The Goal: Find a Coast Guard–approved life jacket for all manner of water sports. Boating enthusiasts and aquatic-gear designers steered us away from inflatable jackets — while lightweight, they require too much work for the wearer — and toward foam-filled options that are just as buoyant.
The Verdict: Kokatat’s Aries PFD ($99 at Amazon) was designed with a high back for extra cushioning on kayaking trips, but it works just as well for banana-boating and stand-up paddleboarding thanks to its soft and flexible PVC-free Gaia foam and extra-thin shoulder pads. Unlike those stuffy orange vests, they allow for a full range of motion and increased breathability. The tough nylon outer is strong enough to withstand many summers at sea, while the soft inner shell feels smooth against bare skin. Plus, there’s a pocket.
The Strategist is a series of smart, obsessive shopping guides from the New York Magazine section of the same name. We’ve scoured the web to bring you the best of the best. Some of our latest conquests include umbrellas, corkscrews, white T-shirts, nail clippers, and yoga mats.
*A version of this article appears in the June 27, 2016 issue of New York Magazine.