The Best PFDs for Fishing: 2024 Reviews and Buying Guide

Written by: Pete Danylewycz
Last Updated:
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Fishing should be fun, but things can turn deadly serious in an instant.

Every year, anglers have accidents that leave them in the water, and without a personal floatation device (PFD) or life jacket, tragedy can be just moments away.

PFDs aren’t just a legal requirement; they’re true life savers. Never go out on the water without one!

Below, we’ll review some of the best PFDs for fishing, explaining what to look for in a good life vest.

Quick glance at the best fishing life vests:

Related:

Best Fishing Life Vests Reviewed

Stohlquist Fisherman

Stohlquist Fisherman Lifejacket (PFD)-OliveGreen-XXL

Amazon 

Stohlquist’s Fisherman is an exceptional PFD that every angler should consider. Built tough, packed with storage options, and offering all-day comfort, the Fisherman is a great option for anglers who want to store gear where it’s easy to reach.

Specifically designed around the needs of kayak anglers, the Fisherman’s design ensures plenty of freedom of movement, something all fishermen can appreciate.

I strongly recommend the orange option, as high visibility can be a lifesaver in an emergency. And as you’d expect, this PFD is Coast Guard approved, meeting all the requirements for Type III usage.

Right off the bat, you’ll notice two large, zippered, draining pockets on the chest of this vest, enabling you to keep smaller items like flies, line, hooks, sinkers, and the like ready to hand. When unzipped, these chest pockets create a small, stable platform that’s great for tying lures or flies, too. And inside each of them, you’ll find mesh inner pockets and a D-ring for tool attachment.

That’s a small detail that tells in the real world, as you can attach a pair of pliers, fish grips, or hemostats and know they’re not going overboard just when you need them.

You’ll also find two D-rings under each of these pockets, creating more lanyard-attachment points or frequently used tools.

The Stohlquist Fisherman offers excellent chest storage.

On the exterior, the Stohlquist fisherman wears a durable 500 denier Cordura nylon that shrugs off UV degradation and resists tears and abrasions. It’s also pretty easy to clean with soap and water when you get it gunked-up with fish slime and blood.

Up next to your shirt and skin, you’ll feel a finer textured, softer 200-denier oxford that’s noticeably more comfortable.

Stohlquist has pretty much nailed fit with the Fisherman lineup, and if you order the right size and strap it down properly, it’s going to keep you afloat in an emergency and all but disappear while you’re on the water fishing.

That said, it’s probably not the most breathable option out there, and if you live and fish where the mercury and humidity combine to create unbearable summers, there might be better options for your needs.

Overall, the Stohlquist Fisherman is an exceptional buy, especially in climates where heat isn’t a constant complication.

Pros:

  • Excellent storage options
  • Great fit
  • Excellent comfort
  • Type III rated by the US Coast Guard
  • Tough fabric that’s easy to clean

Cons:

  • Not as cool as other options

Stohlquist Piseas

Stohlquist Piseas Lifejacket (PFD)-Red-XXL

Amazon 

The designers at Stohlquist know that fly anglers appreciate storage options that are tailored to their needs, and the Piseas really delivers on that front. Like the Fisherman, the Piseas is Coast Guard Approved for Type III use, providing plenty of buoyancy for fishing in protected waters where rescue is likely to be relatively quick.

On the chest, you’ll find two large, zippered front pockets, one with a mesh inner pocket and D-ring for tool storage and the other featuring a fly organizer. Both pockets open into a small, stable platform that’s awfully handy if deck space is limited or absent altogether.

Beneath each pocket, you’ll find a fabric lanyard-attachment point, a nice touch that just begs for hemostats and a pair of nippers.

Fly fishermen will find the organizer a useful addition to a PFD.

You’ll also notice a D-ring on the rear to attach your landing net.

The exterior of the Piseas wears a 240-denier nylon fabric that’s easy to clean but not nearly as tough as the nature-facing material of the Fisherman. Inside, you’ll appreciate a comfortable, soft 200-denier nylon fabric.

As with the Fisherman, the Stohlquist Piseas fits well and adjusts easily. Unfortunately, it’s just as warm-wearing, and when the summer sun threatens to melt you even in the shade, it’s probably not the best option.

This crimson-colored PFD is your best bet for safety, and as long as heat isn’t a crucial issue, the Piseas is a great choice for fly anglers.

Pros:

  • Awesome storage options
  • Great fit
  • Excellent comfort
  • Type III rated by the US Coast Guard
  • Easy-to-clean fabric
  • High-visibility color

Cons:

  • Not as cool as other options
  • Not as durable as the Fisherman

NRS OS Chinook- Best Overall PFD for Fishing

NRS Chinook OS Fishing Lifejacket (PFD)-Orange-L/XL

Amazon 

I’ll admit it: I love the NRS OS Chinook!

This fishing-specific PFD may be the best option out there if you care about chest storage, and from design features that create expansive freedom of movement to an airy design that keeps you cool all day, this is just a great life vest all the way around.

NRS may have designed the OS Chinook for kayak anglers, but fishermen of all kinds will appreciate the comfort, safety, and storage this PFD offers.

Check out our guide for the best kayak fishing pfd

You’ll discover two zippered pockets on your right chest, offering storage options that include a pocket for a VHF radio, as well as small items like a knife, sunscreen, bug repellent, and fishing tackle like line, sinkers, or lures.

On the left, you’ll find a larger zippered pocket that has cleverly-designed pockets and storage options. In terms of raw organization options, the Chinook crushes the competition, and if you like having your gear ready to go, you’ll love this PFD as much as I do!

Check out all that storage!

Comfort is excellent, especially in the heat. And while the OS Chinook can’t compete with inflatable PFDs on this front, its design allows for tons of airflow, keeping you cool when the heat is crushing.

What’s better than mesh? Air!

NRS gets the fit right, and the OS Chinook offers easy adjustment for a perfect fit.

This PFD is covered in a layer of durable 400-denier nylon that shrugs off abrasions and cuts, while offering a softer material on the inside.

If you like storage options and appreciate comfort - and who doesn’t? - you should take a close look at the NRS OS Chinook.

Pros:

  • Awesome storage options
  • Great fit
  • Awesome comfort
  • Type III rated by the US Coast Guard
  • Tough fabric that’s easy to clean
  • Excellent high-vis color option

Cons:

  • Not as cool as inflatable options

Astral Women's Layla - Best PFD for Female Anglers

Astral Women's Layla Life Jacket PFD for Whitewater, Sea, Touring Kayaking, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, and Fishing, Eggplant, M/L

Amazon 

I don’t need to tell our female readers that men’s PFDs can be a poor fit for women’s bodies. And I’m disappointed by the scant attention paid to female anglers by the industry.

If you’ve had trouble with the fit of men’s PFDs, take a look at Astral’s Layla. It’s not a perfect design for fisherwomen to be sure, but it should provide a more comfortable and secure fit than alternatives designed for the male body.

Astral offers the Layla in two colors: “eggplant” and “glacial blue.” And while these are nice colors, neither is terribly visible in an emergency, especially when rescuers may need to see you in low-visibility situations.

Storage is absolutely minimal, and the Layla offers just one small pocket on the front that’s kept secure by a strap. I don’t love that, and I’d prefer to see the same attention to storage options that you see on the NRS OS Chinook.

The outer shell is a mixture of 400- and 200-denier material that’s relatively tough and pretty easy to clean with soap and water. Inside, next to your shirt and skin, you’ll find 200-denier fabric that’s plenty soft.

Fit and comfort are excellent, and the ¼-zip entry on the right side is a very nice touch. Once you’ve set the straps to fit your shape, you can just zip yourself in and out of the Layla.

For women who’ve had trouble with the fit of unisex or men’s PFDs, the Layla is a viable alternative that excels in comfort.

Pros:

  • Great fit for women’s bodies
  • Awesome comfort
  • Type III rated by the US Coast Guard
  • Tough fabric that’s easy to clean

Cons:

  • Not as cool as inflatable options
  • No high-visibility color options
  • Very limited storage

 

Mustang Survival Corp Elite Inflatable

Mustang Survival Corp Elite Inflatable PFD (Auto Hydrostatic), Black

Amazon 

Mustang Survival Corp’s Elite Inflatable PFD is an exceedingly cool-wearing alternative to traditional life vests. For anglers concerned about beating the heat, this is an enticing option to consider.

The MSCE uses a hydrostatic automatic deployment system that actuates if it detects you've hit the water. It can also be inflated manually by pulling a handle on the right side. Certified by the Coast Guard as a Type III PFD, it offers the buoyancy you need to stay afloat if you’re conscious.

Built to offer the absolute minimum in coverage, this is the coolest, most comfortable option in climates where the summer sun makes heavier options unbearable, but of course, that means there are no storage options whatsoever.

The outer-facing fabric is durable 320-denier nylon. It can take a fair beating without showing signs of wear, and a mesh liner helps to keep you cool and dry.

Available in black and red, the high-visibility color option is the smarter choice.

Pros:

  • Vastly cooler than standard PFDs
  • Awesome comfort
  • Type III rated by the US Coast Guard
  • Tough fabric that’s easy to clean
  • Red is a good safety color

Cons:

  • No storage

 

Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket - Best Inflatable PFD for Fishing

ONYX A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket, Green

Amazon 

Like the MSCE, the Onyx A/M-24 offers incredible comfort while still providing Type III Coast Guard-approved protection on the water.

The A/M-24 uses a hydrostatic sensor to deploy automatically, and it also offers a manual deployment handle on the right front. It can be set for manual-only, but I’d recommend against this to maximize safety.

Exceptionally comfortable, the A/M-24 uses soft neoprene at the neckline to minimize chafing, making this perhaps the most comfortable PFD on the market. Onyx doesn’t reveal the fabric types used, but it looks and feels like 200- to 400-denier nylon.

As you’d expect, there are no storage options on this PFD, as its minimalist design emphasizes comfort over convenience.

Available in high-visibility red from the manufacturer, it’s more commonly available in green from Amazon.

If maximal comfort in hot weather is your priority, the A/M-24 is hard to beat!

Pros:

  • Vastly cooler than standard PFDs
  • Unrivaled comfort
  • Type III rated by the US Coast Guard
  • Tough fabric that’s easy to clean
  • Red is a good safety color

Cons:

  • No storage

Mad Dog Products Type I Commercial - Safest Fishing PFD

Mad Dog Products Type I Commercial Orange Life Jacket PFD - US Coast Guard Approved - Includes Safety Whistle

Amazon 

If you’re fishing offshore or in any situation where immediate rescue isn’t likely, you should skip the Type III PFDs and wear a Coast Guard-approved Type I life vest.

According to the Coast Guard, a Type I PFD is specifically designed for “all waters, open ocean, rough seas, or remote water, where rescue may be slow coming.” The BoatUS Foundation further notes that a Type I PFD “will turn MOST unconscious wearers face-up in water.”

In the real world, a Type I PFD is the safest option for offshore fishing, angling in a remote location, or when you’re out alone. They also provide maximum warmth in cool water, keeping you alive longer than a Type III.

Mad Dog’s Type I PFD is designed for professional use. The adult size will fit pretty much any body shape, and the high-visibility color, reflective tabs, and safety whistle help rescuers spot you in poor conditions.

This type of PFD doesn’t offer storage for fishing gear, nor is it cool-wearing in the heat. But if you’re fishing offshore, it’s an extremely good idea to wear one.

Pros:

  • Type I rated by the US Coast Guard
  • Will turn most unconscious users face up in the water
  • Tough fabric that’s easy to clean
  • Bright, high-visibility orange with reflective tabs
  • Attached safety whistle
  • Ideal for cold water

Cons:

  • No storage

Buying Guide What You Need to Know When Choosing a PFD for Fishing

US Coast Guard Certification

All the products we’ve reviewed today have been certified by the US Coast Guard as either Type III or Type I personal floatation devices.Never use a PFD that isn’t certified - or isn’t appropriate - for the activity you’re engaging in.

Type III PFDs

Type III PFDs come in two designs: those that use inherently-buoyant materials and those that inflate.

According to the BoatUS Foundation, Type III PFDs are intended for “supervised activities, such as sailing regattas, dinghy races, water skiing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and during personal watercraft operation.” These PFDs are designed to provide adequate buoyancy for “protected, inland water near shore, where chance of immediate rescue is good,” but they are 

“not suitable for extended survival in rough water,” nor are they “designed to turn unconscious people face up in water.”

What does this mean in the real world?

Experts explain that if you go into the water alone in a Type III PFD, “the amount of time a life jacket will keep you afloat depends on many factors, including your body size and weight, the type of life jacket, whether you are wearing it properly, the water conditions and whether you are struggling or floating in the water. In general, most adult-size life jackets will keep you afloat for at least 8 hours in calm water conditions.”

Many Type III PFDs will rotate unconscious anglers face up in the water, but you can’t depend on them to do so reliably.

Type I PFDs

Type I PFDs are inherently buoyant, offering maximum protection from drowning and cold water. They’re typically uncomfortable and bulky, and virtually everyone will prefer to wear a Type III PFD.

Type I PFDs are designed for “cruising, racing and fishing offshore, or when boating alone, or in stormy conditions.” They’re the “best for open, rough or remote water where rescue may be slow to arrive,” and they “will turn MOST unconscious wearers face-up in water.”

In short, they provide “the best protection, but [are] somewhat bulky and uncomfortable.”

In the real world, they offer the best chance of survival and rescue.

Comfort and fit

PFDs are only truly useful if you’re wearing them, and for that reason, comfort and fit matter a lot more than you might think.

And as you’d expect, greater comfort comes at a price.

The most comfortable PFDs on our list are expensive inflatables. Cool-wearing and easy to fit, they’re a great choice for many anglers because they’ll actually get used rather than tossed into a storage compartment.

A reliable Type I PFD may be superior in buoyancy and safety, but if you won’t actually wear it, it’s not nearly as protective as an inflatable Type III PFD that you’ll actually put on.

Proper fit matters, too. If you don’t fit your PFD properly, it’s both uncomfortable and unsafe, as you may slip out of it in the water, have it ride up far too high, or leave you in an untenable position on the surface.

Durability

Fishing can get your PFD dirty in a hurry, and constant exposure to U light, abrasions, cuts, and punctures can shred cheap products like cheese over pasta.

You want tough high-denier nylon on the outer layer, and softer denier fabrics on the inside to enhance comfort. These should be relatively easy to wash with warm soap and water as well, because once you get fish slime and blood on your PFD, you’ll need to get it clean to avoid a stinking mess.

Storage

Many anglers like the idea of extra gear storage on their life vest, and many Type III PFDs offer such options.

The NRS OS Chinook is probably the best on the market on this front.

Visibility

Last, but certainly not least, take visibility seriously.

While many PFDs are offered in dark or subdued colors, if you ever do need to be rescued, you’ll want to be wearing a life vest that contrasts with the water, allowing easy visibility even in low-light conditions.

The addition of reflective materials can be critical as well, creating bright spots that rescuers can spot with lights even at night.

Final Thoughts

No one thinks they’re going to become a statistic, but every year, some anglers add to the numbers of fishermen who drown in entirely avoidable situations.

Always wear a PFD during your fishing adventures.

We can’t tell you which of the products we’ve reviewed today is the best fit for your budget and needs, but every product on this list is a life saver.

We hope that this article has helped you make the best choice for your safety, and if you have any questions or comments, please leave us a message below!

About The Author
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.
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