More women are taking part in water-based sports than ever, and doing a great job of proving that they’re at least as good as most men. They do face some special challenges though. A lot of safety gear has traditionally been made to suit the male figure and quite often women struggle to find a life vest that fits.
Now some top manufacturers have recognized the demand for more versatile PFDs and it’s possible to pick up a great women’s life jacket with all the features of their male counterparts. They’re not all girly pink life jackets either – you can get that if you want, but it’s not compulsory! Here are our top choices for women’s flotation devices no matter if you’re petite or plus size.
The Men’s Phantom is one of the leading wakeboarding life jackets out there for the most active sportsmen, and the women’s model is packed with all the same features. It’s a simple, stylish, low bulk vest made from top grade Yamamoto neoprene, which encases shaped and beveled flotation panels of PVC foam. That means it crams a lot of buoyancy into a small package, and it does it without restricting movement either.
The arm holes are very large, giving you almost complete freedom whether you’re kayaking or water skiing. The chest panels come up quite high but there should be no risk of them riding up into your face; the lining is printed with Glide-Lock material to keep it firmly in place. The two waist belts let you adjust to for a perfect fit, making it even less likely to slip out of place.
The vest itself, and the foam panels, are shaped to fit female curves but there’s still a knack to getting the right fit. Like all womens’ neoprene life vests, this one will loosen by up to 15% once it’s got wet and been warmed by your body heat, so when you put it on it should be tight. As long as you can fasten the zip, it’s big enough – if it’s at all loose at first, after half an hour on the water it will be dangerously large and prone to slipping. Choose a snug size and tighten the belts properly, too.
The quality of finish on this vest is very high and it’s also available in four attractive color schemes. There are two gray/black versions as well as sky blue and a spectacular hot pink. If you want to be defiantly feminine that’s the one for you. There are also some nice detail touches, like the bottom-mounted D-ring for attaching small accessories. All around, a very good vest indeed.
The Betsea is what Stohlquist call a “touring” vest, that’s ideal for extended wear. It also has loads of features that make it ideal for a cruising or sailing. The vest is covered in heavy duty Cordura with a soft Oxford liner, and has Stohlquist’s WRAPTURE™ torso shaping to perfectly accommodate feminine curves. It doesn’t give up an ounce of performance though, with large beveled foam panels giving plenty of flotation.
There’s also plenty of stowage space, so whether you want to safely stash your keys and sunglasses or load up on small tools for rigging repairs, it has you covered. Two large zippered pockets are mounted in front, and there are two 4-slot accessory tabs as well, one on the right breast and the other behind the left shoulder. This is a serious vest.
Our second runner up also comes from Stohlquist, but this time it’s one of their “recreational” vests. The Escape is lighter and more compact, and while it lacks some of the Betsea’s features, it’s made to the same high quality. The shell is 200 denier nylon and the lining is the same oxford as the Betsea. A full length zip and two waist belts give security and easy adjustment. There are also adjustment straps on each shoulder to get that perfect fit.
The foam chest panels are internally sculpted for comfort. A single large zippered pocket gives a decent amount of storage space. If you’re looking for a good women’s PFD that won’t obstruct you in a kayak the Escape is a great choice.