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How to Select Your Next Life Vest

Whether you are looking for your first life preserver, picking up a reserve personal flotation device (PFD), or shopping for a family member, there are a lot of options to choose from. Here are some pros and cons of the basic styles.


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A traditional PFD is the best, and likely the most economical way to stay afloat. (Stearns/)

The traditional all-round life jacket is appropriate for everything from paddling to water skiing. It features a foam core in both front and back, open sides, and an adjustable 3-buckle closure to size the jacket to your torso. Although these are the bulkiest type of PFD, they are simple, highly buoyant, and affordable. Most importantly, a traditional PFD is comfortable enough that you won't mind wearing it except, perhaps, in the hottest weather.


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Mesh around the shoulders or backside of a PFD make it easier to wear in hot weather without sacrificing safety. (Onyx/)

For a lighter option, check out the more truncated models favored by kayakers, warm-weather boaters and anglers, or anyone for whom comfort and mobility are a premium. Shortie PFDs often feature a mesh panel for breathability, as well as zippered cargo pockets and attachment points for carabiners, knives, safety whistles, or multi-tools.


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Most self-inflating PFDs become buoyant the moment they hit the water. (Onyx/)

For the ultimate in comfort, an inflatable PFD offers the lowest profile. You won't even know you are wearing one until you need it. They serve boating and wading anglers equally well, especially anyone wade-fishing near a big shore break. This type of PFD is intended for emergency deployment only (as opposed to bobbing in the lake nursing a cold one). The replacement CO2 cartridges are a bit expensive, but since inflatable PFDs are normally used only in a life-saving situation, cartridge cost is not really an issue.


© OutdoorLife

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