• 10 Best Life Jackets for Kids in 2022 (Stearns, Mustang Survival, and More) 1
  • 10 Best Life Jackets for Kids in 2022 (Stearns, Mustang Survival, and More) 2
  • 10 Best Life Jackets for Kids in 2022 (Stearns, Mustang Survival, and More) 3
  • 10 Best Life Jackets for Kids in 2022 (Stearns, Mustang Survival, and More) 4
  • 10 Best Life Jackets for Kids in 2022 (Stearns, Mustang Survival, and More) 5

10 Best Life Jackets for Kids in 2022 (Stearns, Mustang Survival, and More)

Whether it's a weekend on a yacht or an afternoon of kayaking, there's nothing like a family escapade to the beach. And though it's good to expect the best, it's necessary to prepare for the worst. In case of any emergency, a life jacket made for kids will keep your little one afloat until help arrives. 


Since there are different types of life jackets, each one designed for a specific purpose, we understand how overwhelming it can be to choose the best one for your child. To save you time and effort, we've come up with a top 10 list for you of the best life jackets for kids. Topping it is Stearns' youth boating vest, which has three quick-release belts and a crotch strap for security! Each of our picks has something unique about it, so make sure to look over each one. Don't forget to read our buyer's guide, too, so you know what to look for.

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mybest US Editors
  • Last updated: 08-26-2022
Table of Contents

How to Choose a Life Jacket for Kids - Buying Guide

Here are a few key things you should consider when looking for a life vest for kids. While it's scary to think about potential emergencies, the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re prepared for anything will help outweigh the fear of such an ordeal.

Consider the Water Activities Your Child Will Be Doing

Life jackets are classified into three main types, each one having features that match a certain distance from or into a body of water and the level of risk.

Type I Life Jackets Are for Offshore Activities

Type I Life Jackets Are for Offshore Activities

Type I life jackets are for offshore activities that take place in distances far from land, like boating or cruising. Because these types of life jackets are designed to keep a person floating in rough waters for as long as possible until help arrives, they’re extra buoyant.


They’re also inherently buoyant, meaning they work as-is without having to be inflated. They will turn most people who may have fallen unconscious in the water face up. 

Type I Life Jackets Are for Offshore Activities

However, because of their wear-and-go design, Type I life jackets tend to be bulkier. Since they’re made to withstand harsh water conditions, they’re equipped with more secure closures. This tends to make them a bit more uncomfortable than other types, too. 


If you plan on getting a Type I life jacket for your child, you may want to consider gradually getting them accustomed to wearing it ahead of an offshore trip. Though these life jackets may be bulky and uncomfortable, their secure closure makes them extra safe. 


Because they have more foam and fabric than other life jacket types, they retain the most body heat, which is a plus when considering emergencies when help can take some time to arrive. Though thinking about emergency scenarios might be a bit uncomfortable, it’s always better to be safe and prepared. 

Type II Life Jackets Are for Nearshore Activities

Type II Life Jackets Are for Nearshore Activities

Type II life jackets are made for water activities that take place near shore, like wading. Since they won’t always succeed at turning an unconscious person face up, they shouldn't be worn during offshore activities. Instead, they’re designed to provide buoyancy in calm water, buying some time for help that’s already near to arrive.


Type I life jackets don’t tend to be as bulky as Type I jackets, and they can be buoyant or inflatable Type II life jackets that are inherently buoyant don’t perform well in rough waters as wearers usually have to tread to keep their heads out of the water. They’re also less buoyant than Type I models. However, they are good for light boating near the shore.


Inflatable Type II life jackets offer more flotation and comfort than their inherently buoyant counterparts. Inflatable life jackets can either be manual or automatic. Manual ones won’t deploy on their own and need to be pumped with air. This is usually done by pulling on a string repeatedly, and these types aren’t meant for children under 16. 

Type III Life Jackets Function as Floatation Aids

Type III Life Jackets Function as Floatation Aids

Type III life jackets serve as flotation aids for inland water activities where the waters aren’t rough and wavy at all. They’re meant for water activities where supervision is present as they’re not designed to turn an unconscious person until they’re face-up in the water like Type I and II jackets.


However, since they’re made for light activities, Type III life jackets tend to be much more lightweight than Type I and II. They’re also easier to put on, making them more comfortable. 


Remember, though, that they’re not designed for use in the open seas where the water can be ruthless because they’re not made to keep an unconscious person floating face-up. Make sure that your child only uses a Type III life jacket for the water activities it was made for.

Type III Life Jackets Function as Floatation Aids

Like their Type II counterparts, Type III life jackets can be either inherently buoyant or inflatable. Inherently buoyant Type III life jackets aren’t made for rough conditions and are nowhere near as buoyant as Type I life jackets. However, they’re much more comfortable.


Though inflatable Type III life jackets offer more buoyancy and comfort than their inherently buoyant Type III cousins, they normally only have one mechanism for inflating them with air. However, this specific type of life jacket isn’t designed for kids under 16.

Choose a Buoyancy Design

There are three main types of life jacket design categories: inherently buoyant, inflatable, and hybrid.

Inherently Buoyant Life Jackets Offer Maximum Buoyancy

Inherently Buoyant Life Jackets Offer Maximum Buoyancy

Inherently buoyant life jackets are filled with foam or neoprene and float on their own. They don’t require any setup or pumping, making them ready to use at any moment. Though they can’t be deflated for easier packing, they’re more durable and offer maximum flotation. For example, Type I inherently buoyant life jackets made for kids contain at least 11 pounds of buoyancy. 


"Pounds of buoyancy" is the amount of dense matter that a life jacket can keep afloat. Since water generally accounts for 80% of the human body while fat takes up about 15%, no human body is very dense. After things like water and fat are factored out, many adults really only need seven to 12 pounds of buoyancy in a life jacket to float.


Since these life jackets don't need to be set up to activate their buoyancy, all they really need is proper maintenance. Make sure to inspect them before use, checking for broken straps, locks, tears, or cracks in the foam. In particular,  look out for torn fabric around foam so that it doesn't end up falling out. 

Inflatable Life Jackets Require Maintenance But Can Be Compressed

Inflatable Life Jackets Require Maintenance But Can Be Compressed

On the other hand, inflatable life jackets either automatically self-inflate once they hit the water or have to be inflated manually through a mechanism that pumps air into the jacket. Though these kinds of life jackets can be compressed when packed or not in use, they require maintenance. However, with proper care and regular inspection, these life jackets can last for as long as ten years.


However, inflatable options aren't recommended for children younger than 16 and people that aren't good swimmers. This is mainly because of the time it takes to pump the life vest when in water; when it comes to water emergencies, time is of the essence. 


Besides keeping them out of the sun when unnecessary to avoid weakening the fabric, regular maintenance checks are also a must for inflatable life jackets. This is to prevent the disaster of them not inflating at the moment they're actually needed. Also, if they're punctured or torn in the water, patching them up will be another hassle you may not have time for. 

Hybrid Life Jackets Combine Inherent Buoyancy With Inflatability

Hybrid Life Jackets Combine Inherent Buoyancy With Inflatability

On the other hand, hybrid life jackets merge inherent buoyancy with inflatability by combining foam with an inflatable portion. These aren’t very bulky and fit closer to the body, making it easier to move around.

Make Sure It Will Fit Your Child

Make Sure It Will Fit Your Child

When it comes to life jackets, fit is of utmost importance. Though buying online won’t give you a chance to physically fit the life jacket on your child, you can take note of the size chart or the product's dimensions and compare it with your child’s size.


One that’s too small will feel tight and uncomfortable. It could also end up scaring your child even more since a constricted fit may make it hard to breathe. On the other hand, a life jacket that’s too big is just as dangerous as it could slide off and float away. It could also cause your child to float at a dangerous angle.


Look for features that make the life jacket fit securely. Some life jackets can be worn like a normal piece of clothing or even be incorporated into a child’s bathing suit. These styles have a more natural fit that is less likely to bother your little one.

Make Sure It Will Fit Your Child

A crotch strap ensures that the life jacket won’t float away from your child in the water. Fastener clips can be adjusted to loosen or tighten the fit of the jacket. Just be careful not to click the clips shut over your child’s skin to avoid pinched skin!


Some life jackets have a zipper closure that secures the vest around your child’s torso. If you decide on getting a jacket with this type of lock, though, make sure it’s sturdy and durable to prevent the life jacket from coming undone in the water.


If you’re shopping in a physical store and you're able to, it’s recommended that you put the life jacket on your child and pick them up by its shoulders. In this position, your child’s chin and ears shouldn’t fall through the jacket.

Keep an Eye Out for Extra Safety Features

 Keep an Eye Out for Extra Safety Features

The more safety features a life jacket has, the more you can rest assured in its saving powers. Bright-colored life jackets are easy to spot, especially at night. Whistles, lights, and reflective tape can also be extremely helpful in rescue situations.


Some life jackets even come with weather-resistant qualities such as thermal features that will keep your child insulated and warm. There are especially important at night and in cold waters. Other life jackets have UV-blocking properties or a grab handle that make it easier for you or rescuers to grab your child in the water.

 Keep an Eye Out for Extra Safety Features

A U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) seal of approval is more of an indicator than an actual feature, and life jackets with this seal meet the Coast Guard's standards. Vessel operators are required by law to have life jackets approved by the USCG as their primary flotation vests. Life jackets with no USCG, however, can still be bought and sold.


Remember that while it’s good to hope for the best, it’s also good to prepare for the worst. As they say, safety doesn’t happen by accident.  

10 Best Life Jackets for Kids

From basic life jackets to ones with extra buckles and neck pads, this list includes a wide range of children's life jackets for you to choose from, based on careful research and customer reviews. 

Image
1
Stearns Heads-Up Child Vest 1

Stearns

2
Mustang Survival Solas Type 1 Chile Life Jacket  1

Mustang Survival

3
Stohlquist WaterWare Kids Life Jacket  1

Stohlquist WaterWare

4
Lifesaving Pro Automatic/Manual Child Inflatable Life Jacket 1

Lifesaving Pro

5
O'Neill Wetsuits Child Reactor USCG Life Vest 1

O'Neill Wetsuits

6
Hardcore Water Sports Store Youth Life Jacket Vest 1

Hardcore Water Sports Store

7
SportsStuff Stars and Stripes Life Jacket 1

SportsStuff

8
Airhead Kwik-Dry Neolite Flex Life Vest 1

Airhead

9
Kent Safety Products Child Size Type I Life Jacket 1

Kent Safety Products

10
O'Neill Wetsuits Teen Reactor USCG Life Vest 1

O'Neill Wetsuits

Name

Heads-Up Child Vest

Solas Type 1 Chile Life Jacket

Kids Life Jacket

Automatic/Manual Child Inflatable Life Jacket

Child Reactor USCG Life Vest

Youth Life Jacket Vest

Stars and Stripes Life Jacket

Kwik-Dry Neolite Flex Life Vest

Child Size Type I Life Jacket

Teen Reactor USCG Life Vest

Features

Spot Your Child Right Away With Reflective Trim

A Type I Life Jacket With a Buddy Line

A Double Collar With an Open-Back Design for Comfort

Option With Manual and Automatic Deployment for Older Youth

A Wide Range of Size Options for a Better Fit

A Life Vest for Older Kids

Bring Stars and Stripes to the Water

Segmented Hinges and a Quick-Drying Exterior

A Type I Vest Designed to Turn an Unconscious Child Up

A Lifejacket for Teens and Larger Kids

Price$36.99$78.61$53.95$67.99$69.95$25.99$21.99$48.24$49.99$75.77
Life jacket typeType IIType IType IIIType IIType IIIType IIIType IIIType IIIType IType III
Age range30-50 lbs.33-95 lbs.30-50 lbs.Less than 170 lbs.30-50 lbs.50-90 lbs.50-90 lbs.30-50 lbs.Less than 90 lbs.75-125 lbs.
Buoyancy designInherently buoyantInherently buoyantInherently buoyantAutomatic, manual inflationInherently buoyantInherently buoyantInherently buoyantInherently buoyantInherently buoyantInherently buoyant
ClosureZipper closure, 2 clip-on belts1 beltZipper closure, 1 clip-on belt1 clip-on beltZipper closure, 2 clip-on belts3 clip-on belts3 side-release beltsZipper closure, 2 clip-on belts1 beltZipper closure, 2 clip-on belts
Link
1

StearnsHeads-Up Child Vest

2000013195

$36.99

Life jacket typeType II
Age range30-50 lbs.
Buoyancy designInherently buoyant
ClosureZipper closure, 2 clip-on belts
2

Mustang SurvivalSolas Type 1 Chile Life Jacket

MV8035

$78.61

Life jacket typeType I
Age range33-95 lbs.
Buoyancy designInherently buoyant
Closure1 belt
3

Stohlquist WaterWareKids Life Jacket

$53.95

Life jacket typeType III
Age range30-50 lbs.
Buoyancy designInherently buoyant
ClosureZipper closure, 1 clip-on belt
4

Lifesaving ProAutomatic/Manual Child Inflatable Life Jacket

$67.99

Life jacket typeType II
Age rangeLess than 170 lbs.
Buoyancy designAutomatic, manual inflation
Closure1 clip-on belt
5

O'Neill WetsuitsChild Reactor USCG Life Vest

$69.95

Life jacket typeType III
Age range30-50 lbs.
Buoyancy designInherently buoyant
ClosureZipper closure, 2 clip-on belts
6

Hardcore Water Sports StoreYouth Life Jacket Vest

$25.99

Life jacket typeType III
Age range50-90 lbs.
Buoyancy typeInherently buoyant
Closure3 clip-on belts
7

SportsStuffStars and Stripes Life Jacket

$21.99

Life jacket typeType III
Age range50-90 lbs.
Buoyancy designInherently buoyant
Closure3 side-release belts
8

AirheadKwik-Dry Neolite Flex Life Vest

$48.24

Life jacket typeType III
Age range30-50 lbs.
Buoyancy designInherently buoyant
ClosureZipper closure, 2 clip-on belts
9

Kent Safety ProductsChild Size Type I Life Jacket

$49.99

Life jacket typeType I
Age rangeLess than 90 lbs.
Buoyancy designInherently buoyant
Closure1 belt
10

O'Neill WetsuitsTeen Reactor USCG Life Vest

$75.77

Life jacket typeType III
Age range75-125 lbs.
Buoyancy designInherently buoyant
ClosureZipper closure, 2 clip-on belts

Enjoy Your Time in the Water With These!

Before you head to the pool or plan a family beach vacation, check out some of our favorite swimming items!

Author: Beatrice Joy


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