I'm assuming you're looking for a rescue vest. Last fall I wrote a somewhat formal (and lengthy) review of some of the most popular vests, which I posted to Amazon and a few other places. I ended up ordering a Kokatat Maximus Prime a few weeks ago. Read on if you want the details, or just scroll to the bottom for a quick Pro-Con list for each vest:
I just finished a two week Rescue Vest Test-a-Thon, and I put some notes together to try and help others with making a similar decision. As I state below, I have not paddled ANY of these vests. These are my thoughts after extensive research, repeatedly trying them on/wearing them around the house, and looking them over like the gear-junkie that I am.
Long story short, I was sold on the Descent, but it didn't work out. I'm now 99% sold on the Maximus Prime. I was really surprised how well it fit after thinking it looked a bit bulky, and the construction is rock solid. I did not get to try out the Ronin Pro, but did try the Greenjacket and Zen. If you want/like to get into the weeds (details!), then continue reading for a more extensive description and a Pro/Con list for all four vests.
Rescue PFD Reviews
By Kevin Hill
September 29, 2013
What is the "best" Rescue PFD? I don't think there is really an answer to that. I decided at the end of this season that I wanted to upgrade to a rescue vest from my Astral Norge, so I started doing my research. I thought I figured it all out by way of extensive online reading. I had concluded that the Descent was the vest for me. In fact, I almost bought a used one without ever trying one on. I'm really glad I didn't because it turns out that vest/the sizing they offer doesn't work for me. So in the end it's all about proper fit, and to know what fits you best, you really need to try them on. It should also be noted that I have not paddled with a single one of these vests, so take these comments for whatever you think they're worth.
I found a Descent on sale at my local shop, and decided to pull the trigger. The L/XL seemed too big, so at the suggestion of the shop, I bought a S/M (the next size down) and brought it home to wear around the house for a while. It quickly became clear that the shoulder straps were too small/narrow. This, combined with their stiffness, resulted in some nasty rubbing along the inside of my lower neckline. I was really disappointed because I had read so much good stuff about this vest, but what could I do. So I started looking at other vests, and found some great reviews of the Kokatat Maximus Prime, which my shop also carries. I had my wife pick up the XS/S and M/L so I could test them at home. Not quite ready to pull the trigger, I returned them both and tried on the other two I'm commenting on here (Zen and Greenjacket) for the sake of comparison. I had tried the Greenjacket twice before, and found the same problem this third time (see below). Three strikes and you're out!
Despite all that talk about needing to try them on to see what works for YOU, there are still some things that one can learn from the experience of others. And a list of features is a list of features, though you may not always find my Pro or Con to be a Pro or Con (e.g., maybe you like Pullover Entry). Either way, I spent a good chunk of time trying to figure all this out, and I wanted to try and share some of my thoughts/findings. As you can see, the bulk of my efforts went into the first two, with a few notes on the last two. In the end, the Kokatat Maximus Prime will almost certainly be the one I go with. (FYI - I didn't review the Ronin Pro because my local shop doesn't carry them.)
KOKATAT MAXIMUS PRIME Pros:
*Shoulder Straps - adjustable, soft, wide
*Flotation - 17# in the middle size = the most of these 4
Chest Panel - moves with you
Chest Zipper - nice protective coating
3-Bar Slider & Ring - chromed = easy visibility & clean look
Rescue PFD Manual included
Kokatat Sticker included
*Harness strap/belt - excessively long; NOBODY in this size could need this much belt (= will need to cut with hot knife; annoying!)
Chest Pocket - small in comparison to other PFDs
Sizing - XS/S size should just be called S/M (it's 32-38" chest, which is almost always S/M)
STOHLQUIST DESCENT Pros:
*Shoulder Straps - textured/grippy & tough
*Chest Pocket - large
Cinch Harness - snugs down nicely
Grip-Loc Panel - stays down
Crotch Harness compatible - if you're into that kind of thing!
**Shoulder Straps - NOT adjustable, very stiff, and narrow in size S/M (This was the deal-breaker for me. It caused the straps to be very tight, and to dig into the sides of my neck.)
*Sizing - S/M too small for me (see shoulder strap issue above), but next size up (L/XL) too large, especially with non-adjustable shoulder straps.
Shape - some prefer the bulbous or "pregnant" shape, and it does free up arms, but not me
3-Bar Slider & Ring - black = harder to see, and not as nice looking, imo
Rescue PFD Manual - not included
Sticker - not included
ASTRAL GREENJACKET Pros:
Chest Pocket - very large, and with some organization to boot!
Shoulder Straps - adjustable and very strong
*Fit - I have tried the greenjacket repeatedly, and I always find the outer edge of the rear panel digs into my lower ribcage/back
Pullover Entry - arguable, but I prefer side entry
Release Ball - the "pull ball" for the rescue belt is like 30% smaller than most, and feels too small to me
Price - $240 = this is the most expensive of the four I compared
NRS ZEN Pros:
Harness/Belt Release - centered on the vest = very easy to pull with either hand
Colored Buckles - the center buckles are grey, preventing confusion when buckling up
Price - $190 = the least expensive of the four
**Shoulder Straps - the buckles are ON TOP!! (This is a total deal-breaker for me - makes portaging terrible because the boat digs into the buckle, which then digs into you!)
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