How to select a Fishing Kayak PFD

How to select a Fishing Kayak PFD

Life Jackets for Kayak Fishing

Selecting a good paddle specific PFD is a must before setting out on the water.  Gone are the days of large bulky life jackets that were either too loose or too tight to buckle / zip.  Fit and function is the name of the game and there are several technical, kayak fishing specific models to choose from.  

Sizing your PFD

Our kayaking life vests are available in a few different sizing categories.  Most of our PFDs from Old Town and NRS slot into the Fitted category.  This means they come in a range of sizes.  For the men’s vest this is usually Small-Medium, Large-XL, and possibly an XXL-XXXL size.  Fitted vests offer the ability to get a vest that fits exactly how it should.  Snug in the correct areas so it will not ride up with room in the shoulders to facilitate restriction free paddling and / or casting. 

Another option is a Universal vest.  Universal vests are just that, a vest that will fit universally, or one-size fits most.  These vests are great for entry level paddlers or for a family that wants to have an extra vest or two on the dock for guests.  Fit on these models is achieved with adjustable shoulder and side straps.  While they lack most of the technical features hard core anglers will want, these are great vests to get started with or to have around as a loaner.  

Adult Universal
Model Chest Size Persons Weighing
Riverstream 30 - 52 Inches More than 90 pounds
Treble Angler 30 - 52 inches More than 90 pounds
Outfitter 30 - 52 inches More than 90 pounds
Model Chest Size Persons Weighing
Volks Junior 25 - 29 inches 50 - 90 pounds
Inlet Junior 25 - 29 inches 50 - 90 pounds
Adult Fitted
Model XS S/M L/XL 2XL - 3XL Persons Weighing
Solitude Women's 32 - 38 inches 40 - 46 inches 48 - 54 inches - More than 90 pounds
Solitude Men's - 40 - 46 inches 48 - 54 inches 54 - 60 inches More than 90 pounds
Lure Angler - 40 - 46 inches 48 - 54 inches 54 - 60 inches More than 90 pounds

BHO Pro TipLarger Anglers who are looking for a vest that fits well should look at the larger sizes in the Fitted Vest categories.  Universal vests will often not fit as well. 

Modern Jacket Features

Life Jackets in 2022 are evolving almost as fast as the boats, especially in the fishing category.  As more and more anglers leave the shore and head for the open water in the kayaks, they are realizing the limitations of PFDs produced even 5-10 years ago.  Our manufacturers have listened and responded with features for added comfort, floatation and function for a day spent fishing. 

Seat Integration

A standard recreational life jacket usually features a layer of foam for floatation on the front and back of the jacket.  While this works well for floatation it can hinder performance in a modern kayak by pushing you forward in your seat.  Old Town offers  technical fishing life vests with a High Back seat integration feature.  This places the foam above the top of the seat and allows for a comfortable, seamless integration with the seat.   


Another common comment we hear is that people don’t want to wear a vest because they feel it will be too hot.  Again, the vest you wore 15 years ago was probably very hot but today that does not have to be the case.  Today's life vests are built with features to help you stay cool and comfortable all day long.  With the High Back feature on the Old Town vests it allows for the lower back area to be a breathable mesh material.  Funneling into the back of the vest are built in channels between EVA foam blocks that facilitate moisture evaporation and air flow.  These channels also help reduce skin / body contact with the vest.  Old Town calls this their AirComfort System and it works!  


From the engineered shoulder strap designs and the side / waist adjustment straps to the placement and type of foam used on the front of the vests, everything is designed with the comfort and mobility of the paddler as a priority.  Without belaboring all the details of structure and design we’d ask you to just try one of our Old Town Solitude or similar vests.  You will be amazed with the adjustability and overall fit.  Life vests are available in Men's, Women's and youth cut versions with each being designed to contour the user correctly.  

Technical Fishing Features

Most of the PFDs we carry feature zippered storage pockets and D-ring and cord loop attachment points and will work perfectly for 70% of kayak anglers.  For those looking for added storage and features vests like our Old Town Lure Angler and NRS Chinook offer zippered tackle pockets with internal organization, knife lash tabs and on the Chinook even a rod holder.  Fly fishermen who are used to wearing a vest for organization will feel right at home setting up fishing specific life vest.  

Other Options

Blunt Knife

A knife is a great tool to have handy on your vest.  Not only can it help with cutting fishing lines but it can also be a life saver to cut yourself out or get untangled from something the water. We offer the NRS Neko Blunt Knife and most of our anglers carry one.  

Whistle or Noise Maker

Check your local regulations but in many areas it is required to have a whistle or another approved noise maker attached to your person when Kayaking or Canoeing.  Should you capsize these are necessary to alert people on shore or nearby boats that you need help.  Your vest will have attachment tabs for this purpose.  

Inflatable Vests

Inflatable lifejackets are becoming popular within the fishing world.  We see fly fishermen using these wading in rivers and now kayak fishermen are picking them up.  The idea is that they are very lightweight and, when they are not inflated, have no bulk to them.  These vests are equipped with a CO2 canister and when you go into the water you pull a tab and the canister fills the vest.  Lots of issues here for boating.  One, the fact that you have to be able to pull the tab to inflate the vest is an issue if you are unconscious or otherwise panicked and secondly the CO2 canister can and will fail over time.  Great idea but we are sticking to our standard Type III PFDs for now.   

Still Not Sure - The Black Hall Pick for 2022

If you still aren’t sure what type of jacket to purchase we would highly recommend you start with the Old Town Solitude PFD.  This fitted life vest is available in Men’s and Women’s versions with sizes to accommodate any paddler.  This is a performance High Back life jacket that is equipped with enough features and storage options for the hardcore angler with a minimalistic sleek look that is perfect for a family paddle to a local beach. 

The Solitude features Old Town’s AirComfort system to keep you cool on the hottest days while also incorporating fleece-lined hand warmer pockets for those early spring / late fall days on the water.  A true three-season paddling vest.  



Simply put, if you are heading out on the water in a kayak, SUP, canoe or other boat you need a Personal Floatation Device.  It can literally be the difference between life and death, even on nice days, when it is tempting to take off your life jacket to enjoy the sun.  According to the US Coast Guard, most boat related drownings happen on nice days and by those who are considered good swimmers.  For the 2019 boating season drownings accounted for 76% of boating related deaths and of those 86% where not wearing PFDs and 66% where people reported as being good swimmers.  Life jackets save lives, we wear them and so should you!


Since 1999, Black Hall Outfitters has been southern New England’s premier kayak fishing and paddle sports destination. From kayak accessories, lighting, and transport, to bait, tackle, and marine gear, BHO has everything you need to make the most of your on-water adventures. For more information, stop by either of our two locations in Westbrook or Old Lyme, Connecticut or visit us online at