The Best PFD For Paddle Boarding: Belt, Suspender and Life Vests Reviewed

The Best PFD for Paddle Boarding

Paddle Boarding is an awesome activity to do with friends and family that allows you to be more active. Like anything there are risks involved with all paddle sports. The best measure of preventing risk is being prepared and that’s where I’ll show you the best pfd for paddle boarding in a variety of different categories.

Thankfully bulky life vests are a thing of the past these days as paddle sports have become more popular. Unlike Kayaking There are a few more added varieties of pfds (personal Floatation Devices) that are more specific to SUPs. There are Belt PFD’s, Suspender Harness PFD’s and Life Vest PFDs. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages that we will get into below.

Why Use a PFD for Paddle Boarding?

Paddle Boarding has a more unforgiving learning curve than kayaking because it is more reliant on your balance. As a result there are times where you are bound to fall off a time or two, but hey! That’s part of learning. Unfortunately from time to time accidents can happen and circumstances where you can be pushed further offshore or you lose your board can happen.

There was a study done recently by the National Boating Safety Advisory council that stated that drowning accounted for 70% of boating fatalities and about 86% of them could of been avoided by simply wearing a PFD. The Drowning fraction in smaller vessels such as kayaks and paddle boards was higher as opposed to bigger boats as well.

"Drowning accounted for 70% of boating fatalities and about 86% of them could of been avoided by simply wearing a PFD."

Injury is also a common cause of SUP related accidents and in the event that something like that does happen it is best to be prepared for the worst. Equipment like inflatable paddle boards can definitely lessen your overall risk of injury in these cases as opposed to hard boards.

Best Belt PFDs for Paddle Boarding

#1 Stearns 16 Gram Manual Belt Pack

9/10 Rating
  • Not Bulky
  • Multiple Colors
  • Great Customer Rating
  • Type III Buoyancy

#2 Onyx M-16 Manual Belt Pack

9/10 Rating
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved
  • Small Pouch Included
  • Type III Perfomance

#3 MTI Adventurewear Fluid 2.0 Belt Pack PFD

8.5/10 Rating
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved
  • Type III Buoyancy
  • Comes with Whistle

Why use a SUP PFD Belt? These PFD Belts are best for day time use and have some obvious advantages. The first being that it does not obstruct mobility at all. So if you were doing exercises that requires a lot of moving such as SUP Racing or SUP Yoga this would be an ideal candidate. PFD Belts are also ideal for activities such as Surfing, Wake Boarding, Wake Surfing and other water activities that require a lot of full body mobility.

How these SUP PDF belts work is that they are activated by a jerk cord that you pull or hydrostatic activation. Hydrostatic activation is when activation is triggered by being submerged under water. Once the Belt is activated an inflatable PDF emerges where you can place it over your head and secure yourself safely.

Some of the down sides to the SUP PFD Belt is that it requires a bit more attention and maintenance. You must check the inflatable bladder to make sure that it is not torn or punctured and you have to check and make sure that the C02 Cartridge is always full and ready to go. These are idea for the occasional ocean paddling use or recreational lake use. Unfortunately like with everything Salt water does eat away at things over time. So to insure its longevity I would recommend rinsing the whole device with fresh water after use.

Belt PFD's Full Reviews

Tap (or Click) below to see Full Reviews)

Features

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved
  • Low Profile Compact Design
  • Universal size for Adults over 80 Lbs
  • For Sizes 30-52 Inches
  • Type V Approved
  • Type III Performance
  • D Ring Accessory Hook
  • Comes in Yellow, Blue and Red
  • Zippered pocket for easy access to gear
  • Comes with status window to check that the inflator is ready to go
  • 22 lbs of buoyancy

The most colourful option on the best pdf belt list the Stearns 16 Gram Manual Belt Pack is the perfect accessory for your SUP Trip. It is also the least bulky on the list which is ideal for Paddle Boarders doing more strenuous activities such as SUP Yoga and SUP Racing.The Stearns 16 Gram Manual Belt Pack is also super light which makes it an ideal candidate for other water sports.

Stearns Belt Pack has the highest Customer rating out of the PDF Belts,. Many customers complimented how light it was to wear and that they simply did not notice it on. Others bought this device because it is U.S. Coast Guard Approved and that it was a simple solution to not wearing a cumbersome life jacket.

Most people wear this belt in calmer water conditions and often resort to it when it is too hot outside to wear a full on life vest.

>>What Customers Say<<

The only negative thing that I could find on it is that the zippered pouch is too small but that is to be expected from such as small lightweight floatation device such as the Stearns Belt Pack.

Features

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved
  • Type V
  • Type III performance
  • Approved for Adults 16 and Older and over 80 Lbs
  • Fits 30”-52” chest
  • D Ring Attachment Point for keys
  • 17 Lbs of Buoyancy
  • 200 Denier Nylon Pouch Construction

The Onyx M-16 is great for paddlers who want something just in case they fall into the water. Similar to the Stearns Blt it is activated by pulling on the yellow tab. It is a bit more bulky than the Stearns because it comes with a 4 Ounce CO2 canister that is located at the front. It also comes with the option to be orally inflated by which point it can have a buoyancy of up to 26.5 lbs. Below is a video that shows the workings on the Onyx M-16 Inflatable Belt Pack.

The Onyx also features a small pouch that can fit small items such as sunscreen, granola bar or a action camera and a D ring attachment that you can clip keys on. While this item is low profile the Stearns is a bit smaller and has a more compact design.

best pfd for paddle boarding

>>What Customers Say<<

Overall Customers are happy with this although one of them states that you should be a good swimmer if you wear this instead of a life preserver. This is because you need to yank the yellow handle to get it to activate which would be difficult to achieve if you are not the strongest swimmer.

Features

  • Premium Halkey Robert inflation mechanism with indicator
  • Built in Window for CO2 Cylinder connection
  • Zippered Flap Pocket
  • Back-up CO2 cylinder storage
  • Printed Fold Lines for Re folding Bladder
  • Easy to Open and Re pack
  • Adjustable Webbing Strap between the bladder and the belt
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved
  • Type III Bouyancy
  • Waist Size 28”- 50 “
  • For People Ages 16 and Older Over 80 Lbs
  • Comes in Black, Blue and Red
  • 26 Lb minimum bouyancy
  • Comes with Whistle

The MTI Adventurewear Fluid is one of the more complete PFD Belts. It is US Coast Guard Approved, has a back up CO2 Cylinder, decent sized zippered pocket and comes with a whistle to boot! The part that sits on your waist is made of soft nylon webbing so that it holds comfortably without causing any chaffing against your waist.

>>What Customers Say<<

Whats unique about this device is that it features a window that shows you the pfd status indicator that tells you if it will properly inflate or not. Red means it is not armed while green means it is ready to go.

Customers liked the fact that it is easy to use and most importantly it is easy to put back together when inflated. The instructions printed onto it were very clear in how to fold it back into the pouch. Most people just liked the idea of not having to wear a full pdf and thought this was much better in terms of paddling with a paddle board.

The Best Suspender Harness PFD's

#1 Mustang Survival Corp M.I.T. 100 Auto Activation PFD

Harness PFD

9.5/10 Rating
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved
  • Made of 500 Denier Condura Outer Shell
  • Great Customer Rating

#2 Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

Harness PFD

9/10 Rating
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved
  • Made of Durable Ripstop Material
  • Can be used for more Extreme Water Sports

These suspender harnesses are a hybrid between belt PFDs and actual life vest PFD’s. They look like Life Vests but they function the same way a belt PFD. They inflate when you pull a cord and the Co2 inflation system kicks in and secures you. The air bladder is packed tightly underneath the nylon exterior.

I will say that the suspender harnesses are better for people who are not as confident at swimming but don’t like the mobility issues presented with life vests. This is because the tab is further up meaning it is easier to access if you do happen to fall into the water. Paddlers may also like this version better than the Belt PDF because will not be bunching around your stomach or back that is caused from the belt.

Similar to the Belt PDF though the Suspender Harness does require more maintenance especially if you use up the Co2 canister already. You would have to rinse it off, drain the bladder and then fold it back up.

 

Harness PFD's Full Reviews

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Features

  • Automatic inflation when it hits the water
  • 500 Denier Cordura outer shell
  • Membrane Inflatable technology inflation cell
  • Inflator inspection window and easy access flap
  • 26 lbs of buoyancy when inflated
  • Approved by U.S. Coast Guard
  • Used as a Type III floatation device
  • Not approved for water skiing or high impact activities

The MIT Mustang Survival PDF is a well made harness PDF that allows you to have full mobility without having to worry about a bulky Life Vest or PDF Belt in the way of activities. It is ideal for Recreational SUP users who want something lightweight and hassle free.

As you know the whole point of a PDF is to be safe in case you get knocked off of your board. The Mustang 100 features a window as well as in indicator that tells you it is ready to go before you go out on your paddle excursion. If the indicator is green you are good to go!

>>What Customers Say<<

Part of what makes the Mustang our number 1 choice is the fact that it has brightly coloured reflective material that pops out when it is inflated. If you fall in the water in say choppy conditions and you lose your board, you want to be seen by Lifeguards, Rescue or even other paddlers/ boaters. What also makes this Suspender Harness ideal is the fact that it actually boasts 1.5 X more buoyancy than other foam PFD’s.

The main compliments that customers noted about this vest is the fact that it sit very comfortable on them and often times they would forget that it was even sitting on them. In fact for many people it is their go to vest for hot weather as they have plenty of room to move compared to Regular Life Vests.

For People who do not like getting fines perhaps the thing that people will appreciate most is the fact that the Mustang is US Coast Guard approved.

Features

  • Automatic water entry or Manual inflation
  • Durable Ripstop nylon material
  • LightWeight Durable design
  • Soft Neoprene neckline
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved
  • Can be used for More Extreme Water Activities
  • Type V Life Jacket

This is a good two in one tube because it features both automatic inflation as well as a manual inflation and deflation option. This is ideal if you want to adjust the psi while in the water to make it a more comfortable fit.

The reason why many customers like this life vest is because it it had clear folding instructions printed on the life vest. There are also multiple videos on the internet that show you how to fold and repack the vest like the one below

Many Paddle Boarders appreciated the fact that it can be used for a variety of situations such as wakeboarding, wake surfing, bodyboarding, boating and kayaking to name a few. They also appreciated the fact that unlike many life vests it is very easy to wear and is a good alternative for hot climates such as Florida, California ect.

>>What Customers Say<<

What some customers did not like is the fact that this life vest has to be maintained and tested throughout time. You have to make sure that the indicator is always green and that you do regular safety checks to make sure that the bladder does not have any holes in it.

The Reason why this was ranked 2nd is because there is no real reflective material on the bladder making it harder to see in darker darker conditions.

Best Life Vest PFDs for Paddle Boarding

#1 NRS Ninja PFD

Life Vest

9.5/10 Rating
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved
  • 16.5 Lbs of Floatation
  • Great Customer Rating

#2 NRS Vapor PFD

Life Vest

9/10 Rating
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved
  • 16.5 Lbs of Floatation
  • Hand Warmer Pouch and Side Pocket

#3 Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

Life Vest

9/10 Rating
  • UL, ULC, US Coast Guard Approved
  • 15 Lbs of Floatation
  • Transport Canada Approved

Why use a SUP PFD Belt? These PFD Belts are best for day time use and have some obvious advantages. The first being that it does not obstruct mobility at all. So if you were doing exercises that requires a lot of moving such as SUP Racing or SUP Yoga this would be an ideal candidate. PFD Belts are also ideal for activities such as Surfing, Wake Boarding, Wake Surfing and other water activities that require a lot of full body mobility.

How these SUP PDF belts work is that they are activated by a jerk cord that you pull or hydrostatic activation. Hydrostatic activation is when activation is triggered by being submerged under water. Once the Belt is activated an inflatable PDF emerges where you can place it over your head and secure yourself safely.

Some of the down sides to the SUP PFD Belt is that it requires a bit more attention and maintenance. You must check the inflatable bladder to make sure that it is not torn or punctured and you have to check and make sure that the C02 Cartridge is always full and ready to go.  These are idea for the occasional ocean paddling use or recreational lake use. Unfortunately like with everything Salt water does eat away at things over time. So to insure its longevity I would recommend rinsing the whole device with fresh water after use.

Vest PFD Full Reviews

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Features

  • PVC Free Foam
  • Floating Front Panel to Adjust shape
  • Quick Release Buckles
  • Front Zipper Pocket
  • Lash Tab
  • Soft Stretchy Fabric
  • 16.5 Lbs of Floatation
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved

Although the NRS Ninja was originally designed for a freestyle Kayaker we still feel that it fits well with a paddle boarder. This is because it is highly adjustable, does not leave too much bulk in the font (unless you load it with gear) and it does not get in the way of the paddling motion.

While the NRS Ninja is more bulky than Belt and Suspender style PFD’s it requires far less maintenance. With Belt and Suspender style PFD’s you need to constantly be making sure that the bladder works and that the CO2 canister is ready to be activated. With the NRS Ninja you just strap it on and you are ready to go! It is recommended that you do rinse/ wash it every once and a while though, especially if you plan on using it for saltwater excursions.

The NRS Ninja has a high customer satisfaction rating with the bulk of the compliments being that it was extremely comfortable to wear. One woman even went on to say that this low style vest was a lot more comfortable than any womens PFD she has ever tried on. Other customers liked the hoodie style pocket at the front where you could place various different items in there such as snacks granola bars, cell phone, wallet ect.

>>What Customers Say<<

Most of the complaints on this PFD were Kayak related although one customer did say that it rides up when they are in the water.

Features

  • Provides 16.5 Lbs of floatation
  • Side Pocket
  • Lash Tab
  • Four Side Adjustment straps
  • Two Shoulder Adjustment Straps
  • Hand Warmer Pouch
  • Made of 200 Denier Nylon
  • Made of Soft PVC Foam
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved

The NRS Vapor has a lot of similarities to the Ninja, they both allow for maximum movement and quite honestly look very similar. The main difference between the two is that the vapor takes up more space but it is less bulky at the front as a result of it.  The Vapor is also has the PVC Foam spread around a bit more.

As NRS Calls it the “high end life jacket without the high end price.” The NRS Vapor is the budget pick from this crop of life vests as it is considerably cheaper than the higher end Ninja and Stohlquist Edge

Customers really liked the comfort that the NRS Vapor brought as one even thought it was more comfortable than the more expensive Stohlquist Edge!  The also appreciated the fact that it did not chafe your arms. This is a particularly important feature when paddle boarding as you are constantly moving your whole body.

>>What Customers Say<<

A few customers thought that this was too bulky to wear but the majority of those complaints were directed to kayaking because you are sitting and it rides up especially when you have a kayak skirt on. One customer did have a slight complaint in regards to it being too hot to wear in the summertime and I can see this. It does take up a bit more surface areas than the Edge and Ninja

Features

  • Wrapture shaped torso
  • Adjustable Shoulder straps
  • Low Cut
  • Knife Holder
  • Front and Side Pockets and Zippers
  • Highly Visible Reflective Accents
  • Top Loading front pocket for secure storage
  • Mesh Sides for Ventilation
  • UL, ULC, US COast Guard and Transport Canada Approved
  • Comes in Three Different Colors

While the Stohlquist Edge is used primarily by Kayakers and Row Boaters it is a great life vest for paddle boarding, specifically if you are going on longer distance paddles. Where the Stohlquist has the edge over the Vapor and Niinja is the fact that it can take on more storage room. This is particularly important if you are going on longer paddle board journeys as there are few places you can actually store smaller sized gear on the board.

The Stohlquist Edge features a large pocket and a smaller side pocket that can store bigger gear such as cell phones, wallets, snacks to smaller gear such as knives, granola bar ect.

>>What Customers Say<<

Perhaps where the Stohlquist wins most is the fatc that it is UL, ULC, US COast Guard and Transport Canada Approved. This is huge, especially if you live in Canada like me. Often times U.S. Coast Guard Approved is not necessarily Transport Canada Approved and vice versa. As a result this life vest can save you fines in the future!

Although the majority of paddlers use this life vest for Kayaking and Sailing the ones that did use it for paddle boarding seemed to appreciate it. Customers thought it fit very comfortably and did like that their arms were free when doing any sort of paddling motion.

On the flip side some customers did feel that it was a bit too bulky at times in the front, this was probably because there was a lot of stuff stored in the pockets though.

How to Choose a PFD for Paddle Boarding

Paddle Boarding PFD Laws:

One of the most important things that I would recommend you do before even buying and deciding on a PFD is look at your local Water Safety Governing body.  Often Times these Governing bodies do not have the same criteria and if it is not specifically marked as so you can potentially get fined.

A Paddle Board according the the US Coast Guard is considered a Vessel. Vessel requirements include a sound device (whistle Ideally) light source (if dark) and of course a PFD. You can read the full requirements on your designated governing bodies website.

PFD Types

The Main ones we have reviewed above are Type III and Type V PFDs. You can find the full list here

Type III PFDs:

best pfd for paddle boarding
Your Typical looking Life Vests Type III PFDs feature a minimum buoyancy of 15.5 lbs. These PFD’s are best for waters that are near the shore but not suitable for Extended survival in rougher water conditions.

Type V  PFDs:best pfd for paddle boarding

These PFDs come in both suspender and belt form. Their minimum buoyancy is 22.5 to 34 lbs. Be warned that these types of devices are not guaranteed to to turn an unconscious paddler face 

best pfd for paddle boarding

up in the water. These Types of PFD’s must always be ready for use, ie: the bladder must be inspected and the CO2 Canister must be full and ready for use. There is usually some sort of indicator for these canisters that shows that it is ready for use.

Comfort

best pfd for paddle boarding

Similar to our best pfds for kayaking article comfort is at the forefront of this list. A PFD that cannot fit properly can not only be uncomfortable but potentially hazardous as well. To insure this Check the Fit as Expected rating. The rating tells you if previous customers believed that the fitting chart of the PFD provided by the manufacturer is applicable.  

While different Paddle Board Riders will be looking for different things always make sure that it is comfortable on you and that it best fits your paddling needs. Paddle Boarders that want to go for longer expeditions are best to use a Life Vest style PFD. On the contrary people who like to practice recreational paddling or SUP Yoga in calm waters would probably much prefer a Belt style PFD.

Longevity

To insure that your Class V PFD lasts inspect the inflation bladders for any tears or holes. Also make sure that the CO2 Canister is full and that the indicator shows green. For these types of PFDs you should regularly inspect these things before going out on the water. If paddling in salt water I would recommend that you wash them if they get wet.

Class III PFD’s do not not require as much maintenance but they should be washed every once and a while, especially when exposed to salt water.

Conclusion

Paddle Boarding is a great activity that you can do with your friends and family as it has many meditative and physical benefits. While Paddle Boarding has lots of benefits there are always risks when you are on the water. Always make sure that you cut down those risks by getting the proper PFD for your SUP Related activity. In reality you boost your survival rate by well over 80 % should anything happen.

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