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Paddling Safety Gear

Types of Paddling Safety Gear

photo of a life jacket/pfd

Life Jackets/PFDs

photo of a throw bag/rope

Throw Bags and Ropes

Top Picks

How we choose: The best paddling safety gear highlighted here were selected based on 23 reviews of 22 products. Our top picks are those that are readily-available in the United States and have received the highest overall ratings from reviewers.

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If you've used a paddling safety device that you think should be listed here, please share your experience.

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Top Life Jacket/PFD

Astral Layla

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

This is a woman's life jacket (PFD) that is comfortable and well-designed. Front offset zipper means over-the-head entry and then zip up on the right side. Waist-belt and two side straps per side and shoulder straps all adjust for a secure fit.

Reasons to Buy

  • Comfortable
  • Useful pocket
  • Knife lash-tab
  • Tow-belt ready

I bought this lifejacket in December 2018 and have been using it for kayaking and canoeing all the 2019 paddling season, May through September. I love the fit. It has seven adjustment points (waist belt, 2 side straps per side, 2 shoulder straps) and doesn't ride up in the water. The foam is well distributed from my waist through my upper chest and across my whole back. It wouldn't work well with a high kayak seat because the rear foam goes down to waist level. The full coverage foam would be an advantage on whitewater—good protection while swimming. I also have an Astral YTV which puts more of the foam lower down and rides up in the water unless I make it uncomfortably tight.

Read more: Astral Layla review (1)

Life Jacket/PFD

Astral V-Eight

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

Very comfortable and does the job...

Reasons to Buy

  • Contoured foam in chest area
  • Secure mesh pocket
  • Very adjustable

This is just a little info from our experience that you may not see in reviews of places that sell the Astral PFDs. Being new to kayaking and wanting quality PFDs for mostly summer paddling I liked the description and reviews about the Astral V-Eight. My wife and I tried them on at our local EMS store and found them very comfortable and well made. We bought them and like them very much. I'm 5'5" 185 lbs and the V-Eight does a good job of floating me. They have a small mesh pocket inside the top area of the left chest foam that is difficult to see in the pictures.

Read more: Astral V-Eight review (1)

Life Jacket/PFD

Kokatat MsFit Tour

user rating: 4 of 5 (2 reviews)

Not as flashy or as low-profile as some of the newer designs, but this one won out because it appears more robust and more up to the job when you really need it.

Reasons to Buy

  • Rugged, professional
  • Five external pockets each with a keeper + one internal
  • Buckles AND zipper rather than just one or the other
  • Surprisingly nice ventilation when the zipper is open
  • High enough in back for sit-inside expedition kayak
  • Center entry easier than side entry or over-the-head

Reasons to Avoid

  • None so far

After 15 years, my old Lotus vest popped the zipper. I took offense at this and decided the new one should not depend on a zipper--it needed to have at least a buckle at the waist AND a buckle higher up.  I checked quite a few styles and almost ended up with a tiny, very-light Astral.  The MsFit Tour did not immediately come to mind because it is a women's design (I am male, 5'6" 175 lbs).  The knowledgeable salesman at the outdoor store assured me that it was a good choice for men too.  His explanation was that Kokatat's original OutFit does not sell as well for men or women because the newer MsFit is so much more comfortable for both sexes.  It allows more flexibility because the floatation is formed into a larger number of smaller sections. ...

Read more: Kokatat MsFit Tour reviews (2)

Top Paddling Helmet

Shred Ready Shaggy Helmet

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

A little about me first. I'm 6'0, weigh 248 lbs. and am a rather large guy. I enjoy kayaking, self-contained kayak trips, hiking, camping, self-contained hiking trips, etc. I'm not a pro, by any means, but I'm on a trip at least once a month and have been kayaking steady for 3 to 4 years. I did quite a bit of research when looking for a helmet. I looked for the significance between plastic, carbon fiber, fiberglass, and even Kevlar. I read some blogs from people who have hit their heads and have severely damaged their helmets, but said that if it weren't for the Kevlar type helmet, they would have been injured far worse.

Read more: Shred Ready Shaggy Helmet review (1)

Top Throw Bag/Rope

NRS NFPA Rescue Throw Bag

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

Will save a life if USED CORRECTLY. (Practice.)

Reasons to Buy

  • Covers good distance if thrown properly (practice)
  • Reflective colors make it easy to spot in the water
  • Easy to coil rope without tangling
  • Can be used to catch another rope in the water

Reasons to Avoid

  • Heavy
  • Takes a while to coil back because of length (use partner's help)

I used this bag in Swift Water Rescue training. Works well and is easy enough to throw. Keep in mind it has plenty of rope and requires a bit of strength to throw the full distance. I only managed to throw it the full 75 feet two or three times in a day practicing with it. It's easy to coil, but it's still 75 feet of rope. Use a partner to help speed things up when coiling the rope. I really liked that the victim's end of the rope has a flotation device (foam) as well as a plastic hook for retrieving rope.

Read more: NRS NFPA Rescue Throw Bag review (1)

Life Jacket/PFD

Astral Ronny

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

This is an extremely light and very comfortable PFD. I wear my PFD at all times, and I have found this to be comfortable in heat, easy to wear over a paddle jacket, nicely adjustable, and so far it seems quite durable.

Reasons to Buy

  • Lightweight
  • Pockets
  • Easy to use zipper
  • Adjustment straps

Reasons to Avoid

  • No secondary securing strap, so if zipper goes, you have no jacket on!

I had wanted to get a new PFD, one that is lightweight, cool in the summer, and which has lots of pockets! I am always carrying "stuff" and find it hard to access pants pockets when seated in a canoe. When I won my choice of Astral PFD, I selected the Ronny (men's), and am very pleased with it. This PFD has three handy pockets in the front, including one which has a beverage can holder. I wonder what beverage they could have in mind? I do not drink beer when I paddle, but I have put a small water bottle in it.

Read more: Astral Ronny review (1)

Life Jacket/PFD


user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

Best PFD on the market for around $100.

Reasons to Buy

  • Great price
  • Plenty of 'real' pockets to stow gear and equipment
  • Fully adjustable to most body sizes
  • Not at all bulky like most in this price range
  • Comes in multiple colors

Reasons to Avoid

  • Doesn't fit as snug on smaller frames

This is one of the best PFD I've used to date. Granted I'm not a white water nut, but I raft and canoe the swamps and Gulf of Mexico. I've used many PFD's, and never really found one that I thought would be worth buying. Until now. I used this one one a recent trip to Deer Island off the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And found myself awaiting the arrival home so I could purchase it online. The 5 zip pockets came in great for stashing gear. It also has a radio pocket, which I used for my cell phone.

Read more: NRS CVest Type III PFD review (1)

Life Jacket/PFD


user rating: 4 of 5 (1 review)

A great low price paddling PFD. It may not offer all the bells and whistles of higher end PFDs, but it is made of high quality materials with a form fitting design that provides comfort.

Reasons to Buy

  • Fit
  • Material
  • Sizing
  • Comfort

Reasons to Avoid

  • Not many pockets or options for customization

I first purchased two of these PFD's when I got my first canoe at the age of 17. I chose them because my parents made it very clear that I would not be allowed to use this hand-me-down canoe unless I outfitted it with the proper safety equipment. Where I bought, what I bought, was up to me. These PFD's were inexpensive, comfortable, and offered a very low profile.  A big factor for me is the profile of the PFD. I wanted something that made me feel as though I wasn't wearing a PFD, and this one was the closest to that I could find in my price range.

Read more: NRS Vapor PFD review (1)

Life Jacket/PFD


user rating: 4 of 5 (1 review)

The lightest PFD with best best freedom of movement available.

Reasons to Buy

  • Lightweight
  • Lined, twin front panels warm up your hands quick.
  • Handy little front pocket
  • Freedom of movement

Reasons to Avoid

  • Knife clip in awkward location

I got this life jacket from my employer at Pocono Whitewater, Jim Thorpe, Pa. I previously was guiding with a Stohlquist Wedge-E, which — once broken in — was a fantastic jacket. I have to say though, the NRS Ninja is a prime piece of equipment. The design is simple, buckles and straps keep their position, but are adjusted easily. My favorite part is how light it is. Even when it's wet, you barely realize that you're wearing it. I've only had it for half of one season, but guiding out of it I was never able to screw it up, heavy denier cordura really hols up against getting your salad tossed in the rocks.

Read more: NRS Ninja PFD review (1)

More Paddling Safety Gear

Trailspace reviewers have shared 23 reviews of 22 different paddling safety gear. Narrow your search and view more specific paddling safety device recommendations in these categories:

Life Jackets/PFDs

Throw Bags and Ropes

All Paddling Gear

Other Types of Paddling Gear

Find more paddling gear reviewed in these related categories:




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