Best Toddler and Children Swim Vests and Floatation Devices

Swimming is great exercise for toddlers and it’s also something that kids and parents can do together. It’s always best to be safe in and around water though, so while your toddler is learning to swim they should wear a good quality swim aid or vest.

Once they’re confident in the water they can strike out without it, but in the early stages they – and you – will feel better with some extra assurance that they’ll stay afloat. Keep in mind that swim vests and floaties are not designed to replace an actual life jacket for toddlers or kids life vest.

Our 5 Favorite Learn to Swim Vests

ProductMaterialUSCG ApprovedSizeColors
Puddle Jumper DeluxePolyesterType III30-50 lbs18
Speedo Begin to SwimNeoprene/PolyesterNo33-60 lbs3
Puddle PalsPolyesterType III30-50 lbs9
Speedo Water SkeeterNeoprene/PolyesterType III30-50 lbs3
Splash About Float SuitNylon/Elastane/PolyesterNo20-50 lbs7

Swim aids look simple compared to the sort of vest you need for boating but you still need to choose them carefully. It’s vital that the one you buy allows your child to move freely – otherwise learning to swim will be a struggle. Get it right, though, and it will be amazingly helpful.

Learn to Swim Floatation Aid Reviews

#1 – Stearns Kids Puddle Jumper Deluxe

best childrens swim vestThe Puddle Jumper from Stearns is by far the most popular means of swim floatation for toddlers. It’s comfortable to wear and doesn’t get in the way of learning to swim, but does a good job of adding extra buoyancy when it’s needed.

There’s good reason the Puddle Jumper has been the best selling floatation device for toddlers and little kids for some time now. As many parents will attest, it’s an excellent value and we can almost guarantee you won’t have any regrets buying it.

While it doesn’t look like a typical life jacket, it’s technically a Type III Coast Guard approved flotation aid (thanks to the former Puddle Jumper product manager who contacted me). It’s capable enough to be used as a safety aid on the beach or in shallow water. We wouldn’t recommend it to replace a more traditional life jacket for sailing or kayaking (even though technically it could), but that’s not what it’s meant for.

puddle jumper deluxe reviewThis compact vest has two arm bands and a chest panel; simply slip the arms through the bands then fasten the strap at the back, and it’s all ready to go. The strap makes it quite adjustable and there shouldn’t be any trouble fitting it securely for 30-50 lb children. Since Puddle Jumpers are perfect for being on top of the water and looking underwater, make sure they have a good pair of swim goggles.

The arm bands themselves aren’t adjustable but they do have plenty space in them, even though they may feel tight fitting (especially when wet). Once your child is in the upper part of the weight range, it’s recommended to put a little sunscreen on their upper arms to make putting on and taking off the Puddle Jumper much easier.

The build quality of the Puddle Jumper is pretty impressive for such an inexpensive product. It’s made from a woven polyester fabric that’s a lot softer than a typical life jacket. That makes it comfortable enough to be worn most of the day, unlike a lot of other brands.

It’s also available in a wide range of colors (12 18 as of this time), most of which have cheerful cartoon designs on the front. Kids love these, meaning you’ll have a lot less trouble getting them to wear it.

>> Click to check current price <<

 

#2 – Speedo Kid’s Begin To Swim Vest

This Speedo vest is a more traditional design than the Puddle Jumper; it’s basically a standard swim school vest, made from neoprene for a low profile. It’s not at all bulky and gives the wearer excellent freedom of movement, so new swimmers will be able to learn without any problems.

The vest also gives good protection against UV rays for outdoor swimming, which is important – it’s easy to forget how much UV your child is exposed to, especially around water where constant splashing keeps them cool. For children with paler skin the Speedo is well worth considering just for that. Of course it’s also a secure life vest with a front zipper and crotch strap.

Unlike the Puddle Jumper, the Speedo swim vest is available in both Medium (33-45 lbs) and Large (45-60 lbs) sizes. Keep in mind the Begin to Swim vest is just that, a swimming aid which is not US Coast Guard approved.

>> Click to check current price <<

 

#3 – Body Glove Paddle Pals

While the Stearns Puddle Jumper is by far the most popular swim aid for most young, eager-to-learn swimmers, it may have a tendency to slide around a bit for a small number of kids who may be on the skinny side or just shy of the 30 pound recommended minimum.

The new(ish) Body Glove Paddle Pals would in these cases be a better option as it’s essentially a swim vest with floaties that’s also US Coast Guard Type III approved. When at the beach or by the river, a decent pair of kids water shoes will keep their feet safe while they’re having fun.

Because it has shoulder straps, there’s no possibility of the vest coming off. The vest buckles in the back so they will need help putting it on but this also makes it more secure. The built-in drain holes are a nice touch to keep the vest as light as possible after being in the water.

We’ll see if the Paddle Pals can one day dethrone the Puddle Jumpers as the best toddler floatation device, but it’s too soon to tell. Available in 9 fun styles.

>> Click to check current price <<

 

#4 – Speedo Kid’s Water Skeeter Floatation Vest

Another good product from Speedo, this floatation aid is an excellent way to give your 30-50 pound child confidence when learning to swim without getting in the way. This USCG approved Type III PFD has a unique design which doesn’t wrap all the way around so their arms have plenty of room to move. There are instead side straps and a crotch strap to keep them snug and secure.

It’s the best float vest for kids who have trouble floating on their backs due to the “turtle-like” shape. Like other learn to swim aids on this page, it’s not meant to replace a life jacket when boating, but for the pool or around the beach, it’s a fantastic option. It’s available in 3 fun, bright colors that your little boy or girl will love.

>> Click to check current price <<

 

#5 – Splash About Collections Float Suit

The Splash About is a fun, colorful vest that lets children use their arms freely while making sure they have plenty of buoyancy to keep them safely afloat. It has 16 removable floats, so it’s easy to adjust for lighter or heavier children by adding or removing floats. You can can start out using it as a baby floatation suit and slowly take away floats as your child grows and gets more comfortable staying afloat.

This float suit comes in a range of bright colors with fun designs. It’s also very easy to put on. Essentially, it’s a swimsuit with attached floats and makes a good alternative to a typical toddler pool float. Although its unisex probably suits girls better. Like the Speedo Begin to Swim vest, this Splash About float suit is definitely not US Coast Guard approved and should only be used as a swimming aid for the pool.

>> Click to check current price <<

 


FAQs

Can you use a Puddle Jumper on a boat?

While it is US Coast Guard approved as a type III PFD, the use of a Puddle Jumper (or similar Body Glove Puddle Pals) on a boat is not always advisable. Your decision should be based on a few factors:

  • Are you on a lake or ocean?
  • Are you underway or anchored?
  • Are you swimming in the water with your child?
  • How good of a swimmer is your child?

In our opinion, if out on the ocean, the boat is moving, or if you have a “not quite ready to learn” swimmer, a traditional life jacket is a must. For the other scenarios above, do what you feel is right as the parent or guardian. But you’ll never be wrong by playing it safe.

What different types of Puddle Jumpers are available?

The top-selling Puddle Jumpers are currently available in 4 varieties.

  • Original:  Nylon material
  • Deluxe:  Polyester material
  • Deluxe 3D:  Polyester material + Antimicrobial + 3D designs
  • Ultra:  Hydroprene material + Antimicrobial

For most, we recommend going with the Deluxe or Deluxe 3D version. They’re both more comfortable than the Original and about the same price. While the Ultra’s neoprene-like material is the most comfortable, it makes the product seem twice as heavy after being in the water.

What’s the difference between a life jacket and the swim aids listed on this page?

Please see:  Kids Life Jacket vs Puddle Jumper vs Swim Vest for a comparison.

Are there learn-to-swim vests available for kids over 50 pounds?

Absolutely. Konfidence is one of the better known brands when it comes to swim aids for kids starting around age 4 all the way to about 14. Here are two models covering that entire age range:

Does anyone make a learn-to-swim vest for adults?

Yes. While obviously not as popular, there are a small handful of brands that sell adult learn-to-swim vests. Here’s our favorite:

What’s the best way to clean a Puddle Jumper type swim aid?

Puddle Jumpers and other learn to swim devices can be cleaned the same way as a regular life jacket. See:  How to Remove Mildew, Mold, and Smells From a Life Jacket

 

56 Responses to “Best Toddler and Children Swim Vests and Floatation Devices”

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  1. Shannon says:

    Do you have any advice for making the Puddle Jumpers easier to take off after swimming? Not sure if my boy is too big for it now but taking it off him is a struggle.

    • Alex says:

      Actually YES! This is a common issue. What has always helped us is to put some sunscreen all the way around the top of their arms prior to putting the Puddle Jumper on. Even after a couple hours of swimming, their arms are just slick enough for the swim vest to slide right off.

  2. Dwight Rodriguez says:

    Looking for a life jacket for my 5 month grand son he is about 17 pounds, please help

  3. Kammie says:

    I’m looking for a swim vest or device for my close to 60 pound 5 year old girl? The puddle jumpers are only rated for 30-50 pounds and are becoming tight on her arms and back.

    • Alex says:

      The Large size of the Speedo Vest is rated up to 60 lbs. I don’t believe there are bigger swim vests than that unless you want to go to an actual life jacket at that point.

  4. Laura says:

    Looking for a swim vest for my nearly two year old twins who are very slim – only around 20lbs. I think the Puddle jumper might be too big on them.

    • Alex says:

      The Puddle Jumpers might still be worth a shot. From what I remember, we started using them when our kids were just under 25 lbs and they fit fine and were not loose at all. The manufacturer states 30-50 lbs on them but I would say in actuality it should be 20-40 lbs.

      But to be on the safe side, the Splash About Float Suit would be ideal.

  5. Lynda B says:

    Where do you get the puddle jumper swim vest pictured on the little boy above that says 50-90 pounds ??… The blue puddle jumper with gold stripes on the arm bands.

  6. Olivia says:

    We love the puddle jumper, but have a problem with it leaving raw spots they almost look the strawberry at the bend of his elbow and also under his arms. Is this a known problem?

  7. Joanna says:

    Are these sufficient for playing in shallow ocean water? We’re going on a cruise, so I’m looking for something for a 4.5yo. He’s been taking lessons using a waist belt “bubble”, but he’s more enthusiastic than skilled. Anyway, looking for something for both the pool and a beach day or two.

    • Alex says:

      Correct. These are great for around the ocean shore, along the lake/river, or pool. Definitely not recommended for deep water use (ie: boating).

  8. brittany says:

    We have a swim school vest with sleeves for our 1 1/2 year old is that something safe for the lake/being on a boat?

  9. Alicia says:

    Is the puddle jumper swim vest safe for young children. Because we bought some for or 1 year old twins. They meet the weight requirement. They just don’t look safe because of the open back on the vest. It just doesn’t seem ideal for young children who can’t swim. Maybe for older children who are learning to swim and just need a little assistance? My question is. Do these vest count as actual life jackets?

    • Alex says:

      Puddle Jumpers will in no way replace actual infant/toddler life jackets which keep their heads fully above the water. Puddle Jumpers or swim vests are meant to merely help the child stay afloat. At one year old, you will almost definitely need to still hold them while in the water until they learn to keep their head up. With twins, it will take a bit more work at the beginning (you might need two adults). We actually have triplets (who are now 6) but we started them all with Puddle Jumpers at about age 2 from what I remember.

  10. Cally says:

    Need a swim vest for a 18 month old girl weight 31lbs. Any recommendation? Thanks.

    • Alex says:

      Can’t go wrong with the Puddle Jumper but at that age you’ll most likely always need to be in reach of her or holding her.

  11. Leah says:

    Any recommendations for my 5 year old who is 50 lbs and has outgrown his puddle jumper? – specifically for our trip to Florida- swimming in the pool and some closely supervised beach/ocean play? I’m hoping to not have to bring his life jacket and something else on the plane.

  12. Never use these. Get your children swim lessons. Teaching kids to “float” vertically is to teach them to drown if they get into water without these crutches. The floaties are especially bad in this regard.

    • Alex says:

      I have to respectfully disagree. Puddle Jumpers and other swim vests aren’t meant to replace swim lessons. They are intended to be an aid and help the little ones feel more confident in the water. I compare them to those foam pool noodles which are often used during swim lessons at your local aquatic center.

  13. Shannon says:

    We just tried the Body Glove Paddle Pals for our 3 year old because the Puddle Jumpers was sliding off. The design looks like a safer version of the Puddle Jumpers as the kids can’t take it off by themselves with the added shoulders.

    • Alex says:

      Shannon – Thanks for sharing. Those look like a great option especially for kids who are a bit too small for the Puddle Jumpers. We’ll most likely be adding them to the list above pending some more research.

      Here’s a link so others can see: Body Glove Paddle Pals

  14. Saravan says:

    Hi, which one is best for learn swimming puddle jumper or swim vest? We are looking for our 3.8year old boy. He is around 28 lb

    • Alex says:

      They are both great options. The Puddle Jumper is a tad more bulky but our girls didn’t mind at all when they were that age. The vest allows easier movement but you’ll most likely have to purchase the next size up sooner.

  15. Saravan says:

    Can you please suggest the best swim vest brand and size for my 3.8yr old boy. His weight around 28 lb

  16. M Bennett says:

    Is it not possible to make the puddle jumper’s in bigger sizes for kids with disabilities that weigh over the 50 pounds???? Just a thought if you could design something that could help out a lot of people because it is an awesome product and very comfortable for the users .

    • Melissa brow says:

      I agree! My 4 year sold is autistic and just outgrew the puddle jumper. I don’t know what to do now!

    • Jennifer says:

      YES!!! My son is Autistic and is not swimming yet even though he has been in lessons for years. Seems like a golden opportunity for companies. C’mon!

    • C Holt says:

      I agree! My 9 year old, 54 pound daughter is still wearing hers and I was looking for a larger size. The puddle jumper and an inflatable swim ring are the only way she keeps her head from falling into the water. In a regular life vest, she goes face down! I could just hold onto her all the time…but she wants and needs the independence.

    • Melissa says:

      My son was very big for his age we had him wear it until it couldn’t fit around him anymore at over 50 lbs it still gave him enough buoyancy to not go under but he had to kick too

  17. Zanna says:

    My daughter is 2 weeks shy of 5 and a fairly strong swimmer. In a pool she can swim independently across and back to pass their swim test to use the slide. However, in the summer at the lake her confidence is terrifying. She doesn’t really understand about waves and when it’s busy I have a hard time being right next to her while also watching my 2.5 year old.

    I want something that’s going to just give her a little support if she gets hit in the face with a wave or at least allow me to see her by floating her to the surface if she does get in trouble. (A high school boy drowned at that same lake while swimming with friends and they looked and looked for him, but the water was murky (and night time) and they couldn’t find him when he didn’t come back up so-terrifying).

    We have the puddle jumper which I currently make her wear, but the speedo neoprene vests look less bulky and irritating on the arms. They also fall off the 2.5 year old. Is it worth getting two for what I want it for?

    • Alex says:

      Thanks for the comment Zanna. I’d have to agree that the Speedo vests are probably a bit more comfortable but the Puddle Jumpers seem to have more buoyancy near their heads. Since your (almost) 5-year old is already a good swimmer for her age, the vest would be perfect. Your 2.5 year old should also be just fine as long as there’s plenty of supervision, which I’m sure there is. If the Puddle Jumper doesn’t fit right, it’s definitely safer to go with the vest. Fortunately, the swim vests shouldn’t cost more than $20 each.

      Also, here’s another style of the vest.

  18. Leah says:

    I have twin daughters that are 5, and do not know how to swim. We are at my parents pool almost every day. I’m going to get them lessons, but what would you recommend in the mean time? I bought 2 swim vests, and the one went under a bit, got scared, wanted it off immediately, and wanted her tune back. Do the puddle jumpers keep their heads above water?

    • Alex says:

      Yes, Puddle Jumpers or the Body Glove Puddle Pals would do a much better job keeping their heads above water since all the buoyancy is located closer to their neck instead of being spread out like a swim vest. Swim vests are better once they’ve gotten the hang of water a bit and simply need a “little” assistance while learning to swim.

  19. LaRiena Ralph Dobkin says:

    Hi. My 2yo is a peanut. The puddle jumper worked wonderful for older son when he was 2 but my second is simpy too slim. The puddle jumper floats on him, it slides down to his wrists and has even slipped off his arm since he’s also an incredible wiggler. I need a less bulky but safe option for him so he isn’t overwhelmed by floatation. Any ideas? He’s a tall slim 26lbs.

    • Alex says:

      He’s just a bit under the manufacturer’s minimum weight for any of these but I think the Body Glove Puddle Pals above would work much better for your son because of its shoulder straps. There’s no chance of it sliding down his arms. Other than that, you’d have to go with a normal type 2 life jacket for up to 30 lbs. But then you’re dealing with the extra bulkiness and the fact he would outgrow it pretty quickly.

  20. Tisha Yowell says:

    My 5-1-/2 year old son weighs about 55-60lbs. We are going to be at the lake a lot. He doesn’t know quite how to swim. I purchased the Hyperlite Boyz youth large Indy vest. It says it is USCG type III and rated for 50-90 lbs. Was this a good choice?

    • Tisha Yowell says:

      I should clarify he can tread water for mere seconds and is not afraid to jump in a pool with the cheap inflatable water wings. But I want to be sure in purchases a good choice for lake/dock swimming and possible boating.

  21. Swim Mom says:

    How can children learn to swim properly with their arms confined??? Children need to feel their own buoyancy in water and be able to MOVE THEIR ARMS in order to stay above the water. These things are ridiculous and give children and their parents a false sense of security.

  22. Adee says:

    Just for comparison, we have 4-year old twins and bought 1 Puddle Jumper Deluxe and 1 Puddle Pals (we let them pick the designs). Both worked great in the hotel pools (first time we only needed one adult in the pool with them) on our last roadtrip but the Puddle Pals feel a bit safer. One of our twins is a bit skinnier than the other and the Puddle Jumper would slide down a bit. The Paddle Pals had the shoulder straps which kept it in place better.

  23. Mema says:

    Is there a limit to how long you can use the puddle jumpers can you hand them down to another child or do they have expiration on them within a few yrs.

    • Alex says:

      It’s perfectly fine to hand them down to other kids if the Puddle Jumpers are in good condition. If there are issues with the buckle, you notice tears in the fabric, or they just become super faded, it’s best to not use again.

  24. Danielle says:

    My 18 month old gets super excited in the water and is trying to swim. I don’t want to buy an infant life jacket that he’ll quickly outgrow. He currently weighs ~25pounds. Would the puddle jumper fit or be too large? What about the Paddle Pals?

    • Alex says:

      At 25 lbs, the Puddle Jumper might be a tiny bit loose but definitely usable. You’ll of course want to be right there with him but I know plenty of parents who’ve used the PJ at that weight.

  25. Trisha says:

    My three year old is in the greater than 99th percentile, so he is fit, tall, and the size of the average six year old right now…

    He LOVES his Puddle Jumper that he has used since he was one. He is doing so well learning proper swim form with it, I am quite upset that he just hit fifty pounds this week. Soon it will be ineffective, but he is not ready to swim without it, and all the other floatation devices out there make him look like a bouy, without the mobility of his Puddle Jumper.

    When we first got his Puddle Jumper they came in two weight classes, now all I see on the market is the 30-50lbs. Is there a higher class Puddle Jumper out there still?

    • Alex says:

      Unfortunately the arm-floatie type Puddle Jumpers are only available up to 50 (or so) lbs. Stearns makes a 50-90 lbs “Puddle Jumper” VEST but it sounds like the sizing runs super small.

      The Large size of the Speedo Swim Vest goes up to 60 lbs so that might be your best bet as far as swim aids are concerned. If he’s on the verge of swimming on his own, a simple foam pool noodle might be all the confidence he needs to go that last step.

  26. Christina says:

    My daughter is almost 2 now and she weighs 20lbs and I don’t like the life jacket on her for swimming in the pool as we want her to start swimming on her own but we will be the pool with her so what’s the best float for I really like the puddle jumper but its too lose around her chest area

  27. Maram says:

    I tried many typs of floaters..and most of them either makes the kid left in his back or on his face down.. i didnt find a type that make the baby in a vertical position.. does this puddle jumper helps in this case? My baby is 2 years old.

  28. Lauren says:

    Our friends rented an AirBNB house with a pool right outside the back door, no gate. Our oldest is a great swimmer but I’m nervous about our nearly 2 and 4 year-olds who love the water but aren’t good swimmers yet. We’ll always be with them in the water, but I’d like them to wear a floatation shirt of some kind around the house that would keep them above water if they sneak out of our view and get curious about the pool – something not too bulky but can keep a child’s head above water if they fall in. Suggestions?

    • Alex says:

      This is a tough one. The Speedo swim vest is about as non-bulky as it can be but it’s made to help keep them afloat (not to keep head above the water). Same goes for something like the Puddle Jumpers. They’d have to go with an actual life jacket (bulkier) which is designed to keep their head above water. But any of these swim aids would be better than nothing. How long your kids would want to wear them is another thing.

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