7 Best Fishing Life Vests – Catch Fish, Don’t Join Them

*This article may contain affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, we may receive a small commission for qualifying purchases.

Updated: April 15, 2021

Getting out to fish or hunt ducks is a lot of fun, but it does involve being near – or on – the water; often you’ll be in a small boat, on your own or moving around at dawn. That means there’s always a risk, and to eliminate that you need a good fishing vest.

The good news is that if you pick the right one, you can gain some handy extra storage for your gear. Whether you’re fly fishing, kayak fishing, fishing in a float tube, or just on the dock, the best fishing life jacket will keep you comfortable, organized, and of course safe.

If you’re having your canine buddy tag along, be sure to also have him wear a dog life jacket.

Our 7 Favorite Fishing Life Vests

 ProductBuoyancyPocketsColorsSizes
best fishing life vestStohlquist Fisherman16.5 lbs2+33
fly fishing life vestNRS Chinook16.5 lbs743
Onyx fishing life jacket reviewONYX Kayak/Fishing15 lbs312
best off shore fishing life jacketNRS Chinook OS16.5 lbs823
best inflatable fishing vest camoAbsolute Outdoor Onyx M-2422.5 lbs021
Stearns fishing vest reviewStearns Comfort Seriesn/a213
lightweight fishing life jacketAirhead Fishing Deluxen/a425

Fishing Life Vest Reviews

#1 – Stohlquist Fisherman PFD

best fishing life vestAre you wondering if the Stohlquist Fisherman is up to the task of stalking muskies, or even some early morning duck hunting? Don’t! This vest looks like it was designed by the Navy SEALs making it our pick for best fishing life vest.

It’s neat, low profile and tough – the shell is heavy duty Cordura, with a softer oxford lining for comfort – and packs in plenty of buoyancy. There are two generous chest panels and a back panel that’s set high to keep it clear of seat backrests in a boat or the cockpit of a kayak.

Open sides leave you with full arm movement, and plentiful adjustment straps – two each side plus one on each shoulder – make it really easy to get a perfect fit.

It’ll keep you afloat, but will it hold all the tackle you need close to hand? Yes, definitely!

There are two large front pockets, with stiffened front panels that unzip and fold down to form work surfaces – retaining straps will hold them horizontal, so you can work with hooks, shot or other terminal tackle without needing extra hands.

It’s a real bonus for fly fishing. They’re not just plain pockets either. Each of them has an open inner pocket and a zippered mesh fishing-life-jacket-reviewspocket, plus looks to hold hemostats, pliers or other tools.

As a final neat touch, the front panels are lined with a Velcro loop surface, so you can stick fly blocks to them. Each of the pockets has plenty room for small tackle boxes, compact radios and other essentials.

Then each chest panel has an elastic loop for a whistle or compact flashlight, and a slotted hardpoint with an elastic strap ready fitted. There is absolutely no shortage of places to stow your gear.

The Fisherman comes in two color options. The most popular is a discreet cactus green that won’t startle any wildlife. There’s also a bright yellow option with reflective strips front and back. The yellow is your best choice if you’ll be on open water.

>> Click to check current price <<

 

#2 – NRS Chinook Fishing PFD

fly fishing life vestThe NRS “Chinook” fishing PFD is one of the most comfortable fishing life vests you will ever put on. Available in 3 sizes and having 8 adjustment points, this PFD will fit almost any person.

It’s great for fly fishing, kayak fishing, canoe fishing, or even fishing from your inflatable pontoon (pretty much any type of fishing). Many even use it for white water rafting.

Using waders? The Chinook can be worn over them just fine. The mesh high back is designed to sit above a kayak perfectly.

This is one well designed life vest for fishing since all pockets (there are 7) seem to be placed at the optimal spots. The only negatives we’ve seen are that some users think the pockets are a bit on the small side and it has a tendency to get a bit warm behind the front panels.

Also, while the vest actually feels a bit more comfortable than the Stohlquist, the material doesn’t feel quite as durable. A fantastic vest nonetheless.

>> Click to check current price <<

 

#3 – Onyx Kayak Fishing Life Jacket

Onyx fishing life jacketOne of the most impressive Type 3 PFDs for fishermen on the market, Onyx’s kayak fishing vest is full of features. The basic zippered, fleece-lined pockets and chest pocket are accompanied by a snap-close top slot for easy access to your radio or tools.

A drop down tray pocket can be accessed by a single button press and can hold a small tackle box.

There is also a lash tab to hold various items, making this vest the perfect storage for longer fishing trips. The padding on the back of the vest is higher to provide better seat clearance, while the lower portion is webbed for superior breathability.

Six straps allow for precise adjustments, not only for body fit, but also to account for boat or kayak seat height.

The vest comes in two sizes: a universal that fits chest measurements from 30 inches to 52 inches, and an oversize that fits 40 to 60 inch chests. We specifically recommend this fishing PFD for the bigger guys out there.

While the pockets are not waterproof, the vest is designed with ample drainage to help keep the vest dry. Finally, this Coast Guard-approved life vest provides approximately 15 pounds of lift pressure, which is well above the Level 3 requirements of 7 to 12 pounds.

>> Click to check current price<<

 

#4 – NRS Chinook OS Fishing PFD

best offshore fishing life jacketThe NRS Chinook OS (off-shore) is a front entry fishing life jacket with multiple front pockets for easy access to all your gear. It’s almost identical to the regular Chinook PFD above but this one has extra features specifically for off-shore fishing.

The large and small front tackle box pockets (eight pockets total) offer plenty of storage for lures, line, and other small gear. A VHF radio pocket and rod holder loop are also included in the design for added convenience.

This fishing life vest is available in two colors, red and orange, and three sizes from XS to XX-Large. The open sides allow for a full range of motion and easy casting, reeling, and paddling on the water. The breathable mesh lower back provides welcome ventilation on those hot summer days out on the water.

The Chinook OS from NRS has been cleverly designed with four side adjustments, two shoulder adjustments, and a waist adjustment to help you get the perfect fit. The outer shell is made of 400-denier ripstop nylon for longevity.

This is a US Coast Guard Type III PFD. It’s not bulky and it doesn’t ride up, even on larger bodies. However, some users may be disappointed that this design is lacking a small pocket or attachment near the shoulder for an emergency whistle. NRS backs up their Chinook OS fishing life jacket with a 1-year warranty for your peace of mind.

>> Click to check current price <<

 

#5 – Onyx M-24 Manual Inflatable Vest

best inflatable fishing vestMost fishermen like a vest with lots of storage. But if you’re a minimalist or need something ultra-sleek for working in really tight spots, something like the Stohlquist Fisherman might be a bit too bulky.

This Onyx M-24 manual inflatable vest (available in Camo or more traditional red/black) could be ideal for you in this situation. It’s simply a lightweight harness with a waist belt, back straps and two chest straps like the ones on a rucksack.

However inside the right strap is a canister of compressed carbon dioxide; pull the T-handle at the bottom of that strap, and it will instantly inflate into a Coast Guard-approved flotation vest.

If you hunt or fish in hot weather, this inflatable fishing vest keep you cooler than any conventional vest.

Because of it’s compact size, the Onyx almost makes for a great kayak PFD and sailing PFD as well. The downside of an inflatable vest is that it can only be used once before having to replace the CO2 cartridge. Fortunately, it’s cheap and easy to do.

>> Click to check current price <<

 

#6 – Stearns Comfort Series Collared Angler Vest

Stearns fishing vest reviewHere’s a US Coast Guard Type III approved fishing life vest made by Stearns. The Comfort Series features large armholes that won’t get in your way when casting, reeling, or paddling. We love how the flexible neoprene collar prevents chafing around the sensitive neck area. It’s available in sizes ranging from Medium to X-Large.

This fishing life vest has mesh shoulder panels for added ventilation on hot days. Stearns has also included large front zippered pockets to hold all of your tackle and other gear. As an added bonus, the pockets have a soft lining and they’re large enough to be used as hand warmers on cold, windy days.

Wearers had no trouble with this vest riding up when this sat down, and it doesn’t get in the way of the seatback in your kayak, either. It’s also very durable, yet surprisingly lightweight. The design is extremely versatile, making it ideal for both kayak and tube fishing.

The Stearns Comfort Series vest includes two adjustable straps at the waist, but keep in mind that it doesn’t have any adjustments at the shoulder. It’s not as well-designed as some of the models above, but at the end of the day, this is a functional and comfortable fishing vest at a very reasonable price point.

>> Click to check current price <<

 

#7 – Airhead Fishing Deluxe PFD

lightweight fishing life jacketIf you plan on doing a lot of fishing in hot weather, you’ll want to consider the Airhead Fishing Deluxe life vest. It features open mesh panels at the shoulder, as well as an open mesh back to keep you cool. The shell is made from 100% nylon, so it’s incredibly lightweight and breathable, too. 

We found that the neo-Lite collar dries super-fast and doesn’t cause chafing. Airhead has designed this PFD with a zipper closure and two adjustable waist straps with quick-release buckles to help you achieve the perfect fit. This vest also features two large and two small zippered pockets to keep your essential gear handy at all times.

The Airhead fishing vest is a US Coast Guard Approved Type III PFD available in a range of sizes from X-small to 6X-Large making it good option for the big or tall crowd. There are two color choices – blue and beige. Due to its lightweight design, this vest is extremely comfortable for all-day wear. In fact, many users forget they have it on at all!

This is an excellent vest for anyone who wants to be safe on the water, but still be cool and have a good range of motion for paddling and casting. Some users report that it runs a bit small, so you may want to consider opting for the next size up if you’re on the borderline between two sizes.

It may not last as long as some of the better constructed options, but for a type III fishing PFD, it’s as comfortable and lightweight as it gets.

>> Click to check current price <<

 

Extrasport Osprey Fishing Vest (No longer available)

The Osprey doesn’t look like a life vest at all; it has a really military look, with a total of seven pockets and a row of shell loops on the left breast. It’s also only available in camo or khaki, over black mesh.

Underneath the tactical exterior it’s a fully functional flotation device, though, complete with zip, two-buckle straps and plenty of adjustment.

Like the Stohlquist it’s also shaped for comfort when sitting in a kayak. If your main priority is gear storage this one is hard to beat – although the pockets aren’t as flexible as the Fisherman’s there are more of them.

6 thoughts on “7 Best Fishing Life Vests – Catch Fish, Don’t Join Them”

    • Buoyancy simply means how many pounds of weight the life jacket will hold up in the water. An average 200 lb man only requires about 10 lbs of buoyancy to stay afloat in the water (once you factor the percentage of water and fat in a human). All of these vests are well above what’s needed.

      Hypothetically speaking, if you started at the bottom of a lake with each of these life vests, you’d float to the surface the fastest in the vest with the highest buoyancy. But in any case, you’d still float to the surface.

      Reply
        • Not sure of the exact weight but they won’t weigh you down in the water as much as you may think. If they fill up with water while in the water, they’ll become neutrally buoyant. It’s similar if you take an empty bucket and submerge it in water. In the water, it’s still fairly easy to move. But if you try to pull it out of the water when it’s full, THEN it will be heavy.

          Reply
          • Except when your waders fill and your heading down the Eucumbene river out of control and weighing what feels like 200 kg’s

        • This is why I always wear a wading belt. While it can be a little uncomfortable, with the belt, the waders actually have air trapped in them and offer additional buoyancy.

          Reply

Leave a Reply to Mark McIntyre Cancel reply

shares