Stand up paddle boarding is generally considered safe. But it is a water sport and things can still go wrong. For us here, safety is our top priority, and it should be for every paddler.
One way to ensure that you are prepared for emergency situations is to have a PFD on at all times. (So it is great that you are looking up SUP PFDs). Since this is one of those SUP accessories that could save your life, you want to make sure you choose wisely.
Life jackets come in many shapes and sizes. You can easily get confused by the different available options. You want a PFD that is comfortable, well-made, and one that will keep you afloat and increase your chances of survival.
To help you with the decision, we recommend our 12 best PFDs. We also discuss everything there is to know about SUP life jackets so you can choose the right stand up paddle PFD for you.
For 2021, the Onyx M-16 is our top pick for the best PFD for stand up paddle boarding. This is after extensively researching and testing different personal flotation devices.
The belt PFD was designed for paddle boarders with two things in mind: safety and comfort. We love the low-profile design which gives you all the freedom of movement you need. You don’t have to keep adjusting it and you can easily forget that you have it on.
The Onyx M-16 is USCG-approved. This means that it meets the U.S Coast Guard carriage requirements and it is reliable. It comes in one universal size and will fit any paddler over 80 pounds and above 16 years.
Any paddle boarder would love the Onyx M-16 personal flotation device. But if you are looking for something different, keep reading for more SUP PFD reviews.
Best Budget Life Vest – Onyx MoveVent Dynamic
We have talked about how important it is to have a PFD for SUP because it could save your life. Going out without one is not an option.
Some of these personal floatation devices aren’t cheap and not everyone can afford them.
But you can still get a good life vest at a friendly price – the MoveVent Dynamic is a great budget option.
It’s a Coast Guard-approved Type III life jacket made with soft, lightweight foam and durable nylon fabric.
It is comfortable, even in hot weather, thanks to the mesh ventilation panels at the front and back.
The MoveVent Dynamic is unisex and is available in three sizes to fit all body types.
Best SUP Life Vest for Women – Astral Layla
If you are a woman and the unisex life jackets don’t fit the way you’d like, you may want to try a life vest designed for women.
The Astral Layla has sculpted bust cups and a multi-panel hinge, features that make it conform to the female figure perfectly.
It doesn’t feel too tight around the chest area and it also won’t keep riding up.
You can use it for SUP touring, racing, whitewater SUP, and anything else that involves SUP.
The life vest is a USCG-approved Type III.
Stand Up Paddle PFDs Comparison Table
Best SUP Belt PFDs
1. Onyx M-16 Belt Pack Stand Up Paddle PFD
Some paddle boarders complain that personal floatation devices are uncomfortable and restrict movement.
This won’t be a problem with the Onyx M-16. That is one of the reasons why we 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, you only need to pull the cord to activate it–nothing complicated.
There is a D-ring attachment for you to attach any small accessory that you would want to keep close.
The Onyx M-16 has a 200D nylon oxford protective cover and you can get it 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. Astral AirBelt PFD
The Astral AirBelt is another great option for paddlers who find regular life vests distracting or restricting. The belt PFD has a low-profile design and only weighs 12 ounces.
We love how sleek it is and the fact that it stays totally out of your way.
It has a 200 x 400 denier ripstop nylon shell and a 200 denier high tenacity nylon liner. It is both rugged and comfortable.
This belt PFD inflates manually via a CO2 cartridge. You can also inflate it orally.
The Astral AirBelt flotation device is a Coast Guard-approved Type V and fits chest sizes 31” to 50”.
3. Stearns 16 Gram Manual Belt Pack
First, we 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 we’re sure you will appreciate how easy it is to use. Buckle it around your waist and go on your paddle boarding adventures. In case of anything, 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)
4. 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.
5. NRS Ninja Personal Flotation Device
We love the design of the NRS Ninja paddle board PFD. Its flotation foam is packed into only three 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 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 don’t mind a little sun on the shoulders and want the full function of your arms when paddling.
PFD Vests For Women
6. 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. And we love it!
7. 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.
8. NRS Women’s Siren Personal Flotation Device
The NRS is another great vest for women 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 stand up paddle PFD has inner mesh panels that will keep you cool and happy throughout the day.
You can get the NRS Siren in four 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.
One other feature that we noticed (and we know paddlers will appreciate) is the front zipper pocket. You can never have too much storage.
PFD Vests For Children
9. Stohlquist Youth Fit PFD Life Jacket
Getting the right life jacket for youth stand up paddlers 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 our 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, 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 and fits youth 50 to 90 pounds.
10. Stohlquist Child PFD
When riding with your child on your SUP board, you want to make sure that they are safe too.
The Stohlquist Child personal flotation device fits children 30 to 50 pounds.
Even though it is a kid’s PFD, we love that it is 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
11. NRS Canine PFD
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.
12. 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.
We love that this personal flotation device has reflective accents for visibility.
Buying Guide: How to Choose a Life Jacket for Stand Up Paddle Boarding
A stand up paddle board life jacket is not just something you wear for fun. It is a safety accessory that could easily save your life.
Thus, you need to make an informed decision when buying a PFD for yourself or a loved one.
So, here is everything you need to know about personal flotation devices.
What Is a SUP PFD?
A SUP PFD (personal floatation device), is a vest, jacket, or hip belt that you wear while paddle boarding.
Its main purpose is to keep you afloat and increase your chances of survival in case of an emergency.
Let’s take a look at the different PFD designs.
a. Life Vest
This is basically a vest with floatation foam. It is the most common type of PFD.
Although they tend to be bulky, they usually have zippered pockets and accessory attachment points. They make great fishing PFDs.
Another advantage is that they don’t need inflation. As long as you have it on, you’re set. It will keep you afloat if you fall into the water.
b. Suspender Harness
A suspender harness is an inflatable PFD. It is not as bulky as a life vest and it is only inflated when you fall into the water.
It can either have manual or automatic 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 something happens and, for some reason, you cannot pull the cord.
But again, falling in the water is a part of SUP and it is not always an emergency. So your automatic PFD can inflate when there’s no need to.
c. PFD Belt
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.
In case of anything, just pull the cord to inflate your PFD.
Do You Need to Wear a Life Jacket on a Stand Up Paddle Board?
You do. We have established that a PFD is a crucial SUP accessory and that safety should always come first.
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.
The Five Classification Types of Life Jackets
There are five PFD types.
Type I PFD
This is an offshore life jacket and you will mainly see it on commercial watercraft.
Type I PFDs have a minimum buoyancy of 22 pounds and they are designed to keep the upper body and head above the water.
They are great for offshore waters where the rescue team may delay.
Type II PFD
Type II life jackets are often used in areas of calm water, not far from the shore. They are less bulky than the Type I vests and have a minimum buoyancy requirement of 15.5 pounds.
This PFD type is mostly used by kayakers, paddle boarders, boaters, water skiers, and wakeboarders.
Type III PFD
Type III PFDs offer more options in terms of style–they come as fishing vests, belt PFDs, and jackets.
They are more suited for great swimmers and the minimum buoyancy is 15.5 pounds.
Type IV PFD
Type IV PFDs are throwable flotation devices, like a ring buoy, designed to be tossed to individuals who have fallen overboard or have lost their ability to swim.
They have a minimum buoyancy of 16.5 to 18.0 pounds.
Type V PFD
Type V PFDs feature a hybrid design and are inflatable. They are compact and great for stand up paddle boarding.
Inflation can be manual or automatic.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Stand Up Paddle PFD
When choosing a life jacket for paddle boarding, here are the factors you should have in mind.
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
Get a paddle boarding life jacket that fits you properly. Consider your chest size, waist size, and your weight.
To be honest, buying a PFD for adults can be tricky when it comes to size. For kids, you only need to know their average body weight.
For adults, even knowing your body measurements may not be enough. This is because the sizing varies from one manufacturer to another. The best option is to try it on.
It should be snug–not tight– and it shouldn’t be able to slide up to your ears.
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.
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.
5. Ease of Use
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.
What if you have to do these things in an emergency?
A simple zip and/or buckle straps are good enough as long as they work well.
If it comes with attachment points for accessories, they should also be easy to figure out.
Stand Up Paddle PFD Maintenance
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 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.
Additional Safety Considerations
Other than wearing your PFD (at all times), here are things you can do to stay safe while paddle boarding.
a. 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.
b. 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.
c. Check 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
Q: Do You Need a PFD on a Paddle Board?
A: Yes, you do. It is required by law and it is also an important safety accessory. Don’t go paddling without one.
Q: How Do Belt PFDs Work?
A: When you pull the cord on your belt PFD, it activates the CO2 cartridge which quickly inflates the floatation device.
Q: Can Inflatable Life Jackets Be Reused?
A: Yes, they can. If you inflate yours, you will have to buy a rearming kit and install another CO2 cartridge.
Q: Life Vest Vs Inflatable Belt: Which Is Better for SUP Beginners?
A: SUP beginners should go for a life vest. An inflatable belt needs you to inflate it once you fall into the water and it is better suited for strong swimmers.
A life vest doesn’t need inflation. It will keep you afloat if you fall as long as you’re wearing it.
We have given you a list of our recommendations for the best stand up paddle PFDs. Now it’s your turn to make a decision. There’s something for everyone, including your furry friend.
The Onyx M-16 is at the top of our list for many reasons. We love how compact it is, allowing you to move and paddle freely. It is super comfortable and you won’t even remember it is there.
You should check out the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic if you are on a tight budget. It is affordable but still reliable and comfortable.
The Astral Layla is an amazing option for women paddle boarders. It comes with stylish color options and it’s so comfortable you can wear it all day long.
If you have any questions about SUP PFDs feel free to ask us below. Happy paddling!