Life Jacket Buying Guide

Buying Guide, Life Jackets -

Life Jacket Buying Guide

Are you in the market for a new Life Jacket this year?

Let us explain the differences between Neoprene and Nylon Life Jackets so that you have a better understanding of why spending a few extra dollars goes along way!

First, let us explain the difference between a PFD, a Life Jacket and a Vest.

PFD - Personal Floatation Device:

The big give away is they do not have the flappy head cushion on the back. Often times they have floatation all the way round them. They may have less floatation in them which would give you less buoyancy if you fell in the water. A PFD’s job is to stop your body from sinking, not to lift your face out of the water.

Life Jacket:

A Life Jacket has the flappy head cushion and typically no floatation in the back other than the head cushion. It is designed this way in order to flip you on your back if you fell in the water unconscious thus getting your head out of the water.


Some Neoprene Life Jackets are actually Vests, because they are designed primarily for watersports. They can also be approved by Transport Canada / USCG but typically offer more flexibility, don’t have a head cushion and don’t have the same amount of buoyancy as the equivalent Life Jacket or PFD.

Youth Life Jackets:

One thing to note when looking at Youth Life Jackets is the crotch straps. If you have ever jumped into a lake in a Life Jacket without crotch straps, you’ll understand what happens. For young children we can attest that crotch straps are a necessity not an option. Going back to the jumping in concept, when you are supported by a Life Jacket it obviously floats as far up as it can as you sink down as far as you can. This puts the Life Jacket up round your ears and your nose about 2″ from the surface of the water. With a crotch strap you can raise your nose out of the water by tightening the crotch strap. A few inches makes a big difference. With a kid, the crotch strap could be the difference between keeping them in the Life Jacket or sliding out, especially upon re-entry to a boat if you are lifting the child out of the water.


In Summary, when purchasing a new Life Jacket here is what you need to know: 

Nylon Life Jackets:

Nylon Life Jackets no matter how many straps and buckles they have will slide up the body until they are stopped when the bottom of the arm hole contacts the users under arm. Because the vest is not tight to the body it is not as comfortable. How many times have you seen a person floating in the water with 2-3 inches of Life Jacket sticking out over their shoulders? Nylon Life Jackets also tend to wear out much quicker than neoprene life jackets. That being said, Nylon Life Jackets are an inexpensive, and a great jacket to have around for those extra cottage guests who happen to drop by!  


  • Relatively inexpensive to buy


  • They tend to make you feel a bit like the Michelin man
  • They can chafe around the neck and belly
  • Wear out much faster than Neoprene


Neoprene Life Jackets:

At first glance neoprene Life Jackets seem different to the nylon ones we’re used too. Pick one up, it bends, and the fabric feels soft. They were invented for watersports like wake boarding and water skiing. If you can, try on an adult one and compare it with a nylon one. Chances are, when you put the neoprene one on you will find yourself thinking “Wow this is comfy!”


  • They are Waaaaaaaay more comfortable
  • They fit snugger
  • Lighter


  • They cost more than Nylon Life Jackets

At Phiinom we recommend and offer a wide selection of Neoprene Life Jackets. Neoprene Life Jackets should be purchased so that they are tight when zipped up. Many people think that a Life Jacket should fit like a sweat shirt and be loose until strapped and buckled. That is only true if you do not intend to use that life jacket in the water!
Neoprene Life Jackets will relax 10-15% from the time that they are new as they break in. They are just like shoes in that they are the least comfortable when they are new. The general rule is that if you can get a neoprene Life Jacket zipped when it is new, it fits. Neoprene Life Jackets will become more comfortable as they are used a few times. Do not buy too big.

Click here to shop for Life Jackets

Phiinom Adventure Sports

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