Lightweight PFD

New to this packrafting game - so help would be appreciated.

Can someone point me in the direction of where to purchase LIGHTWEIGHT PFD’S.
As we also do a lot of hiking - being lightweight is very important.
Would be very interested to hear what other ‘packrafting hikers’ use.

Also - what is more preferable, foam PFD or inflatable PFD?


Proper PFDs - go to a kayaking or boating store. Alternative options that may or may not float - MLD “thing”, or MYO, or be innovative!


Stormy Seas short vests were my choice, I got two of them.

I am also in the market for a ultra-light PFD. A quick Google search turned up poor reports on these automatically inflating vests for kayaking they blow up so much or in odd shapes that it constrains your movement and it becomes difficult to get back into the boat. Plus a friend who uses one for fishing from a motor boat complains that they go off in damp conditions like a storage compartment. Something like $20 for a new cartridge.

So I thought a bit about a manual, blow-up inflatable PDF - that would be ultra-light, but ruled it out due to the potential for puncturing it on a rock while floating thru the rapids.

Not sure what your intended use is but A life jacket is just that a “Life” jacket. If you are using it for flat-water (lake or flat river) a inflatable is just fine, but any moving water over low class II (now your back to flat-water) is ill advised in my opinion and in the opinion of most all people who have any river experience. A inflatable jacket can rupture, uncomfortable to paddle in when it is inflated so you may be tempted to just inflate it when you need it (that would be after you are in the water gasping for air), inflatable life jackets are not made to swim with, pretty much impossible to maneuver yourself in the river to avoid obstacles unless your on your back, your just a bobber floating down the river. The idea of floating on your back with your feet out in front at all times through a rapid and actually getting to shore is a misconception, sometimes it is a better idea to roll over off your back and “swim like hell” to avoid an obsticle. If it happend, and it does, getting under water to lets say swim through the strainer you just got swept into may be difficult with an inflatable jacket (too much flotation) your chances of puncturing are higher and not a place you want to loose all you flotation. Oh and one other thing in regards to inflatable life jackets and moving water (class II-II+ and beyond), people with vast boating experience will think you are a liability and not want to paddle with you not to mention what they say about you behind your back. The same thing goes with lets say wearing a “bike” helmet to boat with, this could be a entirely different post on why this is unsafe. But like I said before if you are only using it in flat water an inflatable jacket is useful and super lightweight so this is not meant to be critical of inflatable jackets, they have a place to be used and a place they are inappropriate in my opinion.
On the other side of your question finding a lightweight jacket if your using it for moving water, try looking at a pullover or side zip kayaking type III life jacket. They only have two slabs of foam and if you can find one without all the bells and whistles (excessive pockets, zippers, attachment points) that will also make the jacket lighter, but the fact is that to get 15.5-16.5lbs of flotation at sea level (industry standard for type III life jacket) is going to weigh a minimum amount with the weight of the foam and shell holding it, try to get rid of the extras you do not need (once again get rid of excessive pockets, zippers, attachment points). Astral, Kokatat, MTI, Stohlquist, all make what they call "playboating life jackets which are slim cut for paddling and have very few bells and whistles and minimal foam to actually float you but allow you to swim also, but by the way you should actually have a whistle you just don`t need a zippered pockets to put it in.
Hope this helps some.

Thanks for all your info - particularly Kirkinbend, great information. From what I’ve been reading, not just in these forums - is that foam is the better option for longevity, comfort & safety. The only disadvantage seems to be packability when hiking - regarding lightweight, not a lot of difference. Thanks again

I agree, foam ftw.

Regarding packability: I’ve given up on trying to keep my pfd and paddles stashed internally, though if you can manage it it looks a bit tidyer and makes bushwacking and some scrambling a lot easier. But they make for very awkward tetris peices indeed. Instead I have each half of my paddle under side compression straps and my pfd on the back. Or if I’m going ultralight with a 30l daypack I can roll up everything (raft, paddles, skirt, inflation bag) in my pfd and let it all hang from some compression straps I’ve stitched on the bottom. I’ll grab at it every couple hundred metres and make sure everything’s still secure, but I haven’t had any issues yet, touch wood.

You may also find it’s quite comfy to just wear your pfd. And with a windbreaker or shell over the top it can serve another purpose as “loft” or insulation. Haven’t tried this one yet, but I’m looking to doing so in my first winter with my packraft =D

I spoke with Jeff the product manager with Kokatat yesterday and asked him what they have in lightweight, low-volume PFDs for pack rafting. He pointed me in the direction of the types of PFDs discussed by Kirkinbend.

When I suggested they consider ‘a lightweight, packable hybrid’ foam/inflatable PFD aimed at the pack raft market, he said that they plan to produce one in 2015.

In the world of non inflatable PFD’s this is the lightest I have come across. Its specifically designed for surfski paddling so is cut for freedom of movement, high visibility and easy pocket access ( surfski’s are very tippy). I have this jacket and its well made and is very light (500 grams). The foam used is a bit stiffer but is also a thinner than most squishy foams used in PFD’s yet still has 16 lbs of flotation. Despite being a bit stiffer I don’t notice it when paddling as it’s cut so well. One thing that is not well conveyed in the photo is just how bright the day glow color is… You WILL be seen. I have friends with this PFD as well and I can see them on the water twice as far away as other PFD’s .

It’s not ideal as a packrafting PFD (but what is) … I like it for its lightness and cut. I wish they would make one without the pockets and neoprene pouch making it 100 grams? Lighter.

There are a lot of slolom racers/ sailing PFD out there that are very small and light but not really apropret for whitewater as the tend to only have 10-12 lbs of flotation… In whitewater 16 lbs is the accepted minimum.


Hiko makes the "Think PFD” I posted above. Checking there web site, the “Think” PFD is a custom ordered version of the “multisport” without the water pouch on the back and in a BRIGHT color. It looks like the “swift” is the stripped version of the “multisport”. If so, the large/XL has 70 kn/ 15.7 lbs of flotation and should be in the 400 gram range. That would be a nice whitewater packrafting PFD if a really light PFD was paramount. Other options here as well.


I saw these and I think they look great for flatwater trips.

Any chance I could persuade you to buy two of these and ship them to the USA? Happy to compensate you for your time.

Feel free to respond directly: mike dot curiak at gmail dot com



Just wanted to add another option for a minimalist flatwater “PFD” that packs flat and small.

I have this zippered/pocketed version that feels comfortable and doesn’t impede the paddling motion, but there’ll be excess cinch strapping if you’re thin:

A more stripped down version without pockets:

That looks like the best option yet for an inflatable low volume pfd. The German one might be better quality, who knows, but availability is sketchy. Thanks for the info, reppans.

What does it weigh? Couldn’t find that info on Amazon.

Apologies Kullaberg,

I don’t have a scale, but I would guess that it’s about 1 lbs, the stripped down version less of course.

I too like that Amfibio EU version, but can’t find it here.

looky here:

This seems like a great foam life jacket for packrafting.
It is:
Cheap: $38 dollars free shipping here:

real cheap here, but cannot find shipping price:
Being this cheap it might be lower quality and less durable though.

Lightweight: Although the weight is not listed, amazon states the shipping weight to be 1.2 pounds. the box and the packaging weighs a bit, so it could be under a pound.

Also, the Foam is focused high on the back, so it shouldn’t interfere with spray decks, which makes for a drier boat.

Although the buoyancy is not listed, it meets the type 3 pfd standards.

It does not have pockets for a knife and whistle, but onyx makes a pocketed version, which is probably a bit heavier.

Thank you very much for that topic. It is very informative and useful for me. BTW. Hello to everyone I am new here and it is my first post.

One additional factor to consider is the degree to which a vest will help/hinder re-entry, especially on very large rivers or open water. I haven’t systematically experimented with this, but my sense is that buoyancy helps because you have less distance to lift your weight, but bulk in front will be a hindrance.

The scenario where this is particularly important is if you are in high winds and capsize repeatedly. Spending less energy on re-entry means you have more energy to dedicate to getting out of the situation.

Thanks everyone for the links and thoughts - shopping for a foam vest right now.

I first picked up a cheap $20 Cabela’s jacket, was light but way too long to wear with the spray skirt.

Then I found the MTI Journey, $50 at Rei, about 1lb, short cut, good mobility. Just used it for a backpack/packraft trip, worked well. I wouldn’t trust an inflatable for whitewater.

Astral makes a type III jacket with a claimed weight of 1.06 lbs. Looks like you could trim off some pockets if you wanted to be a real weight weenie, just dont dare cut off the beer coozy.