By Jessica Egelnick
Buy Palm, Dagger and Ainsworth kayaking gear through Mobex. Mobex are a Manx children's charity specializing in outdoor activities for kids. All profits are ploughed straight back into Mobex.
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Aside from the recommended buoyancy of 50N, the main thing you are looking for in a buoyancy aid is comfort and convenience.
It should fit snugly when fully fastened, but remember to leave room for multiple layers and a dry suit in the winter, and allow for minimal layers for warm weather paddling. Paddling buoyancy aids are designed to allow a lot of arm movement and to keep the head and neck area free of obstruction.
Front-zip buoyancy aids are easiest to put on, as they require no over-the head maneuvering. Due to the zip, however, there is lost buoyancy in the front, which is made up for by extra buoyancy elsewhere, or thicker foam. These BAs also cannot have a single pocket covering the front (photo right).
Side-zip buoyancy aids are pulled on over the head, but with one side unzipped, the move is much easier. Some are able to have pockets on the front, and the full padding strip means these BAs can be a bit smaller. They tend to have the padding focused in smaller triangular shapes in the front and back.
Pullover buoyancy aids can sometimes require contortions to put on and remove, and in the event of an injury, cold, or stiffness, this can be irritating to say the least. In general, pullover buoyancy aids also have large rectangular shaped padding and tend not to fit as closely as the others. They are also generally much cheaper (photo left).
The pockets and accessories you need will depend on your personal tastes. BA-mounted tow lines are generally not advised in much of the literature – independent tow lines work just fine and can easily be removed and shared. Some BAs come with hydration systems and fitted pockets and tube channels. These are easy to use and fitting your own is generally a disaster. Consider enough pocket space for flares, a radio, lip balm, a snack, a whistle, as well as a place to secure your car key. But try to avoid excessive bulk.
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