9 Best Kids Swim Vests & Puddle Jumpers That They Won’t B*tch About Wearing

by Jenn Sinrich
Originally Published: 
Kids Life Jackets

Kids life jackets, puddle jumpers, and swim vests will make a day in the water safer for your little one. That said, one of the most ironic aspects of motherhood is the straight-up marathon you have to run every damn day to get your kid to do what is absolutely necessary to keep them alive—like wearing a life jacket. “If you want to go in the lake, you have to wear sunscreen — and a life jacket,” said the insanely overtired mother to her ungrateful and unwilling-to-listen 6-year-old eyeing the new pool. Sound familiar?

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Life Jackets vs. Puddle Jumpers vs. Swim Vests

But first, we want to clarify: While a life jacket or life vest may be a blanket term for wearable floating devices, there is a big difference between life jackets, puddle jumpers, and swim vests.

Life jackets: When it comes to life jackets, it’s in the name — these are specifically designed to save lives. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4, and the second most common in kids under 5 — and it can occur with less than an inch of water, notes Alison Mitzner, M.D., a pediatrician in New York City. “It is so important that children wear a life jacket while in or near water, including boating, swimming, at a beach, on a dock, rafting, tubing or near lakes, rivers or oceans etc.,” she says. “It is a simple way to stay safe.”

Even if you’ve stocked up on a boatload of pool floaties, water wings, blow-ups, and plastic rings, they shouldn’t take the place of life jackets, which are essential for every child who will be exposed to a body of water. “They only work when worn and of course they never replace adult supervision,” adds Dr. Mitzner. “And we, as our kids biggest role models, should wear one too for our own safety and also to set the example for our children even early on to learn the importance of a life jacket and water safety.” For optimum safety, you’ll want to get a life jacket that’s specifically Coast Guard-approved.

Puddle jumpers: These are the floaties that go around a child’s waist and arms. They can also be Coast Guard-approved for safety. However, there is some controversy over whether puddle jumpers are good or bad because the posture they hold kids in is not conducive to learning how to swim. In other words, they will keep your tot afloat, but if you’re trying to teach them to swim, a swim vest is a much better option.

Swim vests: Specifically designed to give kiddos a buoyant boost as they learn to swim, these are great tools for younger children as they begin to doggy paddle with close adult supervision. These aren’t too bulky or cumbersome which allows your kid can move in the water, and some of the best options have removable floats that you can adjust as your child becomes a stronger swimmer. That said, these are not meant to take the place of life jackets, as they are not designed to be life-saving devices.

How Should You Size A Life Jacket For A Child?

A properly fitted life jacket is key. It should fit snugly when fastened and be free of tears, rips or signs of wear, explains Jarret Patton, M.D., a pediatrician in eastern Pennsylvania. “A life jacket that is too small may not provide enough buoyancy and one that is too big may allow for the child to slip out of it,” he says. “A quick test you can do to see if it is the right fit is to gently pull up on the vest while your child’s arms are up in the air. If the vest can be pulled above their ears, it is likely too big.”

RELATED: Pool Toys That Will Keep Your Water Babies (And Big Kids) Busy For Hours

Ready to start shopping for that life jacket, puddle jumper, or swim vest so you can have some peace of mind? Check out our mom-approved options below.

Best Kids Puddle Jumpers

Best Life Jackets For Kids (Coast Guard-Approved)

Best Kids Swim Vests

Because you’re never done buying sh*t for your kid, check out our complete mom-approved summer kids gear checklist.


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