I think we can all agree that toddlers love being in, on, and around the water. But their developing ability to get around means there’s a good chance they’re going to end up falling in at some point. Whether it’s an unexpected plunge in the pool or a stumble on deck you need to be prepared for them landing in the water, and getting them the best toddler life jacket for the money should be your highest priority.
For example, a good life vest for an 18-month-old child needs to be adjustable to fit their fast-growing body, have good neck support and be secure enough that curious little fingers won’t be able to undo a strap for them to wiggle free. Toddler life vests are sized for most 15-30 pound children. They’re sized similar to (and sometimes exactly same as) an infant life jacket but should not be confused with a toddler swim vest (they each have their uses).
The Lil’ Legends 100 floatation vest from marine survival specialists company Mustang is available in three sizes; infant/toddler, child, and youth. Mustang recently updated their top-selling life jacket and it looks better than ever. In the toddler size bracket, its feature set makes it pretty much unbeatable.
This type 2 PFD is built around a mesh base for comfort and ventilation, with front and back flotation panels. The back has internal airflow channels to help keep active toddlers cool, and all the panels are shaped to allow maximum mobility. In front there’s a full length zipper and the neck is cut away to ensure the chest panel doesn’t slip up over the child’s chin. For extra security there’s a waist strap with a tough quick-release buckle. The toddler-sized model also has a crotch strap. This is designed to prevent the lower edge riding up, but it also makes it more secure.
One feature of the Lil’ Legends that is really impressive is the large, multi-section collar. That does a really good job of keeping the wearer’s head above the surface, and it also includes a sturdy grab handle for retrieving your child from the water.
The Lil’ Legends comes in a color scheme described as gray and red. Really it’s International Orange with some gray trim, making it highly visible in the water. The previous not-so-visible blue color has been replaced by a green (apple) and white combo and the yellow/gray combo remains. All 3 colors are quite visible making them all good options.
Overall this is a very high quality life vest that’s ideal for a 15-35 lb child. It’s well made, highly buoyant and comfortable enough to wear all day. It’s made by experts to do an important job well, and that’s exactly what you need.
The Nemo is probably the best infant life jacket you can buy, and the same size scores very highly for toddlers as well. It’s a comfortable, USCG type 2 rated, compact vest that allows fantastic mobility and good ventilation, so a 1 to 2-year-old can get the most from family activities while staying safe.
The Nemo’s outstanding feature is its excellent collar, which restricts mobility slightly more than the Mustang model but does a great job of holding the head above water. The Nemo comes in a choice of three color schemes. We recommend you stick with the bright red or yellow, instead of the less visible blue.
The Stearns Classic is a very affordable type II flotation vest but it’s also a capable one. The simple but rugged nylon-covered vest is secured with a full-length zipper and a quick-release chest strap that runs all the way round the body for extra strength. To make it even more secure there’s a leg strap too. This is a smaller version of Stearns’ children’s vest but, to make it safer for the typical 2-year-old, a head cushion has been added.
The collar on the Stearns isn’t as sophisticated as on the Mustang or Nemo but it’s still effective enough at keeping a small head above the surface. It also doesn’t get in the way as much out of the water, because the cushion hangs down the back out of the way until the wearer is actually floating. With Coast Guard approval and a reasonably low price, the Stearns Classic certainly won’t let you down. Again, opt for the brighter red color instead of blue.