5 Best Life Vests for Non-Swimmers (in 2022)

Are you looking for a life vest with a lot of lift that for sure keeps you above the surface? In this article, we've gathered our 5 favorite life vests for non-swimmers. Happy reading!

It’s kind of funny because the wording of this post makes it sound like people who know how to swim don’t need to wear life vests. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, but one could say life vests are even more essential for those who don’t know how to swim.

Regardless, we’re not here to debate that. Instead, we want to talk about what we feel is the best life vest for non-swimmers and several others that are nearly just as well-designed.

Whether you need to pack a couple of additional life vests for the family or just really need one for yourself on all your summer adventures, the following five will work extremely well.

❤️ Model🏷️ Price🔗 Link
1. O’Neill Reactor USCG Life Vest$54 – $160Jump to section
2. ONYX General Purpose Life Jacket$18 – $56Jump to section
3. Stearns Classic Series Vest$40Jump to section
4. Onyx Kayak Life Vest$39 – $70Jump to section
5. Promate Snorkeling Life Vest$20 – $30Jump to section

1. O’Neill Reactor USCG Life Vest

Image credits: O’Neill

Trust us when we say that we’re not the only ones out there who feel this is the best life vest for non-swimmers on the market. It’s certainly not the most affordable option, but it’s an excellent design for those of you who’ll need a life vest several times a season.

It all starts with the security of this design and in addition to being USCG approved, it also sports a heavy-duty front zipper and quick-release safety buckles. The cloth itself is also very soft and comfortable against the skin.

On the topic of comfort, this isn’t exactly a minimalist life vest. Compared to other designs, in fact, this may come across as a bit bulky thanks to the expansion panels (that do enable a more comfortable fit) and the padding as a whole.

Featuring more of a relaxed fit, the Reactor Vest’s also designed of anatomical flex points and a segmented foam core. Both those features help to allow for unrestricted movement. As mentioned, however, this is a bit pricy. Hence, that’s why we say it’s really good for several uses as you know you’re getting your money’s worth out of it.

Pros

  • Very comfortable to wear
  • The cloth is soft
  • Multiple color options are available

Cons

  • Pricy
  • A little bulky
  • Heavier than others

2. ONYX General Purpose Life Jacket

Image credits: Amazon

When you look at the picture of this life jacket, you can just immediately tell that it’s a design that doesn’t attempt to be fancy or flashy. What makes this the runner-up for the best life vest for non-swimmers is its combination of function, convenience, and affordability.

Even if you don’t need a life jacket for yourself, this is offered in a wide variety of sizes including adult oversize, adult universal, youth, child, and infant. Basically, you could get one for each member of your family if you wanted to.

For the rather affordable price, the build quality here is quite impressive. The nylon oxford outer shell provides a very durable housing, so to speak, while the interior foam provides some durability in the interior. Oh, and all the vests are USCG approved, so you can rest assured you and your family will be safe with these on.

Then again, even though there are multiple sizes, the adjustable straps do allow for a custom fit. We really don’t have a lot to complain about here. It’s not flashy, it just plain works and acts like a life jacket.

Pros

  • The value is great
  • Made very well for the price
  • Comes in a multitude of sizes

Cons

  • Not the best for kayaking
  • Might be too basic for some
  • Adult versions could have more sizes

3. Stearns Classic Series Vest

Image credits: Amazon

Much like the previous option, this almost best life vest for non-swimmers isn’t going to blow you away with its amazing comfort or flash. Now, with that said, the four adjustable chest belts and large armholes allow for optimal movement and satisfying comfort overall. We’re talking about life vests, after all.

While you could surely damage this vest with enough abuse, the 200D nylon shell, PE interior foam, and webbed, one-inch straps should hold up season after season. Again, as long as it doesn’t withstand absurd abuse or anything like that.

In terms of sizing, there are many different sizes to choose from. The adult sizes aren’t as long as others on the market, and this is actually a nice thing for those of you who’ll be sitting in a kayak with a life vest. Speaking of sizing, the adjustable straps don’t tighten as much as some users will probably want.

Overall, it’s just tough to find too much to complain about with this lightweight, roomy, adequately comfortable, durable, and affordable life vest. It’s worth the money you spend on it, and that’s the most important thing we can say about it.

Pros

  • Durable design
  • Lightweight and roomy
  • Fits a wide range of sizes

Cons

  • The straps could tighten further
  • Does sit up a little high
  • Not overly comfortable

4. Onyx Kayak Life Vest

Image credits: Paddling Magazine

While it’s not to say you need a vest specifically optimized for kayaking, if the main reason you want a life vest is to go kayaking, then why not get one (such as this) that is? Indeed, this here was designed and optimized for kayakers, though it can still work for other activities.

The main reason this works so well for kayaking is due to the combination of the high foam back that will accommodate for high back seats, and also the breathable mesh on the lower back. This paddle-specific design also reduces the front foam thickness to allow for easier paddling.

In addition to that, it also is lightweight and sports a low profile. Plus, the six adjustment straps allow you to achieve a custom and snug fit. Even in spite of all of this, however, some still think the foam panels are a bit too thick and produce too much bulk.

Oh, and as a nice little bonus, this also comes designed with a front pocket to store some of your essentials. Just make sure that the essentials can potentially handle some water. Storing electronics in there, for example, is probably not a good idea. Still, it’s a nice feature to add to this possible best life vest for non-swimmers.

Pros

  • Fully adjustable design
  • Optimized for kayaking
  • The quality is great

Cons

  • Rides up a little bit
  • Can be hard to zipper shut
  • Some think the fit is bulky

5. Promate Snorkeling Life Vest

Image credits: GetWetStore

As with the last nearly best life vest for non-swimmers, this is also specifically designed for an activity. However, this life vest from Promate is optimized for snorkeling. Due to such, this vest is designed to allow you to swim with your head in the water.

It’s a bit different in this way as traditional life vests are designed to keep your head out of the water. This is also an inflatable design, so you can remove and add air to your liking and preference. Overall, it’s super easy to use and very compact to travel with.

With a crotch strap and an adjustable waist, in addition to many different sizes that are available, you can find a custom and secure fit for you. That said, if you are a bigger person, this might not work out all that well for you.

So, as opposed to the last one, this is actually only designed for one activity. It won’t work as a regular life jacket, but as a snorkeling life vest, this sucker works very, very well.

Pros

  • Functions very well
  • Very easy to use
  • Lightweight and packs easily

Cons

  • Not the best for larger people
  • The side belt could be longer
  • Only good for snorkeling

Frequently asked questions

How do you know when to replace a life vest?

Considering the main function of a life vest, it’s a valid question to ask how you’re supposed to know when to replace one. After all, even the best life vest for non-swimmers isn’t going to last a lifetime. However, it’s also not as if there’s an expiration date on life vests.

So…how do you tell? Well, there are a few red flags, if you want to call them that, that you can look for.

  • The cover starts to have tears
  • The interior foam begins to break down and even feel brittle
  • The straps don’t work as well as they once did and aren’t in great condition anymore
  • The sun fades the outer layer to the point where it’s harder to see you for a potential rescue

Do you need to wear a life jacket for kayaking and paddle boarding?

There are some additional factors that can come into play when it comes to deciding whether or not you should wear a life jacket for activities such as kayaking and paddleboarding. And, no, it’s more than just not knowing how to swim as it can also be the waters, you’re in (and various other factors).

Thus, answering this question is somewhat tough. To err on the side of caution, it’s advised to wear a life vest whenever there’s a danger of you ending up in the water (when it comes to boating and stuff like that).

Should you clean your life vest after you use it?

Yes, and the good news is cleaning your best life vest for non-swimmers isn’t going to be a complicated endeavor. After each use, all you’re going to need to do most of the time is rinse off the vest with clean water. This will get saltwater, mud, sand, and other such debris off.

When drying the life jacket, just allow it to air dry, and then store it away in a cool and dark location. Avoid machine drying and using any heat devices to speed up the drying process.

Why is it so hard to find a life jacket as a woman?

As we all know, male and female figures are slightly different. Hence, clothes typically have to be designed for each gender, though there are unisex clothing items out there. When it comes to life vests, they typically are designed with the male figure in mind.

Here’s the good news, there are designers out there who make life jackets specifically for women. If you’re a woman and you find it very difficult to find a comfortable life jacket, look into those that are designed solely for women.

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Tyler Jones

Tyler is much like a swiss knife. Even though he has a degree in Computer Science, he knows almost everything there is to know about camping. He has been writing for HeadlessNomad since 2021 and has contributed with over 100 articles. If you have an outdoor-related question, then Tyler much likely knows the answer.