Learning With Confidence – The Best Children’s Swim Vests and Flotation 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.

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.

TOP PICK:

Stearns Kids Puddle Jumper Deluxe

best childrens swim vestThe Puddle Jumper from Stearns is a very nicely made flotation aide that’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 flotation device for little kids for some time now. It really is one of the best values out there 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 on boat trips. 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 very adjustable and there shouldn’t be any trouble fitting it securely for 30-50 lb children. 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.

best kids swim aidThe 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 16 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.

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RUNNERS UP:

Speedo Kid’s Begin To Swim

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. It also gives good protection against UV rays, 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.

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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 hair for a small number of kids who are a bit on the skinny side or just shy of the 30 pound recommended minimum. The new 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. 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 flotation device for toddlers, but it’s too soon to tell.

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Splash About Collections Float Suit

splash-about-float-suit-reviewThis 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 also take away floats as your child becomes a more confident swimmer. The Splash About comes in a range of bright colors with fun designs. It’s also very easy to put on – basically it’s a swimsuit with attached floats. Although it’s unisex it probably suits girls better. Like the Speedo vest above, this Splash About float suit is definitely not US Coast Guard approved and should only be used as a swimming aid for the pool.

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35 Responses to “Learning With Confidence – The Best Children’s Swim Vests and Flotation 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:

      Actually, I’d give the Puddle Jumpers 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.

  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!

  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.

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