Mustang Survival Khimera PFD resting next to dry bag on deck of paddleboard near a still lake

Dual-Buoyancy PFD: Mustang Survival Khimera Review

This dual-flotation PFD made our 2019 Gear of the Year list for its unique design and performance on the water — here’s why.

With interest in sports like kayaking and paddleboarding steadily increasing, PFDs have become more widespread — and technical — than ever. We tested Mustang Survival’s newest PFD, which aims to fit the needs of every sportsman and sportswoman: from daytime paddleboarders to expedition kayakers, anglers, and more.

The Khimera Hybrid PFD has a very low-profile chassis and large armholes to offer the greatest possible range of motion. While it looks to have a more square body style, don’t be fooled — it’s adjustable for many body types.

It also has a new technology that provides extra buoyancy when needed, if conditions or the intensity of your watersport changes.

Dual Flotation Technology: Wave of the Future

The Khimera PFD is one of the first dual-flotation PFDs on the market. That means the PFD has both foam construction and inflatable chambers, filled via a CO2 cartridge hidden in the lower part of the vest.

The best part? The Khimera PFD functions as a Type III (the most common flotation classification) but can be adjusted to each user’s specific needs.

Khimera PFD CO2 inflation tab
A view of the CO2 inflation pull tab with handle garages to keep it in place

The Khimera can be inflated both automatically and manually in two different ways. Simply deploy the extra CO2 inflation with the pull handle on the wearer’s right side, hidden with covers to prevent catching. Or inflate manually with the tube on the top inside of the vest. Then deflate with the manual valve.

The Khimera offers 20 pounds of total dual buoyancy: 7.5 pounds with the foam floatation plus 12.5 pounds with CO2 inflation. Simply put, in the water (a deep flatwater lake), it kept me afloat. And after a few dips, I found the foam component of the vest to dry out fairly quickly.

Unlike CO2 inflatable Type V PFDs, the Khimera PFD doesn’t require post-inflation repacking — users simply deflate the bladder with the manual tube and replace the single-use CO2 cartridge if it was used. Even without the CO2 cartridge, the Khimera still functions as a Type III PFD, and can be reinflated manually to obtain the extra buoyancy.

If you’ve ever used a fully inflatable PFD, you can see that the Khimera requires much less fiddling and maintenance.

khimera PFD blue

Mustang Survival Khimera PFD

  • Type III PFD (adult only)
  • Weight: 1.5 lbs.
  • Max buoyancy: 20.5 lbs.
  • Components: mesh backing, two adjustable torso straps, two shoulder straps, Velcro-secured front pocket (which we discovered can fit a smartphone, Garmin inReach, or a smaller AM/FM radio)
  • Inflation: 1 CO2 cartridge and CO2 compartment
  • Price: $200


On the water, we all have different needs. So a PFD shouldn’t fit just one type of person. Compare the needs of a kayaker versus boat passenger, or a paddler versus an adaptive paddler.

Whether it’s the fit or level of buoyancy needed, this PFD accommodates changes to both. (Pros for adaptive paddlers: The vest is low-profile, can slip on easily overhead, and doesn’t have a front zipper or belt buckle to get in the way.) It’s also fairly comfortable in a kayak seat.

author inflating the Khimera to full buoyancy
Author inflating the Khimera to full buoyancy.

The Khimera PFD Fit

Wearing it the first couple of times, I was really surprised at how open it felt to wear — I almost forgot I was wearing it. I had full range of motion, and it worked for both kayaking and paddleboarding.

I also loved this PFD’s design and fit as a female paddler: It’s comfortable in the chest area, doesn’t feel restrictive (even when fully inflated, although there is more pressure), and the adjusting straps sit nicely on the torso. It’s also not too wide, a problem I’ve found with many women’s-specific PFDs in the past.

Bottom line: For paddlers with curves, this is a really comfortable and well-fitting PFD that doesn’t impede range of motion.

That said, it’s not made with whitewater in mind. Given my skill set, I’d be comfortable wearing it on flatwater up to Class II. Beyond that, a vest with more whitewater-friendly features would be the way to go.

Final Notes: What’s Missing?

Overall, the PFD fits really well and is comfortable. The interior of the PFD didn’t condensate, sweat, or rub against my skin or wind layer. I was concerned about rubbing after noticing that the interior safety label, a sticker material, was very large and covers much of the torso, for some weird reason. Odd, but it proved not to be an issue.

Regarding buoyancy, I couldn’t find any faults in the dual-inflation design. With the extra inflation, there is slightly more pressure in the chest area, but that can be easily mitigated by re-adjusting the torso straps.

However, the PFD is missing a couple of key features that I wish were there, like a lash tab and a more secure zippered front pocket. (The current pocket is secured with Velcro, which, although it provides quick access, I don’t like.) In terms of physical features, it’s definitely more for recreational paddlers.

For the $200 price tag, The Khimera is a good investment, especially if you want a PFD that can adapt and adjust to your lifestyle.

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Mary Murphy

Mary Murphy is the Managing Editor of GearJunkie and serves as the leader of Lola Digital Media’s DEI Committee.

She has been writing about hiking, running, climbing, camping, skiing, and more for seven years, and has been on staff at GearJunkie since 2019. Prior to that, Mary wrote for 5280 Magazine in Denver while working as an outdoor instructor teaching climbing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and mountain biking at Avid4Adventure. Based in Denver, Colorado, Murphy is an avid hiker, runner, backpacker, skier, yogi, and pack-paddleboarder.