Look for a Snug Fit
Try on several life jackets for fit and also freedom of movement. You should be able to freely swing your arms and move about while at the same time noticing that the fit is snug enough to offer security. Avoid jackets that are too loose or lack straps to allow for further tightening. These can easily come off over your head during a kayaking accident.
One snug-fitting life jacket that works well for kayaking is the extreme paddle sports vest by Stearns. It comes only in red and is sold at Kodiak Outback for about $65. It is available in sizes small through XXL.
Avoid Multitasking Life Jackets
Purchase a life jacket that is specifically made for kayaking. The best life jackets for this sport feature a V-shaped neck opening, large holes for the arms to provide the freedom to paddle, and extremely narrow shoulder straps to make arm and shoulder movements unencumbered and minimize chafing. A regular boating life jacket is too bulky and will make paddling a hard task. There are gender-specific models on the market--purchase these if available because the best life jackets for kayaking should be made to fit your specific body type.
Check out the Astral Aquavest 300 life jacket that retails for about $200 from Trails. It comes in red or yellow and is sized either extra small/medium or large/extra large. Its pullover design makes it easy to wear, and the low profile allows for ample arm movement.
Opt for Pockets
Narrow down your selection by the number of pockets the jacket offers. The more pockets your jacket has, the more useful it will be on a lengthy kayaking trip. Remember not to overload your jacket with gadgets and unnecessary items, and take on your body only the absolute essentials.
Trails offers the Astral Grunion life jacket that retails for $145. Its pockets are actually molded to prevent the bulky feeling that comes from carrying essential gear on your body. Available sizes are small and medium, and the jacket comes in yellow or orange.
Remember Your Dog
Buy a life jacket for your canine companion if it accompanies you on your kayaking trips. Losing a beloved pet is a terrible way to end a vacation, and if you are afraid for your pet's life, you might actually endanger your own. Canine life jackets are sold by size and weight of the pet, and they feature several hooks that allow you to attach the pet to the boat.
Ruff Wear sells its float-coat dog life jacket for $50 through the Trails website. The color options are red and black or yellow and black, and the sizes range from XXS to XL.
A Word on Color
Consider purchasing life jackets that are easily visible from the air. The best life jackets for kayaking are those that not only keep you safe but also allow potential rescuers to locate you in brush, water or dense vegetation. This might save your life if you lose consciousness and cannot flag down help or rescuers who are looking for you.