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Choosing The Best Life Jackets For Kids & Toddlers (2022)

Whether you’re taking the family kayaking, SUPing, canoeing, or just swimming, water safety is of the utmost importance. Especially with kids.

Even if your children know how to swim, it’s best to have a life jacket, also known as a PFD (Personal Flotation Device), for your toddlers and children.

There are two main types of PFDs for kids and we’ll share those with you, as well as some tips on getting the right life jacket for your kids.

Keep reading for our tips and recommendations on the best PFDs for kids.

In a hurry? We recommend REI for the best kids PFDs.

Types of Life Jackets for Kids

The U.S. Coast guard recognizes five different classes, or types, of life jackets as acceptable for water safety.

But among those five types of life jackets, there are really only two types that are recommended for children and infants.

Keep in mind that Type III USCG-approved models are ideal for children, while Type II USCG-approved models are better PFDs for infants.

girl in life jacket

Type III: Flotation Aids

These are suitable for various sports activities and the most comfortable for continuous wear and freedom of movement. They are good for where there is a quick chance of rescue.

They are designed so wearers can put themselves in a face-up position, but they may have to tilt their head back to avoid being face down in water.

Type II: Near-shore Vests

Calm inland waters, where there is a likely chance of a fast rescue, is the intent of these PFDs. They will turn some unconscious wearers to the face-up position but not all of them.

Life Jacket Sizing for Kids

As you shop for a new life jacket for your kids, you’ll notice that the sizing likely isn’t what you’re used to seeing in children’s clothing.

To get the proper size PFD for a kid, you need to buy the PFD based on the child’s weight. 

Never try to buy a bigger PFD for your child to grow into. This is a safety device and it needs to fit properly right now.

PFD sizes for kids are:

  • Infant PFDs: 8 to 30 pounds
  • Child PFDs: 30 to 50 pounds
  • Youth PFDs: 50 to 90 pounds

One thing to keep in mind as you compare various life jackets for children is that the more straps you see on the PFD, then the more adjustments you can make for a proper fit.

Another thing to consider is that flotation devices for infants and small children need some additional features for safety.

Infant and small children PFDs need:

  • Padded head support to help keep the child’s head above water.
  • Grab handle to assist retrieving the child out of the water.
  • Crotch strap to help keep the PFD from riding up.

How Should A Kid’s Life Jacket Fit?

If your children are like most, then they are not going to enjoy wearing a life jacket.

In fact, babies and toddlers really seem to hate wearing these, so it’s a good idea to put them on the kids around the house before you head out to the water to get them used to the fit.

For the PFD to fit properly, it needs to be snug on your child. You don’t want it so tight that your kid can barely breath or move, but you also don’t want it so lose that it moves around.

Here’s a quick way to test and see if the life jacket is properly fitting your child – 

Pick the child up by the shoulders of the PFD and lift to see how the kid moves in the life jacket. The child’s chin and ears should not slip through the opening at the top.

Active Weekender Picks: Best Kid’s Life Jackets

If you’re not sure which brands or models are good options for your kids, we’ve selected some of our favorites below.

1. Stohlquist Escape Youth PFD (50-90 lbs)

This youth life jacket is rated for kids weighing between 50 and 90 pounds, and it’s made by one of the top PFD brands on the market.

This is an economical, entry-level PFD for kids who love the water but can’t quite fit adult sizes.

The Stohlquist Escape Youth PFD combines the comfort and safety of adult PFDs in a size for kids 50–90 lbs.

This life jacket has full adjustability at sides and shoulders for a secure, comfortable fit; waist belt has a front quick-release buckle for easy entry.

It has roomy zippered pocket keeps essentials within easy reach; and 2nd front stash pocket for quick access to chapstick or snacks.

Buy at:

2. Stohlquist Infant PFD for Toddlers/Infants (0-30 lbs)

If you’ve got a baby or a smaller child, this this life jacket from Stohlquist is a great choice to keep your little one safe in the water.

You’ll notice that this life jacket for babies has the padded head rest, crotch strap, and grab handle for the utmost safety in the water for your little one.

The Stohlquist Infant PFD offers wraparound flotation that turns a child face-up in the water.

Dual support collars cradle the head, while a front zipper and adjustable crotch strap secure the jacket. 

And, there’s a quick-release buckle over the entry zipper adds security.

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3. MTI Child Livery PFD (30-50 lbs)

If you’ve got a child that weighs between 30 lbs and 50 lbs, then this life jacket from MTI is a great choice to keep your kiddo safe in the water.

The lightweight MTI Child Livery PFD has an adjustable 3-buckle design with open sides for venting to keep you youngster secure while swimming, paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking.

The 3-buckle closure adjusts for a secure and comfortable fit for children 30-50 lbs. with some swimming ability.

This PFD is ideal for for water skiing, riding towables and jet skiing.

Buy at:

Final Word

Make sure that you get a properly fitting life jacket for each of your children before you hit the water with the family.

Use our tips above to make sure you’re getting a proper fit and size for your kiddos.

And remember, don’t try to buy a life jacket that’s too big for your kids to grow into.