Stand up paddle boarding is generally considered safe. But it is a water sport and things can still go wrong. When paddling, you should always wear a PFD.
PFDs (personal flotation devices) come in many shapes and sizes. It’s easy to get confused by different styles and rating systems. While safety is the most important thing, you also want to be able to paddle in comfort.
To cut through the confusion, I’ve reviewed 11 paddle board life jackets, including the best options for adults, kids, and dogs. This guide will help you decide which SUP PFD is the best and safest option for you.
The Onyx M-16 is my top pick for the best PFD for stand up paddle boarding in 2023. Read on to find out why.
RELATED: Discover the best accessories for paddle boarding of 2023
Stand Up Paddle PFDs Comparison Table
Slim, featherweight inflatable belt for expert swimmers
The Onyx M-16 is the ultimate lightweight PFD for competent swimmers who want an unobtrusive safety device. It will never get in the way of your paddling and yoga and won’t give you tan lines!
Slower to inflate than some other PFDs.
A compact PFD belt that’s easy to use
This compact belt pack is easy to inflate with either hand and comes in a choice of colors. The clear window makes it easy to check that it’s armed and ready to inflate.
Bulkier and more expensive than the Onyx M-16
Affordable life vest with good freedom of movement
The large arm cutouts on the MoveVent make it easy to paddle. It’s comfortable, even in hot weather, and great value for money.
The foam is bulky and the sizing runs large.
Exceptional range of movement for a foam life vest
The Ninja vest concentrates the flotation foam in the center of the front and back. This gives you maximum freedom of movement for paddling.
Heavy and the straps can cut into your neck.
Best For Women
Flexible, tailored fit that’s designed for women
Cut specifically for women, the design, soft foam, and three side straps mean the Layla can be adjusted to fit women of all shapes and sizes.
Top-notch comfort comes at a price—the Layla is expensive!
Lightweight, breathable vest for hot weather
The Linda’s thin foam back makes it the most comfortable PFD for use in kayak seats—great if you’re fishing. It’s also a great choice for hot weather.
The lash tab is almost inaccessible and therefore useless
Comfortable vest with a wrap-around fit
The wrap-around fit and large armholes give plenty of room for your shoulders to move. It’s also very durable and backed by a lifetime warranty.
It’s heavy and best suited to small-busted women
Best For Teens
Budget vest for teens and small adults
The Stohlquist Youth Fit comes in two sizes to fit people up to 125 pounds and is cut to give freedom of movement for paddling or swimming.
It can ride up when you jump into the water.
Best For Kids
Slim-fitting PFD with double-collar support
The double collar supports your child’s head and neck and the slim fit and bright colors make it attractive to kids.
It’s not guaranteed to turn your child face-up.
Best For Dogs
Rugged, secure design that fits most dogs
Fits your pooch comfortably and securely. Very durable with a strong grab handle and a handy zip pocket for treats and toys.
The limited range of sizes may not fit every dog.
Slim jacket in a wide range of sizes
The Stohlquist vest comes in 7 sizes, making it a great choice for small dogs who may not fit in other brands.
Color options aren’t great for visibility
Best SUP Belt PFDs
1. Onyx M-16 Belt Pack Stand Up Paddle PFD – Best Overall Paddle Board Life Jacket
Some paddle boarders complain that personal floatation devices are uncomfortable and restrict movement.
You won’t have that problem with the Onyx M-16. That’s one of the reasons why I love it.
The belt pack PFD is worn around the waist, as you can guess from the name. It doesn’t interfere with your paddling movement at all. After a while, you won’t even think about it. You can fish, do yoga and have fun without it getting in your way.
In case of an emergency, simply pull the cord to inflate the life jacket.
There’s a D-ring attachment for you to attach any small accessories that you want to keep close.
The Onyx M-16 has a 200D nylon oxford protective cover and comes in three colors.
This USCG-approved Type V inflatable PFD is a universal adult size. It will fit chest sizes 30 to 52 inches and a waist size of up to 52 inches.
2. Stearns 16 Gram Manual Belt Pack
First, I like the fact that you get color options with the Stearns 16 Gram belt pack. It comes in gold, blue, and red. Not only do the colors look great, but they are also bright and improve visibility which is good for safety.
This personal flotation device will fit adults with a chest size from 30 to 52 inches and over 80 pounds.
It has a nice compact design and is very easy to use. Simply buckle the belt pack around your waist and go on your paddle boarding adventures. In case of emergency, pull the cord and it will inflate automatically.
The Stearns 16 Gram is United States Coast Guard-approved.
Best Paddle Board Life Vests (Type II & III)
3. Onyx MoveVent Dynamic SUP Life Vest – Best Budget SUP PFD
A good life vest doesn’t have to be expensive and the MoveVent Dynamic is proof of that.
The Dynamic’s lightweight flotation foam is soft and flexible. It conforms to your body for a perfect fit.
You can still comfortably use the MoveVent Dynamic when you choose to convert your SUP into a kayak. The mesh panel at the back is designed to accommodate kayak seats.
There are few things more annoying than a life vest that just won’t fit properly. But you don’t have to worry about that with the Dynamic floatation device. It is available in three sizes and features six adjustment straps.
Paddle boards aren’t that big and paddlers can always appreciate a little extra storage. You’ll be happy to know that this SUP PFD comes with a large expandable zippered pocket. It also has a lash tab for small accessories.
The MoveVent Dynamic is a USCG-approved life jacket.
4. NRS Ninja Personal Flotation Device
I love the design of the NRS Ninja paddle board PFD. Its flotation foam is packed into only two small panels. This gives you more freedom than you would typically have with a traditional life jacket.
The NRS Ninja has AirMesh fabric on the inner panels and shoulder straps for maximum airflow.
You can get this stand up paddle PFD in four colors: teal, red, lime, and black.
It comes in three sizes and has six adjustment points to ensure that it fits snugly regardless of your body type.
The Ninja has a front clamshell pocket with internal organization as well as a lash tab. It is a Type III life jacket with U.S Coast Guard certification.
It is a great option if you want complete freedom of movement when paddling, and you don’t mind a little sun on your shoulders.
PFD Vests For Women
5. Astral Layla Women’s PFD – Best Life Vest for Women
The Astral Layla is hands down one of the best PFDs for women out there.
Other than its stylish color options, it is tailored to perfectly fit the female figure.
It has hinged princess seams and sculpted bust cups. This allows for maximum chest room and easy adjustment for that perfect fit.
The paddle board PFD has a large front pocket and is also compatible with a quick-release belt. It features a side zip to make it super easy to put on and take off.
Every single detail on the Astral Layla is designed to make it the most comfortable PFD for women. My wife loves it!
6. Astral Linda Women’s PFD
The Astral Linda personal floatation device has a unique Thin-Vent back feature. The foam at the back panel is super thin. If you have a high back seat, maybe for SUP fishing, you will find it very comfortable.
We like the thin mesh strip at the back. Life jackets can be uncomfortable on super hot days. This nice feature allows for circulation, keeping you cool.
You can get the Astral Linda in four beautiful colors: cherry red, lilac navy, clearwater blue, and crimson black.
You should consider this USCG Type III life vest if your SUP adventures involve sitting in a SUP kayak seat for long periods.
7. NRS Women’s Siren Personal Flotation Device
The NRS Siren is another great vest for female paddle boarders. Its comfortable design features soft foam divided into six different panels. It fits nicely without being too bulky or restricting paddling movement.
The PFD has inner mesh panels that will keep you cool and happy throughout the day.
You can buy the NRS Siren in three sizes and it has six adjustment points for a perfect fit. The shoulder straps are padded for added comfort and the vest has reflective accents for visibility.
There’s also a handy front zipper pocket. You can never have too much storage.
PFD Vests For Children
8. Stohlquist Youth Fit PFD Life Jacket – Best Paddle Board PFD For Teens
Getting the right life jacket for teens can be a difficult task. For them to keep it on, the fabric has to be soft and it has to fit nicely.
The Stohlquist Youth Fit is my top recommendation if you are looking for a PFD that your young paddler will want to wear.
It is not restrictive and it allows the paddler to move freely. It’s great for stand up paddle boarding as well as other water sports.
The Stohlquist youth life vest is easy to put on, thanks to the three-buckle entry. It has a thin mesh back panel for comfort with high seatbacks.
This Type III paddle board life jacket is USCG-approved. There are two sizes, fitting kids who weigh 50–90 pounds, and teens who weigh 75-125 pounds.
9. Stohlquist Child PFD– Best Life Jacket For Kids
As a parent, I don’t want to leave anything to chance as far as my child’s safety is concerned. For toddlers and young children, I want a PFD that’s comfortable, but most importantly, safe.
The Stohlquist Child personal flotation device fits children weighing 30–50 pounds.
Even though it is a kid’s PFD, I love that it’s not restrictive and it offers full mobility. They can swim and have a good time outside like everyone else.
The life jacket has head support as well as an adjustable crotch strap to keep it in place. It is breathable with large armholes for comfort.
This Type III flotation device only weighs 0.8 pounds.
Best Life Jackets for Dogs
10. NRS Canine PFD – Best SUP PFD For Dogs
Everyone in the family should wear a SUP life vest–and that includes the furry members.
The NRS Canine features a 1000D Cordura shell for unmatched durability.
There are three adjustment straps to ensure that the life jacket fits snugly and securely.
You’ll love the grab handle at the top of the PFD. It makes it easy to get your pup back onto the paddle board when he jumps.
The NRS Canine is available in five different sizes.
It has reflective tape for high visibility.
You should check it out if you have a dog that loves SUP boarding just as much as you do.
11. Stohlquist Dog PFD
This is another great option for paddlers with dogs.
The Stohlquist Dog life jacket can fit pretty much any dog, regardless of shape and size. It comes in nine sizes.
One feature that makes this a fantastic PFD for dogs is the extra flotation foam under the chest. It keeps your pup’s airway out of the water when it is swimming.
The grab handle is conveniently placed for easy retrieval of your dog.
I love that this personal flotation device has reflective accents for visibility.
How to Choose a Life Jacket for Stand Up Paddle Boarding
A SUP PFD (personal floatation device), is a vest, jacket, or hip belt that you wear while paddle boarding. A PFD helps keep you afloat and increases your chances of survival in case of emergency.
The term “PFD” is often used interchangeably with “life jacket”. Technically, a life jacket is a buoyancy aid with neck support that’s designed to ensure an unconscious person floats on their back with their airway open. However, many people these days refer to any vest-style buoyancy aid as a “life jacket”.
A PFD is an important safety device that could save your life. It’s important to buy one that fits correctly, provides an appropriate level of buoyancy, and that you’ll wear!
Here’s what you need to know to find the right personal flotation device for you.
Three Types of SUP PFD
When shopping for a PFD, you’ll come across three different PFD designs. Each has pros and cons.
This is basically a vest with floatation foam. It is the most common type of PFD.
Although they tend to be bulky, life vests usually have zippered pockets and accessory attachment points. This makes them great for fishing.
Another advantage is that they don’t need inflating. As long as your vest is fitted correctly, it’ll keep you afloat if you fall into the water.
A suspender harness is an inflatable PFD. It’s not as bulky as a life vest and it’s only inflated when you fall into the water.
It may inflate automatically or require manual inflation.
With manual inflation, you pull a cord to inflate your PFD in case of an emergency. If it is an automatic PFD, it will inflate automatically when submerged.
An automatic suspender harness can really save your life if, for some reason, you can’t pull the cord.
Then again, falling in the water is a part of SUP and it is not always an emergency. If you regularly end up in the water, you’ll get through a lot of CO2 cartridges with a PFD that automatically inflates.
This is the best option for paddle boarding because it doesn’t affect your paddling movement at all.
A PFD belt stays completely out of your way.
If you fall into the water, just pull the cord to inflate your PFD.
Do You Have to Wear a Life Jacket on a Stand Up Paddle Board?
You do. Safety should always come first when you’re paddle boarding. Besides, life jackets on paddle boards are required by law.
Everyone under the age of 13 has to wear a USCG-approved life jacket when on a paddleboard. This is according to USCG regulations.
Everyone else is required to bring a PFD on the stand up paddle board. (But you should make it a personal rule to always wear yours).
Every state has its own PFD laws.
What To Consider When Buying a Stand Up Paddle PFD
When choosing a life jacket for paddle boarding, here are some factors to bear in mind.
1. Design: Is It A Comfortable Life Jacket?
An uncomfortable life jacket is a sure way to ruin your paddling adventures. You want something that you can wear for hours and even forget that you have it on.
The right life jacket should conform to your body while allowing you to paddle and move freely. If you plan on sitting a lot, get one with a thin back panel so you can lean back on your seat comfortably. This is especially important if you have a SUP kayak seat with a high back.
2. PFD Size: Does It Fit You?
To find a paddle boarding life jacket that fits you properly, consider your chest size, waist size, and weight.
To be honest, buying a PFD for adults can be tricky when it comes to size. Even knowing your body measurements may not be enough, as sizing varies from one manufacturer to another.
Your best option is to try it on. The fit should be snug (not tight) and it shouldn’t slide up to your ears.
If you’re buying a life jacket for kids, you only need to know their body weight.
3. Life Jacket Classification – How Much Buoyancy Do You Need?
PFDs can either be inflatable or “inherently buoyant”. Inherently buoyant jackets are made from foam and don’t need to be inflated. This makes them a safer option for children, non-swimmers, and extreme survival situations.
Inflatable PFDs may inflate automatically or require the user to inflate them. If you have a life jacket that inflates automatically and you end up in the water, you’ll need to replace the gas cartridge before using it again. For this reason, most SUP boarders opt for manually-inflated PFDs.
US Coast Guard-approved personal floatation devices fall into one of five categories, based on the style and level of buoyancy provided.
- Type I: most buoyant and heat-retaining life jacket, will turn most unconscious users face up. These life jackets are almost always inherently buoyant.
- Type II: high level of buoyancy for all water conditions, less bulky than Type I PFDs. Can be inherently buoyant or inflatable.
- Type III: designed for users on calm or inland waters, not designed to turn an unconscious person face-up. Mostly inflatable, but you can also get foam jackets (e.g. for kids).
- Type IV: throwable flotation devices, such as ring buoys, not designed for paddle boarding.
- Type V: “special use” life jackets that are designed for specific activities. Either hybrid or fully inflatable. PFD belts fall into this category.
4. Style: Do You Want a Life Vest, Suspender Harness, or PFD Belt?
Do you prefer a belt PFD, harness, or life vest?
They are all great for stand up paddling. So it’s a matter of personal preferences and your favorite SUP activity.
For recreational paddling, you can choose a belt PFD or a harness if you think a vest would be too bulky. For fishing, you may want a life vest because of the storage options they offer.
5. Material: Is It Durable?
A good life jacket material should be comfortable, easy to clean, and durable.
Nylon and neoprene are great because not only are they long-lasting and reliable, but they also dry quickly.
6. Ease of Use: Can You Quickly Inflate It in an Emergency?
A stand up paddle PFD doesn’t have to be complicated. Nobody wants to struggle every time they want to wear, take off, or adjust their life jacket.
A simple zip and/or buckle straps are good enough as long as they work well.
If it comes with attachment points for paddleboarding accessories, they should also be easy to figure out.
Of course, the most important aspect is how easy it is to inflate in an emergency.
How To Maintain Your Stand Up Paddle Board PFD
After every use, hose off your PFD with fresh water and hang it out to dry.
Quality PFDs aren’t cheap. If you want yours to last long, you have to maintain your life jacket and take proper care of the zippers, inflatable bladders, and CO2 cartridges.
Always check to make sure there aren’t any tears or rips forming in the material. One little cut could eventually work its way around the whole jacket.
How To Stay Safe When Paddle Boarding
Other than wearing your PFD (at all times), here are things you can do to stay safe while paddle boarding.
Wear a Leash
First, invest in a high-quality and comfortable leash.
The purpose of a leash is to ensure that you are not separated from your paddle board when you fall off.
Your board can quickly drift away, leaving you stranded. This is not a situation you would want to be in.
Assess Your Skill Level
It is easy to overestimate what you can do when it comes to SUP and the water in general. But if you are not an experienced paddle boarder, avoid rough conditions. Stick to what you are sure you can handle.
Check the Water and Weather Conditions
This is especially important when you’re heading out to a remote place or a spot you are not familiar with.
Assess the wind, currents, waves, temperature, and other factors. Talk to local paddlers if it is your first time there.
Stand Up Paddle PFD FAQs
Do You Need a PFD on a Paddle Board?
Yes, you do. It is required by law and it’s also an important safety accessory. Don’t go paddling without one.
How Do Belt PFDs Work?
When you pull the cord on your belt PFD, it activates the CO2 cartridge which quickly inflates the floatation device.
Can Inflatable Life Jackets Be Reused?
Yes, inflatable life jackets can be reused. If you inflate yours, you will have to buy a rearming kit and install another CO2 cartridge.
Life Vest Vs Inflatable Belt: Which Is Better for SUP Beginners?
SUP beginners should go for a life vest. An inflatable belt requires you to inflate it once you fall into the water. This means it’s better suited for strong swimmers.
A life vest doesn’t need inflating. As long as you’re wearing it when you fall in, it’ll keep you afloat.
My top paddle board life jackets include models for every member of the family—including your furry friends.
The Onyx M-16 is at the top of my list. I love how compact it is, allowing you to move and paddle freely. It’s so comfortable, you’ll barely notice you’re wearing it.
You should check out the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic if you’re on a tight budget. It’s more affordable but still reliable and comfortable. The Astral Layla is an amazing option for female paddle boarders. It’s tailored for women and is very adjustable, so you can get a great fit, whatever shape and size you are.
If you have any questions about SUP PFDs feel free to ask us below. Happy paddling!