5 Best Infant Life Jackets, Tested by a Dad and Baby

Keep baby safe around any body of water with these top picks for infant life vests.
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Updated May 15, 2024
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In a nutshell:
Based on firsthand product testing both in and out of the water, we selected Overton’s Infant Nylon Life Vest as the overall best infant life jacket. Its buoyancy, ease of use and quality materials make it a reliable choice at a great value.

Whether you’re boating, swimming, or just hanging by the pool, nothing is more paramount than the safety of your kids when around water. Benjamin Hoffman, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), told us, “Any child on a boat on water should always be in a life jacket—no questions asked, no exceptions.” Drowning is the single leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 4, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics—but the AAP has developed layers of protection to help parents and caregivers prevent these tragedies. One of the key prevention factors they recommend? Wearing a life jacket.

As a dad of two young sons who frequents the beach and pool year-round, I know choosing the right life jacket can feel like a heavy task. To make things easier for you, I researched the top products on the market today and tested seven of them with my own 9-month-old son. Below you’ll find the five vests that performed best in the water.

How We Tested and Chose the Infant Life Jackets

Image: Daniel W.

Here are the steps we took to help you find the best infant life jackets on the market today:

  • I tested seven life jackets with my 9-month-old son (approximately 20 lbs.). He wore each life jacket in and out of the water, and I assessed each product for ease of use, fit, safety features, style and design and value for money.

  • We interviewed the president of the AAP to get expert guidance on best practices for infant water safety. In keeping with his advice, we only tested US Coast Guard-approved type II life jackets.

  • Every family’s experience with a product is unique, which is why we conducted exhaustive market research, scouring forums and message boards and reading user reviews to see how these infant life jackets worked for a broad spectrum of families.

Editorial integrity is at the heart of everything we publish. Read about how The Bump develops and reviews all articles, including product reviews.

The Best Infant Life Jackets

Overall best infant life jacket

Overton's Infant Nylon Life Vest
Image: Daniel W.
What We Love
  • Excellent buoyancy
  • Easy to put on and take off
  • Softer materials in key areas
Things To Consider
  • Slow to dry

Overton’s Infant Nylon Vest was the best of all the life jackets we tested for two main reasons: First, it showed excellent buoyancy in the swim tests. Safety is obviously of prime importance when it comes to life jackets, and Overton’s vest outperformed the competition, pulling in the highest rating for safety features among the vests we tested. All seven life jackets that I tested faced the challenge of water collecting near my son’s face where the vest’s shoulder meets the headrest—it’s part of being in water—but Overton’s model kept his head above the water even when he squirmed around or looked to the side while floating. Second, this top-rated baby life jacket excelled in comfort. The black panels have a different, softer texture than other nylon life jackets I tried, which helped avoid chafing in the armpit area of the vest.

This life jacket is no slouch in ease of use either. It features one zipper, one waist strap, and one crotch strap, making it very quick to put on and take off. The buckles release in a snap, the straps are easily adjustable, and the catch handle feels sturdy. The only negative I could find with this model was that it was slow to dry after being in the pool. Overall, this jacket offers the kind of quality, durability and buoyancy you’d expect from premium models at an affordable price—at under $20, this is a truly awesome value.

Weight range: Up to 30 lbs., 15" to 21" chest size | Material: Nylon | Weight: 1 lb.

“For the quality of the material and the strong buoyancy, I think it's the best deal of the bunch. I was shocked to see that the Overton's was also the cheapest model!”

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Best kid-friendly infant life jacket

Airhead Treasure Infant Life Jacket
Image: Daniel W.
What We Love
  • Fun graphics
  • Good buoyancy
  • Quick drying
Things To Consider
  • Thick and bulky

The best life jacket in the world is no good if your kid won’t wear it. A fun print can pique interest and get children more excited about putting on safety gear, and the Airhead Treasure really stands out in that area. The playful under-the-sea graphics on the front were totally unique among the vests tested. (Even my 3-year-old son gravitated towards it when all seven vests were laid out side-by-side.) This model comes in both blue and pink colorways. The blue design blends into the pool a bit, but the bright yellow buckles and zipper help it pop off the water. The pink version is much more visible.

That’s not to say that the Airhead is all style and no substance—it performed well in the float test too, netting one of the highest ratings for safety features of the vests we tested. The front panels of this vest felt slightly thicker and bulkier than the rest, which made it a bit more difficult to carry my son outside the water, but also offered nice buoyancy while floating. It has one zipper, one waist strap, and one crotch strap, so there were no issues getting my son in and out of the vest, even when he was wet and wiggly post-pool.

Weight range: 15 to 30 lbs. | Material: Nylon | Weight: 9.9 oz.

“The Airhead had far and away the most unique design—the kid-friendly, under-the-sea graphics on the front of the vest stood out from the rest.”

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Best fitting infant life jacket

Stohlquist Infant Life Jacket
Image: Daniel W.
Buying Options
What We Love
  • Slim fit
  • Easy to carry child outside of water
Things To Consider
  • Expensive
  • Didn’t feel as buoyant as other vests I tested

The Stohlquist Infant Life Jacket features the slimmest profile of all models we tested, grabbing the highest ratings for fit and ease of use. The front panels and the headrest are noticeably thinner than other vests, and that reduced bulk made it much easier to carry my son both in and out of the water.

This infant life jacket is a favorite of Ashlee Neuman, content director of The Bump and mom of two, who told us, “Little ones really don't like being uncomfortable (who does?), so if their life jacket is too bulky, too scratchy, too anything, they're going to put up a fight—but wearing a life jacket while boating is obviously non-negotiable. The fit of the Stohlquist Infant Life Jacket is perfect, and it's allowed my family to enjoy many pleasant, whine-free boat rides and kayak paddles.” Little design elements in the Stohlquist stand out, like the oversized front zipper. This may sound like a small detail, but anything that improves the ease of putting a vest onto an irritated baby is a very welcome bonus.

Unlike traditional vests with thick foam on the front and back and tight arm holes, the Stohlquist has most of the foam on the front and a sleeker, more open back design. As with any unique design, any two parents may have two different opinions. I found the lack of a full back covering to be a negative—meant for added mobility, I found that it added another place for the waist strap to rub against my son’s skin. But Neuman found that it allowed her children to sit comfortably and move their arms more easily. “While I (thankfully) have never had to rely on it in an emergency,” she added, “my kiddos always floated easily and kept their faces out of the water without effort. I've been so impressed with this life jacket, I used it with both my babies and then bought the toddler-size Stohlquist vests when they got bigger!”

Weight range: Up to 30 lbs. | Material: Nylon | Weight: 12.8 oz.

“The panels and headrest are both much thinner than all other models, making it very easy to carry the child both in and out of the water.”

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Best infant life jacket for headrest safety

Coleman Stearns Classic Series Infant Life Jacket Vest with Rescue Handle
Image: Daniel W.
What We Love
  • Keeps child’s head far above water
  • Very visible color
  • Quick drying
Things To Consider
  • Somewhat bulky
  • Material feels thin

Over the course of my testing, it became clear that a quality headrest is one of the most important safety features an infant life jacket can have. As I mentioned above, every jacket we tested faces the challenge of water collecting where the shoulder meets the headrest. What set the safest life jackets apart was how far the headrest kept my son’s face above the water. No other model competes with the Coleman Stearns Classic Series in that regard. This is the only vest that features a squared-off headrest, which adds bulk but provides maximum buoyancy. No matter how hard my son fought the vest and tried to roll over in the pool, he could not reach his face into the water. This vest netted one of the highest scores for safety features in our testing, matched only by our overall best.

Design-wise, the plain color and square headrest don’t look as modern or fun as the rest. But the red pops against the blue water and the old-school aesthetic was well worth the added safety benefits in my book.

Weight range: Up to 30 lbs. | Material: Nylon | Weight: 10.2 oz.

“The headrest was by far the largest of the group and the added size kept his face away from the water.”

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Best infant life jacket for high visibility

Full Throttle Infant Nylon Life Jacket (Red)
Image: Daniel W.
What We Love
  • Red colorway is super visible in the water
  • Good buoyancy
Things To Consider
  • A bit bulky
  • Slow to dry

Whether you’re in the pool or out on the open water, visibility is key. In an emergency situation, being able to identify your child in the water quickly can make all the difference. The Full Throttle infant life jacket is bright, bold, and just about impossible to miss in any swimming scenario, with high-contrast colors set against one another in an eye-catching design.

While a bit on the bulkier side, it displayed nice buoyancy in the float tests. The vest offers security and ease with one zipper, one waist belt and one crotch belt. Putting it on and taking it off was painless. It appeared nicely sized for a 20-pound child, as it didn’t ride up above my son’s chin in the water or on land. This vest is priced very similarly to many other comparable models, but the materials felt like good quality for the cost—I could see it being used for multiple kids over time.

It should be noted that I tested the red colorway—while my praise for the quality, durability and buoyancy of this life jacket would hold true across other models, I don’t believe the visibility would be as strong in the aqua colorway, as the pattern would more easily blend into the water.

Weight range: Up to 30 lbs. | Material: Nylon | Weight: 7.5 oz.

“The bright red color was very visible while in the water, and everything from the zipper to the belts to the buckles all felt well made.”

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Do Infants Have to Wear Life Jackets?

The short answer is yes, but the long answer is more complicated. “There’s not one thing that can drown-proof a child,” says Hoffman. “When we think about drowning prevention, we think about layers of protection.” The first layer of protection, he explains, is supervision, which means having a competent, close and capable adult present when a child is in or around water. The other layers include having barriers to accessing water (such as having four-sided pool fencing, using toilet locks and emptying wading pools, bathtubs and buckets when not in use), arranging swimming lessons for children over the age of one and, of course, using life jackets. “A life jacket used in a swimming pool can be another layer to help ensure that that child will not be submerged,” says Hoffman.

Make sure you’re choosing a baby life jacket or flotation device that’s approved by the US Coast Guard—whether you’re boating on the open seas or spending time by a kiddie pool. “Anything that is not a US Coast Guard-approved flotation device is not something we would ever recommend using,” explains Hoffman. “We consider those pool toys and they are not reliable.”

It’s important to note, though, that there are four different categories of US Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices. The best infant life jackets for boating should always be a US Coast Guard-approved type II vest, as these help to keep your little one upright and floating face up in the water. On the other hand, a type III jacket or vest, which includes the popular puddle jumpers, is only designed for use in calm, shallow waters such as pools.

What to Look for in an Infant Life Jacket

In addition to US Coast Guard-approval, the other key factor—particularly when it comes to infants—is fit. “If a parent is going to use a flotation device for an infant, we would urge them to make sure that it fits correctly,” says Hoffman.

Determining a proper fit starts with the life jacket’s weight range. Manufacturers must clearly label a life vest’s weight ranges, and most infant life jackets fit children who fall under the 30-pound threshold. You’ll also want to look for adjustable straps on the shoulders, waist and crotch area to help adjust the vest for a close, proper fit. When an infant life vest is worn correctly, it should be snug enough that your little one can’t slip out of the vest, and it should never rise above baby’s chin or ears.

Other important safety features for infant life vests include ample head support (to help keep their heads face-up and above water) and grab handles (to aid with rescue). Parents and caregivers should also consider the color of a baby life jacket before purchasing—brighter, more vibrant colors are easier to spot in the water.

About the writer:

Daniel Willon is a dad to two young sons and a writer based in Los Angeles. He’s written for publications and brands across sports, entertainment, real estate and tech. Daniel is a UCLA graduate and a Southern California lifer, so when he’s not writing, he’s most likely at the beach or pool with his family.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.


Benjamin Hoffman, MD, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician and the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as a nationally recognized expert in child injury prevention and education. Additionally, he serves as the director of the Tom Sargent Safety Center at Doernbecher Children’s hospital, and as a professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health & Science University. He earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1992.

American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics Identifies Children Most at Risk of Drowning and Recommends Layers of Protection to Prevent Tragedy, July 2021

Healthy Children (AAP), Life Jackets & Life Preservers for Children, April 2022

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