How to buy your first PFD.

Dan and Jayden Sea Kayaking

So, you’ve discovered the wonderful world of kayaking and water sports! Or perhaps enjoy getting out for a paddle with the kids? Or maybe you just learned to roll and fell deeply in love with whitewater kayaking? Or is pack rafting more your jam?

A Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is an essential piece of kit for any kayaking or water experience. There are lots out there, and so here we delve deeper into the features of each style and model to help you choose which one would be right for you.

Recreational kayaking.
If you’re looking for a lifejacket to keep you and the family safe out on the lake over the holidays; then a recreation PFD will suit your purpose nicely.

Key Features:
· Comfort
· Buoyancy
· Affordable price point

The Astral E-Ronny (Men’s) or E- Linda (Women’s), and NRS Nora or Oso are great examples of lightweight, buoyant PFDs that will serve comfort and floatability without costing the earth.

A woman packrafting in Nelson

Have you signed up for Coast to Coast or another multi-sport race? You’re going to want a PFD that fits snuggly, gives a great range of movement, and is light enough without comprising buoyancy.

Key Features:
· Pull-over (zips add unnecessary bulk and weight)
· Front and rear buoyancy panels
· Adjustable waist and ribcage strap
· Food and drink features such as a water bladder pocket, foam attachment block, and bladder hose clips

Rasdex Multisporter PFD, Day two Adventure Racer Vest, or the Peak PS Marathon Racer Vest are all great options.

Whitewater PFDs are slightly bulkier and offer more buoyancy and protection, along with some key safety features. They can be split into two categories: Rescue and Non-Rescue.

These are some of the most technical PFDs on the market; and are specifically designed with safety through all levels of whitewater kayaking and rafting in mind. They are an essential piece of kit for an instructor or trip leader or for you to be useful to your teammates in case of a rescue situation.

Key Features:
· Rescue belt: webbing that goes around the waist with a quick-release buckle and stainless-steel O-ring for towline attachment.
· Attachment points and pockets for rescue gear, such as a river knife, carabiners, and webbing/slings.

NOTE: If you are using a rescue PFD and doing whitewater grade 2 or above, we highly recommend you invest in some professional instruction on swift water and river rescue techniques to enable you to safely undertake your river trips.

Packrafting on a Lake

Different brands have slightly different cuts and features, each trying to maximise comfort, safety, and range of movement in a different way. The arrangement of the rescue PFD becomes hugely personal for seasoned/experienced river users, so it pays to investigate what combination you’d like. Some brands do have side entry zippers for comfort, but always check there is a sturdy strap and buckle accompanying this to ensure the zipper isn’t put under load in a rescue situation.
The Peak UK River Guide, Astral Green, or NRS Zen are some great options.

Non-rescue PFDs
These PFD are similar in cut and design to the rescue PFDs and can be used by anyone that doesn’t have the skills or responsibility to be undertaking whitewater rescues.

Key Features:
· Buoyancy for whitewater
· Fewer features (no rescue belt)
· Lightweight

These vests are great for pack rafters!
Our options include the Peak PS River Vest, NRS Siren, and Astral Blue.

Man holding a sea kayak on his shoulder standing in the sea

Sea Kayaking.
Sea Kayaking PFDs are designed for long days on the water where comfort and safety are key and it’s unlikely you’ll be leaving your boat often. They are similar in buoyancy and protection to whitewater PFDs however they have some key differences that make them ideal for sea kayaking.

Key Features:
· Water bladder pouch
· Larger pockets for food and flares

The Peak PS Explorer Zip or Astral Blue are great options.

Kids PFDs.
For kids, it's super important to get the right fit, as adult life jackets will generally be too big for kids. This is why there is a range of life jackets specifically made for kids. Until they are older, they will likely not be doing anything too advanced, and the kids PFDs are designed assuming there are adults along with them with more technical rescue gear.

Some great options include. Astral Otter Kids, Palm Universal Kids, or NRS Vista Youth.

We also have a low-profile vest available, the Peak UK Racer Pro, which is great for canoe slalom or sprint, SUP paddling, or Waka Ama.

Arguably, the PFD is only as good as its fit. Most PFDs come in various sizes and are very adjustable. It should fit snugly and allow for a good range of movement without feeling restrictive. If the jacket can move independently of your body, you need to either tighten up the straps or downsize. It’s a good idea to try on PFDs with the layers you will wear when using them, as paddle jackets can add significant bulk.

NRS on how to fit a PFD.

Some models are offered in male and female versions, which provide more adaptability and flexibility for men's and women’s different torso shapes.

That’s it, folks! We have a great range in-store and online, so I’m sure we’ll find one that is in the right discipline, fit, price range, and colour for your purpose.

The 5 types of PFD to consider:
1. Recreational Paddling: basic and affordable, great for general paddling.
2. Multisport: lightweight and minimal, these PFDs are perfect for your next race.
3. Whitewater: split into two categories, rescue, and non-rescue which have different features based on the user's skill set.
4. Sea Kayaking: larger pockets for snacks and water, perfect for a day on the ocean.
5. Kids: there are specific kids' PFDs so that everyone can enjoy watersports safely.

If you enjoyed this blog, here's another one that we think you will like: Jo's tips for multisport paddling: a first timers guide. 

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