While I must confess that I am not a woman, I have plenty of female paddling friends who complain about constraints that they have when shopping for life jackets. A few have taken fate into their own hands and bought specialized female life jackets and boy do they see a difference!
I am using information that my female colleagues passed onto me as well as researched the top PFD brands for kayaking and other watersports such as paddle boarding, wakeboarding, water skiing, and other boating-related activities. These ratings are compiled by the most important criteria of all, customer satisfaction ratings.
In this guide, we decided to award the number one spot for kayaking PFD’s to the Astral V- Eight. This was due to its constantly high customer satisfaction ratings across many different platforms as well as its fit and the comfort it provides while padding. The best board sports PFD was the Body Glove Phantom due to its freedom of movement and its design is easy to spot for boaters picking you back up after you have fallen.
All in all, women have a few more considerations to look at compared to men when it comes to a ladies life jacket. Find out what some of them are as we review USCG approved women’s life jackets to keep you afloat!
The Best Womens Life Vests are as follows:
|PFD||Best Use||Size Range||Price||Total Rating|
| 1. Astral V Eight
| 2. NRS Zoya
| 3. Stohlquist Betsea
| 4. Stohlquist Womens Flo
| 5. Body Glove Phantom
| 6. Astral Layla
| 7. O’Brien Women's V-Back
| 8. Airhead Trend
Best Life Jackets for Women Reviews
The Top Life Vests for Women as rated by verified women customers and female paddlers I have had conversations with.
1. Astral V-Eight PFD – Womens – (Top Pick)
Consistently ranked as one of the highest-rated womens kayak life vests, the V-Eight is a hit among its users. If you are planning on some long paddling adventures, you want a life vest that will be comfortable and will be able to keep you cool on the journey. Combining airflow technology along with an ergonomic design, the Astral V-Eight life jackets for Women features light construction with a high mesh back. This jacket is built specifically to wear when you are paddling for a longer period of time, with its tear-drop shape and low arm openings that allow for continuous paddling movement.
The Astral V Eight has many features that will help you stay cooler when you are out on the water. Allowing ventilation as you paddle, this comfortable life vest features cutouts that are strategically placed. The soft, wide open weave mesh lets air and sweat travel away from your body and the inside surface is textured reducing body contact and allowing channels of air to move around your body.
Covered with ripstop nylon, the Astral V-Eight life jacket comes with a comfortable polyester mesh lining and a solid back section along with a secure pocket on the front that is convenient for holding larger objects and a sturdy lasting tab that keeps a knife secure. It also features a front entry that makes it easy to get in and out of. With the pre shaped foam construction around the bustlines, this is a great PFD choice that looks great and fits most sizes well.
- These life jackets have tons of flotation
- Great price for a good product
- The position of the back won’t interfere with a seat in a kayak
- Pockets offer a lot of room
- Difficult to swim in for smaller people
- Not as soft as one would like
2. NRS Zoya Womens Life Vest (Best Value)
The NRS Zoya is ideal for paddlers who enjoy partaking in a variety of different kayaking adventures. The Zoya is specifically designed for recreational and touring/ sea kayaking and other paddle sports. It is especially useful for high-back kayak seats. The life jacket is also very ergonomic and form-fitting, especially with women who have different bust sizes. The six adjustable points allow you to find the fit that contours to the curves of your body as well.
I have a few female paddling friends that have loved this NRS model and really liked its low profile fit. The mesh back allows you to stay cool in the summer after hours of paddling. The foam is placed in areas where lots of movement/ friction can occur. Its low profile design also allows you to have a comfortable paddle for as far as you need to go without feeling the life jacket ride up.
Other verified customers liked this design because they found it didn’t ride up their back, which is a common problem with kayaking PFDs. The only thing that may annoy some customers is the fact that it does not have a lot of room to store items. Mostly just the two front pockets. Keep in mind, the more storage you want for your PFD the bulkier it will be.
- Fits well on most women’s forms and busts.
- Made of 400 denier ripstop nylon fabric so it can weather all the elements
- Six adjustment points to fit your form well
- Mesh back accommodates most high back kayaks seats
- A bright life vest provides ample visibility in most conditions
- Not a lot of room to put stuff other than smaller items in the pockets
3. Stohlquist Betsea (Top Touring Pick)
The Stohlquist Betsea is a touring-styled PFD that is highly rated and regarded amongst its female customers. Many different sized and shaped women could all vouch that this life vest was a snug fit, comfortable, and most importantly, “left enough room for the girls” thanks to the supportive inner cups. One customer even pointed out how much more comfortable this life vest was compared to standard PFDs that left chaffing in undesired areas. What is also something that is unique with this life vest is the fact that it has a torso adjustment. Do you remember falling into the water and having the life vest just sift up? Well with this adjustable torso you don’t have to worry about that happening should you take a spill in the water.
The Betsea allows you to partake in different paddling activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing. Its material is made of 500D Cordura Nylon which has reflective strips on it for easy visibility in low light. You can also choose the bust size of this PFD located here. Overall if comfort is your number one priority this lifevest will more than deliver.
- Has specific bust sizes
- Is one of the most comfortable life jacket options out there
- Wrapture Torso ensures the PFD is secure on you at all times.
- Made for a wide range of paddling activities
- A good amount of storage space available
- Tons of positive user reviews
- Ventilation is limited compared to makes like the NRS Zoya
- Some users state it is not made well for petite women
4. Stohlquist Womens Flo Womens Purple Life Jacket
For a cool fit, the lightweight Stohlquist Women’s Flo Life Jacket features a comfortable sculpted foam chest and a high back flotation foam that will fit comfortably above the back of the seats on a kayak. This is an advanced paddling vest made with a ripstop outer shell and super soft inner liner. Equipped with mesh lower back and shoulders and open sides for increased ventilation, it also comes with large bellow pockets for easy drainage
Made of a PE Foam that is lightweight and comfortable, these cute life jackets also have an inner mesh lining that improves the wearability and coolness of the jacket. Plus, it has a great color selection and the color-block effect is an attractive feature.
Featuring a fully adjustable cross-chest cinch harness that won’t ride up, the Flo Life also has supportive inner cups that are built-in which is great for most female paddler sizes. These stylish life jackets are easy to adjust for a snug fit and also features a neoprene padded waistband and a useful large zippered pocket on each side that you can use for your phone and keys, whistles, compasses, and navigation equipment.
- Nice quality life vest which fits well in the front
- The back of THE life vest has thick padding
- Perfect for kayaking because of its high back panel
- Features Large zippered pockets
- Designed with princess seams
- Doesn’t have an extra buckle under the zipper
- Snaps are challenging to close on these life jackets
5. Body Glove Womens Phantom Neoprene Life Jacket – (Best for Board/ Water Sports)
Packed with features, the Body Glove Phantom Neoprene Life Vest is a stylish and simple life jacket with less bulk. Constructed of high-grade neoprene, this life vest has beveled and shaped flotation panels made with PVC foam giving you a lot of buoyancy in one jacket without stopping your ability to move around. Large armholes and spandex sides also give you a lot of uninhibited movement when you are either water skiing, wakeboarding, or any other high-paced water sport activity.
The neoprene Phantom is an easy-to-adjust vest with two waist belts so you get the best fit and prevent it from slipping out of place. Glide-Lock material is printed on the lining to help keep it in place. Make sure it is tight when you put it on since it will loosen up a bit when it is wet so make sure it is just tight enough to zip it up but not any looser than that.
The foam panels and the actual vest are shaped to fit a woman’s body. The Phantom comes with a high-quality finish and is available in two different color designs. There are also some great features including a D-ring attached at the bottom for smaller accessories, a front zipper with an easy to grip rubber pull tab, and three strategically placed holes that allow water to drain out for fast drying.
- The smaller size fits well to a woman’s body
- Great color and design
- Let’s you move freely without feeling restricted
- Sizing is off with mid-size to small for some women but the large size is too bulky
6. Astral Layla (Comfort Fit)
If you look closely at this PFD you will notice it is designed a little bit differently from the other vests in our list. If you look closely there is one zipper, and the buckle that is normally placed horizontally is placed diagonally. The Laylas design is made in part to meet the needs of curvy women. The front panels of the vest are made of Kapok fibers which are more comfortable than foam panels in many PFD makes. There is also less material on the top half of the PFD which is typically where women appreciate there being enough space for “the girls”.
With many of these life vests, however, there seems to be a bit of a trade-off you have to make between comfort and cooling. And in the case of the Layla, there is more material (specifically in the back panel and sides) than other ergonomic designs like the Astal Ninja or Zoya PFD’s. This can be a bit of a problem when you are on a long multi-day touring trip during the summer.
- Great for large busts
- Rated the most comfortable PFD on the list
- Fully adjustable for curvy women
- Large front zip pockets
- Short women have complained that the vest rides up while paddling
- Some women reported chaffing around the arms
- Price is a bit expensive
7. O’Brien Womens V-Back Womens Life Jacket
Featuring large armholes and a stretch back panel, the O’Brien Flex V-Back womens Life Jacket was made for mobility and comfort. Multiple sides and front adjustable hinge points in the segmented panels help the jacket move with your body while the BioLite construction makes it lightweight and increases breathability so it dries faster and gives you more comfort. Made for watersport enthusiasts, this is the ideal jacket to give you enough range of motion while keeping you safe in the water.
Designed to stretch and give you a snug fit, the O’Brien life jacket should be worn with a tight fit, if it seems too large, go a size smaller. With a zip closure and two buckles, you are guaranteed to have enough room to move around in while still staying comfortable, plus you get a PWC lanyard attachment ring so you can attach small items securely. This stylish and safe PFD will mold to your body giving you a custom fit that is breathable and comfortable.
- Great color and feel
- Perfect for trick skiing
- Well-made and not too bulky
- Sizes run small
8. Airhead Trend (Budget Pick)
The Airhead trend is a general all-in-one life jacket for those who want a life vest that can do its job while on the water. While I would not recommend you use this for paddling activities, it is a decent life vest to use while boating, jet skiing, or wake boarding for an hour or two. It comes equipped with 4 adjustable buckles (3 around the waist and one around the chest) to keep you strapped in should you take a plunge in the water. Despite the relatively simple appearance, this life vest is type III US Coast Guard Approved.
Although it is not specially designed to fit a women’s unique form like some of our other choices we did include it because it has a lot of positive reviews. If you are planning to just go boating for a few hours and want something to throw on that won’t break the bank, this is a great PFD to get.
- Affordable price tag
- 4 adjustable buckles make it secure when in the water
- Great for activities like boating and general water sports
- Lots of Reviewers for the PFD making it a good sample size
- Not recommended for paddle sports
- Not designed specifically for women like the others on this list
- Some customers have said the material has worn out after only a few uses.
Best Women’s Life Vest Criteria
I am woman hear me roar! Women, just like men, love to indulge in a variety of different water sports. Up until the last 20 years, there have not been a lot of choices for them to do the activities that they love for long. This is because they would often be restricted by their life jackets. If you happened to have big boobs but had a more petite figure you would have to lug around a bulky pfd designed specifically for men which was less than ideal to keep you afloat.
Fast Forward to present day and there are a variety of life jackets designed just for women that do not make you feel constricted in your chest area while you are doing activities from paddling paddle boards, to hanging off a boat on water skis.
Safety In Mind
In many states, you are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD when you are kayaking or any sort of water sports.
You also want to make sure it has safety specs including reflective strips to make sure you can be easily spotted by others as well as a place to securely store your radio or GPS. A bright-colored life vest will also help to make sure other boaters and rescue crew can spot you easily.
The US Coast Guard approved five different types of PFDs that can be used for many different activities.
Types of Womens life Vests
As of Boat US there are 5 types of PFD’s to consider. All of the ones in this list are considered Type III Life Vests.
Type I PFD
This is a commercial-style, life jacket made for off-shore use. It is made of foam that will give you 22 pounds of flotation. It is easy to put on, is reversible, and will give you the most buoyancy. It is effective in any type of water, particularly if you are somewhere where rescue could be delayed. It is also designed to help an unconscious user turn face up in the water.
Type II PFD
This is buoyancy vest made for use near the shore giving you 15.5 pounds of flotation. There is also an inflatable version giving you 33.5 pounds of floating. Created for situations where you will need to have a fast rescue or if you are in calm, inland water. It does not turn over all unconscious users in the water face up like a Type I can.
Type III PFD
Type III life vests have 15.5 pounds of flotation when made of pe foam and 22.5 pounds with the inflatable version. They are both comfortable, lightweight, and good for those users that are conscious when a fast rescue is possible or where they are in calm, inland water. If you are able to make sure you are in a face-up position in the water this is an aid that is good for you to use. It has the same minimum buoyancy as Type II PFD and is available in many sizes and colors. Plus it is the most comfortable to wear continuously. All of the PFDs on this list would be considered type III.
Type IV PFD
A throwable device has between sixteen and twenty pounds of flotation that is best used in calm, inland water where a fast rescue is possible. It was created to throw to a person who is conscious and is able to hold onto until they are rescued. This is not a flotation device that can be worn and should be used along with a PFD you can wear. This type of device can be either a horseshoe buoy, ring buoys, or a buoyant cushion.
Type V PFD
This category includes special use devices that are used in conjunction with the conditions that are approved by its label.
Chest measurement is used to size a PFD for an adult with sizes varying depending on the model and manufacturer. Typically, a size chart will be listed on a manufacturer’s website. You want to make sure that the PFD is comfortable. The PFD should be snug along your shoulders and lower back. Otherwise, people will often discard the life vest to the floor of the boat which makes them ineffective. Here is a Sizing Chart of Popular PFD Brands.
Depending on your body type, some models will fit certain body types better than other models will so it is best to try on PFDs before you purchase them to make sure it is the right size and fit for you.
Some factors you should know before purchasing a life vest are:
- Chest size
- Do movements related to the water sport you are doing when trying one on
- Look for bust lines
As you try on different PFDs, first make sure all the adjustable straps are as loose as possible. Then, start with the lowest strap and begin to adjust them working their way up to the top. You want to make sure the vest is sitting where it should be for maximum safety, plus it should have a snug fit. If all the adjustable straps are tightened to their maximum capacity and it doesn’t fit snugly, then the vest is too large for you. If your vest is tightened to its maximum capacity and fits snugly, but there is no way to adjust it to layer more gear, the vest is too small for you and you will need plus-size life jackets. If the vest fits you perfectly, you should still have room to layer more gear and wear it with minimal clothing.
For a quick test to make sure it does fit right, you should be able to put your thumbs under the shoulder straps and push them upward. If the vest moves up a lot, it is too loose, but if it stays in place, it’s the right fit.
PFDs that are specifically for women will have shorter panels and give you more room in the chest area. They also tend to come in more feminine designs and color. Women don’t have to get a life vest that is designed for women as a unisex vest can often work just as well, but a PFD will usually fit better and be more comfortable with its feminine and curvy shape at the front of the vest.
To keep your head above water, a typical adult will need between seven and twelve pounds of added flotation or buoyancy. Modern PFD’s are designed to give more than fifteen pounds of buoyancy and still allow you to move around easily and maintain a low-profile.
When deciding on a PFD, always read the label to make sure it will work with your weight and body composition. A good rule of thumb is that the more flotation or buoyancy a PFD features, the higher it will lift you out of the water.
A good way to check the flotation of your PFDs is to test it out in shallow water. Don’t tread water but just relax your body and see if you can comfortably float while still being able to keep your mouth from getting wet. If you can, then the PFD has enough buoyancy for you.
Lightweight and cheap, nylon is most commonly used in life jackets used for watersports due to the freedom of movement they give you in comparison to other materials. A neoprene life vest is better for colder climates and use in open water as they give you more warmth when in the water, are more buoyant, and have a little bit of stretch. Other materials used in PFDs include:
Gaia: Foam-based, Gaia is an organic nitrile compound. This is an eco-friendly material that is halogen, CFC, and PVC free, plus it is also softer than PVC foam and is able to and fight cold and heat well. This low-density material is easy to clean and lightweight without holding back on performance.
Kapok: A fluffy fiber that surrounds the seeds of the kapok tree, kapok is durable and water-resistant never losing its buoyancy, plus it is compostable.
PVC: Typically used in most life jackets, PVC is made of polyvinyl-chloride. This material is resistant to sunlight, flames, and oil. Because it has both chlorine and oil in it, you cannot recycle it easily.
Below are some specs that are handy to have when looking for the right vest.
Handy for keeping small items close by, pockets are also great when you need to warm your hands.
Number of Straps, Zippers, and Buckles
You get better fit and customization with a higher number of straps, buckles, and zippers.
Cut in a specific way that lets the jacket have better motion, segmentation makes a PFD more comfortable.
Mesh Drain Panels
Panels allow water to drain and the vest to dry faster.
A PFD should be a bright color that lets the user be seen more easily if they get in trouble in the water.
Provides better visibility in low visibility conditions.
Allowing you to attach accessories to your body, this is a handy way to keep whistles, tools, strobes, and knives handy.
Convenient for carrying lures and flies, tools, and fishing rods. These features can be found on more fishing-specific PFDs.
Q: What PFD is recommended in rough waters?
A: This depends on what kind of rough waters you will be facing. The requirements you need for White Water kayaking will be different from sea kayaking. When white water kayaking you need a wide range of movement with as little material getting in the way as possible. For that, I would recommend the NRS Ninja PFD just because of its simplistic design that allows for a wide range of movement.
For something like sea kayaking, many of our picks would do great but we prefer the Stohlquist Betsea and Flo. Stohlquist is an experienced brand that designs kayaking specific PFD’s for these specific conditions. Plus they have zippered pockets that can hold a good amount of gear that you need by your side.
Q: When should I replace my PFD or life jacket?
A: There is no specific time period as this ultimately depends on how you treat your life vest and what type it is. Some tips for keeping its longevity include storing it in a dry place, preferably at room temperature, hanging it up when it’s wet. If you start seeing mold that’s probably a good sign that its time to get a new one.
You also want to ensure that it works. A quick test for this is to squeeze the foam and then unclenching it. If the foam goes back to the same shape as it did before you squeezed it and there’s no wear and tear or mold. It’s good to go!.
The best women’s life jacket for kayaking is the Astral V-Eight. This is because of its high customer satisfaction rating and the fact that it seems to be one of the best fitting PFDs on the market. Its ergonomic design and airflow technology allow you to remain cool during those sweaty summer days on the water. These vents also allow you to paddle longer which makes it a good all-in-one life vest for touring, recreational kayaking as well as paddle boarding, and canoeing.
The best women’s life jackets for board sports is the Body Glove Phantom. Its flexible design allows you to have a lot of range of motion. This life vest is key for people who like to go boating and take part in wakeboarding, wake surfing, water skiing, and kneeboarding. The strategically placed holes on the life jacket also allows it to dry faster.