Any preferences on PFD'S

Ed Blakeslee

Curious about Wooden Canoes
We are new canoers and need to get ourselves PFDs. Since there is a wealth of information here. Are there any types or styles that are preferred. We will be casual canoers and will only be purchasing once. Wishing everyone happy holidays. Thanks Ed :)

A word to the wise .
Make sure to try sitting down with the pfd on as many will be pushed upward and be very uncomfortable , especially if you are short in the waist . My 4'11 " wife [ " little one " ] has to use the inflateable type .
Ed my wife and I have been canoeing together since the early 60's and now have a pair of Stohlquist PFD's which are great. They're pretty $$ as life jackets go but are great as they not only have a zip up pocket but mesh pockets as well. Good places to keep your keys etc. They're high up on your back so you can sit without any problem. I found over the years I couldn't go all day with a PFD on but with these I haven't had that problem.

You can find plenty of PFD's out there but you really need to try some on to see just how they feel when you're sitting. Don't go for one of the rafting type jackets with the flap in the back as you'll be hit in the head every time the wind comes up. You'll want to make sure you have plenty of arm movement.

Most of the really good PFD's I've come across will cost you somewhere around a $100 or more but you can also find several that probably would work for you at much less. Myself I'll pay the extra and go with what we now have.
Ed I should have also mentioned that if the other vest is for your wife that the better PFD's make vests especially for women that contour to their upper body. I suppose if you're a woman that might be something you'd find more comfortable.
I’ve been paddling a lot for 12 years or so. Early on, I got cheap pfds and they were pretty uncomfortable. About 8 years ago, someone—maybe it was here at the forum, or an Assembly—said many professional guides use Seda pfds. I got some from Piragis (Boundary Waters Catalogue) and have been 100% happy with them ever since. My daughters wear them when they paddle with me and have no complaints about fit. They’re constructed of a large number of vertical pockets filled with floatation, have a strong zipper, waist ties, and two large Velcro flapped pockets. I never know I’m wearing one when I’m paddling, except maybe when it’s kind of hot.

A word to the wise. Start with the best you can get: it’s cheaper in the long run.

May seem like a silly point, but colour is important. Like most trippers, am always looking for a "better pfd" - have worked through several over the last few years and am getting closer. But, I have always been appalled by the "unnatural" bright colours that so many seem to sport. Have always managed to get dark blue or green ones -- until it finally dawned on me one day well off from shore in a stiff wind, that if I did go over, didn't stay with the boat and managed to stay adrift for some time, at some point someone might come looking for me -- nice and easy to find in a pfd the same colour as the water eh? So, part of the ongoing quest now includes an easily spotable colour - a compromise. I read somewhere a recommendation that when on rivers in the high north one should always always wear a pfd -- "it makes it easier to spot the bodies from the air".

Best wishes for the season,

Good advice!
We've been using the Seda for years and I've yet to find a lighter, more comfortable PFD.

If you have any trouble finding a PFD that doesn't ride up when sitting down you may want to look at the PFD's designed for kayaking, which are usually shorter in the torso.

I agree with getting the best you can up front but would add that you may want to go with a bright colour. We have a rule now that says if you take off your PFD during a break it goes into the canoe, no matter what, and not on the ground. We've lost a few drab colour PFD's over the years when they were taken off and left on the ground, which, if they were a bright colour, may not have happened.

It also makes them easier to spot when loading up at the end of the day if for some reason they had been set off to the side...........

"Morley, you beat me to the colour issue, only for a different reason, by just a few minutes."


Didn't beat you, just had the advantage of being a time zone or two closer to the sunrise! Given that -- you win!


Also to consider - if you have a "hops-enhanced mid-section (beer belly) some of the longer PFD's will ride up around your ears, especially if sitting.

Regarding colors, the main advantage to bright is so some bozo in a crotch rocket can see you!
Sospenders inflatables are light-weight and do not restrict movement. They are available in subdued colors or camouflage, but after inflation, they are bright yellow. They can be self-inflating, or inflate with a pull-tab. Not for white water use, but seem to be fine for quiet water.
One thing to mention about the inflatables. When thay are inflated, you have a good old keyhole pfd. Not the most comfortable thing to paddle with if you are to be stuck with it for any length of time. However, it is the type I use most of the time. For comfort, I use a lotus design kayak jacket. Not cheap, but they stand head and shoulders above the rest.