Whether you’re near a pool or an ocean, a creek or a river, a life jacket is an absolute necessity for every member of your family. Being in and around the water is lots of fun, but it can also be unpredictable and the only way to stay safe is by always wearing a life jacket. While you may know that, you may also find that the choices in life jackets can be totally overwhelming. How do you know which one will be the right fit? How do you know which one is best for the different water activities you do? How do you know which one is best for your kids? And does keeping everyone safe have to cost you a ton of money?
We reviewed dozens of life jackets to identify the best of the best and considered many different features as we did our reviews. We studied life jackets to see which would be the best for toddlers and youth, which ones were better for fishing or inflatable for scuba. We contemplated durability, fit, purchaser reviews, and much more. After taking all of that into consideration, we narrowed our list down to the five best life jackets.
In the end, the Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket was the clear winner. It stood out for a variety of reasons, including quality, size options, color options, and price.
In This Article
The 5 Top-Rated Life Jackets
|Best Life Jacket Overall||Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket||4.5|
|Best Child Life Jacket||Stearns Child Series Life Jacket||4.4|
|Best Budget Life Jacket||Lyuwpes Inflatable Life Jacket||4.5|
|Best Inflatable Life Jacket||SALVS Inflatable Life Jacket||4.7|
|Best Life Jacket for Fishing and Kayaking||Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket||4.7|
*Ratings are from Amazon at the time of publication and can change
Best Life Jacket Overall: Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket
For our top pick, it was easy to choose the Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket. There were so many reasons it stood out among the others that we reviewed. The first thing we loved was that it’s approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Because any child under the age of 13 is required by law to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on a boat, this certification is critical. It comes in a variety of colors, each designed to make a person highly visible in the water while keeping them afloat.
The open sides of this vest allow the wearer a higher level of mobility in the water and let the jacket move with you as opposed to restricting your movements. However, you can still rest assured that this jacket will keep you floating even with its less restrictive design. Simply roll over on your back in the water, and the vest will keep you from going under.
Finally, the icing on the cake is that this jacket comes in a variety of sizes and colors – and at a great price point! – so that you can outfit most of your family in a life jacket that properly fits each one of them.
Hardcore Water Sports Life Jacket Key Features:
- U.S. Coast Guard-approved
- Available in a variety of colors
- Less restrictive design to allow for easier movement in the water
Best Toddler Life Jacket: Stearns Child Series Life Jacket
The Stearns Child Series Life Jacket will help to keep your toddler safe in the water. It’s approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, so you can use it on a boat – or anywhere else. The three straps on the front guarantee a snug fit that will keep the life jacket firmly in place on your child. As extra security, this vest also has a strap that goes between your child’s legs to make sure that it doesn’t ride up while they’re floating.
The open sides on this life jacket will give your child a little better movement in the water. The durable construction will ensure that it holds up well as they play in the water and on the shore. Finally, there are the straps, which are one-inch wide and webbed for extra strength.
The Stearns Life Jacket comes in two colors so your picky toddler can choose which one they want. Whether they’re swimming, tubing, boating, or just splashing around in the shallow water, this vest is a great choice for your toddler and a great value for your money.
Stearns Child Series Life Jacket Key Features:
- Low price point
- U.S. Coast Guard-approved
- Strap in between legs for extra security
Best Budget Life Jacket: Lyuwpes Inflatable Life Jacket
When you’re in the market for an inflatable life vest, you want one that quickly inflates, quickly deflates, is easy to store, and comfortable to wear. The Lyupwes Inflatable Life Jacket checks all of those boxes and more – and it won’t break your budget.
At less than $18, this life vest is a natural choice for our best budget pick. It comes in five colors and each is bright enough to be easily visible when you’re in the water. It’s got great buoyancy and is made to be used by adults 220 pounds or less. The Lyuwpes model is easy to put on, easy to take off, and comfortable to wear while you’re spending time snorkeling or lazily floating in the water.
And when you’re done using this life jacket, it folds quickly into the small mesh bag it comes in, and fits easily in a pack with all of your gear. Travel light with this inflatable life jacket, but know that it will carry you through the water with ease.
Lyuwpes Inflatable Life Jacket Key Features:
- Fits adults under 220 pounds
- Folds up into small bag for easy transporting
- Bright colors for easy visibility
Best Fishing/Kayaking Life Jacket: Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket
The Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket fits so securely and comfortably to your body that you’ll swear it was made just for you. The ergonomic design, with four pulls and a front closure, is what gives it the edge above its competitors and gives it that superb fit. The use of mesh in parts of it helps to keep you cooler while you’re wearing it.
The life jacket has a zip entry in the front to allow you to easily put it on and take it off. It has multiple pockets where you can keep your belongings safe while you are on the water. The foam padding on the edges of the jacket gives it an extra layer of comfort that you won’t find in other life jackets designed for people who love to fish and kayak. The shoulder straps are padded and completely adjustable so that you know you’ll still be comfortable even after a long day out on the water.
Reflective accents can be found in different places on this vest, making you easily visible when you have the life jacket on and a light is shone towards you. You’re safe to fish any time as long as you’re wearing the Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket, even at night!
Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket Key Features:
- Padded straps for extra comfort
- Several pockets to store personal items or fishing gear
- Reflective accents for your safety
Best Inflatable Life Jacket: SALVS Inflatable Life Jacket
When you’re looking for a dependable inflatable jacket that will won’t cramp your style but will still keep you safe, the SALVS Inflatable Life Jacket is the perfect choice.
We told you that it had all the bells and whistles, and we weren’t kidding – it actually comes with a safety whistle that you can use in the event of an emergency. Other features of the SALVS jacket include reflective stripes, automatic inflation as soon as it hits the water (or manually when you pull the strap), and a floating duration of more than 48 hours. It’s made of a soft neoprene material that is simultaneously comfortable to wear and durable so that this life jacket will last. It will also keep you cooler in the warmer weather. This life jacket even comes packed in its own waterproof bag so you know it won’t get wet until you do!
If all of that wasn’t enough, this inflatable life jacket also comes with a 100% money-back guarantee. If you don’t love it, you can return it within 30 days for a full refund. You want to be comfortable out on the water all day, but you don’t want to compromise on your safety. If that describes you, make sure you grab the SALVS Life Jacket to take with you next time you’re on the water.
SALVS Inflatable Life Jacket Key Features:
- Made of soft, durable neoprene material
- 48-hour floating duration
- Automatic inflation when you go into the water
Who Should Buy a Life Jacket
The easiest answer to this question is everyone. Water is notoriously unpredictable so whether you’re young or old, a great swimmer or a rookie, have tons of experience on the water or it’s your first time on the boat, are in deep water or splashing on the shore, every person should wear a life jacket.
Drowning is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, and ten people die by unintentional drowning every day. The numbers are even scarier for young children. For kids aged 1-4, drowning is the leading cause of death. It can happen in the blink of an eye in just a couple of inches of water. With those statistics, you can see how safety is paramount when you’re around water. Protect every member of your family by purchasing a life jacket for each person that fits their body and is appropriate for their age. Then insist that they wear a life jacket whenever they’re near water of any depth. Finally, be a good role model for your kids and other small children and keep your own life jacket on at all times too.
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Important Features to Consider
A life jacket should have a few important features. Here’s what to consider when selecting a life jacket:
- Size of person. If a life jacket doesn’t fit you properly, you might as well not wear it. The jacket should be snug so that it fits your body securely with minimal movement. Most jackets have a suggested weight range or limit, so adhere to that when purchasing a life jacket.
- Age of person. Life jackets are designed differently for people of different age groups. You want to make sure that you’re following the guidelines for the age of the person for whom you’re purchasing the life jacket. That way you’ll know it was designed specifically for the general uses of that age group.
- What you’re doing in the water. What you do in the water can help determine the best jacket for you. Are you actively swimming? Buy one that has a more streamlined design for swimmers. Are you tubing so you may get tossed around a little bit? Buy one with a strap that goes between your legs for an extra secure fit. Are you fishing? Buy one that can accommodate all of your gear. Are you on a boat and the only way you’re going in the water is if you accidentally fall in? Consider an inflatable life jacket that would be more comfortable to wear all day but would still help keep you afloat in the water if you needed it.
- U.S. Coast Guard Approved. All children under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket that has been approved by U.S. Coast Guard. Current regulations do not require adults to wear jackets that have been formally approved by the Coast Guard, although it is recommended.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a life jacket do?
Simply put, a life jacket can keep you from drowning. Whether you’ve just gotten tired out from a lot of swimming or you accidentally fell in the water, a life jacket helps to keep your head above water until you can make your way to safety or someone can assist you.
What is the difference between a life jacket and a PFD?
A PFD stands for a personal flotation device. The difference between the two is that a life jacket is designed to keep you floating above the water at all times. It’s not meant for lots of active swimming or water play. It’s really a safety device for children and those who don’t know how to swim. On the other hand, a PFD will keep you buoyant (floating in the water), but is not designed to keep your head or body afloat. It’s extra protection while you’re swimming or engaging in water sports.
Can you swim with a life jacket?
Yes, fundamentally you can. However, you’ll quickly notice that a true life jacket (as opposed to a PFD) is not designed to allow for much mobility and you might notice that it’s hard to do swimming strokes properly. Because the main purpose of the life jacket is to keep you above the water, it’s not built to let you speed quickly through it, put your face under while swimming, etc. As we mentioned in the second FAQ, if you’re a more advanced swimmer and you’re going in the water specifically to swim, a PFD would be your better choice. It offers protection while also giving you room to move.
What type of life jacket is required?
As we mentioned, if you are in a recreational vessel and younger than age 13, you must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on at all times unless you are below deck or are in an enclosed cabin. There is no national requirement for people age 13 and older when it comes to wearing a life jacket, but you should check your state’s regulations before you go boating as it might have one that you must follow. Beyond these guidelines, there are no specific rules you are required to follow for different activities or bodies of water.
Other Life Jackets We Reviewed
We looked at 20 other life jackets. Even though they didn’t make our 5 best life jackets list, they’re the best of the rest and each is still a great option for you and your family members. The information you’ll need to compare each one is included with the listing.
Life Jackets for Fishing
The bright red color makes this one a standout among fishing life jackets. It also has several big pockets so you have room to store all of your gear. This vest is very secure with thick shoulder straps, a snap across your chest, and one for between your legs. All work together to make sure the vest stays firmly in place on your body while you fish.
- Strap that goes between legs to secure vest to body
- Multiple pockets
- Waterproof material
This life jacket zips up the front for a secure fit. It has a piece of reflective material sewn across the shoulders in the back to make sure that you’re safe and visible during those early morning visits to the lake. It’s got a lot of pockets to keep your gear and fits the average adult weighing less than 240 pounds.
- Camo color
- Reflective strap in back
- Zip up front
With two large pockets in the front and one in the back, you’ll be thrilled with all the space you have for storage while you’re fishing or kayaking. You can try this vest for 15 days and return it if it doesn’t meet your needs.
- Multiple large pockets for storage
- Secure snap at top of front zipper
- Worry-free return policy within 15 days of purchase
This life vest is designed for people who love to fish during the day or the night. It comes in red or black, and both colors come with three different reflective stripes so you’ll be visible in the dark. It also comes with an emergency whistle and is made with high-quality foam to keep you floating in the water if you get in too deep.
- Several reflective stripes
- Large pockets for storage
- Lightweight, high-quality foam to keep you afloat
One of the best things about this vest is the crazy number of pockets and storage areas it has. While other fishing life jackets only have two or three, this one has 11 zippered pockets! It’s also made in part with breathable mesh to make those long days in the sun more bearable. With all the functionality, it’s also a great life jacket, designed for adults that weigh under 209 pounds.
- Eleven zippered pockets
- Lots of different colors to choose from
- Breathable mesh for comfort
If you want a fishing life jacket with all of the bells and whistles, stop your search. This is it. The NRS Chinook comes with seven zippered pockets, a flotation device conveniently located on the vest’s upper back, a breathable mesh lower back, and many other fun fishing tooks, like a coil retractor where you can clip your tools.
- Seven zippered pockets and a secure zip-up front
- Coil retractor
- Has attachment loops and a D-ring holder for your net
Inflatable Life Jackets
This life jacket is designed to be lightweight and easy to wear, yet quickly aids you in case you end up in the water. It will inflate if you pull the tab or on its own immediately as it hits the water.
- Made of comfortable and durable neoprene
- Fastens securely around your waist
- Inflates two ways
This life jacket is the best of all worlds. It’s comfortable, it’s lightweight, it’ll keep adults up to 330 pounds afloat, it’s got two ways to inflate it (manually or by pulling a tab), and it adjusts in size to fit both youth and adults. Is there anything else you need in a life jacket?
- Many extra features, like a handle for rescuers to pull you onto a boat
- Fits adults under 330 pounds
- Comes in five different colors
This is the only inflatable vest we featured that has a zipper front. That gives you a secure feeling the life vest inflates to keep you floating. The breathable mesh back keeps you comfortable while you’re on land, and the leg straps will keep the vest firmly on your body instead of riding up on your neck when you’re in the water.
- Leg straps
- Comes in five colors
- Secure zipper front
Fifteen seconds is all it takes to inflate this life vest. This one is specially designed for snorkelers who want to stay floating on the water’s surface while study the sea beneath them. It comes in four colors and is fully adjustable with straps that go around your waist and between your legs.
- Adjustable straps
- Quickly inflates
- Great price-point for item made of a high-quality fabric
Toddler Life Jackets
Don’t let the bright colors and fun pattern fool you. This life jacket is a serious vest, one that’s approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. The front has a zipper and two straps so you know it’s secure, and the strap that goes between a child’s legs ensures that the vest won’t ride up. It’s also made of kwik-dry material so it will dry quickly in between swims.
- Toddle size fits small children between 30-50 pounds (also comes in infant and youth sizes)
- U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation device
- Adjustable strap between the legs to keep vest in place
Your toddler will love this life jacket because of its bright colors and fun fish design. You’ll love it because it’s designed to keep your child safe. From the built-in grab handle at the top to the securely fastened front, and the dual crotch strap at the bottom, every feature was manufactured with the utmost safety of your child in mind.
- Grab handle at the top of the vest
- Quality material for buoyancy
- Fits kids from 31-95 pounds, depending on the size you choose
The most important thing to know about this particular life vest is that it has passed the highest Coast Guard standards and tests. In addition to that, it’s a secure fit with three straps in the front, one for between the legs, and it’s made from lightweight, breathable material that will keep your child comfortable in and out of the water.
- U.S. Coast Guard approved
- Designed for kids 30-50 pounds
- Great combination of comfort and security
This Coast Guard-approved life jacket is ready to keep your child afloat during all different kinds of water activities, from swimming to boating to tubing. Its zipper front comes up higher on the chest than others on our list, giving this vest a snug fit. It also has a sleek design so it doesn’t feel as bulky to wear.
- Comfortable fit with secure front zipper and two straps
- Coast Guard-approved
- Sleek design for less bulky feel
This life jacket was designed with kids who weigh anywhere from 18 to 77 pounds in mind, and parents will love the safety features. There’s a handle at the top to easily grab your child and pull them from the water, and the crotch strap was designed to be extra wide for added security.
- Can fit kids 18-77 pounds depending on the size you buy
- Made of several layers of stretchy material for ultimate comfort
- 100% satisfaction guaranteed or the company will replace or refund your money
Youth Life Jackets
This uniquely colored vest fits youth from 50-90 pounds. It’s made with mobility in mind, and all of the flotation panels inside the life jacket are constructed vertically so that your youth is comfortable and able to easily move around in the water.
- Made from soft nylon material
- U.S. Coast Guard approved
- Quick-release buckles with adjustable straps
This life jacket is made in the USA and is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. The graphics are designed to be attractive for youth but the U.S. Coast Guard approval will be attractive to parents. The three straps give extra security and the vest is made for kids who weigh between 50 to 90 pounds.
- U.S. Coast Guard approved
- Lightweight and durable with bright colors
- Made in the United States
This life jacket features three straps like others on our list, but the O’Neill SuperLite has the bottom two straps a little closer together, allowing for a snugger fit around the mid-section. It also features a safety handle in the neck area of the vest, mesh for quicker drying once you’re out of the water, and a streamlined design so it’s less bulky.
- Use of mesh for fast drying
- Minimal design for less bulk
- U.S. Coast Guard approved
What sets this life jacket apart from others is that it has antimicrobial protection, which means that it guards against the growth of mold and mildew that can often happen on life jackets that are constantly. It also has a D-ring built into the back at the top that allows you to easily hang the jacket so it can fully dry. It fits youth who weigh 50-90 pounds.
- Antimicrobial protection
- U.S. Coast Guard approved
- D-ring to easily hang on a wall
The sculpting on this life jacket is unique and makes it more functional in the water than traditional vests. The straps are also spread out a little bit more than on other jackets to keep this one in place and prevent it from riding up.
- Unique sculpting
- Ring on back so you can easily hang it on a wall to dry
- Strap design gives more secure overall fit