HOW TO FIT YOUR PFD
"CHOOSING THE RIGHT PFD"
by Steve Wagner
Finding the right PFD can seem like a daunting task. Designs have become
increasingly complex and specialized. The study of anthropometrics, ergonomics
and advanced material technology, combined with increased consumer demand
for quality and choice, have allowed and inspired PFD manufacturers to
design and develop superior products. The result is that you have more
choice than ever. The challenge is to make the best possible choice.
Choosing a good PFD extends beyond finding one that fits and floats. After
all, not all vests work for all people, and no one single vest works well
for all activities. Whats involved in choosing the best PFD is researching
the one that is RIGHT for YOU.
Whats Your Sport?
First, you need to consider how much time youll spend in the water
versus on it.
For sports that involve frequent visits to the water, such as white water
kayaking, you will want a vest with lots of adjustments to create a secure
fit that will eliminate in-water ride-up. A secure fit can also be achieved
with leg harnesses or straps high under the arms, but arm straps are uncomfortable
when paddling and leg harnesses are simply not cool.
For sports that involve less frequent visits to the water, such as canoeing
or sea kayaking, you have more options. Looser fitting vests are more
acceptable for these sports and can be more comfortable. Larger arm holes
provide minimal interference with your paddle stroke, but in the event
of going over, the looser fit may result in some in-water ride-up. Another
feature of the looser fit is venting, which keeps you (the paddler) cool
and comfortable. If youre not going to be getting wet doing Eskimo
rolls, venting of some kind is required to stay comfortable during long,
hot paddling trips.
Fitting Your Vest
Next, you need to make sure the vest fits, which requires a little bit
When you try on a pair of shoes in the store, you add a pair of socks,
lace up the shoes, stand, walk around and maybe even jump and move in
funny motions to simulate your activity or sport. Trying on a PFD is no
different. Wearing a comfortable PFD, like wearing a comfortable pair
of shoes, can make your sport more enjoyable. A well-fitting vest is barely
noticeable, and allows you to move freely and comfortably.
Start by considering chest size as written on the inside of the PFD, but
use this only as a guide. Keep in mind that different genders and body
shapes will also influence fit. Second, consider the time of year that
you will be traveling and the clothes and gear underneath your vest. Heavier
clothing, dry tops or foul-weather gear will often mean that you need
to move up at least one vest size. The better vests, with multiple adjustments,
will allow you to adjust the fit to accommodate different types of clothing.
Sure, the vest is comfortable standing in the store, but this is clearly
not how youll be wearing it while on the water. Once you have a
vest that fits you, consider how you will be positioned and how you are
going to move in your vest. Sit in a canoe or kayak. Check the out-of-water
ride-up. Does the vest fit well with your dry top? Is it still comfortable?
Practice your paddle stroke. Better yet, get out on the water and try
it out in the real environment.
If you still like the vest, consider other details that may affect fit
or convenience. Pockets are great, but consider something stuffed into
this pocket. Is it now in your way? Sometimes the best pocket is one that
is centralized in the belly area that even full is clear
of your paddle stroke. Is the pocket large enough for what you want to
The options can seem limitless. In spite of this, finding the right vest
does not need to be complicated, but you do need to consider more than
just colour, size and price. With a solid understanding of features and
benefits and the help of a good local outfitter, you can find the best
vest for you a vest that, like a good shoe, feels like it was made
just for you.
Salus Marine Wear, Inc.
Originally published in KAYAKING Magazine 2002/03