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Best Life Jackets

Updated June 2022
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Best of the Best
Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Jacket
MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sports Life Jacket
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Expert Recommended
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A great pick for those who like to go kayaking and rafting.


Mesh backing sits flush against seating areas for maximum comfort. Zipper pockets for whistles and other safety items. Material is reflective and easy to see.


The vest holds in a lot of heat, which may be uncomfortable for some.

Best Bang for the Buck
Stearns Adult Classic Series Vest
Adult Classic Series Vest
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Traditional Feel
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A super sturdy, well-made life jacket for all water sports.


A Coast Guard-approved life vest that's rated to fit. Has 4 separate adjustable straps to help keep the vest in place. Nylon material is relatively durable.


Rougher water sports may cause the nylon to rip.

Airhead Type II PFD Life Jacket
Type II PFD Life Jacket
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Simple Yet Solid
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A great vest for maintaining safety on a daily basis.


A Type II rated vest designed to turn the user's head up in the water. Minimalistic style is comfortable for all-day wear. Basic strap system is easy to adjust on the fly.


Not rated for wear in aggressive waters.

O'Brien Impulse Neo Life Vest
Impulse Neo Life Vest
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Most Stylish
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A great life vest that looks just as good as it is safe.


Has both a zip closure and dual clips to keep you secure even if you take a large fall. Has a solid fit that feels just right for most users. Lightweight and easy to put on.


Measurements for a perfect fit can be hard to figure out for some.

O'Neill Men's Superlite USCG Life Vest
Men's Superlite USCG Life Vest
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Bottom Line

Lightweight fit and a protective feel make this vest stand out.


Has 4 separate buckles that are very easy to adjust for the perfect fit. Nylon outer shell is non-abrasive and relatively breathable. Large amount of colors.


The sizing can be a bit different from other brands.

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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.About BestReviews 

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best life jackets

Whether you’re swimming, boating, water skiing, or jet skiing, spending time on the water is a great way to stay cool during the summer. But even if you’re an experienced swimmer, it’s important to stay safe, which is why life jackets are a necessity.

However, there are so many life jackets to choose from that finding the right one can be a real challenge. You have to figure out which type of life jacket is best for your water activities, as well as determine the ideal material, size, and other features to ensure the utmost comfort and safety.

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According to federal regulations, any child under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket at all times onboard a boat.

Types of life jackets

Type I

A Type I life jacket is also known as an offshore life jacket, and it is designed to help you stay afloat in rough, open water for a prolonged period of time. Type I life jackets provide a minimum buoyancy of at least 22 pounds for foam jackets and 33 pounds for inflatable jackets. Type I life jackets can keep you face up in the water even if you’re unconscious, which is why they’re often used on ocean fishing boats, cruise ships, freight ships, and other large commercial ships.

Type II

Type II life jackets are also known as near-shore buoyant vests, and they are designed to keep you afloat in calm, inland waters where you’re likely to be rescued quickly. They’re typically less bulky than Type I jackets and most have a minimum buoyancy of 15.5 pounds. In calmer waters, a Type II life jacket can usually keep you face up in the water if you’re unconscious.

Type III

Type III life jackets are used mainly for water skiing, kayaking, canoeing, wakeboarding, and other water sports. They have a minimum buoyancy of 15.5 pounds, but their comfortable, lightweight design means that they aren’t very effective at keeping you face up in the water if you’re unconscious.

Type IV

Type IV flotation devices aren’t wearable life jackets. Instead, these emergency floatation devices are meant to be thrown to someone who’s fallen in the water. Horseshoe buoys, ring buoys, and buoyant cushions fall into this category. Type IV flotation devices usually have a minimum buoyancy of 16 to 20 pounds.

Type V

Type V life jackets are designed for special use. Inflatable styles typically have buoyancy ratings between 22 and 34 pounds, while foam models have buoyancy ratings between 15.5 and 22 pounds. Type V life jackets are usually worn by Coast Guard rescue teams, offshore deckhands, and whitewater guides. They’re not generally intended for personal use.

Features for life jackets


Life jackets are made from a few different materials. The most common options are nylon and neoprene.

Nylon is usually less expensive, though it’s still a highly durable material. It’s also lightweight, which makes it comfortable to wear. It’s often used for paddle sports life vests because it’s easy to cast your reel or paddle a boat while wearing a nylon life jacket.

Neoprene is a more expensive life jacket material, but it usually offers a better fit than nylon. It also offers greater buoyancy to keep you afloat. Neoprene is usually used for water sports life jackets because it’s extremely easy to move in if you’re water skiing, jet skiing, or tubing. It’s also a good option for colder water because the neoprene provides extra warmth if you fall into the water.

Pockets and loops

Depending on what activities you plan to use your life jacket for, it helps to have pockets and/or gear loops so you can keep supplies close at hand. These include items like a compass, fishing tools, and an emergency whistle. However, be careful not to place heavy items in your pockets or on your loops because they can affect the life jacket’s buoyancy.

"If mold or mildew develops on your life jacket, you can usually remove it by scrubbing the stains with a solution of two parts water and one part hydrogen peroxide."


Getting the fit right for a life jacket is crucial for reliable protection when you’re in the water. A life jacket should have a snug fit without being too constrictive or uncomfortable. You can find life jackets in adult, youth, child, and even infant sizes, though each category has different criteria for sizing.

Adult and youth life jacket sizes are usually based on chest measurements, so you should measure the widest part of your chest to determine the proper size. Children’s life jacket sizes, on the other hand, are based on weight, so be sure to weigh your child before purchasing a jacket.

To make sure that a life jacket fits properly, loosen all the straps and put on the jacket. Close it and then tighten the straps. Once the jacket is tightened, pull on it from the shoulder straps. If it slides up around your head, it’s too loose. To make sure the jacket isn’t too tight, move your arms in common swimming motions to make sure that you have free range of movement without any chafing.

Reflective patches

In case of an emergency, it’s a good idea to have reflective patches on your life jacket. Reflective patches can help rescue teams locate you in the water, particularly if they’re searching at night. You may also want to choose a life jacket in a loud, bright color to make you more visible during the day.

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Did you know?
Women’s life jackets tend to fit the curves of a woman’s body more comfortably than unisex models.

Prices for life jackets

Life jacket prices vary based mainly on the jacket type, though it’s important to note that larger sizes usually cost more than smaller sizes. In general, you can expect to pay between $12 and $150 for adult life jackets.

Type I life jackets usually range from $24 to $122.

Type II life jackets are usually less expensive because they don’t offer the same amount of buoyancy. They typically run from $12 to $55.

Type III life jackets are usually the most expensive option for personal use. They don’t offer the same buoyancy as Type I jackets, but their comfortable, lightweight design makes them ideal for water sports, which drives up the price. You’ll usually pay between $38 and $150.


  • Before any water activity, always inspect your life jackets for any rips, tears, or other damage that might affect a jacket’s performance. If you find any damage, the life jacket is not fit for use and should be replaced.

  • After using your life jackets, always rinse them with clean water. Let them dry completely before putting them away.

  • Don’t leave your life jacket out in the sun. Sunlight can weaken the jacket’s materials and cause it to break down.

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To keep your life jacket in good condition, store it in a cold, dry place where it’s not exposed to sunlight.


Q. How long does a life jacket last?

A. It usually depends on how often you use the life jacket and how well you care for it. You should inspect the jacket regularly to see if there are any rips or tears, and replace it as soon as you notice any signs of damage. That includes faded color on the exterior of the life jacket because a faded jacket is harder for rescue crews to spot. In most cases, though, a life jacket will last five to seven years.

Q. What type of life jacket should I buy if I don’t know how to swim?

A. An adult only needs an extra 10 pounds of buoyancy to stay afloat in the water, and most life jackets offer at least 15 pounds. That means that any life jacket you choose should keep you safe if you fall in the water. However, check that any life jacket you purchase is approved by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to make sure it’s safe and reliable.

Q. Do I need a life jacket with greater buoyancy if I weigh more?

A. In most cases, heavier people actually have more natural buoyancy than thinner people because fat floats more easily than muscle. As long as you choose a life jacket that offers at least 10 extra pounds of buoyancy, you should be fine no matter how much you weigh.

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