Choosing a PFD (Lifejacket) for Multisport Kayaking

Here is how to choose a kayaking PFD (lifejacket) for multi-sport paddling and competing in Coast to Coast race. 

Why Is Choosing the Right PFD (Lifejacket) So Important?

Once you have your own kayak and paddle, then you probably can’t wait to get out on the water and start training. But in order to do that safely, you will need  a PFD (personal floatation device).

When comes time to hit the river, your PFD will become your most important piece of safety gear. If you come out of your kayak in a rapid, it is essential that your PFD is the correct type, fits you well, and is in good enough condition to do it’s job: keep your head above the water!

If you make a poor choice in PFD (like one with no hydration pouch) then you are going to be dying of thirst during the Coast to Coast race and your performance will suffer.

If you buy the wrong type of PFD completely, then it may not even be race compliant. This means all your hard work and training will come to nothing because you will not be allowed on the river at Coast to Coast.

Just to let you know, the 3 models of PFDs I recommend in this article are all ones we sell. That means if you choose to buy from us, you’ll be supporting our kayak school. Don’t worry; I'm always honest, open, and try to be impartial with my suggestions – I only recommend the good stuff.

When Should You Wear a Kayaking PFD?

As a beginner you should be wearing your PFD every time you are in your kayak!

You may see some experienced paddlers choosing not to wear their PFDs when training in Christchurch city, where you are only 10 metres from the bank if you fall out. But paddling without a PFD on really isn’t that cool.

If you are training for the Coast to Coast race, I suggest you get used to padding in your PFD as much as possible. You are going to race wearing it, and smart athletes train how they intend to race.

Whenever you are paddling on a flowing river, ocean, or deep lake, then you should be wearing your PFD 100% of the time. Regardless of how good you are at swimming.

How Are Kayaking PFDs Different to Regular “Lifejackets”?

As a river kayaker, you will need a river-specific kayaking PFD.

River-specific kayaking PFDs are designed for swimming in rapids and whitewater. They are low profile, fit snug around your ribs, and allow you to actively swim to safety while wearing it.

General purpose lifejackets and designed for general purpose boating and water activities in lakes and oceans. General purpose PFDs are bulky, have additional padding to support your head, and are designed so you can lay on your back and float for hours while waiting for rescue. General purpose PFDs are NOT suitable for river kayaking.

How do You Ensure Your PFD Meets the Coast to Coast Race Rules?

Prior to you getting on the river at Coast to Coast, your kayaking equipment will be checked by officials.

If your PFD does not meet the Coast to Coast's specific safety requirements, you will not be allowed to race. It is as simple as that!

I suggest checking the Coast to Coast website to double check your model of PFD meets the current rules and has the correct standard (rating). Some surf-ski specific PFDs do not meet these standards, so beware!

In addition to meeting the correct standard, your PFD will be visually inspected by race officials for:

  • A webbing (not string or elastic) bottom cinch strap - as found on most modern river PFDs.

  • No damage to straps, fabric, or buoyancy foam.

  • No significant sun/mould damage.

How Should a Kayaking PFD Fit?

Your multisport kayaking PFD should fit snug around your waist, with the bottom cinch strap tightened just under your ribcage.

If your shoulder straps are too tight, you may not be able to get your PFD into the correct position on your torso. So start with all the straps loose, and begin tightening from the bottom. Work your way up, and finish by taking the slack out of your shoulder straps - don’t over tighten your should straps!

Not all PFDs fit the same. It can be worth trying on a few different styles in different sizes to find a PFD that fits you best. This is particularly important if you are not a model athlete with a slim waist.

To check your PFD is fitting you correctly, have a friend pull up on your shoulder straps while you are wearing it. Your friend should not be able to pull your PFD off you, and should feel like the PFD has a good grip on your torso. If the PFD slides up your torso easily, adjust the fit, or try a different model.

Front-Zip Kayaking PFDs

Front-zip PFDs are the easiest to get in and out of. They fit all body shapes and are a great option.

The down-side of having a zip in the centre of the PFD is that this zip takes up valuable space which could otherwise accomodate a drink bottle pocket and hydration tube holster.

Side-Entry Kayaking PFDs

Side-entry PFDs are the fastest to get on and off during a multisport race transition.

Because there is no zipper on the front, there is space for an additional drink bottle pocket, and foam block for holding your hydration tubes.

Some people don’t like side-entry PFDs because they can be difficult to get a good fit. You need to adjust each side independently, and this can lead to the PFD fitting off-centre on your torso.

Having a friend help you adjust the straps is usually needed - unless you don’t mind taking it on and off 10 times in order to adjust on your own. But once you have it dialled in right, you shouldn’t need to touch it again.

Over-The-Head Kayaking PFDs

Over-the-head style PFDs can be a little tougher to wriggle into (particularly if you have very large shoulders, or breasts) but are very comfy once they are on.

They have no buckles. You start with it loose every time, slip into it, tighten up the sides, and you are good to go.

They have no zipper on the front, so there is ample room for a drink bottle pocket, and a hydration tube holster.

Because over-the-head PFDs are a little awkward to wriggle into, they can be less likely to come off during a swim down a rapid - or so the theory goes.

What Features You Want in a Good Multisport Kayaking PFD?

Regardless what model of PFD you choose, you want to ensure it has a couple of things:

  • A large pouch in the back for holding a 2 L hydration bladder

  • Additional pockets for holding a survival bag and snacks.

Best Kayaking PFDs (Lifejackets) For the Coast to Coast Race

These are the 3 best PFDs for kayaking in the Coast to Coast race: 

Rasdex Multisporter PFD

  • Entry Style: Side-entry

  • Size Options: One size fits most

  • Rear Hydration Pouch: Yes

  • Front Hydration Hose Holster: Yes (foam block)

  • Front Drink Bottle Pouch: Yes

  • Accessory Pockets: 2

  • Coast to Coast Race Compliant: Yes

The Rasdex Multisporter PFD is a popular option among serious multisport athletes. Once you have adjusted the straps to the correct length, this side-entry PFD is extremely fast to get on and off during race transitions.

It is fully featured with everything you need to race like a pro. So if you are after the raciest race PFD out, the Rasdex Multisporter is it.

Day Two Adventure Racer PFD

  1. Entry Style: Over-the-head

  2. Size Options: One size fits most

  3. Rear Hydration Pouch: Yes

  4. Front Hydration Hose Holster: Yes (foam block)

  5. Front Drink Bottle Pouch: Yes

  6. Accessory Pockets: 2

  7. Coast to Coast Race Compliant: Yes

The Day Two Adventure Racer PFD is a great choice for paddlers who prefer the over-the-head style of kayaking PFD.

Once you’ve wriggled your shoulders in, this PFD hugs your torso firmly and evenly. It’s so comfortable you will probably forget you are wearing it.

Palm Hydro PFD

  1. Entry Style: Front-zip

  2. Size Options: 3 sizes (XS/S, M/L, XL/XXL)

  3. Rear Hydration Pouch: Yes

  4. Front Hydration Hose Holster: Yes (plastic clip)

  5. Front Drink Bottle Pouch: No

  6. Accessory Pockets: 2

  7. Coast to Coast Race Compliant: Yes

The Palm Hydro PFD accommodates all body shapes better than any other PFD on the market. So if you are struggling to find a PFD that fits you properly, the Hydro will probably do the trick.

This PFD has all the essential features you will need for multisport racing, including a rear hydration pouch. So if you are looking for the best possible fit and a very safe feeling PFD, this is a fantastic choice.

This Article Is Step 4 of My First Timer’s Guide to Kayaking in the Coast to Coast

  1. Book Your Grade 2 Course

  2. Buy a Kayak

  3. Buy a Paddle

  4. Buy a PFD (lifejacket)

  5. Set up Your Equipment

  6. Learn the Basics

  7. Join a Kayak Club

  8. Learn the Forward Stroke Technique

  9. Develop Your Boat Handling Skills

  10. Spend Time on the River

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.