Gear Guy

Q:

What's the best PFD for a canoe trip?

I'm planning a late spring or early summer canoe trip in southern Ontario and I need a new personal flotation device. The trip involves several portages per day, and the trip will take a week, so my new PFD needs to be light and comfortable. What should I get?

What's the best PFD for a canoe trip?
Kokatat Bahia Tour personal flotation device (Courtesy of Kokatat)
A:

You'll want a PFD that's light, comfortable, and easy to take off, since you'll probably won't want to wear it on longer portages.

MTI Reflex PFD
MTI Reflex PFD


I'd suggest looking for a PFD that’s trimly cut, like the MTI Reflex ($75). The Reflex is slim, designed for paddling, and has fully adjustable shoulder straps, two zippered cargo pockets, and a tough nylon shell. It’s not fancy, but it's highly effective.

Another company to check out is Kokatat, which makes cleanly designed PFDs like the Bahia Tour ($100). Kokatata gave the Bahia a big zippered chest pocket, an easy-to-grab main zipper, and generous mesh for ventilation, a bonus if you paddle mostly in hot weather. I'm also a fan of its easily adjustable straps, which help dial in the right fit. Best of all, the Bahia's back is shaped to accommodate seats, making it a great choice if you kayak, too.

I'm planning a late spring or early summer canoe trip in southern Ontario and I need a new personal flotation device. The trip involves several portages per day and will last a week, so my new PFD needs to be light and comfortable. What should I get?

Astral Designs Abba PFD
Astral Designs Abba PFD (Courtesy of Astral Designs)

Women may want to check out the Astral Designs Abba ($130). It’s cut for a woman’s body, with stretchy side panels and fully adjustable straps. It also has fleece-lined hand warmer pockets, a very nice touch, and big front pockets with a key loop. The flotation material is kapok, a soft, natural fiber that floats well.

I'm planning a late spring or early summer canoe trip in southern Ontario and I need a new personal flotation device. The trip involves several portages per day and will last a week, so my new PFD needs to be light and comfortable. What should I get?

Mustang Survival Deluxe Inflatable PFD
Mustang Survival Deluxe Inflatable PFD (Courtesy of Mustang Survival)

You might also consider an inflatable PFD. The advantage here is a lack of bulk—they fit much more like fishing vests than a traditional PFDs. Some models are “automatic," meaning they’ll inflate when exposed to water. Of course, for multiple-portage trips when you're in and out of the water voluntarily, that may not be a good thing. In that case, a model with a ripcord-like inflation initiator would work nicely. A good example is Mustang Survival's Deluxe Inflatable PFD ($210), which feels more like a rolled-up towel across your shoulders than a life jacket. True, you need to be confident that you'll be in a position to pull the cord when you need to, but when canoeing, chances are you’ll be okay.

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