Women Specific Lifejackets: Stories from the Front Lines
As a female paddler who has put in over 3,000 miles in a kayak so far in my 9 years of paddling, I would go ahead and consider myself someone in the know. I have practical experience when it comes to lifejackets and I want to shed some light on the issue of finding the perfect women’s lifejacket for you.
Women Specific lifejackets are really worth investing in. Now any lifejacket that is made for the sport you are doing and will hold your weight is better than not wearing one at all. That being said, wearing a lifejacket that not only does all of those things but feels comfortable is worth it’s weight in gold. Now without divulging too much for those dude’s who stumbled across this post, it is important for you to know that I’m one of those girls who needs to wear two sports bras when running. You get me? That is why I love women specific lifejackets. They are comfortable, pretty, and do the job that they need to do without ever getting in my way.
I have owned 4 life-jackets in my paddleing career so far; the Lotus Lola and three Astral Wonderjackets. I loved them all and therefore they all wore out. Too much time in the sun, can deteriorate fabric. Once the fabric on your lifejacket fades, it’s a pretty good reminder to go ahead and get a new one. Last year was the final year that Astral made the Wonderjacket, and the Lola is long since gone. This means that I am at that moment where I have to pick a new one out.
So what do I consider when I am choosing a life-jacket?
- Re-entry: If you ever have to do a wet exit from your kayak, for any reason, be it because of rough water or because you needed to pee, it’s critical that you don’t have a bunch of bulk on the front of your life jacket. What I look for is for the life-jacket to be either streamlined on the front OR for the pockets and flotation to fit below my chest. That then creates an even playing field for everyone and everything, so to speak. This is important because when performing a re-entry, bulky life-jackets can get caught and make things a lot more challenging.
- Shoulder Blade/Arm clearance: There is a marked difference in less expensive life-jackets and ones that are made for the more serious paddler. When you buy a life-jacket that I made for someone who is going to be spending more than 1 day a summer in the boat, it will have space for movement in it. There is really no exception in my experience. Try on the $25 model and then the $125 model. You will immediately feel the difference, and it is almost always in the shoulder area. The difference is that your whole arm has space to move. There will be no interference from the jacket and that is what I want.
- Space for “the Ladies”: self-explanatory
- Ride-up Potential: When I sit down, does the life-jacket ride up? If it does, I don’t want it. That just makes the jacket fit incorrectly. No matter how good it feels when I am trying them on, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t feel good when I am sitting down.
- Pockets: I need lots of things with me when I paddle. I like to keep the really important stuff on my person when I am paddling. That includes rescue and safety gear, as well as a granola bar, chap stick, and sunblock.
- Reflective Tape/Piping: I want to be seen on the water. Everything that I can do to make this easier, I will do. If there is no real reflective elements to the jacket, I wont get it. I like being alive.
- Color: I don’t buy black lifejackets because they are hard to see. Period. As much as I would like to look cool out there like a kayaking ninja, I know that it is truly hard to see kayakers from other boats. I saw a video once about white water rescue and there was a clip of a submerged kayaker with a foot entrapment. He was wearing a black life-jacket and he was barely visible. That will not be me.
A few options that I am considering are the Kokatat MsFit Tour, the Astral Bella, and the Astral Seawolf. The Kokatat is a classic for the seakayaking nerd. It holds all your goodies and has been tested and approved by all the best. The Bella is low profile and really looks like it will check all the boxes of what I am looking for. The Seawolf, although a Uni-Sex model, (aghast!), it really does provide ampleroom where we women need it most. I do have one other option… grab up one of those last Wonderjackets for sale at the boathouse. So many decisions!
My life-jackets have been a long ways with me. I have endless memories and stories from the adventure that they covered my back on. They grow into being prized possessions. I still have all of mine actually. I just can’t part with them. I love the fact that they are faded and show the miles I have put into them. I hope this new one, can life up to it’s older sisters.