Inflatable life jackets offer unbeatable comfort and mobility compared to standard foam vests. They are small, lightweight, and not annoying to wear on those hot, sunny days. Plus, they are easy to wear, take off, and store.
But how can you find the best inflatable life jacket today? This review provides you with eight life jackets you can take with you while paddle boarding, kayaking, surfing, or other high-motion activities.
9 Best Inflatable Life Jackets
- Best Lifejacket with Dual Flotation – Mustang Survival Life Jacket
- Best Overall Inflatable Life Jackets – Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M-24 Life Jacket
- Best for Offshore – All Clear Offshore West Marine Inflatable Jacket from West Marine
- Best Inflatable Belt Pack – Onyx Unisex Belt Pack Life Jacket
- Best Inflatable Lifejacket for Whitewater – NRS Big Water V-Rafting Life Jacket
- Best Budget Lifejacket – Wacool Inflatable Vest Jacket
- Best Inflatable Snorkeling Vest – Scubapro Cruiser Snorkel Vest
- Best Automatic Life Vest for Extreme Marine Conditions – Mustang Survival Work Vest
- Best for Kayaking – Astral V-Eight Life Jacket
Best Lifejacket with Dual Flotation
- Provides flotation using foam and air
- Storage room on the shoulder attachment and front pocket
- Enhanced visibility with the reflective shoulder patches
The Mustang Khimera PFD features dual flotation to keep you fluid on water. This self-inflating life jacket features an ideal balance of the foam flotation panels and the CO2 inflation chamber.
The foam delivers 7.5 lb. of buoyancy to keep you afloat and lightweight. However, should you need additional buoyancy, the manual inflator offers 12.5 lbs. for a total of 20 lbs.
Unlike most life jackets, this inflatable PFD causes less friction on the neck since the shoulder straps are not close to the neck. Its lightweight design offers a greater range of motion and comfort.
Moreover, thanks to its adjustable belt, this automatic inflatable life jacket fits most users over 90 lbs.
This particular vest comes with a front pocket that can hold an extra CO2 cylinder. The shoulder attachments can hold a strobe, knife, or more.
Best Overall Inflatable Life Jackets
- Inflates manually and automatically
- Type V US Coast Guard approved
- Comfortable for warm weather
The Absolute Outdoor Onyx is the perfect life jacket as it inflates manually and automatically. The manual inflation system requires you to pull the T-cord handle, while the automatic system inflates upon contact with water. Its minimum buoyancy is 22.5 pounds, which is sufficient for most users.
The design is simple, lightweight, and comfortable. The neck area features neoprene material for all-day comfort. This Outdoor inflatable life vest does not restrict movement, but you ought to pay extra attention to the chest straps and those around the groin to prevent constriction.
The life jacket delivers type III performance and is ideal for boating, rafting, kayaking, and fishing. However, the brand cautions that users are over 16 years and 80 pounds.
3. All Clear Offshore West Marine Inflatable Jacket from West Marine
Best for Offshore
- With one year warranty
- Automatically Inflatable
- With harness
We had a chance to test out this jacket during a recent boating trip. You can read the full real-world review here. Overall we liked the slim profile, the vibrant inflation bladder, and the insane amount of co2 it holds.
The only issue with an automatic system is that you need to keep it from being submerged. This means your use cases are limited to boating-type activities. If you’re going through the surf, then it’s better to pick a different type of vest.
Best Inflatable Belt Pack
- Offers 17 lbs. buoyancy
- ‘Jerk to Inflate’ tab allows quick inflation
- Unobtrusive and lightweight
This personal flotation device comes in a low-profile design for more flexibility. It packs well in the lightweight belt and manually inflates once you pull the cord. The life vest offers 17 lbs. buoyancy when inflated with the CO2 charge but can get to 26.5 lbs. if you use the oral inflation tube.
This inflated vest is U.S. Coast Guard-approved. However, if you are not good at swimming, do not get it since you have to pull the jacket over your head while in the water. Being in this position makes you susceptible to drowning.
Best Inflatable Lifejacket for Whitewater
- Offers 25 pounds of buoyancy
- Four easily adjustable buckles for a universal fit
- USCG-approved type V life jacket
Whitewater can be cold, wild, and rough. Due to this, you need a solid life jacket like the NRS Big Water vest.
With its contouring foam panels, this life vest is more reliable and comfortable for personal use. The two shoulder straps, six side adjustments, and four front buckles ensure you remain secure while wading in rough waters.
This model delivers 25 lbs. of floatation and is USCG-approved. You can use it for ocean paddling, flatwater paddling, and river paddling.
Best Budget Lifejacket
- Neon colors are easily visible in the water
- Inflates in 10 or fewer seconds
- Safety buckle ensures the jacket does not fall off
Wacool is a manually inflatable life jacket that is suitable for water skiing, rowing, boating, drifting, surfing, and snorkeling. It offers large buoyancy and is excellent for learners and swimmers.
This lifejacket inflates and deflates fast for convenience. It is portable since it packs up well in the provided mesh bag. This snorkeling vest comes in neon colors for excellent visibility and has a safety whistle attached.
This product has a simple, comfortable horse collar that fits most users. The waist and crotch straps provide safety when snorkeling, thus boosting your confidence. The safety buckle pinches easily for fast removal.
The Wacool inflatable vest is made of polyester and PVC.
Best Inflatable Snorkeling Vest
- 1/8’’ neoprene construction remains comfortable in the cold and warm water snorkeling
- Nylon back protects against excessive sun rays
- Provides storage for personal effects
This Scubapro Cruiser life vest stands out from other inflatable snorkeling vests as it maintains buoyancy. It keeps you afloat yet allows you to snorkel. However, keep in mind that this model does not work as a life-saving PFD.
The vest features nylon and neoprene construction for added comfort. Its nylon back keeps your back protected from the scorching sun. Nevertheless, ensure that you fit the vest securely since most anglers have pointed out that it tends to move up the body.
This snorkel life vest comes in Extra Small, Small, Medium, Large, and Extra-Large sizes. Its bright orange color is well-visible from a distance.
Best Automatic Life Vest for Extreme Marine Conditions
- Delivers 35 lbs. of buoyancy
- Automatically inflates after submersion in water
- Secure-zip system keeps vest closed in rigorous activities
This is the best life vest for professionals and crews. It features exclusive technology to deliver advanced mobility, efficiency, and reduced heat stress.
The Mustang Work Vest has a 35 lb. buoyancy, an unavailable feature in other life jackets. This means it has added safety during flotation.
Moreover, with the Hydrostatic Inflator technology, the vest will inflate automatically after it hits 4 inches and above of water. Therefore, in the event of rain or humidity, this vest will not inflate.
This Coast Guard-approved type vest has a secure-zip closure feature that keeps it closed in severe marine conditions. The PU-coated nylon shell protects against abrasion resistance and punctures.
Best for Kayaking
- The air escape system makes it breathable
- Zippered pocket for storing small gear
- Made of durable nylon shell
The Astral V-Eight is the perfect life jacket for fishing, kayaking, and other recreational purposes. Its front and back are fitted with foam to feel comfortable on high-seat backs. It features a breathable mesh that eliminates excess heat to keep you cool.
The 1.22 lbs. jacket provides 16.2-pound buoyancy that is enough to keep a confident swimmer afloat, making it a great life jacket for kayaking. The vest comes in different sizes and features zippered front pockets and a quick access tab. It is Coast Guard type-approved and will last for years.
Things to Consider When Buying the Best Inflatable Life Jackets
The recommended buoyancy of a life jacket is 22 pounds. Therefore, check for this rating when browsing through the options. If you are exploring rough seas, choose an inflatable PFD with at least 33 pounds of buoyancy.
Your activity in water determines the kind of life jacket you choose. Inflatable vests are ideal for fishing and kayaking since they do not restrict the movement of arms.
However, if you engage in tubing, whitewater rafting, or wakeboarding, an inflatable life vest is not the best gear. You’ll need life jackets for water sports.
The best inflatable life jacket for kayaking is a manual inflatable. Automatic life jackets can be annoying because they automatically inflate when the person wearing them gets wet.
On the other hand, inflatable snorkel vests are preferable for snorkeling, swimming, or free diving to help your head float.
Most inflatable life vests come in a universal size that fits most adults. They feature adjustable straps and buckles to correctly fit the life jacket across your body. The adjustable straps may work around the waist or shoulders.
If you have a large body type, we recommend looking for a standard PFD with more size fittings to avoid pulling and discomfort on some parts of your body.
We reviewed a wide variety of life jackets. Our top two favorite brands are Mustang Survival and West Marine.
The Onyx A/M-24 life jacket also stands out as it is comfortable, fits most users, and is USCG-approved type V. It is suitable for; standup paddle boarding, inshore boating, kayaking, and fishing.
It is a manual and automatic PDF that stays cool even in warm weather. Its lightweight and low-profile design makes it comfortable, while the neoprene material prevents friction around the neckline.
However, like most inflatable life jackets, this model is intended for persons above 16 years and weighs over 80 pounds. Also, it is not for weak or non-swimmers.
If you do not want to settle for the Onyx A/M-24, there are seven other great inflatable life jackets. They have adequate buoyancy to keep you afloat for long periods.