with this style of PFD. Firstly, it’s important to note that it isn’t suitable for kids. It’s only approved for paddlers who are over 16 and weigh more than 80 pounds.

Secondly, you have to manually activate the inflation mechanism using a pull cord. This means you need to be conscious and comfortable enough in the water to keep yourself afloat while the life jacket inflates. That’s why I recommend the Onyx M-16 is only used by competent swimmers in low-risk environments.

Finally, in case it isn’t obvious, you have to wear the pack on your front. When you yank the pull cord, the CO2 canister inflates the PFD into a large, fluorescent-yellow pillow. There’s a strap on the top to put around your neck.

The CO2 charge provides 17 pounds of buoyancy. Buoyancy is basically the force it takes to keep a persons head and chin above water – and in most cases adults need an extra 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep afloat. 

The Onyx obviously suprasses this number (as most good quality PFDs do) – so you don’t need to focus too much on it, but there’s an oral inflation tube that you can use to top it up to 26.5 pounds if you so wish. 

You’ll need to buy a new cartridge to rearm the PFD once activated, but as you’re only likely to use it in an emergency, that’s not a big deal. You do need to make sure that you check the mechanism every time you go out. Unlike a life vest, this isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it PFD.

I hate feeling restricted when paddling and I love to feel the sun on my back. The Onyx M-16 is perfect for chilled days out when you don’t want to be sweating under a vest. It’s a great option for SUP yoga or for traveling as it doesn’t take up much space in your bag.

Pros
  • Lightweight and comfortable: The Onyx M16 weighs just 11 ounces. It’s easy to forget you’re wearing it.
  • Unrestricted movement: As it’s a belt PFD, your upper body isn’t restricted at all. This makes it easy to paddle or throw a few yoga poses.
  • One size fits all: You can adjust the belt to fit a range of body shapes.
  • Inflation tube to increase buoyancy: The CO2 cartridge provides 17 pounds of buoyancy. If that’s not enough, you can use the inflation tube to top it up.
  • Great value for money: It’s more affordable than many other PFDs, which makes it a good choice for occasional use.
Cons
  • Slow to inflate: In tests, the Onyx M-16 was slower to inflate than other PFDs. This means it’s best used for low-impact activities—such as paddleboarding!.
  • Only suitable for expert swimmers: As the belt pack requires you to actively deploy the PFD, you need to be a confident swimmer to rely on it.

Check Price of the Onyx M-16

2. Stearns 16 Gram Manual Belt Pack

stearns 16 gr belt

The Stearns 16 Gram belt pack is another affordable PFD. It has a similar design to the Onyx M-16, but with a couple of neat additional features.

I really like that the plastic tab for the pull cord is centrally located, rather than being off to one side. It makes it really easy to inflate the PFD with either hand. It also has a plastic window, so you can easily check that the PFD is armed and ready to go before heading out onto the water.

Like the M-16, it’s universally sized to fit paddlers weighing more than 80 pounds with a chest size of 30–52 inches. It deploys in a similar way, which means it’s only really suitable for expert swimmers, and I’d only recommend using it in low-risk environments.

The CO2 cartridge provides 22.5 pounds of buoyancy and you can top this up using the manual inflation tube. There’s also a spring clip that you can use to attach a whistle or other small accessories.

While I really like the arming status window and centrally located pull cord, the Stearns belt pack is a lot bulkier than the Onyx M-16. It doesn’t wrap around your waist quite so neatly, which you may find an issue if you’re slim.

The Stearns belt pack is a great budget option if it’s on sale, but I personally prefer the low-profile design of the M-16.

Pros
  • Arming status window: It takes just a couple of seconds to check that your belt pack is armed and ready to inflate.
  • Centrally located pull cord: This makes the PFD easy to inflate using either hand.
  • Colorful design: No more boring black! Choose from red or blue and match your PFD to your board.
  • Spring clip for accessories: Attach a whistle or other small accessories.
  • Universal sizing: Fits anyone with a chest size of 30–52 inches, so you don’t have to worry about ordering a vest that may not fit.
Cons
  • Larger than the M-16: The Stearns belt pack is noticeably bulkier than the Onyx M-16. If you have a slim build, you may find it doesn’t fit as snugly around your waist.
  • Pocket is too small: I love that this belt pack has a pocket, but it’s too small to be really functional.

Check Price of the Stearns Belt pack

3. ONYX MoveVent Dynamic SUP Life Vest – Best Budget

onyx movevent dynamic life vest

The MoveVent Dynamic life vest is made using heavy-duty nylon fabric and lightweight flotation foam. The back of the vest has a foam top half and a mesh lower half. This improves breathability and makes it more comfortable to sit in a standard kayak seat.

I often find budget life jackets too restrictive around the arms for paddle boarding. The MoveVent doesn’t have that problem. It has huge armholes that allow you to paddle without rubbing your arms against the vest.

The MoveVent life jacket is available in three sizes. They do run big, so if you’re on the boundary between sizes, I’d recommend sizing down. The zipper and fabric seem pretty heavy duty, though I don’t expect this vest to be the most durable, given its price point.

The life vests come in dark or light gray with different trim colors. While I appreciate that gray is a neutral pleases-everyone shade, it’s not that great for safety as it can easily blend in with the water. That said, the most important thing is that you wear it in the first place!

There’s a good-sized zippered pocket on the front that contains a full-size whistle on a cord. A whistle is essential for attracting attention if you need help and with this life vest, there’s no risk of you forgetting it!

The Onyx MoveVent is really affordable. It’s a bit bulkier than more expensive PFDs and it may not last quite as long, but I really rate it for occasional use or as a budget buy. It’s great value for money.

Pros
  • Great value for money: The MoveVent Dynamic vest is an affordable PFD that’s more comfortable and less restrictive than other budget models.
  • Good for kayaking: The high-back design makes it comfy to wear when sitting down. Ideal if you have a kayak seat on your SUP.
  • Comes with a whistle: You don’t have to worry about forgetting to take a whistle out with you as there’s one attached to the life jacket.
  • Lightweight design: The MoveVent Dynamic vest feels really light to wear, which is great for those who value freedom of movement while paddling and don’t want to feel encumbered in any way..
  • Expandable pocket: There’s a front zippered pocket that’s big enough to hold your keys or a small snack.
Cons
  • Foam is bulky: As the foam is concentrated on the front and top part of the back of the vest, it’s quite bulky in these areas.
  • Sizing runs big: If you’re between sizes, I’d recommend sizing down. Small people may find that the XS/S size is too big.
  • Fabric may irritate your skin: The fabric isn’t as soft and comfortable as more expensive PFDs. I wouldn’t wear it next to my skin, but it’s fine with a t-shirt or other layer underneath.

Check Price of the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Life Vest

4. NRS Ninja Life Jacket 

nrs ninja lifejacket

The unique design of the NRS Ninja concentrates the flotation foam in the center of the front and back of the vest. It’s a design you’ll either love or hate!

On the plus side, you get exceptional freedom of movement. The level of shoulder mobility is unmatched by any other jacket-style PFD. You don’t have to worry about it getting in the way of your paddle strokes whether you’re paddle boarding or kayaking.

However, because the foam is concentrated in such a small area, it’s pretty bulky. This isn’t really an issue when paddling, but it may get in your way if you have to get onto your board from the water. It also may not be that comfortable for sitting in a chair for long periods, for example, when fishing.

Like the design, the fit of the NRS Ninja will either be perfect… or terrible. It’s best suited to paddlers with short torsos. The padding is so thick at the front that it doesn’t conform to your body shape, which can be a problem for slim people or women with medium or large breasts. 

The NRS Ninja comes with a lot of well thought out features. There’s a large double-zippered pocket with a built-in organizer, a knife tab, and a large handwarmer pocket (perfect for cooler days). The interior fabric is really soft and it’s one of the few jackets I’d be comfortable wearing directly against my skin.

If durability is high on your priority list, then this may be the best life vest for you. For a start, there’s no zipper to break. The vest has a pull-over design and you fasten it using two side clips. The quality of construction is awesome. Everything from the ripstop fabric, to the seams, straps, and clips feels sturdy and unbreakable.

I really love the bright range of colors, too. Choose lime, flare (orange), pink, or red to be most visible on the water.

There’s a lot to love about the NRS Ninja life jacket, but it won’t suit everyone.

Pros
  • Unmatched shoulder mobility: The Ninja doesn’t restrict your arm or shoulder movement at all – whic is obviously great for stand up paddle boarding.
  • Soft interior fabric: The NRS Ninja is one of the few life vests I’d be happy wearing against my skin – it feels soft and comfortable.
  • Large pocket: The double-zippered clamshell pocket is large enough to stash keys and snacks and includes a key clip and internal zip pocket – great for bringing along your much-needed items if you don’t stash any cargo on your board.
  • Large range of colors: Choose from black, flare (orange), lime, pink, red, or teal. I like that the colors are bright – but you also have the option of being more understated with the balck.
  • Great durability: This life vest is built to last with ripstop fabric, reinforced seams, and sturdy buckles.
Cons
  • It’s heavy: The Ninja weighs over 2 pounds—twice the weight of other PFDs! Some people feel the weight, others barely notice it.
  • Not a universal fit: Slim people may struggle with the fit of the Ninja. In particular, slim, large-breasted women often find it hard to get a snug fit.

Check Price of the NRS Ninja Life Jacket

5. Astral Layla Women’s PFD Vest – Best SUP Life Vest for Women

astral layla vest

Paddle board life vests can be awkward and uncomfortable for women. You need something that’s snug enough that it won’t ride up when you’re in the water, but not so tight that it binds your breasts.

Enter the Astral Layla. It’s comfortable, practical, and—dare I say it—flattering.

The Layla is a full coverage PFD made from flexible, soft foam that contours to your body. The foam is split into articulated panels that nicely fit around your curves. There are three side straps to dial in the fit.

The Layla’s buoyancy comes from a mixture of foam and kapok fibers. These come from the kapok tree (no, I hadn’t heard of it either, until now!) and are a sustainable, buoyant alternative to traditional foams. Kapok foam is also repairable. If you puncture the foam in most PFDs, you have to replace it, but you can patch the Layla up yourself—or get Astral to do it for you.

It has a pull-over entry with a side zip that leaves plenty of space for a large chest pocket. This is one of the roomiest I’ve seen on a PFD and is easily big enough for snacks, a chapstick, or a can of beer!

What are the downsides? Well, there aren’t many. As it’s a full-coverage vest, it can get a bit warm in hot weather, but other than that it’s comfortable and comes in a nice choice of colors. As you might expect for a vest of this quality, it is expensive, so may be out of the budget of occasional paddlers.

Pros
  • Designed for women: The Layla has a tailored fit that wraps around breasts, rather than squeezing them out. Three side straps give you plenty of adjustment.
  • Flexible, soft foam: The soft Kapok foam molds to your body giving a close, comfortable fit.
  • Easily repairable: The sustainable kapok foam can be patched if damaged.
  • Large pocket: The generously-sized front pocket contains two pockets plus a bungee cord.
  • Great color options: Eggplant and glacier blue are feminine without falling into the pink spectrum. Admittedly, they’re not the best colors for visibility on the water.
Cons
  • Pricey: The Astral Layla is expensive, but the quality and comfort make it worth the steep price tag.
  • Warm in hot weather: The Layla is less breathable than other PFDs, so may not be the best choice for hot climates.

Check Price of the Astral Layla Vest

6. NRS Women’s Siren Paddle Board PFD

nrs womens siren lifejacket

Like the Layla, the NRS Siren has multiple soft foam panels to create a contoured fit. It doesn’t have the “boob cups” that the Layla does, which means it may not be suited to women with fuller busts. More well-endowed ladies may find their breasts get pushed out to the side in a rather unflattering way.

Aside from that, the Siren is very comfortable. It’s a full coverage vest, so the foam is low-profile compared to the NRS Ninja. The soft inner fabric feels nice against your skin and the narrow back gives your shoulders plenty of room to move. It’s a really flexible jacket that moves with you, even when wet.

The Siren is a bit lacking in features compared to the NRS Ninja. The front pocket is a little small and tight, though big enough for your keys. There’s no knife tab or tab to clip a whistle to.

Like the Ninja, the Siren is incredibly durable, and it comes with a lifetime manufacturer’s warranty for extra peace of mind.

I really like the NRS Siren. It’s one of the best life jackets for women, but the Layla pips it to the top spot. The Siren is a bit cheaper though, so a good option if you have a limited budget.

Pros
  • Contoured fit: The six foam segments wrap around your chest to give a comfortable, secure fit for most women
  • Great shoulder movement: The narrow back gives your shoulders plenty of freedom to move about, whatever your paddling style.
  • Soft inner fabric: The Siren is comfortable enough to wear over a bikini or swimsuit.
  • Very durable: NRS vests are renowned for their durability and are backed by a lifetime manufacturer’s warranty.
Cons
  • Best for small-busted women: If you have large breasts, you may find that the Siren’s flat-chest design pushes them into your armpits.
  • Weightier than other models: The Siren is on the heavy side, but you don’t really notice it once it’s on.

Check Price of the NRS Siren

7. Stohlquist Fit Youth PFD – Best Youth Personal Floatation Device

stohlquist youth fit life jacket

Buying life jackets for kids can be tricky. For a start, they grow quickly. If you’re an occasional paddle boarder, you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a PFD that’s only going to last a few years.

That’s one reason why I like the Stohlquist Fit Youth PFD. It’s at the budget end of the market, but is a surprisingly comfortable life jacket, with a narrow back and sculpted armholes that give you plenty of freedom of movement.

It comes in two sizes to fit children and teens from 50 pounds up to 125 pounds. The larger size is also a good option for small adults who want a no-frills PFD.

The design is basic, with 3 straps that fasten and adjust at the front. Only the lower two straps extend around the side of the vest, which leaves a very large armhole. As there’s no crotch strap, the vest can sometimes ride up if you jump into the water. This isn’t the case for every kid, but it’s worth giving the shoulder straps a good tug to check the fit before you commit to the water.

The Stohlquist Fit Youth comes in a choice of bright colors. There’s no pocket or other features, but most kids don’t need them. They want a comfortable vest that looks good, and you want something that isn’t going to break the bank. This vest wins on all three counts.

Pros
  • Good freedom of movement: The narrow back and sculpted cut give plenty of room for your shoulders to move freely.
  • Affordable and comfortable: This life jacket doesn’t have the bells and whistles that more expensive models sport, but it’s a great budget buy.
  • Decent fit: The Youth Fit does a great job of fitting kids of different shapes and sizes.
  • Choice of colors: The jacket comes in black, lime, blue, and red versions – all attractive and great options for kids to choose from.
Cons
  • Tendency to ride up: The vest can sometimes shoot up around the neck if the fit isn’t snug enough.
  • Less durable than other models: The Stohlquist Fit Youth is best kept for occasional use, as it’s not the most durable life jacket.

Check Price of the Stohlquist Fit Youth

8. Stohlquist Child PFD Vest

stohlquist child pfd

When I’m taking my kids out on the water, their safety is my number one concern. I won’t take them out without a PFD, but it can save a lot of arguments if they have one they like!

I really like the Stohlquist Child Life Jacket for toddlers and young kids. Despite the name, it’s not technically a life jacket. It’s a type III PFD, which means it’s not guaranteed to flip your child onto their back if they’re unconscious. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re within arm’s reach of your child—which you should be on the water!

The great thing about this PFD is its low-profile design. It’s much less bulky than other life jackets, which means it’s more likely that your child will be happy wearing it. It also gives them plenty of freedom to move around and swim. It’s rated for kids weighing 30–50 pounds.

While it won’t turn a toddler onto their back, this PFD does have a double collar to support their neck and head when they’re in the water. A zip and buckle secure the PFD at the front and an adjustable crotch strap prevents the vest from riding up.

Two other features I like are the grab handle (useful for hanging the vest up to dry as well as fishing your child out of the water) and the high-visibility color options.

Pros
  • Double collar design: The inner collar provides neck support and the larger outer collar supports the head when in the water.
  • Not at all bulky: The Stohlquist PFD is much slimmer than other vests, so your child shouldn’t complain about having to wear it!
  • Crotch strap: Useful to make the PFD even more secure – you can tighten the crotch strap to prevent your child from slipping out of the vest.
  • Grab handle: The large handle means you can quickly grab your child if they end up in the water.
  • High visibility colors: Choose the orange and yellow vest for maximum visibility in the water.
Cons
  • Doesn’t flip your child onto their back: Your child needs to be confident in the water and ideally have some swimming skills to use this PFD.

Check Price of the Stohlquist Child PFD

9. Stohlquist Dog PFD Vest – Best PFD for Dogs

stohlquist dog pfd

It can often be hard to find a PFD that fits very small or very large dogs. The Stohlquist Pup Float jacket comes in 7 sizes to fit dogs weighing less than 10 pounds right up to those weighing more than 90 pounds.

It’s a really slim-fitting jacket, with no extra bulk. This means it’s not as buoyant as some dog PFDs, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The bulkier the jacket, the more it restricts your dog’s natural movement. The foam wraps under your dog’s belly and there’s a separate chest panel to help keep their airway above the water.

The grab handle feels very secure and is large enough to quickly haul your dog to safety if you don’t want them swimming. The vest comes in three colors: blue, yellow, and pink. Pink is the best color for visibility. Blue may look good on your dog, but it’ll be harder to find them if they swim off in dim light.

Overall, this is a great value PFD vest to fit any size or shape of dog.

Pros
  • Lots of sizing options: The Stohlquist Pup Float comes in 7 sizes to fit all breeds of dog, so you’re sure to find something suitable
  • Sleek design: It’s slim enough not to restrict your dog’s paddling or make it uncomfortable for them to wear.
  • Chest panel supports airway: The panel of foam at the front of the jacket helps keep your dog’s head above the water
  • Sturdy grab handle: The large grab handle makes it easy to haul your pup out of the water.
Cons
  • Poor choice of colors: Blue may look pretty, but it’s terrible for visibility. Opt for pink if you’re taking your dog out at dawn or dusk.

Check Price of the Stohlquist Dog Vest

Ultimate Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a SUP Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

A personal flotation device is a key safety accessory. So it is important that you choose the best one. 

Here is all the information you need to make that decision.

What Is a Stand Up Paddle PFD?

PFD stands for personal floatation device. As you can already guess, it is a device that keeps you above the water in case you fall in. 

A PFD can come in different designs including a vest, belt, and suspender harness.

a. PFD Belt

A PFD belt is the most preferred design by paddle boarders. It is a belt, worn around the waist, and some of them come with extra storage. So not only does it keep you safe, but it also offers you somewhere to store small items.

When you fall into the water, you have to pull a cord to activate the CO2 cartridge. 

The gas cartridge is replaceable so you can use the PFD again.

b. PFD Suspender Harness

A suspender harness PFD is another great option for paddle boarding. It offers freedom of movement and doesn’t get in the way.

This PFD design can either be auto inflatable or manual inflatable. 

An automatic vest inflates automatically when submerged. This would be useful if, in case of emergency, the paddler is unconscious and can’t pull the cord. 

However, understand that not every fall during SUP is an emergency. So the harness can inflate unnecessarily. 

Note: most auto inflatable PFDs also have a manual inflation option. 

A manual inflatable has a cord that you pull to inflate the harness. You have to be conscious to activate it.

c. PFD Life Vest

PFD life vests are the most common type. They have a foam core and can be bulky, compared to the other two above.

The biggest advantage when using this life jacket is that you don’t need to inflate it. All you have to do is wear it. 

Most of these life jackets come with pockets and attachment points for storage. They are good for fishing.  

Do You Need a Life Jacket for Paddle Boarding?

Yes, you do. Other than the fact that a SUP PFD could save your life, you are required by law to have one.

Every child under 13 must wear a stand up paddle PFD when riding with you. 

For other paddlers, there should be a life vest somewhere on the vessel. But know that it only works when you wear it.

PFD laws may vary by state. Here are the specific state requirements

The 5 Types of Personal Flotation Devices 

When shopping around for a paddleboarding PFD, you will notice that they are categorized into types. 

What are the various PFD types and what do they mean?

Type I PFD

A type I PFD is also known as an offshore life jacket. 

Type I PFDs are mainly found in commercial vessels. They are suitable for use in all water conditions, including rough and remote areas where help may take a while. 

The PFDs are bulky with extra foam. They will keep the head above the water.

The minimum buoyancy requirement for a type I PFD is 22 pounds.

Type II PFD

Type II PFDs are suitable for use in calm conditions, close to the shore where you won’t have to wait long for help.

These life jackets are not recommended for non-swimmers. 

They are typically used for kayaking, paddleboarding, wakeboarding, and boating.

The minimum buoyancy requirement for a type II PFD is 15.5 pounds.

Type III PFD

Type III PFDs are much more comfortable. They come in different styles including a fishing vest, cold weather jacket, and belt PFD. 

A type III PFD doesn’t offer a high amount of float. So it is only ideal for good swimmers.

The minimum buoyancy requirement is 15.5 pounds.

Type IV PFD

Type IV PFDs are throwables such as cushions, buoys, and rings. They are mainly found on ferries, ships, and public swimming pools. 

A type IV PFD is usually thrown to someone when they fall overboard. 

Type V PFD

Type V PFDs are special use life jackets–a hybrid of the above types. 

They have a low profile and they are only inflated when needed, either manually or automatically. 

Automatic models will inflate when submerged while manual models require you to pull a cord.

These life jackets have a buoyancy rating of up to 34 pounds.

What Type of PFD Do I Need?

For stand up paddleboarding, type II and type III PFDs are the best. If you are confident in your swimming skills, you can also wear a U.S Coast Guard-approved type V life jacket.

Features to Look for When Buying a PFD for Paddle Boarding

1. PFD Size and Fit

Choosing a stand up paddle PFD for kids is easy because the sizing depends on their weight. Manufacturers usually indicate the weight.

When it comes to adults, however, you have to consider your weight and your chest size.

While manufacturers indicate sizes, they don’t all use the same sizing. 

The best way to know whether or not a SUP PFD fits is to put it on. The buckles should connect easily without you having to force anything. 

Your stand up paddle boarding life vest should be snug; not too tight and not too loose. 

With your life jacket on, ask a friend to try lifting the shoulder part. If it can come up to your ears, the PFD is too big. 

2. Comfort

The right PFD should be comfortable. 

You can’t wear an uncomfortable life jacket for too long. And when you take it off, you could be risking your life. 

Look for a PFD that allows you to move freely when stand up paddling. There should be no restrictions when making a paddle stroke. 

With a good PFD, you should even forget you are wearing it. 

The life jacket should also fit properly and be made of breathable materials.

Speaking of which…

3. Material

When it comes to material, you want something that is long-lasting and feels good against your skin. Also, remember you will be using it in the water so it has to be quick-drying. 

The most common SUP PFD materials are nylon and neoprene.

They are the best because they are comfortable, durable, and dry quickly. 

4. Buoyancy

The stand up paddle PFD you choose should be able to keep you afloat.

While the required minimum buoyancy for PFD types may seem low, you weigh way less in the water. For the average person, a buoyancy of 17 pounds is more than enough.

Make sure you buy a USCG-approved life jacket and pay attention to the PFD types. Pick a type that is appropriate for the situation in which you will be paddling.  All the PFDs in this round-up are USCG-approved (apart from the doggy vest!).

5. Ease of Use

Your life jacket should be easy to use. The last thing you want is an accessory you can’t figure out, especially in an emergency. 

All the PFDs listed above are straightforward. Anyone can quickly wear, adjust, or take them off when necessary. 

Choose simple straps and buckles–something that won’t give you a hard time. 

6. Style

As you have seen, stand up paddle boarding PFDs come in different styles such as vests, harnesses, and belts. 

Any of these would be fine. It depends on where you will be paddling and what you will be doing.

Anglers, for instance, will be better off with a vest because of the extra storage. Paddlers going for SUP races may prefer a belt PFD because it won’t be in the way. 

7. Design 

You should also consider features such as color, attachments, and pockets.

For color, you can pick whatever you like. However, it should have bright/reflective parts for visibility and safety. 

Pockets and attachments help you keep a whistle, phone, knife, and other small accessories close to you. 

Stand Up Paddle PFD Maintenance

You have to take care of your floatation devices the same way you care for your stand up paddle boards. Traditional life jackets are easier to maintain compared to inflatable ones. 

After every paddling session, rinse your PFD with fresh water then hang it out to dry. 

Check for any tears so the next time you go to the water you don’t bring a faulty life jacket. 

If you inflated your inflatable PFD, you have to replace the CO2 cylinder. Manufacturers will usually offer instructions on how to do this.

Other Safety Considerations

In addition to wearing a Coast Guard-approved life jacket, here are other things you should consider to stay safe.

a. Leash

Falling off while stand up paddle boarding is more common than you think. 

A leash is meant to keep you attached to your board when that happens. 

Imagine being far away from the shore in an emergency and you can’t get to your paddle board. There have been many stories like this and, unfortunately, some of them didn’t end well. 

So always wear a SUP leash.

b. Sun Protection 

Protecting yourself from the sun is also a safety precaution. Don’t risk getting sunburnt. Apply enough sunscreen and reapply if you jump in for a swim. 

c. Weather and Water Conditions

Stand up paddling is fun and safe. But the weather and water conditions can surprise you. Always check the conditions, especially for rivers or the ocean. 

It is important that you know what to expect in terms of current, wind, temperature, and waves so you can plan accordingly. 

If you are paddling in a new area, consult a local as well. 

d. Skill Level

Don’t overestimate your skills. After evaluating the conditions, only go paddling if you are sure you can handle it. 

If you are a beginner, for instance, stick to flatwater and generally calm conditions. 

Best SUP PFD FAQs

What Does SUP PFD Stand for?

SUP PFD stands for stand up paddle personal flotation device.

Do You Need a PFD on a Paddle Board?

Yes, you need to wear a PFD when paddleboarding. A life jacket ensures your safety and is required by law.

Is It Illegal to Paddle Board Without a Life Jacket?

According to USCG regulations, every paddler, 13 or older, should have a Coast Guard-approved life jacket when paddle boarding. But you don’t have to wear it. Paddlers under 13 must wear their PFDs. Read more about the paddle board life jacket requirements.

Note: a PFD is only useful when worn. So even though you are not required to wear it, please do. 

What Are the Five Different Types of PFDs?

They include type I (the offshore jacket), type II (near-shore buoyancy vest), type III (flotation aid), type IV (throwable PFD), and type V (special-use PFD). All of them are explained in detail above. 

What Should I Look for When Buying a Life Jacket?

When buying a life jacket, look at the following factors:

  • Fitting size
  • USCG approval
  • Durable and comfortable material
  • Sufficient buoyancy or float
  • Design
  • Style
  • Ease of use 

Can You Drown with a Life Vest?

It is possible to drown while wearing a PFD, but it is not common. This happens mainly when the paddler is trapped under and unable to come up. Or when they are knocked unconscious and they can’t keep their face out of the water. 

In many other cases, wearing a life vest saves lives. So always wear one.

Life Vest vs. Inflatable Belt: Which Is Better for SUP Beginners?

A life vest is the best option for SUP beginners. It is effective as long as you wear it and you don’t have to worry about inflating it when you fall in the water. 

Are Stand Up Paddle PFDs Reusable?

Yes, stand up paddle PFDs are reusable. For the inflatable models, make sure you replace the CO2 cartridge after use.

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Conclusion

Choosing a stand up paddle board PFD isn’t hard. As long as you know what to look for, you can make an informed decision. 

The Onyx M-16 is our top pick. It is high-quality and durable–perfect for avid paddlers. It will not get worn out after a couple of sessions. The PFD belt allows for freedom of movement and doesn’t interfere with your paddling.

For paddlers on a budget, the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic is a great value life vest. The life jacket is super comfortable with a high back and mesh panel for breathability. 

Don’t get caught without your PFD. Pick one of the amazing options above and enjoy a safe paddle boarding experience.