If you are like me and love the adrenaline rush of action sports, then all forms of kite sports will supply just that, time after time. Today there are many forms of kite sports – those based on dry land (like kiteboarding and kite buggies), those based on snow (snowkiting), and those based on water – either the sea or lakes – like boat kiting and kite surfing.
We love all of these, but we especially love kite surfing (or kiteboarding, if you prefer), as it combines in my view, many of the best fun elements of traditional surfing, with the added dimensions of windsurfing or sailing, plus a touch of water skiing and wakeboarding.
It takes a fair bit of practice to kitesurf well. I found that it is one of the few water sports that happens in all dimensions – forwards and backward, left and right, but also up and down. Everything is moving – you, the board, the kite, the surface of the water and the wind. So, the challenge is to keep your balance and to harness all the different forces you can control, and learn to ride out those that you can’t control.
Kiteboarding Safety First
With all this going on in kitesurfing, there are of course safety risks. First, you are on the water and even if you are a good swimmer, you have to be aware of that. Some macho Kitesurfer types I run into seem to think that because they are good swimmers, they don’t need any kind of buoyancy aid. This is very short-sighted. It’s not cool, to look cool. A bruised or fractured rib is definitely and categorically not cool.
The whole point about accidents is that they are accidental. Who knows what might happen, or when?
First, there might be occasions when you are spending a long time in the water, waiting for a recovery effort, or trying to fix something in your rig, or trying to get back up. If you have a buoyancy aid, that’s going to make life a lot easier.
Secondly, you might be partly or fully incapacitated because you hit something, like a floating piece of driftwood (or you hit someone). Equally, something or someone might hit you.
Quite often there are a lot of kite surfers out together and some are beginners, who don’t yet know much about control.
I’ve also been kitesurfing near groups of normal surfers, groups of windsurfers, water – skiers, jet skiers, etc. Most are responsible and considerate but you do get the occasional idiot – sad to say.
If you think you can handle any situation, it’s not just what you are doing but what the other guy or girl is doing, if you see what I mean? If you faceplant and are knocked out, a good vest will rotate your body so you can still breathe.
Therefore, no matter how experienced or skilled you are, you can’t anticipate every different possibility. Small lakes generally have a bit less risk (unless there are floating logs or other obstacles in the water) but bigger lakes and especially the Sea has plenty of hazards.
That’s why Kitesurfers use terms like “body dragging” (being pulled through the water or onto the beach when you have fallen off your board), “kitemare” (a bad accident), “lofted” (being pulled off the ground in an out of control situation), offshore wind (wind that blows you directly away from the beach and potentially dangerously out to sea), etc.
Not a pleasant situation if you don’t have a lifejacket. OK, water is soft, but a beach, or rocks, or boat, or another person rig on the water isn’t so soft is it? It might be a small risk – but any risk is still a risk.
Thirdly you might get a cramp or some other debilitating condition, especially towards the end of a long day. Not a good scenario is it?
So, my advice would be to just stop worrying about how you look on Instagram or Facebook and get a vest.
Buoyancy Aid Kitesurfing
In a nutshell, all forms of kiteboarding and kitesurfing are fun hobbies but you still need to take sensible safety precautions. One very sensible and highly recommended option is to buy an impact vest – especially one with some buoyancy – or an impact vest plus inflatable lifejacket. They are all fairly inexpensive and you should be able to get everything you need for a maximum of $250 or quite a lot less than that.
Also, there are good deals to be had online – you really don’t need to go to a store, except maybe to just get some ideas. This, after all, is 2020.
My advice based on my personal experience is don’t pick one up second hand from a yard sale on gumtree etc. unless you really trust the seller – and then still think twice. Much better to buy new. Second-hand safety gear might have had a hard life.
Finally, as a beginner, at a minimum get a basic lifejacket. A cracked rib is painful but you will recover. You won’t recover from drowning.
How we reviewed
We reviewed a wide range of impact/float vests for Kite Surfing, taking over 80 hours, to give you some sensible and practical suggestions and ideas on this important piece of kitesurfing gear. Our reviews cover purpose-made Kiteboard vests for men / for women, but also a few other suitable items like women’s wakeboard vests and surfing flotation vests.
Don’t be fooled by some other online reviews which talk is strangely broken English grammar with phrases like “follow impact vest” about the ‘best’ models or that stick with just well-known brands, or that create an over-simplified rating system. The truth is that choosing a kiteboarding flotation vest is all about what is right for you, your circumstances and the conditions you plan to kitesurf in.
What most people look for are some solutions that function as a life jacket/life vest but also as a specific impact vest for kitesurfing.
Some people want an inexpensive vest, while others won’t buy cheap vests and want something more expensive that really will give them a sense of security.
Top 11 Kiteboarding impact / flotation vests
# 1 Dakine Surface Vest
We like this Dakine unisex surface vest range for men / for women, as they work for any watersport, from wakeboarding/wake surfing, through to a surfing impact vest. When it comes to kitesurfing, the dakine surface vests work well with both seat harnesses and body harnesses.
A nicely designed front-zippered vest that is more for impact protection than for flotation. The men’s version fits from 34 inches to 47-inch chest sizes. The women’s vest range goes from 31” to 40”.
So, mainly about protection with some flotation too.
#2 Mystic Majestic Kite Impact Vest
Plenty of protection here in this model from the well-respected Mystic brand. This mystic impact vest is also suited as an impact vest for windsurfing, or impact vest for surfing. It’s not cheap but you can shop around online. You also can easily pay a little more for really very similar products and not actually get much extra benefit for those extra bucks.
It’s worth saying that the Mystic Majestic vest design is fine and these are great vests which we recommend, but the color choices are a bit drab. You can have any color you like as long as it is black or it is mostly black with a little bit of red.
#3 Liquid Force Spector Comp Wakeboard Impact Vest
So, maybe you want a cooler design? If you are planning to kitesurf and battle alien predators too – why not consider this stylish Liquid Force impact vest? It’s one way to get a six-pack without hours spent working out down the gym too. However, note that this is all about protection and is more like \ wakeboard impact vest and NOT a lifejacket.
So, this Liquid Force vest offers plenty of torso protection, as it is designed for the kind of impacts you can get with wakeboarding.
Later, we’ll look at some combinations of pure impact vest and then also adding a lightweight inflatable buoyancy aid, like those in the VGEBY or the Tyson ranges, to your liquid force impact vest.
Beyond the Top Three
So, that was our ‘top’ three – all different solutions for different impact vest kite surfing use cases for men / for women.
Now, let’s expand our list to look at some other great ideas for Kitesurfing impact/float vests
Very soft generic lifejackets or general surfing flotation vests don’t make our list, as an impact vest for kitesurfing needs to have some degree of protection from a hard collision.
#4 Swell Men’s Wakesurf Impact Vest
This men’s wakeboard vest is equally well suited to Kiteboarding and most water-based action sports. If you try one on in-store, it feels soft to wear and gives you a lot of freedom of movement. It’s reasonably buoyant too. The downside is that it doesn’t have the same level of impact protection of some other models we reviewed.
It’s a front zip design that works well with a seat harness but not so much with a body harness, due to the bulky swellings.
#5 O’Neill Women’s Slasher Comp Life Vest
We like the O’Neill Women’s life vests, despite some limitations and despite the name. Slasher? Really?.
They come in a great range of colors and you hardly notice wearing them – so I’m told by female friends. It’s important to know however that this is not a standard life vest and will not necessarily keep your head afloat of you are knocked unconscious or are otherwise incapacitated. It’s more intended to be a wakeboard comp vest. It’s pretty thin, which is a plus and a minus. The plusses are that it feels great to wear – very light and with free movement. The minuses are that very lightness means that it won’t protect you much from serious impacts. Also be aware if there are local regulations about vest types, these may not meet the official criteria.
That said if you want a light flotation/impact vest for women’s kiteboarding, these O’Neill models are well worth checking out.
So, if it’s lightweight you want, you use a body harness, and you are aware of what they don’t do as well as what they can do, we recommend these.
Now for something a little different. Neil Pryde (NP Surf) makes a great range of inexpensive and well-designed flotation vests, which also offer some basic protection from light impacts, scrapes, etc. There are some neat attachment points you can store water containers etc. and a chest hook that can be used to attach a rope for towing in an emergency.
These really do focus on the flotation part, with a range that includes some models with bright colors that make you really easy to see in the water from a distance, or in poor lighting (like dawn or dusk) or poor weather visibility conditions, which is not the case with some of the all-black vest designs that are on our list.
You can have black and silver if you really want to but personally, I would always go with the yellow or the pink high visibility options. These won’t protect your torso from a heavy impact but they will help in other situations and as a flotation vest, they are significantly ahead of many other impact vest designs, in terms of buoyancy and visibility.
#7 Zeraty Men’s Life Jacket / Impact Vest Range
This is a low-cost life jacket range that also offers reasonable impact protection. The Zeraty range is all about keeping costs down and although it really is inexpensive, the whole range works just fine and comes in many different colors – we are just showing three different three examples from the range that I especially like
So, the Zeraty range is a good choice, if flotation and budget are your main criteria.
#8 Liquid Force Profile Impact Vest
Ok now, let’s 180 degrees reverse the buying criteria. You are buying a vest as a gift for your partner, friend or some other loved one for a birthday or Christmas. You have a reasonable number of dollars to spend. When you present this gift, you don’t want to say ‘hey I got this cheap vest that won’t protect you as much from impacts as some others!’. That doesn’t really sound like the message you want to convey, does it? You wouldn’t buy someone an engagement ring and say ‘honey – you won’t believe the deal I got on this’. At least I wouldn’t.
That’s where this specific Liquid Force Profile Impact Vest fits a niche. It isn’t cheap. In fact, it is up to almost three times as expensive as some other vests on our list. So put another way you could get one of them for your partner and one of them for yourself and still have a few dollars for an ice cream leftover.
But that’s not the point. This vest is a high-end, high-spec American product specifically designed for Kiteboarding. It has a range of easy to use adjustment straps, a spreader bar attachment loop, a cummerbund as a second level of strapping up, a grab loop on the back, if you need to pull someone up from the water, a hook knife for cutting away a kite in an emergency, and also a whistle, which can be access hands-free. I did say high spec, right?
This Liquid Force model comes in two sizes – a very clever large / extra-large version, and also an equally cleverly designed small/medium. Why it is clever is because both of the sizes have two differently located zips, so you can zip if for a smaller fit or a larger fit. I really like that as a design feature, as my partner can borrow it from me and it still fits her (so in that sense it is actually two vests, although of course, we can’t both wear it at the same time)
Although this Liquid Force model is near the last of our list, it really isn’t least. This is a really great vest I’d highly recommend if you have the big bucks to spend. One for the serious kiteboarder.
#9 Ronix Signature Women’s – V-Neck Impact Vest
Our penultimate vest for kitesurfing comes from Ronix – maybe a brand that is a little less familiar than some of the big names like Mystic. However, this is a nicely designed Women’s impact vest with a deep v-neck. Say no more.
So, if you want something a little different, then Ronix is an interesting choice.
#10 Follow Impact Comp Vest
Follow are one of the top brands in impact vests and we like this design for the waist tapering, which is a simple but neat way of stopping a vest riding up. There’s a big range from Follow and we could have reviewed more of them, but this is pretty representative of their design philosophy.
Follow major on getting a good fit. They have a ‘pro’ fit for those with a more athletic build and a tactfully named ‘happy’ fit for the bigger gentleman.
#11 Stearns Adult Classic Series Life Vest
Our final entry is sort of a last-ditch plea. If you go kiteboarding, at least wear something. Do not go out with no vest of any kind, it’s not cool and it is dangerous. So, this last entry is our bare minimum suggestion. Stearns makes very decent basic life jackets for the cost of a few cups of Starbuck coffees and a few cookies you might have bought on the way to the beach or to the lake. They will offer you some very basic (to the point of being minimal) impact protection but they definitely will keep you afloat and help right you, if for any reason you become unconscious. Plus they are as I said, cheap.
If you have ever heard of the Darwin Awards, they are given out to people for acts of incredible and fatal stupidity, which ensures their genes can no longer be passed down to future generations. So, come on folks, is that ‘look’ on Instagram really worth taking the risk for? For the price of a few Starbuck flat whites and a muffin?
So, there are 10 plus ideas for float or impact vests. Now let’s put them all in a quick reference table for handy comparison.
|Dakine Surface Vest||XS / S / M / L / XL / XXL||Black / Seaford / Blue||Good impact protection and comfortable – a superb all-round good vest for kitesurfing. Waist and seat harness compatible|
|Mystic Majestic||XS / S / M / L / XL / XXL||Black & White / Navy & Red||You can’t really go wrong with Mystic. Good impact protection – best suited to seat harnesses. |
- Spine protection,
- M-FLEX | 100%
- NBR Foam
- Clash Foam
|Liquid Force Spector||Small: 32"-36"|
|Black||We love Liquid Force for all kinds of reasons. This vest from their range is a great design – apparently from the Alien vs. Predator movie franchise. Note however this is almost purely designed for impact protection and has limited buoyancy|
|Swell Men's Impact Vest||M / L||Black / Green||Swell – the clue is in the name. Perfect for most seat harnesses but not so good for body harnesses|
|O’Neill “Slasher” range for women||XS / S / M / L / XL||Black / Glide Black / Light Aqua / Graphite / Navy||An ultra-lightweight design is both the strength of this range and also the weakness. 95% Polyster, 5% Spandex|
|NP Surf Flotation Vest||Junior / XL / XXL / XXXL||Black & Silver / Neon Yellow / Red & Black||This NP range focuses more on buoyancy than impact protection. Go for the high visibility color options in the range, like yellow or red/pink. Super-soft buoyancy foam|
|Zeraty Impact Vest||M / L / XL / XXL||Black / Red / Blue-aqua / Orange / Blue||I love the colors and love the prices. You can buy two of these for the same price as some high-end models and still have change.|
|Liquid Force Impact Vest||S / M||Black & Orange||Superb quality and packed with great safety features – a highly desirable vest and, maybe, more one for the generally more experienced kiteboarder than a beginner, due to the big price tag. I like it.|
|Ronix Women's V-Neck Impact Vest||XS / S / M / L||Grey & Mint||Designed for Women, this is a practical and also a good - looking vest|
|Follow Impact Vest||XS / S / M / L / XL||Black||Follow are a well-known brand with a great range. We could have picked several for this review.|
|Stearns Life Jacket||Adult Universal: 30" - 52"|
Adult Oversized: 52" - 62"
|Red / Blue||Inexpensive and practical. There’s really no excuse to have at least a Stearns life jacket for buoyancy when you go kitesurfing. You’ll probably pay as much or more in gas, getting to the beach or lake and back. Coast Guard Approved.|
So, plenty of vest choices on offer here and some quite different kiteboarding vest solutions. I never really personally like choosing a ‘best’ or doing ratings but in addition to my top three, from Dakine, Mystic and Liquid Force Spector, I’d also recommend the second Liquid Force model.
However, in my view, all entries on this list are good models that most people will like and be able to get on with during their Kitesurfing adventures.
So, what do you think? Please leave your questions, ideas, comments, and suggestions below and we’ll be happy to answer.
Choice of Best Harness Type For Impact Vest
Harnesses are a vital part of kitesurfing as they both transfer the power of the kite to the kite surfers’ body (avoiding muscle strain on the arms and leaving the hands more latitude to control the kite) and also keeps the kite safe (avoiding it blowing away and becoming lost).
Now, were’ conscious that some people prefer kiteboarding body harnesses, while some other people prefer seat harnesses, so we have included both kinds in our reviews and ratings.
If you are not familiar with the two kinds of harnesses, seat harnesses look and fit either like board shorts or a bit like padded trunks. Seat harnesses attach the kitesurfer’s body to the kite control lines, with a fairly low center of gravity. Since they generally don’t reach up much above the waist, they don’t generally interfere much with an impact vest or life vest. Some kitesurfers prefer this style of the harness because it is very stable and will not ‘ride up’ the body.
The other kind of harness is the body harness, which goes higher up the body. Some people prefer body harnesses as they allow more ability to move in certain ways but this style has a tendency to ‘ride up’ the torso. If a kitesurfer is wearing a flotation or impact vest, a body harness will have to go on top of that, so when choosing a vest size, it’s important to know what extra body bulk the vest will create.
Appendix: Seat harnesses and Vest Compatibility
When choosing a vest, we already mentioned about vest compatibility. Let’s break that down some more.
There are two main designs of kiteboard /kitesurf harness types, seat, and body (waist).
Seat harness designs mainly put the load from a kite on and around your butt area, which is a popular design. Some seat harnesses look more like seats, while others look a bit like short pants. A seat harness tends to pull you upwards a little more than a waist harness.
The attaching hook is usually lower on a seat harness than on a typical waist harness. That creates a lower center of gravity and if you are experienced, you can push your torso away from your kite with your legs.
If you choose to buy and wear a bulky impact vest or conventional lifejacket, this kind of harness normally works a lot better than a waist harness, with the far less general hassle. The attaching hook on a seat harness is below the belly button. Straps between the legs – or actual pant legs – will help keep it in place, which is why a seat harness tends to stay put. It is much less prone to movement, e.g. to slide around or up than a waist harness is. A seat harness cannot ride up the body and that’s important. That means it’s less likely to get involved in a bad way with your vest.
Waist harnesses are a whole different ball game when you go kitesurfing. In a waist harness, the pulling force of the kite is going to your lower back and the sides of your waist – not your butt or upper thighs.
Body harnesses are regarded as more ‘cool’ but those pesky body harnesses do have a nasty habit of riding up the body during a kitesurfing run and that means they are going to be getting up close and personal with your vest.
If you are going for the waist harness, a few kitesurfers use hybrid harnesses, like the ones from Dakine, which use a combination – waist harnesses that incorporate seats too. In Dakin’s range, the seat part is removable.
A: That’s a good question. As I briefly mentioned, you’ll have noticed how so many vests divide the surface up into segments, with gullies in between. I used to think this was just to allow somebody movement.
The theory behind the paneling on impact vests is to help disperse the water during an impact. Water runs off the panels and into the gullies then from the gullies away from the body.
A: It’s very simple, just check the manufacturer’s instructions. Usually, they advise just a thorough rinse with cold water then hang them up to dry. If you have really bad stains, just try soaking them for a long while in warm soapy water, then try scrubbing them out. I personally don’t use washing machines and I certainly would not use a tumble dryer or bleach-based products. Don’t use bleach OK? As far as color fading goes, that’s just going to happen with prolonged exposure to sunlight. Goes with the territory.