Best Self-Inflating Life Vest: We Show You How and Where to Find It

A Personal Floating Device (PFD) can be the one thing standing between yourself and sure death at times, whether you’re rowing, kayaking, or braving the ocean waves in a big boat. According to the United States Coast Guard’s regulations, all boats used for recreational applications have to be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD devices. In this post we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the best self-inflating life vest brands and models currently available on the market, just to help narrow down your buying field of play.

What to Consider When Buying a Personal Floating Device?

Here’s what to keep in mind whenever you’re out purchasing a new personal floating device (regardless of whether you’re aiming at investing in manual of self-inflating):



The life vest’s weight and the materials used for its construction will determine its wearing comfort, and sadly, it’s something which is often overlooked by paddlers. For anytime use, lower weights are recommended for personal floating devices. Lightweight vests are ideal for sportsmen that are active canoers or kayakers, who need to keep their life jackets fitted all day while out on the water. This also means that the vest’s material (especially near the neck line) needs to be as soft and comfortable as possible for extended wearing comfort.



Generally speaking, there are two different types (or shapes) of life vests: Type V vests and Overhead vests. Type V vests are smaller in overall size when compared to the Overhead vests, and they’re more durable and comfortable. Overhead life vests are ideal for snorkeling and use inside pools, but unlike Type V vests, they are not suitable for prolonged wearing.

Automatic versus Manual

Automatic life vests (self-inflating life vests) are the preferred option as far as personal floating devices go since they will automatically inflate on behalf of the paddler whenever he is thrown overboard and into the water. If you plan on swimming with your life vest on, perhaps you should consider opting for a manually-inflatable life vest as to ensure optimal customization.


Sizing is a big issue when it comes to inflatable life jackets, and even though a lot of vests come out in “universal” sizes, it still doesn’t mean a very large paddler will comfortably wear (and be protected from drowning by) the jacket. If you’re on the larger side of the scale, make sure you’re picking and investing in the appropriately sized life vest for your needs.


All of us have limits towards what we’re willing and able to spend on gear, even when it comes to safety precautions, which is why you shouldn’t forsake your budget just to invest in the best brands out there. Before heading out to purchase a PFD, establish what your budget is and then stick to it. Believe us; there are a lot of budget-friendly options out there that won’t break the bank; you just have to get cracking and find them!

Buoyancy Weight

You want your vest to hold you up in the water in the event of an accidental roll, right? Then you need to pay attention to your PFD’s buoyancy weight, even more so if you’re on the heavier side of the scale. The more buoyancy weight your jacket boasts, the better able it will be to hold you up in the water.

Cartridge Viewing Window

Some personal floating devices rely on CO2 cartridges to self-inflate, which is why you need access to see what the cartridge’s levels are currently on.

What Are The Best Self-Inflating Life Vests?

We’ve rounded up five fabulous life vests, with the hope of showing you what they’re about and how they might add value to your paddling experiences. Check out our reviews and then decide on which one you’re keen on trying out first!

1. Onyx 3200BLU99 Adult CO2 Automatic Vest


Priced in the mid-range market segment, the Onyx CO2 Automatic Vest is a perfect self-inflating life vest capable of assisting and saving paddlers who have fallen into the water. This vest is petite, but with good reason. The design ensures that the user is kept afloat but still has a full range of motion to paddle them out of danger and back towards the boat. The Onyx comes with a T-Cord which can be used to inflate the vest manually, but whenever the vest s submerged in water, it will automatically inflate.

The Pros:

  • Very lightweight and comfortable
  • Comes with T-cord as well as automatic inflation action
  • Small enough to allow for full range of paddler motion

The Cons:

  • Might be too small for big paddlers
  • Might not be the most durable vest on the market
  • Doesn’t have an inflator inspection window


Made with a 500 denier outer shell and an exclusive membrane inflatable technology which is only offered by Mustang, the Mustang Survival Corp M.L.T. 100 Auto Activation PFD is a brilliant life vest, to say the least. With a total weight of 2.1 pounds, the Mustang 100 is ideal for all day wearing and seeing to the fact that it’s also made with comfortable materials, it can be used for prolonged periods of time without causing discomfort.

The Pros:

  • Very durable
  • Comes with inflator inspection window
  • Comes with a Mustang exclusive membrane inflatable technology

The Cons:

  • Not cheap
  • Not suitable for whitewater rafting
  • May not be used by paddlers under the age of 16 years


Coming in as our third pick for this roundup post is the Onyx A-24, an automatic personal floating device that relies on CO2 to automatically inflate the vest whenever a paddler is submerged in water. The A-24 comes in a red and black design, which is great because it allows for better visibility out on the water.

The Pros:

  • Affordable mid-range option
  • Can be set to manual inflation as well
  • A total weight of 1.8 pounds makes this vest ideal for all day wearing

The Cons:

  • Only comes available in a universal size, which might not be ideal for bigger or very tiny paddlers
  • Durability might not be as good in this vest as it is in a vest like the Mustang


We added two manually inflatable life jackets to this roundup, just to help you better understand your options, and the Onyx M-24 is one of them. This vest will not self-inflate when you’re submerged in water unless you pull the red stopper, which puts the inflation action in go gear. We like the fact that this vest comes with a D-ring attachment since it will allow you to carry small accessories on your vest.

The Pros:

  • Comes with CO2 Cartridge viewing pane
  • Comes with D-ring attachment
  • Users of up to 275 pounds can comfortably wear this PFD

The Cons:

Will not self-inflate when submerged in water


Coming in as our best pick for the limited budget, the Phantom might be cheap, but that doesn’t make it unreliable. This jacket has been designed specifically with snorkeling in mind, and as such, it has excellent buoyancy. This is not the best jacket for extreme water sports, but it is better than having no protection at all. The Phantom is an overhead style life jacket and sports waist and groin straps to secure a firm fit.

The Pros:

  • Very affordable
  • Offers great buoyancy
  • Sports waist and crotch straps for a secure fit

The Cons:

  • Not made with kayaking in mind
  • Not approved by the U.S. Coast Guard

Final Thoughts

We hope that you have enjoyed this post and that it has provided you with all the information you wanted and needed to obtain regarding self-inflating life vests. If the choice were up to us, we’d definitely invest our cash in the Mustang Survival Corp M.L.T 100 Auto Activation PFD. It’s not the cheapest on the market, but when compared to other leading brands and models, it far outweighs the competition. All you have to do now is to decide which one of these vests seem to be a perfect fit for your needs and budget, and then head out to the shops and invest in the best self-inflating life jacket!