Top 5 Best Life Jackets for Kids and Adults (+ One for Your Dog!)

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baby wearing life jacket

Protect your family this summer!

Learning how to swim, taking CPR classes, and wearing life jackets can greatly reduce the risk of drowning, which is the cause of about 10 deaths each day in the U.S. according to the CDC. 😢 But which life jackets are safe, effective, and worth buying?

We’re sharing five highly rated and Coast Guard-approved life jackets for kids and adults, so you can be safe, relax, and enjoy your next trip to the pool, lake, or beach this summer. ☀️


First, how do you choose the right life jacket?

woman wakeboarding in lake

The U.S. Coast Guard has developed five classifications or types of personal flotation devices (PFDs) that are intended for different water activities. These types include throwable flotation devices, inflatable models, and a couple of versions designed for offshore use.

The most common type for adults and youth is the Type III PFD, which is great for canoeing, fishing, paddle boarding, and most other water sports that require mobility as they are more comfortable for longer periods of time. However, for infants, most life jackets are a Type II design.

family white water rafting

Here are the different wearable life jacket categories:

Type I (Off Shore Life Jackets)

  • Geared for rough seas or remote waters where rescue may take a while.
  • Has the greatest required inherent buoyancy and turns most unconscious persons in the water from a face down position to a vertical and slightly backward position, therefore, greatly increasing one’s chance of survival.

Type II (Near-Shore Buoyant Vests)

  • Most common.
  • Geared for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.
  • Intended to turn some unconscious persons from a face-down position in the water to a position where the wearer’s respiration is not impeded.

Type III (Flotation Aids)

  • Most common.
  • Geared for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue; offer freedom of movement and comfort for continuous wear.
  • For general boating or the specialized activity that is marked on the device such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and others.

Type V (Special Use Devices)

  • Geared for special activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, or white water rafting.
  • These PFDs must be worn at all times and used for the activity specified on the label and may not be suitable for other boating activities.

Note that Type IV PFDs flotation devices are not wearable and are meant to be thrown to a conscious person who is in trouble and provides backup to a PFD.

baby wearing life jacket

Life jackets are also separated into four broad categories based on weight:

  • Adult – For adults 90+ lbs. (measure chest size*)
    • Teen (falls under the Adult category) – For teens between 75-125lbs (this is usually a Youth Large or Adult XXS)
  • Youth – For kids between 50-90 lbs.
  • Child – For children between 30-50 lbs.
  • Infant – For infants and toddlers between 8-30 lbs.

IMPORTANT NOTES:

For adults, the chest size—not weight—determines what size life jacket you will need. To get your chest size, measure the circumference of your chest at its broadest point. Use this number along with the PFD manufacturer’s size recommendations to find the right fit for you.

Wondering how old you need to be to wear a life jacket? Go here to see the minimum age that a child is required to wear a life jacket in your state. Note that it is still a parent’s responsibility to decide if a child should wear a life jacket, even in situations where the law does not require it.


Ready to buy? Check out these 5 top-rated life jackets:

Best Infant Life Jacket: Stohlquist Infant/Toddler Life Vest

baby wearing life jacket in pool

The Stohlquist Infant/Toddler Life Vest features added head support and has an additional foam band, which helps the child naturally float face up added head support. This PFD features a large grab handle that makes it easy to retrieve a child out of the water and nylon crotch/waist straps with side-release buckles that secure it comfortably, preventing it from riding up.

  • Category: Infant (8-30lbs)
  • Performance Type: Type II (sea level buoyancy of 7lbs 6oz)
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved: Yes

Features:

  • Dual support collars cradle the head
  • Quick-release buckle over entry zipper for added security
  • Adjustable crotch strap
  • Convenient grab handle
  • 200D Nylon outer shell
  • 200D Oxford liner

Where to Buy:


Best Child Life Jacket: TRC Recreation Super Soft Life Vest

boys wearing life jackets

The TRC Recreation Super Soft Life Vest is one of the most comfortable vests on the market and used at most major water theme parks and resorts. The right size, fit, and softness gives children the confidence they need in the water!

  • Category: Child (30-50lbs)
  • Performance Type: Type III
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved: Yes

Features:

  • Made from, durable, comfortable, and easy-to-clean nylon
  • Vinyl-coated foam for comfort and super-softness
  • Automatic slot-back adjustments and Kwik-Snap Buckles
  • Bright visible colors
  • Used at most major water theme parks and resorts
  • Made in the USA
  • Available in X-Small (21-23″), Small (23-24″), or Youth Medium (26-29″)

Where to Buy:


Best Youth Life Jacket: Hyperlite Youth Life Vest

boy wearing life vest

The Hyperlite Youth Life Vest is designed for absolute safety while being one of the most comfortable youth vests on the market. The vest utilizes Hyperlite’s Fluid Flex, True Fit, and Biolite technologies – just like the adult models. These combine to provide a breathable, flexible, and lightweight vest.

  • Category: Youth (50-90lbs)
  • Performance Type: Type III
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved: Yes

Features:

  • Stretch panels provide enhanced fit & movement
  • Lightweight & breathable BioLite fabric
  • Enlarged arm and neck holes for comfort
  • Hinged construction with segmented foam panels allow for fluid mobility
  • Concealed straps to prevent snagging
  • Segmented foam panels for added comfort

Where to Buy:


Best Teen Life Jacket: O’Neill Teen Reactor Life Vest

family wearing life jackets

The O’Neill Teen Reactor Life Vest is a great option for kids who have outgrown youth size life jackets, but not quite ready for adult sizes (however, this life jacket is also rated for adult size XXS). The lightweight fluid foam neoprene makes this vest stretchy, comfortable, and easy to wear.

  • Category: Adult/Youth (30-32″ chest size; 75-125lbs)
  • Performance Type: Type III
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved: Yes

Features:

  • Flexible Multi-density Design
  • Closed Cell PVC Marine Foam
  • Zipper Safety Tab
  • Quick-Release Dual Safety Buckles
  • Mesh for Drainage
  • Durable Exterior
  • Lightweight Fluid Foam Neoprene Shell

Where to Buy:


Best Adult Life Jacket: O’Neill Reactor Life Vest – Men or Women

man and boy in lake

The O’Neill Reactor Adult Life Vest is a great option for men and women as it provides exceptional quality, fit, and functionality for most water activities.

  • Category: Adult
  • Performance Type: Type III
  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved: Yes

Features:

  • #10 YKK zipper with safety tab
  • Anatomical flex points
  • Concealed quick-release dual safety belt system
  • Expansion panels
  • Overlock stitched: super-strong seam
  • Filter tech outer envelope
  • 100% polyester lining
  • Closed cell PVC marine foam
  • Strategic armhole size

Where to Buy:


Wondering which life jacket to get for your dog?

Many dogs are good swimmers, but others may tire or panic when they get away from the shore. While dog life jackets are not USCG certified, they can still be a lifesaver and help your pet to enjoy the water. To get the right life jacket for your dog, be sure to look for the following features:

  • Easy-release buckles
  • Snug fit so your dog cannot twist, step, or swim out of it
  • Low-profile style that will have less potential of catching a snag
  • Handle for lifting your pooch out of the water if needed

dog wearing life jacket

Best Life Jacket for Dogs: Outward Hound Dog Life Jacket

The Outward Hound Dog Life Vest is easy to use and comfortable for your furry friend to wear! It has a neoprene belly band that provides a secure fit that stays in place, while the grab handles offer a way to pull your dog out of the water.

Features:

  • Five sizes available
  • Top grab handles for easy rescue and restraint
  • Front neck float to keep the dog’s head above water
  • Reflective accents and bright colors for high visibility
  • Adjustable straps
  • Neoprene belly band for comfortable & secure fit

Where to Buy:

woman and girl tubing in lake

Here are a few simple life jacket shopping tips from the U.S. Coast Guard:

  • Read the label on your life jacket to ensure it’s made for people your weight and size.
  • Try on your life jacket to see if it fits comfortably snug. Then test it in shallow water to see how it handles.
  • To check the buoyancy of your life jacket in the water, relax your body and let your head tilt back. Make sure it keeps your chin above water and you can breathe easily.
  • Be aware that your life jacket may not act the same in swift or rough water as in calm water. The clothes you wear and the items in your pockets may also change the way it works.
  • If your mouth is not well above the water, get a new life jacket or one with more buoyancy.
  • To work best, life jackets must be worn with all straps, zippers, and ties fastened. Tuck in any loose strap ends to avoid getting hung up.
  • Don’t alter your life jacket. If yours doesn’t fit, get one that does.

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Join The Discussion

Comments 4

  1. AV

    We have always gotten HyperLite for our son through Costco. They have also sold the infant and toddler sizes and you can’t beat the price.

    I beg everyone, invest in a good life jacket for your children.

  2. Tonya S

    Very informative article! We go to a lake every year and safety is crucial. Thanks.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      You’re very welcome!

  3. cjg

    As important as these are… and I wholly agree they are… most important is to teach your child to swim and float. This way if they ever get into water without a floatation device they will be prepared

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