Home Fly Fishing Fly Fishing Life Vests: Do You Need One & Which One to...

Fly Fishing Life Vests: Do You Need One & Which One to Get

full geared fly fisher in the river

Many fly fishermen will tell you it is a good idea to invest in a fly fishing life vest, but why?

Risk is involved when doing any water activity, especially with fly fishing. Safety should always be a concern.

It is always advised to buy a fly fishing PFD (personal floatation device) no matter your skill level for swimming. 

In this article, I will elaborate on why you should buy a fly fishing life jacket and when you should use it. I’ll also share my recommendations for the best fly fishing life vests of 2021. 

When Should Fishermen Wear Life Jackets? 

Man fly fishing from whitewater raft
Wearing a life vest while fly fishing from a boat is a no brainer.

It is very common for an angler to wear a life jacket. Every angler should have one regardless of your swimming skills, age, or physical fitness. 

When it comes to wearing a fly fishing life jacket, I recommend you wear one at all times. Whether fishing or on a watercraft, it will help ensure your safety. 

But let me tell you when I actually wear one myself.

There are two scenarios where I wear my fishing PFD:

  1. When on a watercraft (boat, canoe, kayak, fishing pontoon, etc.)
  2. When wading out in deep water with a strong current

There are many times when it’s impractical to me, though.

One example would be when backpacking several miles to get to a fishing location. You won’t want to carry a fishing life jacket for a long distance. 

Another situation someone might tell you that you don’t need one would be fly fishing from the banks of a lake. With no current and a sandy bottom, it’s far less dangerous than a rocky river with a swift current. 

Different Types of Fly Fishing PFDs 

The two main types of fly fishing PFDs on the market today are inflatable and classic foam life vests. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages.

Inflatable Life Vests

Inflatable fishing life vests are designed to be lightweight and not cumbersome when worn. They are worn around your neck and chest but remain deflated by default. 

Depending on the model, the PFD will either automatically inflate when it comes into contact with water, or you can manually activate it by pulling on a cord. Automatic inflatable life vests are typically more expensive than manually activated ones.


  • Some inflatable PFD cost less when compared to a traditional foam life vest.
  • Inflatable fly fishing life vests are lighter, more breathable, and more comfortable to wear while fly fishing.


  • Inflatable vests aren’t as reliable because the inflation mechanisms are susceptible to failure.
  • Most inflatable life vests require a CO2 cartridge to inflate. You must replace this CO2 cartridge after every inflation.

Product Recommendation: Absolute Outdoor Onyx A/M-24 Inflatable Life Vest

ABSOLUTE OUTDOOR Onyx Inflatable Life Jacket

The Onyx inflatable fishing pack is perfect for someone who doesn’t want to be covered in pockets. It does one job, and that’s keeping you afloat.

This vest has the option for automatic inflation as well as manual. And it is one of the most comfortable and breathable PFDs on the market. 

One thing to keep in mind about this jacket is that it requires a CO2 cartridge to inflate. You must purchase a new cartridge after each inflation to replace the used one. You may want to keep a couple of spares handy. 

Most will recommend an inflatable vest when on a boat since, most of the time, a watercraft has all the storage you need for a tackle. 

Foam Life Jackets

Perhaps the most common kind of life vest, foam life jackets, are widely available.

Prices can range from very inexpensive, though light in functionality, to feature-filled expensive models.


  • A foam PDF is a classic design that uses different types of styrofoam to keep you floating without effort or risk of mechanical failure.
  • Foam fishing vests are reliable.
  • They are well-suited for fly fishing with tackle pockets and unique features.


  • Foam PFDs are not as comfortable and don’t offer as much mobility as inflatables. 
  • Foam life vests are much warmer than inflatables making them less than ideal for the summer heat.

Product Recommendation: NRS Chinook OS Fishing Life Jacket

NRS Chinook OS Fishing Life Jacket

The NRS Chinook OS Fishing life jacket is said to be the best fly fishing PFD on the market.

It’s a foam life vest with many accessible pockets. This vest is perfect for guys who wade or walk up and down the bank or for those fishing from a small boat or fishing kayak.

This life vest is considered one of the more comfortable foam vests and comes with a 1 year warranty. 

What makes this the most popular foam fishing life jacket is the number of pockets, six! It has enough storage so that you won’t need a regular fishing vest or tackle box. 

One thing to keep in mind about this jacket, however, is it is not very breathable. So it may not be the best if you live in a hotter region. 

If you struggle in the heat, I recommend you look at the inflatable option I listed above. 

This vest is very durable and reliable, but it does come at a more spendy price. Though you can never put a price on safety!

Which Fly Fishing Life Vest to Get & What to Look For? 

When searching for a fly fishing life vest, there are a couple of factors you should keep in mind, such as: 

  • Mobility and comfort 
  • Tackle pockets

The first thing people will tell you to look for is the life jacket that allows you to move the best. But you should also consider comfort. 

If you are looking for the most breathable, comfortable mobile jacket and spend most of your time on a watercraft, then you should look into an inflatable jacket.

I also recommend looking at a fishing life vest with ample tackle pockets, though some may disagree.

The benefit to getting a life vest with pockets is you can wear just your life vest. You won’t need a regular fly fishing vest or a tackle bag.

If you are someone who is constantly moving up and down the bank, struggling to carry your tackle, then a foam life jacket may be good for you.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.