Before we get started, please note that there's been a fair bit of discussion regarding PFDs in the SUP World these past few months, primarily with regards to Bob Purdy's initiative to have Transport Canada recognize a standard surf leash as a suitable alternative to a PFD.
Either way though, PFD laws in Canada presently state that all flatwater stand up paddleboarders must either be wearing an approved PFD or have one on board... So you'd better have one unless you're shooting for a ticket.
Also, please note that our opinions are based on our time as experienced stand up paddlers. Novice/intermediate paddlers, or poor swimmers might be best to consult a local professional to see what type of PFD would be best suited for their ability and paddling conditions.
For example, as pointed out by Makai Paddle Surf out of Markham Ontario, the Inflatable Belt Pack PFD is a "2 stage PFD and must be unzipped and put over your head then the cord pulled for inflation. If you are not sure about your swimming ability or if you paddle by yourself I would opt to wear a regular PFD for safety's sake". Good advice.
Soooooo... When it came time to test drive PFD's for stand up paddleboarding, Mustang Survival was the very first name that came to my mind, perhaps due to the fact that I grew up in Vancouver, and their circular seahorse logo has been etched into my memories of boating as a kid. Whatever the reason, Mustang Survival remains the premier PDF manufacturer in BC, having been designing, testing and manufacturing PFD's since 1967. Mustang has a storied past not only on the waters around here, but has also grown to become a leader in PDF technology the World over.
That all said, there's a wide variety of PFD options and styles available on the market today. Everything from that traditional bright orange and yellow buckled PFD we all grew up with back in the day, a variety of more modern versions based on the same theme, slimmer kayak oriented PFD's, neoprene wakeboard styled vests, flotation coats, full blown survival suits, and many more.
In my opinion, amongst all these options, the inflatable belt pack is the most practical and performance oriented PFD designs for experienced stand up paddlers... Providing a Transport Canada approved safety PFD in a very compact and reasonably convenient form factor.
Main reason being is that stand up paddleboarding is a highly aerobic activity and requires the whole body to be involved on each and every stroke. Wearing the PFD at the waist minimizes intrusion, while at the same time adhering to the laws of Transport Canada.
I've paddled a few races with a vest type PFD, and though most people (especially those from a kayaking background) claim it's something you get used to, not only did my stroke felt impeded with a vest PFD, but warmer weather also makes things pretty uncomfortable. On the other hand, I hardly notice the Inflatable Belt Pack PFD while paddling.
For those readers that have never used an inflatable PFD, the unit comes with an automatic inflation system for immediate deployment. The unit can also be deployed with a manual inflation tube located on the back side of the vest.
What's especially important is where most US based PFD manufacturers build products for the American market, Mustang's products are specifically designed and built to adhere to Transport Canada regulations. This important because regulations can vary slightly between the United States Coast Guard and Transport Canada.
For example, and this is actually pretty annoying, but Transport Canada states that inflatable PFD's can only be a single purpose product. The PFD cannot contain any other accessories such as a hydration pack or pockets, since in a moment of panic a user may get confused as to which cord to pull.
As such, Mustang's Inflatable Belt Pack PFD is that, and only that... No extra pockets or anything. So, if you want to carry a hydration pack on your next adventure, you'll have to either wear both, or carry one of the items on your board's deck. Not ideal, but at least you're good and legal!
As the weather warms up over the next few months, we'll get some more photos of the PFD's in action out on the water, as well as some video to demonstrate general use and the deployment technique.
Til then though, see you out on the water!