The Best SUP PFD Belt Packs Of 2020 Helpful Guide


best sup pfd belt pack

Stand Up Paddleboarding is one of the fastest growing water sports and for good reason. It is really fun and great exercise. Stand Up Paddleboards are extremely versatile and can be used for paddling across the water or for floating around doing yoga. When you are out on the water you never know what might happen. It is a good idea (And sometimes legally required) to wear or have a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) with you. Inflatable PFD Belts make a great solution for a calm hot day.

If that sounds like a good idea then here are some of the best SUP PFD Belt Packs available now and buying guide.

Top Pick

Onyx M-16 Belt Pack Manual Inflatable Life Jacket

Editors Choice

Absolute Outdoor Onyx M-24 Sup Belt Pack

Best Value

Revere Comfortmax Inflatable Belt Pack

The top 5 best SUP PFD Belt Packs

We examined several of the most popular stand up paddleboard PFD.  Here are our reviews of the 5 best options available now.  We considered ease of use, price, options, functionality, and customer reviews in our selections of the best paddleboard PFDs. We looked at both traditional and inflatable PFDs.

Our Top Pick

Onyx M-16 Belt Pack Manual Inflatable Life Jacket


Summary

The Onyx M-16 Belt Pack is a USCG Approved Type 5 inflatable belt pack PFD. It is ultra low profile, about the size of a fanny pack when not inflated. To use you pull the inflation cord and then pull the neck loop over your head. This is PFD is ideal for paddleboarding where you won’t get suddenly knocked into the water. You also won’t likely be out paddling in rough water very far from shore. This PFD weighs less than 1 lb and has 26.5 lbs of buoyancy when inflated. This makes it our top pick for an inflatable PFD for paddleboarding.

PFD Specifications

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type V (For ages 16 and up over 80 lbs)
  • Single Buckle
  • Materials: 200 denier nylon oxford protective cover
  • Weight: 1 lbs
  • 1 size up to 52inch waist
What We Liked
U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type V with Type III performance
Adjustable up to 52inch waist
Lightweight (Less than 1 lb)
D-Ring attachment for accessories
26.5 lbs buoyancy when inflated

Editor’s Choice

Absolute Outdoor Onyx M-24 Sup Belt Pack


Summary

The Absolute Outdoor Onyx M-24 Insight Belt Pack is a US Coast Guard Approved Type V PFD. This PFD features a separate zippered pouch that can hold up to a 24 ounce bottle of water. It has heavy duty nylon construction and wide webbing waist so it comfortable to wear all day on the water. It has a D-Ring for attaching other accessories or bottles you might want to bring along. This makes it my top pick for best SUP PFD belt pack.

PFD Specifications

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type V
  • Foam flotation
  • 3 buckle
  • Materials : 200 denier nylon oxford protective cover
  • Weight: 1.5 lbs
  • 1 size up to 52inch waist
What We Liked
U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III
Can hold up to a 24oz water bottle in hydration pouch
1 buckle waist attachment
D-Ring attachment for accessories
Lightweight

Best Value

Revere Comfortmax Inflatable Belt Pack


Summary

The Revere Comfortmax Inflatable Belt Pack is a US Coast Guard Approved Type III belt pack PFD. The belt is made of heavy duty nylon material with 2 inch webbing and buckles for comfort. It has a D-ring attachment for accessories. The inflated life vest has 35 lbs of buoyancy and has a whistle attached to it as well. All these features and it’s lower price make it our best value pick for best SUP PFD belt.

PFD Specifications

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III
  • Single Buckle
  • Materials : heavy duty 420 Denier nylon fabric
  • Weight: 0.75 lbs lbs
  • 1 size 30-52inch waist
What We Liked
U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III
2 inch webbing and buckle for comfort
Heavy duty 420 Denier nylon fabric
35 lbs of bouyancy
Attached safety whistle
D-Ring attachment on bag

Stearns 16 Gram Manual Belt Pack


Summary

The Stearns 16 Gram Manual Belt Pack is a USCG approved Type V PFD with Type III performance. It has a slim body conforming shape without any extra bulkiness. There is a D-Ring for attaching accessories or a water bottle while you’re out on the water. Its single buckle waistband is adjustable from a 30 to 52inch waist. It is available in several color options to match your outfit or SUP board.

PFD Specifications

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type V with Type III Performance
  • Single Buckle
  • Materials : Nylon
  • Weight: 1.2 lbs
  • 1 size 30-52inch waist
What We Liked
U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type V with Type III Performance
Low profile body conforming design
1 buckle attachment adjustable from 30-52 inches
D-Ring for attaching accessories
Available in 3 colors

Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket


Summary

The Eyson Inflatable Life Jacket is a belt type manual inflatable PFD. It is not US Coast Guard Approved. It is ISO 12402 certified. The inflated vest has 33.7 lbs of buoyancy. It has reflective patches and an attached signal whistle. It is one size fits all for adults up to 350 lbs. The belt pack is made of heavy duty nylon fabric. It is one of the lower costs inflatable SUP Belt PFDs on the market.

PFD Specifications

  • U.S. Coast Guard Approved – This is not USCG approved. It is ISO 12402 certified.
  • Single buckle
  • Materials : Heavy duty nylon fabric
  • 1 size fits all for adults up to 350 lbs
What We Liked
Belt Pack style PFD
This is not USCG approved. It is ISO 12402 certified.
Reflective patches on the air cushion
Attached safety whistle
33.7 lbs buoyancy

woman on SUP board

How To Choose The Best SUP Belt PFD – Buying Guide

Nothing ruins a day on the water worse than someone drowning. I have experienced this one time at a sailing event and hope that none of you reading this ever have to. This topic on life jackets is near and dear to me because of this. Always be careful when heading out on the water because unpredictable things can and will happen.

The United States Coard Guard has officially classified Standup Paddleboards as vessels. This means that anyone 13 and over, using one, is required to have a Type I, II, III, or V PFD with them. If you are under 12 you must wear it. To read more about USCG requirements click here. There are many styles of PFDs including inflatable and ones using foam flotation. What is best to use for stand up paddleboarding? You will find the answers to all these questions below.

In general Inflatable Belt PFD’s are usually USCG Type V or Type III. When they inflate they can be a vest you put on or a cushion you hang onto.

US Coast Guard Approval Classifications

The US Coast Guard has 5 types of PFDs. The below video has a some good information on the different types and benefits of each.

Type I

Type I PFD’s are designed to turn you upright in the water if you are floating unconscience. These are traditional U-Shaped big bulky orange PFD’s you see in the abondon ship supplies on commercial boats.

TYPE I PFDS / OFF-SHORE LIFE JACKETS:  Best for all waters, open ocean, rough seas, or remote water, where rescue may be slow coming.  Abandon-ship lifejacket for commercial vessels and all vessels carrying passengers for hire:

https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFDSel/

Type I –  has the greatest required inherent buoyancy and turns most unconscious persons in the water from a face down position to a vertical and slightly backward position, therefore, greatly increasing one’s chance of survival.

https://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php

Type II

Type II PFD’s are slightly less bulky than Type I PFD’s. They are still designed to turn an unconscious person upright in the water. This type of PFD is not very common.

TYPE II PFDS / NEAR-SHORE BUOYANT VESTS:  For general boating activities.  Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.

https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFDSel/

Type II – intended to turn some unconscious persons from a face down position in the water to a position where the wearer’s respiration is not impeded.

https://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php

Type III

Type III PFDs are the traditional life vest that everyone thinks off. These are designed for use on inland waters or where you will be rescued quickly. They are not designed to turn an unconscious person upright in the water. You will float face down with one of these on. They are meant for most water sports including kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing, waterskiing, wakeboading, sailing, etc…

These PFD vests can be tailored toward different water sports. PFDs meant for paddling or small boat sailing will have big shoulder cutouts for easy arm motion. PFDs meant for wakeboarding, waterskiing and tubing will be tight fitting with 3 or 4 buckles and maybe a zipper too because they are meant to stay on when you hit the water at speeds fast enough to ski or board.

TYPE III PFDS / FLOTATION AIDS:  For general boating or the specialized activity that is marked on the device such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and others.  Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.  Designed so that wearing it will complement your boating activities:

https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFDSel/

Type III – intended to support a conscious person in the water in an upright position.  This type of device is not required to turn an unconscious person in the water from a face-down position to a position where the wearer’s respiration is not impeded.

https://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php

Type IV

Type IV PFD’s are throwable flotation devices that aren’t designed to be worn. They must have at least 16.5 lbs of flotation. This is your traditional square flotation cushion or ring or horseshow floaty.

Type V

Type V PFD’s are speciality PFD’s that don’t quite fit the other categories. Inflatable PFD’s are classified as Type V’s and frequently labeled as meeting the flotation performance of a Type I, II or III PFD. They also include some paddling PFDs that may not have enough flotation to meet Type III guidelines. Type V PFD’s can include the following:

  • Hybrid Inflatable PFDs
  • Canoe/Kayak Vest
  • Boardsailing Vests
  • Deck Suits
  • Work Vests for Commercial Vessels
  • Commercial Whitewater Vests
  • Man-Overboard Rescue Devices
  • Law Enforcement Flotation Devices

TYPE V PFDS / SPECIAL USE DEVICES:  Only for special uses or conditions.  

See label for limits of use:

https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFDSel/

Type V – is approved for restricted uses or activities such as boardsailing, or commercial white water rafting.  These devices may not be suitable for other boating activities.  The label indicates whether a particular design of Type V can be used in specific application, what restrictions or limitations apply, and its performance type.

https://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php

Inflatable PFDs

Inflatable PFDs are a great invention but one has to use them with caution. They require maintenance. The C02 cartridge use to inflate them is only rated for a certain length of time. It needs to be replaced periodically. The vest should be inflated to check for air leaks at the same time.

The Coast Guard approves inflatable PFD’s only for people age 16 and older. For more information on age restrictions click here.

Inflatable PFDs are meant for people who know how to swim. They automatic inflating vests inflate quickly but not instantly. Manual inflating PFDs require you to inflate them usually by pulling a cord after you are in the water. They will lose air pressure over time and may need to be topped off. Most have an inflation tube you can use with your mouth to add more air. If the air cushion gets a hole or torn then you will lose all flotation and have to swim. Inflatable PFDs are not meant for people who don’t know how to swim.

Please see the below video for a demonstration on how an inflatable PFD inflates.

Inflatable PFDs and Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP)

For situations like stand up paddleboarding (SUP) where you have a leash attaching you to the paddleboard and you are not going fast and not going out on rough water, a manual inflating vest makes sense. If you jump or fall off your paddleboard your not likely to hit the water or the paddleboard hard so you’ll be able to pull the cord to inflate it if you actually need it. You should only be using an inflatable vest if you know how to swim.

If your paddleboarding on a more windy day or somewhere with larger waves then I highly recommend not using an inflatable PFD and using a non inflatable Type I,II,III or V instead.

If you are out on calm water and you are a good swimmer and it’s a hot day then a manual inflatable PFD can be a really good option to stay cool and let you jump off the board and swim around as well.

Manual vs Automatic Inflation

Automatic inflating vests should only be used for things where you don’t plan on falling in the water or walking in the water or wading in the water. They shouldn’t be used in situations where an inflating vest can get you trapped in something in the water.

Automatic inflating PFDs should never be worn for certain activities such as small boat sailing where it can trap you in the rigging during inflation. I was at a regatta on Lake Erie where tragedy struck when someone capsized their boat and the automatic inflating PFD inflated in rigging trapping them under the boat. Nothing ruins a fun day on the water faster than someone drowning.

Automatic inflatable PFDs should not be used when your doing an activity where it is common to jump or fall in the water or to wade out in the water like standup paddleboarding (SUP). Once you’ve inflated the PFD, it’s inflated for the rest of the day or until you repack it and put in a new CO2 cartridge. If you are going out for a few hours and fall in at the start you are now stuck with an inflated PFD the size of a Type I or you’ve got to stop and repack it if you happen to have a spare CO2 cartridge with you.

If you’re getting off the SUP Board and it’s a little deeper then you thought. Oops, it’s inflated and time for a re-arm kit. You forget and walk in the water to help your friend. Oops, it’s inflated. You lose your balance and fall in the water. Oops, time for a re-arm kit.

The below video shows how automatic inflating PFDs inflate and how long it takes to surface.

For a manual inflating PFD you have to be able to inflate it after you are in the water. That usually means pulling a cord to activate it. That means you must be able to swim to use this type of vest since you have to have enough control of yourself in the water to pull the cord after falling in.

Suspenders vs Belt

Inflatable PFDs come in 2 main variety. One is called a suspenders type which is basically a U-Shaped air cushion worn around your neck and over your shoulders with a waist strap. These are essentially a Type I or Type II style PFD with an inflatable cushion. They are always Type V but will be marketed as having Type I, II or III characteristics. They are comfortable to wear because they are only a small strip going around your upper body.

The second main type of inflatable PFD is the belt PFD. This looks like a fanny pack. You inflate it the cushion in front of you and then have to manually pull the neck strap over your head. You have to be able to swim to use this because it takes some effort to put it on after inflating. These are really good for paddling on a hot day on really calm water.

The below video demonstates how a belt PFD inflates and is put on in the water.

Types of Type III PFDs

Type III PFDs are the most common PFDs out there and what you normally think of when you say PFD or life jactet or life vest. There is a huge variety of them available and they are designed for different purposes. They all have a minimum of 15.5 pounds of flotation.

General Purpose

This is the generic type 3 that is okay for everything but not great for any purpose. It usually has the minimum flotation required and it uses 2 or 3 buckles. It is made with nylon material.

Paddling and Small Boat Sailing

The next version of Type III PFD is the type designed for paddling (SUP and Kayak) and small boat sailing. Although they sound different both these 2 activities have very similar needs. These PFD’s are designed with large arm openings so you can freely move your arms to paddle or adjust lines. They are low profile and cut high around your stomach so you can easily sit or bend over while wearing it.

They usually use a combination of a zipper and a buckle to hold them on. They are almost always made of nylon material over foam but can have neoprene padding on the straps.

PWC/Wakeboard/waterskiing/tubing

This category of PFD is designed to be very tight fitting and to not come off if you fall in the water while going fast. They usually have 4 buckles. Sometimes 3 for smaller sizes. They can be made of nylon but higher performance versions will all be made of Neoprene for a tighter fit and also to provide some padding for you when you hit the water. They are usually not low profile meaning they are made to be worn in a standing position or slight bend in the waist. As they are designed to not come off easily they do not have large arm holes as paddling PFDs have.

PFD Materials

Almost all PFDs are made with with ripstop nylon or neoprene or some combination of the 2.

Nylon

Nylon is used as the outer fabric over the foam cushions because it is quick drying and durable. For paddle boarding quick drying is desirable since you don’t want to feel like your paddling around wearing a sponge full of water. Most PFDs designed for paddling are use nylon except for straps where you want a little cushion for comfort.

Neoprene

Neoprene or spandex is a spongy material that stretches and conforms to your body shape. It is the same material that wetsuits are made from. It is used as the main material for PWC/waterskiiing/wakeboarding PFDs where fit is really important and you may want some padding against hitting the water. For paddling it is not terrific since it sponges up water and you’ll feel like your wearing a wet sponge while your paddling around. Wetsuits work by trapping water next to your body and not drying out so a neoprene PFD will function the same way.

woman paddling SUP board at sunrise

SUP PFD Belt Pack FAQ

Q: What is a PFD?

A PFD is a Personal Flotation Device otherwise know as a life jacket or life vest or flotation aid or a bunch of other names. It is something you wear that has flotation that will keep you floating if you fall in the water.

Q: What is the best SUP PFD Belt?

The best SUP PFD Belt pack will be the one you feel the most comfortable wearing. The best PFD is the one your wearing when you fall in the water. The worst PFD is one that is sitting far away on the dock or beach when you fall in the water because you didn’t feel like wearing it. Look for one that fits you well with the features you want.

Q: Do I really need to wear a PFD?

This entirely depends on the situation and your personal comfort level. I tend to personally wear one almost all the time on the water. I’ve experienced being at an event where someone drowned and it’s not a good feeling. Tragedy can strike and it is never expected. The US Coast Guard considers paddleboards as a vessel so you are required to have at least have a PFD with you on the standup paddleboard. To read more about USCG rules click here.

Q: What type of PFD is best for me?

The best PFD for you is one that fits you well and works well for the activity that you’ll be doing. For stand up paddleboarding one that doesn’t get in the way of your arms while paddling.

Q: What are inflatable PFDs?

Inflatable PFDs use a CO2 cartridge to inflate an air cushion for flotation. They can be either manually or automatically inflated when you get in the water.

Q: How do inflatable PFDs work?

Manual PFDs work by having a pull cord or some other method to release the CO2 gas into the air cushion. Automatically inflating PFDs typically have a seal on the CO2 cartidge that melts releasing the CO2 into the air cushion. Most inflatable PFDs have a mouth tube for manually blowing air into the air cushion if they start losing pressure.

Q: What is special about paddling PFDs?

PFDs meant for paddling sports such as Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP), kayaking and canoeing have large arm openings to not restrict your arm motion while paddling. They have a lower profile shape in your torso area to not restrict your body motion while in a seated position.

Q: How long will a PFD work?

A type III PFD using foam flotation has a maximum life of 10 years. After that it should be replaced. For more information click here.

For an inflatable PFD that CO2 cartridge should be replaced at least every 5 years.

Q: How much do PFDs cost?

You can get an inexpensive general purpose USCG approved type 3 life jacket for about $25. An offshore rated automatic inflating PFD with a safety harness can easily cost over $200. Most PFDs meant for stand up paddleboarding run from $50 to $100.

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small selfie pic

About the author

My name is Doug Ryan. I am an adventure sports fan and an avid skier, sailor, mountain biker who also enjoys paddle boarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and travel. I take any chance I can get to get out in the snow or water.  I actively run an adventure sports meetup where I get asked many questions.  I decided to start this Gear Craver as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for adventure sports their gear.

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