Beginner Surf Gear

The Ultimate Inflatable Life Vest Buyers Guide

If you partake in watersports that offer an element of danger, you will need an inflatable life vest. These items are essential for your safety, and they need to be chosen wisely. Inflatable life jackets come in a variety of different forms, so how do you choose the right one? 

There are important considerations when finding the best inflatable life vest. It all really comes down to what you will be doing while wearing the life vest, and it depends on your size and weight.

Follow our complete buyers guide below to help you find the right inflatable life vest for your needs. Getting the right product is a must for your safety in the water.

inflatable life vests

What is an Inflatable Life Vest?

Unlike regular life jackets that are big and constantly buoyant, inflatable life vests only become buoyant when triggered. These jackets are flat and thin when worn. They have a cord attached to them that inflates an air bladder with CO2 when pulled. 

The point of this is to only offer inflation when required. Inflatable life vests are worn by big wave surfers who don’t want to wear a chunky life jacket at all times, or by boaters, sailers or kayakers on rough waters.

Inflatable life jackets are completely unobtrusive when worn, and they allow you to inflate them for a flotation device instantly when you need them. This gives you the advantage of staying flexible and able to easily swim until you need the life vest to kick into action.

What to Look Out for When Buying an Inflatable Life Jacket

You can’t compromise your safety with an inferior life jacket. When choosing the best inflatable life vest, you need to make sure that it is the right product to match your needs. Here are some important considerations to make before choosing the right product.


The life vest will be useless if it can’t fit you. Most life vests designed for adults are fully adjustable, and come in a one size fits all design. This is not always the case though, with some jackets being restricted to certain sizes. Always check to see that the jacket will fit your chest and that its straps are fully adjustable.

The jacket should also be adjustable for better comfort and fixing. Most inflatable life vests have straps around the waist and leg areas. These straps need to be comfortable to wear while the jacket is deflated, and they should hold the jacket firmly in place when inflated. 


The first thing to make note of is how buoyant the life jacket is, and whether it matches your size and weight. This is the most important consideration because if your jacket is not buoyant enough, it will not end up keeping you safe in the water.

Most adults inflatable life jackets are designed to carry a heavy load and will be buoyant enough to float everyone. However, you must still make sure that the life vest can support you when inflated.

life jackets

The Jacket Design

Inflatable life vests come in various designs. The most simple is a U-shaped inflation tube that fits around the neck. This is held in place by adjustable straps. Others offer a full torso jacket. The design of the vest will influence its performance and comfort.

If you plan on using the vest under very harsh, dangerous conditions, then make sure that you have a strong enough jacket design fit for the purpose. You should also make sure that the jacket is properly safety-certified for your use.

Comfort and Flexibility

The main advantage of using an inflatable vest is that they offer complete comfort and flexibility when deflated. This can differ between products due to their size, design, and materials. Make sure that your vest offers enough room for movement and comfort for your intended use.


The best life vests should be made from a thick, strong material for long-lasting durability. This is particularly important for anyone wearing the vest in harsh conditions, such as big wave surfing or white water rafting.

The stronger the vest the better, because you dont want it to suddenly deflate if it hits a rock or gets roughed up a bit while you wear it. 

Additional Safety Features

The life vest should keep you safe through its flotation capabilities. However, some products have additional features to improve your level of safety. This can include things like reflective stripes, neon coloring, safety whistles, and so on. The more safety features the better. 

ocean waves

The Best Inflatable Life Vest: Our Top Picks

We’ve combed the market for the best performing inflatable life vests. Below you’ll find our top 7 based on the criteria of quality, design, and functionality.

WildHorn Inflatable Snorkel Vest

  • A stylish and comfortable life vest
  • Made from the best premium-quality materials
  • Available in 4 different sizes for the perfect fit
  • Perfectly stable and balanced

Many inflatable life vests are a bit uncomfortable or unstylish to wear. Not this one! WildHorn has developed a premium inflatable snorkel vest to perfectly fit all water users. These vests come in four different sizes which makes it easier to find a vest ideally matched to your body.

The full torso design is more stable and balanced to wear, and it is also easier to take on and off thanks to a single entry point. 

When activated, these jackets will inflate in seconds. They also deflate quickly after use. The quality material is comfortable to wear and will last for a very long time.

These jackets are ideal for snorkelling or swimming where you need to be able to dive under the water and be flexible. The jackets offer ultimate balance and comfort levels for all kinds of activities.

wildhorn inflatable snorkel vest

Naxer Inflatable Buoyancy Jacket

  • Provides a large amount of buoyancy for adults
  • Fast inflation and easy deflation
  • Adjustable leg and waist straps for better fixing
  • Breathable mesh back for added comfort

The Naxer inflatable life vest is a high-performance design that offers adults a large amount of buoyancy in the water. This life inflatable life jacket fixes firmly on the body with its two adjustable strap areas.

This also allows you to customize the fit for each individual. The jacket has a mesh back to allow water to escape for more comfortable wearing. 

These jackets are seriously lightweight and portable. The jackets fold up into a tiny convenient size when not in use, and can be worn with total flexibility and comfort.

When the cord is pulled, these jackets offer instant inflation. You can also choose between full or partial inflation for different uses. 

naxer buoyancy jacket

Mustang Survival Jacket

  • A USCG approved personal flotation device
  • Strong 500 denier cordura outer shell
  • Includes reflective tape and a safety whistle
  • Provides 28lbs/125 N of buoyancy when inflated

If you are after a more serious inflatable life vest for extreme conditions, then this would be a good option. This vest is made from extremely durable material, and it offers a superior level of inflation once activated. The life vest uses exclusive membrane inflatable technology in the inflation cell for enhanced performance.

This also reduces the weight of the product and offers a more flexible fit. This jacket will fit all sizes, and straps on tightly with its fully adjustable straps. The jacket includes reflective tape and a whistle for added safety. 

mustang survival jacket

Airhead Slimline Advanced Inflatable PFD

  • Provides 26lbs of buoyancy
  • 300D polyester cover with reflective pipping
  • Neoprene gusseted collar with back mesh
  • Includes a D-ring attachment for small accessories

This is one of the slimmest, lightweight inflatable life vests available. The design is perfectly suited for paddle sports as it offers complete flexibility and no restrictions. The vest fits chest sizes of 30” – 56” and offers a solid 26lbs of buoyancy. 

The durable design of this life jacket is made from 300D polyester. This includes reflective pipping for more visibility. The vest also has a neoprene gusseted collar with back mesh load chassis.

This all adds to its comfort when in use. The jacket is incredibly efficient when inflated. For added convenience, there is an external zippered pocket for storage, as well as a small D-ring for attaching any accessories.

airhead slimline inflatable life jacket

Scuba Snorkel Vest

  • A simple inflatable vest to fit adults from 100lbs to 200lbs
  • High visibility safety color
  • Includes an easy oral inflator
  • Lightweight and compact to fold up and pack

This inflatable life vest by Scuba Choice may be a super simple product, but it offers a really convenient solution for anyone wanting to get rid of their bulky, uncomfortable foam life jacket.

These jackets fold up into a tiny, compact size and are really light to wear. This makes them an ideal choice for bringing along on your next snorkeling holiday. 

The vests will fit just about all adults, and their straps can be easily adjusted. The strap is also removable and can keep the vest from riding up when it is inflated. These vets come in bright neon colors which is ideal for snorkeling and swimming to attract the attention of boats.

They are flexible, comfortable, and inflate very easily. This is not the most heavy-duty inflatable life jacket, but it works perfectly for less-intense water activities. 

scuba choice inflatable vest

Surf Gear Lab Inflatable Life Vest

  • A one size fits all inflatable life vest
  • Flexible, light, and compact
  • Horse collar neck design
  • Adjustable body straps to perfectly fit everyone

Surf Gear Lab has developed a convenient inflatable life vest for anyone spending time around the ocean or water. This versatile lifevest will fit all sizes.

The horse collar neck is really easy to take on and off, and the adjustable straps can be perfectly fitted to everyone. Before it is inflated, this life jacket is flexible, lightweight, and compact. 

The life vest rapidly inflates and deflates when needed. There is a mouthpiece attached that allows you to make air adjustments while wearing the jacket. This product comes in a range of bright colors, fits all body types, and offers great value for money. 

SafeMax Inflatable Life Vest

  • Inflates in 3 to 5 seconds
  • Includes 3M reflectors for high visibility in the dark
  • Includes a whistle and adjustable mouthpiece
  • Lightweight, durable, and comfortable

This inflatable life vest by SafeMax is a pleasure to wear while deflated, and it will provide you with total safety when inflated. The life vest is lightweight, compact, and slim to wear.

It has fully adjustable straps that will easily fit all body types. Once the inflation cord is pulled, the vest blows up in a maximum of five seconds.

This vest offers excellent visibility in the dark with its CE Certified and SOLAS-approved 3M reflectors. There is a whistle attached to the jacket for an additional safety measure, as well as a mouthpiece for manual adjustments.

This jacket is made from high-quality materials, and will over the perfect balance between being discreet while still providing maximum safety.

Where Can You Buy an Inflatable Life Vest

Inflatable life vests should be available at most watersports shops. You might struggle to find the exact product that you want though, and you will probably be faced with plenty of non-inflating life jackets in these stores.

We recommend buying your inflatable life vest online, as you get a much greater product selection available and can choose the perfect vest for your requirements. 


Inflatable life vests offer a more practical and convenient alternative to traditional life jackets. They are easier and more comfortable to wear, compact enough to travel with, and still provide the highest levels of safety. 

Choosing the right life vest for your needs is important because different products offer very different experiences. Follow our product guide above to make sure that you are kitted out with the best inflatable life jackets available. 

inflatable life vest


When Should You Wear an Inflatable Life Vest?

Inflatable life vests can be worn in any scenario that requires movement or swimming that regular life jackets would restrict. This includes things like surfing, boating, kayaking, snorkeling, and fishing to name a few.

It is recommended that children do not wear inflatable life jackets, as they will still be submerged underwater for a while before the vest inflates.

How Long do Inflatable Life Vests Last?

This depends on the product, but generally, the life span is four years. Each life jacket should have the number of functional years listed on the product.

Are Inflatable Life Vests USCG Approved?

USCG-approved personal flotation devices include both regular life jackets and inflatable ones. Just make sure that the specific product you buy matches these requirements if you are after a USCG certification. 

What is a PFD?

PFD stands for Personal Flotation Device. This covers all types of life vests. 

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