Stiffness might be a feeling you’ve long associated with wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) — like you’re walking around with a cardboard box around your torso. And that often results in people who are boating or doing other water activities deciding to skip wearing one rather than be uncomfortable.
But today’s PFDs are all about contouring to your body, allowing more flexibility, and nearly seeming like a second skin, making suiting up and ensuring safety a more positive experience. Here are a few of the interesting options in the PFD market.Antimicrobial Infant PFD
What makes this PFD interesting is that it has an antimicrobial-treated fabric that resists mold and will keep smelling fresh. It also has a large head pad.
- Ideal for children under 30 pounds
- The design allows for more mobility and flexibility
Hey, safety is important for the four-legged ones as well! The underDOG allows a dog’s head to be higher above the water than some other types of vests.
- There are four adjustment points and an adjustable mesh bridge between the collar and body
- The vest has reflective trim accents and a leash attachment point
The NRS Ninja is meant to provide oodles of movement, especially for kayakers and boaters. It utilizes a stretchy inside fabric that allows for breathability and flex.
- There’s a lash tab to hold a rescue knife
- Comfort comes via four size adjustments and two shoulder adjustments
“Crazy buoyancy” is how the Extrasport Universal HiFloat PFD is described by its maker. What’s cool is that there are two cargo pockets and also reflective tape.
- GlideFit uses two different thicknesses of foam that “glide” on top of each other, keeping the bulk down
- It fits chest sizes from 30 to 56 inches
The Liquid Force Melody Comp Vest has Flex-Span Neoprene, a fabric that absorbs less water and dries fast. It zips tight and has higher arm openings.
- There’s a protective layer of lightweight impact flotation foam
- Minimal taper and maximum stretch plus Stretch-Light lining panels are all about the movement
The NRS Youth Vista PFD is worth checking out if you have a 50-90-pound child. The front zipper makes putting it on and taking it off a quicker process, which every parent can probably appreciate.
- It has a 420D nylon outer shell that resists snagging and tearing
- Two pockets are included with hook-and-loop closures
Think of it as wetsuit meets a PFD, although the Float Coat is absolutely certified as a PFD. It is available in long- and short-sleeve varieties and has a neoprene collar, cuffs, and waistband.
- There’s a stowaway hood and reflective tape on the shoulders
- Hook-and-loop tabs and two belts with easy-snap closures are incorporated.
What we dug about this PFD was its flowery design, making it a bit more “fun” and unique to wear, when it might otherwise be a struggle to put a child in it.
- There are adjustable chest and leg straps for a little more safety
- Quick-release front buckles act as the closure.
The Trekker has a Wrapture-shaped torso; the back has half flotation and half cool mesh. There’s a front zipper with a grip tab, and there are adjustable shoulders. Front pockets are also integrated, as is reflective tape.
- There’s a cross-chest cinch harness for no ride-up and open sides for ventilation
- There are zippered pockets
This offering is parka meets certified PFD; you don’t have to put a PFD on over a heavy jacket. It has a storm-flapped zipper front and Suisse Aire flotation foam, which is super soft.
- There’s a fleece-lined collar with a rollaway hood, plus fleece-lined handwarmer pockets
- There are two large front pockets that snap closed
The Rockstar Vapor Pullover from Body Glove has a special panel for flex in any direction, and the uber low-profile vest has a boardshort connector.
- The interior lining is Aqua Stretch, for a plush feel
- There are mesh drain panels
High Flotation PFD
If major water movement is your thing (say, rafting), this is the PFD to consider, since it has been designed with extra buoyancy and strength.
- There are reflective panels and four D-rings to attach crotch straps
- Multiple pockets exist, including with Fleece.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.