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06.26.2019 Drew Bartek

Impact Vest or Life Jacket

You might be considering what type of vest is best for you.  It is best to know your options and to see which one best fits you.  This article will go over the differences between an impact vest and life jacket.  What are the common things people are looking for when choosing an impact vest over a life jacket.

What is the Safety Difference?

A life jacket is Coast Guard Approved and sometimes referred to as a CGA vest.  CGA vests are required and tested to turn you over and keep your head above the water in all situations.  Having this feature can be critical in a scary situation like getting knocked unconscious.  Life Jackets have one purpose and that is to keep you afloat, they do an excellent job at this.

An impact vest is sometimes called a comp or competition vest. These vests are not certified by the Coast Guard and are not required to turn you around and keep your head above water.  Although impact vests don't meet the standards for a life jacket they still can provide flotation.  It really depends on the brand of impact vest that you have with how much it will float. 


Life Jackets have historically been less stylish than impact vests, but they have improved over the years.  One thing to expect form a life jacket is bulky foam panels, usually larger foam pieces that are thick.  These types of vests will have anywhere from 2 to 4 buckles on the front of the vest and a front zipper is common.

Impact vests are much more stylish and you even have brands like Follow Wake that are looking to the fashion industry for some of their designs.  Impact Vests have a much cleaner look, as they are significantly more slim and have segmented foam panels that align with the body. 


The type of foam differs with Life Jackets using a PVC foam which is a harder foam that is more buoyant.  Having bigger pieces of foam makes the jacket more block like.  Most life jackets are restrictive and provide some flexibility but not a whole lot.  When it comes to weight these types of vests are heavier as they are a bigger vest.

Impact vests typically use a MLC foam which is a much softer foam and does a better job at absorbing impacts from falls.  Having this softer foam combined with segmented foam panels provides a nice and snug feeling that shapes around your body.  These vests are made to be flexible and will easily move with you with whatever watersport activity you are doing.  A good impact vest will give you full range of motion.  Lightweight is another area that impact vests win over many consumers.

Who wears what?

There is no black and white answer here.  Typically you find impact vests being really popular for wakeboarders, water skiers, kiteboarders, kitesurfers and serious PWC riders. But you can also find other watersport participants wearing them from kayaking, tubing, foiling, wake surfing, etc.  These people are typically looking for the benefits of comfort and look that the impact vest can deliver.  Impact vests provide a higher performing vest that can help an individual get better at their sport.  A life jacket is a perfect fit for those that are younger or are just looking to have a good time when they get out on the water.  If safety is your most important thing you are looking for than a CGA life jacket is perfect for you.  If you are a strong swimmer and looking to get an edge in your watersport activity than an impact vest might be the vest for you.  These assumptions are not true for everyone, there's some pro riders that wear CGA vests and there are some people that just want to have a good time that are wearing an impact vest.


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Published by Drew Bartek June 26, 2019
Drew Bartek