Kokatat Bahia Tour personal flotation device
Kokatat Bahia Tour personal flotation device (Courtesy of Kokatat)

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?

Kokatat Bahia Tour personal flotation device

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 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.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021
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Lead Photo: Courtesy of Kokatat
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